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Several Israeli Electoral Candidates Face Corruption Allegations; Tropical Storm Humberto Threatens Bahamas; Felicity Huffman Sentenced to 14 Days; Two Nations, Two Starkly Different Courses of Action on Guns. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired September 14, 2019 - 03:00   ET




NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Countdown to the Israeli election: new polls show the race is tightening as the prime minister faces corruption allegations in three investigations.

Plus breaking for Tropical Storm Humberto ,people in the Bahamas watch and wait to see where this storm goes just two weeks after Hurricane Dorian hit the islands.

And later actor Felicity Huffman sits for her role in the college admissions cheating scandal.

We're live from CNN Center in Atlanta. Hello, everyone. This is CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Natalie Allen. Thank you for joining us.


ALLEN: Our top story: for the second time this year, Israelis will cast their vote in a general election. According to preelection polls, prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and rival Benny Gantz are in a dead heat.

In the election last April, the two were tied with 35 seats each and attempts to form a coalition failed. So a new vote was called and all of this as Mr. Netanyahu faces corruption allegations. Oren Liebermann has more about it.


OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They are the dark clouds hanging over Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's political and personal life: multiple accusations of corruption stemming from three separate investigations.

The 69-year old has denied the charges and on the campaign trail, he rarely discusses them. But he's facing allegations he took gifts from overseas businessman and prosecutors say he tried to get a newspaper mogul to give him more favorable coverage. He also faces potential bribery charges. Prosecutors say he advanced regulatory benefits worth $300 million to help his friend, a wealthy businessman, also for favorable media coverage.

Netanyahu's troubles have led to a tight race.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): Right wing voters, right now, we are losing the election.

LIEBERMANN: In the final polls before election night, all five polls show a race too close to call and neither Netanyahu nor his opponent, former Israeli military chief of staff, Benny Gantz, has a clear path to victory.

The coalition's scandals go beyond Netanyahu. Interior Minister Arye Dery served two years in prison the early 2000s after he was convicted of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He returned to politics and is once interior minister and once again under investigation for similar charges.

And there's Deputy health minister Yaakov Litzman. Police say they have enough evidence to indict him on fraud and breach of trust for illegally helping a sexual predator avoid extradition.

Coalition chair David Bitan and welfare minister Haim Katz both resigned their positions following corruption investigations. Katz has already been indicted on charges of fraud and breach of trust.

All of these politicians insist they're innocent and they all may get their day in court to prove it. Until then, they're just hoping to win at the ballot box.

LIEBERMANN: One of the questions surrounding Netanyahu is, does he want to legislate immunity for himself from prosecution?

You can see he is not the only politician who may have that interest in mind. It is also important to note that in the opposition, someone was just released from two years in prison. He was accused of illegally sneaking cellphones to security prisoners -- Oren Liebermann, CNN, Jerusalem.


ALLEN: Corruption, a very tight race; let's go to Sam Kiley in Jerusalem with the latest on it.

It is hard to see a race that could be any tighter than what the polls suggest here, Sam.

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there is a sense of ennui that has gripped these elections. Turnout is expected to be down, Natalie, from what it was in April, when it led to that protracted period of unsuccessful negotiations; 35 on each side for the two main parties back then.

If it is 32 seats in the 120-seat Knesset here, there will be even more horse trading, more influence for Avigdor Lieberman, the former ally of Benjamin Netanyahu, who, split away. He is adamant that he will not serve in a Netanyahu led coalition.

So if Netanyahu comes out ahead or even Stephens against the others, there maybe some horse trading within his big party. But on the other side, there is a great deal of interest now in how the Arab vote, one- fifth of the population, whether they will turn out in any numbers.

I was out yesterday, talking to people just ad hoc, anecdotally, not a poll at all and a lot of people were saying that in reaction to what they said was Benjamin Netanyahu's racism.


