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NY Times: Trump Asked If U.S. Attorney Who Supported Him Could Take Over Michael Cohen Investigation; Trump Denies Trying to Interfere In Cohen Probe; Maduro Government Closes Border With Dutch Antilles; Cuban Foreign Min. Says Trump Fabricating A Coup; Church Confirms Rules For Priests Who Father Children; Taiwan's Pres.: Threat From China Growing "Every Day". Aired 1-2a ET

Aired February 20, 2019 - 01:00   ET


[01:00:00] JOHN VAUSE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: -- anthem against American racism, legendary blues guitarist Gary Clark Jr. making a big leap in substance and style and he has a message to Trump.

Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us from all around the world. Great to have you with us. I'm John Vause and you're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

As part of a deep dive investigation into the past two years of the Trump administration, a new report from the New York Times details the President and his aides going to extreme lengths to cover up and interfere with the ongoing investigations, whatever they are, all of them it seems including new revelations that Donald Trump asked former acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker to place a Trump ally in charge of the investigation into hush money payments made to two women before the election. That Trump ally is U.S. prosecutor appointed by the President and had recused himself from the investigation.

Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, the man once dubbed general chaos, former national security adviser Michael Flynn is once again the focus of Democrats who were looking into efforts backed by Flynn to export nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia. CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports now from the White House.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: A stunning report in The New York Times claiming President Trump's asked then-Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker to put someone who is supported Trump in charge of investigating hush payments made by his former fixer Michael Cohen.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have a lot of respect for Mr. Whitaker. I think he's done a great job.

COLLINS: A bombshell Trump denied today.

TRUMP: No, not at all. And I know who gave you that. That's more fake news. A lot -- there's a lot of fake -- there's a lot of fake news out there. No, I didn't. COLLINS: The person Trump wanted in the job U.S. Attorney for the

Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman had already recused himself from overseeing the probe. According to The Times, it's unclear how Whitaker responded and there's no evidence he took steps to intervene despite telling associates that he knew part of his job was to jump on a grenade for the president.

Still, Whitaker remarked that the New York prosecutors required adult supervision according to The Times. While Berman is recused from this probe, he is not recused from another that could touch Trump, one looking into the President's inaugural committee. The Times adding Trump's soured on Whitaker after his inability to make the change and he has since been replaced by Bill Barr.

But Whitaker could be facing bigger problems. He recently told a congressional committee under oath that the president had never pressured him regarding any investigations.

MATT WHITAKER, FORMER ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL, UNITED STATES: At no time has the White House asked for nor have I provided any promises or commitments concerning the special counsel's investigation or any other investigation.

COLLINS: Whitaker is now under scrutiny by House Democrats for potential perjury. Today, a DOJ spokesperson said he stands by his testimony and Trump is standing by him.

TRUMP: He's a very, very straight shooter. I watched him during the hearing, some of it. I thought it was exceptional.

COLLINS: Since Trump told advisers, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein assured him the Cohen investigation had nothing to do with him, the New York Times reports he has since wondered if Rosenstein was deliberately misleading him to keep him calm. The extensive report is also claiming Trump told advisers in February 2017 they should say he asked for Michael Flynn's resignation because "that sounds better." Pressed by Sean Spicer if it was true, Trump reportedly responded, say that, say that I asked for his resignation.

According to The Times, White House lawyers were so concerned about what Spicer said from the briefing room podium that they compiled an entire memo laying out his misstatements.

SEAN SPICER, PRESS SECRETARY, WHITE HOUSE: The White House Counsel reviewed and determined that there is not an illegal issue but rather a trust issue.

COLLINS: The report coming amid headlines that former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe who was fired last spring briefed congressional leadership about the counterintelligence investigation he launched into President Trump.

ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER ACTING DIRECTOR, FBI: The purpose of the briefing was to let our congressional leadership know exactly what we'd been doing. Opening a case of this nature, not something that an FBI director, not something that an Acting FBI Director do by yourself right?

COLLINS: And that no one raised concerns.

MCCABE: And I told Congress what we had done.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did any one object?

MCCABE: That's the important part here, Savannah. No one objected. Not on legal grounds, not on constitutional grounds, and not based on the facts.

COLLINS: Now, the New York Times also notes that the President has had private conversations with Republican lawmakers about a campaign to attack the Mueller probe, something he himself has done over 1,100 times and can very well serve as a public relations strategy for him in addition to a legal one. Kaitlan Collins, CNN the White House.


VAUSE: CNN Political Analyst and White House Correspondent for New York Times Michael Shear joins us now. And Michael, congratulations to your colleagues at the Times. This is some reporting they've done.

MICHAEL SHEAR, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, it was a remarkable piece for sure.

[01:05:01] VAUSE: Yes. And even though at the Trump friendly Fox News, there's not a lot of good news for the president in the wake of this report from The Times. Listen to this.


ANDREW NAPOLITANO, CONTRIBUTOR, FOX NEWS CHANNEL: Would that be obstruction? Yes. Well, it would be attempted obstruction.


