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White House Not Worried of a Recession; U.S. and Afghanistan Crafting Peace Deal; Consequences May Happen With or Without a Deal on Brexit; Oppressed Sudanese Getting Justice After 30 Years; Protesters Fight Calmly; ISIS Claims Responsibility For Attack On Afghan Wedding; Iranian Tanker Leaves Gibraltar After Detention; Trump and Top Advisers Dismiss Recession Concerns; Poll: Two-thirds of Americans Support Free Trade; Trump Eyes a Minnesota Win as Support Among Women Slips; Democratic Hopefuls Court Black Vote in South Carolina; New Video Shows Recently Opened Migrant Facility; CNN Exposes Secret, Private Army That Does Anything Putin Says; Rescue Ship Sends Urgent Request to Dock at Lampedusa; Florida Man Forced From Home By Vultures; Gators Caught Climbing Fences, Crossing Roads in Florida. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired August 19, 2019 - 03:00   ET



GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR: The U.S. president downplaying talk of a recession after his economic advisers appear on Sunday talk shows doing the same.

ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Hundreds of thousands of protesters marched peacefully on the streets of Hong Kong. This time no violence.

HOWELL: Plus, Putin's hidden army. CNN is on the front lines of Russia's secret foreign policy.

We're live this hour from the ATL. Welcome to viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm George Howell.

CHURCH: And I'm Rosemary Church. From CNN world headquarters, CNN Newsroom starts right now.

HOWELL: Financial forecasters in the U.S. warn there are economic concerns brewing, but the U.S. president insists, well, he says the weather is fine. Analysts are raising red flags on a possible recession, but Mr. Trump and his top advisers are downplaying those warnings.

CHURCH: And that's despite a volatile week on global markets and the lingering effects of the trade war with China.

Our Kristen Holmes reports.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, President Trump certainly had a lot to say as he was leaving New Jersey heading back to the White House. He stopped and talked to reporters for about 30 minutes on a wide variety of topics. But it was clear that the economy was really top of mind for him. He came out there saying that he didn't believe these economists who were saying that there might be a recession. That he believed the U.S. was one of the strongest economies in the world.

He actually talked about how other economies were not as strong as the U.S., particularly China. Take a listen to what he had to say.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I don't think we're having a recession. We're doing tremendously well. Our consumers are rich. I gave a tremendous tax cut and they're loaded up with money. They're buying. I saw the Walmart numbers. They were through the roof just two days ago. That's better than any poll. That's better than any economist.

And most economists actually say, Phil, that we're not going to have a recession. Most of them are saying we're not going to have a recession. But the rest of the world is not doing well like we're doing.


HOLMES: And he also talked about those negotiations with China. He said they were going very well. He wouldn't say whether or not he had spoken to President Xi. But it was very interesting to see him out there because he was using the exact same talking points that we had seen earlier in the day from his top economic advisers.

And it's clear the White House is using a strategy of deny, deny, deny. Deny that farmers are facing struggles because of these tariffs. Despite the fact we've talked to farmers in the U.S. who say it's been incredibly hard and that government aid is not enough.

And to deny that Americans are feeling the burden or will be burdened with this trade war despite a report that says that 95 percent of those price changes are going to fall on the shoulders of U.S. importers.

So, it's going to be interesting to see how this plays out. Theory, a tactic like this can only work for so long, particularly when people start to feel it on their wallet.

Traveling with the president in New Jersey, I'm Kristen Holmes, CNN.

HOWELL: Kristen, thank you for the reporting. And now to put it into context, Natasha Lindstaedt joins us, Natasha a professor of government at the University of Essex joining this hour from Birmingham, England. It's good to have you with us.


HOWELL: So, the talk of recession has the White House certainly playing defense. Several of his advisers took to the airwaves essentially saying nothing to see here, nothing to see. But let's stop and see if there is something. Let's listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LARRY KUDLOW, DIRECTOR, U.S. NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: I sure don't see a recession. We had some blockbuster retail sales consumer numbers towards the back end of last week. Really blockbuster numbers.

PETER NAVARRO, WHITE HOUSE TRADE ADVISER: The tariffs are hurting China. China is bearing the entire burden of the tariffs. In terms of --


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: That's not --

NAVARRO: Hang on.

TAPPER: What a lot of experts say.

