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CNN NEWSROOM

Donald Trump Trades Insults with Top Leaders in Iran; An Unbelievable Graduation Gift; Saying Goodbye to Game of Thrones; Trump Warns Iran; Severe Thunderstorm Watch in the United States; Indian Voters Done with Casting Their Votes. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired May 20, 2019 - 02:00   ET

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


[02:00:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: While the U.S. president trades insults with top leaders in Iran, the White House is unveiling a plan designed to raise hopes for real peace between Israelis and Palestinians. But so far, it's mostly raising eyebrows.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR: And right here in the ATL, an unbelievable graduation gift. A billionaire stuns the crowd at Morehouse College as he promises to pay all their student loans.

CHURCH: And after eight tumultuous and often bloody years, we are saying goodbye to Game of Thrones. Stay tuned. We're going to break down the finale. Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us here in the United States, and of course, all around the world. I am Rosemary Church.

HOWELL: And I am George Howell from CNN world headquarters in Atlanta. Newsroom starts now.

CHURCH: Well, tensions between Iran and the U.S. appear to be escalating yet again just as things were starting to quiet down.

HOWELL: In a tweet, the U.S. president warned that if Iran wants a fight, it would mark the official end, he says, of that country. Mr. Trump also told Tehran not to threaten America again. But he did not provide context. In the meantime, the U.S. ally, Saudi Arabia, also warning Iran against reckless behavior, as it calls it, but the kingdom says it doesn't want conflict either. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ADEL AL-JUBER, SAUDI FOREIGN MINISTER: Saudi Arabia does not want to warn the region and is not seeking it, and will do its best to evade it. But at the same time, if the other party chooses war then we will respond with all strength and determination and will defend itself and its interests.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHURCH: And this week, Saudi Arabia accused Iran of ordering drone strikes on two oil pumping stations in response to alleged Iranian threats, Countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council have started enhanced security patrols around the Persian Gulf.

HOWELL: All this comes a day after Iran's foreign minister also said his nation does not want war in the region.

CHURCH: Now, while the president threatens Iran, the White House is also rolling out a new peace plan for Israelis and Palestinians. It focuses on the economy. And it's being led in part by Mr. Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

HOWELL: A meeting is planned for Bahrain next month. It's called the Peace to Prosperity Workshop. Finance ministers and business leaders will discuss that initiative. It aims to make places like Gaza and the West Bank "as investable as possible." It's not clear where the Israelis stand on all of this. But we do have a pretty good idea from the Palestinian authority.

CHURCH: Yeah, CNN's Nic Robertson has more now from Abu Dhabi.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, the initial reaction coming from the Palestinian authority president's spokesman seems to be negative. He calls this current plan, this economic workshop idea, a futile idea. He says an economic plan without a political horizon will lead nowhere. The minimum that the Palestinian president's spokesman is saying, a minimum that they need to have that the Palestinians will want to have before they get engaged in conversations is the knowledge that is a Palestinian state.

They can be a Palestinian state at least, and that its capital will be east Jerusalem. And the political component of this plan that we're told by the White House is something that could come later in the year. It's very aspirational. It's very heavy on the idea of how the economy can lift the region, can lift the lives of Palestinians.

But what we're hearing from the Palestinian authority is really a thumbs down. They're saying look. There was a workshop like this arranged in D.C. last year in the United States in March. We didn't go to that. They've lost their faith in the United States as being an international arbiter between themselves and the Israelis.

They point to the fact that when President Trump in late 2017, December 2017, announced Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, said that that it would move the U.S. embassy -- did move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, that that really negated the U.S. position here to negotiate or to be a viable negotiator here.

And what we have heard in recent weeks as well from Palestinian authority leaders, from their ambassador to the U.N., saying that this deal would be dead on arrival. And just a couple of days ago in London, their foreign minister saying that this plan would essentially give no sovereignty, no justice, no independence, no freedom to the Palestinians.

So the message at the moment seems to be a thumbs down to this plan. Nic Robertson, CNN, Abu Dhabi. (END VIDEO CLIP)

[02:04:57] CHURCH: Well, President Trump isn't holding back when it comes to a Republican congressman who is breaking ranks on the Mueller report.

