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President Trump to Meet Kim Jong-un in Vietnam; U.S. Pauses Tariffs for China; Diverse Winners for Oscars; Victims of Abuse not Satisfied with Promises; President Trump Set to Hold Second Summit with Kim Jong-un; Mike Pence to Meet with Opposition Leader; British PM Again Delays Parliament Vote; Justin Fairfax Faces Sexual Assault Accusations; Emergencies Declared Amid Heavy Rain and Flooding; Israel Shoots for the Moon. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired February 25, 2019 - 03:00   ET


[03:00:00] GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Also, ahead this hour, more Venezuelan soldiers defect after a violent weekend. But humanitarian aid is still being blocked at the border. What is next for the opposition?

We are live from CNN world headquarters in Atlanta and we want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. I'm George Howell. The CNN Newsroom starts now.

At 3 a.m. on the U.S. East Coast, the president of the United States gearing up for a trip to Vietnam. His second summit with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is just days away now and much of the talk ahead of that trip instead, is on China and the issue of tariffs.

President Trump tweeted that he is delaying a hike in tariffs against China, a move that comes as progress is being reported on these trade talks. Here's what Mr. Trump had to say on Sunday about a potential trade deal. Listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If all works well, we're going to have some very big news over the next week or two. And it's really been terrific. I tell you, that whole relationship has been outstanding. We put ourselves into a position of strength for the first time in about 35 years or probably a lot more than that. But China's been terrific. We want to make a deal that's great for both countries, and that's really what we're going to be doing.


HOWELL: And now a look to the markets across Asia, modest gains. They seem happy there. That news of President Trump saying on Twitter that he hopes to finalize a trade deal with a U.S.-China summit. That is, if there is more progress.

Let's get the latest live in the capital of China. Our Steven Jiang following the story in Beijing. And Steven, given the little that we heard about these talks before this particular moment, the delay is significant, it seems.

STEVEN JIANG, CNN PRODUCER: It certainly is, George, but not entirely surprising given Mr. Trump had been hinting the March 1st deadline was not a magical date. But you have also seen how markets in this region have responded very positively to this news, especially here in China, with both the Shanghai and Shenzhen indices surging more than 5 percent.

I think Mr. Trump will certainly like to see the U.S. stock market follow suit because that's actually being one of his main concerns in terms of the volatility in the U.S. stock market because of this uncertainty caused by this ongoing trade war. And some of his critics even say his eagerness to cut a deal with the Chinese to stabilize the U.S. stock market may have revealed or even weakened the U.S. government hand.

But Mr. Trump certainly does not see it that way. In a pair of tweets earlier he certainly has ticked off all the right boxes in terms of the issues addressed by both sides in the latest round of talks.

These are long-running disputes in terms of economic structural issues in China. We are talking about intellectual property theft, state subsidies and key industries here as far as forced transfer of foreign technologies. All these issues long resisted by the Chinese in terms of meeting U.S. demands to see changes.

But at least now they're talking about these issues and according to Mr. Trump they're making substantial progress and the extension of the deadline of course will give negotiators more time, some breathing room to really hash out the details in the coming weeks even though it's going to remain a very tall order given the wide gap between the two sides. George?

HOWELL: All right. Steven Jiang, we'll continue to follow it. Thank you. In the coming hours the U.S. president will leave Washington, D.C. headed to Vietnam, where he is again set to hold his second summit with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Mr. Trump says he now sees eye to eye with Kim and won't rush things along with these talks.


TRUMP: The media sometimes will say, well, what have they given up? We've given up nothing. The sanctions are on, everything's on. But we have a special feeling and I think it's going to lead to something very good and maybe not. I think ultimately it will but maybe not. And I'm not pushing for speed. But we're not removing the sanctions.


HOWELL: President Trump's summit with Kim Jong-un is just one of several key events that could have a big impact on the rest of his presidency.

The first on Monday, 58 former national security officials will release a letter slamming Donald Trump's declaration of a national emergency on the southern border with Mexico. Then Tuesday the House of Representatives set to vote on that declaration, giving us a glimpse into how much support he has within his own party on the issue of the wall. It will be key to see how much progress he gets with Republicans on that issue.

Finally, Wednesday the president's former attorney Michael Cohen set to testify on Capitol Hill. He knows a lot about Mr. Trump, knows a lot about his business empire. But the president says he's not concerned about what Cohen will have to say.

