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CFO Fights Back Against Canada; Tornado Ripped Southern U.S.; Jackson Abuse Cases Comes Back; Mothers Nature Batters Southern U.S.; More Investigations Piling Up; Joint Military Drills Resumes; Tensions Rising Between Venezuelan Leaders. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired March 4, 2019 - 03:00   ET



[03:00:00] JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: It's been years since the U.S. has seen a string of tornadoes this deadly in one day, multiple storms sweeping across three states, and when the sun rises, so too the fear of a rising death toll.

Sometimes you can go home. Venezuela's self-declared interim president Juan Guaido plans to return on Monday after a tour of Latin America, and it seems he's almost daring the Maduro government to arrest him when he arrives.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to be able to speak the truth as loud as I had to speak the lie.


VAUSE: And the devastating new documentary bringing to the surface once again all of the disturbing allegations of sexual abuse against pop star Michael Jackson.

Hello. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. Great to have you with us. I'm John Vause. You're watching CNN Newsroom.

A cluster of severe storms ripped through the southeast of the United States, killing at least 23 people, including children, and leaving behind a trail of devastation from Alabama to Florida to Georgia.

Lee County, Alabama accounts for the entire death toll for now on what was the deadliest day for tornadoes in the U.S. since 2013. The small town of Beauregard seemed to be ground zero hit by a one-two punch when two tornadoes are believed to have touched down within an hour of one another.


JAY JONES, SHERIFF, LEE COUNTY, ALABAMA: We've done everything we feel like we can do this evening. The area's just very, very hazardous to put anybody into it at this point in time, debris everywhere. And it's just a -- as mentioned previously this evening, just some mass damage to structures, residences in the area.

Houses completely destroyed, homes basically just slabs left where once stood a home. Massive damage. Some of the area, specific areas, contents of one residence we know for a fact was located over 1,000 yards away. So, we've got a wide, very wide storm track that went through the area, maybe even two storms. We're not sure but massive damage.


VAUSE: Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri joins us with more now, one storm, two storms. They were what, 165 miles per hour. Wind speeds. So, these storms are devastating.

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: That would be category 5 equivalent if it were a hurricane. Really it speaks volumes about the significance of these storms. John, only five minutes of lead time essentially warning for some of these folks of this storm that was about to move overhead that caused such significant devastation.

Of course, when you take a look at the numbers in total, at least 36 reports of tornadoes now across the Southern U.S. on Sunday evening and Sunday afternoon as well, 56 reports of wind damage, and the pattern when you bring up wind speeds of such magnitude, you're talking about severe to devastating scale of tornadoes with such strong winds.

And again, widespread across portions of the Southern U.S. And a lot of these happening in very quick succession. You see one tornado move overhead, another one back behind it coming in. The one with the widest track at this point, National Weather Service estimates put 65 miles on the ground for one particular tornado.

A wedge tornado, which is essentially about a half a mile wide, highest point there. And some 165-mile-per-hour winds at its maximum categorized as an EF3.

You take a look, the beginning of the season is right now and of course we're still on the tail end of the winter season but on average the month of March across the U.S. brings 78 tornadoes. We pick up 36 in one day on the first week. Certainly, going to be concerning. And then you notice the intensity, the significance of the tornadoes there also picks up from April into May and eventually into June as well.

But the severe storms, they're all beginning to push offshore right now. Upwards of almost 10,000 lightning strikes in the past 24 hours across the southern U.S. associated with these storms but just about every single one of those strikes now moving away from the coastal United States.

But when you work your way towards the north, the northern tier of this front, of course we talk about the clash of air masses, right? The cold air, the warm air, put it together you have severe weather. All of that cold air is bottled up towards the north and that's where we have winter weather advisories and significant snow coming down across the northeastern United States. In fact, upwards of a foot in the forecast, which is about as much as

they've seen all season coming down here in the latter portion of the winter season across places such as Boston this morning and the winds howling across this region.

So, certainly, going to see some white (ph) conditions, major travel disruptions as well for portions of the northeast and back towards the Midwest among the coldest temperatures we've seen in quite some time, 20 to 30 below zero what it feels like into the afternoon hours even across parts of the Midwest here with the wind chills.

And certainly, the heart of winter at least it feels like it across parts of the country where you have of course severe weather well down toward the south as well, John.

VAUSE: Pedram, we appreciate that. Thank you. Pedram Javaheri, there from the CNN international Weather Center.