NAVARRO: This is what this expert says. What we see here unequivocally is that China is bearing the burden by lowering their prices.

TAPPER: Right.

NAVARRO: They lowered the value of the yuan by 12 percent to offset the tariffs.

TAPPER: Right.


HOWELL: All right. But if the rubber hits the road, and if a recession becomes a reality, what would it mean for this president, especially for those diehard Trump supporters?

LINDSTAEDT: That's a good question. I think if we look at 2020 and whether or not people are going to vote for Trump or not, we can assume that Democrats are not. So, it's really all about moderate Republicans and independents and then, of course, the base.

The base is not going to be affected by the economy because they vote for Trump. They voted for Trump because of identity politics. They believe that he is best for defending the country against existential threats or real threats. They feel that he has the right policies on immigration. So, they're not really voting in terms of the way they feel about how the economy is going.

[03:05:00] But if we look at independents and moderate Republicans who are so vital to his re-election bid. We're seeing that their confidence in his ability to run the economy has gone down. Even fresh polling has revealed where the entire country thought about 51 percent of the entire country believed that he was doing a good job running the economy. And this has dipped down to 49 percent.

So, we're seeing that confidence in his ability has decreased and that doesn't look good for him in the election. HOWELL: Conservative media has also taken to defending the president,

picking and choosing any data that they can find to counter those key economic indicators that made Wall Street so jittery last week.

Again, it is the politics of denial in full bloom here, but can the president deny his own fingerprints that, as critics suggest, may have contributed to the volatility?

LINDSTAEDT: Well, he's definitely going to try to deny that he is not responsible for any economic downturn if that does, indeed, happen. Of course, forecasters are saying that we may enter a recession by next year.

And he can point the finger as he has already done to China, to the Democrats. He can blame Jerome Powell, head of the Federal Reserve. And he will then also try to cherry pick data that looks good to him.

What he can't deny is the fact that we're seeing manufacturing output facing a downturn. It's contracted in the last two quarters. Also really worrying is the technical development going on in the bond market known as an inverted yield curve where long-term bonds offer lower interest rates than short-term bonds and that's historically been a reliable indicator that a recession is coming.

And then, of course, there's been so much volatility in the bond market and then more problematic is the fact that jobs, which had been growing, are now decreasing in the last six months. Job growth has gone down 140,000 per month when it had been up to 225,000 a month.

So, these are figures he can't really deny. I'm sure he'll try to find a way out of it. But when the economic downturn does hit, he's going to face a more difficult time focusing on the economy that he's going to have to shift it to identity politics.

HOWELL: And as for the tariff war with China, where does that leave the United States given the possibility of a weakening global economy, as far as the U.S. trying to find a path forward there?

LINDSTAEDT: I mean, if Trump were to follow through on these threats of tariffs, if would incur a cost of $100 billion for American businesses and consumers. It would be absolutely catastrophic if he were to follow through on these threats.

It's in his best interest that he backs down on this. I mean, we're already worried about a global recession. You now, the economies in the U.K. and Germany and China are going to be facing a huge economic downturn.

It doesn't make any sense to move quicker towards an economic recession by choosing economic policies that are going to expedite this.

Now we've seen him back down from the tariff threats before. Right before Christmas. Worried that this was going to affect consumers. And so hopefully he will heed the advice of sound economic advisers that will tell him that he's going to need to back down on these threats of tariffs and try to negotiate with China and find a way out of this.

HOWELL: Well, the question is, can both sides walk away from this looking like winners, or will one side say, hey, you blinked? We'll have to see. Natasha Lindstaedt, we appreciate your time. Thank you.

LINDSTAEDT: Thanks for having me.

CHURCH: Well, before returning to the White House Sunday, Mr. Trump also discussed Afghanistan.

HOWELL: That's right. The United States is holding peace talks with the Taliban. The president says that he wants to pull even more U.S. troops out of America's longest war. Listen.


TRUMP: Looking at Afghanistan, we're talking to Afghanistan, both the government and also talking to the Taliban. Having very good discussions. We'll see what happens. We've really got it down to probably 13,000 people. And we'll be bringing it down a little bit more, and then we'll decide whether or not we'll be staying longer or not.


HOWELL: Even if the White House reaches a deal With the Taliban, many in Afghanistan are questioning if they will actually get peace. The U.S. wants to pull its troops out, but the Taliban don't even recognize the U.S.-backed central government in that nation. The peace talks have also been behind closed doors, shrouded in secrecy.