[03:05:06] We're interested to hear what Leslie Vinjamuri has to say. Leslie is joining us live from our London bureau. Leslie is the head of the U.S. and Americas program at Chatham House, a London-based think tank. It's always good to have you, Leslie.


HOWELL: Leslie, let's start with the president's upcoming summit with Kim Jong-un. Mr. Trump has insisted that that nation is no longer a nuclear threat. But CNN's State of the Union seemed to get a different answer from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who seemed to do some sidestepping with my colleague Jake Tapper. Watch this.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Do you think North Korea remains a nuclear threat?


TAPPER: But the president said he doesn't.

POMPEO: That's not what he said. I mean, I know precisely --


TAPPER: He tweeted there is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.

POMPEO: What he said is what -- what he said was that the efforts that had been made in Singapore, this commitment that Chairman Kim made, had substantially taken down the risk to the American people. It's the mission of secretary of state and the President of the United States to keep the American people secure. We're aiming to achieve that.


HOWELL: So Leslie, you know, Jake Tapper pointed out the tweet from the president. Mike Pompeo taking a different approach here. This debate on this crucial question is clearly split within the Trump administration. So, do you see this summit as an opportunity to have optics or substance or substance over optics? What happens at this point? VINJAMURI: Well, this is clearly a very significant issue. Obviously

for international politics, for the United States and North Korea and the region but also for this president. He's really staked in terms of his foreign diplomacy, this is the one area he really wants to see a win. And in no small part to distract from the very difficult politics that you've just outlined that are taking place at home.

But it remains very unclear first whether there's been any progress since the last summit. It does not appear to be the case. And also, as we've seen there's a lack of coordination internally, within the administration, on what exactly the goals are for this summit, the nature of the threat.

The goal of denuclearization of course is one that's still articulated but it's far from clear what that actually means. And there's really been no coordination with America's allies, namely South Korea and japan, in the region.

So, there's a lot of questions surrounding this. It's good that there are talks but whether they will actually amount to anything when it comes to denuclearization, verification, or what North Korea would really like to see, which is a normalization of relations and a peace treaty, all that remains very underdefined and unclear.

HOWELL: All right. Back here in the United States the pressure is clearly mounting. More and more voices saying the president's move to declare a national emergency to build his border wall is really not an emergency at all.

And now Congress poised to vote as well. That vote in both the House and eventually the Senate will put Republican lawmakers in an interesting spot, either siding with the president or holding firm to statements many made on the record saying the declaration, Leslie, was a bad idea.

VINJAMURI: That's right. There's been opposition from the public as well. More than 60 percent really don't see this as a national emergency. So, there is real pressure on Congress. Difficult, of course, for Republicans to vote against the president.

And the president has made it very clear that he would veto this in any case. I think what will be interesting here is the pressure from courts. We have the case that's been filed by 16 states. The letter that's coming out will give credence to the court case calling on the president to really demonstrate what the factual basis is for calling this a national emergency.

And the look to the Pentagon to redirect funds that have really already been designated, there's going to be a lot of pressure there. Will the Pentagon proceed with that and on what grounds? So, this is not -- the pressure is not letting up on this president when it comes to the decision he's made.

LEMON: All right, Leslie, and one other question to put to you, the president's former attorney Michael Cohen will be testifying on Capitol Hill. Michael Cohen knows a lot about President Trump, knows a lot about his business empire, and has spoken to a lot of prosecutors in some investigations that one could say might be even more significant, important than the Mueller investigation when it comes to threat. Should the president be worried about what Cohen might say?

VINJAMURI: Well, I think the president will be very worried. And of course, you know, once again the timing is extraordinary, with the president abroad for this summit. And Michael Cohen, who knows him very well, knows his family very well, has dealt with the president as closely as anybody has for well over a decade.

[03:09:59] But the public hearing I think will be also very difficult because of course Michael Cohen's own integrity is at issue and I'm sure that there will be tremendous partisanship and an attempt by Republicans likely to discredit whatever comes out of that.

So, I think it is going to be gripping. People will be watching. And much of what Michael Cohen says that turns out to be important of course will take place beyond the public eye. So, in private.

HOWELL: All right. Leslie Vinjamuri live for us in London. Thank you again.

VINJAMURI: Thank you.