HOWELL: That's right. In a series of tweets, Michigan Congressman Justin Amash said the president engaged in impeachable conduct. Our Boris Sanchez has reaction from the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Congressman Justin Amash had previously criticized President Trump. But the response from the president had never been as harsh as it was until Sunday morning. Take a look at what he tweeted about the congressman from Michigan's third district. He writes that Congressman Amash is doing this for publicity, that he never actually read the Mueller report.

And that in his, words he is a loser who sadly plays right into our opponents hands, Amash clearly striking a chord with President Trump. Other Republicans sort of echoed those remarks, including Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel. She put out a statement, saying that it's sad that the congressman is, in her words, parroting Democratic talking points. Other Republicans like Senator Mitt Romney of Utah a lot more respectful of his point of view.

Still, though, he does not agree with Justin Amash on whether the president committed impeachable offenses. Listen to what he told Jake Tapper on State of the Union Sunday morning.

MITT ROMNEY, U.S. SENATE REPUBLICAN: I respect him. I think it's a courageous statement. But I believe that to make a case for obstruction of justice, you just don't have the elements that are evidenced in this document. And I also believe that an impeachment call is not only something that relates to the law, but also considers practicality and politics. And the American people just aren't there.

And I think those that are considering impeachment have to look also at the jury, which would be the Senate. The Senate is certainly not there either.

SANCHEZ: Now, Democrats are split on the issue of impeachment. You have some like Senator Elizabeth Warren who is running for president, who believes that impeachment should be pursued. And then you have others like the most powerful Democrat in Congress, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who does not believe it would be prudent politically to try to impeach President Trump, especially because the election is just about two years away.

She, though, does say that President Trump commits impeachable offenses everyday that he is in office. Boris Sanchez, CNN, at the White House.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CHURCH: And for more on this, let's go to Los Angeles and CNN's Senior Political Analyst, Ron Brownstein. He's also the Senior Editor of The Atlantic, always great to have you with us. So Congressman Justin Amash is the lone Republican blasting President Trump for what he calls impeachable conduct. The president has hit back hard.

What could be the ramifications of just such a statement from Amash? And could this embolden some Democrats to move in that same direction or perhaps do quite the opposite?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think the key in everything you said there was the lone, the lone Republican. Certainly, this is going to matter. I think it is in fact going to embolden Democrats. It is going to cross the threshold that Nancy Pelosi talked about, that there be bipartisan interest or support in this idea.

But as long as he is alone, and he is someone who has been as -- you know an iconoclast willing to break from the party, more of a libertarian than a traditional -- or at least a modern Republican conservative. As long as he is alone, I think the impact will be limited but not inconsequential. I think in the next few days, this is going to get a lot of attention.

It's going to force at least some American voters to kind of reconsider this whole question, but as long as he's alone only to a point.

CHURCH: All right. I want to move to the escalating tensions between the United States and Iran. And everyone had been saying they didn't want war. Then suddenly, President Trump threatens Iran with this angry tweet. What happened? Where's this all going, do you think?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, you know, I don't think we know where it's all going. But I think we have been on this ride before. I mean, the president I think is not only impulsive and less constrained than presidents traditionally have been about expressing each kind of change in emotion, wearing kind of emotions on his Twitter sleeve than we've seen before.

But I think he also sees a value in being unpredictable and in also being volatile. I mean, that is part of kind of his persona. So I don't think you can really interpret where this is ultimately going, from kind of the day-to-day gyrations in his attitude, because those gyrations are themselves part of the point. I mean, I think he looks to gyrate, if that makes sense.

In the end, his instincts from 2016 on have been to minimize engagement abroad and certainly to minimize risk taking, I think, in military action. And I think in the end it is unlikely that he gets into a full scale war with Iran. Miscalculation, however, can always occur.

CHURCH: Yeah. That is the big concern here. And, of course, while all this is going on, the White House is rolling out a peace plan for the Israelis and Palestinians, focusing on the economy led by Mr. Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, with an aim to make Gaza and the West Bank as investable as possible. What does that even mean?

[02:10:08] And we know already that the Palestinians are not very impressed with this. We're not quite sure what the Israelis think at this point.