VAUSE: Attempted obstruction-obstruction. You know, potato-potato. Just to be clear here, what we're saying is that Whitaker, whether he did or did not do is essentially irrelevant here. What matters are the actions of the President and if he may, in fact, made that phone call and had that conversation, we should say he denies that happen, but if it did, what's you know, the ultimate consequence?

SHEAR: Great. Well, look, I mean that has been the case from the beginning and the thing that the President has fundamentally misunderstood as he sort of railed against the investigation and accused all sorts of other people of you know, being on a witch-hunt, the question has always been from the very beginning what did this President do and what were his motivations for doing it.

Those are the two factors that are required from a legal perspective to find legal guilt. And so if the President picked up the phone and tried to get you know, a different person to take over an investigation of him because he felt like that person was going to protect him and essentially shield him from what -- from whatever legal judgments were likely to come.

I mean, that is -- that is close to the textbook definition of somebody attempting to obstruct a federal investigation. And that's -- you know, that that is something I think that -- it's which why it was at the top of the story that our paper ran and it's and it's why I think people are gravitating to that as such an important piece of news today.

VAUSE: And ultimately it still gets back to the same issue when it comes to legal remedy that if this did happen and if it's true, ultimately it's going to come down to the political act of impeachment you know, should Congress decide to take that action. Because Mueller, the Special Counsel has said you know, has given every indication that he will not indict a sitting president.

SHEAR: Right. I mean, as of now it is currently Justice Department policy not to indict a sitting president, that you can't indict a sitting president. That hasn't really been tested yet so there's at least an outside chance that Mueller could try to press that -- to press that case and see what happens. I think everybody's suspect that you won't do that.

And so if he doesn't, the result is going to be impeachment and then the question of whether or not the political system has the will, the Democrats are the Republicans, it would have to be a joint effort because the Democrats don't have the votes to do it on their own, whether or not you know, the political system has the will to try to push a president out over these kinds of allegations and in this sort of spat set.

And that plunges Washington once again into a really, really devastatingly partisan difficult fight that I think it happens is likely to go on for weeks, months, and really be damaging to the political system.

VAUSE: Yes. And I guess the other question too is that you know, if it is a witch hunt, if there's nothing there, then you know, why get all this trouble to try and stop it?

SHEAR: Well, that's been the question from the beginning, right? I mean -- I mean a part of what has always been so maddeningly curious about this president's reaction from the beginning to all of the different allegations that have come -- that have come down has been well, you know, if you're an innocent person, you don't have anything to fear.

The only reason that you would want to you know, sort of try to prevent an investigation from continuing or trying to undermine the investigation, to taint it, to questioned its legitimacy, to call it a witch hunt, I mean all of that is you know, as sort of hallmarks of somebody who thinks geez, if this investigation proceeds to it's legitimate end, I might be in trouble.

And I think this news about what he tried to get Mr. Whitaker to do vis a vis the investigation is the ultimate example of that which is the sort of head-scratching like you know, if you -- if you thought you were innocent, you wouldn't take that action. VAUSE: Yes. And we should note that you know, this is you know, sort

of Trump called Whitaker, this is part of an overall massive report investigation by your colleagues there. An examination by the New York Times reveals the extent of an even more sustained, more secretive assault by Mr. Trump on the machinery of federal law enforcement interviews with dozens of current and former government officials and others close to Mr. Trump as well as a review of confidential White House documents revealed numerous unreported episodes in a two-year drama.

You know, the big takeaway from the read is that you know, this administration, in particular, this president had been involved in a cover-up you know, of a size and scale never before seen in this country. You know, Watergate is a (INAUDIBLE) compared what's been happening in Washington over the past two years.

SHEAR: Yes, look, I mean, I think we all still have to be careful that we not jump to conclusions since we're all operating with imperfect and uncertain information right? Only Mueller and his team really knows the extent of what they have. However, I think one of the things that this administration has been very skillful about is -- and the president, in particular, is in trying to back-back or to criticize each little thing that comes out on a daily basis.

[01:10:21] And what that does is it -- and especially given the sort of media environment that we're all living in with Twitter and everything else where everything lasts you know 13 seconds and then we move on to the next thing is that I think that the idea of this story was to step back and say let's look at the entire picture, the entire picture for the last two years and assemble all of the different strands into one story.

And the picture that emerges from that as you just point out is a systemic sustained effort by the President and his allies to try to prevent this investigation, the Mueller investigation from really proceeding the way it is sort of with -- the way it would have naturally. And that is that -- when you read it, when you -- when you sort of step back like that, that's -- it's a really breathtaking thing.

VAUSE: It really is. So for anybody who hasn't been paying attention over the last two years, maybe you're drifting in and out, they need a bit of a catch up. This is a great story and it has a lot of new information in it as well, but a lot of background a lot of context which is so important in something like this. So Michael, thank you and congratulations to your colleagues at The Times.