CHURCH: Still, it looks like the two sides are close to a deal, according to the New York Times. Here's some of what the agreement covers. A timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal. A Taliban promise to cut ties to terror groups.

[03:10:04] The Times also says a cease-fire has been discussed but no detailed plan has been agreed upon. The U.S. also wants direct talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

Whether or not the Taliban and government agree to speak, other groups seem committed to violence.

ISIS has claimed responsibility for Saturday's suicide bombing at a Kabul wedding. At least 63 people were killed and nearly 200 wounded.

HOWELL: And the anguish, of course, of families. Families who had to bury their dead at a time that they should have been celebrating. The Taliban have actually condemned the blast, but days earlier it was a different story. The militants claimed responsibility for a suicide attack in that same district.

Now to Hong Kong where protesters are showing the world they are not backing down. They're not giving up in their fight for democracy. Take a look here at the scene where tens of thousands of people turned out in a big march there in Hong Kong on Sunday. The crowds overflowed out of Victoria Park.

CHURCH: Then they turned the city center into a sea of umbrellas. The march was unauthorized, but it was calm. After weeks of clashes between police and protesters, Sunday's rally was a move to restore peace.

Our Ben Wedeman joins us now. He was out with protesters on Sunday in Hong Kong. Good to see you, Ben. Those images they're just simply remarkable. You know, tens of thousands of protesters pouring into the streets there in that calm, peaceful manner with increasing support coming from the public. What were protesters saying to you when they're out there.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They were essentially saying that this protest movement that began way back in June, more than two months ago, is not going away.

That this was really a message to the government of Hong Kong, to Beijing, that this protest movement, which began over this extradition bill which has now been declared officially dead by chief executive Carrie Lam has gone far beyond that.

That it is now something that they have their five demands which they are sticking to, but more fundamentally, they want democracy in Hong Kong.

One of the demands is, of course, universal suffrage. And what we saw was yesterday, at least according to the organizers of this march, 1.7 million people taking to the streets. That's essentially a quarter of the population of Hong Kong coming out to protest.

This, despite the fact that for much of the day, it was raining. And at some points, raining very hard. Now what's significant is that this weekend, for the first time in quite some time, there were no direct clashes between the protesters and the police. There was no tear gas fired.

There were scattered incidents where some of the protesters threw projectiles at the police. They used laser pointers which the police have deemed as lethal weapons. And there was a lot of use of obscenity by some of the protesters, but, by and large, it was very peaceful.

What I saw was a lot of families out. Children, older people. I even saw a man in a wheelchair protesting as well.

So, this is a message that this protest after what these chaotic scenes we saw at the airport earlier this week or rather last week, that this is a peaceful protest and it's a message to the government here and to Beijing that this protest needs to be taken seriously. That you can't, as is currently the situation, ignore these demands and expect Hong Kong to go back to business as usual. Rosemary?

CHURCH: Yes. We'll continue to watch and see what happens and what sort of strategy protesters have going forward because the hope is that at some point there will be some level of negotiation. We shall see. Ben Wedeman joining us live from Hong Kong. Many thanks to you as always.

HOWELL: Still ahead here on CNN Newsroom, the former president of Sudan is set to go on trial on corruption charges which brought down his 30-year tenure. We have a live report ahead of what Omar al-Bashir faces, ahead for you.

CHURCH: Plus, food shortages and delays at the border. A leaked report suggests that's what the U.K. faces in a no-deal Brexit. We will look at some of the other predictions in a live report from London.

We're back in just a moment.


HOWELL: The corruption trial of Sudan's ousted president is set to begin in Khartoum.

CHURCH: Omar al-Bashir was arrested and forced from power back in April in a coup, he's also wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes in Sudan's Darfur region.

HOWELL: And following the story, CNN's Nima Elbagir is live in our London bureau. Nima, good to have you with us. The backdrop here is certainly key with people there seeing the nation inch ever so closer to civilian rule. They're also seeing the man who ruled for 30 years see his day in court.

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, George. It's a step, a baby step, given that the charges he's facing are with reference to financial corruption. The accepting of illegal gifts and the illicit possession of hard currency. It is not regarding any of the actions that he and his forces took that resulted in the deaths and the injury of hundreds of protesters.

