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Venezuela's Maduro Attempts To Stop Aid Delivery; Smollett Defiant After Prosecutors Say He Staged Attack; White House, U.S. To Keep About 200 Troops In Syria; Vatican Summit; Married Into ISIS; Day Two Of U.S.-China Trade Talks; Cuban Cigars And Climate Change; Words Are Useless Without Action; Actor Needs More Rehearsals for Directing; Judge Banned Roger Stone from Speaking About the Case. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired February 22, 2019 - 03:00   ET



NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: As the second day of the Vatican summit on child abuse by clergy gets underway, we hear what survivors hope the church will do.

Also, we're live in eastern Syria for the latest on the flight of civilians trying to get out as ISIS falls apart.

Plus, from victim to villain, the American TV star charged with a felony after faking his own attack and calling it a hate crime. Police say he thought it would be a good career move.

These stories, all ahead this hour. Welcome to our viewers all around the world. I'm Natalie Allen. And this is CNN Newsroom.

And thank you for being with us.

Pope Francis said the people of God are watching and they want the Catholic Church to finally end the scourge of predator priest and bishops.

And now, at 9:00 a.m. in Rome the second day of an unprecedented Vatican Summit to tackle the sexual abuse crisis is getting underway. The pope gave the leaders a 21-point guideline for addressing the crisis and taking concrete steps to handle things differently.

Our Rosa Flores joins us from Rome. She's covering the story. Rosa, survivors gathered there and watching around the world are for action and not words from this meeting. What is expected today?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know the focus of today is accountability. We're expecting for the day to have a morning prayer and I believe we have live pictures of this because day two just kicked off. Some speeches and then the day will conclude with some survivor testimonies as well. So very dramatic testimony we're shared yesterday.

And so, we're expecting some of the same emotion today as day two kicks off. Now, I asked survivors about what they thought about day one, their reaction. And for the most part I think it's safe to say that survivors agree with Pope Francis that concrete action should be taken. What they don't agree with is exactly what that means.


CAROL MIDBOE, SEXUAL ABUSE SURVIVOR: I'm Carol Midboe. I'm a survivor from Austin, Texas.

PETER SAUNDERS, SEXUAL ABUSE SURVIVOR: My name is Peter Saunders. And I'm a survivor of childhood abuse from the United Kingdom.

LEONA HUGGINS, SEXUAL ABUSE SURVIVOR: I'm Leona Huggins. I'm a survivor from Vancouver, B.C., Canada.


FLORES: Survivors from across the globe have descended on Rome for the unprecedented bishop's meeting on clergy sex abuse with high hopes that abusers and those who cover up abuse will be held accountable.

Pope Francis kicked off the four-day event with a prayer and in short order set a firm tone asking for bishops to come up with concrete guidelines.


POPE FRANCIS, LEADER OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH (through translator): The holy people of God are looking at us and expect of us not simple condemnation but concrete and effective measures to put in place. We need to be concrete.


FLORES: Normally we would need to read between the lines to figure out what the pope means by concrete measures. But this time he released a list of 21 guidelines.


HUGGINS: I'm disappointed by what we saw today on that list of reflection points. When number one is we're going to create a manual or a handbook. I thought they already had the handbook.

SAUNDERS: Concrete measures means zero-tolerance be is not just a word. Zero-tolerance means excluding priests and other religious who rape and abuse children from ministry, permanently.


FLORES: Behind the scenes, Pope Francis has been meeting with survives. In an encounter with Polish survivor Marek Mevlechek (Ph). Pope Francis kissed his hand and looked visibly emotional.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): He told CNN emotions rose up inside of me and it was like a roller coaster, I was able to say, I'm a child abuse victim from Poland. I was holding the photo of myself as a teenager. The pope took my hand in his hands. He looked at me and I could see he was teary eyed.

FLORES: Survivors say they relived their trauma every time they share their stories. And hope this historic meeting means they never have to tell their story again.


[03:05:07] FLORES: now here is the thing. Regardless of what comes out of this historic meeting, one thing that we have seen across the world is that civil authorities have lost patience. We're seeing investigations not just in the United States and Chile but also in other countries, Natalie.

And with that means for survivors is a chance at real justice. We saw of course the Pennsylvania grand jury report in the United States and granted even though a lot of those cases were historic, so they could not be adjudicated because the statute of limitations had passed, the fact that those stories were acknowledged meant so much for survivors.

It was a different type of justice. You know, it was different, but in a way, it was acknowledgement that for so many of these survivors had been decades in the making. Natalie?