SHEAR: Yes, sure. Thanks.

VAUSE: The former acting FBI director is doing the T.V. rounds burning his book and answering some big questions like why you thought the U.S. president might just be a Russian asset?


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Do you still believe the president could be a Russian asset?

MCCABE: I think it's possible. I think that's why we started our investigation and I'm really anxious to see where director Mueller concludes that.


VAUSE: And here he is on Trump campaign officials and their numerous ties to Russia.


MCCABE: It's extraordinary. I don't think we've ever seen anything quite like it. I'm not a familiar -- I'm not aware of a single other campaign that's been investigated or looked at for the same curios ties with Russia.

Numerous people in and around the president, in and around the campaign maintained contacts with individuals from Russia, people connected to the Russian intelligence services. You have a number who have been charged, a number who've been already convicted and pled guilty for all kinds of different offenses. I think I saw in reporting, open source reporting today, maybe the New York Times story is documented over 1,100 contacts between people associated with the Trump campaign and the government of Russia.

I mean that is not a situation I have ever seen before and why so many of those individuals are seemed to be trying to conceal those contacts is something that we should all be concerned about.


VAUSE: And that was the former Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe speaking to CNN's Anderson Cooper. A new congressional investigation has put former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn back in the spotlight. According to this report from House Democrats, White House officials in the early months of the Trump administration pushed a proposal to export nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia. A project vigorously backed by Flynn.

This came despite repeated warnings from National Security Council officials about possible ethical breaches and potential illegalities of the plan which was pitched by IP3 International, a private company founded by former U.S. generals.

And now to Haiti with the country's leaders are in crisis mode after nearly two weeks of violent anti-government protests. And now the prime minister claims eight men arrested on Sunday with an arsenal, illegal weapons, terrorists planning to attack the government. The Prime Minister made his claim without providing any evidence. Five of the eight men are Americans.

For now though, the focus for the government is restoring confidence amid corruption allegations and soaring inflation. Opposition leaders are still demanding president and his prime minister resign. Venezuela has closed its aerial and maritime borders with the Dutch

Antilles on the orders of the besieged President Nicolas Maduro. The move comes with reports the opposition was planning to bring in aid from Aruba, (INAUDIBLE) and Bonaire. Stefano Pozzebon possible reports now from Caracas.


STEFANO POZZEBON, JOURNALIST: Yes, a dramatic escalation of the repercussions that these constitutional crises inside Venezuela is having abroad if Nicolas Maduro felt that he was bold enough to close the border not only with one of his closest neighbor but also with the territory, the Dutch Antilles that are eventually part of the European Union, they're part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

If he felt that he was bold enough or forced to shut the border with the Curacao and the ABC Island Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao to prevent humanitarian aid entering Venezuela On February 23. This can give us an idea of the implications and how serious the escalation could get to on that crucial day.

[01:15:05] But as we're talking about international repercussions, and all the geopolitics that's a stake in this that's started as a constitutional crisis at the heart of Venezuelan, with the president of the National Assembly, Juan Guaido, swearing himself in as the acting president against the embattled incumbent leader, Nicolas Maduro.

This started as a domestic crisis for Venezuela, but as already escalated is a full-blown international crisis. And the Cuban foreign ministry, one of the closest and strongest ally of Nicolas Maduro, chief (INAUDIBLE) today. Here is what the Cuban foreign minister said on Monday.


BRUNO RODRIGUEZ PARRILLA, MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS, CUBA (through translator): The government of the U.S. has invented and fabricated in Washington an imperialist coup with the president made in the capital of the north.

That plan has not worked internally in Venezuela. We could cite many U.S. sources accredited media, given all the details on how the coup was created.


POZZEBON: Strong words indeed by the Cuban foreign ministry. Strong words that were the same that Nicolas Maduro on Monday night, used to respond to U.S. President Donald Trump.

Both are saying that the U.S. are fabricating a crisis inside Venezuela. Especially to divert attention from internal problems of the United States. But still, the clock is ticking in. The key date of February 23 is fast approaching and perhaps, now more than ever, the balance of power is within the military armed forces of Venezuela. Will they really block humanitarian aid -- much-needed humanitarian aid for entering the country? For CNN, this Stefano Pozzebon, Caracas.

VAUSE: Just days before a conference on sexual abuse, the Vatican has confirmed that is a procedure in place which deals with priests who fathered children?

A spokesman says, these secret rules ask the priest to leave the priesthood and take on the responsibility of being a parent. Monsignor told the New York Times the guidelines are more formality than an order.

A man whose father was a priest told the times, he was shown the document when he traveled to Rome. The revelation is the latest scandal ahead of the Vatican summit on clerical sexual abuse. Bishops from around the world have been summoned to Rome to deal with what seems to be a never-ending and growing crisis for the church. Here's Delia Gallagher, reporting from Rome.


DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN VATICAN CORRESPONDENT: "It's time to look this monster in the face." The Vatican spokesman all of the standard result he said at the beginning of what would be one of the most- watched weeks in Rome when 190 bishops from around the world meet with Pope Francis to discuss the sex abuse crisis.

