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CNN NEWSROOM

Warmbiers Lash Out at Trump; Trump Demanded Kushner Get Top Secret Clearance; Celebrations Mark Return of Indian Air Force Pilot; SDF Final Push against ISIS as Civilians Get Out; Manafort Asks for Leniency before Fraud Sentencing; Political Rival Urges Netanyahu to Resign; CNN Exposes Child Slavery on Ghana's Lake Volta; SpaceX Launches First-Ever Demo of Crew Dragon Capsule. Aired 4-5a ET

Aired March 2, 2019 - 04:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The U.S. president says his comment about the death of an American was misinterpreted. Otto Warmbier's family lashing out.

Pakistan extends an olive branch to India, releasing this pilot after a dogfight in the skies. A move that calms tensions, a threat between these two nuclear armed powers, it is real.

Also ahead this hour --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We worked tirelessly. If you go for a small fish to satisfy your hunger, they beat you so badly, you regret ever coming into the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL (voice-over): Child slaves in Ghana. Our correspondent Nima Elbagir brings you their stories.

Live from CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta, we want to welcome viewers here and in the United States around the world, I'm George Howell. CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.

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HOWELL: At 4:01 on the U.S. East Coast, the U.S. president is set to take the stage today, again, at an annual gathering of conservatives, better known as CPAC. It will be the first time we heard from him since the summit with Kim Jong-un that ended abruptly without the two sides reaching a deal.

On the other side, Kim Jong-un is on his way back to Pyongyang, on board his private train. North Korea is portraying the summit as a success that deepened the respect and trust between the two leaders. But it's a different story for Mr. Trump. Not only did he leave

without a deal he deeply upset the parents of Otto Warmbier, the American college student who died after spending 18 months in a North Korean prison.

Many were appalled because Mr. Trump didn't hold Kim Jong-un responsible. During the summit, here is Mr. Trump's response when asked by supporters whether he raised the issue with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.

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DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He felt badly. I didn't speaking to him. He knew the case very well. But he knew it later. He tells me that he didn't know about it and I will take him at his word.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL: That provoked this angry response from Warmbier's family.

"Kim and his evil regime are responsible for the death of our son, Otto. Kim and his evil regime are responsible for unimaginable cruelty and inhumanity. No excuses or lavish praise can change that."

President Trump says he was misinterpreted. He says he was the one that got their son out of North Korea and he does hold North Korea responsible. An adviser to President Trump, Kellyanne Conway, had this to say.

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KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: The president agrees with the Warmbier family and holds North Korea responsible for Otto Warmbier's death. He's said that time and again. But what the president is saying is that there's no indication Chairman Kim knew what happened to Otto Warmbier when it happened.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

Critics, though, say Mr. Trump only had praise for the North Korean leader. Let's talk more about it with Will Ripley. He is live in Hanoi.

Will, good to have you. let's start with the fall out to the president's response to Otto Warmbier's family, letting Kim Jong-un off the hook.

Given your knowledge of how that country works, you have traveled to North Korea many times, do you get the sense Kim Jong-un didn't know what happened here?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely impossible that Kim Jong- un did not know that Otto Warmbier was in a vegetative state for more than a year. If somebody actually kept that information hidden from Kim Jong-un, they wouldn't be here anymore. He was complicit in the deception. He didn't perhaps know about the

initial circumstances surrounding Warmbier's transition from a vibrant, young, healthy college student into essentially comatose with permanent brain damage that leads to his death six days after being released from North Korea.

Once the North Koreans knew Otto was in this state, they made the choice to be deceptive, to not allow the Swedish embassy to visit Otto, to not answer our questions when we went to the country and repeatedly asked about Otto and his condition. Instead, they kept him in the care of North Korean doctors instead of doing the right thing, to immediately alert the United States about the situation --

[04:05:00]

RIPLEY: -- through the Swedish embassy, that serves as the intermediary. And then get Otto into the care of Western physicians with far more advanced technology who maybe could have done something to help. Kim Jong-un was certainly complicit to let that drag on for a year before they eventually came clean.

HOWELL: Will, for the summit overall, here, stateside, Republicans would say Mr. Trump walked away from a bad deal. Democrats might say he came back with nothing.