ALLEN: You know, the way you began your story and talking with these survivors, and getting their names and where they're from. I mean, you could sense their pain and you could sense their hope. And their -- you can sense also from the people you talked with, they're concerns about people being held accountable and i's stopping now. What is at stake, Rosa, for Pope Francis in this situation? And what he wants to see happen.

FLORES: You know, the stakes are really high. I've heard people say that the credibility of the church is at stake. It really is. Because I can tell you from traveling to multiple states across the United States and from talking to Catholics and advocates and survivors is, they're fed up.

I covered one story in Buffalo, for example where -- in Buffalo, New York where people stopped putting money in the Sunday basket and they started putting notes for Pope Francis for the church. And those notes say until the bishop is removed, I am not donating money. I am not coming to church anymore because something needs to happen.

And Natalie, what we keep in hearing a lot of the times from the church is that, for example, in the United States, that after 2002 there were reforms, and that most of the cases are old and -- you know, a lot of us in the press keep on pressing on this issue. And the thing is there was reform in 2002 in the United States.

However, that reform held priests and deacons accountable. It did not say clergy which would include bishops. So that's the thing. I think what I keep on hearing is that the church forgot to hold bishops accountable. And this time, that's what survivors are asking for. Not just abusers to be held accountable but those who covered up the abuse.

ALLEN: Yes, absolutely. And that's what one of our guests said last hour repeatedly. That must be part of this deal. Rosa Flores, thank you for your reporting and your perspective.

And later this hour, I'll speak with an abuse survivor who now leads the organization Snap, the survivor's network of those abused by priest. So more to come on this developing story.

Well, the White House says the U.S. will keep about 200 troops in Syria despite President Trump's order for a full withdrawal. The troops who would remain will advise the Syrian Democratic Forces, the SDF in the northeastern part of the country and near the border with Iraq and Jordan.

Meantime, the SDF is bringing civilians out of the last enclave in eastern Syria, still held by ISIS. The U.S.-backed troops are expected to launch a final push to reclaim the territory any day now.

Let's bring in CNN senior international correspondent, Ben Wedeman, live this hour in eastern Syria. And Ben, we've been saying any day now for a few days now. So, does it appear that these remaining ISIS combatants appear to want to fight to the death?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That would be -- appear to be the case, Natalie. We were actually out near the front yesterday when it was expected that several thousand civilians including some fighters who had surrendered would be brought out.

But what we saw was about 30 trucks going in the correction of this town of Baghouz al-Fawqani and then a little while later those trucks coming out empty. Now they're going to try again today to get more of the civilians out.

[03:09:56] It appears at this point they are leaving a voluntary and although it is believed that there's still some civilians left inside being kept as human shields. It's believed that they're also holding prisoners including fighters with the SDF and other groups.

So, yes, we've been saying now for a very long time that this operation to finally eliminate the last pocket of ISIS in Syria is about to happen.

We heard this morning yet again, the spokesperson for the SDF saying that they hope they will be able to get them out today and that the next step is either a surrender, a final surrender by those last ISIS fighters inside or there will be an assault to retake this camp which I must stress we have seen is not very big. It is somewhere between 600 and 700 -- by 600 and 700 meters square.

So, it's not large but what has surprised us from the very beginning is that the number of people who come out of the area controlled by ISIS is always higher than anybody has estimated. So, there's no real clear idea how many civilians are left inside or how many fighters. Natalie.

ALLEN: All right. I want to ask you also, the ISIS fighters that are fleeing, that are running, do we know where they're going?

WEDEMAN: Well, they're not really fleeing in a sense. They're surrendering. They are received by the Syrian Democratic Forces. The first thing they do obviously is make sure that they don't have any weapons or explosives on them. And then they are tracked to a spot on the plains nearby where they are taken to American, Kurdish, French and British intelligence officers who are -- will try to identify them if it is believed that they are ISIS members.

They are taken to a separate -- high security camp. And of course, beyond that, the question is what happens to them, what happens to their families? And what we have seen in the case of this one woman who claimed to have been American, the United States will not take her back. We know that the United Kingdom is not taking these people back.

So, in the end it's a huge burden on the authorities in this part of Syria. They would like the countries from which these people come from to take them back but it appears that they're stuck with them for the time being.

And we did hear President Trump in one of his tweets saying that if they are not taken back, we will have to release them, with the obvious consequences that that would bring. Natalie.

ALLEN: Absolutely. We'll have more on the female from the United States who joined ISIS in her quest to get back to the United States a little later this hour. Ben Wedeman, there for us in eastern Syria, thank you, Ben.

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro is trying to prevent aid from entering the country. He's been doing that for some time. He announced he is closing the border with Brazil where supplies are being stock piled and he's considering doing the same for Colombia.

