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U.S. Coast Guard Officer Hasson 'Planned Terror Attack'; Actor Who Claimed Attack Now Faces Felony Charge; Police Working To Obtain Smollett's Financial Records; Hanoi Barber Offers Trump Or Kim Styles For Free. Aired 2-3a ET
Aired February 21, 2019 - 02:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Welcome to our viewers joining us from all around the world. I'm Rosemary Church with your next two of hours of CNN NEWSROOM. Let's get started.
A fast moving blaze engulfs apartments in the Bangladeshi capital, trapping and killing people.
The long awaited Mueller report, the investigation could be over by next week.
The next question, will it be made public?
Plus a CNN exclusive: two sisters accuse Saudi officials of trying to kidnap them for daring to escape an abusive family.
CHURCH: We're following a deadly fire in Dhaka, Bangladesh, that claimed at least 70 lives. They were killed when flames ripped through a historic part of the Bangladesh capital. Customers dining inside a restaurant are among the dead. Nikhil Kumar has more from New Delhi.
What is the latest information you have on this deadly devastating fire in Dhaka and how it started?
NIKHIL KUMAR, CNN NEW DELHI BUREAU CHIEF: Rosemary, the full picture is still coming out as to what exactly happened. From what the authorities told us, it began with a gas cylinder in a car that was parked in the area, this historic part of the Bangladeshi capital.
The gas exploding led to the fire which quickly ripped through the entire area and hitting five buildings, two of which were so badly damaged that there's concerns about whether they would remain standing.
At least 70 people have been killed, 40 people we've been told are in hospital being treated for injuries. We don't have insight into the severity of the injuries. We're waiting to find out more.
One of the reasons the fire seems to have spread so rapidly is one of the buildings that was caught up in the blaze, it was a perfume warehouse and there were chemicals and plastics, flammable material and it fed the fire and became bigger.
The flames were finally put out early in the morning. They're still taking full stock of how many people may be caught up or trapped. There was a restaurant there. And how many were injured. We're still waiting for all of these details to come out.
I should point out that this is the latest in a series of disasters in industrial settings that we've seen in recent years in Bangladesh. We had a building collapse a few years ago. Before that in 2012, we had a fire at a textile factory on the outskirts, where 117 people were killed.
Both times the questions were asked about worker safety and building regulations, whether they were followed. No doubt that will follow as well in this case. That's after the authorities put a proper handle on how many people were caught up in the operations on the ground are completed -- Rosemary.
CHURCH: Nikhil Kumar, bringing us the latest on that devastating fire there. Appreciate it.
Well, two years and nearly 200 criminal counts later, special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation is coming to a close. People familiar with the plans tell CNN that attorney general Bill Barr will make the announcement as early as next week.
Two major questions, will the report implicate Trump and how much of the findings will be made public?
CNN's Evan Perez reports.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Sometime in the next few days, attorney general Bill Barr is planning to officially announce that special counsel Mueller has completed his investigation.
People briefed on the plans tell CNN that the attorney general is going to review Mueller's confidential report and then provide a summary to Congress. What is in that report is still an open question. It could set up wrangling between Congress and the Justice Department.
Members of Congress tried to press the attorney general to provide Mueller's full report but he wouldn't make that promise.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-S.C.), MEMBER, ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: When the report comes to you, will you share it with us as much as possible? WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: Consistent with regulations and the law, yes.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIF.: Will you provide Mueller's report to Congress, not your rewrite or a summary?
BARR: All I can say at this stage, because I have no clue as to what is being planned, is I'm going to try to get the information out there consistent with the regulations and to the extent I have discretion I'll exercise that discretion to do that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PEREZ: We've seen signs that Mueller is wrapping up. That includes the prosecutors --
PEREZ: -- leaving the special counsel team and we've seen prosecutors from other parts of the Justice Department taking over parts of Mueller's investigation.
For instance, the prosecution of Roger Stone, which is now being handled by the U.S. attorney's office here in Washington. The end of Mueller's work still leaves several important investigations connected to the president.
The most high-profile one is the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan which has sent subpoenas for records related to the Trump inauguration. Trump lawyers expect that the president and his family owned company are going to be under investigation through the rest of his presidency -- Evan Perez, CNN, Washington.
CHURCH: "The New York Times" politics editor Patrick Healy joins me now. He's also a CNN political analyst.
Great to have you with us.
PATRICK HEALY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Hi, Rosemary.
CHURCH: We're now hearing that the Mueller report could very well come out as early as next week. We don't know if we'll actually see it or unless, of course, someone leaks it.