How is North Korea framing this summit?

RIPLEY: There's a very big difference between the propaganda messaging that painted this summit as a success because they had to, because they called it a success essentially before Kim Jong-un even arrived in Hanoi.

It's unprecedented for the North Korean media to report so much about an event, especially one involving the United States, before it actually happens. I would be surprised if they do it again, after the humiliating and abrupt end to the summit for Kim Jong-un.

Talk about a major loss of face. When he arrived in Hanoi, my sources tell me he was absolutely certain that he would leave here with a signed agreement and to come away empty-handed, aside from the images of him smiling and sitting next to President Trump, but no agreement, no economic relief, they didn't have a back-up plan.

It took them by surprise. My sources say also the North Koreans were horrified when Trump canceled their working lunch, something, a snub, a slight, to their supreme leader, whose dignity North Koreans say they prize above all else and something they will never forget -- George.

HOWELL: Will Ripley following the story in Hanoi. Thank you, again, Will.

Let's get contact and analysis. Natasha Lindstaedt is the professor of government at the University of Essex, joining us.

Always a pleasure to have you. NATASHA LINDSTAEDT, UNIVERSITY OF ESSEX: Pleasure, George.

HOWELL: Let's start with Trump's summit in Vietnam. On the surface, Korea framing it as positive. Behind the scenes, the nation's leader expressing deep frustration and disappointment.

The question to you, are things in your view worse off or better off in the wake of this summit?

LINDSTAEDT: I think it's really just the same. I mean, the North Koreans have had a long history of behaving badly on the international stage, getting lots of attention, pretending like they are going to offer something and reneging on an agreement.

This is what happened in the 2005 during the six-party talks. They acted as if they were going to dismantle the Yongbyon complex, then decided not to do it. We are left in the same place where we started. Nothing really new happened. As Trump is finally understanding, it's very, very difficult to deal with the North Koreans.

HOWELL: I want to get your thoughts on Mr. Trump saying his comment was misinterpreted about Otto Warmbier. The Warmbier family put forward a statement that cannot be misinterpreted.

Why do you think there's any ambiguity in Mr. Trump's assessment of Kim Jong-un's knowledge of involvement here?

LINDSTAEDT: The problem is that Trump just has a history of believing dictators over his own government. He believed Vladimir Putin over his intelligence. He believed the crown prince in Saudi Arabia about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

Here, once again, he says he believes Kim Jong-un knew nothing or didn't know much about what happened to Otto Warmbier when we know that would be nearly impossible in a dictatorship as repressive as the North Korean regime is.

He really needed to take a stronger statement in support of Otto Warmbier's family instead of appearing to take sides to believe a dictator. It just doesn't make any sense.

HOWELL: Let's talk about another story that has Washington insiders questioning whether President Trump's family is getting special treatment. The chairman of the House Oversight Committee demanding the White House turn over documents after "The New York Times" reported Mr. Trump personally intervened to get son-in-law Jared Kushner's security clearance. Critics of accuse Trump and his daughter lying over how the clearance was approved. Listen.

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IVANKA TRUMP, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S DAUGHTER: The president had no involvement pertaining to my clearance or my husband's clearance.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So no special treatment?

I. TRUMP: No.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: No. I don't think I have the authority to do that. I'm not sure I do. But I wouldn't. I wouldn't do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL: Natasha, those are the comments.

What are your thoughts?

LINDSTAEDT: Interesting that he says he doesn't have the authority to do so because his spokespeople said he does have the authority to do so. The whole --

[04:10:00]

LINDSTAEDT: -- thing, if you believe "The New York Times" and the story is accurate, then Trump circumvented processes. This president doesn't like rules, processes, institutions; tends to see them as nuisances.

He went around this in order to get the high security clearance for his son-in-law, who, you know, has relationships with authoritarian regimes, financial dealings in China and Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which would pose a great risk to the country if he gets security clearance.

Both Ivanka and Donald Trump are willing to lie about this, if you believe "The New York Times" story and the engagement and all these nepotistic practices could have some serious consequences for U.S. security.

