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Venezuela Crisis; Vatican Summit; $1 Million Bond for R. Kelly; New England Patriots Owner Facing Solicitation Charges; Manafort Sentencing Memo Made Public; Countdown to Brexit; 2019 Academy Awards. Aired 4-5a ET
Aired February 24, 2019 - 04:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The crisis in Venezuela. Deadly clashes break out as truck loads of desperately needed aid are set on fire at the border.
In Chicago, a judge sets R. Kelly's bond at $1 million. The singer facing 10 counts of criminal sexual abuse.
Also ahead this hour, three upcoming events that could have a big impact on the rest of the Trump presidency. We're breaking down what you need to keep up with next week.
Live from CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta, we want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm George Howell. The CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.
HOWELL: 4:00 am on the U.S. East Coast.
Our top story, Venezuela's humanitarian crisis takes another deadly turn.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HOWELL (voice-over): Officials say that five people were killed near Venezuela's border on Saturday as troops clashed with protesters trying to bring aid to the country. At least two trucks carrying aid were set on fire on a bridge here.
Opposition leader Juan Guaido, who organized the protests, indicated the president, Nicolas Maduro, was responsible. He urged troops not to support Maduro's regime.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JUAN GUAIDO, INTERIM PRESIDENT OF VENEZUELA (through translator): You don't owe loyalty, members of the armed forces, to someone who burns food in front of the hungry. We saw a man burn medicine in front of the sick. How many of you soldiers have sick mothers?
How many of you have children in school without food?
You don't owe any type of obedience to those who sadistically, because there's no other expression for it, celebrate that aid doesn't enter a country that needs it. You don't owe any type of loyalty.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HOWELL: So far more than 60 members of the armed forces have defected from the Maduro government.
In the meantime, the United States is, again, blasting Mr. Maduro's aid blockade; in a tweet the secretary of state Mike Pompeo called the president, quote, "a tyrant" and said the images of burning trucks were "sickening."
The U.S. also announced a meeting between the vice president Mike Pence and Juan Guaido, set to take place Monday in Colombia. Officials have closed some of the border crossings between Venezuela and Colombia so they can evaluate the damage from the clashes.
Our Nick Paton Walsh was at the scene of the protests as they unfolded and filed this report.
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It had been billed as a new dawn when the opposition planned waves of Venezuelan refugees would simply take aid back into their homeland across the busiest border bridge with Colombia.
But it was closed, blocked physically by Venezuelan riot police and, behind them, violent pro-government gangs.
The young police taunted or begged into changing sides.
"I'm Venezuelan," she says, holding up her ID, "and my father was a sergeant. How will you stop me crossing?"
But they were Venezuelans, too, and also knew its collapse and its hunger and, here, its heat and thirst.
"The water you're drinking," she says, "it's Colombian because your president doesn't give you any. Bring him out here to us."
"I eat or drink soda whenever I want here," he says, "but the hardest pain is how my grandfather died because he didn't have medicine."
For a brief moment, the anger dissipated, the police lowered their shields, talked calmly. But down the road, the promised aid convoy arrived in a huge crowd intent on pushing through.
WALSH: Tension mounting here, the shields have gone back up again. And protesters are recommending people start to move back. WALSH (voice-over): This was why: a slow march of opposition protesters, peaceful in as far as they would not take no for an answer. It fast collapsed into tear gas, today's lofty goals soon lost in a routine exchange of hatred, rocks against rubber bullets and rocks thrown back.
WALSH: Did you expect to have blood on your shirt today?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE).
WALSH: Did you expect that to happen today?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE).
WALSH (voice-over): And as they lost staff on the bridge, the protesters took their fight underneath. They are many but Maduro's police are mightier. They have only whatever they could make.
None of this chaos got any aid across here. But it showed the uncompromising ferocity of the Maduro government and it led, throughout the day, to Venezuelan soldiers giving themselves up, Juan Pierre (ph) carried out, the mobs both cursing and cheering.
The opposition had promised defectors amnesty but this will only get uglier, seeing the mobbing of pro-Maduro militia here, battered by the crowd and spared only by Colombian police. And if the symbolic bid to get aid in peacefully failed, then these scenes are what Venezuela is left with -- Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, Cucuta, Colombia.