HOWELL: For those of you watching on the West Coast, maybe in Los Angeles, maybe you're just finishing up the night ready to go to bed. Maybe you're still out partying. Who knows? But the Oscar show, it is now over. And it was everything that you would expect.

There was plenty of laughter. There were tears, jokes, extreme fashion, and even a few surprises. Like diversity. How about that surprise? There was a notable representation of diverse filmmakers, of actresses and actors, refreshing to see.

"Green Book: took home the coveted best picture award but not without some controversy.

Our Stephanie Elam was on the red carpet and tells us about the other big winners of the night.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: One of the big surprises is Olivia Colman winning for best actress for her role in "The Favourite." Everyone thought it was going to be Lady Gaga or Glenn Close. Those were the two that everyone was thinking of. Nobody thought Olivia Colman was going to win despite the fact that she won for the BAFTA. But take a listen to her speech. It was really a lot of fun.


OLIVIA COLMAN, ACTRESS: My kids are at home and watching. Look. Well, if you're not, then, well, kind of well done. But I sort of hope you are. This is not going to happen again.


ELAM: And just for the record, why people thought Glenn Close was going to win and people were very upset on Twitter nearby, I was looking, is because Glenn Close's performance in "The Wife" is stunning. It's stellar. It's fantastic. It was a fan favorite for a lot of people.

She's been nominated before but she's never won. So, a lot of people were looking for Glenn Close to take that award. So, there was some disappointment on that. But then Olivia Colman's speech was so lovely, she just basically shouted out Glenn Close and also at the end of her speech went Lady Gaga. So, everyone was very excited about that.

Another one that people were watching was Rami Malek. Now throughout the entire awards season we have watched as everyone thought it was going to be Christian Bale and the trajectory turned and it was all about Rami Malek, and he had a really great speech. Take a listen to what he said.


RAMI MALEK, ACTOR: Thank you, queen. Thank you, guys for being -- for allowing me to be the tiniest part of your phenomenal, extraordinary legacy. I am forever in your debt.


ELAM: One other person that we've been keeping our eyes on was Alfonso Cuaron for "Roma." There was a big campaign behind that movie from Netflix that has been pushing that movie to win best picture. There was even talk that it would take that award. And that's just not what happened here tonight.

But Alfonso did walk away with a couple of Oscars, which was very much expected for this one. It is noteworthy because you're talking about a film that is in Spanish. You're talking about a film that's in black and white and a very personal story for Alfonso Cuaron as well.

And in the climate here in the United States the fact this movie got as much traction as it did was also quite noteworthy as well. And then the big win that so many people were waiting for, much like we were waiting for a Glenn Close win, was the Spike Lee award. And people were waiting for Spike Lee to finally get his Oscar. That happened tonight. And he had a speech to remember. Take a listen.


SPIKE LEE, FILM DIRECTOR: The 2020 presidential election is around the corner.


LEE: Let's all mobilize. Let's all be on the right side of history. Make the moral choice between love versus hate. Let's do the right thing! You know I had to get that in there.


(END VIDEO CLIP) HOWELL: And he did get that in. Stephanie Elam, thank you so much for

the reporting.

And now live to the West Coast of the United States, midnight there, where Grae Drake is staying up with us in Los Angeles. Grae, a film critic and former senior editor of Rotten Tomatoes. Thanks again for taking time with us. I know there are plenty of party out there so we'll be quick with his for you.

First, the format, Drae, what did you think? No host.

GRAE DRAKE, FILM CRITIC: We did pretty well without a host, I have to say. But I do want to point out that we started off the show very strong with Maya Rudolph, Tina Fey, and Amy Poehler, and they basically did what host would have done but shorter and way funnier.

HOWELL: All right. Grae, on stage I have to say, look, diversity was on the stage this year. It was refreshing to see, it was nice to see a sharp departure from what we've seen years before.

DRAKE: Yes. And thank goodness, right, like we have more work to do, but moving towards real diversity in rewarding songs. I think it's fantastic.

[03:15:08] And this year, the academy welcomed 2,000 new members and I think it really shows in what they are awarded. It's fantastic. Don't stop working on it, academy, but it sure made for a great and much more satisfying ceremony.

HOWELL: Now to the issue of best picture, you know, all the markets have "Roma" taking best picture. But instead, "Green Book" took the win, which is both being celebrated for its won by some but also criticized by many others.