17 years after American bishops first came to Rome in 2002 to meet with John Paul II about sex abuse, the Vatican has finally decided it's time to make sure all countries in the world are on the same page.

Just what priest, Father Federico Lombardi, the moderator of the three-day meeting, says continuing revelations of sex abuse throughout the world make the meeting necessary.

FEDERICO LOMBARDI, FORMER DIRECTOR, HOLY SEE PRESS OFFICE: There are continually crises a new and the new that demonstrate also to the people of God and to the entire people that the problem is coming out, is coming to the surface in the different lands and situations.

GALLAGHER: The Pope in the Vatican have tried to downplay expectations for the meeting, but international pressure on them is mounting.

LOMBARDI: I think we needed to avoid misunderstanding. That these -- the misunderstanding is in these three days, we will solve every problem.

GALLAGHER: Organizers say that the meeting will focus on bringing bishops up to speed on responsibility, accountability, and transparency. And there will be testimony from sex abuse survivors.

And Pope Francis has asked bishops' participating in the meeting to meet with survivors in their home countries before coming to Rome. But Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, a member of the organizing committee says the challenges of addressing the problem in different countries and cultures is great.

HANS ZOLLNER, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR CHILD PROTECTION, PONTIFICAL GREGORIAN UNIVERSITY (through translator): It's still common to hear not only from religious people that their problem in their country doesn't exist.

GALLAGHER: Father Zollner, says that even in countries where the problem is acknowledged like the United States, norms and laws are not enough to stop it. For decades, the church has been accused of being silent handling sex abuse cases internally, rather than calling police.

ZOLLNER: It's a question of how to change attitudes, and that is much more difficult than changing a law and thinking that, that is the solution.

[01:20:08] GALLAGHER: Pope Francis on Sunday called the protection of children, an urgent challenge for our times. And he will be present throughout the meeting.

A small step on a long road, for survivors, Catholic faithful, and for the Vatican. Delia Gallagher, CNN, Rome.


VAUSE: Thousands of protesters have marched in cities across France outraged by a recent spate of anti-Semitic attacks. This one on Tuesday was at Republique, square in Paris.

And earlier this week, about 80 grains of the cemetery near Strasburg were desecrated with swastikas and other graffiti.


ALLAN BEIL, MARCHING AGAINST ANTI-SEMITISM: It was very nice to be here and to see -- to see that a lot of people -- not only Jewish people were here to say, OK, no to anti-Semitism. But I think, now, what is the next step? And we have to see what would be the next step.

MELANGE LUCE, MARCHING AGAINST ANTI-SEMITISM: We have to train people against cliche. We have to fight cliche in school and teach people that being Jewish doesn't mean you are rich. And that being Jewish doesn't mean that your difference from your -- from you, from your neighbor.


VAUSE: French President Emmanuel Macron, says the vandals are not worthy of the Republic and they will be punished.

Next up here on CNN NEWSROOM, an exclusive interview with Taiwan's president who is warning the world about the threat from Beijing's growing military ambitions.


VAUSE: Taiwan's president says, the military threat posed by China is growing every day. In an exclusive interview with CNN, Tsai Ing-wen warns Beijing geopolitical ambitions are global threat, and that won't stop at Taiwan. CNN's Matt Rivers joins us now live from Taipei.

You know, Matt, Taiwan's leader wasn't just you know, very blunt about this warning about Beijing. She also talked about her plans to run for office again despite her popularity taking a pretty big hit with the struggling economy.

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. That's right, John. She did actually make some news in our interview confirming that she does plan. For the first time publicly, she confirmed that she does plan on running for reelection in 2020.

And she does face a number of challenges as she faces an economy here that has been slowing down. Her own poll ratings took a hit after the end of 2018, after local elections. But she remains confident that she can win reelection in 2020.

But when she spoke to us, we did talk a lot about China, and what here in Taiwan, they perceive as the threat from Beijing. And she really -- President Tsai really took steps to frame this issue not just as a China-Taiwan issue, but more of an issue that what's happening here in Taiwan could be extended as what they say China's expansionism goals continue.


[01:25:23] RIVERS: As the U.S. grapples with a more combated China, the economically, politically, militarily, one small island says it's already fighting those battles on the front line. Taiwan, about 100 miles off China's coast.

Madam President, good to see you.


RIVERS: Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen, sat down with CNN for an exclusive interview. The threat from China was top of mind.

TSAI (through translator): China's ambitions and aggression are not just targeting Taiwan but also other countries in the region or even worldwide.

RIVERS: Taiwan is a vibrant democracy of 23 million people and the close U.S. ally, self-governed for seven decades. But Beijing still considers it a part of its territory to be retaken by force if necessary.

And since he took office, analysts say Chinese President Xi Jinping has increased military drills near the island.

TSAI: The military threats China poses on Taiwan grow every day.