HOWELL: Now to the Vatican, where Pope Francis is presiding over the final day of the extraordinary summit on clergy sex abuse. These live images in Vatican City now, where the pope will be speaking. The Catholic Church openly addressing the problem of priests sexually exploiting children.
The four-day event marked the first time the church acknowledged it destroyed evidence of sex abuse, a practice that went back many decades. Our Delia Gallagher is following the story live in Rome.
Delia, what are some of the main points to come out of the final day?
DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN VATICAN CORRESPONDENT: Well, George, the final day is the mass, which you are seeing right now. And then after the mass we will hear from Pope Francis. And, you know, going into this, the pope was saying he wants concrete steps to come out of this summit.
So now the pressure is on them to actually produce those steps. We don't yet know what they will be.
But based on the way the discussions have been going, one point might be lifting the pontifical secret on these cases, that is something that victims have been pushing for because it means making the process more transparent from the Vatican, when they are looking at an investigation and judging an accuser.
Often victims are not told about what's going on and that process can take quite a long time. So victims are kind of in the dark about it. So that might be one concrete step that could come out of this meeting, George.
One important revelation that has already come out from German Cardinal Marx about some files being destroyed in Germany, he says; that came out in a report which the German bishops asked for last year.
Now the cardinal says he doesn't have names of who destroyed those files but he says he doesn't think Germany is an isolated case.
So that revelation is going to raise some red flags around the world, particularly in the United States, where you already have federal and state investigations going on into the Catholic Church.
And in Pennsylvania, the Catholic Church there was told by the U.S. attorney not to destroy files. So that revelation coming out of this conference will certainly raise some red flags.
As for the rest of it, it will really be a case, George, of seeing what the Vatican does next. What are they going to say and what are they going to do in terms of four days that they had here discussing this issue -- George.
HOWELL: Delia, so we have to wait and watch to see again what those concrete steps might be. But really all of this comes down to what survivors think about the path ahead.
Given these past few days, do you get a sense that they are optimistic from what they have seen, what they have heard or are they cynical, demanding more concrete steps?
GALLAGHER: Well, George, I would characterize them as fed up. I mean, remember that we are 17 years on from the 2002 Boston allegations and when John Paul II had U.S. cardinals over here. So this is deja vu for a lot of the Americans.
We have seen cardinals over at the Vatican, we've seen a pope apologizing for sex abuse. A number of the survivors we're talking to, A, say, they can come up with whatever steps they want; we want civil authorities to take over from here. Bishops cannot police bishops and so on.
So we have heard certainly a sense of just being tired and a sense that there is hypocrisy in the Catholic Church.
On the other hand, I have spoken to survivors; many gave testimony at this four-day event, in front of the bishops, about their stories and they say, look, it is important going forward that there are protections --
GALLAGHER: -- in place around the world. That was the point of this meeting, bringing bishops from around the world who maybe haven't yet really dealt with this problem or who even thought that it wasn't a problem in their country.
So at least the awareness of the issue for those places in the world that, going forward, can now really take it seriously and establish some guidelines so that the children can be protected in the future.
HOWELL: Delia Gallagher, following the story in Rome. We'll stay in touch with you. Thank you.
In Chicago, a judge set a $1 million bond for singer R. Kelly, who turned himself in on Friday. This after being charged with 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse. Despite being one of the most successful R&B artists in history, accusations like these have followed him for many decades. Our Sara Sidner has this story.
SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A judge set R. Kelly's bond for $1 million, $250,000 in each of the four alleged victims' cases. Now R. Kelly would only have to pay $100,000 of that after he has been charged with 10 counts of criminal sexual abuse. The prosecution laying out some very sexually explicit details in this case to the judge, including sexual and physical abuse of several of the women that are now alleged victims in this particular case.
There was an indictment from a grand jury first and then the prosecution filed charges against R. Kelly. The details include physical and sexual abuse against women who are now of age but were minors at the time, "under the age of 17 but older than 13," is how the prosecution put it.