DRAKE: Right now, anybody that said "Roma" was a luck (Ph) was ignoring the fact that "Green Book" had won just as many important awards going into the ceremony tonight. Now with those two duking it out I actually thought that Bohemian Rhapsody had a chance to sneak in there. It was a huge crowd pleaser.

But at the end of the day, "Green Book" really satisfied the majority of audiences and the voters really enjoyed it too in several different guilds. So, it wasn't too much of a surprise to people that were keeping a tally mark.

HOWELL: But I do have to point out, you know, on Twitter there was a lot of reaction, a lot of, you know, talk around "Green Book" winning. A great deal of criticism.

DRAKE: Yes. And I think that everybody's criticism of "Green Book" should definitely be noted and discussed just like everything else these days. It's really important that we have the conversation that we're keeping going. Right?

So, Don Shirley and his legacy was honored tonight by giving Mahershala Ali the best supporting actor award. But that doesn't mean that we should stop talking about it, right? It won the award but the winners are all of us when we keep discussing all of these criticisms.

HOWELL: yes. It was interesting to see Representative John Lewis from Atlanta here there to announce that film, for sure. The category of best actor and actress. Olivia Colman taking the win for "The Favourite." Glenn Close so close but not the favorite this time. And then Rami Malek seeming to keep in line with what people thought, winning best actor.

DRAKE: Right. Now the Glenn Close loss is really going to hurt me personally for a really long time.


DRAKE: Olivia Colman was fantastic in "The Favourite." I loved her speech. But Glenn Close has been nominated seven times. So, on the flip side of that Rami Malek really did get everyone's heart, you know, this whole awards season. And that speech and that kiss with Lucy Boynton were like wow. What a memorable moment that was.

HOWELL: Grae Drake, we appreciate your time. Get out and have some fun there in L.A. I'm sure it was a great night and more to come for you. Thanks.

Our Stephanie Elam of course, caught up with Alfonso Cuaron. His Spanish language film "Roma" won three academy awards including best director. He talked about what the win means for him.


ALFONSO CUARON, FILM DIRECTOR: It's great to feel that certain boundaries are starting to be erased. You know, the boundaries about countries, about language. I great diversity. But that diversity has to also include countries, languages, stories, characters. You know, it's also about the characters that we approach.

A big percentage of humanity are characters that have remained invisible in cinema, and I think it's the moment to bring them to the foreground.

ELAM: Is it more nerve-racking when it's a story that's personal to you than doing "Gravity"?

CUARON: It's more surprising. It's way more surprising.

ELAM: How so?

CUARON: Because, you know, I did a film that when I was doing it, I mean, it's paper not Oscar bait. Our Mexican film in Spanish, black and white with non-actors, you know. This is an amazing fairy tale. It's beautiful.


HOWELL: Again, that was Director Alfonso Cuaron speaking with our own Stephanie Elam. Still ahead here on Newsroom, the shocking admission from the Catholic

Church as an unprecedented Vatican summit on clergy sex abuse wraps up in Rome.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Files that could have document the terrible deeds and named those responsible were destroyed or not even created.



HOWELL: A historic summit addressing sex abuse by the clergy wrapped up Sunday at the Vatican in Rome. But inaction by the pope left some people asking why there still wasn't a plan to address the crisis once and for all.

Following this story our Vatican correspondent Delia Gallagher is live in Rome. And Delia, look, here's the thing. The overall reaction here, because this has been playing out for a long time, people still are not satisfied.

DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN VATICAN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, George. You know, it's been a really intense four days here at the Vatican. We've seen survivors out in full force, Pope Francis called for an all-out battle against sex abuse, but the problem is that people have different ideas about just what that battle plan should look like.

Here's a look at some of what happened during the four-day meeting, George.


GALLAGHER: It was Pope Francis's moment, a chance to finally prove that the Catholic Church could deal effectively with the sex abuse crisis.

POPE FRANCIS, LEADER OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH (through translator): No abuse should ever be covered up.

GALLAGHER: The pope himself said he wanted a meeting that produced concrete measures. Which for victims means zero tolerance for abusers and bishops accused of cover-up being held accountable.

PETER SAUNDERS, CLERGY ABUSE VICTIM: The pope could write that canon law saying if you are convicted of raping and abusing a child you are never going to be a priest again. End of story. You are stripped of your priesthood. He could do that and e-mail that to all the bishops this afternoon.

GALLAGHER: While those concrete steps didn't materialize, many of the conference participants spoke openly.