But at this point it is up to the discretion of the new attorney general, Bill Barr, as to what he will do with it.
How much of the Mueller report do you think Barr will disclose to the Congress and, of course, the public?
HEALY: Barr has been pretty circumspect about this. He hasn't taken a strong position saying there will be full transparency. The party line seems to be generally the Justice Department does not comment when there isn't an actual charge coming out of a report. So in terms of disclosing the sort of details of what Mueller submits,
you know, is not something that Barr is committing to. The question is, he's going to have a very restive Congress, both Democrats feeling they want a very full accounting about the last two years of what Robert Mueller found and evaluated with Trump.
Then I think the Republicans who , especially if they believe that there's no kind of there there with regard to Trump, may want that to come out so they could brand this as a great expensive money for nothing.
Really is sort of a big question.
What is -- what is going on come out officially and then potentially through leaks?
CHURCH: Right. Let's look at what has come out of the Mueller investigation. So far here, we see all of the guilty pleasure; seven in total, including former national security advisor Michael Flynn and former Trump attorney Michael Cohen and former Trump chairman campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
Here's a snapshot of what the Mueller probe achieved so far: 199 overall criminal counts, 37 people and entities charged and as we saw, seven guilty pleas.
So how significant is this outcome and -- and would you expect any more indictments or do you think that part of it is over?
HEALY: Well, it is significant work. What Mueller and his team have found is sort of a succession and series of lies and false statements that have been told by people very close to Donald Trump.
In some cases, it is like Michael Cohen, who have been with the president certainly for years before he entered the White House. These are people who were confidants and their role is to protect the president and for a variety of reasons they chose to make false statements.
Then the degree to which Mueller has -- has drawn kind of a pattern it seems like of people who the president has chosen to surround himself with, get advice with and get protection from, you know it is a very damning portrait of the people who -- who this president seems to trust the most.
CHURCH: Could there possibly be any surprises in the release of this report?
Or is that not Mueller's style?
We know the Ken Starr report in 1998 was this massive investigative account of U.S. President Bill Clinton by independent counsel Ken Starr.
It was a massive report, wasn't it, for Congress, completely open and it went public. We're not going to necessarily see that.
But Mueller is not a flashy guy, is he?
HEALY: That's right. I think you're -- there's something important here. Robert Mueller is not someone, from what we can tell who -- who -- especially from people who worked with him before -- who I think is going to, from what people say, is likely to ladle the --
HEALY: -- final report with lots of surprises and bombshells and things that wouldn't come out before in terms of -- of -- of indictments and -- and supportive evidence for those indictments that have come out before.
The notion that -- that he might sort of stack a report with a lot of -- of sort of stunning information at the end that -- generally might be stunning and might be quite interesting but sort of shocking information, at least according to people that know him, you know, doesn't seem his style.
CHURCH: We'll know more at least in the coming days. Patrick Healy, thank you so much for joining us.
HEALY: Thank you.
CHURCH: Now it is important to remember that special counsel Mueller spun off several investigations to U.S. attorneys' offices and the Democrats and the House of Representatives are also pursuing a number of angles.
The Trump Organization and the Trump inaugural committee are under investigation by the Southern District of New York. The Trump Foundation by the New York state attorney general and Congress is looking into the Trump campaign, the Trump transition and the Trump administration.
Nearly 200 Catholic Church leaders are gathering at the Vatican for an unprecedented meeting on clergy abuse. Though the Vatican has tried to lower expectations, survivors are demanding zero tolerance for the abusers and the bishops that cover up for them.
A group of victims met with Vatican officials Wednesday and they were disappointed that the pope wasn't in the meeting, even though he was never scheduled to attend.
Rosa Flores is in Rome and joins us live with the latest.
Good to see you, Rosa.
This is a problem for the Vatican, isn't it?
Unfulfilled expectations in the midst of so many sexual scandals.
What is the reaction there so far?
What has the Vatican promised as an outcome with this summit?
ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You mentioned the Vatican has tried to deflate expectations. The reality is that survivors have descended on Rome from all corners of the world, demanding accountability.
You know, as you mentioned, they have met with the organizers of this meeting. It is a four-day meeting. The pope will deliver two separate speeches. There will be working groups and -- and a sharing of best practices.
But these survivors really are demanding zero tolerance. What is important to mention about that is the nuance. They're not just asking for zero tolerance for abusers. They're also asking for zero tolerance of those who have covered up. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PETER ISELY, ENDING CLERGY ABUSE: We made our demands. We think that's the demands of not just survivors but people everywhere for zero tolerance, that we end this summit and its universal church law that the pope writes into the universal church law.