KILEY: The Arab Israeli population were expecting to turn out in much larger numbers. These very small populations shift and a shift in alliance could tip the balance one way or the other next week -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Sam Kiley following that for us in Jerusalem, thank. You, CNN will have special coverage beginning at 10:00 pm Tuesday, it is 8:00 pm in London, 3:00 pm in New York. CNN's Becky Anderson anchors our coverage live from Jerusalem.


ALLEN: We turn now, to the Bahamas. Yes, the Bahamas, the same islands that were devastated by Hurricane Dorian just two weeks ago are now bracing for another storm, Tropical Storm Humberto has formed in the Atlantic.

It is expected to move very near those northwest islands. This is an area, of, course still recovering from the deadly hurricane. They have a long way to go. Thousands have been left homeless. Hundreds are still missing.


ALLEN: As we mentioned, the search and recovery effort from Hurricane Dorian is still underway. A long way to go there. But another storm would stall those operations and cause even more problems. CNN's Dianne Gallagher has that part of the story.


DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Another storm hitting the exact same islands that Hurricane Dorian completely decimated kind of hits the Bahamians in two ways.

There is obviously a physical way, the fact that there is going to be rain and wind. And the homes or what is left of the homes on Abaco or in Marsh Harbour can't withstand much more.

Now there are NGOs, USAID and volunteers, who are out there. They are staying through the weather and they say that they have brought in additional supplies, because this is going to put a pause on relief efforts to those areas that were hardest hit two weeks ago because they simply can't fly to those islands to bring in supplies.

They have search and rescue teams on standby who will be spending the night through the weather just in case there is flash flooding or people need to be rescued.


GALLAGHER: And they've been going around giving hard, thick plastic tarps to the people who are trying to stay in what is left of their homes so they can best prepare for some more weather coming their way.

The Bahamian government would like for everyone to evacuate to shelters. Here in the Nassau area, there are 2,000 people who have come from those areas that were hardest hit by Dorian, who are staying in shelters right now.

And that is when you get to the other effect, the emotional, the mental anguish, of yet another storm, more howling wind and heavy rain coming to the same areas you just fled from.

Hearing those sounds, knowing what is on the horizon, adding to the trauma that all of these people have already experienced. There are some 1,300 people on that official list of the missing and so much more to do to even begin to talk about recovery here in the Bahamas.

First, they have to get through another bout of weather -- Dianne Gallagher, CNN, Nassau, the Bahamas.


ALLEN: We turn now to Hong Kong, protesters are gathering for the 15th consecutive weekend. We have live video here, demonstrators planning to hold several events over the next few days, including a students' gathering and an unauthorized march on Sunday. Authorities have denied permits for the demonstration.

So on Friday, protesters celebrated the popular mid-autumn festival by forming human chains across the territory.

A memorial service for Robert Mugabe is about to get underway in the capital of Zimbabwe. But the funeral for the former president has been delayed. We will have a live report about that.

And a tough day for Felicity Huffman. The award-winning actress heard her sentence in the U.S. college bribery scandal. What she faces, coming next.




ALLEN: Oscar-nominated actress Felicity Huffman is heading to jail next month. She will serve a 14-day sentence for taking part in the U.S. college admissions cheating scandal. An emotional Huffman apologized on Friday. She had pleaded guilty to

paying the scheme's organizer to have her daughters score on an entrance test boosted. For more about it, here is CNN's Randi Kaye.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Fifteen thousand dollars, that's what actress Felicity Huffman paid to get her older daughter's SAT scores boosted.

Long after her arrest, she would try to explain she found motherhood bewildering and she was deathly afraid of doing it wrong.


KAYE (voice-over): Perhaps it was that fear that landed the "Desperate Housewives" star in hot water in the jaw-dropping admissions scandal dubbed Operation Varsity Blues.

Here's how it worked: a man named Rick Singer had set up a sham charity. Wealthy parents paid in under the guise of donations to obtain fraudulent higher SAT scores, so their kids would be accepted to prestigious schools.