[03:25:01] Sister Veronica from Nigeria sitting right next to Francis, courageously called out the pope on his own refusal to believe abuse survivors in Chile.

VERONICA OPENIBO, LEADER, SOCIETY OF THE HOLY CHILD: I admire you, Pope Francis for taking time as a true Jesuit to discern and be humble enough to change your mind, to apologize and take action.

GALLAGHER: And a German cardinal revealed what so many had long suspected. That records containing evidence of abuse have been destroyed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Files that could have documented the terrible deeds and named those responsible were destroyed or not even created.

GALLAGHER: Germany is not an isolated case, he said. The Vatican's top officials claim they are on the side of survivors.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The expectations of victims should be also our expectations and they are.

GALLAGHER: They say several Vatican documents on the topic are coming in the next few months. Still, on the topic of sex abuse, for survivors and for the Vatican the end of the road son yet in sight.


GALLAGHER: And George, Vatican officials tell us they are already meeting this morning to develop those guidelines for bishops that will be published soon. The other thing they're doing, George, is developing guidelines for child protection for people who live and work inside the Vatican City state. That's the country of the Vatican.

So, some positive things have come out of this meeting at we've said. Not quite what the survivors wanted. So, there are still some things to do on the part of the Vatican going forward, George.

HOWELL: Delia Gallagher following it all for us live for us in Rome. Delia, thank you.

The United States is reinforcing its support for Venezuela's opposition. This after violence erupted over the weekend. Ahead, the high-profile meeting between the Venezuelan opposition leader and the Vice President, Mike Pence.

Plus, a deal in the desert turns into delay in the desert. The latest on Brexit, the British prime minister and her trip to Egypt. We'll have the latest for you.


GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR: For insomniacs joining us this morning on CNN USA, thank you for being with us, and to our viewers around the world watching on CNN International, welcome back to "Newsroom." I'm George Howell.

The U.S. president is set to hold his second summit with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. When Mr. Trump touches down in Vietnam, he will have some heavy diplomatic lifting to do, you could say. Despite that, President Trump said that he is in no rush to rush talks of denuclearization along with the North. Our Will Ripley takes a look at what's at stake with this week's summit.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You can feel the buzz here in Hanoi, the Vietnamese capital that will host the historic second summit between the U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un later this week.

We know that Kim's train is heading for Vietnam right now but his security detail has already arrived, the North Korean equivalent of the Secret Service, getting everything ready for their supreme leader to make his arrival for an official state visit where he will tour and really inspect sights here in Vietnam that are examples of this country's really impressive economic growth, rapid economic growth that has occurred after normalizing relations with the United States.

It's the Vietnamese economic model that the U.S. will undoubtedly point to as an example for Kim of what could be possible if they do what the United States is asking them to do, which is to get rid of their nuclear weapons as quickly as possible. But denuclearization has really been a difficult task as was evidenced by the lack of progress after the first summit meeting in Singapore last June.

Talks really fell apart because the U.S.-North Korea were so far apart on what denuclearization is going to look like, how long it is going to take, and it's those specific details that Trump and Kim are going to be tasked with hammering out with negotiating when they sit down for two days of meetings here along with their respective delegations.

We know that Kim is bringing up a very large team with him, a team of experts in number of different areas. They are going to try to get the best deal that they can. They are going to try to get Trump to give as many concessions as quickly as possible.

Of course, on the U.S. side, Trump is going to try to get the North Koreans to start the denuclearization process as quickly as possible. It is really no easy task. Both sides will have their work cut out for them here in Hanoi, and it all will be taking place with thousands of journalists, the eyes of the world, watching Vietnamese capital, waiting to see if there can be substantial progress made after Singapore which was heavy on symbolism, light on substance. I think both sides know that here in Hanoi, they need to deliver results.

Will Ripley, CNN, Hanoi, Vietnam.


HOWELL: So will it be insta-perfect or will there be concrete results? We will have to see what happens with this summit. In the meantime, the U.S. vice president, Mike Pence, is gearing up for a meeting with the Venezuelan opposition leader, Juan Guaido. It will take place in just a few hours' time at the Lima Group Summit in Colombia. This follows a weekend of clashes that played out near Venezuela's borders. That's where troops blocked the entry of aid. Officials say that more than 300 people were hurt and two aid trucks were set on fire along the Colombian border. Juan Guaido slammed security forces for blocking the aid and setting those trucks on fire.