Zero tolerance for the coverup of sex crimes. They could do it right now, they've got the evidence and many bishops.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FLORES: There have been very -- there's -- there's been -- excuse me -- a lot of attention in the Catholic Church. It has been a tumultuous year for the church with high-profile resignations and the defrocking of a very high-profile, powerful cardinal in the United States, Theodore McCarrick, and investigations coming out from different corners of the world.
In the United States specifically, the Pennsylvania grand jury report was a bombshell, revealing about 300 predator priests and more than a thousand victims in that state alone.
That -- that triggered investigations from law enforcement in the United States at the local, state and federal levels. So when we talk about the expectations of this meeting, the stakes are really high. People are really hoping that real change comes from this.
CHURCH: They are. Their expectations are very high, as you say. It is difficult to see how the Vatican can meet or come anywhere near those expectations. Rosa Flores, thanks for joining us and bringing us up to date on the situation there.
The British prime minister is racing against the clock as the Brexit deadline draws closer. Now just 36 days to go, Theresa May is aggressively working to find an agreement. On Wednesday she met with the E.U. commission president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I had a constructive meeting with President Juncker this evening. I've underlined the need for legally binding changes to the backstop to ensure that it cannot be indefinite.
That's what is required, if a deal is to pass the House of Commons. We've agreed to find a solution we'll continue at pace. Time is of the essence and it is in our both interests that when the U.K. leaves the E.U., it does so in an orderly way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHURCH: Those talks come after a dramatic day in Westminster. Three members of the Conservative Party resigned over what they called the disastrous handling of Brexit and our Phil Black reports from London.
PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The U.K.'s traditional political landscape has been dramatically reshaped even further. Three MPs from the prime minister's own Conservative Party are the latest to join the newly formed independent group.
ANNA SOUBRY, FORMER BRITISH CONSERVATIVE MP: The hardline anti-E.U. awkward squad that have destroyed every leader for the last 40 years, are now running the Conservative Party.
HEIDI ALLEN, FORMER BRITISH CONSERVATIVE MP: Dragging the country and Parliament kicking and screaming to the edge of a no deal abyss, I'm done.
SARAH WOLLASTON, FORMER BRITISH CONSERVATIVE MP: There comes a point when running down the clock is in effect the same thing.
BLACK: These three MPs, like the former Labour MPs who began jumping Monday, are deeply opposed to Brexit. More than that, they are angry with the prime minister because they say she is still irresponsibly driving the country towards what they believe is a cliff-edge scenario of a no deal Brexit.
Also like those from Labour, they're deeply concerned and really fed up with the culture and direction of the parties that had, until recently, been their political home. They say the Conservative Party has been taken over by the hard right pro-Brexit wing of the party.
It has abdicated the center ground of politics, they say, leaving millions of people across the country politically homeless.
BLACK (voice-over): The three former conservatives joined the A2 Quit Labour and sat in Parliament together for the first time. The independent group now matches the Liberal Democrat party for numbers. They're both the fourth largest political groupings in the House of Commons.
BLACK: Those members who form the independent group now say their numbers will only continue to grow if the leaders of the traditional parties do not change their ways. -- Phil Black, CNN, London.
CHURCH: We'll take a short break. Still to come, tons of food and medicine piling up on the Venezuelan border. A plan is now in the works to get the aid in the country where it is needed.
Plus Russia has a warning for the West. What it means for the possibility of nuclear war. We're back in a moment.
CHURCH: We turn now to the tense situation in Venezuela. Saturday could be a pivotal day as the nation struggles through a political crisis and chronic shortages of basic goods.
Tons of international aid are sitting idle at the Venezuelan border after President Maduro essentially locked down his country. He claims the food and medicine are not needed.
Opposition leader Juan Guaido said he will go to the border crossings on Saturday and appeal directly to the military to let the aid through.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JUAN GUAIDO, INTERIM PRESIDENT OF VENEZUELA (through translator): On the 23rd, we will go to each and every post to demand humanitarian aid be allowed in, that they allow us to help and save lives in our country and that they make room for us to open the humanitarian channel.
It is not enough we know to achieve the entry of aid. We must open humanitarian channels no matter what on this historic February 23rd.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHURCH: Joining me now is Brett Bruen. He is a former director of global engagement at the White House.
Thank you for joining us.
BRETT BRUEN, FORMER U.S. DIRECTOR OF GLOBAL ENGAGEMENT: Good to be with you.