[03:04:57] Moving on now, the congressional investigations into President Trump are starting to stack up. The chairman of the U.S. House judiciary committee believes President Trump has clearly engaged in obstruction of justice.

And Congressman Jerry Nadler plans to focus on the firing of former FBI director James Comey and the president's statement about the 2016 meeting with Russians at Trump tower in his investigation.

Boris Sanchez has details.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The chairman of the House judiciary committee Jerry Nadler making a statement on Sunday revealing that he's preparing to request documents from some 60 individuals and entities related to President Trump. And this gets personal.

Nadler specifically said that he would be asking for documents from the president's own son, Donald Trump Jr., as well as Allen Weisselberg. He's a top executive at the Trump organization, somebody who is believed to be intimate with the president's tax returns, something that Democrats have long pressed the president to release.

Also, on that list the former chief of staff John Kelly, as well as former White House counsel Don McGahn. So, Nadler's scope is very broad. Though he was asked about impeachment on Sunday, he said it is too soon to go in that direction. Listen to this.


REP. JERROLD NADLER, (D) NEW YORK: Impeachment is a long way down the road. We don't have the facts yet. But we're going to initiate proper investigations. It's our job to protect the rule of law. That's our core function. And to do that we are going to initiate investigations into abuses of power, into corruption of -- into corruption and into obstruction of justice.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SANCHEZ: Nadler is saying that he wants to make a case to the American people about impeachment before going there. I asked for the White House to respond to Nadler's requests. They ultimately declined to comment.

It's clear, though, that we will hear more from President Trump on this. He tweeted a pair of times on Sunday talking about Democrats going after him unfairly. But again, this is personal and we know the president is not shy about sharing his feelings.

Boris Sanchez, CNN, at the White House.

VAUSE: Joining us now from Colchester, England, Natasha Lindstaedt, professor of government at the University of Essex. Natasha, thank you for getting up early.


VAUSE: It looks to be the start of another bad week for the president. Last week was probably the worst week he's had in two years in office.

And so, on Sunday, as Boris mentioned, he lashed out on Twitter on this new investigation. "Presidential harassment by crazed Democrats, he tweeted, at the highest level in our history of our country. Likewise, the most vicious and corrupt mainstream media that any presidents ever had to endure."

The Democrats, to be fair, have started a lot of investigations since they took control of the House. And those investigations here, look, they may have merit but collectively do they give the appearance that this is congressional overreach, that the president is being hounded?

LINDSTAEDT: That's certainly what the Republicans think and in particular the base thinks, that there's just a complete witch hunt going on and way too much overreach going on by the Democrats. But you kind of have to look at what he's being accused of.

With the Mueller investigation it's about some sort of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government and obstruction of justice, and what Michael Cohen was accusing him of in the recent hearings were insurance fraud, bank fraud, tax fraud, witness tampering, and most importantly, campaign finance violation.

And with that particular case what we know is that Michael Cohen has been convicted of a felony. He's going to prison for three years. And that Donald Trump was an unindicted co-conspirator in that. And so, though the Republicans may think that this is a big witch hunt, we have to look at that -- someone that was lower on the chain was convicted of a felony, and Donald Trump was supposed to be collaborating in that.

VAUSE: Yes. Sometimes a lot of investigations mean that there is a lot to investigate. So, here's a list of just a few of the congressional investigations which are under way right now. They're all House committees because Democrats control the lower House.

We just heard from Boris Sanchez about the judiciary committee looking into possible obstruction of justice and abuse of power, see Richard Nixon. Ways and means reportedly about to request Trump's tax returns, Oversight and Reform looking to security clearance issues for Jared Kushner. There's a Monday deadline for the White House to turn over documentation.

Same committee is considering calling the Trump children as well as Allen Weisselberg, the chief financial officer of the Trump organization, after questioning Michael Cohen last week. With the financial services committee looking into the president's past financial dealings including possible money laundering. And of course, the intelligence committee looking into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

You know, any one of those investigations they could find potentially a damaging finding against the president but it's only the House judiciary committee which is the latest to join into this investigation-palooza which can recommend impeachment.

So regardless what the Democrats they may say about waiting for Mueller, about not being able to go there with impeachment, it does seem that impeachment is where we are heading.

LINDSTAEDT: I think you're right. You know, which is something that the Democratic base has wanted for some time now. But the Democrats have been trying to be patient about this because impeachment is a very serious thing.