So, it's understandable that many in Sudan are feeling slightly jaundiced especially given that yesterday saw a landmark agreement between the military council and the forces for freedom and change which, unfortunately, the signatory on the side of the military council was the man whose forces are implicated in the deaths of many protesters.

But it's still a step forward. That's what we keep hearing from those we're speaking to on the ground in Khartoum and across the country.

[03:19:59] It's a big, big step given that demonstrations against al- Bashir really only started about nine months ago to the day. To see him in trial is a big movement for many Sudanese.

HOWELL: And you talk about steps forward, Nima. Let's talk as well about this power sharing agreement. Signed Saturday, what does that mean for people in Sudan?

ELBAGIR: It will kickstart a transitional period of three years and three months. And at the end of which, in theory, the country should be ready for actual genuine Democratic elections and actual genuine transition to democracy.

But given that many of those who are on this council, many of those who will be part of this sovereign council overseeing this transitional period were those who were part of Bashir's government, if not in the forefront, but at the very least in the shadows. There are concerns about what they can do in three years and three months.

But many of those again that we've been speaking to say that they put their confidence in their hope in themselves. The Sudanese revolutionary movement has persevered for nine months in the face of tear gas and live ammunition. They believe they have what it takes to see this across the finish line, George.

HOWELL: The reporting of CNN's Nima Elbagir live for us in our London bureau. Nima, thank you.

CHURCH: Iran is claiming diplomatic victory after its detained oil tanker was released by Britain.

HOWELL: That ship departed from the British territory of Gibraltar just hours ago. It set sail to an unknown destination under the cover of night. It -- Its release, I should say, came after Gibraltar rejected a U.S. warrant to keep the vessel in port.

CHURCH: Britain took control of the ship in July. It was suspected of carrying two million barrels of oil for Syria in violation of E.U. sanctions. Meantime, a British-flagged tanker that Iran seized last month is still being held.

Well, the U.K. is expected to leave the European Union in less than 75 days. But fears of a no-deal Brexit are growing. Documents leaked to the Sunday Times suggest the U.K. faces shortages of food and fuel, long delays at border crossings and widespread protests if it leaves the E.U. without a deal.

So, for more we're joined now by CNN's Hadas Gold, she's there in London. Good to see you, Hadas. So, what else do these documents reveal and how is all this being received by the British public?

HADAS GOLD, CNN REPORTER: Good morning, Rosemary. Yes, these warnings came from a -- what was pretty much a government memo called operation yellow hammer. It was what would happen in a no-deal scenario.

Now I'm going to read to you some of the warnings that they have in here. They say freight disruption at ports could last up to three months which means traffic flow could be down 50 to 70 percent. Fresh food becoming less available. Medicines having a hard time getting through the border and hard Irish border that could possibly spark protests.

They also said that a rise in public disorder and community tensions as a result possibly of food and drug shortages. What's also new in this document is the possibility of fuel shortages.

Now we've heard about a lot of these warnings about the food and medicine shortages but the fuel shortages that is something new. That is something that is worrying people as a result of this document.

Now the government has come out. They've decried this leak as a disgruntled former minister putting this out and they're saying that this is an old document.

Take a listen to what the secretary in charge of the Brexit no-deal preparations said just a bit ago.


MICHAEL GOVE, CHANCELLOR OF THE DUCHY OF LANCASTER: The document that has appeared in the Sunday Times was an attempt in the past to work on what the very, very worst situation would be so that we could take steps to mitigate that. And we have taken steps. Not just to deal with some of the risks but also to make sure that our economy and our country are a better place than ever to leave the European Union on October 31st.


GOLD: So, there is an argument over how recent this document is. Now the Sunday Times said that this document is very recent. As you can see there, Michael Gove is saying it's all -- and they're better prepared than what this document says.

But the timing of this leak is very interesting because Boris Johnson, the prime minister is set to go to Berlin and Paris this week to try to convince E.U. leaders to give the U.K. a new deal.

CHURCH: So Hadas, what is the strategy for Boris Johnson and his government going forward now that this worst-case scenario has been revealed? We don't know, as you say, how old this is. But what's expected to happen come October 31st?

GOLD: Well, Boris Johnson has said that on October 31st, the U.K. will leave the E.U., do or die. That pretty much means that he is ready to take the U.K. out in a no-deal scenario. He's going to Paris and Berlin to talk to Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel potentially about what they could get in possibly a new deal.

