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U.S.-Backed Troops Take Last Remaining ISIS-Controlled Territory; Mueller Probe Finished, Report Given to Attorney General; Zimbabwe Searches for Survivors. Aired 4-5a ET

Aired March 23, 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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UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): We are following breaking news on two fronts this day. The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces just announced they defeated ISIS. Repeating, they defeated ISIS in the terror group's last stronghold in Syria.

Also, the special counsel Robert Mueller has delivered the report to the attorney general.

Welcome to viewers around the world and United States. I'm George Howell.

A historic day in the battle against ISIS. U.S. forces announce they defeated the group and liberated Baghouz, ISIS' last stronghold. The Syrian Democratic Forces displayed their flag, you see atop that building, ending weeks of grueling combat.

Hours ago, they battled ISIS fighters holed up in tunnels. You see that playing out in Eastern Syria. All of this comes the day after the White House claimed the group had been 100 percent defeated.

We are covering the story from multiple locations. Our Jomana Karadsheh is in Irbil, Iraq, and we have Arwa Damon in Istanbul, Turkey.

Jomana, seeing the caliphate crumble, women and children have moved on to refugee camps. You have visited some of the camps. Tell us about what you have seen.

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, in recent weeks, George, as that battle for Baghouz was going on, you had thousands of women and children pouring out of that last enclave ISIS was holding in Baghouz.

Now most are in Al-Hol camp that has been dubbed the Camp of Death because of conditions, the number of children there, most infants, who have died on that journey from Baghouz to the camp. Also upon arrival, more than 100 children, according to aid organizations. We visited that camp a couple of times in the past couple weeks during

our time in Northern Syria. It is quite a dire situation there. The camp authorities and also the Syrian Democratic Forces and aid organizations are saying they don't have enough aid for those who are now stranded in this camp.

The vast majority of the population, George, are not just ISIS family members. Iraqis and Syrians who are living under the rule of ISIS whose lives were shattered by the terror group, now they are living side by side with the same people who they accuse of destroying their lives and who they blame for their current situation.

They are these foreign women, fenced in the area called the immigrants' section where we went in. And we met women from every corner of the world almost from Europe and North Africa and from this region.

Now the big question, George, as this battle comes to a close, what happens next to these women and their children and that humanitarian situation that is getting worse by the day?

HOWELL: To your point, Jomana, you have those who did go along with the ISIS ideology beside those people who had lives destroyed by the very same people. Thank you, Jomana.

We have Arwa Damon in Istanbul.

Arwa, put this in perspective. This caliphate ruled territory the size of Great Britain. But now the physical footprint is no more.

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, George. Its digital footprint still exists. It still manages to operate in Iraq and in Syria as small gangs. It still manages in both of the countries to continue to terrorize the population in the areas where the suspected security forces have no control.

It also has, according to numerous analysts and detainees, we have spoken to, have sizable financial investments across the world. According to a number of analysts and our reporting on the ground. From the moment that ISIS took over Mosul and Abu Baker al-Baghdadi declared that caliphate, the organization, which is very forward thinking, was preparing itself for the day it would be territorially defeated.

That means it has sleeper cells in Europe --

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DAMON: -- Asia, Africa, the United States and numerous locations around the world, with a vast financial network it can tap into.

If you look at the history for a brief moment, this is an organization that has, time and time again, managed to reemerge stronger than it was in the past. Remember, ISIS began as Al Qaeda in Iraq, going all the way back to 2004. It then morphed into the Islamic State. That was declared defeated

before the U.S. military was due from Iraq. But the fighters went to ground and managed to evade attempts to hunt leadership down back then and then emerged as ISIS that we saw terrorize and control such a vast stretch of territory.

As far as we are aware, from reporting and from sources, they do have a plan in place to be able to reemerge to a certain degree, perhaps as a different entity or a different form. That threat that ISIS and its ideology pose is by no means dead or destroyed, even if it loses all of this territory.

The important thing, George, is to recognize this next phase, what happens next?

All of the issues that Jomana was addressing, this is just as important as the territorial defeat. If nations fail now, George, it is almost a guarantee ISIS will reemerge as ISIS again or as something else.

HOWELL: Arwa, thank you.

Jomana, to the same point, what about the people who see this happening on this day in Eastern Syria?

But at the same time, the threat, as Arwa pointed out, the threat of continued radicalization, for some reason, people are inspired by the twisted ideology?

