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CNN NEWSROOM

In a Recent Poll, Three-quarters of Republican Party Want Trump to Run for Re-election in 2020; Grand Jury Convenes As Alleged R. Kelly Underage Sex Tape Surfaces; Trump to Give Afternoon Speech on Venezuela Today; Influx of Venezuelans is Causing Medical Shortages in Cucuta, Colombia; U.S. Aid to Arrive at Venezuelan Border February 23rd; Facebook Knowingly Violated Privacy Laws to Allow App Developers Access to User Data. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired February 18, 2019 - 10:30   ET

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


[10:30:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: To what CNN's polling, you know, just a few weeks ago, found. I'm sure you saw, but it found that what Democratic voters are most interested in -- let's pull it up on the screen here, you can see -- and it surprised us a bit.

It wasn't things like the Green New Deal, et cetera. It was 49 percent there, the candidate that has sort of a good chance to beat the president. Do you get a sense that New Hampshire is an anomaly on that front?

TEXT: What is important in choosing president? Democratic leaners only. Good chance to beat Trump, 49 percent. Has right experience, 39 percent. Consistent on issues, 30 percent. Represents future of party, 29 percent. Willing to work with GOP, 28 percent. Holds progressive ideals, 25 percent. Brings outsider perspective, 19 percent.

NEIL LEVESQUE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NEW HAMPSHIRE INSTITUTE OF POLITICS: No, I just think that a lot of Democrats just do not like Donald Trump for one reason or another. And I think that they probably say, "There's no way that this person's going to get re- elected." And I think that they might have said the same thing, October of 2016, if you polled them then.

The point is, is that as we go and we see that there could be 30 different candidates running for president here in New Hampshire, who are they going to choose? How are they going to make that decision?

A lot of them have very similar positions. And so I think that the question is, are they going to be looking at somebody who can be on a debate stage with Donald Trump?

HARLOW: Right.

LEVESQUE: And is that a factor in their decision-making?

HARLOW: So talking about a debate stage, not necessarily a Democrat but let's talk about the appetite, there, for a Republican to challenge President Trump in a primary challenge.

You've got former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld considering this, considering launching an exploratory committee.

Is there an appetite among voters there in New Hampshire -- Republican voters -- for someone to take on the president within his own party?

LEVESQUE: Well, amongst Republicans, about 75 percent, 77 percent are rock-solid behind the president and would encourage him to run again.

HARLOW: OK.

LEVESQUE: That's another way for a pollster to ask a question as to whether or not you'd support the president.

HARLOW: Yes.

LEVESQUE: The question here in New Hampshire is, remember that independents can vote in the primary. So if there's a really hot Democratic primary, which obviously it looks like it will be --

HARLOW: Yes.

LEVESQUE: -- will independents then go and take a Democratic ballot and compete in that field, if you will? Or are they likely to go and try to vote for someone like Bill Weld?

I think the jury is out on that. He did come to New Hampshire last week and announced the exploratory committee and --

HARLOW: Yes.

LEVESQUE: -- was very well-received. So we'll see -- we'll see whether or not the president has any cracks going forward. But the one thing about the president is, he's had a lot of rock-solid support amongst Republicans, straight on through all of the controversies, all the elections. He's rock-solid in the Republican party.

HARLOW: Very quickly -- very, very quickly because they're telling me to wrap. What about an independent? Is there an appetite there for a serious independent candidate?

LEVESQUE: Well, independents make up the largest voting bloc in New Hampshire --

HARLOW: Right.

LEVESQUE: -- but I would say that, you know, to take an independent campaign nationwide is so very difficult. A lot of people don't like parties, but parties are very good vehicles for helping a candidate get elected.

HARLOW: Neil Leveque, thank you very much for being with me today. And enjoy the town hall tonight.

LEVESQUE: Thank you, Poppy. HARLOW: I know you'll be up watching.

LEVESQUE: Thank you.