JUAN GUAIDO, VENEZUELAN OPPOSITION LEADER (through translator): We saw an unprecedented crime with the burning of humanitarian aid that generously arrived at the Colombian collection point and which was then handed over to Venezuelan volunteers who are again insisting that it's necessary to save lives. Venezuela today is again in crisis and it could have been alleviated. Thank you to Colombia for helping our people, a people who are resilient and who are insisting on democracy and freedom.


HOWELL: CNN's Isa Soares has been following the drama playing out in the Venezuelan crisis. She has more on what to expect from the Lima Group Summit that's taking place.


ISA SOARES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Opposition leader Juan Guaido will be looking for more support from the Lima Group and for ways in which to pressure Nicolas Maduro. In fact, in the last 24 hours, he has called on foreign allies to consider all options, which is something that we hadn't heard from him before.

[03:35:02] Mike Pence, the vice president of the United States, will be making his way to Bogota, Colombia on Monday, and he'll be meeting with the president of Colombia, Ivan Duque, as well as having a face- to-face meeting with Juan Guaido. In terms of what we could be hearing, we could hear potentially from the United States.

We know from a U.S. administration official that U.S. will voice resolute support for Juan Guaido as well as resolute support for the delivery of that aid, saying the United States will say they are not deterred by the actions over the weekend that led to 285 people injured and roughly five people killed.

In terms of physical action, we know from a U.S. administration official that Vice President Mike Pence will call for concrete steps, and I'm quoting here, as well as clear action. We do not know what exactly they will be, but worth reminding everyone there's already been sanction on PDVSA, that's an oil company, the cash cow behind Nicolas Maduro, as well as several individuals around Nicolas Maduro. It will be interesting to see what other economic lever the U.S. may have to try to asphyxiate the government of Nicolas Maduro.

On the question of dialogue, if there's ever going to be a dialogue with Nicolas Maduro, the United States is expected to say the time for dialogue is over. The only thing they will discuss with Nicolas Maduro is the nature as well as the timing of his departure. Isa Soares, CNN, Caracas, Venezuela.


HOWELL: Isa, thank you.

The British prime minister has been in Egypt with E.U. and Arab leaders meeting in the resort town of Sharm El-Sheikh, but it's no vacation for Theresa May, who's still on the beach over the issue of Brexit. Miss May is saying she is delaying a parliament vote on her Brexit deal yet again.


THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: As we're continuing with those talks, we won't be bringing a meaningful vote back this week, but that will happen by the 12th of March and it is still -- we still have it within our grasp to leave the European Union with a deal on the 29th of March and that's what I'm going to be working at.


HOWELL: Let's go live to Sharm El-Sheikh and bring in our international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson, following the story live. And Nic, the word "delay," two questions I have with delay, first with regards to delaying the vote in parliament again.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Sure. This is causing concern. Concern here amongst E.U. leaders, concern with many MPs back in the U.K., and businesses of course. The concern is that there's a sense that Theresa May is ticking down the clock by delaying this vote. It means when the vote happens on March the 12th, whether or not Theresa May gets a yes or a no, more specifically if she gets a no on the vote, it only leaves a couple of weeks before Britain exits the E.U. on the 29th, and there's a strong push for that to happen with or without the agreement.

So there's no chance really with that narrow window of opportunity after the vote to make amends if the vote is turned down, and that would cause Britain to leave with a no deal which would have a big economic impact. Theresa May met yesterday here with Donald Tusk, the E.U. Council president.

She's going to meet with him in the next couple hours with the E.U. Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker. She's expected to meet in the margins with other leaders here, potentially the Irish prime minister. We've seen him here. Brexit, a key and big issue for him, he's talked about that.

We heard the Dutch prime minister this morning talking about Brexit and his concerns about the fact that this deal has been pushed back for the British government to vote on -- for the parliament to vote on. So, it's possible she may meet with him as well today. So there are meetings for her, but can she move the dial on what the E.U. has already said, essentially not a clear position from the British government from Theresa May? They said they are still not clear precisely what they can give her or say to her or put in a legal annex to the withdrawal agreement that will allow her to win that vote on the 12th of March. That's where the anxiety springs from at the moment.

HOWELL: And Nic, you know, I'm still kind of laughing about your turn of phrase the other day. Miss May turning on the charm in Sharm. As a dad with plenty of corny jokes, you nailed it, man. You nailed it. But here's the question. There's some reporting out there that the U.K, could be buying some breathing room, reports that Brexit might be delayed. Are you hearing anything more on that? And if so, how significant would that be?