However, the E.U. has said over and over again they've already got a deal. The withdrawal agreement that they agreed to with Theresa May is the only deal on the table. So it's not clear exactly what Boris Johnson is going to tell them, whether this is going to be something to do with politics or whether they will somehow be able to hammer out some sort of new agreement, Rosemary.

[03:25:06] CHURCH: All right. Hadas Gold, binging us the very latest from London. I appreciate that live report.

HOWELL: Venezuela's economy is in shambles with food, medicine and fuel in short supply there. But there is one area of the country that surprisingly is thriving.

CHURCH: In a CNN exclusive, Isa Soares takes us to volatile Southern Venezuela and uncovers a network of corrupt Venezuelan military and violent gangs exploiting a fortune in gold.

ISA SOARES, CNN ANCHOR & CORRESPONDENT: On the fringes of the Amazon rainforest, a state-sponsored network of violent gangs in corrupt Venezuelan military hide amongst a vast land rich in minerals and seeping gold.

All this has made this area Maduro's El Dorado and it's giving him a financial lifeline. We've come deep into Venezuela's mining arc to find out how Nicolas Maduro is holding on to power. And able to resist American pressure.

He's given himself direct control over this land, and he's bleeding it dry. Enriching himself and buying the allegiance of the military. And it all starts with the local miners.

Here with mouths to feed at home risk is all operating in this lawless region.

HOWELL: And you can watch the full report at 4 p.m. Eastern Time. That's 9 p.m. in London only on CNN.

CHURCH: And for our international viewers, thank you so much for your company. I'm Rosemary Church.

HOWELL: I'm George Howell. African Voices is ahead for you. And for our viewers in the United States, CNN Newsroom continues just in a moment. Stay with us.



GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR: From coast to coast here in the United States, you are watching '"CNN Newsroom'" live. I'm George Howell.

ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Rosemary Church. Want to check the headlines for you this hour.

In Afghanistan, families buried their dead Sunday. This after a suicide bombing at a wedding in that nation's capital city of Kabul. It happened Saturday. The blast killed at least 63 people, wounded almost 200 others. ISIS is claiming responsibility.

HOWELL: The Iranian tanker that was detained for six weeks has left British territory. It set sail after Gibraltar denied a U.S. request to hold the vessel on a warrant. Britain had suspected the ship was carrying oil to Syria. That would be a violation of E.U. sanctions. The tanker's new destination, it is not known.

CHURCH: U.S. President Donald Trump and his top advisers are dismissing recession concerns. That is despite a volatile week on the global bond market and U.S. stocks plunging before regaining some ground by Friday. The president's advisers also brush aside the impact of the trade war with China.

HOWELL: Even as the trade war shows no sign of ending, a new poll finds an all-time high number of Americans support free trade.

CHURCH: The poll by NBC and The Wall Street Journal found 64 percent including majorities of Democrats and Republicans believe free trade with foreign countries is good for America because it opens new markets. That's a seven-point increase from 2017. Twenty-seven percent think free trade hurts manufacturing and other industries.

Well now to the U.S. State of Minnesota, a battleground state. President Trump is eyeing for his re-election bid. In order to win, he must win over a key demographic suburban women.

HOWELL: But as our Martin Savidge reports, it's proving to be a difficult task for the president.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: President Trump has his sights set on winning Minnesota in 2020.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: This is supposed to be a Democrat state. I don't think so. I don't think so. I don't think so. They have a very big surprise coming, don't you think? Very big surprise.

SAVIDGE: The reason he's so focused is because he barely lost the state to Hillary Clinton in 2016. And because Minnesota is home to squad member Representative Ilhan Omar who Trump has repeatedly attacked.

In order to win, Trump needs a strong showing from his base. And to hold on to his support in the suburbs with voters like Kelly Meyers.

Who would you vote for again in 2020?


SAVIDGE: No misgivings? No doubts? No change of mind?

MEYERS: None. No.

SAVIDGE: Amber Griffin says she still supports Trump despite his hateful speech and tweets against people of color.

You heard the terrible things he said.

AMBER GRIFFIN, MINNESOTA VOTER: Yeah, I think that he's just probably ignorant. And he says whatever -- he's a product of his environment, how he was raised.

SAVIDGE: Neither woman blames the president for the back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton or for a lack of swift gun control leadership in the aftermath.

