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U.S. Orders All Non-Emergency Staff to Leave Iraq, Insists Iran Presents "Imminent Threat"; Furor over Alabama Bill to Ban Most Abortions; Judiciary Committee Chairman Says White House Acting Like Trump is a King; Brazilians March Against Education Spending Cuts. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired May 16, 2019 - 00:00   ET




NICK WATT, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): U.S. lawmakers and allies urge caution as tension with Iran soars while critics ask, how much of this is being whipped up and manufactured by Washington?

Targeting Huawei: Donald Trump effectively bars U.S. companies from using telecommunications equipment made by the Chinese giant.

Plus, the governor of Alabama signs the most restrictive abortion bill in America, setting the stage for a potentially seismic showdown at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us from all around the world, I'm Nick Watt and this is CNN NEWSROOM.


WATT: We begin with the growing tensions between the U.S. and Iran. The White House now says that President Trump will meet with the president of Switzerland, a potential back channel negotiator, to resolve the conflict.

U.S. lawmakers are demanding details of the alleged threats from Iran and its proxies that have moved the U.S. towards this war footing, one top Democrat warning, "We don't need another Iraq weapons of mass destruction moment."

The State Department now ordering all non-emergency employees out of Iraq, one U.S. official citing an imminent threat involving Iranian- backed militias.

The British government seems to be backtracking on comments from a top general who said the threat from Iranian proxies hasn't changed. U.S. officials say the British government knows he was wrong and they acknowledge the heightened threat level.

Iran, meanwhile, is hyping up its military readiness. The country's president is warning his nation to stand strong amid what he calls U.S. psychological pressure. The defense minister saying Iran is at its peak defensive power.

A number of U.S. allies are skeptical about Washington's claims of those Iranian threats and some eyebrows are raised over the role of national security adviser John Bolton. A hawk with a long history of hostility towards Tehran. CNN's Peter Bergen reports.


PETER BERGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There are hawks and then there's John Bolton. It almost seems that the U.S. national security adviser has never met a war he didn't love. Bolton was a prominent proponent for the Iraq War and stands by that decision.

JOHN BOLTON, TRUMP NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I think the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, that military action, was a resounding success.

BERGEN (voice-over): By contrast, U.S. president Donald Trump last year called the Iraq War "the single worst decision ever made." But Trump has publicly backed Bolton.

TRUMP: He has strong views on things but that's OK. I actually temper John, which is pretty amazing, isn't it?

Nobody thought that was going to happen. I'm the one that tempers him but that's OK, I have different sides. I mean I have John Bolton and I have other people that are a little more dovish than him. And ultimately, I make the decision.

BERGEN (voice-over): Bolton has expressed similarly muscular views on Venezuela.

BOLTON: I think Maduro is now surrounded by scorpions in a bottle and it's only a matter of time.

BERGEN (voice-over): And before his appointment as national security adviser, he advocated a preemptive strike against North Korea to eliminate its nuclear threat.

BOLTON: I think the only diplomatic option left is to end the regime in North Korea by effectively having the South take it over.

BERGEN (voice-over): But he's been most consistent and vocal in his decades-long antagonism towards Iran's Islamic Republic.

BOLTON: The longer we wait to confront the threat Iran poses, the harder and more intractable it will become to solve.

BERGEN (voice-over): That's from 2006, when Bolton served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations but it's a stance that has lasted. In 2015, Bolton wrote a "New York Times" op-ed, headlined, "To Stop Iran's Bomb, Bomb Iran."

And two years ago he said this to a conference of Iraqi dissidents. BOLTON: The Ayatollah Khomeini's 1979 revolution will not last until its 40th birthday. The behavior and the objectives of the regime are not going to change and, therefore, the only solution is to change the regime itself.

BERGEN (voice-over): Last week, Iran responded to the new U.S. sanctions by saying it would no longer adhere to parts of the agreement. Around the same time, U.S. officials briefed reporters about intelligence, suggesting that Iran or its proxies were planning to attack American forces in Iraq and Syria.


BERGEN (voice-over): That intelligence has since been contradicted by a British general in the region.