ROBERTSON: It would be significant. It is being reported in some British newspapers. It may be correct. But you also have to remember, in a highly emotive and combative time for the prime minister, that it's quite possible that leaks are being made to newspapers to sway members of her cabinet.

[03:40:05] There was a concern going into the weekend that three members of her cabinet would quit this week if she didn't take the no deal off the table, that if she didn't remove the possibility that come the 29th of March, if there was no agreement, Britain would just tip out of the E.U.

So when you read a line like this in a British newspaper, it may be fact. It would be logical that Theresa May would be negotiating with the E.U. to possibly extend that deadline. But she's said all along no, the 29th of March is it. That's part of her leverage over the E.U. over her parliamentarians.

But also the idea that she is considering a delay is leverage, if you will, over some of the softer people within her cabinet, if you will, the softer Brexiteers, those who would like to see frankly Britain remain in the European Union.

This would be a message to them, don't upset the political situation right now, don't upset my diplomatic efforts, the charm in Sharm, if you will, and what will follow on in Westminster in the rest of the week. Don't upset that by breaking up the cabinet right now because I am thinking about your concerns, I am dealing with your concerns, to wit, having an extension so that you don't tumble out with a no deal at the end of March.

But again, these are newspaper reports, and we know that politicians will float ideas in newspapers to win support over a few days and then the idea can evaporate. And this is what Brexit has been like. It is a roller coaster. And Theresa May is the architect at the moment of that roller coaster. She's driving it.

HOWELL: It's like that game follow the bouncing ball. And we'll continue to follow it. Nic Robertson, thank you for the reporting.

Still ahead, heavy rainfall has led to flooding and states of emergency in parts of the United States. And that danger, it's not over yet. [03:45:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOWELL: In the U.S. state of Virginia, the embattled lieutenant governor, Justin Fairfax, has suggested that he's become the victim of a political lynching. Fairfax faces sexual assault allegations. He made the comments during a surprising speech before the Senate -- state Senate on Sunday.


JUSTIN FAIRFAX, LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR OF VIRGINIA: If we go backwards and we rush to judgment and we allow for political lynching without any due process, any facts, any evidence being heard, I think we do a disservice to this very body in which we all serve. And I want to stand in this moment in the truth, not only which has tested my constitution personally, but is testing the constitution of the commonwealth of Virginia and of the United States of America.


HOWELL: One of his accusers says Fairfax assaulted her in the year 2000 when they both attended Duke University. A second woman says he assaulted her during the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Fairfax denies both claims. He's one of three Virginia officials facing public scandals. The others are the governor of that state, Ralph Northam, and Attorney General Mark Herring. They are both said to have worn blackface.

Now to weather, a wide-ranging U.S. winter storm system has not only brought snow to a number of areas but also serious flooding to many others. Let's go live to CNN International Weather Center. Our meteorologist, Pedram Javaheri, is standing by. Pedram?

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: George, it has been a while, past 24 hours across portions of the U.S. and really from the Midwest all the way across the northeast, very (ph) weather here in -- big theme (ph) here has been the gusty winds. We are talking about hurricane force winds.

Of course, you bring this down with wintery weather across Southeast Minnesota, major travel disruptions here. In fact, on the highways, not only state patrols that were trapped on the highway at times across this region but even snowplows struggling to maneuver through the six-foot snowdrifts. Officials there in Minnesota are saying to stay indoors as long as possible. This is certainly not the weather you want to be out driving around.

Of course, the pattern here has been persistent now for a couple of days. The energy going in from the Midwest shifting on and towards the northeast, so certainly a lot of eyes on what is happening now across the northeast with the main threats going into Monday morning.

Power outages, flight delays are certainly going to be felt, lakeshore flooding, some trees coming down as well with 50 to 60-mile-per-hour winds across some of these areas, even down toward the mid-Atlantic region, still seeing 40 to 50-mile-per-hour gusts in the forecast.

But look at these peak observations on Sunday afternoon. Nearly 90 miles per hour into the higher elevations of West Virginia while you work your way into some of the larger cities, say, Cleveland, Ohio, even there close to hurricane force gusts being felt on Sunday afternoon.