We also heard from R. Kelly's attorney, Steve Greenberg. He came out; he said initially, when R. Kelly was arrested and we saw him to go in to be booked last night, he said that all the women liars and called them liars very starkly and clearly.
Today he backed down a little bit from that but said, you know, you can't believe everything you hear, that he should be given, like any other defendant, a presumption of innocence. He also mentioned the 2008 trial, where R. Kelly was put on trial for 14 counts of pornography, child pornography, and he was acquitted in that trial.
He said people should give him the same kind of presumption of innocence as other defendants.
He did recognize that there is a lot of media attention here. He recognized that there were some women who were in the courtroom here today, listening and emotional. We can tell you that one of the victims, the alleged victims in this case, was inside the courtroom. She was emotional herself.
This has been a very difficult time for the women who have come out and accused R. Kelly of sexually abusing them when they were minors.
Where do we go from here?
Greenberg, R. Kelly's attorney, says that he does not think that R. Kelly has $100,000 just hanging around. So the question is, will he be able to get that money and get out of jail before his next hearing, which will be Monday? -- Sara Sidner, CNN, Chicago.
HOWELL: Sara, thank you.
As she mentioned, R. Kelly's lawyer called into question the credibility of the singer's accusers and brought up the me too movement as well.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEVE GREENBERG, R. KELLY ATTORNEY: There's this whole hashtag movement, just because someone says something now and it's 2019, it doesn't make them credible. And just because they said something now and they haven't said something in a long time, it doesn't necessarily make them incredible.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HOWELL: Greenberg adds since Kelly was acquitted in 2008 of child pornography involving one of the current accusers, the sexual assault charges are basically double jeopardy. He said the lawyer for some of the alleged victims, Michael Avenatti, disputes that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY: Mr. Greenberg's personal attacks on me and my clients -- he's called all of the women victims liars by outrageous and completely unprofessional. Mr. Greenberg also seems to not recognize what double jeopardy really is. None of the counts that have been alleged against Mr. Kelly involve double jeopardy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HOWELL: The string of allegations over the years led to a television documentary series called "Surviving R. Kelly." One of the alleged victims who participated in the series spoke with CNN.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LISA VAN ALLEN, ALLEGED VICTIM OF R. KELLY: He pretty much right away told you what he's into, what he likes, what he doesn't like. He also during sexual acts, the whole time, he's telling you exactly what to do, whatnot to do, what he likes, what he doesn't like, so yes.
CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: It was interesting because at that time you said, "I didn't assume that he liked younger girls. At that moment, I thought he just liked me."
VAN ALLEN: Yes.
PAUL: At what point did you realize something was --
PAUL: -- very off here?
VAN ALLEN: There wasn't just one time. It would be recurring things where I was getting older. You know, I'm 19, the girls are still 18 -- 19. I'm turning 20, they're still 18 -- 19. You know what I mean, like...
VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Yes.
VAN ALLEN: And then it was like, eventually it was like OK, he likes young girls.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HOWELL: The owner of the beloved U.S. football team here in the United States is facing charges of soliciting prostitution. And the fans have something to say about it. We'll have that story ahead here on NEWSROOM.
HOWELL: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell.
A massive effort to bring humanitarian aid to Venezuela turned into a day of deadly violence on Saturday. You see here in these images, as they play out, officials say five people were killed and nearly 300 wounded in clashes with security forces near Venezuela's borders.
HOWELL: Let's talk more about this now with Asa Cusack, Asa with the London School of Economics' Latin America and Caribbean Centre, joining us from London.
Good to have you with us.
ASA CUSACK, LONDON SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS: My pleasure.
HOWELL: Asa, two trucks carried in humanitarian aid from Brazil and at least 60 members of Venezuela's military defected.
What does that mean for Juan Guaido; what does it mean for Nicolas Maduro?
CUSACK: I think the defections are significant but perhaps not in the way that you might think immediately. You have to think about the fact that these are 60 fairly low-ranked members of the armed forces and the armed forces are made up of hundreds of thousands of people.
Really, if anything, it shows how close the military remains to Maduro. And so that creates a new problem for Guaido, since this is really the second time he's essentially rolled the dice on some kind of side-switching by the military and in neither case have we seen any major defections.