RIVERS: The threats faced here could increasingly reflect what the U.S. might see from Beijing. Sized government says China might have meddled in Taiwan's elections last year, not unlike what American officials say Russia did to the U.S. in 2016. Beijing denies that.

The Trump administration believes China could do the same thing to the U.S. in 2020. And then, there's Huawei, the Chinese tech giant, the critics allege has close links to the government. Huawei denies that.

The U.S. now says, the company is a national security threat. Sized as Taiwan, has already done something about it.

TSAI: We have placed restrictions on the use of Huawei equipment in government agencies and other highly sensitive institutions.

RIVERS: But Taiwan is most concerned about China's powerful army. A nationalistic drumbeat from Beijing means speculation about China invading Taiwan went from a far-off notion to a scenario real enough that we're talking logistics.

TSAI: After withstanding the first wave of Chinese attacks ourselves, the rest of the world would stand up to exert strong pressure on China.

RIVERS: Despite having no formal diplomatic ties since 1979, the U.S. has sold billions of dollars' worth of weapons to Taiwan. In a recent op-ed, Senator Marco Rubio said China is the "geopolitical challenge of this century for the U.S."

For Taiwan, the future the senator talks about is right now. In Taipei's message is clear, what happens here, what happens to this democracy, could happen to others.

TSAI: But if it's Taiwan today, people should ask, who's next? Any country in the region if it no longer wants to submit to the will of China, they will face similar military threats.


RIVERS: Now John, for President Tsai, who is a member of the DPP, a party here in Taiwan that is traditionally advocated for independence -- formal independence from China, it really has been all about walking the fine line in her presidency.

On the one hand, she wants to maintain the status quo. She is not saying that she wants formal independence, but given what we've seen from Beijing, given Xi -- President Xi's more hardline stance, Tsai Ing-wen has been forced to come out publicly and say that she will never accept any sort of deal with China that could impact negatively Taiwan's independent nature here, actively acting independently in terms of just practice.

So, really it's a fine line for Tsai Ing-wen to have to walk not advocating for formal independence, but also saying that China needs to respect the will of 23 million people here in this democracy. VAUSE: Yes, well, that won't be easy. The Chinese boys oppose that. So, in their 1.4 billion on the mainland, it's a -- you know, Hercules-like struggle for the Taiwanese president. Thank you, Matt.

Still to come here. Music that makes a difference. See legendary guitarist Gary Clark Jr. like you've never seen him before. The man once dubbed the savior of the blues turning his passion on racism and the U.S. president.

Also, he was the creative genius who set new standards in fashion and rewrote the rules on business. The legacy of Karl Lagerfeld.


[01:31:42] JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. Thanks for staying with us.

I'm John Vause with the headlines this hour.

Donald Trump is denying an extensive report by the "New York Times" which cites multiple sources saying the President asked his former acting attorney general Matt Whitaker to appoint a Trump ally to oversee the investigation into his long-time fixer and personal lawyer Michael Cohen and hush money payments made before the U.S. election.

Venezuela has closed its aerial and maritime border with the Dutch Antilles. Opposition groups had been planning on bringing humanitarian aid in the country to the islands of Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire. Self-declared President Juan Guaido has promised aid deliveries this coming Saturday.

The Vatican admits it has secret guidelines for priests if they fathered children despite their vows of celibacy. A spokesman says the rules request that the priests leave the priesthood and take on the responsibility of being a parent. The revelation comes as bishops from around the world are preparing to meet with Pope Francis in Rome to discuss the Church's sex abuse crisis.

Fashion icon, creative genius and unmistakable signature style with his dark sunglasses, white shirt, ponytail. It was Karl Lagerfeld. He died on Tuesday in the city he helped turn into the fashion capital of the world.

We have more than from CNN's Jim Bittermann.


JIM BITTERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Amongst the kings of couture with his signature monochrome suit, dark classes and white ponytail, the iconic Karl Lagerfeld was a fashion designer, publisher and photographer synonymous with Chanel best known for reviving the French brand after becoming chief designer in 1983.

He also produced collections for Fendi and his own label, recognizable for his wit and carefully crafted persona.

KARL LAGERFELD, FASHION DESIGNER: Never make an ugly dress because somebody can buy.

BITTERMANN: His preferred material however may come as a surprise.

LAGERFELD: It all started with paper. I sketch. I design. It becomes a dress. I photograph it and print it on paper again if you see it like this, you know. And my favorite material is paper -- paper, paper, paper.

BITTERMANN: The German designer's family built its fortune importing condensed milk. But Lagerfeld moved from their home in Hamburg to begin his fashion career in Paris under Pierre Balmain. Winning his first design contest in 1954 alongside another aspiring designer and future fashion competitor Yves St. Laurent.

He later worked for the House of Patou and Chloe before being hired by Fendi in 1967 as consultant director responsible for modernizing the design house's fur line.

His decision to run Chanel founded by Coco Chanel turned him into one of the most celebrated fashion designers of the 21st century.