BROWNSTEIN: Look. Again, we have been on this ride before. What was -- when the former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was the negotiator for the quartet in the Mideast starting in 2007, the heart of their vision was to push the two sides closer together by promoting economic development in the areas controlled by the Palestinian authority. And it had very limited success.

I mean, you know, it's very hard to imagine putting this cart -- this horse -- this cart before the horse in the sense that how much investment can you ultimate -- can you really create -- first of all, can you create an environment in which there is a sound climate for investment without any kind of political stability? I mean, you know, who would invest other than those who are making kind of very short- term political calculation?

And as you heard before in the report from Nic Robertson, certainly, the Palestinians themselves are not particularly interested in an economic solution that leaves their political status vague or where it is today. They have certainly made mistakes over the years. Never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity, as we said about Yasser Arafat.

But it's hard to see how an economic first without a better sense of what a political solution can get very far.

CHURCH: Yes. It seems a strange first point, doesn't it, to be taking it from here. A lot of people are wondering what is going on here. And Jared Kushner being the one leading all of this is problematic in itself as well isn't it?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, you know the saying in the U.S. When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Economic development is probably what they are most comfortable with. I mean, you know, that's what they -- that's what they -- has driven them all of their lives. You know, making money, making deals. And the thought that there are kind of deeper motivations, I think, you know, maybe somewhat lost on them.

It is not an unreasonable component of an overall strategy. The problem is there is no overall strategy. And to the extent there is one, it has been to give more rope, more leeway to Prime Minister Netanyahu as he has moved to the right both in kind of the racially tinged campaigning and also kind of, you know, downplaying the possibility of a two-state solution.

So to go from that, to go from that kind of identification for months and months and months with Netanyahu and then say OK, we're back to being the honest broker. I mean, that is just a very difficult hairpin turn to execute. And it is not surprising that the Palestinian authority and leaders are very skeptical that this administration truly does want to be that kind of bridge. CHURCH: Ron Brownstein, always great to get your analysis. Many

thanks.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.

HOWELL: All right. And here in the United States, a 180 from the Trump administration on the topic of immigration, the acting chief of Homeland Security now says the administration won't send migrants to the state of Florida or send them to any sanctuary cities.

CHURCH: Yeah. His comments come after officials in Florida blasted a possible plan to send migrants to the state. All this, as U.S. Border Control faces a record influx of migrants along the nation's border with Mexico, more now from CNN's Rosa Flores.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The pictures of migrants waiting to get processed on the U.S. side of the southern border are difficult to watch. Families sprawled under makeshift tents. Children sleeping on the ground covered in Mylar blankets. The strain is not just on migrants. It's also on the officers who have apprehended a record- breaking number of migrants, more than 500,000 since October.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am a father. I am a grandfather. Somebody needs to do something about this.

FLORES: Thursday, officials in Florida's Palm Beach and Broward Counties said they were notified that about 1,000 undocumented migrants a month could be sent to the sunshine state for processing and releasing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not a good plan. We think it's a danger to this community. And it's going to put a real strain on what the resources are.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I personally would suggest that we bring these people over to his hotel and ask the president to open his heart and home to these people as well.

FLORES: Sunday, the acting DHS secretary said the agency had been looking at all options. President Trump told Florida Governor, Ron Desantis that migrants would not be flown to Florida. But border patrol agents on the ground say Washington has to do something.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Until, you know, folks in Congress, folks at the White House, folks on Capitol Hill actually put forth an honest effort to address the situation here on the border, it's not just a humanitarian crisis. It's a border security crisis.

[02:14:56] FLORES: Without more resources from our nation's capital, DHS has resorted to other measures like releasing thousands of undocumented migrants into border communities, flying or driving thousands of others to Laredo or San Diego, and reassigning agents from ports of entry to migrant processing centers. One newly added temporary facility in south Texas alone holds 8,000 migrants on any given day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're doing everything we can in our power to ensure that they're safe. We want to let them know that they're safe now.

FLORES: While agents continue to do their jobs along the border, many are asking if politicians are doing theirs in Washington. Rosa Flores, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL: Rosa, thank you. Still ahead, vote counting in the world's largest election has just ended. Many see this as a referendum on the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi. We're live in New Delhi, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOWELL: Large parts of the United States are under severe thunderstorm watches, the northeast from Pennsylvania to Vermont facing possible violent weather until Monday.