You need some much higher ranking officials to do that but, at the moment, it is not necessarily in their interests to do that. And there has been no real indication that's about to happen. So it does leave Guaido with a problem for what he's going to do next.
HOWELL: Despite the violence seen on Saturday, the images seen of burning trucks, Guaido urged people to continue trying to get aid into Venezuela.
How long do you see this continuing?
CUSACK: Well, at the moment, there is no clear way without any change in that military support; there is no clear route out of this. My worry really at the moment, just from the statements that Guaido has made and that Marco Rubio has also made, is that there is a move towards considering military intervention, which I think would be a disaster really, both for Venezuela and the wider region.
There are all kinds of different armed groups that are active in Venezuela; you could have military splits, some people supporting Maduro, some supporting Guaido. There is just a really toxic combination at the moment.
It could be a kind of Syria or Libya type situation if it began and escalated and spiraled out of hand. Then you could have a really disastrous situation.
So really I think the best thing would be to try and push forward and negotiate a solution, as the international contact group of European Union countries and some Latin American countries has tried to do.
HOWELL: You touched on this but, throughout the region, watching how relations change, given that Nicolas Maduro broke diplomatic relations with Colombia Saturday, what effect will that have on all of this?
CUSACK: Well, the relations with Colombia have been incredibly fraught, really, throughout the past two decades. Chavez had very, very bad relations with Uribe and the two countries almost came to war really around 2010. And President Duque is seen as really Uribe's candidate in the previous election.
So there is no real surprise there. I think the real problem is that it closes down another kind of possible channel to speak rather than going down a more violent route.
So, again, I think the negotiated option is the best one and there is a way to kind of do that, particularly with the economic sanctions. There were negotiations a year ago that almost managed to reach agreement on conditions for free elections. They fell apart at the last minute.
But in that situation, Maduro did give ground, based on sanctions being relaxed. So, from my point of view, that's what I would like to see attempted again.
HOWELL: Clearly the pressure is ratcheting up. U.S. vice president Mike Pence plans to meet with Juan Guaido in Colombia in support of the opposition, keeping in mind Mr. Maduro has also threatened military action against the United States. Both sides pushing hard here.
How do you see things playing out in the days and weeks ahead?
CUSACK: I think for a while the idea of military intervention from the U.S. seemed slightly farfetched but I don't really see that it is anymore.
If you look at some of the statements from Trump, we saw in the recently released book of McCabe, the former deputy director of the FBI, that Trump was saying basically why are we not going to war with Venezuela, it has all this oil and it is on our doorstep.
And then the people involved in this on the U.S. side, extreme hawks like John Bolton and Mike Pence and especially maybe Elliott Abrams, who was involved in some of the worse atrocities in Central America in the 1980s, these kind of people will be pushing for that option and I really hope that the opposition doesn't play along with that.
HOWELL: Asa Cusack from our London bureau, thank you for the insight.
HOWELL: In just a few weeks time, Robert Kraft went from Super Bowl- winning high to a scandalous low. Kraft is the owner of the New England Patriots and one of --
HOWELL: -- the most successful teams in professional sports. The Patriots won the Super Bowl earlier in February. But now Kraft could be facing charges of solicitation of prostitution. Our Polo Sandoval has this story.
POLO SANDOVAL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Since the news broke on Friday, we have seen a steady flow of people stopping by this day salon in Jupiter, Florida, people even posting for photographs outside. It's a highly unusual scene here.
Authorities saying Robert Kraft on at least two occasions in recent months actually visited this location, seeking what authorities are describing as paid sexual acts. This -- these are allegations that Kraft, through a spokesperson, categorically continues to deny here. Authorities saying that Kraft is not alone.
He's one of about at least 190 so-called johns, who face some serious charges as part of this ongoing and large-scale crackdown, a human trafficking crackdown, investigators saying this salon and others were actually targeted as part of the investigation.
A key question that remains here about Kraft, will he actually end up in custody at some point as he faces these misdemeanor solicitation charges?
We are told that authorities with the Palm Beach County state attorney's office are going over all of the evidence, which we're told includes videos of Kraft inside of this location.
According to investigators, after this they do that on Monday, they will then proceed with a decision here and the possible issuing of warrants for many of those individuals, including Kraft.