[03:10:00] Of course, impeachment is about when a president has committed a high crime or misdemeanor. It's not a popularity contest. It's not about whether or not you like or dislike the president's policies.

And I think with the case of what happened with the campaign finance violation, where Michael Cohen did provide evidence of a check that Donald Trump had sent to him. And there's going to be more investigations and more evidence coming out that will possibly be pretty conclusive enough for the Democrats, I think in the House they will pursue impeachment but the issue is that in the Senate it's not going to go very far.

And the only way that there will be a conviction that Donald Trump would be impeached in the Senate would be if a key person on the Republican side like Lindsey Graham decided to defect or of course if Mitch McConnell defected.

VAUSE: Never. I would be amazed if that ever happened. Stranger things have happened, true. Part of the House judiciary investigation will focus on possible obstruction of justice by the president in the Mueller investigation.

So, on Sunday another tweet from the president. "I'm an innocent man being persecuted by some very bad conflicted and corrupt people in a witch hunt. That is illegal and should never have been allowed to start only because I won the election despite this great success."

And a day earlier at the annual gathering at CPAC the conservatives who get together outside Washington the president called the Mueller investigation B.S. but he actually used the words.

So, we have two separate examples there in two days of exactly what the chairman of the judiciary committee said was an example of obstruction of justice, calling it a witch hunt, questioning its credibility. So, this is a president who clearly doesn't really care, you know, about going after Mueller, going after the investigation, and doesn't -- I'm trying to work out the logic here.

Is it more important for him to try and take away the credibility of the investigation rather than risking these charges of obstruction of justice?

LINDSTAEDT: Well, he's speaking to his base. He's, you know, speaking to his audience, who are applauding him if you're looking at the CPAC convention. It was a two-hour-long speech, a huge performance that was getting all kinds of applause all the time. He's speaking to the base and trying to delegitimize the entire thing.

So, whatever comes out of it, because I think he's actually genuinely concerned about what might be released from this, is just all considered to be lies and it's completely delegitimized. And that way, you know, he can continue to gain support from his base.

I mean, this is also a man who has said that he could basically commit murder and people would still support him. And so, he has to kind of keep up the propaganda promoting his innocence in this and, you know, he had a very bad week, as has been reported. And he's trying to just regain some momentum here.

VAUSE: Yes. And when he said he could fire a gun down Fifth Avenue and kill someone we thought he was speaking figuratively, not literally. You talked to other Republicans in the Senate, will they hang together? Will they hang separately?

Senator Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky. It looks like he stood with the Democrats. The numbers they need in the Senate to block the president's emergency declaration. He told his home state newspaper "I can't vote to give the president the power to spend money that has not been appropriated by Congress. This is for his border wall. We may want more money for border security but Congress didn't authorize it. If we take away those checks and balances it's a dangerous thing."

In other words, he's not opposed to the wall actually being built on the border. He's opposed to how the president plans to pay for it. So, he's joining three other Republicans in the Senate who say they all vote with the Democrats as well. These are the same senators who often have a lot of anxious catching polls when the president does something controversial, trying to push a controversial measure through Congress, they usually fold like a cheap suit in the end. Do you expect them to stand firm this time?

LINDSTAEDT: Well, they might stand firm this particular time because this has to do with issues that are really important to senators like Rand Paul, where it's about finances and about not spending things in the wrong way. I mean, he's very fiscally conservative, and building this wall really goes against all these types of ideals.

But of course, you know, you're correct to point out that in the past there's just been tremendous fear amongst the Republicans of ever going against Donald Trump. It's just incredible amounts of discipline. I think they're just constantly worried about what's going to happen in 2020 and every move they make is going to be watched.

VAUSE: Natasha, thank you. We appreciate you being with us. It's an administration where there's always a thing. There's always something coming out each day. It never ends. But we appreciate you being with us today. Thank you.

LINDSTAEDT: Sure. Thanks for having me.

VAUSE: Joint military drills between the United States and South Korea are set to resume only they'll be smaller, slimmed down versions of previous war games which have long been an irritation to Pyongyang. The announcement of the new smaller drills came just days after the failed summit between the U.S. and North Korean leaders.

CNN's Paula Hancocks is in Seoul, South Korea. So, Paula, the South Korean president held a meeting with his ministers essentially looking at the end result of that summit in Hanoi. What's the spin coming out of the Blue House?

[03:14:58] PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, this was a National Security Council meeting where the president was going to hear from all his ministers and really try and figure out what the next step is, considering the U.S. president has asked him to mediate with North Korea.