[02:19:52] CHURCH: High winds, hail, and tornadoes have already battered northern Texas and central Oklahoma. And another front poses a threat to those areas for the next 24 hours. It's estimated that a total of 55 million people in the U.S. could be in the path of destructive storms. Let's turn to our Meteorologist, Pedram Javaheri, who joins us now with the very latest. That is a lot of people in trouble here.

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It is. And, you know, climatologically, this time of year, as you go in from the latter portion of May into June, this is peak season for not only strong thunderstorms but the strongest storms that produce the strongest tornadoes. The largest outbreaks typically occur this time of year. And the past three days alone, you take a look from Friday into now Sunday afternoon.

Total reports of over 50 tornadoes across the U.S., nearly 500 reports of wind and hail damage, and again, just the start of what is going to be peak season here inside the next couple of weeks, the activity on water vapor imagery. And it shows you the moisture content in the middle and upper levels of the atmosphere. A little spin right there over California.

That system itself has produced significant snowfall, especially for this time of year. Kind of resembling what you would see in the winter season for the amount of snow that has come down in recent days across the high sierra. And notice the next couple of days still could see as much as 18 inches of snow across that region. Work your way into eastern Wyoming, western Colorado, Southern Utah.

Higher elevations here easily can get one to two feet of snow, again, inside the next couple of days. So it shows you that disparity between winter conditions and spring conditions still taking place across portions of the U.S. And now, the Storm Prediction Center issuing a level five, which is a very unusual level of concern there as far as severe weather is concerned, and you take a look, here we go.

Across portions of northern Texas, western and southern areas of Oklahoma, that is for strong tornadoes potentially on into this afternoon, certainly some damaging winds and large hail to be had as well across this region. But this is an area that has the highest risk here for severe weather going into Monday. You notice the energy shifts a little farther toward the east come Tuesday.

It includes larger cities though there from St. Louis on into Springfield, for that area, come Tuesday afternoon with these storms. As George kind of alluded to, across the northeastern U.S., we do have active weather and a slight risk exists across this region as well for some severe weather. But the big story once we get through this, guys, is the major heat that is forecast for the upcoming holiday weekend.

We're talking about temps near 100 degrees across portions of the south there going into this weekend, so record heat...

(CROSSTALK)

HOWELL: One hundred?

(CROSSTALK)

HOWELL: I didn't hear that, Pedram, thank you.

CHURCH: Thank you so much.

HOWELL: In India, voting ended on Sunday, and the final phase of a weeks-long process of the election there.

CHURCH: Yeah. Some 900 million eligible voters cast ballots for the 545-seat Lower House of Parliament, called the Lok Sabha. Many see this election as a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The official results are due Thursday.

HOWELL: Let's go live to New Delhi. Our Bureau Chief there, Nikhil Kumar, is following the story. And Nikhil, exit polls suggest that there maybe a positive here for Modi. What are you learning?

NIKHIL KUMAR, CNN NEW DELHI BUREAH CHIEF: That is what they suggest, George. Yes, exit polls commissioned by a bunch of local media outlets, private polls. They're pointing to a victory for Mr. Modi and a return to power, but there's a big, big health warning here, which is that exit polls like this have been wrong in the past. In 2004, for example, they predicted that the then BJP coalition government would return to power.

It was kicked out of power. So we'll have to wait and see whether or not these polls prove accurate. The counting will be done on the 23rd, which is when we will get the result. But if he does return to power, it is going to be an extraordinary achievement. In 2014, he won in a landslide. If he's able to replicate that, then it will really be a major, major achievement.

Of course, the question will be that if he does come back to power, then what kind of prime minister is he going to be in the future? And something quite instructive here maybe is to look back at the way the two campaigns unfolded 2014 versus 2019. Back then in 2014, the message was all about the economy, economic progress.

Modi basically presented himself as some sort of economic messiah who will overhaul India's economic system to deliver things people have been talking about for a long time, making it an easier place to do business, generating more jobs for a very large cohort of young people. This campaign has been much more about nationalism, particularly Hindu nationalism, which is the founding creed of his party, the BJP.