So this is certainly going to be a story to watch the next 24 to 48 hours, as we could potentially find out not necessarily just if but also when Robert Kraft could potentially end up in custody -- Polo Sandoval, CNN, Jupiter, Florida.
HOWELL: Polo, thank you.
In Massachusetts, where the New England Patriots are based, fans are speaking out about this scandal. Here's what they have to say about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very surprised, a guy that's worth billions of dollars goes to a strip mall to purchase prostitution. Seems a little odd to me.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think it's great, but at the same time, he's not married, so -- and it's none of my business.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's such a class guy, has done such a great job for New England, Patriots, all of New England, so I'm sad. I'm sad. I hope it works out that maybe the -- maybe they were wrong and it was a mistake, but I support the man. And I support what he has done for New England.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HOWELL: All right, still ahead, a busy political week and there may be some surprises this week as three crucial events to the Trump administration play out. We'll tell you what to look for in the next few days.
Plus, Brexit on the beach. Why the British prime minister is headed to an Egyptian resort town, also looking for a deal there. Stay with us. (MUSIC PLAYING)
HOWELL: Welcome back to our viewers here in the United States and around the world, you are watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Atlanta. I'm George Howell with the headlines we're following for you this hour.
HOWELL: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is traveling through China right now, this hour, in fact. He's headed to a second historic summit with the U.S. president Donald Trump.
Kim is riding aboard his private train, it is his preferred mode of long distance travel. The train ride across China to Vietnam is 2,500 kilometers and will take a couple of days. He'll make the final 178- kilometer trip by car to Hanoi.
The two leaders are set to meet Wednesday and Thursday. Few other details are known about the summit. It comes after -- eight months after their first meeting in Singapore.
That much anticipated sentencing memo against Paul Manafort was unsealed on Saturday. Many people hoped that it would reveal crucial missing details about the Russia investigation but that didn't happen.
The memo, the 800-page memo, did lay out what prosecutors call "bold crimes" committed by the former Trump campaign chairman. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy against the United States and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Our Evan Perez has this story.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Special counsel prosecutors outlined what they say were Paul Manafort's years of bold criminal behavior, which they said continued during the time that Paul Manafort served as the chairman of the Trump campaign and after he pleaded guilty to federal charges.
A sentencing memo made public this weekend asked Judge Amy Berman Jackson to structure his punishment so that Manafort spends the rest of his life in prison. Manafort pleaded guilty last year to two federal crimes in court here in Washington, he's also awaiting sentencing after being convicted on a separate federal case in Alexandria, Virginia.
Prosecutors say that Manafort's conduct, quote, "reflects a hardened adherence to committing crimes and a lack of remorse." They note that his pattern of deceit stretches from his own bookkeepers and his lawyers to the special counsel and the grand jury and even to members of the Trump administration.
What we don't see in this memo is any new information shedding light on the alleged conspiracy connecting the Russian interference into the 2016 election and the Trump campaign. We're expecting to see a sentencing memo from Manafort's lawyers on Monday -- Evan Perez, CNN, Washington.
HOWELL: Evan, thank you.
What happens next week could have a very big impact on the rest of the U.S. president's time in office.
On Tuesday, the House of Representatives, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, is expected to vote on a resolution that would block Mr. Trump's use of emergency powers to build a border wall. The president has promised to veto that measure.
Then on Wednesday, President Trump's former attorney Michael Cohen --
HOWELL: -- is set to testify publicly before Congress. Democrats on the House Oversight Committee say the hearing will cover a long list of topics about Cohen's former boss.
While that's going on in Washington, Mr. Trump will be in Hanoi on Wednesday, as we mentioned, for this second summit with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un. Let's talk more about all of this now with Natasha Lindstaedt, a professor of government at the University of Essex, joining us this hour.
Good to have you.
NATASHA LINDSTAEDT, UNIVERSITY OF ESSEX: Thanks for having me on, George.
HOWELL: Natasha, looking ahead, this promises to be quite a week. The House of Representatives set to vote on this emergency declaration and it is sure to pass the House.