Now the first thing he said was the result of the Hanoi summit was very regrettable. So, it's being very clear there that he is disappointed that there was no agreement by the end of that meeting. But then he started to put a positive spin on it, as you might imagine. He was mentioning the fact that North Korea was potentially willing to close down Yongbyon, the entire complex, and said now that that's feasible it shows that progress is being made.

He also pointed out the fact that the U.S. and North Korea were discussing the lifting of partial sanctions and also discussing liaison offices as progress, even though neither one of those was actually agreed to by either side.

So, he is certainly putting a positive spin on it, as you might imagine. But one thing that also came out of this was the foreign minister, Kang Kyong'hwa is going to try and set up talks between the U.S., South Korea, and North Korea in the near future. They're called the 1.5 track talks, which is always when government officials are involved as well.

So at least there's some indication that there may be some dialogue in the future. John. VAUSE: What is interesting about this decision to have a slimmed-down

military drills, these joint exercises, the United States and South Korea were engaging in perfectly legal activities by carrying out these joint military exercises. There's no international law that was being broken as opposed to what the North Koreans were doing which is conducting nuclear and missile tests in violation of about a dozen U.N. Security Council resolutions.

So, if you want to be the cynic here you can see Donald Trump the U.S. President has traded off perfectly legal military exercises in return for the North Koreans to stop doing an illegal activity, which is their nuclear and missile tests, which does seem to be a really kind of odd calculation by the president.

And you know, I know that the South Koreans are trying to put a spin on it that it's not so bad, these military drills, these smaller ones will still be the same as the big ones, but that just doesn't seem logical.

HANCOCKS: There's no doubt that this is a concession from the U.S. to the North Koreans. I've been covering these very large-scale military drills for years now and every time you speak to one of the commanders at these military drills, they tell you how vital they are, how important they are for the two allies to remain battle ready.

Now of course now they've decided they're going to be a lot smaller, they're going to be maybe unit level or some virtual training. Both sides are now at pains to say well, they're not that necessary to have these large-scale drills and they will still be battle ready.

So, we're really hearing two very different things. And the skeptics say if you don't have these large-scale military drills it's very difficult to have that level of readiness that you had before.

VAUSE: It doesn't make sense to say we'll get the same preparation out of these smaller drills than the big ones. Then were have the big ones in the first place?

Paula, good to see you. Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

Venezuela's opposition leader heading home to lead the protests but also risking arrest on arrival. The latest on the political standoff in just a moment.

Also, in Michael Jackson's Neverland ranch was supposed to be a child's dream. But the two boys featured in a new documentary leaving Neverland, it was more of a nightmare. Details in a minute.


VAUSE: Algeria's aging and ailing president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika is defying protesters and announce he'll stand for reelection next month. The country is seeing some of the biggest demonstrations on decades demanding he step down, postpone the elections and dissolve the government.

Reading a statement by the president his campaign director says the elections will go ahead regardless.


ABDELGHANI ZAALANE, CAMPAIGN MANAGER FOR PRESIDENT ABDELAZIZ BOUTEFLIKA (through translator): A new set of presidential elections will take place founded on the agenda produced by the national symposium. I promise not to run for the office in those presidential elections.

Those elections are meant to, among other things, guarantee the transition of power under peaceful conditions and in an atmosphere of freedom and transparency. The national symposium will determine the date of the proceeding elections.


VAUSE: The 82-year-old president has served four terms, was first elected in 1999 but is largely considered incapacitated after a stroke and is believed to allow the military and the civilian elite to run the country.

In just a few hours Venezuela's opposition leader is set to lead new protests against the sitting President Nicolas Maduro. Guaido announced his plan in a video message on social media recorded from an undisclosed location.

He's been meeting a lot of American leaders trying to rally support. But by leaving Venezuela he violated a travel ban imposed by Maduro's governor. Guaido warned Maduro, though, that detaining him on arrival would be a mistake.


JUAN GUAIDO, VENEZUELAN OPPOSITION LEADER (through translator): If the regime tries to kidnap me and attempts a coup like we said today we have very clear steps to follow that have to do what we talked about today. In the short run protests, in relation to the public employees and to not consider with the snatched bureaucracy in Venezuela.

It also has to do with the clear instructions to our international allies, our brothers of parliament throughout the world. Today, we are much more united than ever, more mobilized than ever. As long as we stay like this, we will win. As long as we stay like this, we will move forward. If the regime dares to kidnap, it will no doubt be one of the biggest errors of its time.