So you bet this is going to be disruptive here for Monday's commute and notice the time stamp here, 7:00 in the morning, 8:00 in the morning, very little variability in the winds. Very uniform, 40, 50, even some areas close to 60 miles per hour. Then you kind of transition into the late morning hours go into the early afternoon hours. Again, doesn't drop much here when it comes to seeing these winds die down, not until at least 4:00, 5:00, and 6:00 p.m.

So this is going to be a blustery day all around across the north- eastern corner of the U.S. and Pre-emptively already seeing some flights cancelled and delayed in advance of this from Chicago toward Philly as well. But where it hasn't been as windy and as snowy has been across parts of the south and all of the energy here has been coming down in the way of heavy rainfall, in fact upwards of 300 gauges reporting flooding at this hour across portions of the southern U.S.

And then you pick cities such as Nashville, Tennessee, February 2019, now the wettest February ever observed, over 12-1/2 inches of rainfall in the first 24 days of the month. And notice the previous record dates back to the 1880s, where slightly lesser amounts came down and not just for Nashville. You kind of pick out any observation point in the southern U.S. These are surplus amounts of rainfall above what is considered average for this time of year.

Since the beginning of December, notice cities such as Atlanta, Birmingham, Tallahassee, Nashville, have picked up as much as eight inches to almost about a foot of additional rainfall than what is expected. So if you think it's been soggy in the south, it has been the case.

And then back toward the west, George, here comes another system coming in into the northwest and eventually, it will end up right where we began this weather segment, around the Midwest and even the south with additional wintry weather.

HOWELL: Oh, boy. Pedram Javaheri, thank you.

JAVAHERI: Thanks, George.

HOWELL: Up next on "Newsroom," Israel looks to make history, sending a tiny privately-funded spacecraft on a mission to the moon.


HOWELL: Israel is set to score a major stride in space exploration. It launched what would be the world's first private venture to the moon with the smallest lunar spacecraft ever and the cheapest mission to date. Our Oren Liebermann explains. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Go for launch.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): Ten, nine --

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That feeling of excitement once felt in the Soviet Union, United States, and China --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): Three, two, one.

LIEBERMANN: -- has now come to Israel.


LIEBERMANN: The control room near Tel Aviv exploded in applause as the Falcon 9 rocket reached for the heavens. Inside, a tiny spacecraft weighing less than a ton from Israeli company SpaceIL, aiming for the moon.

Mazal Tov, says Israel's president Reuven Rivlin, you have a craft on the way to the moon.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): Everything looking good with stage 1 trajectory.

LIEBERMANN: The spacecraft hitched a ride on board a satellite heading for orbit. After lift-off, the craft separated and began its long trajectory to the moon. It would be the first privately-funded spacecraft ever to land on the lunar surface.

The craft will travel some four million miles on its journey to our nearest celestial neighbor, swinging around the earth, gaining speed in its orbits faster and faster, wider and wider, until the moon's gravity grabs the craft.

[03:55:01] It then slows and prepares for touchdown, scheduled for April 11th, seven weeks away. The spacecraft is called Beresheet, the opening words of the Bible. It means "in the beginning." Perhaps it should have been called Chutzpah.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): Ready. Yala (ph). Let's get to the moon.

LIEBERMANN: Morris Khan donated $40 million of his own money to the $100 million project.

MORRIS KHAN, CHAIRMAN, SPACEIL: This mission that we were talking about was really a mission impossible. The only thing is I didn't realize it was impossible, and the three engineers who started this project didn't realize it was impossible. And the way we in Israel think, nothing is impossible. And we dare to dream. And we did dream. And we're making this dream come true.

LIEBERMANN: The program began eight years ago, a competitor in the international Google lunar space race. The race was cancelled when the teams couldn't meet a launch deadline. But some teams pressed on, including SpaceIL.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

LIEBERMANN: For decades, the moon has been the domain of superpowers. Only three countries have ever soft landed a spacecraft on the moon -- the U.S., the former Soviet Union, and China. If this mission succeeds, it'll be one more major milestone in exploring the final frontier.

Oren Liebermann, CNN, Jerusalem.


HOWELL: Thank you for watching this hour of "CNN Newsroom." I'm George Howell at the CNN Center in Atlanta. For our viewers here in the United States, my friends in New York are on deck with "Early Start" up next. For our viewers around the world, "Newsroom" continues with Hannah Vaughan Jones live from London. Have a great day.