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Trump Promotes Conspiracy Theory of Foul Play Behind Epstein's Suicide; BTS Taking an Extended Break From Performing; Woodstock Festival Goer Recalls Experience. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired August 12, 2019 - 00:00   ET




CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hong Kong police escalate their crackdown on protesters. Violent scenes in the subway after a day of anti government demonstrations.

Breach of protocol: a huge sex trafficker, Jeffrey Epstein, was left alone and his jail cell and was not being monitored the night he committed suicide.

And, peace and love, the Woodstock Music Festival was half a century ago this week. So we go down Memory Lane.

We are live from CNN Center in Atlanta, it's great to have you with us.


VANIER: Violent clashes between police and protesters are becoming an all too common sight. At least nine people were injured after police in riot gear fired tear gas at demonstrators on Sunday, including here in the subway station.

More videos show police chasing protesters and throwing people down on the ground. Demonstrators have accused police of brutality and acting with unwarranted force but officials say they are only cracking down on illegal and violent protesters. Ivan Watson explains why, 10 weekends on, tensions continue to ramp up.


IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A collective howl of rage. Residents of a Hong Kong neighborhood joined protesters to face down a squad of riot police. They retreat, the focus of so much anger.

This two month cycle of confrontation resumed Sunday with what police call an unauthorized assembly. Authorities rejected requests for this pro democracy march but that did not stop thousands from joining in. It was peaceful until a hardcore group came to this neighborhood police station. Hong Kong is now in its 10th straight week of protests and often it's

the city's police stations that become a focus of some of the demonstrators. You can see the officers on alert, on the station walls. And this tense face off there with some protesters in the distance and the police warning residents to close their windows.

Using vandalized traffic barriers, they push closer, hurling eggs, ignoring repeated warnings from the police until:

The protesters were spoiling for a fight and now they have one.

Squads of riot police storm, in a show of force repeated week after week. In the scuffles, people get hurt, both protesters and police. Once the riot police moved, in it took mere minutes for them to clear out thousands of protesters.

The Hong Kong government says it's cracking down on violent riots, arresting hundreds of young demonstrators But at the scenes, some ordinary citizens lashout at law enforcement while others appeal to the city government.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Police response to what the student react, this is the most important thing. If you don't stand out to explain or to compromise with the, students I think these protests will continue and then there will no ending.

WATSON (voice-over): This is a city divided and few here see any way out of this mess -- Ivan Watson, CNN, Hong Kong.


VANIER: We are getting new details surrounding the apparent suicide of Jeffrey Epstein. CNN has learned that nobody was regularly monitoring Epstein on the night he is believed to have killed himself in prison. No guards had eyes on him around the clock, he was not on suicide watch and he did not have a cellmate. The politically connected multimillionaire was a convicted sex offender and was awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges. Epstein was found unresponsive in his prison cell Saturday. Kara Scannell reports.


KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There is new information shedding light on the circumstances around Jeffrey Epstein's death. A source with knowledge of his detention tells CNN that there appears to have been two breaks in protocol.

The first, Epstein was placed on suicide watch after he was found unconscious in his cell with marks around his neck several weeks ago. When he was removed from suicide watch he was supposed to have a cellmate, but for some unexplained reason Epstein was alone in his cell from Friday into Saturday morning.

The second, Epstein was placed in a special --

[00:05:00] SCANNELL: -- housing unit after he was moved off of suicide watch. In that unit, guards are supposed to monitor inmates every 30 minutes -- even wake them up when they're asleep -- but that didn't happen according to the source.

These questions are likely to be of interest to the FBI and Justice Department's Office of Inspector General, who are investigating how Epstein went from suicide watch to dead in under two weeks.

Also Sunday, the chief medical examiner said an autopsy of Epstein was completed. His cause of death is pending further information -- Kara Scannell, CNN, Washington.