And that's very troubling to India's liberals and minorities. So we'll have to wait and see until the 23rd if that is what we're going to get over the next five years, George.

HOWELL: Just to push forward a bit on that, to get a sense -- if another five years of Modi, what would that mean given that message does resonate in the bigger cities as opposed to people outside the city? What would it mean for minorities? What would it mean for farmers, etcetera?

KUMAR: Well, you know, George. Over the last few years since Mr. Modi has been in power, there has been a growing concern that no matter what he says on his stage as prime minister, no matter the language that he uses, the fact that he comes from the Hindu right wing, many members of which believe that this is a Hindu country and a country for Hindus, something that troubles and makes a lot of minorities very, very nervous.

[02:25:09] And India's very diverse. There are some 200 million Muslims among other minorities in this country, that that emboldens all of those hard line actors who are part of the Hindu right-wing movement. And as I say, in this campaign, that's just ended in this election. We have seen the BJP make decisions that are really, really very troubling. One in particular, they chose a candidate in central India who's currently facing terrorism charges for a bomb attack on Muslims several years ago.

She denies it. But the fact is that we haven't had a court verdict yet. Yet, it didn't stop the BJP from nominating her as a candidate in this election. And that sends out a very troubling message to India's minorities and to Indian liberals who are worried about the fraying of India's secular fabric and what happens if Mr. Modi comes back to power, George.

HOWELL: Nikhil Kumar following the story for us in New Delhi. We'll stay in touch with you with you. Thank you.

CHURCH: Well, in the slums of Venezuela, a lawless militia group is working to keep the country's embattled president in office.

HOWELL: The Colectivos, as they're known, have essentially become the private army of Nicolas Maduro. And as our Patrick Oppmann reports, violence and intimidation, that's their trademark.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They wear hoods and carry guns. Mysterious figures who seem to be able to attack anti-government protesters in Venezuela with impunity. Witnesses to these shootings say they are the work of Colectivos, shadowy paramilitary forces that support the government of embattled President, Nicolas Maduro, at any cost. In the areas they control, the Colectivos operate openly.

To learn more about their role in Venezuela's political violence, we go to one of Caracas' sprawling slums, and to a radio station controlled by the Colectivos that they use to air pro-government propaganda. Colectivo leader, Naude Mendez, agrees to an interview but only if we do it live on air. Mendez says he's been shot five times in confrontations, and will take up arms if the United States tries to intervene militarily in Venezuela.

The revolution is going forward, he tells me. And if these people try to step foot onto Venezuelan soil, what there will be here is a lot of lead for them. I am not afraid of the gringos. But according to Venezuela's opposition, the Colectivos' main target these days is not foreign adversaries but their political rivals inside Venezuela.

Opposition member, Julio Cesar Reyes, says on three occasions Colectivo have come to his house to intimidate him. They come without uniforms, he told me, carrying weapons of war. Their faces are covered and they break down your door. They aimed a gun at me in front of my kids. Maduro has called on the Colectivos to defend his socialist revolution, and says they are patriots.

U.S. officials call them domestic terrorists. The group started doing social work in Venezuela's poorest slums decades ago. Then, Hugo Chavez took power and envisioned a new role for the Colectivos. Hugo Chavez saw the Colectivos could be transformed into a private army loyal to him. He gave them food, weapons, and free reign. In many of Caracas' most dangerous neighborhoods, they are the only law.

The Colectivos are Maduro's most loyal enforcers, says Naude Mendez. But when asked if things are better after 20 years of socialist revolution, even he concedes that support for the revolution is fading. The war has been tough, he says. They attack the poor people through their stomachs. They made our food disappear. And people got mad, and everyone says it's Maduro's fault.

But it's not Maduro's fault. It's the United States' fault. With the conflict brewing, the Colectivos say they have thousands of foot soldiers ready to fight to the end. Patrick Oppmann, CNN, Caracas.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHURCH: And we'll take a short break here on CNN Newsroom. Still to come, many college graduates get gifts this time of year. But a billionaire investor gave a group of graduates in the state of Georgia a gift of a lifetime. We'll explain when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[02:32:56] HOWELL: Welcome back to viewers here in the United States and around the world. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Atlanta. I'm George Howell.