HOWELL: Natasha, one other question to you. Given what we have heard from Mr. Trump's former attorney, Michael Cohen, he is set to testify on Capitol Hill this week in a closed door hearing.

What is the impact of Cohen's testimony on the Trump White House so far and does it open new questions for investigation?

LINDSTAEDT: You know, I really doubt it's had much of an impact on Republicans, based on their behavior during the hearings. They clearly think he is a complete liar and they want to discredit him.

For Democrats, this opened up a whole new series of investigations that could take place about tax fraud, bank fraud, insurance fraud and going deeper into the campaign finance violations and possibly also the conversations that Trump was having with Roger Stone about WikiLeaks.

So I think it opened a whole new series of investigations that I'm sure Congress is going to pursue.

HOWELL: Natasha Lindstaedt, with analysis and perspective. We appreciate your time on this show. Thank you.

LINDSTAEDT: Thanks for having me. HOWELL: Still ahead here on CNN NEWSROOM, tensions ease between two nuclear armed neighbors as an Indian pilot held by Pakistan is now back home. But the threat remains high. We'll have that story for you and the details ahead.

Plus U.S. officials say a new leader is taking the reins of the terror group Al Qaeda. You will likely recognize his last name. That story, ahead, as CNN NEWSROOM pushes ahead.

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HOWELL: Pakistan says its release of an Indian pilot is a gesture of peace. That gesture in hopes of deescalating tensions in the Kashmir region. Wing commander Varthaman walked across the border from Pakistan into India on Friday and was met there by people who were waiting to see him there. Then, rushed to the hospital for a medical exam.

He's been in captivity since Wednesday. That's when his jet was shot down in a dogfight over the skies in the disputed Kashmir region. The Kashmir border has seen an uptick in military skirmishes in the past week. CNN is following all angles of this story. Our Nic Robertson is live in Islamabad.

And in New Delhi, Sam Kiley is on the story.

Sam, the release of this pilot, clearly, has taken some pressure off between these two nuclear armed powers. But India's leader is taking a different approach when it comes to dealing with tensions in that disputed territory.

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely right, George. Prime Minister Modi has, at least twice, over the last three days, reiterated his threat, frankly, to Pakistan that, if there are any other terrorist attacks that the Indians trace to Pakistan's government or, indeed, to people operating out of Pakistani controlled territory, whether in Kashmir or Pakistan proper, there will be retaliation and in his words, with interest.

That represents a significant shift, really, in the Indian position; if you look at what happened after the Mumbai massacre in 2008 where 268 people were killed in a plot that was rapidly traced back to militants operating out of Pakistan. There was pressure from the Indian military to retaliate. But the political echelons elected not to do so.

Now that has changed. Even though this is an election year, from the Indian perspective, there is a completely different, tactical response to the problem. There will be retaliation, indeed. They are politically committed to it. That coming at a time when the Pakistanis are at least trying to give

the impression of reaching out to find some kind of diplomatic solution to a conflict that has been going on and off and in various different forms since 1947 -- George.

HOWELL: Sam, thank you.

Nic, the same question to you.

India's new approach, what does it mean for Pakistan?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, it puts them on notice that India may launch strikes again. That leaves them in a nervous position, if you will. The sort of expectations have been that, whatever they were accused of, whatever the country was accused of, it wouldn't amount to such a significant, rapid escalation.

So it has to put their security forces on a higher trigger. I think there's a perception here that Imran Khan, by this gesture for peace of handing back the fighter pilot, is something that is a win for him. It's certainly in popular opinion here.

He's seen to be in lockstep with the military on this and he has done the right thing. The people are looking to India to see how India responds to this at the moment. The prime minister, at the moment, seems to have support. But he's also been very clear in his messaging to India that they cannot be allowed to strike across the --

[04:20:00]

ROBERTSON: -- border inside Pakistan without the expectation there would be a response. That was what happened on Wednesday when that wing commander was shot down.

So the ground rules have been, if you will, responded to, even anticipated by the prime minister here. There's a sense here that, diplomatically, the country could have played this better on the international stage; for example, not sending the foreign minister to the Organization of Islam Cooperation in Abu Dhabi that is going on still today and yesterday. That, perhaps, not the right move.