MAJ. GEN. CHRISTOPHER GHIKA, BRITISH ARMY: There are a range of threats to American and Kurdish forces in Iraq and Syria. We monitor them all. Iranian-backed forces is clearly one of them and we don't see any increased threat from many of them at this stage.

BERGEN (voice-over): However, U.S. Central Command, which oversees U.S. military operations in the Middle East, pushed back on Ghika's comments, again reiterating that U.S. intelligence identified credible threats.

As a result of the increased tensions, Bolton has announced plans to send a carrier strike group and a bomber task force to the Middle East -- Peter Bergen, CNN, Washington.


WATT: Samantha Vinograd is a CNN national security analyst, she joins me now from New York.

Sam, the State Department announced Wednesday they will pull all nonessential diplomatic staff out of Baghdad and Senator Bob Menendez had something to say about that, let's take a listen.


SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D-NJ): There are only two regions for ordering their departure. We have credible intelligence that our people are at risk or in preparation for military action in Iran.


WATT: So which do you think it is?

Is there really credible intelligence of threats or is the U.S. preparing for war or both?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I actually don't think the options are mutually exclusive. It's entirely possible that there is increased reporting against our personal in Iraq and that the United States is seriously considering military action in Iran or enhanced military action against Iranian proxies in Iraq and in the region.

But there is a pretty simple way to answer this question with respect to Congress. The intelligence chiefs and military planners can go and brief the United States Congress. They actually have a legal responsibility to do so with respect to what this increased threat reporting is against our assets in Iraq.

I served for a year in Iraq, I saw the Iranian threats front and center. I ducked and covered from Iranian rockets and lost colleagues. This threat is very real and has increased and decreased at various points throughout our history in the Iraq theater.

So what needs to happen right now is our intel chiefs and our military planners need to go to the Hill and explain what's happening and there are plans reportedly to send the secretary of state. But he is not an intelligence chief any longer and he is not a Defense Department professional, either.

WATT: That was going to be my next question. We have heard that there is going to be some kind of briefing Thursday in Washington for intel committee people and chiefs but my question was going to, be do you think we are going to get any more clarity out of that?

VINOGRAD: I think it really depends who goes, Secretary of State Pompeo should be representing the diplomatic track and the interests of Department of State personnel that were either deployed in Iraq, are leaving Iraq and/or are staying there because they're considered essential staff.

But we have a Director of National Intelligence, we have a Defense Intelligence Agency in the United States who looks at intelligence related to our military assets deployed overseas.

These intelligence professionals should go and brief members of Congress on the threat and perhaps if Secretary of State Pompeo wants to be there, I think that makes sense but him going by himself to meet as a former member of the national security team, does not check the box with respect to keeping Congress fully and currently informed on threat assessments.

WATT: In terms of what's actually going on within the administration, President Trump said on Wednesday, there are no divisions within the administration on our policy toward the Middle East.

But President Trump is essentially a neoisolationist and John Bolton is in his ear and John Bolton is perhaps the most hawkish man in America.

How could there not be a division between those two ideologies?

VINOGRAD: Let's state the obvious: when President Trump says something, you kind of have to assume the opposite is true. So if he said there aren't divisions it's probably likely that there are.

But it is not unusual for there to be divisions within the national security team when it comes to something as dramatic as potential military action in the theater.

I was at the National Security Council when the Syria war started and I can tell you there were a lot of divisions with respect to what we should do and whether we should use military force on the ground in Syria. I wish that we had.

It is entirely possible that the secretary of state as the chief diplomat of the United States does not want to use military force and that he is open to some kind of diplomatic track with Iran.

But John Bolton's job as national security adviser is to present all those different views to the president and recommendations from each cabinet member on what to do to counter this alleged increased threat and then for the president to make a decision.

John Bolton as national security adviser should not be censoring options from the president. Various national security advisers have weighed in with --


VINOGRAD: -- their own recommendations when asked. I've seen national security advisers doing it both ways.

So the real question is, is Bolton in some way censoring the content that reaches the president?

Is he whispering in his ear and saying that a military option with Iran is the only way to go?

Or is someone like secretary of state Pompeo, who really has been in the lead on this issue, the one who is speaking with the president and saying that maybe it is time to open up some kind of diplomatic contact with the Iranians to try to de-escalate the situation?