KARADSHEH: That is the big concern, George. We have been speaking to officials on the ground in Syria from the Syrian Democratic Forces, who were saying the battle is over but what comes next is as critical. You have so many issues that need to be addressed. The issues that led to the rise of ISIS.

Unless those are addressed and dealt with, you will have the fertile ground, which Arwa is saying, will lead to another group, that they're concerned will be tougher to deal with than ISIS.

One of the issues that they are concerned about is those camps, camps we visited. A whole camp where you have 70,000 people there, they are struggling to deal with that camp. It is at overcapacity and at breaking point. They are struggling to provide services for the camp.

But the most critical issue, they say, is the deradicalization, dealing with the population that has emerged from living under the control of ISIS for years, especially when we talk about those foreigners, these women who have come from across the world and joined the terror group, their children who have been indoctrinated, who have nothing but life under ISIS.

That is why we hear from the Kurdish officials who say this is now something the international community needs to deal with. They are grateful for the international coalition that supported them in the fight against ISIS during the actual war. They say these countries need to step up now and deal with what comes next when it comes to repatriating their citizens.

They are pretty much rejected and stranded in Northern Syria, left for the SDF and the authorities in that part of the country to deal with. We're talking about people from more than 50 different countries, George, in those camps.

You have thousands of children. You have the women. And also they have more than 1,000 fighters. This was about a couple weeks ago. That is the estimate we got from the Pentagon, about 1,000 foreign men being held in SDF detention facilities.

The Kurds are saying they cannot deal with it. They want their countries to take them back and deradicalize them and face due process in the countries because they do not have the ability or the infrastructure to deal with it, especially when it comes to dealing with the children, who are now vulnerable, living in the camps, that have been described as a ticking time bomb, George.

HOWELL: Arwa, one other question to you. We hear about the United States drawing down its troops. Some confusion of how many troops will remain in Syria.

Is there a concern about seeing troops leave and seeing security forces dwindle there and the threat of seeing some type of an group, as you pointed out --

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HOWELL: -- reemerge?

DAMON: Yes, George. It is a real threat. Even though the U.S. does not have a great number of troops in Syria, the fact they are there and providing that needed air support and bringing intelligence assets to the table, that has been crucial in the battle against ISIS and that is something that the SDF and its fighting in Syria and Iraqi forces relied heavily on.

Arguably, without U.S. and coalition support, these battles would not have terminated, at least territorially speaking. When it comes to Syria, you have the added dynamic of the American presence of just being there, means America has something of a seat at the table when it comes to trying to provide some sort of long-term resolution.

The concern is if the U.S. were to withdraw or drawdown its forces, not only would it adequately support the SDF, should there be reemergence of ISIS or the continued battles with small ISIS gangs that do still continue to exist, but that also allows for Iranian, Russian forces to move in and fill that vacuum.

Syria is a very complicated battle space with numerous frontlines, various interested parties. A lot is at stake. Iraqi officials are looking at what is happening in Syrian and expressing concerns that the U.S. may decide to draw down from Iraq.

It is a flashpoint, that American troop presence, in what is happening in Syria and Iraq. The crucial thing that a lot of analysts will point to is that U.S. support is vital in the battle against ISIS at this stage. To draw down prematurely would potentially have devastating consequences.

We saw what happened when the U.S. military prematurely with withdrew under the Obama administration. They at the time withdrew from Iraq, they were saying they believe the Iraqi security forces could hold on to security gains. That is how it was phrased at the time.

Of course, they were unable to do so. We saw Iraq fully begin to disintegrate. ISIS took advantage of the population and emerged stronger than it ever was.

HOWELL: Arwa Damon in Istanbul and Jomana Karadsheh in Iraq. Also Ben Wedeman pointing out, was with us last hour, marking the defeat of ISIS, this last sliver of territory. We continue to appreciate your reporting, along with Ben's. We will stay in touch with you all.

Coming up here on NEWSROOM, Robert Mueller's investigation is over. Now the battle begins on what the U.S. attorney general will release to Congress and to the public.

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HOWELL: Again, an update on the breaking news we're following out of Eastern Syria.

Syrian Democratic Forces say they finally defeated ISIS and fully liberated the town of Baghouz. U.S.-backed forces displayed their flag over the town there. Earlier, they battled the last pockets of ISIS fighters outside the village. We will continue to follow developments and bring you details as we get them here on CNN.

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HOWELL: That's the other big story we're following this day. Special counsel Robert Mueller and his investigation into election meddling is finally done. His report now in the hands of the U.S. attorney general William Barr.

So what does that mean?