But in terms of deescalating here and sending a message of peace and the prime minister being regarded as having done well, all those boxes are ticked here. That leaves the prime minister in that position, who appears to be in sync with the military, to have a robust position, should India, again, follow through on what the Indian prime minister is saying could happen in the future.

HOWELL: This is a big story. Guys, I could talk to you all day about it to just get across all the lines coming out of it. But our time is tight. Nic Robertson in Islamabad and Sam Kiley in New Delhi, thank you both for the reporting. We will stay in touch with you.

U.S. officials say a new leader of Al Qaeda is emerging. And he has a last name you might know. Jake Tapper has more on the new member of the U.S. State Department's most wanted list.

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JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST (voice-over): Like father like son. Osama bin Laden's son is now one of the State Department's most wanted. The U.S. offering $1 million for information on the whereabouts of Hamza bin Laden, the man said to be emerging as a new leader in Al Qaeda.

MICHAEL EVANOFF, ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR DIPLOMATIC SECURITY: It's a heads up that we are we are looking for you and we will get you.

TAPPER: Hamza's terrorist pedigree not just from his famous last name. Video released by the CIA in 2017 showing Hamza's wedding in 2009 to a senior Al Qaeda leaders daughter in Iran. And Hamza has appeared in Al Qaeda propaganda video since he was a child. U.S. officials say documents recovered from the 2011 Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden indicated he was grooming Hamza for a leadership role.

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: His father was writing in fairly extensive letters when he was on the run. He was supposed to be in the Abbottabad compound in Pakistan where bin Laden was killed the night of the raid.

TAPPER: And it's that 2011 raid that may be driving Hamza.

EVANOFF: He has threatened to attack again against the United States in revenge for the May 2011 killing of his father.

TAPPER: The U.S. officially designated Hamza as a terrorist in 2017 and now all United Nations members are required to freeze all of Hamas's assets. The intelligence community warns that Al Qaeda which perpetrated the 9/11 attacks is rebuilding. Attacks that led to the U.S. war in Afghanistan, the nation's longest war continuing today with 14,000 U.S. troops still in the country.

Al Qaeda has been weakened in recent years and the U.S. has been focused on the threat from ISIS in Syria in Iraq. But al Qaeda is rebuilding and wants to re-establish itself as the leader of a global extremist movement.

DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Al Qaeda is showing signs of confidence as its leaders work to strengthen their networks and encourage attacks against Western interests.

NATHAN SALES, AMBASSADOR AT LARGE AND COORDINATOR FOR COUNTERTERRORISM: Al Qaeda retains both the capability and the intent to hit us.

TAPPER: One of the last major al Qaeda attacks on the West was the 2005 London bus and subway bombings killing 52 people. However, al Qaeda affiliates have been carrying out attacks more recently.

In January of this year, Al-Shabaab killed 21 in an attack on a Nairobi hotel. In response to the State Department's action against Hamza, today his home country of Saudi Arabia revoked Hamza's citizenship.

The U.S. State Department now says they believe Hamza is somewhere on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and could possibly cross over into Iran.

BERGEN: Somebody like Hamza, a younger guy who's been in the group since basically he was a child is, I think, a significant threat.

TAPPER (voice-over): Jake Tapper, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOWELL: Jake, thank you.

Now to Syria; the push is on there to grab the last bit of territory that ISIS controls. U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces say they pushed more than half a mile or 1 kilometer into the enclave. Heavy fighting is underway.

You can see from this video, a sense of what's happening on the ground. Three SDF fighters have been wounded so far. The operation started Friday after civilians were moved out of harm's way. Our senior national correspondent, Ben Wedeman, filed this story near the fighting.

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BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: At 6:00 pm local time, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces launched the final operation to clear out that last sliver of land occupied by ISIS --

[04:25:00]

WEDEMAN (voice-over): -- near the Iraqi border. Now that operation had been delayed because they wanted to get all the civilians out of that area. According to one estimate, since the 1st of February, as many as 15,000 people have left the area, which is very near the Iraqi border. It's not all together clear, however, if all of the civilians have left.

And what we know, those that were left inside include some of ISIS' most battle hardened and experienced fighters. So this is not going to be an easy battle in any sense.