WATT: Trump did tweet on Wednesday, he said, I'm sure that Iran will want to talk soon. But earlier in the week we heard from Ali Khamenei who said, we will not talk about the nuclear deal, such negotiations are poison.

Is he going to cave?

Will they talk?

VINOGRAD: Having worked on the back channel negotiations with Iran through the Omanis when they first started, both sides are going to say a lot of things publicly. While there is potential of the possibility or even the possibility that back channel negotiations are happening right now, the Iranian regime has egg on its face based on the fact they gave up their nuclear program as part of the Iran deal.

Sanctions were lifted and then the United States violated that. They have their own domestic politics and hardliners ship to deal with when it comes to resuming any potential negotiations with the United States. On the other hand, President Trump assumes that everybody wants to

talk to him. At this point it is unclear to me that the Iranians view the United States as a credible interlocutor.

So in addition to the domestic pressure, there is really no likelihood that they trust that, even if they sit down with President Trump, that he is going to keep his word because he breaks it so often.

So he is hoping, perhaps, that they talk because things are rising so quickly and escalating so quickly. But I don't know that diplomacy is on the table from the Iranian perspective at this point.

WATT: Sam Vinograd, thank you very much for your insights.

VINOGRAD: Thank you.

WATT: President Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday that bars U.S. telecommunications firms from using foreign made equipment that could pose a threat to national security.

The order doesn't specifically name China's Huawei. But a short time later the U.S. Commerce Department added Huawei to a list of companies the government considers to be undermining U.S. interests.

For more on this, Sherisse Pham joins us from Hong Kong.

Is this just another salvo in this trade war?

SHERISSE PHAM, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. This is the latest tit-for-tat that we have. This is not happening in a vacuum, Nick, this is happening against the broader backdrop of an escalating tit-for-tat between the United States and China in these ongoing trade war negotiations.

It's important to know that Huawei has effectively been banned in the United States for the better part of a decade. They have been ever since a U.S. congressional report in 2012 identified the company as a national security risk.

Huawei has repeatedly said that none of its products pose a national security risk but that has not put fears to rest, the company coming out today in a statement that restricting Huawei from doing business in the U.S. will not make the U.S. more secure or stronger; instead, this will only serve to limit the U.S. to inferior and more expensive alternatives and essentially harm U.S. companies and U.S. consumers.

But the Trump administration is really kind of playing hardball here. This will not go down well in Beijing. We are looking forward to what the ministry of foreign affairs will be saying later today.

But they were asked about this yesterday when it was reported that this executive order could come down on Wednesday. The ministry of foreign affairs really said, like the United States is playing some really dangerous games here and you can expect some retaliation -- Nick.

WATT: Sherisse Pham in Hong Kong, thank you very much.

Meanwhile, in Alabama, the governor has signed into law a bill that could punish doctors who perform abortions there with life in prison. The law bans abortions in almost every case, even for victims of rape and incest.

Critics call this an appalling attack on women's rights and there will be legal challenges which is, in fact, what Republican governor Kay Ivey wants. Alabama lawmakers want to take this fight all the way to the Supreme Court in Washington, hoping to overturn the court's 1973 decision that legalized abortion across all 50 states.

These are the 25 Alabama lawmakers who pushed the bill to the governor's desk on Tuesday, all white, all Republican, all men, all state senators.

We are hearing from many people on both sides of the issue. Earlier --


WATT: -- CNN's Anderson Cooper spoke with a doctor who performs abortions in Alabama.


DR. YASHICA ROBINSON, ALABAMA WOMEN'S CENTER FOR REPRODUCTIVE ALTERNATIVES: There's no other area of medicine that doctors are restricted in this way or criminalized in this way. It is not right to penalize physicians for performing a service that certain individuals find morally objectionable to them.

We do know, like we said, we want lawmakers to not insert themselves into our personal lives. Women and physicians can make the decisions for themselves. We already know that abortion care is very safe and this just shouldn't happen.


WATT: Democratic 2020 presidential hopefuls are lining up to condemn the bill.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They are trying to overturn Roe versus Wade. That's wrong and we will fight back.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This Alabama effort and the effort across this country now in 29 states is an all- out attack on women's reproductive freedom and our basic civil rights.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS, (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When abortions were illegal in our country, women died. They died because they were not given choice. It's a fundamental issue.