CHURCH: Venezuelan president Maduro has boasted he has the full support of the country's military. Just a few hours ago, the country's diplomatic military attache to the U.N. posted a social media video, recognizing Juan Guaido as the interim president.
Could this signal the beginning of the end for Maduro, do you think?
BRUEN: We've seen a number of foreign military diplomatic attaches that have peeled off. So far internally there have been fewer defections. This is really the critical question.
Will we see in the lead-up to and perhaps on Saturday, when Guaido is mounting an effort to get aid into the country, more military decide that Maduro's time is up and they are going to throw their lot in with Guaido?
CHURCH: What would they weigh up as to what they do at this point and how much discussion would they have with the rest of their colleagues?
BRUEN: You have this challenge. Maduro has -- has stood up for -- the last month to international pressure and to internal pressure from people in the streets and the political opposition.
The military is following all of this, they've got to see a clear sign that -- that the international community is able to -- to affect conditions on the ground, not just with words, not just with humanitarian aid piling up on the border.
This is why Saturday becomes so important. If there are cracks in the blockade that Maduro is mounting on the border, if there's military officers that are unwilling to stand between their people and the humanitarian aid, then I think it is a troubling sign for Maduro and his days are limited.
CHURCH: What do they need to say to make that leap to Guaido?
GREUEL: They need to see that Guaido could deliver. We've heard a lot of words and his ambition and a different future for the Venezuelan people but now he needs to show the ability to bring in some of that humanitarian aid, to peel off some of those military officers, who are willing to -- to stand with him.
Those conditions will -- will start to -- to -- to change the calculus of other military government officials and that right now is the X factor. If Guaido can deliver, I think we'll see a change in direction for the country. If Maduro holds up on Saturday, it does not bode well for Guaido.
CHURCH: Amnesty International published information that details some of the brutality of the Maduro regime on Wednesday. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERIKA GUEVARA ROSAS, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL (through translator): In this period between January 21st and January 25th, we have documented 45 people who lost their lives in the context of a repressive and systematic policy, the security forces under the command of Nicolas Maduro.
There's more than 900 people detained within a period of five days. People who included dozens of children and minors who were subjected to --
ROSAS (through translator): -- mistreatment, to arbitrary detention and were mixed with adults in detention centers and many of these children and girls.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHURCH: So this was punishment for protesting against the regime.
Do reports like this have any impact?
BRUEN: The problem is that a lot of these actions are happening in the shadows. What will be interesting on Saturday is the images of -- of potential confrontations. If we see the military services brutally repressing unarmed civilians, that will be an image seared into the consciousness of both Venezuelans and those following events around the world. That could be very powerful.
CHURCH: Brett Bruen, thank you so much. We will be watching to see what happens in Venezuela in the days ahead. Many thanks.
BRUEN: Thank you.
CHURCH: Well, the likelihood of global nuclear war probably increased on Wednesday. Russian president Vladimir Putin laying out his reasoning for potentially attacking the West, including Washington.
NATO called it unacceptable and the U.S. State Department called it Russian propaganda. The latest verbal sparring is over the all but defunct nuclear forces or INF Treaty. Fred Pleitgen reports from Moscow.
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Russian President Putin threatening to target Washington, D.C., with nuclear weapons if the U.S. deploys medium-range nukes in Europe. The thinly veiled threat coming during Putin's annual speech to Russian lawmakers.
VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through translator): Russia will be forced to create and develop weapons which can be used not only for those territories from which threats may be directed at us but also toward those territories with centers of decision-making in employing rocket systems that are threatening to us.
PLEITGEN (voice-over): Putin ripped into the U.S. for pulling out of the treaty banning intermediate range nuclear weapons. And the U.S. and its allies say Russia breached the deal, secretly developing and deploying medium-range nuclear capable missiles. Putin also announcing a new hypersonic weapon he says will be deployed soon.
PUTIN (through translator): Can they count? I'm sure they can. Let them count the speed and the range of the advanced weapons we're developing. We asked them just one thing. Do the calculation first. And only then make decisions that can create additional serious threats for our country, which, of course, will lead to retaliatory actions from Russia.
PLEITGEN (voice-over): Putin claiming Russia wants better relations with the U.S. but saying Washington needs to take the first step. But Moscow is not hopeful. A senior Russian lawmaker blasting remarks by former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe, saying President Trump could be a Kremlin asset.
ALEKSEY PUSHKOV, RUSSIAN SENATOR: All this nonsense about President Trump I think shows that there's some kind of deep psychological crisis in Washington. When former state officials suggest that American president colludes with Russia, there's something wrong.