TEXT: Senator Amy Klobuchar A CNN Presidential Town Hall Live from New Hampshire; Moderated by Don Lemon

HARLOW: Again, for all of you watching, my friend Don Lemon will host Senator Amy Klobuchar in CNN's presidential town hall. That is tonight 10:00 p.m. Eastern, only on CNN.

Still ahead, a grand jury has been convened -- we've just learned this -- to look into new allegations against the singer R. Kelly. We'll have a live update next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:37:45] HARLOW: All right. New this morning in the R. Kelly investigation. Sources tell CNN that a grand jury has been convened in connection with a videotape that allegedly shows the singer engaging in sex acts with an underage girl.

Sara Sidner has been on top of this story from the beginning. She joins us now from Chicago. Of course, that's where the grand jury's being convened.

What have you learned?

SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We have learned that there is indeed a grand jury that has been convened. Two different sources have told us that, and that testimony has been under way in this particular case. It does have something to do with a new videotape. Michael Avenatti says he handed over to the state's attorney's office this past week.

And so we are now trying to glean more details of exactly what the grand jury saw. But we are certain that it has something to do with this videotape that was turned in last week to the state's attorney's office.

We should mention, I did call up and try to get comment from the Cook County State's Attorney's Office. And as you know, grand juries are supposed to be secret. And so they have not commented.

They have not said whether or not -- they said they couldn't confirm or deny whether or not there is indeed an investigation into R. Kelly and the allegations about him having sexual activity with underage girls.

We have spoken -- or e-mailed -- with his attorney, Steve Greenberg, who has told us that no one from law enforcement -- he told us this this morning -- no one from law enforcement has contacted him or his client regarding any potential investigation, and he is not aware of any grand jury being convened -- Poppy.

HARLOW: OK. So, Sarah, I know you -- because you're a great reporter, you've learned about this. You've been able to see the tape. Can you give us a sense of what's on it? Because that gives us a lens into what the grand jury's looking at.

SIDNER: Yes, I think what's important about this tape, Poppy, is that it could be potential evidence that the state's attorney's office uses in connection with any case that it may bring against R. Kelly.

It is disturbing. I do want to warn you, I want to warn our viewers that the details I'm about to explain are very disturbing. There is a man who is naked -- he appears to be R. Kelly -- who comes into the frame. You can see him on video. You can see him constantly adjusting the video, constantly trying to position the video as if he is making a movie.

[10:40:05] You also hear a girl on the tape, and see a girl on the tape. It is a VHS tape. She is using the word "daddy" repeatedly, over and over and over again. She also refers to her genitalia at least six times as being "14 years old."

And a couple of times, the person who appears to be R. Kelly repeats that. He repeats the fact that she keeps saying that her genitalia is 14 years old, and he repeats that.

It is really disturbing stuff. And as you know, now, there is a grand jury that has convened, according to our sources -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Wow. Sara Sidner. It's important. Thank you for bringing it to us this morning.

All right. Ahead for us, millions of Venezuelans have fled for their lives as the humanitarian crisis in that country grows worse by the hour. Now the situation in the bordering countries is becoming even more desperate. We'll have a live report ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:45:24] HARLOW: All right. This afternoon, President Trump will speak about the growing crisis in Venezuela as more than a million Venezuelans have fled the country, looking for any better situation, making their way to the town of Cucuta in neighboring Colombia.

Resources there have been severely strained, particularly the local hospital. With me now is my colleague Isa Soares who is live in Caracas, Venezuela and joins me with more.

Your reporting is so important, Isa, because it is about the human toll that the Venezuelan people are facing as a result of this. What can you tell us?

ISA SOARES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And it's been -- the stories I've been hearing, Poppy, have been absolutely heart-wrenching. And we're hearing on both sides of the border.

According to Juan Guaido, as many as 350,000 people inside Venezuela, Poppy, are at risk of dying -- risk of death, really, because there is very little in terms of medication here. And I mean in very basic terms. Gauze tape, IV fluid, and then you're also talking about plasters, you're talking about antibiotics, you're talking about antiretroviral drugs.

That -- you can't get your hands on this here. Only those with a lot of money within Nicolas Maduro's circle. So they're crossing the border and they're going into Cucuta in Colombia.