First it means that there will be no more indictments coming directly from the Mueller team. This according to a senior Justice Department official. That does not include federal prosecutors in Virginia, Washington, New York or elsewhere.

Remember this, according to Justice Department rules, a sitting president cannot be indicted. Also a Justice Department official says the Mueller report is

"comprehensive." U.S. attorney general William Barr says he may give Congress what he calls the special counsel's principal conclusion as soon as this weekend.

But Congress may not see the full scope of the investigation, at least not yet. Senior justice correspondent Evan Perez has this report.

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EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: The question is how much detail is Barr going to be able to get into when he provides his own report to members of Congress?

This weekend is the first time he will be able to brief them on some of the principal conclusions of this report. How detailed will that be?

It's important to underscore that big headline that you just said, no more indictments.

And that's an important thing for the president after 675 days of this investigation, after an investigation that has frankly clouded his administration since the beginning of his presidency. The president can begin to probably breathe a little easier that the idea that his vindication is coming.

He knows that so far from the Mueller investigation, the public information that's been released by Robert Mueller, there has been nothing that comes close to what looks like in collusion or a conspiracy which has been the focus of this investigation.

The idea that there was somebody in the president's campaign who was colluding with the Russians. None of that has come forward in any of the public court documents and indictments that have been brought.

This has been a very comprehensive investigation. It's been a very fruitful investigation, 37 individuals and entities have been charged, including six Trump associates.

But the central question of Russian collusion has not so far been proved in any public document and so the question is, does that report --

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PEREZ: -- that is now in the hands of Bill Barr, does it say anything about that, did they find any proof of that, that's the big question that remains unanswered at this point.

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HOWELL: Evan Perez, thank you.

The White House reaction can be summed up in two words. We won. That is according to an official who pointed out there were no conspiracy or obstruction charges leveled against the campaign.

Mr. Trump spent Friday night having dinner with friends and family at his resort in Florida. He was seen chatting with Emmet Flood, the White House lawyer responsible for the response to the Russian probe. President Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Jay Sekulow released this statement.

They added that the attorney general will determine the next steps. A lot to talk about this hour and let's do so with our panel, Areva Martin, legal analyst, and Natasha Lindstaedt, joining us from Wales.

Areva, from what we know, no new indictments. The report has been delivered. Is it too soon for the White House and the president to call this a win?

AREVA MARTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think so, George. Although there are no additional indictments coming from Robert Mueller and clearly his investigation has ended, we still have so many questions that need to be answered. And hopefully the report that is presented to Congress will answer some of those questions.

We know that there's this Department of Justice regulation or guideline about indicting a sitting president. We know that, for the Department of Justice or for Mueller to indict someone, there has to prove in a court of law beyond a reasonable doubt a crime was committed.

When you look at what Congress' role is, as its role as providing checks and balances, they don't have to meet the beyond a reasonable doubt standard. There may be information in Mueller's report that suggests Trump was engaged in wrongdoing, may not rise to the level of a crime that could be indicted by Robert Mueller.

But it still may expose the president. So I think it is too early for the White House to claim a complete victory or to state, like they have already done, that they won because there is still so much information to be revealed.

HOWELL: That is a true point for sure. There's a lot more we may learn soon.

Natasha, politically, the single point of collusion. The president seems to have the win to his back, heading into 2020.

What impact does this have for 2020 and Democrats and Republicans?

NATASHA LINDSTAEDT, UNIVERSITY OF ESSEX: If you were to look at polls that were taken about the Mueller investigation in December of 2018, only 17 percent of Republicans actually felt the Mueller investigation was fair. You had 82 percent of Democrats thinking it was fair.

Most Republicans actually thought it was a total witch hunt, which is the way that Trump has characterized this investigation from the beginning. He has tweeted about it constantly. It is on his mind and he is always delegitimizing it. Now that it's coming out, he seems to be more confident of the idea of

collusion wasn't proven and That his son, Don Jr., wasn't indicted or his son-in-law Jared Kushner wasn't indicted.

I don't know if this changes the way Republicans feel about Donald Trump or Democrats feel by Donald Trump. Democrats have been suspicious it is not just this Mueller investigation but a lot of other suspicious activity. Financial crimes that possibly have been committed, campaign finance crimes.

They just dislike the president for other reasons. The Republicans think he is doing a great job and they want to diminish the findings of the Mueller report. So it doesn't really push things one way or the other.

HOWELL: It is important to overstate we are at the beginning here. We still don't know exactly what is in that report. More to come from the attorney general. He will decide what is made public.