Yet political experts say there are signs. Trump's appeal to suburban voters in Minnesota is shifting based on the 2018 midterms. LARRY JACOBS, HUMPHREY INSTITUTE OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS: We certainly saw some of the cracks and support among Republican, swing voters or even some Republican women voters coming over to the Democrats because of dissatisfaction with Donald Trump. The clear sign of that was in state house races and the congressional races.

SAVIDGE: Polling suggests Trump struggles in the suburbs aren't just limited to Minnesota.

A '"Washington Post'" ABC poll found the president's approval rating with suburban men was 51 percent. But among suburban women, the figure was much lower at 37 percent.

I talked to several women Trump voters here who've grown tired of the Twitter rants, of images of children separated from their parents at the border and in ICE raids and who worry about the economy.

They aren't sure that they'll vote for the president again. All declined an interview.

When it comes to talking about a political change of heart, many of the women who I spoke to just aren't comfortable about going on camera in front of a national audience.

They'd just about given up when I met Mary Joe Anderson. She gladly voted for Trump in 2016 and still likes many of his policies. But she can't bear to see families separated and has grown increasingly bothered by his bitter battles that seemed without reason.

[03:34:58] MARY JOE ANDERSON, MINNESOTA VOTER: He opens his mouth and says things and then he has to retract them. I don't like that. I think you should know what you're going to say and say it the proper way.

SAVIDGE: She's not certain she'll vote for him again.

ANDERSON: Oh, no. No, no. I'm going to look at everything. But there's too many running on the other side. So I'm not looking now. I'd rather wait.

SAVIDGE: She says she knows other women having second thoughts suggesting for Trump's re-election hopes in Minnesota and beyond. There's trouble in the suburbs.

Martin Savidge, CNN, Minneapolis.


HOWELL: In the state of South Carolina, it's the fourth contest in the Democratic primary schedule. And black voters there they are a key voting bloc.

Three democratic hopefuls who are struggling to excite African- American voters they paid a visit to that state over the weekend.

CHURCH: How did Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, and Bernie Sanders go down? Leyla Santiago has more.


LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, you often hear Elizabeth Warren talk a lot about those plans that she has. Not the case Sunday in Columbia, South Carolina.

She really spent some time focusing on faith and her personal story to introduce herself to voters. That's because on Sunday, she was speaking to a predominantly black church in Columbia.

Most of the voters here, more than 60 percent of the electorate for the primary, those are going to be black voters. So candidates spend a lot of time courting that court.

After she spoke at the church, I asked voters what exactly they thought about what she said from the pulpit and what it would take to win their vote. Listen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's about our social security. That's one of the things. Our retirement. And just basically keeping the economy going. Because once the economy is going -- if the economy is good, then everybody seemed to get a little bit of pie.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She was trying to let us know how she grew up. And we kind of grew up the same way, you know, in the city. We lived -- I lived right down the street. I grew up right down the street. So I knew exactly what she was talking about and how, you know, to be in the community and be a part of the community.

SANTIAGO: And for these campaigns and the candidates, well, you heard Riva say, that's exactly what they're looking to hear that the candidates are able to connect on a personal level with voters.

Senator Bernie Sanders was also in South Carolina. He spent his time -- some of his time talking about bringing the country together in unity and also releasing a new criminal justice plan, which when I spoke to one young black voter he told me that's exactly what he wants to hear from candidates, what exactly they will do to reform the criminal justice system.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg also was talking about his Douglas plan. He says there are racist systems and structures in place. And that proposal is what he says he wants to do to dismantle that.

But what will work here in South Carolina? Well, time will tell. Many of the voters say it's a little too early to make a decision but they're certainly putting those short lists together for now.

In Columbia, South Carolina, Leyla Santiago, CNN.


HOWELL: Now to West Texas where CNN was granted access to see inside a new detention facility build for migrants trying to enter the United States. But here's the thing, journalists were not able to film the detainees or to interview them.

CHURCH: Right. Immigration officials in the U.S. have faced heavy criticism for squalid and overcrowded conditions.

Natasha Chen reports on what's being done.


NATASHA CHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We have giant tent facilities here; one for adult men separating from adult women. Now this place can hold up to 2,000 migrants. But when our photo journalists went in there on the tour Thursday, he saw only about two dozen people.