And I met three individuals, really at the brink of exhaustion because of this. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SOARES (voice-over): For most of her young life, Frangeli (ph) has only known hunger. And now her body is feeling its impact. Frail, irritable and in pain, she's been unable to keep food down.

But her little tummy, suffering from severe acute malnutrition in what was once the world's richest oil nation, just can't keep it in.

She's one of thousands of Venezuelan children leaving home, with many being treated at this border city hospital in Cucuta.

Several floors up on the maternity ward, I meet several women who, too, have seen scarcity for months on end.

SOARES: (SPEAKING IN SPANISH)? What did you eat there? Very little? Rations.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING IN SPANISH)

SOARES (voice-over): I go further down the hall. And on a floor where pain and life go hand in hand, I come face to face with tragedy.

SOARES: She's telling me that her baby is -- baby's dead. No heartbeat, nothing. No life, she's telling me.

(SPEAKING IN SPANISH)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (SPEAKING IN SPANISH)

SOARES: Twenty-nine, six months. So basically 29 weeks. So she's -- her baby's died.

SOARES (voice-over): This is the toll of the humanitarian crisis Nicolas Maduro denies. But death and despair are not just contained within these hospital walls. I travel through old (ph) Cucuta and meet others desperate for help.

Nineteen-year-old Cleber (ph) Salazar (ph) recently arrived from Caracas.

CLEBER (PH) SALAZAR (PH) VENEZUELAN REFUGEE: (SPEAKING IN SPANISH)

SOARES (voice-over): He made the journey simply for survival.

SALAZAR (PH) (through translator): If I stayed in Venezuela, I was going to die. I knew I was going to die. In fact, all my friends with NIV in Venezuela, out of 30, only one is alive.

SOARES (voice-over): He says he's HIV-positive and desperately needed antiretroviral drugs, unavailable back home.

As he gets a check-up, the doctor at the NGO for which Cleber (ph) volunteers for, tells me nine of his HIV patients died in 2018, all Venezuelans.

Cleber (ph) got out just in time. But getting here has come with sacrifice and the wounds he carries are still fresh.

SOARES: (SPEAKING IN SPANISH)

SOARES (voice-over): I do my best to delicately ask him if he ever had to sell sex to survive.

SALAZAR (PH): Yes, I sold it and I sold it many times. And I sold it not only because I needed medicine. I sold it for food, I sold it because I needed many things.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SOARES: And, Poppy, 3 million Venezuelans have left Venezuela, 1 million alone going to Colombia. It's what (ph) the biggest exodus this continent has ever seen. So all eyes will be on Juan Guaido to see whether he can get that aid into Venezuela come Saturday, this 23rd of February -- Poppy.

[10:49:56] HARLOW: It is a tragedy. Thank you so much. We can't thank you enough, Isa, to you and your team, for being there away from your families to bring us these stories. Thank you so much.

I'm joined by Geoff Ramsey who watches Venezuela, of course, from the Washington Office of Latin America. He is an expert.

It is heartbreaking. I Mean, Isa sitting on the side of that mother's bed, you know, six months into her pregnancy, losing her child. And that's just one of countless stories.

What is the most significant thing that the U.S. -- that the Trump administration can do at this point to ease that suffering?

GEOFF RAMSEY, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR FOR VENEZUELA, WOLA: Well, you know, I think it's really important that any kind of humanitarian assistance is coordinated with the U.N. agencies already on the ground in Venezuela.

They're the ones with the most expertise and the ones that can ensure that any aid that's brought in is actually being distributed in a way that is to scale with the -- the very real and deep emergency.

HARLOW: You know, I think one of the important things about -- that people need to know is that, you know, Maduro has not been helpful in facilitating this, right? Saying, "We're not beggars," right? "We don't need this" when the need is so clear. Listen to Marco Rubio, of course, Republican senator from Florida,

traveling in the region over the weekend. Here's what he said about the aid.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Well, look, the aid is going to get through. And I think ultimately the question is whether it gets through in a way that he's cooperative with or in a way that he's not.