But all eyes will be on what happens in the Senate. Regardless Mr. Trump has already said that he will veto that.
So what impact do you think it will have on Republicans, who will have to make a big choice in the Senate?
LINDSTAEDT: I think there is only going to be a handful of Republicans that will side with the Democrats on this. Mitch McConnell tends to have pretty good control over the Republicans in the Senate and they tend to vote along party lines.
And they seem to be very fearful of going against Trump because they're worried that that's going to offend the base and could affect them in the 2020 elections. But, you know, we'll see what happens. And then naturally Trump says
he's just going to be veto it anyway. But what is going on with the -- with Congress and this vote is nowhere near as dangerous to the president as what is coming up with the Michael Cohen hearings.
HOWELL: Mr. Trump will be leaving all of that behind in preparation to meet with the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un. The last time it was more about optics than actual substance and concrete agreements to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.
What are your expectations for this meeting?
LINDSTAEDT: The last meeting had so much hype into this, just the fact they were even meeting and the photo ops looked like they were getting along really well. And Trump himself seems to be completely captivated by Kim Jong-un and seems to think they have great chemistry and said they had even fallen "in love," quote-unquote, joking about that.
In spite of all of the things, the hype that happened with the last meeting, this next meeting doesn't have very high expectations and there is great concerns that President Trump is trying to distract from all of the different things going on, is eyeing some sort of Nobel Peace Prize nomination and will offer way too many concessions to the North Korean government, which could come in the form of promising to possibly alleviate the sanctions, to remove the troops from the peninsula.
And this really worries Trump's team that he's going to offer too much and not get anything in return.
HOWELL: Natasha, you touched on this a moment ago; the president's former attorney, Michael Cohen, testifying on Capitol Hill this week. We know he can't talk about Russia but may offer some insight into other investigations, where he has spoken with prosecutors.
The president said he is not worried about what Cohen has to say.
But given these other investigations, some of which may be more of a threat than Robert Mueller's, what is the real threat in your view to Mr. Trump?
LINDSTAEDT: He should really be worried about Michael Cohen. We have to remember, Cohen was convicted of a felony. And he was sentenced to three years in prison. And you have to remember Cohen is the underling of his boss, Donald Trump.
And so that's how they treat the underling, what is going to happen to the boss?
And so these are sort of questions. But it is pretty clear that the State of New York is going to go after Trump, if he's not re-elected in 2020, for a series of crimes, most of them financial crimes and possibly crimes connected to campaign finance.
And, you know, he won't be immune to this and this is going to be something very serious that he has to face, probably even more dangerous to him than the Mueller investigation.
HOWELL: Natasha Lindstaedt, with context and perspective, thank you.
LINDSTAEDT: Thank you for having me.
HOWELL: So forget Brussels and forget Downing Street. The Brexit spotlight is on Egypt in the next few days. That country hosting a summit for E.U. and Arab leaders in Sharm el-Sheikh.
The British prime minister Theresa May will be there and she might be looking for a way to push Brexit forward with the E.U. leaders, a much needed deal in the desert, you could call it. Our international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson following the story.
Nic, a change in location, sure but can the British prime minister really expect a change in position with the E.U., these leaders who have been very clear this deal is the only deal?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, you might be asking that sort of question, can Theresa May turn on the charm in Sharm?
Sharm el-Sheikh here, to charm -- the person she would need to charm here, of course, Donald Tusk, the E.U. Council president, that's the reason she was coming here. She wasn't expected to --
ROBERTSON: -- come to the summit. This is a big deal, the first ever Arab League, League of Arab States-European Union summit, 49 different nations, 21 from the Arab League, 28 from the European Union.
So it is a big thing. But she wasn't planning to come until, you know, her deal, her effort to try to get the European Union to open up the withdrawal agreement, to give the guarantees, the legally binding guarantees she wants on the backstop, are now downgraded if you will to alternative arrangements that might come in a separate -- legally binding but separate document.
Her effort to pull that off, if you will, looked at the beginning of last week as if it had some traction. And that's when she decided to come here and have this bilateral meeting; she's expected to have over the next 24-48 hours with Donald Tusk.
And can she turn on the charm with him to make a difference?