VANIER: New York mayor and Democratic presidential candidate Bill de Blasio has his own questions about what happened to Epstein and the case in general. Here's what he told our Ana Cabrera.


MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D-NYC, NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What I have heard does not make any sense. I don't know how on Earth in a federal jail, highest-profile possible prisoner and a guy who either tried to commit suicide previously or was assaulted, how on Earth is he not being watched 24/7?

So something's wrong here. I am not a conspiracy theorist, but something is way too convenient here that, you know, I don't know how on earth this could have happened. Full investigation needed right away.

But the other thing is, it goes far beyond this incident in this jail. Everything that we've heard about Epstein, everything we've heard about this ring of wealthy people trafficking in underaged girls, that needs to be fully investigated by the Justice Department, by local authorities.

Anyone and everyone -- because you're talking about some of the wealthiest, most powerful people in America. And if they commit a crime, they should still see justice whether Epstein is alive or not.


VANIER: Percy Pitzer is a former federal prison warden and executive vice president of Creative Corrections and he joins us now from Beaumont, Texas.

Percy, you know all about this, so how do you react to the news that the cell was not being monitored regularly on the night that he died?

PERCY PITZER, CREATIVE CORRECTIONS: I think that it could be called complacency or maybe even negligence on the part of staff. The bureau needs permanent leadership, it's had an acting director for the last three out of four years. And I think they need permanent leadership. And also staff shortages,

they've had tremendous staff shortages. And that puts staff and inmates at risk. And in this situation here, he was -- attempted suicide two weeks ago.

VANIER: You mentioned staff shortages, that appears to be a factor here because two of the staff members who were tasked with guarding Epstein had been on repeated overtime shifts.

PITZER: That's because of staff shortage, people are being mandated, augmentation and all that. I can assure you that's dangerous for both staff and inmates, as evidenced by the situation here.

VANIER: What about the fact he did not have a cellmate?

Apparently that's also a departure from protocol, especially as he had been placed on suicide watch not long before.

PITZER: He should have. This is a high-profile sex offender. This world as he knows it had been turned upside down. And it's a perfect recipe for suicide. For him to be in the cell by himself is complacent or negligent.

VANIER: Are you surprised?

Because you seem to be saying that it shows some of the cracks in the system, cracks that you knew existed.

PITZER: The agency is a good agency. There's a couple of things I think they need to fix. They need permanent leadership. Obviously, they need training on this specific incident but -- this is not a good situation.

VANIER: How closely is protocol followed as a rule?

There's always a gap between what the rules are and exactly how they are applied.

PITZER: I think it is safe to say that when he was taken off suicide watch -- and that's not unusual. He was on suicide watch four for five days. But you have to remember the Saturday morning he committed suicide, that Friday, the judge unsealed some records that provided a lot of information.

And his high profile as sex offender, his world being turned upside down, he could not handle that.

VANIER: It's there any possibility that Epstein, with his money, his name --


VANIER: -- whatever remained of his influence might have arranged for any of this?

PITZER: I don't think so, I think it's a suicide. When a person first comes into jail, that's normally when the suicide occurs. And especially when they get sentenced or, in this case, when the judge unsealed a bunch of records. That's puts them in a position.

VANIER: I think you heard Bill de Blasio, we just played a clip of him earlier talking to my colleague and he said, look, I'm not a conspiracy theorist but this is just convenient Jeffrey Epstein died.

What do you think when you hear things like that?

PITZER: I think it's -- I don't pay no attention to it. I think, with the circumstances of Epstein and where he has been all of his life and where he is at now, I believe he committed suicide.

VANIER: All right, Percy Pitzer, thank you so much for joining us today. Thanks for your perspective on all of this.

PITZER: And I appreciate you having me on, thank you.

VANIER: All right, thank you very much.

Yemen's already turbulent civil war is becoming even more complicated.