But there's no way you're going to stand, ultimately, in the way of a people whose children are starving to death, whose families are dying in hospitals because of preventable diseases and they don't have the medicine for it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: First, do you think that he's right? I mean, that the aid will get in regardless? And secondly, you've said that making public demands may be the worst thing the administration can do right now. Why?

RAMSEY: Yes. Well, I think it's very clear that the 23rd, there's going to be some mobilization on the border in Cucuta. And people are going to bring -- cross over the border and -- and bring it back into Venezuela.

I think it's going to be really important that the opposition that is coordinating this is working, again, with U.N. and humanitarian actors that have a lot of experience already working in Venezuela under the radar, because they're the ones that -- that are most qualified in ensuring that aid is actually distributed according to need.

And second of all, I think that it's really important that the United States ensures that it's working as much as possible in a multilateral way. I mean, this is not about the U.S. versus Maduro. It's the U.S. --

HARLOW: Right.

RAMSEY: -- partnership with the E.U. and a large coalition of Latin American countries that have been responding to the crisis and making this about Trump versus Maduro, ultimately it really only helps Maduro.

HARLOW: And finally Geoffrey (ph), when you look at the crisis, the humanitarian crisis, should the U.S. priority be helping the Venezuelan people or changing the leadership of Venezuela, or does the former require the latter?

RAMSEY: I think that it's very clear that, you know, the root of the crisis right now in Venezuela lies in the deep corruption and economic mismanagement we've seen in -- in Venezuela.

However, over time, I am very concerned that U.S. oil sanctions are going to deepen the crisis, and that the humanitarian emergency is going to worsen in a way that we haven't seen so far.

So I think that it's very important that the United -- international community is united around the call for new, credible and free elections in Venezuela so that Venezuelans themselves can choose their own leaders.

HARLOW: I mean, it's an interesting point, right? Many people look at the sanctions as a way to punish Maduro, right? And starve him of that wealth. But at the same time, you're pointing to the negative toll that can take on the citizens there.

Geoffrey (ph), as always, good to have you back. We appreciate your expertise.

RAMSEY: Thank you.

HARLOW: Quick break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:58:13] HARLOW: All right. Welcome back. In a new stunning report, British lawmakers accuse Facebook of intentionally and knowingly violating privacy laws. A U.K. committee says documents reveal Facebook overrode its user privacy settings. Why? So they could transfer data to app developers.

Hadas Gold, our business reporter in London, covering all of this.

I mean, if this is true, it's -- I mean, it's remarkable. What more did the committee find and what is Facebook saying?

HADAS GOLD, CNN EUROPEAN POLITICS, MEDIA AND BUSINESS REPORTER: Poppy, this committee called Facebook "akin to a digital gangster" where they act as though they are above and don't have to adhere to the law.

Now, here in the U.K. and in other parts of Europe, there's much stricter data privacy laws. And this committee is alleging that Facebook knowingly and willingly violated some of these laws.

And they said part of how they discovered this is part of an 18-month investigation. This involved dozens of hearings, and they also obtained some internal e-mails.

I don't know if people recall, but a few months ago there was sort of this big scandal over how the committee here obtained these e-mails. They used parliamentary privilege to get them from somebody who was in London at the time. But they say that these internal e-mails show that Facebook was willing to override this data (ph).

Now, the issue here is that the United Kingdom and Europe are pressing for and trying to regulate social media companies more and more, especially in the wake of, for example, the Cambridge Analytica scandals, and all of these coming reports about Russian disinformation. Now, Facebook has denied that they violated any sort of privacy or

data protection law. They said in a statement that "We are open to meaningful regulation and support the committee's recommendation for electoral law reform... We also support effective privacy legislation that holds companies to high standards in their use of data and transparency for users." Excuse me.

[10:59:56] Now the question, though, Poppy, is what -- will this happen. There's a few recommendations in this report. But the question is, how much of the U.K. government will take this into account and turn this into some sort of effective legislation --

HARLOW: Yes.

GOLD: -- that will cause Facebook to really change its ways.