PLEITGEN: Putin said Russia does not want a confrontation with the West and only would retaliate if attacked but Moscow is ramping up its arsenal and its rhetoric as relations with the U.S. continue to sour -- Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Moscow.
CHURCH: Ousting ISIS trucks packed with civilians roll out of the last ISIS stronghold in Syria as U.S. backed forces prepare for a final assault.
Plus a CNN exclusive: two sisters who flew to Hong Kong to escape what they say was a lifetime of abuse. Now they're trapped in limbo after their plan was foiled at the airport.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (from captions): When we scream in his face, saying, return my passport, you have no right to take it, you crossed the line, we will tell the police, he's scared. And then we took our passport and literally run away.
IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: In the airport?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In the airport.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[02:31:42] CHURCH: Welcome back, everyone. I'm Rosemary Church. I want to update you now on the main stories we are following this hour. At least 70 people were killed when a fire tore through several buildings in an historic part of the Bangladesh Capital, Dhaka. Crews spent hours battling the blaze and say it is now out. It's believed to have started with a fuel cylinder in a car exploded.
After two years and nearly 200 criminal counts, Robert Mueller's Russia investigation appears to be wrapping up. Sources tell CNN Attorney General Bill Barr will make the announcement as soon as next week. It's not clear if any of the report will be made public. Getting started right now at the Vatican, unprecedented summit of church leaders on clergy sexual abuse, about 200 Catholic leaders from around the world are meeting to address the growing number of scandals the church faces.
Victims are demanding zero-tolerance for abusers and the bishops who cover up for them. A young woman who left the U.S. State of Alabama to join ISIS will not be allowed to return to America. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says Hoda Muthana is not a U.S. citizen and cannot come into the country. But a family spokesman claim she was born in New Jersey. Muthana went to Syria four years ago and became known for sharing ISIS propaganda online.
She once tweeted a photo of her American passport saying bonfire soon, no need for these anymore. Muthana now says she regrets her actions. Another woman who left her home to join ISIS is less remorseful and that's one of the reasons the U.K. is planning to revoke Shamima Begum's citizenship.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SAJID JAVID, BRITISH HOME SECRETARY: Now, that the so-called caliphate is crumbling, some of them want to return. And I've been very clear, Mrs. Speaker, where I can and where any threat remains, I will not hesitate to prevent this. The powers available to me include banning non-British people from this country and stripping dangerous nationals of their British citizenship. But we must of course observe international law and we cannot do this if it would leave someone stateless.
So we're individuals do manage to return, they will be questioned, investigated, and potentially prosecuted.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHURCH: Begum's family has ties to Bangladesh, but the country says she is not a citizen and won't be allowed in. Well, on the battlefield, U.S.-backed militias are fighting to oust ISIS from its last Syrian town. CNN's Ben Wedeman is on the frontline where forces are preparing for a final assault.
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is the latest batch of civilians to come out of that half-mile square part of Baghouz al-Fawqani that still contains civilians and ISIS fighters. It seems that some sort of arrangement has been worked out between the Syrian Democratic Forces and the ISIS forces still inside that town.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
We counted 17 trailer trucks in all with mostly women and children. Those we could see were silent.
[02:35:06] The convoy included some men as well. The commander with the SDF told us more than 20 wounded ISIS fighters were on board. David Eubanks runs the group called the Burma Free Rangers which has been provided medical aid to people in war zones in Iraq and Syria. They've been here for three weeks.
DAVID EUBANKS, FREE BURMA RANGERS: Well, in the time we've been here, we've seen 5,000 people, between 5,000 and 40 total count, 40 people yesterday morning. Pretty much most of them were women and kids, with some men I'd estimate maybe 500 men among that 5,000 and broken. I felt broken in spirit. I'm not sure what you saw, you know, but I felt like scared and terrified like yesterday morning. They were like they stopped holding their babies, looked at us.
WEDEMAN: Monday we were able to peer inside the ISIS' last dot of territory and saw people calmly walking around in the open. Yet, SDF commanders insist there is no truce.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WEDEMAN: What's not clear is what happens next. If this is the bulk of civilians who were left in that square mile area in Baghouz al- Fawqani, it means perhaps that only fighters, ISIS fighters are left and we have been told by an official with the Syrian Democratic Forces that once the civilians have been cleared out, the SDF is going to go in his words to clean it up. I'm Ben Wedeman, CNN on the hills overlooking Baghouz al-Fawqani.
CHURCH: What was supposed to be a two-hour layover in Hong Kong has turned into a five month stay for two Saudi sisters hoping to flee oppression and abuse back home. They are now stranded living in hiding after Saudi diplomats intervened at the airport and tried to force them to return home. In an exclusive interview with CNN's Ivan Watson, the sisters say they have few regrets.