VANIER (voice-over): A separatist militia has taken over the key city, Aden, after suddenly turning against the Saudi-led coalition. The interior minister of the Saudi-backed government has conceded defeat to the militia and called the situation there a coup.

Aden became the seat of the government after Iran-backed Houthi fighters pushed them out of Sanaa in 2014, for years the separatists have been helping the Saudi-led coalition fight against the Houthi but now that they have seized Aden there is concern that the alliance has fractured, CNN's Sam Kiley has more.


SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yemen Saudi-led coalition being blasted away by its own members, militia backed by the UAE claiming victory over the government that it had been fighting for, vanquishing the government's allies in Islah, an Islamist militia armed and supported by Saudi Arabia.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We dedicate this victory to the people of the south, after we were victorious over the Islah terrorist party.

KILEY (voice-over): A spokesman for the southern separatists told CNN that they now control the whole of Aden, having defeating the very government they had supported in a four-year war against Houthi rebels in the north.

Saudi and Emirati troops vanished from the streets as the two nations saw their alliance collapse around them on the ground.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Today we achieved a big victory in the capital Aden and 10 battalions were defeated. At night, we took control of the presidential palace.

KILEY (voice-over): Saudi Arabia has threatened retaliation against any group that does not cease fire, the separatists told CNN that they would accept a Saudi invitation to talks, but for millions of Yemenis already impoverished by war, this is what their future looks like -- Sam Kiley, CNN, Abu Dhabi.


VANIER: The fierce fighting in Aden has left 40 people dead and hundreds of others injured, that is according to the United Nations. It has been trying to deliver food and medical care to civilians there, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Yemen says that she's heard reports of civilians rapped in homes with little food or water.

She says the fact there is fighting during the important Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha, is heartbreaking. Even those casualties don't begin to explain the magnitude of suffering Yemen civilians are facing. The U.N. says the conflict has triggered the world's worst humanitarian crisis. Of the 28 million civilians, 10 million are facing starvation and 4 million are in need of some form of assistance.

Also almost 18 million have no clean water and almost 20 million lack adequate health care. The civil war has shattered Yemen's economy, which has shrunk 50 percent since the conflict erupted more than four years ago .

A man suspected of opening fire at a mosque in Norway has expressed right-wing sympathies online. We'll have more information when we come back.





VANIER: North Korea is again threatening its southern neighbor over joint military exercises with the U.S., over the weekend warning South Korea could be locked out of future talks and also released images of Kim Jong-un grinning ear-to-ear at another missile test.

That is hardly shocking, the war games have been a sore spot for decades but this time the North has some unlikely support from the White House, CNN's David Culver explains from Seoul.


DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Here in South Korea, U.S. military members are working alongside their South Korean counterparts, they are taking part in annual exercises that are computer simulated war games, essentially. But this year it's happening amidst rising tensions on the peninsula. Now, the North has weighed in on this. North Korean leadership considers this to be an aggressive war act, so to speak, that's how they are labeling this, a war exercise in their words.

And their response has been several launches, five in nearly three weeks' time. They've been launching these short-range missiles and the tests have caused a lot of concern. Now North Korea says they are in the right doing this and they point to President Trump.

They say President Trump in his tweets and in his own words has given them justification for going ahead with these tests, because they are not, according to the president, intercontinental ballistic missiles, or nuclear tests, they're not as great of a threat.

And the North is saying well they are doing this as an act of self- defense in preparation for any hostility that may come.

All of this comes as President Trump last week called out South Korea saying that essentially they are not paying enough when it comes to U.S. --


CULVER: -- military protection and that he hopes to see more money flow into the U.S. from South Korea as part of these resources that have been helping out for the past several decades along the Korean peninsula.

Meantime, here in Seoul some 30 miles or 50 kilometers from the border with North Korea there was a weekend filled with families out and about, now really concerned with what was happening to the North that they were living their lives, it seems a rising tensions have become the norm -- David Culver, CNN, Seoul, South Korea.