Now we were at the area where the last group of civilians came out. Among them, there were Russians, people from Bosnia, families from Indonesia. Many of them still telling us they remain committed to the idea of a so-called Islamic State.

One of the problems here is that tens of thousands of people, who once lived under ISIS, are now in refugee camps in other parts of Syria and Iraq. Authorities worry that those people who still believe in the Islamic State could pose a long-term threat to this area.

So ISIS, yes, is about to lose their last bit of territory but ISIS as a terrorist insurgency is probably far from over -- I'm Ben Wedeman, CNN, reporting from Eastern Syria.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOWELL: Ben, thank you very much.

Still ahead, the president's former campaign chair believes he doesn't deserve to go to prison for the rest of his life. Paul Manafort's legal team is trying to persuade two federal judges of that. Why that's kind of a long shot.

Plus the U.S. president's golf courses under scrutiny for the way Mr. Trump handles his taxes. We'll have that story teed up for you. Yes, a corny joke. NEWSROOM will be back after the break.

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HOWELL: To our insomniacs joining on CNN USA, good morning to you and to our viewers worldwide on CNN International, welcome back to NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell with the headlines we're following for you this hour.

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HOWELL: Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is making a desperate plea to judges for less time in jail. He is facing up to 25 years in prison for financial crimes in one case but it's an uphill battle for his legal team, especially because, as one judge says, he intentionally lied to the courts. Our Evan Perez has the story.

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EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Paul Manafort asked a federal judge in Virginia to show leniency when he sentences him next week. The former Trump campaign chairman was found guilty on bank and tax crimes in a trial last year.

In a court filing, Manafort's lawyers say the possible range of 19 to 24 years in prison is disproportionate to the crimes that he committed. Manafort, they say, is, quote, "truly remorseful" for his conduct and they point out that Manafort is a first time offender, that he's nearly 70 years old and in poor health after spending months in jail after another judge decided that he was trying to influence witnesses.

We know that president Trump is paying close attention to the case and the Manafort lawyers seemed to be using their memo to drive home one of the president's favorite talking points, that the Mueller investigation has so far they found no collusion.

Manafort's lawyers argue that the Mueller investigation targeted Manafort for prosecution after the special counsel failed to find collusion in the Russia investigation.

The judge in this case, T.S. Ellis, last year expressed some skepticism about the Mueller investigation, saying he thought prosecutors were using Manafort to get to Trump.

We'll see in the coming days whether the Manafort arguments has any influence. He's scheduled to be sentenced on Thursday -- Evan Perez, CNN, Washington.

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HOWELL: Evan, thank you.

The U.S. president is accusing Democrats of going after his finances. He calls that his red line. He sent this tweet, "Now that the two- year Russian collusion case has fallen apart, there was no collusion except by Crooked Hillary and the Democrats. They say, gee, I have an idea. Let's look at Trump's finances and every deal he has ever done."

And Democrats are asking for more information on President Trump's tax returns, especially after his former lawyer appeared before Congress to testify and, now, a lot of people are following the money trail. Jason Carroll has a look at one golf course.

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JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It took just about four minutes, but during that time, freshman Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez may have created a road map for a House subpoena of Trump's elusive tax returns.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: "The Washington Post" reported on the Trump Links Bronx course in an article titled, "Taxpayers Built This New York Golf Course and Trump Reaps the Rewards."

[04:35:00]

CARROLL (voice-over): While questioning Trump's former attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen, Ocasio-Cortez suggested Trump's Bronx property is a boondoggle for him, but a bust for taxpayers in her district. The back story, Trump didn't build the course nor does he own it. He secured a generous 20-year deal to manage it. Starting in 2015, taxpayers spent $127 million to transform an old garbage dump into what you see now.

And there's this, taxpayers for the first four years got virtually no return on their investment, starting this year Trump has to pay the city a minimum of $300,000. In short tax experts say nothing illegal of the deal but that doesn't mean taxpayers here were not severely shortchanged. John Liu was the city's comptroller when the deal was in the works.