WATSON: This was supposed to be a family beach vacation. Instead, it is proof two sisters say of the life they lived under oppression.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Every day it was like a nightmare.
WATSON: This holiday in Sri Lanka last September was also the scene of their dramatic attempt to escape from their family. (INAUDIBLE) not their real names are 18 and 20-year-old sisters from Saudi Arabia. For their security, they've asked us not to show their faces.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Since we were teenagers, we experienced family violence and abuse, and we wanted to run away from this.
WATSON: Who was committing the violence in the family?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Father and the brothers.
WATSON: Under Saudi Arabia's male guardianship system, women have fewer legal rights than men forced to cover up and unable to travel or even apply for a passport without a husband, father, or brother's permission. Years ago, these sisters secretly renounced Islam, a crime punishable by death in Saudi Arabia and they began plotting their escape. On the family holiday in Sri Lanka, they saw their chance, but first they had to get their passports from their parents. You snuck into your parents' room while they were sleeping?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. So I just --
WATSON: To get your passports?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
WATSON: In the middle of the night, they fled to awaiting taxi and took off the long back abayas they were forced to wear from the aged of 11.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was the first time we went without abaya.
WATSON: And you're smiling right now.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's really great memory. Exciting.
WATSON: At Colombo Airport, they bought tickets and received boarding passes for an Sir Lankan Airlines to Hong Kong, and then Cathay Pacific Airways to Melbourne, Australia where they'd already arranged online tourist visas. But when they landed at Hong Kong International Airport, the station manager of Sri Lankan Airlines and a representative of Jardine Aviation Services Group met them at the gate and asked them for their boarding passes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I showed it to him and he grabbed it, and we were asking what's going on? Why you walking fast? And they said the plane maybe you can't catch it.
WATSON: As they walked through the airport, they were led to the desk of Emirates Airlines and the story changed.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He said, now, there's someone from the Saudi consulate (INAUDIBLE) you know, at that time we just start to panic.
WATSON: Sri Lankan Airlines sent CNN this detailed account. It alleges that this man Abdullah Aisharif, the Vice Consul of the Saudi consulate in Hong Kong came to the airport and asked the airline to change the sister's itinerary.
WATSON: The Saudi consul officials had informed Sri Lankan Airlines staff that the passenger's mother was terminally ill and the passengers were therefore required to return to Riyadh immediately.
[02:40:10] Sri Lankan Airlines tells CNN Saudi officials canceled the sisters tickets to Australia and requested new boarding passes to take them to Dubai and then Saudi Arabia.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When we scream in his face saying, return my passport. You have no right to take it. You crossed the line. We will tell the police, he's scared. And then we took our passport and literally run away.
WATSON: In the airport?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In the airport.
WATSON: This isn't the first time Saudi government officials have tried to stop women from fleeing. In Thailand last month, 18-year-old Rahaf al-Qunun barricaded herself in a hotel room and took to the internet begging for help to prevent deportation back to Saudi Arabia. And (INAUDIBLE) was filmed by passengers in Manila Airport in 2017 being forced by male relatives on a flight back to Saudi Arabia. Activists haven't heard from her since.
Back in Hong Kong, the sisters accused the Saudi Vice Consul Abdullah Aisharif of intervening in their attempt to board a later Qantas Flight to Australia eventually prompting an Australian official to cancel their visas. Australia's Department of Home Affairs refused to tell us why the visas were canceled saying it does not comment on individual cases. The sisters have been stranded in the city ever since. Do you think the sisters are in danger here in Hong Kong?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I do.
WATSON: Human rights attorney Michael Vidler filed a criminal complaint on behalf of the sisters.
MICHAEL VIDLER, LAWYER: We alleged that they were the subject of an attempted kidnapping at Hong Kong International Airport in a restricted area. We alleged that they obtain their documents by the seat. They then used their documents unlawfully to cancel their boarding passes.
WATSON: Vidler says his team have screened airport security camera footage showing this man, Saudi Consul General in Hong Kong (INAUDIBLE) shown here at the airport in happier times. The lawyer says the diplomat was filmed holding the sisters passports and boarding passes at the airport on September 6th.