VANIER: Police are investigating a shooting that wounded one person inside a mosque as a possible act of terrorism. Investigators say this suspect described as a Norwegian man in his 20s, expressed right- wing sympathies online.

It's possible the shooting could have been much worse but the suspect was stopped by a 75-year-old man inside the mosque. That man's attorney spoke to the media about his heroic act.


ABDUL-SATAR ALI, COUNSEL FOR MOHAMMED RAFIQ (through translator): Muhammed acted immediately when the shooter entered the room. He toppled the shooter and pinned him to the floor, sat on top of him.

After a while, a board member watchdog came and helped holding him down. Then police arrived and arrested the man. That is all I can say now due to the investigation.

(END VIDEO CLIP) VANIER: The suspect has also been charged with murdering his 17-year- old stepsister, the body was found inside his home after the mosque attack.

A fire raging in Spain's Canary Islands are forcing thousands of people to evacuate their homes this weekend. The blaze spread across parts of Gran Canarias and threatened several neighborhoods. Firefighters said Saturday they were overwhelmed and "fighting for their island."

A local official reports aircraft have been sent in to tackle the fire along with hundreds of troops.

Heavy monsoon rains in India have left more than 150 people dead according to local government reports. Hundreds of thousands have been forced from their homes due to landslides and floods, this is the scene in southwest India where many have been evacuated and sent to relief camps.

Meanwhile rescues are ongoing after Lekima made a second landfall in eastern China.


VANIER: Russia may be quietly consolidating its influence with a secretive private military company loyal to Vladimir Putin named Wagner. It employs hundreds of mercenaries operating covertly on three different continents.

Now CNN has uncovered some of the group's shadowy mission in an exclusive interview with a Wagner employee.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Wagner is Putin's instrument for resolving issues by force. When action has to be taken immediately, urgently and in the most concealed way possible.



WARD: -- the mission of Wagner is to help Russia restore its rule to become a major global superpower again?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Yes, 100 percent. This is the top priority for Wagner.

WARD: And so it is trying to be a rival to America?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Russia is trying to suppress the U.S. in every way possible, using legal and illegal means. It's trying to smash, it get the better of it somehow. What will come of it as a result, nothing good, I think.


VANIER: Watch Clarissa Ward's exclusive interview and her investigation into Wagner's operations, that's on Monday at 6:00 pm New York, 11:00 pm if you are in London and, of course, it is only on CNN.

Conspiracy theories and President Trump's tweets are nothing new nor are his favorite target, the Clintons, we will look at the latest accusation against them and a few that have gone before. Stay with us.




VANIER: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM I'm Cyril Vanier, let's get your headlines this hour.



A source tells CNN Jeffrey Epstein's cell was not regularly monitored the night officials say he killed himself, and that is against prison protocol. The multi-millionaire was facing charges that he ran a sex- trafficking ring of underage girls, and officials said no foul play is suspected, but the FBI is investigating.

Meantime, President Trump on Saturday promoted a conspiracy theory linking the Clinton family to Epstein's death. Mr. Trump shared a tweet and video from conservative comedian Terrence Williams that claimed, without evidence, that former President Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary, responsible for Epstein's death. A spokesman for the former president called the conspiracy theory, quote, "ridiculous and, of course, not true."

Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway defended President Trump.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO DONALD TRUMP: I think the president just wants everything to be investigated, as you -- as your reporter just revealed, just the day before. There were some unsealed information implicating some people very high up. And I'm not going to repeat their names.

Jeffrey Epstein has done some very bad things over a number of years. And so let's continue to investigate that.


VANIER: The Epstein case isn't the first time President Trump has promoted evidence-free conspiracy theories and falsehoods without regard for the consequences of his rhetoric, including suggesting that Senator Ted Cruz's father was linked to John F. Kennedy's assassination. That was one of them. Here's a list. The Cruz camp, of course, denies that claim.