CHURCH: And I'm Rosemary church. Let's take a look at the headlines for you this hour. U.S. President Donald Trump is warning Iran against picking a fight with the United States. In a tweet, he says if Iran wants a conflict, it would mark the official end of the country. The aggressive tweet comes after Iran's foreign minister reiterated that his nation does not seek war.

HOWELL: The White House says investment is at the core of its Israeli-Palestinian peace plan. Presidential son-in-law and Advisor Kushner is directing that effort. It will bring together finance ministers and business leaders at a workshop in Bahrain in June. A spokesperson for the Palestinian authority, President calls the plan futile.

CHURCH: In Egypt, at least 14 people have been wounded in an explosion that apparently targeted a tour bus. It happened on Sunday near the pyramids of Giza. State media reports that a device exploded close to the bus which was carrying 25 African visitors. No words yet on who's responsible.

HOWELL: Tens of million dollars, that's how much the 2019 graduating class Morehouse College here in Atlanta, Georgia, owes in student loan debt.

CHURCH: That's right. And lucky for them they won't have to pay one penny of it because billionaire entrepreneur Robert F. Smith says he and his family will pay the tab. He made the announcement Morehouse' graduation ceremony on Sunday. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT F. SMITH, CHAIRMAN, VISTA EQUITY PARTNERS, LLC: On behalf of the eight generations of my family who have been in this country, we're going to put a little fuel in your bus. This is my class, 2019. And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[02:35:08:] HOWELL: Joining now to talk more about this is the president of Morehouse College, David Thomas. Good to have you with us, sir.

DAVID THOMAS, PRESIDENT, MOREHOUSE COLLEGE: It's great to be here.

HOWELL: Look, the question I think everyone wants to know, did you know that this was going to happen?

THOMAS: I had no idea.

HOWELL: Really?

THOMAS: I had no idea.

HOWELL: What was your reaction when you heard it?

THOMAS: Amazement. Gratitude. And excitement for what this means for our students.

HOWELL: It's pretty significant.

THOMAS: Very significant. You know, our students leave with probably on average about 26 to $30,000 of debt. Some far exceed that, you know, people ask me how I would characterize the gift, and I characterize it as a liberation gift, because it freeze these young men up to make choices driven by their passion and their interests. Many of our students want to go into education, we know there is a need for blackmail teachers and schools.

But Morehouse is the kind of place where they get lots of opportunities to go for jobs that pay much more. And some do so, because they need to service the debt. Others want to go directly to graduate school, but they delay it because they need to service this debt. So this really liberates them to follow their passions.

HOWELL: Wonderful.

CHURCH: And it is an extraordinary gesture on the part of Robert Smith, isn't it? And his family to do this for this nearly 400 students.

THOMAS: That's right.

CHURCH: Have you ever seen anything like this happen and talk to us a little bit more about the ramifications and how it impacts some of these kids.

THOMAS: Yes. So, I have been in academia as a professor, a dean of faculty and a dean of business school and now president of Morehouse College for 33 years. I've seen a lot of graduations, I have raised hundreds of millions of dollars, and I have never seen a gift like this. And, for sure, I have never seen an announcement like this.

HOWELL: It surprised a lot of people.

THOMAS: It surprised us. It surprised us.

HOWELL: It surprise Elijah Dormeus who was a student there. Let's listen to what he had to say about this.

THOMAS: All right.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ELIJAH NESLY DORMEUS, MOREHOUSE COLLEGE GRADUATE: My plan before was basically, you know, work and sales, be like top salesman, still to go, still do it. And then pay off my loans in one year. Be frugal without spending a lot of money, but still paying off a loan. So not really living a life but getting back in a sense. So after I heard the news, of course, in shock sitting still like, wait, this is a joke. I think he is lying.

I got down and said OK, god, thank you! And shed -- literally shed a tear, but a tear joy and I stood up and said, you know what? That's it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL: And, you know, he talked about during that speech, that Smith speech, he talked about how Smith described the hard work that he put into his career, and talked about how it's important to pay it forward, and then announced he is paying it forward. What's this mean -0- what does it mean for these students to had such an incredible gift?