VAUSE: Well for more now on Guaido's plans for those protests, here's CNN's senior international correspondent Nic Paton Walsh reporting from Bogota.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is clear both for Venezuela and for its self-declared interim president and opposition leader Juan Guaido that Monday is an absolutely key day in the progress of this opposition movement.

Now he was quite clear in a 33-minute-long speech which he gave I have to say with worse audio and condition than we've seen with his previous addresses on social media outside of the country. He was quite clear that if he is detained he said that will be the Maduro regime, in his words, last mistake.

He said that you can't really stop the flower in spring and he also was quite clear that they have a plan for the country and indeed a plan for government workers to assist in what he refers to as the resistance.

[03:25:07] He referred to our 700s military have so far defected from Venezuela, out of the country. But he was quite clear in how important it is for the country to be united on the streets. Monday and Tuesday, he's called intense protests around Venezuela, starting at 11 o'clock in the Las Mercedes area of Caracas.

Quite whether or not he gets to those protests is not clear, though. He didn't say where he was. He said he was going back to Venezuela. It may be that he's already there. That would perhaps explain the worse audio conditions and presentation of this particular broadcast. We've seen them in Colombia much more professionally organized.

But most importantly, the question is whether he can make it to these protests. Now as I say, they will last potentially a number of days, and the number of people on the streets is absolutely seminal as a sign of support here.

By our count we didn't really get above 100,000 or so streams of these different particular social media outlets in which the speech was broadcast upon. That doesn't reflect necessarily the people to whom it will actually reach.

But still, a seminal moment that the Maduro government has offered negotiations. But Juan Guaido's position has been that unless there are fresh elections there can't be talks. We'll have to wait and see how many people turn out on the street for him and frankly, whether he has the freedom of movement the E.U. and many of his supporters including the United States have insisted upon. Otherwise, there could be further sanctions or moves against the Maduro government.

Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, Bogota, Colombia.

VAUSE: When we come back, homes and businesses destroyed, a community left shattered, an update on the deadliest outbreak of tornadoes in the United States in years.

Also, the U.S. says change to its diplomatic missions in Jerusalem is about efficiency not policy. The Palestinians though are not buying it, a live report from Jerusalem in just a moment.


[03:30:00] JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everybody. Thank you for staying with us. You're watching CNN Newsroom. I'm John Vause with the headlines this hour.

The chairman of the U.S. House judiciary committee has started another investigation into the Trump administration, the latest for obstruction of justice. Jerry Nadler said documents will be requested Monday from 60 people connected to the White House and the Trump organization including the president's eldest son, Don Junior.

And the U.S. president is defending the decision to cancel the yearly military drills with South Korea in favor of much smaller joint exercises which begin Monday. In a tweet, Mr. Trump claims it will save the U.S. hundreds of millions of dollars and reduce tensions with North Korea.

Huawei's CFO is suing Canadian officials saying they violated her rights during her arrest in December. Meng Wanzhou says she detained her and detained her without advising her of her rights. She was arrested over a case by the United States which accuses her of helping Huawei dodge sanctions on Iran.

And children are among the dead after a tornado, string of tornadoes touched down in the U.S. State of Alabama killing at least 23 people. The neighboring state of Georgia was also hard hit by the wild storms which swept across the Southeastern United States, all part of a storm system bringing severe weather to much of the East Coast.

Sara Palczewski is a digital producer for the Opelika digital news in Alabama. She joins us now on the line. So, Sara, search and rescues have been scaled back overnight. Do you know what the plan is come first light? Is there one are in particular whether they are trying to focus resources and how concerned are authorities by this time tomorrow the official death toll will be a lot higher?

SARA PALCZEWSKI, DIGITAL PRODUCER, OPELIKA-AUBURN NEWS: Well, John, what we know for now is that they are probably going to back off for most of the night because the damage is too extensive and it's dangerous for crews, but they plan to hit the ground running right in the morning.

Officials also told us with the National Weather Service they plan to be out with survey crews throughout the day on Monday surveying damage and getting more of an idea of what went through the area. It looks like most of the damage is in Lake County around the small country town of Beauregard. So that is probably where most of their search and rescues are going to occur tomorrow.

VAUSE: Yes. This is a part of the world which is no stranger to severe weather. Has there ever been a day as bad as this in terms of loss of life?