During the second month of his presidency, Mr. Trump also accused former President Obama, without evidence, of tapping his phones and Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign.

And here's another. More than two years later, there is still no evidence that Mr. Trump phones were wiretapped. That was the last one.

President Trump also said that he lost the popular vote in 2016 because millions of people voted illegally, but a commission put together by the president to find this widespread fraud never found any.

Also, the president has adamantly denied that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't think anybody knows it was Russia that broke into the DNC. She's saying Russia, Russia, Russia, but I don't -- Maybe it was. I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds. OK? You don't know who broke into DNC.


VANIER: Well, actually, we do know. It was Russia. U.S. intelligence officials have been very public about that, and they provided ample evidence.

Ron Brownstein is CNN's senior political analyst and the senator editor or "The Atlantic." He joins me now from Los Angeles. Ron, what is it with this president and conspiracy theories?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, there are so many different factors of the Trump presidency that converge around this issue. One is, as you know, part of his project from the beginning is to delegitimize any independent institution he believes can threaten him, and who causes voters to see, to believe that only he is telling them the truth.

So kind of these evidence-free conspiracy theories that he promotes, that are, you know, immediately debunked by people like us in the -- in the mainstream media, is one way of him saying, "Look, don't listen to any of those other voices. Listen only to me."

I actually think what is more revealing -- this reveals less about him than it does about his voters. Because I think people can't really fail to recognize that at least some of the things that the president is telling them are wildly untrue. And it's a reflection of how intensely his voters feel alienated from so many things that are happening in American society that they are willing to kind look past this and still stay with him.

VANIER: But you know, your explanation that he wants to undermine any institution or thing that might threaten him, I get that. But how does that apply to the Jeffrey Epstein case? How does that serve any kind of purpose for the president?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, you know, it's interesting, because I mean, certainly, here the immediate purpose is to kind of once again point fingers at his historic political enemies, the Clintons, who -- who he beat.

But I do think it is -- it is all -- I mean, I don't separate this from the, you know, remarkable and, to me, kind of definitional claim that he lost the popular vote only because of massive, unprecedented number of illegal votes and vote fraud.

I think it is all designed to cause those who are within his information ecosystem to note -- you know, to distrust almost anything they hear from any other source. And it doesn't really matter what the allegation is that he is using that. They are all bricks at the same window.

[00:35:02] VANIER: And we should point out, especially for our international viewers, that the Clintons have been a common target for conspiracy theorists.


VANIER: I mean, that -- you know, the Clinton name is no stranger to conspiracy theories.

BROWNSTEIN: No, absolutely. And again, I mean, one of the things that has happened over the last 20 years is this development of this almost completely self-contained information ecosystem on the right in which almost nothing else penetrates.

I mean, you know, if you look at polling, for example, by our nonpartisan Pew Research Center, there's no media institution that more than 20 percent of liberals or Democrats say is their primary source of news. I believe FOX is past half of Republicans. I mean, more than half of Republicans say they get their primary source of news from FOX. There's nothing like that on the left.

And then, of course, you add all of the conservative talk show hosts. So there is just enormous echo chamber and one that is rallying around the president and not so much on the Epstein claims, but on his pushback against the idea that all of the things he has been doing in the past few weeks, from the "go back" tweet to the rat-infested description of Baltimore is racist.

And now you have all these defenders in the -- kind of the conservative media ecosystem, like Hugh Hewitt or Howie Kurtz, basically saying that the real crime here is that Trump and his supporters are being unfairly accused of racism, not that his words are being echoed by somebody who took an assault weapon to shoot almost two dozen people in a Wal-Mart in El Paso. And it's just another -- all of this kind of is part of that effort to

separate his voters from any other source of information.

VANIER: Yes, and you kind of saw that happening on Twitter, as well, in the immediate aftermath of Trump retweeting this. You know, people came to his defense and said, "Well, how come Twitter" -- there were allegations that Twitter was somehow doctoring the trending hashtags when they suddenly start returning anti-Trump. So you saw all of that play out.