LAGERFELD: You can teach the craft but there has to be little more than that -- the eye, the wish, the desire and to think also that fashion is important without being too serious about it.

BITTERMANN: Revered in the esoteric (ph) world of high fashion, he combined artistic instinct with a refusal to look backward.

LAGERFELD: That's why I like (INAUDIBLE) about changes.

BITTERMANN: Not afraid to break with tradition during his later years, he worked with high street brand H&M in 2004 in a move that raised eyebrows among the fashion elite though it was quickly copied by others.

He then became an unlikely champion of models' rights, arguing against the retouching of photographs. Rumors swirled about his health after his absence from the Chanel show in January this year due to what the company described as fatigue.

[01:35:03] Reflecting on the industry he did so much to craft, he delivered a timeless message.

LAGERFELD: Fashion is not needed (ph). There are other problems in the world who may be more important so this is not a problem. But it's an industry. And you know, fashion has to go with time. If fashion doesn't go with time, fashion would be lost.


VAUSE: And celebrities around the world are remembering this fashion icon.

Italian designer Donatella Versace thanked Karl Lagerfeld for influencing her work and her late brother Gianni.

Spanish actor Antonio Banderas praised him as the world's most influential designer.

Fashion designer and former Spice Girl Victoria Beckham says she shared a personal and professional relationship with Lagerfeld.

English singer Lily Allen writes, "I never understood what you saw in me but you made me feel like a princess."

And from Elton John, "What a talent. What an appetite for life."

Even Bobby (ph) got in on the act with her own tribute posing in a Lagerfeld design.

And we have this statement from "Vogue". "Today the world has lost a giant among men."

And with that, we'll take a break.

When we come back thousands of auto workers could soon lose their jobs in U.K. Which car giant says the move has nothing to do with Brexit. That's ahead.

Plus married to ISIS -- why women who join the terror group say they should be allowed to return home.


VAUSE: For nearly two weeks ISIS has been surrounded and near the brink of defeat in its last Syrian enclave, Baghouz al-Fawqani. U.S.- backed Kurdish commanders say some of the jihadist have surrendered. Others though are thought to be still prepared to fight to the death.

And the Kurds say they have dozens of people ready to rescue civilians trapped in that village. The Syrian Democratic Forces claim to have seized a stockpile of ISIS weapons found in a warehouse.

With ISIS near defeat in Syria, authorities in Europe and the United States are facing a dilemma -- what to do with those who left to join the terror group some of them still teenagers.

CNN's Brian Todd reports on two ISIS brides who say they now want to go home.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): She made a bold and she now says foolish decision to leave her home in, of all places, Alabama to join ISIS overseas. And now this 24-year-old American woman is speaking out in new interviews about her life with the terrorist group.

Hoda Muthana told ABC News she was radicalized online in the U.S. then made her way to Syria through Turkey four years ago. But she tells the "Guardian" newspaper that reality hit her when she arrived in Syria.

[01:40:08] HODA MUTHANA, AMERICAN WOMAN WHO JOINES ISIS: I don't know. I thought I was doing things correctly for the sake of God. And when I came here and I saw everything with my own eyes, I realized that I made a big mistake and I know I ruined my future and my son's future and I deeply, deeply regret it.

TODD: Muthana said when she got there, ISIS offered her a list of fighters to choose from to marry. She had her choice she says of Westerners or Arabs. She says she was married three times to ISIS fighters including to an Australian man. And now has an 18-month-old son.

Analysts say a lot of promises ISIS made to Western women soon faded.

MIA BLOOM, AUTHOR, "SMALL ARMS: CHILDREN IN TERRORISM": Those women thought they were going to be frontline fighters. Once they got to Syria or Iraq, they found out they're basically there for one purpose and that was to procreate and getting married off and have many babies or as many babies as possible.

TODD: Muthana's first two husbands, she says, were killed in combat. After one of them died, according to one group that monitors terrorists, Muthana started tweeting calls for violence against Westerners.

In one tweet saying quote, "Go on drivebys and spill all of their blood or rent a big truck and drive all over them."

SEAMUS HUGES, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY PROGRAM ON EXTREMISM: Hoda was right in the mix for English-language propagandas. She was a well-known commodity.

TODD: Muthana now says she wishes she could take those tweets back.

Another ISIS bride, a British woman named Shamima Begum (ph) is also speaking out. Married off to an ISIS fighter as a teenager, Begum told Sky News she knew about ISIS' gruesome practice of beheadings even before she left her home in Britain.

SHAMIMA BEGUM, BRITISH TEEN WHO JOINED ISIS: You know, I knew about those things and I was ok with it.

TODD: Shamima Begum says people should have sympathy for her because of her experience in a war zone.

But one expert who monitors the plight of these women disagrees.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think they chose their own path. You know, we talk a lot about men and foreign fighters. But the women are the same age as the men. They went in there fair-eyed knowing exactly what they were joining into.