WATSON: A big question here, why would the highest ranking Saudi official in Hong Kong personally allegedly intervene in the travel of two adult Saudi women? CNN reached out multiple times to the foreign ministry in Riyadh and the consulate here in Hong Kong and got no answer at all?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WATSON: But Hong Kong police tell CNN they are now officially investigating what happened in the airport on that day. Sri Lankan Airlines and Jardine Aviation Services Group both deny any wrongdoing saying they did not pressure the sisters into changing their flights. As for the sisters, they're still living in hiding in Hong Kong hoping to receive political asylum. They have a defiant message for their family back home.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to be a successful woman and to give them that message with my success that they can't break me.
WATSON: Ivan Watson, CNN Hong Kong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHURCH: A U.S. Coast Guard officer is in custody accused of plotting a mass killing. Christopher Paul Hasson had a hit list of targets including prominent Democratic politicians and a number of journalists some of whom work at CNN. Computer records showed he studied the tactics of infamous Norwegian terrorist, Anders Breivik. Our Jessica Schneider has the details.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Prosecutors says he's a domestic terrorist plotting a full-scale attack. Stunningly, prosecutors put it this way in their detention memo saying, "The defendant intends to murder innocent civilians on a scale rarely seen in this country." So prosecutors say that the 49-year-old lieutenant, his name is Christopher Paul Hasson. He's been stockpiling weapons for at least two years amassing you can see there at least 15 guns, 1000 rounds of ammunition, all in his silver spring Maryland basement.
That's just a few miles from Washington, D.C. And prosecutors say that his inspiration was a Norwegian far-right domestic terrorist who launched two coordinated terror attacks in July 2011 and that killed 77 Norwegian citizens. You know, in the basement apartment of Lieutenant Hasson, prosecutors found computers and ammunition and they also found this draft e-mail where he said this. He said, "I am dreaming of a way to kill almost every last person on earth.
So the coast guard is commenting on this saying that they led the investigation and that means that there were red flags that this lieutenant was showing while working for the coast guard up until very recently until his arrest just last week.
And what's most stunning and terrifying here is that the suspect was targeting specific people through online searches. And including prominent politicians, media personalities, both here at CNN and MSNBC. And this gunman or the suspect, he allegedly searched out addresses and searched how to find certain members of Congress in Washington, D.C.
[02:45:33] CHURCH: And a detention hearing for Hasson is scheduled for Thursday in Maryland.
Well, for weeks, an American actor has insisted he was attacked in a hate crime. Now, police say, Jussie Smollett is a suspect. Coming up, where the case goes next?
CHURCH: An actor who claimed he was the victim of a hate crime is now facing a charge of filing a false police report. Jussie Smollett is required to attend a bond hearing, later Thursday. Police say detectives will contact Smollett's attorneys to negotiate his surrender. The actor from the television show, Empire has maintained the two men attacked him last month. Shouting racist and homophobic slurs.
20th Century Fox television initially expressed support for Smollett but had no comment after he was named a suspect.
What doubts about Smollett story emerged early on. But he stuck by his story. Randi Kaye has the very latest developments.
JUSSIE SMOLLETT, AMERICAN ACTOR, EMPIRE, FOX: I gave the description as best as I could. You have to understand also that it's Chicago in winter. People can wear ski masks.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Actor Jussie Smollett, explaining why he couldn't offer more detail about his alleged attackers. Even though it now appears he may have known who they were all along. And maybe even hired them to make it appear he was attacked.
CNN has learned that Chicago investigators are working to obtain Smollett's financial records. If Smollett did pay the two men to orchestrate the attack, as law enforcement sources tell CNN, police now believe, then the actor's financial records could provide proof of payment.
CNN's law enforcement sources say the two men are cooperating fully. And records show the men purchased the rope used in the attack at a Chicago hardware store. Neither of the men are still considered suspects. Through his attorneys, Smollett maintains he is still a victim.
Still, if it turns out that Smollett did make up this story about being attacked, CNN has confirmed it won't be the first time he's lied to law enforcement. Back in 2007, when he was pulled over for driving under the influence, he gave police his brother's name. He later pleaded no contest to providing false information to police.
Smollett also pleaded no contest to driving with a blood alcohol over the legal limit and driving without a valid driver's license. He got two years' probation and paid a fine.
All of this raises even more questions for police about this. A threatening letter sent to Smollett last month on the set of "Empire", just days before the alleged attack.
Notice, the envelope includes the word MAGA in place of the return address. Smollett had told police that his alleged attackers also yelled MAGA at him. A reference to President Trump's slogan, Make America Great Again.
The message was cut from magazine clippings and included a stick figure drawing. [02:51:12] SMOLLETT: On the letter, it had a stick figure hanging from a tree with a gun pointing towards it. With the words that say, Smollett, Jussie, you will die black --
There was no address, but the return address in it and big red -- you know, like caps, MAGA. Did I make that up too?