PALCZEWSKI: Definitely not in Lake County. This is probably one of the worst natural disasters, tornado events in the area. Like we have said, the death toll is going to continue to rise. It seems that the area went through a mobile home park kind of area in the county town. So, it looks like the toll could rise and it's definitely something people are keeping an eye on around here. VAUSE: Yes. Earlier, the National Weather Service tweeted out first

tornado to impact Lee County today was at least an EF3 and at least half a mile wide. So, an EF3 means wind speeds up to 165 miles per hour. So, can you describe just how much damage has been done by a twister which is that strong and that wide?

PALCZEWSKI: I was not able to go to the Beauregard area but from the pictures and what the rest of our team has sent back that small country town, it looks totally decimated. I went out to the other town of Smith Station which is kind of a little bit -- a little larger town, and there are multiple businesses that are complete loss, roofs ripped off. It just looks like as one of the residents had told me it looks like a bomb went off and blew up their entire business.

VAUSE: So, what are residents being told now? Those whose homes are still standing, or those who are in emergency accommodations, what are they being told the plan should be for the next 24 hours? Are they staying where they are? Should they try to get out they are trying to get somewhere where electricity and water is still functional?

PALCZEWSKI: There are a couple safe stations set up in different towns so, they are kind of looking around and asking people to contact the local emergency management agency to let them know that they're OK or for people to contact for them (Inaudible) right now they're asking people just to come and hang tight.

And if they can leave their house to get to one of Red Cross shelters or another shelter that they have set up such as fire stations, they're asking residents to go there. Other than that, it's kind of a hunker down, stay off the roads and let EMA and other first responders through to be able to clear out debris.

VAUSE: One report I read had 40 wounded people, injured people turning up at one of the area hospitals which essentially overwhelmed the medical facilities. Also being overwhelmed, which is telling, is the mortuary, the morgue services as well. That is how small this community is.

[03:34:59] So clearly, they are struggling with the resources they have. Will there be more resources coming in first light to help with the search and rescue and help with the recovery?

PALCZEWSKI: We haven't told so but it wouldn't surprise me if they'll be able to probably. It will be an all hands-on deck situation tomorrow. It was pretty -- it's pretty devastating in multiple areas. So, I can see them bringing in different agencies. From what we know the National Weather Service will definitely be on the ground tomorrow as well as search and rescue teams and I would assume they will bring in other teams to kind of help and go through debris.

We've been told they've been using drones to help locate possible lives that are buried in rubble. They're trying to use every means necessary with as many people as possible to get people out safely.

VAUSE: Yes. Sara, situation obviously, one which will hopefully get better in the coming in the coming hours and days. But thank you so much. We appreciate the update there.

PALCZEWSKI: Thank you.

VAUSE: Just a few years ago, ISIS built a terrorist empire to seized large parts of Iraq and Syria, and inspired attacks across the globe. That was then. This is now. The terrorists have been bombed into near oblivion and the territory reduced to a small bombed-out patch of Syria near the Iraqi border. It's surrounded by U.S.-backed forces and they've given the terrorists an ultimatum, surrender or die.

CNN's Ben Wedeman reports from the front lines.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hell, in a very small place. Air strikes, artillery, and mortar rounds rain down upon the so-called Islamic state's miserable realm, reduced to a ragged cluster of tents, wrecked cars and trucks perhaps just a half square mile.

Despite the onslaught, people banded in peers can be seen walking by the tents. U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces have given up trying to estimate how many people, all fighters they say, are still there.

"Some of them want to surrender. They're suicidal. And some want to escape. But we won't let them," says Sufkan (ph), the commander on this roof. "They can either surrender or die." They're surrounded, outnumbered and outgunned. Final defeat seems imminent. Yet they fight on, convinced perhaps that divine intervention will allow them to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

All indications are that this battle will not be over today or tomorrow as President Trump says. One commander told us, maybe it will be done in four or five days.

In the evening SDF troops prepare their weapons for battle. The pounding carries on around the clock. There is no rest for the last holdouts. Midnight and the earth shakes. Night into day, the onslaught continues. ISIS lived by the bullet and the bomb, and by the bullet and the bomb it is dying.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, Baghouz, eastern Syria.

VAUSE: And we'll be back after a short break. You're watching CNN.


VAUSE: U.S. has shattered its consulate in east Jerusalem, merging it with the American embassy in the city's west. The consular was a de facto embassy to the Palestinian and while U.S. officials say they will still continue to provide outreach from the building and it's hard to miss the symbolism here.