Along that border, Venezuelan troops are blocking roads to stop aid from coming in. The closures are creating major traffic jams as you can see right there. At one road block soldiers clashed with lawmakers trying to drive trucks to the Colombian border. You can see the tension there.

Despite Mr. Maduro's refusal of western aid, he seems open to accepting Russia's help, a shipment carrying medicine has reportedly arrived in the country.

In the meantime, a benefit concert for Venezuelans is being set up. Thousands expected to attend hosted by billionaire Richard Branson.


RICHARD BRANSON, ENTREPRENEUR: We were asked to do this concert by Juan Guaido. And he will be coming to the other side of the bridge with maybe a million of his supporters. And I suspect both of us, both sides will be handing flowers to the military and the people guarding the bridge and seeing whether they can be persuaded to do, you know, what they must realize is the right thing. I mean, they'll have -- the military will have relatives that are

suffering as well. And they'll know people who are suffering. So, we hope and pray that sense will prevail.


ALLEN: Well, Mr. Guaido of Venezuela self-declared president has promised to distribute the relief supplies on Saturday. We'll keep you posted on that story of course.

Chicago's top cop said he's angry with American actor Jussie Smollett.


[03:15:03] EDDIE JOHNSON, SUPERINTENDENT, CHICAGO POLICE DEPARTMENT: Jussie Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career.


ALLEN: But the actor denies he helped orchestrate a hate crime in which he was the target. More on this shocking twist and turns right after this.

Plus, actions have consequences for long time Trump advisor Roger Stone, the new restrictions ordered by a federal judge.


ALLEN: Welcome back. American TV actor Jussie Smollett has been charged with filing a false police report after claiming he was a victim of a hate crime. Smollett is accused of paying two men to rough him up in an effort to boost his career.

The star of the television show "Empire" denies still any wrongdoing and says his right to be presumed innocent has been, quote, "trampled."

For more now here's CNN Randi Kaye.


JUSSIE SMOLLETT, ACTOR: Who the (muted) would make something like this up or add something to it or whatever it may be?

RANDI KAYE, CNN INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: A bizarre statement of denial from the actor man who police say was the mastermind behind his own attack. Investigators say Jussie Smollett arranged the whole thing, even rehearsed with the two men he hire to assault him.

Those men brothers Abel and Ola Osundairo confessed to police after 47 hours of questioning in custody and were released without being charged.

RISA LANIER, ASSISTANT STATE'S ATTORNEY, COOK COUNTY STATE ATTORNEY'S OFFICE: Defendant Smollett further detailed that he wanted Abel to attack him but not hurt him too badly and to give him a chance to appear to fight back. Defendant Smollett also included that he wanted Ola to place a rope around his neck and pour gasoline on him and yell "this is MAGA country."

KAYE: That rope Smollett gave it to police as evidence.

JOHNSON: I'm left hanging my head and asking why, why would anyone, especially an African-American man use the symbolism of a noose to make false accusations.

KAYE: Police say they have evidence the actor paid the men $3,500 to stage the attack and gave them $100 cash to buy supplies. This video shows them buying what police say Smollett directed them to purchase. Prosecutors say Smollett also wanted to be sure there was video evidence of the attack.

[03:20:00] LANIER: Smollett directed the brother's attention towards a surveillance camera on the corner which he believed would capture the incident.

KAYE: In fact, Smollett told investigators it's likely the incident was caught on camera. It turns out the 45-second attack was just out of view. Officials also say the actor knew the two men he paid in the attack. Both did some work on the show "Empire" and one provided him with illegal drugs.

LANIER: Defendant Smollett requested Abel to provide him with molly, which is street name for that narcotic ecstasy.

KAYE: So, if the actor did really stage this, the question is why?

JOHNSON: He was dissatisfied with his salary so he concocted a story about being attacked.

KAYE: Same reason why police now believe the actor sent himself this threatening letter on the set of "Empire" just days before the alleged attack. The letter contained a white substance later determined be to aspirin. The envelope includes the word "MAGA," a reference to President Trump's slogan "make America great again."

JOHNSON: First, Smollett attempted to gain attention by sending a false letter that relied on racial, homophobic, and political language. When that didn't work Smollett paid $3,500 to stage this attack and drag Chicago's reputation through the mud in the process.

KAYE: Not to mention the waste resources. More than 1,000 police man hours went into this. More than 100 people were interviewed and 55 video cameras checked. All for a hate crime that now appears to have been nothing more than a stunt.

JOHNSON: When we discovered the actual motive, quite frankly it pissed everybody else. You know, because we have to invest valuable resources.

KAYE: Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.


ALLEN: The U.S. president's long-time advisor Roger Stone faces new restrictions ahead of his trial for lying to investigators about his contacts with WikiLeaks. All because of an Instagram post.