JOHN LIU, NEW YORK STATE SENATOR: I cautioned the city against this deal. The fact to the matter is Trump did get a sweet deal. CARROLL (voice-over): The White House declined to comment on the recent growing interest in the President's tax returns, but Liu says Ocasio-Cortez's line of questioning brings into focus Trump's other properties where Cohen and local officials allege values were deflated to reduce tax bills.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: The president claimed in financial disclosure forms ...

CARROLL (voice-over): In 2017, CNN found that Trump had fought the tax assessments of all 12 of his U.S. golf courses except the one in Bedminster, New Jersey. That included his Trump National Golf Course in Westchester, New York, which Trump claimed in campaign filings was worth more than $50 million.

Yet in 2015, his attorneys argued it was worth significantly less, $1.35 million. Again in 2017, the Trump Organization claimed in federal election filings another property, Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Florida, was valued at more than $50 million, but looking back to 2014, Trump's lawyers claimed it was worth no more than $5 million.

With these tactics, tax experts say Trump could be saving millions, but at taxpayers' expense.

In response to Ocasio-Cortez's questions, Cohen noted that Trump's tax returns would show the truth.

STEVE ROSENTHAL, SENIOR FELLOW TAX POLICY CENTER: The congresswoman's testimony really sharpened the focus, really highlighted the stakes.

What is going on with the president's personal financial positions and to what extent are his finances in conflict with his duties in running the government?

CARROLL (voice-over): Jason Carroll, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOWELL: Jason, thank you.

Now to Israel. New polls show the prime minister of that nation, Benjamin Netanyahu, might not win a governing coalition in April's upcoming elections. Just months ago, opinion polls show Netanyahu's party would dominate the election.

Now that Israel's attorney general says he will indict the prime minister for corruption, that seems to have changed. Our Oren Liebermann has the report for you.

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OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in a political fight of his life as he seeks a fifth term in office. A major blow dealt to him by his attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, who announced his intent to indict the Israeli leader on charges of bribery and breach of trust in three separate corruption cases.

Netanyahu fired back immediately, calling the investigation a media- driven witch-hunt.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL (through translator): For years, they are carrying out a political persecution, a witch hunt with one objective, to topple the right-wing government and crown the left- wing government. They have a huge amount of continuous pressure, I would say, inhumane pressure on the attorney general. So he would say that he is considering an indictment against me with a hearing even when they know there is nothing.

LIEBERMANN: In what's known as Case 1000, Mandelblit intends to charge Netanyahu with breach of trust. The case involves expensive gifts like cigars and champagne Netanyahu allegedly received from billionaire friends in exchange for tax breaks and political favors.

In Case 2000, Mandelblit also announce the charge of breach of trust. This case involves alleged negotiations between Netanyahu and the newspaper owner for more favorable coverage.

In Case 4000, arguably the biggest case facing the prime minister, Mandelblit said he intends to charge Netanyahu with bribery and breach of trust. Investigators say Netanyahu advanced regulatory benefits worth nearly $300 million dollars to his friend, a wealthy businessman. In exchange, Netanyahu received favorable coverage on a news site owned by the businessman.

Netanyahu's main challenger in the upcoming election, his former chief of staff, Benny Gantz, called on him to step down.

[04:40:00]

BENNY GANTZ, BLUE AND WHITE PARTY LEADER (through translator): Benjamin Netanyahu, I turn to you this evening, get over yourself and show national responsibility. Resign from your position.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): Even a small shift in seats from Netanyahu to his opponent could derail Netanyahu's re-election campaign.

LIEBERMANN: On Friday night the first two election polls came out since the attorney general made his announcement that he intends to indict the prime minister. They are not good news for Netanyahu. In both polls, he is trailing his former chief of staff by six or eight seats.

Crucially, according to both polls, he does not have the numbers to put together a governing coalition with only five weeks to go until the election. It will now be a mad scramble as his challenger tries to build on that momentum to grow that lead, Netanyahu tries to reverse that trend to see if he can win a fifth election -- Oren Liebermann, CNN, Jerusalem.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOWELL: Oren, thank you. In Ghana, thousands of children enslaved stare down death every day. Coming up, the CNN Freedom Project report exposes the fear and horror of modern-day slavery.