(END VIDEO CLIP) WATT: CNN legal analyst Areva Martin joins us now from Los Angeles.

Areva, let's just get this straight, so if this bill becomes law, let's take a horrific hypothetical, if a 13-year-old girl in Alabama was raped by her uncle, under this law, she would have to carry that baby to term and give birth, right?

AREVA MARTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely, Nick. This law is so restrictive that it doesn't even provide for young girls or any age woman that might be raped. It doesn't provide exceptions for incest. The only exception is if there is some possible harm to the mother with respect to carrying the child.

I think what is so appalling to so many is that the governor made it clear this wasn't about ending abortion or implementing this law in the state of Alabama. This was about taking this fight to the United States Supreme Court.

That is the strategy of these Alabama male lawmakers, just as it is the strategy of lawmakers in many states, in many Southern states, and also in many Midwestern states. There is an all-out attack on women's reproductive rights but also a very deliberately legal strategy to past these laws in order for them to be challenged to get to the Supreme Court, to have the Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade.

WATT: Areva, the governor of Alabama is blatant, I will read the bit of her statement.

She says, "Many Americans, myself included, disagreed when Roe v. Wade was handed down in 1973. The sponsors of this bill believe that it is time, once again, for the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit this important matter and they believe this act may bring about the best opportunity for this to occur."

Now of course, Areva, the Supreme Court -- President Trump has nominated two justices. It's now five to four, conservative.

What is going to happen?

What would happen when this lands on their desks?

MARTIN: That's good question, Nick. The issue is probably going to come down to Chief Justice Roberts. He is going to be the deciding vote and what we know about Chief Justice Roberts is that he believes in precedents. He has made it very clear that he is not going to do something that, I think, is going to be a jolt to the American legal system.

So I'm not so confident that the strategy, this very deliberate strategy that the Southern lawmakers and some of the Midwest have is going to work out in the way they have planned.

But we do know that Donald Trump, when he ran for president, he made it very clear that a big part of his platform was overturning Roe v. Wade, appointing conservative judges to the federal court so that they could be in position to take on this fight. And we have seen these Democratic hopefuls running for president,

everyone from Senator Kamala Harris, Senator Elizabeth Warren, make it very clear that this is not something that women and Democrats and progressives around this country are going to take sitting down.

There are going to be massive protests. We are already seeing that happening as we speak and we should expect to see even more. Women and men and progressives coming forth and fighting for the rights of women to make decisions and to control their own reproductive health.

WATT: Areva, you have a strange colleague who agrees with you, that this might not work in the Supreme Court. That's televangelist Pat Robertson. Let's take a listen to what he had to say about this.



PAT ROBERTSON, TELEVANGELIST: I think Alabama has gone too far. They have passed a law that would give a 99-year prison sentence to people who commit abortion. There is no exception for rape or incest. It's an extreme law and they want to challenge Roe versus Wade.

But my humble opinion is that this is not the case we want to bring to the Supreme Court because I think this one will lose.


WATT: So he just thinks this is the wrong bill to bring to the Supreme Court.

MARTIN: Yes, Nick, you are right on that. I didn't think I would agree with Pat Robertson but I do agree that it's complete overreach, to say that a physician, individuals who have dedicated their lives to saving lives, that they will face not misdemeanor charges but felony charges that could land them in prison for life for administering, as we saw that doctor speaking to Anderson Cooper say, something that is very safe, a very safe, surgical procedure.

It's a complete overreach and I tend to agree with that Robertson that this is the wrong case. This is not the case for these Republican lawmakers want to, I think, stake their whole strategy and plan to deny women the rights over their reproductive health. I think the case is not going to have the intended outcome.

WATT: And is this, we have alluded to this a little bit earlier, is this going to be one of the defining issues of the 2020 presidential campaign?

MARTIN: You know, it's interesting, I was reading some reports that says the American people give the whole issue of abortion -- it's been decided. There is not a majority of Americans that believe that Roe v. Wade should be overturned.