CNN's Sara Murray has details.


SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: A federal judge banning Roger Stone from speaking publicly about his case. Warning him, if he violates the order it will land him in jail.

Stone took the stand to tell Judge Amy Berman Jackson he was heartfully sorry for posting what could be considered a threatening image of her to his Instagram on Monday. He claimed the image would show the judge with cross hairs over her shoulder was as corrupt and a stupid lapse of judgment and insisted the crosshairs were misinterpreted.

But Jackson said the apology rang hollow. Adding, there's nothing ambiguous about crosshairs. The judge had already put a lenient gag order on Stone. Today, she banned him from talking publicly about the case in any venue, warning him there will not be a third chance.

She also banned others from speaking on his behalf. The judge had ordered Stone to make the trek from Florida and appear in court after his post which included a caption that called special counsel Robert Mueller a deep state hit man and claimed Stone's case was a show trial.

Stone also implied that Jackson was biased because she was an Obama appointee. He rounded out his post with hash tag the fix is in. He altered a text about Mueller and added a few more hash tags. That post was also taken down. The same day Stone filed a formal apology to the judge.

"I had no intention of disrespecting the court and humbly apologize to the court for the transgression." The judge and the prosecutor questioned the sincerity of Stone's apology given his other public comments.

ROGER STONE, FORMER TRUMP ADVISER: When the judge issued a gag order that did not limit my first amendment rights, the left went completely insane. That's why they have cooked up this false narrative. I threaten no one, I intended to threaten no one. I never disrespected the judge or the court.

MURRAY: Stone's legal troubles came to a head last month when he was arrested at his Florida home in a pre-dawn raid.

STONE: Twenty-nine armed FBI agents and 17 vehicles, all unnecessary expenditure paid for by the taxpayers for the theater of it, to create a public image of me as guilty before I get an opportunity to prove that I'm innocent.

MURRAY: He pleaded not guilty to seven charges of obstruction making false statements and witness tampering.

Now there are two things that Roger Stone is still allowed to say about his case. He can say that he's innocent and he can continue to ask for donations for his legal defense fund. He's also allowed to be out there publicly talking about all kinds of other issues just not his case.

Sara Murray, CNN, Washington.


ALLEN: Joining me now is Siraj Hashmi, a commentary writer and editor at Washington Examiner. Siraj, good to see you. Thanks for being with us.


ALLEN: Let's begin with Roger Stone. He apologized in court and said he wasn't thinking when he posted that image. The judge wasn't buying it. She said his apology was hollow. What was your interpretation of the photo and the background and why would Mr. Stone do such a thing?

[03:25:06] HASHMI: Well, that's to be determined to whether why Roger Stone would do such a thing? You know? This is a kind of character who kind of just spouts off from, you know, whatever is on top of his head and often gets himself into trouble for it.

And this just so happened. He almost landed in jail for an Instagram post. Now with respect to interpreting the photo with the crosshairs being near, Amy Berman Jackson, the federal judge who is presiding over this case, the crosshairs being near his head, her head, I would say that -- you know, it's open to interpretation. I would not do that if I were him.

But then again, I mean, it's probably a miracle that his bond was not revoked and that he wasn't thrown to prison.

ALLEN: Right. I would ask you, the question is, and Stone is a self- described dirty trickster who likes to spelled off. That's what he does. Can he stay mum -- it's not his way but he could face serious trouble if he breaks his gag order.

HASHMI: Yes. I mean, that's the thing. The gag order is really, if he messes up one more time, then his bail is revoked and he's going to prison. So, I would imagine that he's not going to violate it this time. But of course, I'm sure there's going to be times where he's going to try to raise money for his legal defense fund because he states that he's broke because of -- he's already dipped into his savings.

And there might be times where he might land in this gray area if he's trying to raise funds and that's where he really needs to keep an eye out for.

ALLEN: All right. We'll be watching that one. Meantime, the long-time attorney and fixer for Donald Trump was on Capitol Hill for closed door meetings with the Senate intelligence committee Thursday in advance of this testimony next week. Public testimony before a House committee private to a Senate and another House committee. What is the information that Congress will be looking for?

HASHMI: Well, here's what the House oversight committee really wants to get out of Michael Cohen. And that's on his testimony with respect to the Trump tower project in Moscow that was supposed to be in the works during the presidential election in 2016.

But of course, what they're going to have to focus on specifically is the alleged payments that Michael Cohen made on behalf of Trump to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, the two women that Trump allegedly had affairs with. So that's going to be the real focus here.