TODD (on camera): Both of the women interviewed said they wanted to return to their home countries. But a lawyer for the British woman Shamima Begum said she's going to be deprived of her British citizenship.

Analysts say the American woman Hoda Muthana could be prosecuted for supporting terrorism if she makes it back home.

We reached out to the Justice Department about that. We couldn't get comment from them on whether they want to prosecute her.

Brian Todd, CNN -- Washington.


VAUSE: Forgive me if this sounds familiar.

British Prime Minister Theresa May is due back in Brussels for Brexit talks. Pressure is building to reach a new deal with E.U. leaders. The Irish border will likely and certainly be on the agenda.

This latest rounds of talks will include the European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker. E.U. officials keep insisting the withdrawal agreement in place is the best the U.K. will get and it will not be renegotiated. So if nothing changes, the U.K. is headed for a hard Brexit on March 29th.

Another member of parliament has resigned from the Labour Party Joan Ryan announced her decision Tuesday. She says the Party has become infected with anti-Jewish racism under leader Jeremy Corbyn. Ryan joins seven other Labour party lawmakers who have recently resigned also because of anti-Semitism and Labour's handling of Brexit.

So leaving Brussels, leaving Labour, now leaving the U.K. Auto giant Honda says it's closing its only factory in Britain. Initial closing date is still at least two years away but that's little solace for the plant's thousands of workers.

CNN's Anna Stewart has more now from Swindon in England.


ANNA STEWARD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): They came in to work only to told to head back home. In two years they'll be leaving for good. Honda management confirmed the news they're closing the doors here, their only U.K. factory.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I found out from work yesterday. So you do know your husband doesn't have job in two years' time?

STEWART: Honda says it is leaving the U.K. due to unprecedented change in the industry. They want to push ahead with making electric vehicles and it will do so from plants in Japan, China and North America.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a blow to the whole British economy.

STEWART: The decision has nothing to do with Brexit, according to the company. But locals here in Swindon find that hard to believe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am disgusted the way they've handled everything -- the government, the parliament. It's just disgusting. It should have been sorted weeks, months ago. Terrible. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

STEWART: The plant is one of the biggest employers in the region. And most found out about it closing on the news.

(on camera): You found out not from your employer but from --


STEWART: Frederick (INAUDIBLE) works at the quality control end of Honda's production line.

A lot of people that work for Honda lives in Swindon. And once they're gone --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I mean how are people going to pay their mortgages?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How are people going to pay their mortgages. I mean it is a disaster really.

STEWART (voice over): It is two years until the factory will close but finding another job in this U.K. auto sector could be difficult.

[01:44:54] (on camera): Land Rover have said they're cutting 4,500 jobs worldwide having already cut 1,500 last year. Ford have said their operations in the U.K. where they employ 13,000 workers are at risk from a hard or no deal Brexit. And then there's Nissan who said they are no longer going to make a new model of car, the X-trail at their British plant.

Things here could get worse before they get better.

(voice over): A new E.U.-Japan free trade agreement has reduced the need to make cars within the bloc. All this has ripple effects beyond the big car makers. Thousands of people work in companies and the automotive supply chains up and down the country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is going to be the end of Swindon. It's going to be the end of Swindon.

STEWART: Anna Stewart, CNN -- Swindon.


VAUSE: Next up on CNN NEWSROOM blues musician Gary Clark, Jr. has a message for Trump supporters in song about what it is like to be black in the American South.


VAUSE: It's often been said being president of the United States doesn't build character but reveals character. Critics and opponents would argue the past two years have revealed much about Donald Trump. In particular the racism and bigotry are a feature of this presidency,

not an aberration. It's been a unifying motivation for many artists and performers.

The political protest song hasn't seen days like this since the 60s. The music and lyrics in many cases are powerful, moving and personal. And while the driving force of their anger and despair is obvious, often the President himself and his supporters are implied and not named, that is until now.


VAUSE: That's part of the title track from a new album from one of the most talented musicians of the generation -- Gary Clark Jr. It's called "This Land" -- (INAUDIBLE) in your face protest song about racism. Discrimination, the U.S. president and his supporters. What feels like years of anger and outrage and frustration packed into three minutes and 41 seconds.

Gary Clark Jr. joins us now from Los Angeles. So Gary -- thank you for being with us. We appreciate it.

GARY CLARK JR., MUSICIAN: Thanks for having me.

VAUSE: We need to start with the back story here, you know, to the song because these events actually really did happen. You do live in Trump country. Mr. Williams is a real person. He's your neighbor and if this song is any indication he's a miserable raciest.

So go back to the day you had that run-in with Mr. Williams.

CLARK: Well, just to clear it up, Mr. Williams is not this gentleman's name. It's kind of a figure used throughout the album a little bit.

But the inspiration for the song was, you know it was around 2016, around the elections and everything that's going on. You guys were letting me in on a lot of information. And also having the conversation with people that I was in the studio with.