This place right now holds just adults as opposed to the thousands of children who are being held in a tent city here in the vicinity up until January. That's a separate thing.

This facility here was built within a matter of 45 days thanks to emergency funding approved by Congress in late June. Now, DHS Acting Secretary, Kevin McAleenan, did not take questions on this tour. This was mainly to show media there were resources here for food, water, hygiene products, showers, and toilets.

McAleenan did say that's there's been a significant drop in illegal border crossings, which means there's less overcrowding. They can process adults and children faster out of CBP custody onto other departments.

He did say that DHS going to be asking for more emergency funding from Congress so they can build a longer-term facility. Because if there is a surge like we saw earlier this year, the space will desperately be needed.

Natasha Chen, CNN, Tornillo, Texas.


HOWELL: Natasha, thank you. This next story coming up about shadowy armed groups that have shown up in Syria in parts of Africa and in Crimea.

CHURCH: We hear from a man who says he was a mercenary in Russia's private army. We're back in a moment with that.


CHURCH: An exclusive CNN report now exposing a secret private army doing Russian President Vladimir Putin's bidding around the world.

HOWELL: That's right. CNN has learned that the reach of this shadowy fighting force is expanding apparently led by a Putin ally linked to U.S. election interference.

Here's CNN's chief international correspondent, Clarissa Ward.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is Oleg. For years, he says he worked as a hired gun in Syria for a shadowy Russian mercenary group called Wagner that has become a valuable tool for the Kremlin.

OLEG, FORMER WAGNER FIGHTER (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. I cannot say it's an army in the proper sense of that word. It's just a fighting unit that will do anything that Putin says.

WARD: This is the first time a former Wagner employee has agreed to speak on camera. And Oleg asked us to disguise his identity.

Private military contractors are illegal in Russia. Officially, Wagner doesn't exist. But CNN has discovered that the group now has hundreds of fighter operating on three different continents. And this is the man believed to be behind that expansion.

Dubbed Putin's chef because of lucrative catering contracts with the Kremlin, Yevgeny Prigozhin is also sanctioned by the U.S. for funding the Internet research agency accused of meddling in the 2016 election.

OLEG (through translator): I'm a mercenary, and 90 percent of participants of the company were like me and they were motivated by money.

WARD: What sort of training was it? Where did it take place?

[03:45:04] OLEG (through translator): You know, I didn't have any training as such, not then anyway. I spent six days in the training camp in Molkino. I went to a firing range twice and shot a machine gun once. That was it.

WARD: CNN travelled to the remote Russian village of Molkino to try to get to Wagner's training camp and found that the group has a surprisingly close relationship with the Russian military.

The only way to get into the Wagner barracks is to get through that checkpoint, which is manned by the Russian military because this actually belongs to a Russian Special Forces unit.

Not far from Molkino, there's a monument to fallen Wagner fighters. Visitors are not welcome so we approached with a hidden camera.

It looks less like a memorial than a fortress.

A guard soon comes up to us. Is the church only for Wagner, I ask? I don't know for whom, he says. For the people who are in Syria, I press him? I don't know. I'm telling you, he says. I'm just guarding here.

He begins to get suspicious of our questions and we decide to leave. Yes, he gonna call -- let's go.

They didn't let us inside, which is not surprising because in that compound is the only tangible, visible proof that Wagner is real.

No surprise, perhaps, that the monument is funded by a Prigozhin-owned company. It was five years ago in Crimea that mysterious, unidentified fighters dubbed '"little green men'" helped Moscow wrest the province from Ukraine even as the Kremlin feigned ignorance.

It was a success and Moscow's use of mercenary forces has since grown. Analysts say none of this could happen without Putin's approval.

Do you think that part of the mission of Wagner is to help Russia restore its role to become a major global superpower again?

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

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

OLEG (through translator): 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.

WARD: But for Russian President Vladimir Putin, Wagner is still a worthwhile gamble, an expendable fighting force with no accountability.

Clarissa Ward, CNN, Molkino, Russia.


CHURCH: And CNN attempted to contact Yevgeni Prigozhin. His lawyers did not respond.

HOWELL: We also tried to contact Wagner but because it officially does not exist, it has no address or phone number or website. So we're unable to reach there. And we asked the Russian Ministry of Defense for comment but received no response to our question.

CHURCH: A stranded rescue ship carrying more than 100 migrants has submitted an urgent request to dock on the Italian island of Lampedusa. But Italy's Interior Minister has refused to let the ship into port.