But of course, they're going to focus on the campaign finance laws that he violated with respect to those payments that he made and the many false statements that he made to Congress which he pleaded guilty to under the special counsel's indictment.

ALLEN: He sent out this tweet Wednesday, it said "the schedule has now been set, looking forward to the American people hearing my story in my voice." A Go Fund me page also included in that tweet. We haven't heard much from Cohen but it sounds like he wants to be candid and revealing about his work with the president. Could this be damaging?

HASHMI: Well, the worst thing that could happen to Cohen right now is if Republicans essentially or House Republicans specifically damage his credibility into making so that his testimony against the president is no longer reliable.

And that's the thing that House Republicans are really going to strategize and try to get after him for because given the fact that he's had all of these things come out against President Trump, you know, that's going to hurt him more than anything. So, the one thing you can do if you are a House Republican is just attack, attack, attack.

ALLEN: Right. And that being said, his public testimony before a House committee Wednesday is the same day that President Trump is holding his summit with North Korea in Vietnam. Is that unfortunate timing for the U.S. president?

HASHMI: You know, there's never been a better time to cover politics than right now and having two giant stories happening at the same time. It's just -- you know, it's icing on the cake really.

ALLEN: All right. We'll wait and see if the president tweets from Vietnam about the testimony while he's holding the summit. It could be an interesting day, could it not? Siraj Hashmi --


HASHMI: All of it.

ALLEN: Yes. Siraj Hashmi, we appreciate your insights. Thank you.

HASHMI: Thank you, Natalie.

ALLEN: Abused at the hands of a priest. The Vatican taking on the crisis of church sexual abuse. And when we come back, we'll hear from one of the victims.

Also, this woman left the U.S. to join ISIS, why her family is now suing so she can come home.


NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: And welcome back. You're watching CNN Newsroom live from Atlanta, I'm Natalie Allen. Thanks for being with us.

Here are our top stories this hour. Venezuelan President, Nicolas Maduro, continues to block the opposition from bringing in humanitarian aid. It's at the border and just sitting there. Troops are closing roads to Colombia's border where those supplies are being stock piled. Brazil announced it would supply aid and Mr. Maduro said he is closing that border and can do the same with Colombia.

American actor, Jussie Smollett, insists he is innocent after being charged with making a bogus complaint to police. Chicago authorities say he paid two men to stage an attack on him last month. In an attempt to enhance his career. Under Illinois law, filing a false report is punishable by up to three years in prison.

The White House said the U.S. will keep about 200 troops in Syria despite President Trump's order for a full withdrawal. The remaining troops will advise the Syrian Democratic forces in the northeastern part of the country and near the border with Iraq and Jordan.

And unprecedented summit is going on right now at the Vatican. Four days of meetings to tackle the crisis of sexual abuse at the hands of priests and bishops. The theme of Friday's event, accountability. Pope Francis said the church has to take concrete measures to deal with the crisis. In an emotional speech the archbishop of manila called on church leaders to heal the wounds caused by abusive clergy.


CARDINAL LUIS TAGLE, ARCHBISHOP OF MANILA: The wounds of the recent Christ carry the memory of innocent suffering. They also carry the memory of our weakness and sinfulness. If we want to be agents of healing, let us no reject any tendency that this part of worthily thinking that refuses to see and touch the wounds of others which are Christ wounds in the wounded people.


ALLEN: Passion words right there. Let's talk with Tim Lennon, he's president of the board, SNAP, the survivors network of those abuse by priest and he joins us from Rome. Mr. Lennon, thank you so much. We appreciate your time. We know this is a very important summit that you and your group are watching.

And I know that your organization has five steps. You want to see Pope Francis take. Two are the importance of preventing future abuse and punishment for those in the church hierarchy who cover it up. Do you get a sense this summit will produce what you're looking for?

TIM LENNON, PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD, SNAP: Well, we can hope that they will. The question is they have the Dallas charter that they formed in 2002 and 2003 after the disclosures of the Boston Globe in the spotlights series exposing widespread sexual abuse in Boston.

[03:35:00] But we found since that previous 15 years, they haven't been doing anything and with new guidelines, I don't know if this isn't true that they are going to take action. They are calling for action which is good and I'm hopeful, but again, it is just plans without action. So there are actions that the pope can take right this minute.

ALLEN: Why isn't he taking them?

LENNON: Well, I wouldn't want to speak for the pope. We don't rely on the church to police itself. We rely on civil society. In other words, this is the responsibility of civil society, the district attorneys, the Attorney Generals, who must take actions, as we saw in the Pennsylvania grand jury, as we saw in the Illinois investigation, as we see in the recent comments of the Attorney General of Michigan that there's widespread sexual abuse.