THOMAS: Again, I think what it means for them is being liberated to follow their dreams. And the reality is, most of these students have accumulated this debt over the last four years, student loans operate in a way that you don't have to pay until you're done with school. So they actually have no experience of what it means to have to pay this that out of their after tax salaries once they are out. They have no idea. Most of them.

So -- and if you also think about it from the vantage point of wealth accumulation, which is important for the black community. There are many young people who do not contribute to their 401(k)s while they're in their 20s because they're paying down the debt. And if you, you know, you reach my age and you look back 40 years, that first 10 years of not putting anything into your retirement.

HOWELL: It matters.

THOMAS: It matters. So, this is a -- more than just paying off that, this is also about wealth accumulation, these young men are part of a black community where we know there's a wealth gap that even if you have a job, there is still a wealth drop. So this is tremendous.

CHURCH: And for a lot of our viewers overseas, they're amazed at how much Americans pay for education.

[02:40:03] Because in some countries, in Germany, you don't pay, in Australia, we didn't don't pay. I didn't pay for my university education, they do now, but it's about a third of the cost that Americans pay.

THOMAS: Right.

CHURCH: It just blows your mind what students in this country need to pay, and they're still paying off their loans in their forties, aren't they? So this -- when Robert Smith talks about paying it forward, and he expects that from the students now that he's given them this incredible gift. What exactly does that mean? What is he expecting them to do?

THOMAS: What that means is, he is challenging them to be generous in helping others behind them. He is challenging them to support more house college as alumni, by giving. He is challenging them to support their communities by giving. The reality is that the average Morehouse student will wind up being in the top five percent of individuals in this country by income by the time they're 50 years old. That's a great thing.

CHURCH: Yes.

THOMAS: Now they have to take responsibility for helping others. And I think Robert Smith challenge them to do that starting now.

HOWELL: And Robert Smith, you know, he typically does these things quite quietly.

THOMAS: Very quiet.

HOWELL: So, you know, just incredible gift from him and what a tremendous gift to these students. David Thomas, thank you again for your time with us.

THOMAS: All right. Thank you.

CHURCH: Thank you so much.

THOMAS: All right. Thank you.

CHURCH: Just amazing. All right. Well, coming up, it is the day, Game of Thrones fans have dreaded. The show's eight-year run is over. We will dissect the end of this phenomenally successful show. Back in just a moment.

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[02:45:07] HOWELL: With his country fresh from elections, South Africa's former president is due back in court.

CHURCH: Jacob Zuma is facing a week of hearings. They will determine whether he should face a criminal trial on a list of charges including fraud and racketeering. Zuma successor, President Cyril Ramaphosa has vowed to crack down on corruption.

HOWELL: CNN's David McKenzie is live in Pietermaritzburg this hour. Good to have you with us, David. Many South Africans, they see this as part of a battle for the future of South Africa. What's at stake here?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, George and Rosemary. You know, I'm here outside the high court. You can see all of the local press and the satellites are here. Shortly, we expect to have a great deal of Pro-Zuma supporters here for this hearing.

Why is this important? Well, his lawyers and it's a new set of lawyers, George, are trying to put a halt to this proceeding entirely for many years, since, at least, 2007. There's been attempt to prosecute to the former president, then, the deputy president of fraud, corruption, racketeering charges. But as you say, this is also in a way a fight for the future of this country, feel many people, because the incoming President Cyril Ramaphosa, who be inaugurated in just a few days, he believes that there needs to be a change, a fight on corruption, and this will be a key test.

We expect Jacob Zuma here just in a few moments to enter this court. It is an important legal fight for him, but it's been many years in the making and people are a bit fatigued by the attempt to put him in the dock. George?

HOWELL: All right, David McKenzie, obviously, the media coming together watching for that. We'll stay in touch with you as he arrives. Thank you.

CHURCH: Still to come, game over, one of entertainment's most successful series ever reaches the end of the line and we will go back to Westeros, one last time.

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[02:50:52] HOWELL: Who won the Game of Thrones?

CHURCH: Big-time spoiler alert here. I'll say it again, a little later. We are going to discuss it in a second, the wildly successful series concluded an eight-year run on HBO, Sunday. The juggernaut enthralled millions of viewers each week as the battle for power was waged between rival clans.