When it was first announced back in October Palestinian leaders were outraged by the decision to close this building. Many believe it's the end of the U.S. role as Mideast peacemaker.

The State Department says the move does not signal a change of U.S. policy in Jerusalem, the West Bank or the Gaza strip.

The family of a doctor with dual U.S.-Saudi citizenship says they believe he's being tortured and beaten in Saudi Arabia. He was detained back in 2017 and since then his relatives say he has deteriorated both physically and mentality.

CNN's Nic Robertson has more.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Fitaihi's family fear for his safety right now. They say that inside jail he doesn't feel safe, that he's psychologically deteriorating. You know, a joint U.S.-Saudi national, in 1980, he moved to the United States, a med student who studies there, becomes a doctor, moves back to Saudi Arabia in 2006, and somehow, in 2017, rounded up with all those Saudi princes and businessmen by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, put in the Ritz Carlton hotel.

But as we're hearing from his lawyer, his lawyer says that there's been no due process applied to his case, that he doesn't know why he's being held. In fact, the lawyer wrote to the U.S. State Department in January this year.

I'll read you that letter that his lawyer wrote to the State Department in January, and it reads, "Without explanation he was transferred to a Saudi prison where he's been held for nearly a year, during which he's been permitted little contact with the outside world. It is believed that Dr. Fitaihi has been and is tortured at least psychologically during his imprisonment."

The family obviously very concerned for his well-being. National security adviser John Bolton has said that there has been U.S. consular access to him.


JOHN BOLTON, UNITED STATES NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: Well, as of this moment my understanding is we have had what's called consular access, meaning American diplomats in Saudi Arabia have visited with him. Beyond that we don't really have any additional information at this point.


ROBERTSON: Sources I've talked to about his detention say that he's not the only one who's believed to have been beaten during his detention at the Ritz Carlton and is not the only Saudi being locked up at the moment without due process, without recourse to finding out even why they're being held.

He was known, Fitaihi was known as a motivational speaker, not just a doctor in the community but a motivational speaker. And somebody who stood up for civil rights within the Saudi community.

VAUSE: Thanks to our Nic Robertson. And Saudi officials have not returned CNN's request for comment. But in a statement to the New York Times which first reported the story, a spokesman for the Saudi embassy in Washington denied any mistreatment of detainees saying, quote, "The kingdom of Saudi Arabia takes any and all allegations of ill treatment of defendants awaiting trial or prisoners serving their sentences very seriously."

Huawei's CFO is accusing Canadian officials of violating her rights during her high-profile arrest in December. Meng Wanzhou has filed a civil lawsuit against officials saying they detained searched and questioned her without advising her of her rights.

[03:44:58] She was arrested at the request of the U.S. which claims she helped Huawei dodge sanctions on Iran. Meng has been released in Canada on bail. Attorneys for the Canadian officials have not returned our requests for comment.

Michael Jackson was once considered the Peter Pan of pop, the boy who never grew up. But a new documentary has a darker tale to tell.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was 7 years old. Michael asked, do you and the family wants to come to Neverland? Kind of a storybook, right? A fairy tale.

Michael Jackson, POP STAR: Hello, Wade. Today is your birthday. So, congratulations. I love you. Good-bye.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no thoughts of this is wrong or anything like that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He told me if they ever found out what we were doing he and I would go to jail for the rest of our lives.


VAUSE: Leaving Neverland is a new documentary that tells the dark story of two men who say they were abused by the world-famous pop star Michael Jackson for years. All the time their starstruck families reaped financial rewards. These are not new allegations against Jackson. His estate denies all the claims. But the documentary lays out some chilling details. It airs on HBO. CNN and HBO are both owned by Warner Media.

[03:50:06] CNN media critic Brian Lowry joins us now from Los Angeles. So, Brian, thanks for coming in. The overall consensus here seems to be the documentary is essentially devastating.

So, if that's the case, why hasn't there been this sort of widespread outrage when there are calls to wipe Michael Jackson's music from the face of existence never to be heard again? It almost seems like it's almost an acknowledgment we kind of knew this stuff was going on.

BRIAN LOWRY, CNN MEDIA CRITIC: Well, Michael Jackson has had a tremendous number of very loyal fans who really especially since his death have really glom on to him and the estate has made a fortunate in the decade since he died.

But you're right, these allegations have been around for a very long time and the documentary brings them back in a very wrenching and for a lot of people I think who weren't exposed to them in detail back when they were happening, in a very wrenching and unsettling manner.