What happened in Pennsylvania happens in every diocese and why they're not taking action, I can't speculate, but that is why we rely on civil society to be responsible, to protect their community.

ALLEN: Well, the pope has issued this reflection points indicating bishops must now understand abuse is a problem. Why just now would that be the pope's stance? As you just pointed out has been a problem, a global problem for decades.

LENNON: Yes. Well, I think this meeting was a result of being compelled by the exposure of widespread sexual abuse in Pennsylvania and the recent disclosures in Illinois and Michigan. So, he is compelled to do some kind of action, just like after the Boston Globe investigation, the bishops met in Boston and made their charter, the Dallas charter. So both of those huge actions, both of them were compelled by outside events, not because of any internal moral compass of the church. That's again why we come back to civil society.

For instance one of the points that the pope -- one of his 21 points was about not disclosing priests who were accused until they were found guilty, but again it is a process where the church controls the information, controls the process and investigates itself. And we think the church needs to be removed from that and that the criminals need to be jailed and those that cover up need to be jailed.

ALLEN: If that doesn't happen, what next? What can groups like yours do to put more pressure on the Catholic Church? LENNON: Well, again, I think, it is up to the Catholic Parishioner in

one hand, to decide what kind of church that they want. One that fulfills the promise of the faith which is schools, and hospitals, and education, and things like that that, you know, is important or do they want a church or an institution run by those that see their prestige is more important than the safety of their children.

So from the church viewpoint, they need to decide for themselves what kind of church. For all of us outside, it is our responsibility to call on civil society, our politicians to make strong laws for district attorneys to vigorously prosecute, for attorney generals to follow the courage of Attorney General Shapiro in Pennsylvania. So it their responsibility in all of it, its community awareness and that's why this interview is so important is to help -- hopefully raise community awareness.

ALLEN: Well, we know a lot of people, a lot of survivors, groups are there in Rome. And it must be emotional and hopeful for you and we certainly hope concrete progress is made to what you're asking for. Tim Lennon, president of the board of SNAP. Thanks so much. We wish you all the best.

LENNON: Oh, thank you very much for this opportunity.

ALLEN: Sure thing.

LENNON: Thank you.

ALLEN: Well, the family of a woman who left the U.S. to join ISIS is suing now the Trump administration over her citizenship. Hoda Muthana left Alabama five years ago for Syria. She now says she regrets that decision and wants to come home, but the U.S. won't let her. Saying she is not a citizen. Muthana's family said she was born in the U.S. and claims the government is illegally rescinding her citizenship. Focus is now on these ISIS wives and where they go now.

[03:40:05] CNN's Jomanah Karadsheh is following the story. She joins me now from Istanbul. Where is this young woman now, Hoda Muthana, Jomanah?

JOMANAH KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Natalie, Hoda Muthana is among the hundreds of women who were evacuated from that last territory that was held by ISIS, that so-called caliphate. She is in one of the camps in northeastern Syria that are run by the Kurdish -- majority Kurdish Syrian Democratic forces. And that is where journalists found her in recent days.

And just to give you a bit of background, Natalie, Hoda Muthana left the United States in 2014, she was a 19-year-old college student. Right now she -- you know, and during that time, she's married three ISIS fighters. Now she has an 18-month-old boy and is a 24-year-old.

And in these recent interviews she's done and in a statement she put forward through a representative, she seems to be expressing regret now, describing her acts in the past as foolish and saying that the blood shed that she has seen and the birth of her baby boy have changed her now. And she is asking to go back to the United States, but as you mentioned, this is such a contentious issue right now that her family is suing the U.S. government, because they say, she should be allowed back in the U.S.

We heard President Trump in a tweet, I should say, back on Wednesday saying, that he is directed Secretary Pompeo not to allow her back into the U.S. We've heard from Secretary Pompeo describing her as a terrorist, not a U.S. citizen. Saying she has no legal basis to be in the United States.

And what the State Department is saying is that she was born while her father was serving as a Yemeni diplomat in Washington, D.C. And the children of diplomats they say are not entitled to U.S. citizenship, but her family is disputing that. Saying that she was born a few months after her father left his post as a diplomat and so she is a U.S. citizen and they're -- in this lawsuit that they filed yesterday, her father filed against President Trump, Secretary Pompeo and Attorney General William Barr.

They are saying that this move by the United States is unconstitutional and that the U.S. has this obligation to return their citizens from armed conflict. And they are saying that she is prepared to come back to the United States and face charges if there are any brought against her, Natalie.

ALLEN: All right. So, we'll wait and see what the next step is in her saga and there are others like her as well. Jomanah Karadsheh for us there. Thank you, Jomanah.