So Americans are concerned about health care. They are concerned about tax breaks for the middle class. They're concerned about pay rates for teachers. The abortion issue has already been litigated. So I'm not so certain they get it. The Republicans, the strategy of trying to overturn Roe, I don't think the American people go to bed at night thinking about Roe v. Wade, because Roe v. Wade has been settled law for now 40 years.

I think it's a mistake on their part and I don't think it's going to be successful in terms of Trump's reelection campaign or senators or other elected officials who are trying to make this a seminal issue or a primary issue for the 2020 campaign.

WATT: Areva, thanks, as always.

MARTIN: Thanks, Nick.

WATT: The Trump White House will soon revealed its long-awaited plan to revamp the U.S. immigration system. One thing is clear; the proposal will favor immigrants who already speak English and have jobs lined up.

Plus, huge protests in Brazil after the government announces plans to cut funding for higher education. And president Jair Bolsonaro's responds. That's ahead.





WATT: Congressional Democrats are fuming over White House refusals to turn over requests of documents. The House Judiciary Committee following up on the Mueller report is investigating possible obstruction of justice and abuse of power by the administration. A couple of weeks ago, the president said this.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have been the most transparent president and administration in the history of our country by far.


On Wednesday, a White House attorney formally rejected the committee's requests for documents from dozens of individuals; in a rejection letter, claiming Congress doesn't have the authority to launch such a probe, which provoked this reaction from the committee chairman.


REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: This is the White House claiming that the president is a king. This is the White House saying that the Justice Department says they can't hold the president accountable because you can't indict a president and now they're saying neither can Congress. So the president is totally unaccountable and above the law. No person in the United States is above the law. This is preposterous.


WATT: Meanwhile, a fourth migrant child has died in U.S. custody at the southern border. This, according to "The Washington Post." The 2-year-old Guatemala boy was apprehended several weeks ago, reportedly with his mother.

The cause of his death on Tuesday night has not been disclosed. Meanwhile, the Trump administration on Thursday is expected to unveil its proposed overhaul of the U.S. Immigration system. White House officials say the draft proposal will shift priorities on who gets it. We get more now from CNN's Kaitlan Collins.


TRUMP: We are calling to Congress to fix our terrible immigration laws.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Today, the White House finally making its immigration sales pitch.

TRUMP: That can be changed in 20 minutes, 20 minutes, if they want to change it.

COLLINS: The Trump administration is hoping to overhaul the current U.S. immigration system and turn it into a merit-based one that prioritizes high-skilled workers, secures the southern border and potentially generates an estimated $500 billion in net federal revenue.

It's a proposal President Trump personally directed his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, to come up with. But officials who briefed reporters today said this is the president's proposal.

They are pitching a merit-based point system for visas that would include a civics test and factor in age, ability to speak English, job offers and education and skill levels. The White House says the new proposal draws from immigration systems in Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

But the plan doesn't address the massive influx of migrants at the southern border or other key concerns from lawmakers. There is no solution for dreamers, the undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children and shielded from deportation under DACA. There's no mention of family separations at the border. And it doesn't address low-skilled immigration or what will happen to the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States. The White House says solutions to those problems will come later.

And, right now, they are focusing on rallying the party. Republican lawmakers have publicly praised the plan, but, privately, some are voicing skepticism. One senior Republican official who was in the room when Kushner briefed lawmakers this week said some were underwhelmed by the plan. But Senator Mitt Romney said it was a very positive step forward.

Senator Lindsey Graham, an ally of the president who presented his own immigration plan today, said Kushner's plan is not designed to become law, but his is.

This is a plan that Jared Kushner has been working on for months and the White House hopes that the end result is going to be this comprehensive compromise that could actually get through Congress.

Right now, the question is whether or not Republicans are going to support it, let alone Democrats -- Kaitlan Collins, CNN, the White House.


WATT: Thousands of Brazilians marched on Wednesday over cuts to education. The government says it is freezing nearly a quarter of discretionary funding on universities. This is the first national protest since president Jair Bolsonaro took office in January.

He calls it a partisan ploy, calling the protesters, quote, "youthful idiots." Bolsonaro has been losing support as Brazil struggles with a weak economy and rising unemployment.

The blame game on Capitol Hill: a tense hearing over the safety of the Boeing 737 MAX and whether two fatal crashes could have been avoided.