Parents also paid for fake athletic credentials so their children who were not student athletes would be accepted to the schools' athletic team.

The fake charity also bribed college coaches and paid off test supervisors to beef up students' answers. Some of the top universities in the country have been ensnared in the scandal, including Yale, Stanford and Georgetown.

FELICITY HUFFMAN, ACTOR: One day, I won't be able to help you because I won't be here.

KAYE: According to the criminal complaint, Huffman is heard on a recorded phone call making a plan to pay for her younger daughter's SAT scores to be enhanced, something she later decided against.

On the call she says, "We're going to do like we did with my older daughter."

Singer responds, "OK, so we'll take it with her and for her at Igor's place at the West Hollywood Test Center."

KAYE (on camera): Huffman pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit mail and honest services fraud. She admitted paying $15,000 for her daughter's SAT score of 1420, which was considerably higher than her first score. Investigators say her daughter's answers were corrected by the test supervisor.

KAYE (voice-over): Huffman is one of 14 parents who have pleaded guilty or agreed to plead guilty in the college entry bribery scheme, a far cry from a mother who once expressed she wanted to serve as a role model for her daughters. HUFFMAN: I want to model for my daughters being, having a woman -- being a woman of agency, having a voice in the world and, you know, that means having influence and having power and to tell you the truth, having money.

KAYE: And just this week, days before her sentencing, Huffman penned an emotional letter to the judge, explaining the head of the charity had said her daughter's math test scores were too low for a college acting audition.

Huffman wrote, "I didn't want my daughter to be prevented from getting a shot at auditioning and doing what she loves because she can't do math."

Huffman said when the scandal broke, "My daughter looked at me and asked with tears streaming down her face, 'Why didn't you believe in me? Why didn't you think I could do it on my own?'

"I could only say, 'I am sorry, I was frightened and I was stupid.'"

In support of Huffman, her husband not charged in the scheme, sent a letter to the judge.

William H. Macy wrote Huffman now rarely goes outside and their oldest daughter has, quote, "paid the dearest price." Her first choice school denied her application two days after the scandal broke -- Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.


ALLEN: A memorial service gets underway soon in the capital of Zimbabwe for that country's former president, Robert Mugabe. Leaders of several African nations and other foreign dignitaries have come to pay their respects to the man many consider the founding father of Zimbabwe.

For the past several, days mourners have been filing past his open casket at a football stadium, as you see right there. CNN Farai Sevenzo is with us.

Hello to you, Farai, and what is expected at the memorial?

FARAI SEVENZO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Natalie, there is a great deal of expectation in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, as well as for many people here to a close to his 95 year old life that has so much influence on all of us, on the African continent and indeed on all of us as reporters.

Just looking at the program at the moment, we are expecting that there will be the family representative talking; the president of Equatorial Guinea will speak, the president of Kenya will speak, the president of Ghana, J.J. Rawlings, the former president, a representative from Cuba, China, Russia.

Robert Mugabe's life was marked really by his complete influence over the continent. Firstly because of his revolutionary credentials, he is a man who led Zimbabwe to independence, remember, in 1980 and then, of course, after that, there is a great deal of controversy about what his legacy actually means.

So we are expecting a lot of people to come and heed this call for a memorial. With all of these dignitaries coming together and, of course, Zimbabweans themselves will be remembering what he made for them.

Will they remember him for his education policies?

Do they remember him for giving them land?

Or do they remember him for the brutality of his rule?


SEVENZO: Many people suffered during Zanu-PF's time under Robert Mugabe, including beatings of the opposition and many other things. But at the moment, the whole country, indeed, the whole continent, is expecting quite a massive farewell to Robert Mugabe who died in a Singapore hospital a week ago.

ALLEN: Yes and, Farai, this memorial takes place today.

But what about the decision to delay his final resting place?

Talk to us about that.

SEVENZO: This is something we have been grappling with here in Nairobi. First of all, it is the politics.