Areva, you can sense the arguments and legal challenges coming, one lawsuit filed. Democrats want as much of the report made public as possible; contrary for the White House. They want to see it first and then make decisions.

MARTIN: Absolutely. We already heard several Democratic Congress men and women come forward and state very emphatically that they expect not only the report to be made public but all of the findings, the investigation --

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MARTIN: -- the interviews, the supporting documentation that accompanies this report, they want all of the documents to be made public.

We should expect that the White House is going to push back on that. We don't know what position Barr is going to take. You recall, when Barr was going through the confirmation hearing, he refused to state on the record that he would make the entire report public.

He was vague when he answered questions if he would make the entire report public. It is very clear there will be a challenge from the Left to get as much information as possible.

We should expect to hear claims from the Department of Justice and the White House about certain information being subjected to executive privilege and certain information not being easily made available because it contains grand jury testimony.

Then the claim that some of the information is confidential and classified information that cannot be made public. So there's a big legal challenge ahead.

We cannot underestimate the other legal jeopardy Trump and his sons and his daughter find himself themselves in, particularly with the Southern District of New York and attorney general of the state of New York. So Trump's legal troubles did not end with the ending of the special counsel's investigation.

HOWELL: Look, Areva, to that point.

Natasha, this question to you with regard to the investigations.

What is the path forward for Democrats?

Do you see them continuing to move the goalposts with more probes?

LINDSTAEDT: I think they will continue to investigate further. They have stated that. I think, after the Michael Cohen hearings that were so explosive, they made it clear there was a lot of suspicious behavior taking place, possibly criminal behavior taking place. They wanted to continue to investigate.

But if you listen to the comments from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, she appears to not be too eager to pursue impeachment before enough evidence has been presented to the public, before there's a general strong backing for this. She is trying to be cautious, I think, because she is fearful, if the Democrats go after Trump too hard and pursue impeachment, which would not pass in the Senate, this would lead to a huge backlash.

Based on what Nancy Pelosi is saying, they will continue to have the investigations, which I'm sure will continue to be not greeted well by Trump, that they are not going to be aggressively pursuing impeachment until all of the facts are laid out for them.

HOWELL: Natasha and Areva, thank you.

Still ahead here on NEWSROOM, we head back to the top story. ISIS losing its final territory in Syria. What this means for the next phase as we continue.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

HOWELL: Welcome back to viewers in the United States and around the world. You are watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell, following breaking news out of Eastern Syria.

U.S.-backed forces say they defeated the last ISIS fighters in the region. Syrian Democratic Forces raised their flag over the city of Baghouz. Hours ago, the battled ISIS fighters were holed up in tunnels near the city.

You see the firefight that played out during the nighttime hours. Our senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman filed his report an hour ago. He was giving his first impression in the moments after the announcement that ISIS had been defeated. Listen.

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BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: WEDEMAN: We are in the encampment over which we were watching for weeks, bombardments, airstrikes, mortar strikes, artillery strikes into this area. And it really is a wasteland.

There are wrecked motorcycles, cars and trucks and you see the remnants of tents that people were living in and inside most of the tents, people had built trenches, dug trenches to get some sort of protection.

So for me, this is quite an experience because we have been watching from a distance as this bombardment was taken place. But now certainly to be in it is somewhat surreal. But this is a historic day and we did hear from a spokesman from the Syrian Democratic Forces that ISIS, the so-called caliphate, has been eliminated.

And certainly it was a rough, long war against ISIS, going back at least five years. So, yes, for the Syrian Democratic Forces and for the U.S.-backed international coalition against ISIS, this is a significant day. It was a long and difficult struggle.

But it is significant and it is quite an experience actually seeing all of this around me.

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HOWELL: That was Ben Wedeman, who filed his report an hour ago, marking the defeat of ISIS in Baghouz.

Joining me now on the line to talk more about this is Lina Khatib, head of Chatham House's Middle East and North Africa Programme. She is joining us now from London.

Good to have you with us, Lina.

LINA KHATIB, CHATHAM HOUSE: Good morning.

HOWELL: First, let's talk about the simple significance of this moment. ISIS no longer holding any territory in that region after years and years of bloody war.

KHATIB: It is a very significant moment because having territory and having a so-called caliphate was a very big component of ISIS propaganda that it used to draw supporters from around the world.

It went ahead in terms of what it achieved for its supporters ahead of any other Islamic militant group in the world. That was a massive draw, which means this is now a massive blow.