And world leaders sign an agreement to crack down on online extremism. Why the White House stayed away.


[00:32:02] WATT: Welcome back. I'm Nick Watt. Let's update you on our top news this hour.

Donald Trump is looking to Switzerland perhaps to help ease tensions with Iran. Mr. Trump will meet with the Swiss president in the coming days, a possible back-channel negotiator? The U.S. has announced military buildup in the Middle East to counter what it calls imminent threats from Iran.

And President Trump signed an executive order that basically bars U.S. telecommunication companies from buying equipment made by China's Huawei. Washington believes Huawei's equipment could be used by the Chinese to spy. The move comes during the escalating U.S./China trade war.

And Alabama Governor Kay Ivey has signed into law a bill that bans abortions in almost all cases, even for victims of rape and incest. It's a move that critics are calling an appalling attack on women's rights. There will be a court battle, ahead. And plenty of finger pointing from the acting head of the U.S. Federal

Aviation Administration at a hearing with lawmakers. Daniel Elwell faced questions about the Boeing 737 Max jet, which was grounded after two fatal crashes.

At issue, the pilots' actions, the plane's manufacturer, and even some decisions of his own agency. CNN's Tom Foreman reports.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The pilot should have reacted, should have recovered, should have saved their doomed jets. In response to two fatal crashes involving Boeing 737 Max airplanes, that was the message from some during this tense hearing on Capitol Hill.

REP. SAM GRAVES (R-MO): Pilots trained in the United States would've successfully been able to handle this situation.

FOREMAN: But others pushed back.

REP. PETER DEFAZIO (D-OR): The pilots were the redundancy. How the hell are you the redundancy if you don't know something?

FOREMAN: At issue, an automated stabilization systems called MCAS, implicated first in a crash near Indonesia last fall. Investigators believe it erroneously pushed that plane into an unrecoverable dive. What's more: at the time, pilots did not know the systems existed.

Now, audio recordings released by the Allied Pilots Association show American Airline pilots speaking angrily with a Boeing official just weeks later.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We flat-out deserve to know what is on our airplanes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't disagree.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These guys didn't even know the damn system was on the airplane. Nor did anybody else.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think that understanding this system would have changed the outcome on this.

FOREMAN: That pilots' union says of the meeting, quote, "Boeing did not treat the situation like the emergency it was."

Boeing did issue updated instructions after that crash, but then another plane went down in Ethiopia and march, and once again, investigators are pointing to MCAS.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This cannot happen again.

FOREMAN: The FAA is clearly unhappy with Boeing's slow response to the initial problem, and slow communication about a software glitch which prevented an alert system from functioning. [00:35:10] DANIEL ELWELL, ACTING CHIEF, FEDERAL AVIATION

ADMINISTRATION: It took too long.

FOREMAN: But those same FAA officials under fire, themselves, for regulation of the 737 Max, are also pushing some blame toward the pilots. Even as they cautiously move forward.

ELWELL: The 737 Max will return to service only when the FAA's analysis of the facts and technical data indicate that it is safe to do so.

FOREMAN (on camera): And these fact weigh over it all: 346 people lost their lives in these twin crashes involving American-made jets. And there will be more hearings before it's all over.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.


WATT: World leaders and tech firms have signed an international accord in Paris, a plan of action to fight the spread of extremist content online.

French President Emmanuel Macron and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern are driving the initiative. More than a dozen other nations and the European Commission pledged their support for the initiative, known as the Christchurch Call, named for the New Zealand city where a terrorist attack on two mosques two months ago was livestreamed on Facebook.


JACINDA ARDERN, NEW ZEALAND PRIME MINISTER: Today is the first day of the next four months. The Christchurch Call is a roadmap for action, and it is pleasing to see the statement from five major tech companies, committing all of them to a suit (ph) of individual actions and collaborative actions, as well.


WATT: The White House did not endorse the accord, citing free speech concerns. The U.S. statement adding that the best tool to defeat terrorist speech is, quote, "productive speech."

In Sudan, talks aimed at moving the country toward civilian rule have been suspended for 72 hours. The head of Sudan's transitional military council says talks with opposition leaders are on hold until there is an appropriate climate for completing an agreement.