Well, the relationship is hugely frosty. It only was just a couple of weeks ago that Donald Tusk said there was a special place in hell for those who had called for Brexit without having a proper plan in place.
And at the moment, the mood music seems to be that the traction that Theresa May had earlier in the week is perhaps slipping away from her. But, of course, it is all to play for when she gets back to London, back to Europe next week.
There was a possibility she was going to call for a meaningful vote to head off her challengers. But those challenges could well come next week and those challenges would be to prevent her going for a no-deal Brexit, could include as well a call for a second referendum or interlocking that with whatever else she is able to get.
So, yes, all eyes on here for Theresa May in Sharm el-Sheikh, but a big summit with a lot of other important issues to be discussed.
HOWELL: Theresa May, focusing on turning on, as you say, the charm in Sharm. We'll see. Nic Robertson, thank you.
Still ahead, a powerful blizzard racing across the United States and while it is blanketing the North, the same system causing flooding in the South. Details on this story ahead.
HOWELL: A Saudi princess is said to be the kingdom's first-ever female ambassador to the United States. Reema bint Bandar was officially named to the post on Saturday. The move comes as Saudi Arabia faces backlash over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
It comes after renewed focus on the kingdom for its poor record on women's rights. Women can't marry, they can't travel or get a job without a male guardian's permission. Rahaf Mohammed gained global attention after fleeing Saudi Arabia in January. She said she faced abuse and even death if sent back. She was granted asylum in Canada.
A Lebanese filmmaker is hoping to make history at this year's Academy Awards. In fact, she's also doing that. Nadine Labaki is the first female Arab director to be nominated for best foreign film for her movie, "Capernaum." Becky Anderson explains what makes for an Oscar- worthy title.
(VIDEO CLIP, "CAPERNAUM")
BECKY ANDERSON, CNN HOST (voice-over): It is the breakout Middle Eastern film of the awards season.
"Capernaum" tells the story of a 12-year-old runaway, fending for himself on the streets of Beirut, played by real-life Syrian refugee, Zain Al Rafeaa. The gutsy Zain takes his parents to court, suing them for the crime of giving him life.
(VIDEO CLIP, "CAPERNAUM")
ANDERSON (voice-over): The characters are played by nonprofessional actors, many of them street children and refugees. The film's director, Nadine Labaki, says much of the plot is based on events that cast members experienced in their own lives.
NADINE LABAKI, DIRECTOR: When I started to write the film, I was thinking about the fact that you need to have a paper to exist in life. Modern slavery, children's rights, all these subjects were just things that I wanted to talk about.
ANDERSON (voice-over): A biting social commentary that earned the film a 15-minute standing ovation when it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. Since then, it has garnered nominations for best foreign feature at the Golden Globes, the BAFTAs and now the Oscars.
LABAKI: It is a huge victory for us to be nominated for an Oscar. It's a huge victory for each one of the actors, who are putting their own struggle out there through the film, being the voice of the voiceless, each one here with his own story and own struggle.
ANDERSON (voice-over): A victory not only for the actors but Labaki herself. She's the first female Arab director to be nominated in any major foreign language category and the only female director nominated for a non-English film this year.
LABAKI: It needs to be on the map, needs to be on the map for different reasons than the war or the economic crisis or the refugee crisis or whatever crisis the country is going through. We also deserve to be on the map for different reasons.
HOWELL: Becky Anderson, thank you.
We are just hours away from the Oscars here in the United States. And people have been taking bets on who will win big.
According to multiple betting markets, "Roma" is a clear favorite for best picture, followed by "Green Book"; for best actor, Rami Malek, who starred as Queen frontman Freddie Mercury in "Bohemian Rhapsody."
He's followed by Christian Bale for "Vice" and Glenn Close seems to have a lock on best actress for her role in "The Wife." Of course we'll bring you all highlights here on CNN.
Parts of the United States are bracing for a major snowstorm. That same storm is causing flooding in the South. Derek Van Dam is here next. Stay with us.
(WEATHER REPORT) [04:55:00]
HOWELL: Thank you for being with us for this hour of CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell at the CNN Center in Atlanta. Let's do it again. Another hour of news right after the break. Stay with us.