[01:50:05] We have young kids and -- and -- we were just talking about what kind of world we're in and at the time I had this incident with this particular person who walked up to my house or drove up to my house and, you know, we exchanged some words. It made me feel -- it was sad to feel like I wasn't equal to, you know, another one.


VAUSE: You live on a property in Texas. And this guy essentially questioned your ability to own such property because it was expensive (INAUDIBLE), right. And he did this in front of your son which makes it even worse.

CLARK: It just got me thinking and it kind of got me frustrated and I was thinking about my childhood and growing up and, you know, people confronting me with the confederate flag and calling me out my name and making me just feel like I wasn't -- you know like anybody else. It was just -- you know, something I dealt with and I could usually can brush it off. But it was, just in the time and, you know and having children now it just frustrated and, you know, everything in my life kind of affects me into a point where I write about it in my music. That's my way of getting it off my chest and kind of my therapy.

VAUSE: Is in the past, you've talked about the importance of family. You said it keeps you grounded. You can put your shoulders back and you can hold your head up high because of your family.

You are a mixed family. Your wife Nicole is Australian born, she's a model. You have two beautiful kids. You're all featured in a recent ad campaign, you know, by a designer John Varvatos. This is -- this is the dream version, if you like, of what post-racial America should look like.

Advertising campaign are essentially aspirational. And to bring this back to the album, do you think that America of 2019, especially what they call fly over country, are there still aspirations to move beyond racism or discrimination? Or do you feel almost like the country is going backwards?

CLARK: Maybe a little bit stalled. But no, I wouldn't even say that. I would say there's four moments when there's a little bit of resistance but I feel that we'll be all right.

VAUSE: Yes. You know, over the weekend you performed "This Land" as the closing number on "Saturday Night Live". Here it is.


VAUSE: You know, the rules of regulations when it comes to language which could be used on a broadcast three-way television network like NBC which, you know, which is where they have SNL. Certain words are banned including the N word which is in the song. Now, the sanitized SNL version, it seemed to lack, you know, some of the power and, you know, some of the anger of the studio recording.

Having said that it was still creating a lot of buzz and earned you a lot of praise. But how did you feel about it?

CLARK: Well, I'm a fan of the show. I would like to be invited back and they asked me to take out a couple of words. And I understand what that is. But I think overall you can understand what the message is of that song and where I'm coming from.

VAUSE: Yes. You know, in 2012, President Obama, he invited you to perform at the White House.


VAUSE: At the time, you know, he called you the future of the future of music. And so there's no pressure at all for that performance. Again let's go back to 2012 and take a quick look.


VAUSE: There's a great shot of him up there, enjoying the music. You know, for most of his presidency, the theory was the President Obama played it cool because, you know, there is this fear of alienating white voters by coming across as this mythical, angry, black man.

You seem to be taking the polar opposite approach now to this latest album. You know obviously you're not an elected politician but are you worried that, you know, some white American will just see the anger in them and they'll miss the message?

CLARK: Maybe. You know, I've actually had a little bit of push back. And what this song has done for me is through social media I've been able to have conversations with people directly. And it started a dialogue which has ended in a peaceful resolution. And it's basically giving each other perspectives, you know.

And at the end of the day, I'm not angry all the time. But some things make me angry. Some things make us angry, you know.

[01:54:55] As a human being and I go through all the emotions and so to deny this for fear of alienating people would not be -- I wouldn't be being my authentic, true self in everything that I feel and I feel like art reflects life and if you're going to do the happy love, hope, you know, let's put everything into it.

VAUSE: You know, this new album comes out next week. And it seems it's just from a musical point of view, a real mix of styles and genres. There's a little Hendrix, a little bit of (INAUDIBLE) as well.


VAUSE: Your first two albums seed to come with all of this pressure. You know, you were the guy who sang blues. That's not here this time. And it seems that, you know, this album is shaping up, you know, to be a success with the critics like the first two but also a really big commercial here. I think there's a lot.

CLARK: Yes. I'm really excited about this album. I put a lot into it. I wanted to push the limit and not just be the guitar player, Texas guitar slinger that people may know me for but really write, compose songs, you know, and arrangements.

I got to really lock down in the studio and realize (INAUDIBLE) and that was "This Land". I'm really proud of it and I'm excited about the buzz that it's had so far and I'm excited to share it with the people.


VAUSE: Hey well, best of luck. I don't think you need it. But I'm sure that everything is -- you know, this is one which looks like to be a success and a huge success and a moment well deserved -- Gary. So thank you.

Great to have you with us.

CLARK: Thanks -- John.

VAUSE: And thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM.

Stay with us. A lot more news after a very short break.


VAUSE: Hello everybody. Thanks for joining us. I'm John Vause.

You're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

Ahead this hour. The ever increasing number of victims of clerical abuse. On the eve of an unprecedented gathering in Rome to confront this crisis, compelling new accounts from women who say they were targets of predator priests.

Plus if Donald Trump is right and the Russia investigation is nothing more than a witch and fake news then how do you explain the extensive cover up detailed in an investigative report by the "New York Times".