Now, among those dissecting the last episode, CNN senior media and entertainment writer Brian Lowry, who is a huge fan of the show, as am I, and he joins us live from Los Angeles. Great to see you.

BRIAN LOWRY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA AND ENTERTAINMENT WRITER: Thank you.

CHURCH: Let's repeat again before we begin, spoiler alert to all those Game of Thrones fans who have not yet seen the series' final finale. Block your ears, close your eyes, walk out of the room, whatever you need to do, we are about to discuss who won the Game of Thrones. Are you ready?

So, Brian, not many people saw this one coming, right? And not many fans are happy about the ending. What did you think of that ending and who ended up taking over?

LOWRY: Well, I said, you know, when you -- when you think about hot takes, I'm saying it's fine, isn't the hottest of hot takes, but I kind of thought it was fine. I had -- I did have a problem with the pacing in the last couple of episodes leading up to it.

I thought the first 40 minutes or so of the finale were very strong. And then, after the big death, which I guess we are going to talk about. I felt like it was a little bit anticlimactic after that.

So, it's not -- by no means, one for the age's finale, not a great finale. But for me, it was not an unsatisfying finale. CHURCH: Right. And, of course, the storyline of episode six was leaked online last week, and fans were furious, and that's even before it aired. Right? So, how will they deal with this surprise ending, do you think in the demise of Daeny.

LOWRY: Well, I think some of the fans have not been dealing with any of this very well. Obviously, a lot of people were very upset with a sort of the part of Daenerys's character this season. And there was a speech in this last episode that Peter Dinklage's character delivered, Tyrion. Which I really think helped a lot in sort of explaining where she had gone.

It's only too bad, they didn't do that three or four episodes ago. If they had laid more groundwork for it, I think they would have spared themselves some headaches, and some criticism later on.

CHURCH: Yes, that was a powerful speech. And basically, it won't be born to power going forward, you will earn it, you will be chosen. For that position, right? A role of plug for democracy.

LOWRY: Right.

CHURCH: Now, a lot of fans was so upset last week with episode five when Daenerys went mad, and as you said, mercilessly burned most of King's landing and along with many innocent people. Hundreds of thousands of viewers signed a petition for a do-over of the whole of season eight that was so angry with the writers and producers.

What upset them the most do you think? And how were they hoping this would end? Were they looking for a Hollywood ending here? I mean, I hope they're investing eight years of their lives, they surely realized that was not where this was going.

LOWRY: Well, I think -- I think you just said the magic word really, which is they did invested eight years of their lives. And you know, you see this with some of these big franchises. I think, Star Wars: The Last Jedi was another example of this. Where people get very tied up in it, they spend a lot of time coming up with scenarios on the way they think this is going to go. And when it doesn't go the way they anticipate, they get ticked off.

In this case, I think it also went back into some issues the show has had throughout its run about the way that it deals with female characters. I think they -- it strengthened those characters dramatically the last couple of seasons. And the arc with Daenerys and Cersei and Brienne also this season. A lot of people were saying, oh boy, there they go again.

[02:54:59] CHURCH: Yes, I think that was it. I think the demise of Daenerys was the thing that really upset people the most. And therapists are offering their services to Game of Thrones fans who need help getting over the show coming to an end. But also the way it ended, how often does that happen with long-running shows like this, and what was it about this show that people got so invested in the characters and the storyline? LOWRY: Well, I think this show, I mean, first off, I think if you need a therapist when a T.V. show ends, there may be more going on than just the T.V. show ending. But as far as the show, I really think the Game of Thrones was a show that brought the scope and scale of a theatrical brought blockbuster to television.

So, it had the big serialized storyline with dozens of characters that you could get sucked into like The Sopranos, or The Wire, or any of the great HBO dramas. And then, staged it on a level in this mythical world that really no one had ever seen done quite that way for T.V. before.

It set the bar on that level enormously high. And I think a lot of networks and streaming services are going to lose a lot of money trying to come up with something like it.

CHURCH: All right, Brian Lowry, great to talk with you. Appreciate it.

LOWRY: All right. Thank you.

HOWELL: And thank you for being with us this hour. I'm George Howell.

CHURCH: And I'm Rosemary Church. Stick around.

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