HOWELL: That's led some of the migrants to take very desperate measures and it's also caused a political firestorm there. Rick Folbaum has this.


RICK FOLBAUM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A desperate search for a place to land. Migrants seen in this video make a valiant attempt to swim to an Italian island Sunday after being stranded on a rescue ship in the Mediterranean for more than two weeks.

The Spanish humanitarian ship called Open Arms rescued more than 130 people in Maltese waters August 1st. The ship now waits off the Italian island of Lampedusa. The quest for refuge at a standstill because of a stalemate with the Italian government.

An Italian court ruled Wednesday that the Open Arms should be permitted to dock in Italy despite a ban by the far right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini. A bitter political standoff between Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Salvini as to whether or not the ship can dock on the island.

Salvini did allow 27 unaccompanied minors aboard the ship to disembark in Italy Saturday, but placed the responsibility exclusively on Prime Minister Conte.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez offered Sunday to open Spain's doors to the ship at the port of Algeciras. But Open Arms founder, Oscar Camps, said another five days and 950 miles of travel could be unsustainable.

The four migrants who jumped ship have been rescued and returned to the boat. But the plea from Open Arms becomes urgent. Camps said they warned of this days ago. Despair has limits.

Rick Folbaum, CNN.



HOWELL: Well, you know the old saying. When you see vultures in the sky, you know it's probably time to move. And that's exactly what a man in Florida did. He evacuated his family.

CHURCH: Yes. That caused quite a mess too. He spoke to WPBF reporter, Ari Hait, about the invasion by these scavenging birds of prey.


ANTHONY CASIMANO, WEST PALM BEACH RESIDENT: It's a disaster. It's a laughable disaster. It's - you can't make this up. That's why it's laughable.

ARI HAIT, WPBF REPORTER: This is Anthony's backyard, his pool area, overrun by vultures.

CASIMANO: They ripped all the screens out like you see right now. They threw up. They pooped all over the place. They ripped our pool fence down that you see around the pool.

HAIT: Casimano says that was the first time he spent $3,000 repairing everything. And then, he got an alert on his phone from his security system.

CASIMANO: There's motion in the yard. So, I checked it out. And there are literally -- there must have been a hundred of them there.

HAIT: This is a time lapse over several hours. Vultures everywhere. Casimano lives in the Ibis Community in West Palm Beach. He says the vultures have forced him and his family to leave their own home and go to New York.

CASIMANO: I have a 2-year-old daughter that I can't bring down there while the situation is happening. They'll probably attack her.

[03:55:03] HAIT: And it's not just the Casimanos. Their neighbors sent us these photos, different yard, same problem. The president of the Ibis Property Owner's Association, Gordon Holness, tells me they're doing everything they can to keep the vultures away.

He says the problem is one homeowner keeps feeding the vultures. Holness says they've given her a citation and a fine, even delivered a legal cease and desist letter but nothing has worked yet.

Casimano has tried to do thing himself, placing balloons around the area, playing music all day long, anything to keep the vultures away. Some days, it works. Others, it doesn't.

CASIMANO: We have to get the situation taken care of before we come back down there. I'm not going to come down there and walk into a mess.


HOWELL: I take his point there.

CHURCH: That's terrible. Yes. I mean, but you feed them and they'll come, right?

HOWELL: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. So we've got vultures for you, alligators too. How about that? Of course, very common in Florida.

CHURCH: But some might say they're starting to cross a line, or in this case, a fence. This gator was actually spotted climbing over a fence.

HOWELL: Whoa. What?

CHURCH: It happened at a naval air station in Jacksonville. And as you can see, it made it to the other side.

HOWELL: Have you ever seen anything like that?


HOWELL: Okay. And then there was another gator in St. Petersburg. This one swimming across a puddle at an intersection. The man who posted this video said that he was startled when he saw the creature approaching his car. Wouldn't you be?

CHURCH: Yes, I think so. He's going to take over you. Vultures and alligators. Thank you so much for joining us. I'm Rosemary Church. We'll leave you with those images.

HOWELL: Yes. Yes. Good luck with that. I'm George Howell here at the CNN center in Atlanta. And now, off to Hudson Yards you go in New York City. Our colleagues with Early Start are on deck next. CHURCH: Have a great day.