VANIER: Yes, sorry. Go ahead.

BROWNSTEIN: It's important to recognize all this is not without cost to the president. I mean, this is a very calculated political gamble. Because if you look at polling -- and we've talked about this before. Something like 15 to 20 percent of the voters who say they are satisfied with the economy still say that they disapprove of his performance as president, and/or they intend to vote for Joe Biden in 2020. We have never seen anything like this.


BROWNSTEIN: No president that had that kind of dissatisfaction among the economically satisfied with an incumbent president. And what that means is he -- I think he is constantly forced to try to gin up his base with an endless procession of cultural, usually racially-tinged fights and this kind of conspiracy mongering as the way to offset the voters that he has, I think, pretty plainly lost in the middle of the electorate that will be coming to any other president with unemployment this low and the stock market this high.

VANIER: Yes. He's nowhere near as popular as the economic numbers and the strength of the economy would suggest.


VANIER: Ron Brownstein, thank you so much for joining us today.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.

VANIER: One of the most popular musical acts in the world is taking a break. What's behind the hiatus, when we come back.

And 50 years on, Woodstock remains the most famous music festival of all time. We'll hear from one of those who was there. Stay with us.


VANIER: K-pop boy band BTS is taking a break from performing. The young music stars announced that they are taking their first hiatus since their debut in 2013.

The group's management calls it a well-needed vacation to give the teen idols time to rest and recharge. There's no word yet on what they'll do with their free time, but fans are being encouraged to let the members enjoy their private time off.

Fifty years ago this week, on a farm in New York state, the legendary Woodstock Festival took place. One woman who was there, who was 17 at the time, spoke to CNN's Paul Vercammen about being part of music history.


MAUREEN MCFADDEN, ATTENDED WOODSTOCK FESTIVAL: I just can't believe that I saw all of those people in one weekend. It is more than any music lover could have asked for.

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Maureen McFadden saw at all in the muddy mess, 50 years ago, the Woodstock Music Festival in New York. Jimi Hendrix, Santana, The Who.

MCFADDEN: They played every fricking great song that they had ever written up to that point.

VERCAMMEN: In 1969, McFadden, a 17-year-old theater nerd from Philadelphia, defied her mother's wishes and traveled to Woodstock. Her fellow actor, Denise Montana (ph), came along. They loaded up to get loaded.

MCFADDEN: We had our mescaline, and we had our hashish, and it was -- it did enhance everything. And it was -- that's I think -- everybody took care of everybody at Woodstock.

VERCAMMEN: In this psychedelic celebration, the young stage actresses said they met handsome German bikers and made out.

MCFADDEN: And they had really long hair. You know? It didn't matter that they couldn't speak English. Broken English. You know? They were -- they were rebels, and we were rebels. So.

VERCAMMEN: For McFadden, the real romance was with her rock idols and the spirit of Woodstock.

MCFADDEN: There are a lot of people who still live by the Woodstock credo of peace and love. I've signed my letters "peace and love" ever since, and I've had a couple of people in business say, "Peace and love?"

I'm like, "Yes, peace and love. Don't forget about that, because it's what it's all about."

VERCAMMEN: McFadden is an entertainment publicist.

(on camera): And you would argue that right now, in these troubled times, we could use another Woodstock.

MCFADDEN: Damn straight we could. Damn straight we could. We need to be reminded about that, that it's not all the bull-(EXPLETIVE DELETED) that we hear every day.

Take a breath, think of where you are. Think of who you love. Keep that in you.

VERCAMMEN (voice-over): Paul Vercammen, CNN, Santa Barbara, California.


VANIER: Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Cyril Vanier. Up next, you've got WORLD SPORT on CNN, and then I'll be back with another hour of news from around the world. Stay with us.


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