The country has been scarred by turmoil since the military ousted longtime President Omar al-Bashir last month.

On Wednesday, at least 14 people were injured in Khartoum after Sudanese soldiers stormed barricades and opened fire at the site of a sit-in demonstration. This, according to the Sudan Doctors Committee. The head of the military council accuses the opposition of escalating

tensions and disrupting life in Khartoum by blocking off roads and bridges.

And the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo just crossed a tragic milestone. More than 1,000 people have died from the disease since the outbreak began in August.

The World Health Organization has confirmed more than 1,600 cases of Ebola, and this is now the second deadliest and second largest outbreak, topped only by the 2014 outbreak in West Africa that killed more than 11,000 people.

Brexiteers are hailing the return of Britain's most popular populist politician. While Nigel Farage is getting back on the bus.

Plus, party time in Paris as the city celebrates the birthday of one of the world's most famous landmarks.


[00:40:33] WATT: One of Britain's most colorful and controversial figures is back in the game. Three years ago, Nigel Farage helped convince voters to leave the European Union. Now he is leading a new party dedicated to make sure Britain follows through and breaks away.

CNN's Nina Dos Santos reports.


NINA DOS SANTOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Back on the road and riding high in the polls, Nigel Farage is returning to the campaign trail with a more middle-of-the-road movement --


DOS SANTOS: -- hoping to sway Labour and Conservative voters who feel betrayed over Brexit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I voted to leave. We were supposed to have a democracy in this country, isn't it?

FARAGE: How are you? All right.


DOS SANTOS: The Brexit Party may only be a month old, but its central promise, to respect the result of the referendum, has won it loyal followers at the expense of Britain's two main parties.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I voted out anyway, and it just happened. It's just become a complete shambles.

DOS SANTOS: And if predictions become a reality, Farage wants to have a say.

FARAGE: We demand a space on the negotiating table. If people vote for this, they deserve to have their voice heard.

DOS SANTOS: Ahead of the vote, the Brexit Party is touring the U.K., and whether it's the Working Man's Club in Pontefract or the conference halls of Peterborough --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please welcome to the stage Nigel Farage.

DOS SANTOS: -- the mix of personality and populism is popular, even if the Brexit Party's only policy thus far appears to be Brexit itself.

(on camera): Are you going to be voting the Brexit Party?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I will do better, aye. No question about it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Most definitely. Most definitely.

DOS SANTOS: Wonder what makes the Brexit Party such a force to be reckoned with? Is its ability to deliver its message straight to the people, at rallies like these taking place up and down the country.

It's all part of a strategy designed to get those who feel betrayed over the promise of Brexit mobilized all the way to the ballot box. And let's face it, few U.K. politicians could draw a crowd like this on a Tuesday evening after work.

(voice-over): This is political star power coupled with words of warning for Westminster.

FARAGE: I thought we lived in a democratic country! I've learned that we don't live in a democratic country, and I made a promise that if I had to return to the frontline of this, then next time I said it would be no more Mr. Nice Guy, and I meant it.

DOS SANTOS: And that frontline is shifting. The Brexit Party's next stop may be Brussels, but it's unlikely to be their last.

Nina Dos Santos, CNN, Peterborough.


WATT: The art world is celebrating two record hammer drops.

First, the most money paid for a work by living artist. The very much alive Jeff Koons, who's 64, created his stainless deal sculpture "Rabbit" in 1986. The whimsical piece just sold at Christy's for more than $91 million.

The buyer, art dealer Robert Mnuchin, who is the father of the U.S. treasury secretary, Stephen.

And a nearly 130-year-old work by the French master Claude Monet from his haystacks series just commanded the highest price ever for an Impressionist artwork, $110 million after just eight minutes of bidding at Sotheby's in New York. The winning bidder remains anonymous. The City of Light, shining just a little bit brighter. Paris

celebrating the 130th birthday of the Eiffel Tower, a spectacular laser light show playing out across the structure's facade every evening this week.

The tower was the tallest building in the world when it was built for 1889 World's Fair. About 7 million tourists now visit the Paris landmark every year.

Thanks for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Nick Watt. Stay tuned now for WORLD SPORT. You are watching CNN.


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