VAUSE: There are a lot of disturbing moments which James Safechuck and Wade Robson recall. We can't obviously go into a lot of them because of the nature. But there's one part when James describes how he would practice with Jackson what to do if someone was coming while they're in bed together. Listen to this.


WADE ROBSON, Michael Jackson ACCUSER: He would run drills with me where he'd be in the hotel room and he would pretend like somebody was coming in and you had to get dressed as fast as possible without making noise. So not getting caught was a big just kind of fundamental.


VAUSE: You know, consciousness of guilt on Jackson's part is incredible. And yet, you know, he publicly pleaded his innocence. I remember at the time he clearly talked about being hounded and being a victim.

LOWRY: Very much so. And you know, still to this day there are people who will argue that he was a victim and it's trending M.J. innocent. What's interesting about this is the documentary has Jackson defending himself at some length.

They excerpt a good deal of the Martin Bashir interview that Jackson did in 2003, which I think for a lot of people was just an example of how tone deaf he could be on this issue, sort of reiterating over and over again that there was nothing wrong with a 44-year-old man sharing a bed with young children and that it was merely the people who were asking about it who were making it sound somehow unsavory or inappropriate.

VAUSE: Yes. That's what pedophiles usually say. Jackson's estate described the documentary as public lynching. Described James Safechuck and Wade Robson as admitted liars because both had gone on the record as children denying they've been molested.

Here's Wade Robson explaining one thing as a kid and another as an adult.


ROBSON: I had no understanding of it being abuse. You know, I loved Michael. And all the times that I testified and, you know, the many, many times that I gushed over him publicly in interviews or whatever it may be, that was from a real place.

(END VIDEO CLIP) VAUSE: It just seems very -- it seems a very credible answer. Like

pretty much everything they say during this documentary just has this air of credibility.

LOWRY: Well, and it's doubly effective because you hear these two parallel accounts that are so similar, including not just the relationship with the young boys but the relationship with their families. And that really is one of the most unsettling things about this, is that if these allegations are true as they lay them out, not only were they being abused but they were often being accused with their parents or family members, you know, maybe a guesthouse away.

And the Jackson fame and money, which has always been the enormous complicating factor in everything about Michael Jackson, all the coverage of Michael Jackson, was part of that. I mean, even one of the mothers admits that Jackson helped them buy a house. And that in hindsight it looks terrible and looks like they were somehow being bought off.

VAUSE: Yes. The parents are basically complicit in all this. They were overwhelmed by the money and the fame. Safechuck and his mother, they were both the first guests ever invited to Neverland, which Safechuck said Jackson told him he'd actually bought the ranch especially for him when he was a kid.

LOWRY: It is -- one of the most interesting things is even now when you see the interviews with the parents and to an extent with the kids, you know, it was such a dizzying experience.

I mean, here was one of the most famous people in the world, a beloved entertainer, who had brought them into their confidence, brought them into his circle. And just the idea, and it's word that most people have used, that there was this seduction. A seduction of the boys and a seduction of their families just in terms of what they were exposed to in this sort of magical landscape he laid out for them.

[03:55:01] VAUSE: This is the thing about Jackson's music. It just now seems so tainted. I mean, this is just a reminder of everything that we heard at the time of the trials that he went through when the allegations were first brought up.

But in some ways, it just seems so much worse now because we've had this time to think about it and to process it. It just seems it's very difficult for many people now to listen to Jackson's music.

LOWRY: Well, this is the interesting thing. I mean, the Jackson estate as you stated has pushed back very hard against this documentary and they've stated that both of these men are now seeking money and they filed lawsuits. And this is true.

But the Jackson estate also has a tremendous amount involved and wrapped up in this, which is that they have reaped hundreds of millions of dollars from Michael Jackson's memory. And to the extent that his music is -- if his music is seriously tainted one of the -- if his image is tainted and therefore his creative output is tainted, as we've seen with some other celebrities that have been the subject of unsavory allegations, it will be interesting to see what happens to that going forward and whether some of these plans to continue to exploit his music and market his music and do stage shows and other things that have been discussed, whether those will actually happen.

VAUSE: Yes. He was so talented but obviously seems very troubled as well, Michael Jackson. So, Brian, thank you. I appreciate it.

LOWRY: Thank you.

VAUSE: And thank you for joining us. I'm John Vause. Early Start is next for viewers here in the United States. For everybody else, we head to London. And time to grab a foster. That's Max Foster. You're watching CNN.