Still to come here on CNN Newsroom. China and the U.S. are quickly running out of time to reach a trade deal. We'll have an update from Hong Kong live for you, just ahead.


ALLEN: Billions of dollars are at stake as crucial trade talks come down to the wire. This is the second and final day for Chinese and American trade officials meeting in Washington. And time is short, if there's no agreement by March 2nd, the U.S. is to hike tariffs on billions in Chinese imports. But the White House is optimistic, it says in a memorandum of understanding will come out of these latest talks.

[03:45:00] Our Will Ripley joins us now live from Hong Kong. Will, always good to have you with us. OK, the U.S. is optimistic. The question is, is China optimistic and of course time is of the essence and there are huge topics on the table.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No kidding, Natalie. It's kind of like reading the tea leaves, because in Beijing, CNN asked the Chinese government if they had update on the trade talks and the answer was essentially, we'll let you know when the talks are over.

So, if you're reading the tea leaves, it looks like the fact that President Trump has agreed to meet with China's Vice Premier, Liu He, in the Oval Office, it's happening 2:30 p.m. Eastern Time there in the U.S., that is probably a good sign, if the White House is saying they're optimistic. It seems that if they feel that's sufficient progress is being made.

Does it mean they're going to sign a deal right away? Or perhaps will President Trump extend what was a hard deadline. Now he is saying it is not a magical date. Let's talk about the memorandums of understanding or MOU's as they're called.

This is not a legally binding agreement. It's kind of been compared to, you know, what people would call it a gentleman's agreement. And so one key issue is how are they going to enforce whatever terms they agree to in these contentious areas, like forced technology transfer? When U.S. companies go in, and they've complained they have to give all of their technology information and then Chinese companies can use it and make their own products for cheaper.

And there's intellectual property, that's you know, touching on the same issue, the tech is pretty controversial. Other areas, services, agriculture, the U.S. wants China to buy more soybeans, and wheat, and corn and that sort of thing. Nontariff barriers, the barriers that, you know, other than taxes and tariffs that China can put up to block U.S. business involvement in the country.

And all of this needs to be resolved in one week if they keep to that March 1st deadline, Natalie, when the U.S. has said that tariffs will more than double from 10 percent to 25 percent, $200 billion in Chinese imports. The U.S. is really kind of sitting pretty here, because they know they have the leverage. Yes, the tariffs could do some harm to the U.S. economy, but they will do a lot more harm to the Chinese economy if they take in, Natalie.

ALLEN: All right. Who has got more at stake here? The United States or China to make sure this deadline happens?

RIPLEY: Definitely China. Because what President Trump is essentially insisting upon is substantial structural changes to the Chinese economy and the way they do business including, by the way, how they value their currency, the Yuan. Because the U.S. and President Trump have accused China of being currency manipulators and making the Yuan artificially low, so that Chinese products are artificially cheap and have an unfair competitive advantage with U.S. products.

And then there's the issue of this trade deficit which President Trump has pointed to a lot saying that, you know, basically the U.S. is buying a lot more from China than it is selling. Last year the deficit was more than 380 billion dollars, that China has already pledged that they're going to try to close that gap at least a little bit and, you know, committing to buy tens of billions of dollars in U.S. agricultural products, but it is not going to much - it is not going to put much of a dent in that massive deficit.

So there are just a lot of issues and President Trump and the U.S. knows that China has a lot to lose here, if these tariffs kick in, because people that make their products in China have already been looking, but they're definitely going to start looking much more for other places here in Asia, like Vietnam, or Cambodia or other countries where they can manufacture for a lot cheaper, especially if these tariffs kick in.

ALLEN: All right. We'll wait and watch these talks that take place on Friday, just a few hours. Will Ripley, always a pleasure having you to explain it all for us, Will. Thank you so much.

Next here on CNN Newsroom. The impact of climate change on Cuban cigars. How fluctuating temperatures make it harder to produce the island's tobacco. That's next.


ALLEN: Cuban cigars are considered as you likely know the best in the world. But there is now growing concern about the impact climate change is having on Cuba's tobacco production. Our Patrick Oppmann is in San Luis, Cuba.


PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They may be called Cuban cigars, but much of the premium tobacco that goes into Cuba's most famous export comes from this small corner of the island. Called the Vuelta Abajo region, the area boasts a unique micro climate in volcanic soil that is perfect for growing some of the world's best cigar tobacco.

But these past growing season, tobacco farmers say something was off in that delicate balance.

HIROCHI ROBAINA, CUBAN TOBACCO GROWER: Well, here, it was very complicated, because the weather. The weather was bad.