KAYE: Chicago police say it also contained a white powder which they determined to be aspirin. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service tells CNN that they are assisting both the FBI and Chicago police with their investigation of the letter. And that the letter is being analyzed at an FBI lab.
And yet, even with all the doubters and the growing questions about this bizarre attack, Jussie Smollett is standing by his story. And hoping those he calls his attackers pay for their crime.
SMOLLETT: I understand how difficult it will be to find them. But we got to -- I still want to believe with everything that's happened that there's something called justice.
KAYE: Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.
CHURCH: A tropical cyclone in the Pacific could soon become a typhoon. We will have the latest on that in our world weather update.
Plus, the hair-raising offer from a Vietnamese barber at the connection -- and the connection to two world leaders. We're back with that in just a moment.
CHURCH: Welcome back, everyone. Well, Tropical Cyclone Oma is sitting uncomfortably close to the east coast of Australia. We turn to our meteorologist Pedram Javaheri, who joins us from the International weather center with the details on this. And it is an all too familiar story for Australia.
PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN INTERNATIONAL METEOROLOGIST: It is very wet in recent days, and this is the last thing they want to see with a tropical cyclone, Rosy, park just offshore. And you take a look, just between New Caledonia and Brisbane, the center of this storm system, 95 kilometers per hour winds doesn't really look all too impressive on satellite imagery, but the damage even hundreds of kilometers away from land.
At this hour already being felt on some of these coastal communities as the waves are battering the coast here. But notice the model guidance on this because kind of an odd perspective of a forecast, because not only is it not a cone, but it really slows down the next couple of days.
So, if you think swells have been rough thereon the coast, the Gold Coast in particular of Australia. It's going to continue for at least another few days whether the system strengthens or just remains put. Either way, it's going to cause problems across the coast here with some heavy rainfall and certainly rough seas across the region. And notice the rainfall amounts at this stage look to stay offshore. But a tremendous amount of rainfall.
So, if this is displaced just a few kilometers back towards the west, you put this rainfall over places such as Brisbane. That's a major problem. And, of course, officials here already putting alerts down in place for swells as high as 1-1/2 to two meters.
Some areas near Brisbane, five-meter surf and waves across this region. So certainly, a big story once the storm system approaches as we go into this weekend. To the north, we have typhoon would tip, this storm 120-per-hour winds. It strengthens and models at this point get a very close to the island of Guam sometime early this weekend into early next week.
So, we're going to follow this as the storm system approaches this region because it's a system that could be the strongest we've seen in quite some time impact this region as it's been very quiet across the Pacific in recent weeks. Rosemary.
[02:55:29] CHURCH: Yes, glad you're following that Pedram. Appreciate it. Thanks so much.
JAVAHERI: Thank you.
CHURCH: All on a much lighter note, drivers in Queensland, Australia have had license plates for their cars with slogans such as Sunshine State, endless summer, even, it's not the end of the world.
Starting March 1st, a new choice. Emojis five -- emojis to be precise including laugh out loud, wink sunglasses, heart eyes, and smile. They cost $350 each if you're interested.
They're just for decoration but some people say, what drivers really want is an angry face emoji for all that road rage.
All right, well, a Vietnamese barber has come up with a noble idea to promote his salon. But not everyone may be brave enough to take him up on his offer. Our Michael Holmes has our report.
MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A Hanoi barber is offering free haircuts in advance of the upcoming summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, but there is a catch. Remind you of anyone?
Let's call them fashion-forward. The cuts on offer reproduced the distinctive hairstyles of the two world leaders.
LE TUAN DUONG, HAIRDRESSER, HANOI (through translator): I was doing this only for fun, but I'm surprised at how many people have responded. I'm very happy.
HOLMES: This 9-year-old Vietnamese boy says he's pleased with the likeness.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I'm happy with this haircut because people will think I look like the North Korean leader.
HOLMES: But the award for bravery has to go to this slightly more mature customer who's gone all in on the signature Trump hair color.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I'm not worried because after this promotional campaign is over, the owner said he would make my hair go back to normal again. Donald Trump's haircut looks great and it suits my age.
HOLMES: Of course, the free haircut promotion is all in good fun. Hopefully, there won't be a repeat of a 2014 incident when North Korean embassy officials complained to a barber in London who had used the phrase bad hair day under a photo of Kim Jong-un in an attempt to drum up business. Michael Holmes, CNN, Atlanta.
CHURCH: Busy day at the salon there. I'm Rosemary Church. More CNN NEWSROOM after this very short break. Do stick around.