HOWELL: Lina, the terror group no longer claims territory but doesn't the threat remains --

[04:35:00] HOWELL: -- as the ideology is still embraced by some who escaped the war?

KHATIB: Absolutely. I think we should be very careful when we talk about defeat of ISIS at the moment. All ISIS has lost was territory. But the group itself has not been eradicated.

As you said, the ideology of ISIS is still very much at large. Now they will try to use this loss of territory to portray themselves as victims and continue to use propaganda to try to attract supporters to exact revenge.

At the same time, the group still has many fighters at large, estimated to be between 15,000 and 20,000 in the area around Syria and Iraq. So we are likely to see a surge and insurgency activities by the group as it transforms into an underground militant organization.

HOWELL: What of those people who are now homeless, stateless, caliphate-less, women and children, ISIS brides who are now on their own, many of them left in these camps?

KHATIB: This is also significant. In addition to the fighters, we have around 37,000 women and children currently detained by the Syrian Democratic Forces. The fate of the women remains and children remains to be seen because many countries in the West simply feel nervous about bringing back women and children who were basically living under ISIS and who belong to ISIS.

We are yet to see a coherent strategy to deal with them and deradicalize them. That means we have a ticking time bomb on our hands. A lot of these women still embrace the ISIS ideology. There is a risk they will raise their children to embrace the ISIS ideology.

So the problem is really much larger than something that can be just sorted out with military action alone.

HOWELL: It took many, many troops, coming together from many, many nations and many groups to try to remove this footprint that ISIS had throughout the region. That has now happened.

As we see troops draw down, the U.S. drawing down and the remaining number is unclear.

Is there a threat or concern, if you let up a little, the group could reemerge?

KHATIB: Absolutely. The risk of reemergence is very real. We always need to think back about what happened when Al Qaeda in Iraq, around a decade ago, when it was largely defeated. The reports say, at that time, around only 700 members were left of the organization in Iraq after the U.S.-led search campaign departed.

A few years later, we saw ISIS emerge from the ashes of Al Qaeda in Iraq. So we have to remember that military defeat is not enough. You need a comprehensive very long-term strategy. I emphasize the word very. We really need a 10-year strategy to handle the ISIS aftermath -- deradicalization programs, addressing good governance.

In the context of Syria, the situation plays a huge role why ISIS existed and will exist as a caliphate. You need to address all of these issues plus economic grievances to prevent the enabling environment to exist that would then lead to the reemergence of ISIS. The story is very complicated.

HOWELL: Lina Khatib, thank you for your time today.

After 675 days of investigation, the Mueller report is finally finished. When we come back, what has already been revealed in the Russia probe. And there is more we don't know yet. Stay with us.

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HOWELL: Let's get you caught up on the breaking news we're following out of Eastern Syria.

U.S.-backed forces say they defeated the last ISIS fighters in the region. Syrian Democratic Forces raised their flag over the town of Baghouz, the final stronghold of the so-called caliphate. Hours ago, they battled ISIS fighters holed up in tunnels near the village. We will bring you updates as we learn more. Again, ISIS has been defeated in Eastern Syria.

We are also following the breaking news in the United States. The Mueller report on Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election is finally finished and in the hands of the U.S. attorney general, William Barr. It is not clear what is in the report or when or if it will be made public.

A senior Justice Department official says there is no more indictments expected from the Mueller team. But a lot is already known. Our Pamela Brown has more on that.

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PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over) (voice-over): Nearly two years after it began, Robert Mueller has concluded the special counsel investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Through his filings, Mueller showed how Russia tried to interfere in U.S. politics, scrutinizing those in Trump's orbit as part of that effort.

To date, 34 people and three Russian entities have been charged with crimes, 26 of whom are Russian nationals charged with computer related crimes ranging from hacking computers and networks of prominent Democrats to using social media to sow political discord in the U.S. with the purpose of helping to elect Donald Trump. ROD ROSENSTEIN, U.S. DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: The defendants allegedly conducted what they called information warfare against the United States.

BROWN (voice-over): The president, always careful, to distance himself from those charged.

TRUMP: Of the 34 people, many of them were bloggers from Moscow or they were people that had nothing to do with me. Had nothing to do with what they're talking about or they were people that got caught telling a fib or telling a lie.

BROWN (voice-over): Even when some of the president's inner circle and those who ran his campaign were found to have violated the law, the president remained defiant.

TRUMP: The Russia thing is a hoax. I have been tougher on Russia than any president maybe ever.