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HOWELL: The CNN Freedom Project, shining a light on human trafficking around the world. And in Ghana, the situation is particularly troubling. An estimated 20,000 children are enslaved there. They are forced to work in dangerous conditions in the fishing industry. CNN's Nima Elbagir shows us how poverty is feeding the cycle of slavery.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Scenes like this, of boys playing, chasing dreams of football summer millions of times a day around the world.

But for these children --

[04:45:00]

ELBAGIR (voice-over): -- just the chance to play on this dusty rock- strewn pitch is a dream realized, a prayer answered.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I thank my God who has touched the heart of these people who came to rescue me. And now I'm not in slavery.

ELBAGIR (voice-over): The Village of Life School in (INAUDIBLE) is the shelter for trafficked children, a place for only a tiny handful of the 20,000 believed to be working as child slaves in the fishing industry on nearby Lake Valta.

George Achibra helps run the shelter and school. He says fishermen on Valta buy children from faraway villages and bring them to work as slaves. Wisdom was once one of those boys.

WISDOM, FORMER CHILD SLAVE (through translator): We work tirelessly. And if you go for a small fish to satisfy your hunger, they beat you so badly you regret ever coming into the world.

ELBAGIR (voice-over): In Ghana, the minimum age for workers is 15. But the law is rarely enforced. And the practice of buying children is widespread. The U.S. State Department reports nearly a third of all the homes here contain a child who has been trafficked.

GEORGE ACHIBRA JR., PACODEP: This is one of the boys we rescued a year ago. Junior was living with a parent and he lost the father, 6- year-old boy working on the lake.

ELBAGIR (voice-over): Achibra says Junior's mother was destitute while trying to care for eight children as a widow. She says she sold Junior as a last resort, the only boy in the family who could work.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Junior may be angry with me but it was not my making. It was because of poverty that made me give him up.

ELBAGIR (voice-over): Poverty accounts for the near endless supply of children working on the lake. So Achibra returned day after day, looking for other boys like Junior, finding them with disquieting ease.

ACHIBRA: Looking at the ages of this, how old are they?

He says he doesn't know. He doesn't know the ages of these children.

ELBAGIR (voice-over): Achibra learns these boys stay in a nearby village with a master who has bought them and hasn't fed them in 24 hours.

The next day, he arrives at the village with a police officer. They meet with the man who calls himself the master to negotiate the peaceful release of these children.

ACHIBRA: Already, the master of these children were panicked yesterday and today, when we came, we saw police officers. Therefore, it made him very soft. So after talking for a while, he released them quietly.

ELBAGIR (voice-over): These boys will later tell social workers how they were beaten. But as they waved a cheerful goodbye to a village that had been home to so much misery, another man wades into the water, evidence of the desperate poverty here on Lake Valta or just how easily a child can change hands. We will likely never know -- Nima Elbagir, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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HOWELL (voice-over): Join us Saturday as the CNN Freedom Project further exposes child trade slave in Ghana. "In Troubled Waters," CNN Freedom documentary, Saturday, 4:30 in the afternoon in New York, 9:30 in London in the evening, only on CNN international.

CNN is partnering with people around the world for a day of action against modern-day slavery. That date is March 14th. Leading the charge are students around the world. We are asking them, what makes you feel free?

Here are some of the answers from North Springs Charter High School.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What makes you feel free?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Being free to speak my mind.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) friends who support me (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Being able to do activities along (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Being able to walk around safely.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What makes me feel free is to pursue any dream I want and I can go anywhere. #MyFreedomDay.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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HOWELL (voice-over): We'll pose the question to you.

What makes you feel free?

Share your story using the #MyFreedomDay here on CNN.

Stay with us. We'll be right back after this.

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[04:50:00]

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(WEATHER REPORT)

[04:55:00]

HOWELL: The United States has taken a big step toward getting its own astronauts into orbit on American spaceships. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One, zero. Ignition. Liftoff.

The private company SpaceX launched its new Crew Dragon capsule a couple of hours ago. It was unmanned for this flight. It's expected to dock at the International Space Station Sunday. If all goes well, the mission with a crew could happen by July.

That wraps this hour of the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell at the CNN Center in Atlanta. More news after the break. Stay with us.