OPPMANN: Hirochi Robaina's family has grown tobacco here for five generations. Back then as is the case now, most of the work was done by hand. Tobacco grown by Hirochi's grandfather, Alejandro Robaina was so exceptional, it was rolled into cigars reserved for former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, but lately Hirochi says, climate change is threatening the family business.

ROBAINA: Last month, it rained a lot. That's normally. We start to work tobacco normally in November. It is a dry season. It is -- it is a worse winter season. Normally is not right, just a little bit, but it change a lot. It is very strong (inaudible) and very strong wind and it is big problem for the tobacco farmers.

OPPMANN: Hirochi's says unseasonal rains have ruined crops in the same stormy weather that caused an unprecedented tornado in Havana in January re-pulled tobacco plants from the ground. For many here, it is just not worth the trouble to keep growing the tobacco that makes Cuba's iconic cigars.

Here we are in the heart of Cuban tobacco country and yet increasingly, Hirochi's says, more of his neighbors, even some of his relatives are switching to other crops like corn or black beans. Crops that are easier to grow and are not so dependent on this unique climate.

This week at Cuba's annual cigar festival, tobacco producers said demand is growing and there was more than half a billion dollars in sales to Cuban cigars in 2018. But as business booms, climate change could have an impact, not just on production, but also quality.

DAVID SAVONA, CIGAR AFICIONADO MAGAZINE: It is something to be concerned about. And when you're a cigar lover, you're smoking just tobacco. Cigars like these are made with only tobacco and thymes. So, if there's a problem with the weather, a problem with the tobacco that is going to have a direct effect on the cigar.

OPPMANN: The Cuban government has begun replacing the old wooden roofs and the houses where tobaccos was age with metal ones, better to withstand the rain and wind caused by climate change. Hirochi said he is consulting instructions on how to grow tobacco left him by his grandfather.

ROBAINA: Robaina have to grow tobacco. We have to. We have too, this is our life.

OPPMANN: To see if old wisdom can help deal with the new threat. Patrick Oppmann, CNN, San Luis, Cuba.


ALLEN: Surprising weather in Las Vegas this week to share with you as the first snow in more than a decade fell across the region. Meteorologist Derek Van Dam following that for us. You're hard pressed to find states that are not getting snow right now, aren't you, Derek.

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: That is true. And what can't you see in the Sin City, right? I mean, you got the gambling, you got all you can at buffets.

[03:55:00] You've also got some spectacular shows inside of those casinos, but the best show that took place on Thursday was outside of the casinos. Clearly, right? Some iconic landmarks like the entrance sign welcome to Las Vegas Nevada blanketed in snowfall. I mean, this is just incredible to see this, because as you mentioned, this has not happened since December of 2008.

And it wasn't only Las Vegas that saw some impressive snowfall, Flagstaff Arizona set a 24-hour snowfall record just yesterday. It received almost 90, get this, 90 centimeters of snow and that was in just a 24-hour period. So, we're talking about widespread areas of heavy snow fall that blanketed this area. The last time they saw that much snow was back in 1915. So, that even got eclipsed by about 10 centimeters here in the Flagstaff Arizona region.

So really impressive. It's all thanks to the storm system that continues to churn across the four corners. There it is, it is slowly receding. We are going to move all that energy and moisture across the Midwest and the plains. And that is where we're going to expect a full-fledged snowstorm to take place this weekend. So, Omaha, Nebraska, all the way to Minneapolis, even Grand Rapids,

Michigan. Now we're expecting a good chance of wind. The potential for heavy rainfall and heavy snowfall where it does finally transition across the Deep South. Extremely heavy rainfall continues our flood threat across the Tennessee River Valley and then look at the snows moving across all the way to West Coast, this is really good news for the state of California.

I want to end of with this because if we go back three years ago, February 16, 2016, over 95 percent of the state was actually under some sort of drought condition. Now fast-forward three years to just a few days ago, the latest update from the National Drought Assessment Center has only four percent of the state under drought conditions as we speak.

So, I want to show you one last video, Natalie, because this is quite astounding as well and you've been to this area before yourself, I'm sure. This is Malibu in Los Angeles County and they saw snowfall yesterday. So we're seeing all kinds of wild weather across the U.S. --

ALLEN: Absolutely.

VAN DAM: -- and see snowfall in Malibu, California and that's quite a thing.

ALLEN: Yes, absolutely. They had to get a kick out of that, right?


ALLEN: Beautiful.

VAN DAM: I would have stepped outside and try to catch some of them.

ALLEN: All right. Derek, thanks so much. Off to Las Vegas we should go.

VAN DAM: Right.

ALLEN: Thank you for watching CNN Newsroom. I'm Natalie Allen. The news continues next with Max Foster in London. See you soon.