BROWN (voice-over): The probe helped reveal how the initial stages of the FBI's Russia probe unfolded. George Papadopoulos, a Trump campaign adviser, bragged to a foreign diplomat --

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BROWN (voice-over): -- in a London bar about what a man with ties to Russia called dirt on Hillary Clinton. That 2016 encounter may have prompted the FBI's counterintelligence investigation which would eventually became Mueller's inquiry.

Mueller uncovered evidence that Trump's long-time adviser political Roger Stone allegedly communicated directly with WikiLeaks while in coordination with a Trump campaign official. The extent and exact substance of those communications are not yet known.

ROGER STONE, LONG-TIME TRUMP ALLY: I actually have communicated with Assange.

BROWN (voice-over): In 2016, Stone bragged about his contacts with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange but later denied he had any direct contact with WikiLeaks. Stone is charged with obstruction, making false statements and witness tampering.

TRUMP: Roger Stone didn't work on the campaign except for way, way at the beginning, long before we're talking about.

BROWN (voice-over): The investigation revealed Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort's deep ties to pro-Russian Ukrainians and a litany of crimes he committed. A judge found he lied about contact with Konstantin Kilimnik, an associate believed to be linked to Russian intel, who he gave Trump campaign internal polling data to.

These contacts with Kilimnik also strike at the heart of the investigation into Russian efforts to seek ways of removing sanctions, in this case, through a possible peace plan to end conflict between Russia and Ukraine. TRUMP: He worked for me for a very short period of time. And I think it is very sad what they have done to Paul Manafort.

BROWN (voice-over): In convicting the president's former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, the special counsel revealed how the president was pursuing a business deal with Russia to build Trump Tower Moscow during much of the election.

Cohen even discussing traveling there after the Republican convention. The deal fell apart. But investigators have been keenly focused on it and why Michael Cohen lied to Congress about how long talks of the deal took place.

TRUMP: So he's lying very simply to get a reduced sentence.

BROWN (voice-over): In charging the president's former national security adviser, the public learned that Michael Flynn's contact with Russia's ambassador to the U.S. included talks about sanctions. And he discussed his conversations with others in the Trump administration.

Discussions with the administration have been raised to various points in the investigation. Cohen's attorney says he talked to White House staffers about his congressional testimony beforehand.

And Manafort allegedly had contacts with the White House after being indicted. During the campaign, with Trump in the room, Papadopoulos says he raised the prospect of using his contacts to set up a meeting between Trump and Putin.

President Trump all the while insisted Mueller does not have any incriminating evidence on him and repeatedly called the investigation a witch hunt and a disgrace

TRUMP: This thing has been a total witch hunt. And it doesn't implicate me in any way. There was no collusion, no obstruction, there was no nothing.

BROWN (voice-over): But his attorney, Rudy Giuliani, seemingly moved the goalposts from no collusion involving the campaign to only Trump himself.

RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP: I never said there was no collusion between the campaign or between people in the campaign.

BROWN (voice-over): Through it all, Mueller has remained silent on his findings, refusing to utter a word publicly, relying instead on indictments and court documents to speak for themselves.

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: The court allegations under inquiry by Mueller was whether or not a foreign national interfered with the integrity of our 2016 presidential election. Resolving those questions and giving us a report of his findings I think was of critical importance to the legal system and to the American public at large. BROWN (voice-over): With his report on the desk of the attorney general, it is now up to William Barr to decide what to disclose to Congress and the American public.

WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: My goal and intent is to get as much information out as I can, consistent with the regulation.

BROWN (voice-over): Pamela Brown, CNN, Washington.

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HOWELL: William Barr there may be ready to share his principal conclusions with lawmakers over the weekend. We will continue to follow the story and bring you any updates as we learn more.

Now to Australia. That nation battered by not one but two major cyclones. We will look at the damage that's already been done there and where they might strike next. Stay with us.

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HOWELL: Aid workers say the devastation in Mozambique is worse than they thought. More than a week after the deadly cyclone hit the area, they are concerned over humanitarian needs increasing in the coming weeks.

The immediate concern is more flooding, cholera and starvation. Entire towns are flooded. Disease and outbreaks are being reported. The death toll is close to 300 people who have been killed. There are significant fears that number could actually be higher.

Rescue and relief operations on ongoing at this point. The situation is chaotic with survivors in remote areas cut off by flooding and landslides there. Also in Australia, two powerful cyclones are battling opposite coasts.

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HOWELL: Thank you for being with us this hour. I'm George Howell at the CNN Center in Atlanta. The breaking news coverage continues at the top of the hour. Stand by.