Is it because the new government wanted him to represent the country?

Or is it the family wanting him to be buried at his family home?

The delay is really many, many components to that. First of, all there is a traditional thing that happens in this culture, of which Mr. Mugabe was a part, which is that his relatives have to bid him farewell and that is miles apart from the capital, Harare.

Whether he is in his rural home or where he was born, many people, villagers, relatives, (INAUDIBLE) relatives have to bid farewell to what is a statement to the rest of the world but what is essentially a family member, a grandfather, a husband and all of that.

So we will wait to see now where exactly, when exactly it will be. It seems a bit extreme, Natalie, but let's see what happens in the next few days.

ALLEN: All right, Farai Sevenzo, from Zimbabwe originally, we thank you for that reporting.

The United States has had 297 mass shootings so far this year. That is according to the group Gun Violence Archive. During the Trump administration, the U.S. Congress has passed no new federal laws -- zero -- to tackle this deadly epidemic. At the Democratic presidential debate Thursday night, candidate Beto

O'Rourke, said out loud what few politicians dare to say.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you proposing taking away their guns?

And how would this work?

BETO O'ROURKE (D-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am, if it is a weapon that was designed to kill people on the battlefield.

Hell, yes, we are going to take your AR-15, your AK-47. They not going to be allowed to be used against fellow Americans anymore.


ALLEN: Lots of cheers there when he said, that but the political reality is this. What O'Rourke said will likely never happen and even some members of his own party are not on board with it.

Also in New Zealand, after a mass shooting that killed 51 people, prime minister Jacinda Ardern introduced legislation which she said removes military style weapons, like O'Rourke was referring to, from New Zealand communities.

Well, a new proposal just introduced creates a registry to track every firearm legally held in the country and tightens requirements to get gun licenses.


JACINDA ARDERN, NEW ZEALAND PRIME MINISTER: That attack exposed weaknesses in legislation which we have the power to fix. We would not be a responsible government if we did not address them.

Owning a firearm is a privilege, not a. Right that means we need to do all we can to ensure that only honest, law-abiding citizens and obtain firearms licenses and use firearms.


ALLEN: Let's talk about this with Philippa Yasbek, she is cofounder of the group Gun Control NZ. She joins me from Wellington, New Zealand.

Thank you for coming on with us.


ALLEN: Sure thing. First question for, you we saw the prime minister there. She is tightening gun controls or she is trying to. But now pro gun groups are pushing back.

Was this expected? YASBEK: Yes. We do, believe it or not, have a gun lobby in New Zealand. They're perhaps not quite as powerful as the NRA in the U.S. but they have been here for a long time. And they have been opposing, quite successfully, changes to our gun laws for at least the last 20 or 30 years. So we are not surprised they're starting to fight back now.

ALLEN: So specifically, an area that is complicated for it is the buyback program for banned guns.

What are the issues around that?

YASBEK: I think the issues are that no one is quite sure how many guns there are out there that have been banned. So it is difficult to say whether or not the buyback is a success. We are also only three months into the six-month process so we will not really know how many weapons are being collected until it is over.


YASBEK: If we look at the pattern here in Australia, a lot guns were handed in right at the start and got handed in right at the end. The gun lobby here has been telling people to hold onto their guns until the last moment. So we will not know how it is going until we get to the end on the 20th of December.

ALLEN: OK, so, with gun lobby groups taking on the prime minister's proposals there and even some saying they are going to take this to court, what will groups like yours do that support gun control, especially in light of what happened with the heinous shooting that New Zealand saw?

YASBEK: Well, the gun lobby, I should say, is very small. Probably about 5 percent of the population of New Zealand own firearms. But the gun lobby only represents a small number of those people. Even our gun owners do not necessarily trust them. So they have to kind of fight in whatever way they can.

There was overwhelming parliamentary support for the ban on semiautomatic weapons and the buyback; 119 out of 120 MPs voted for it and 80 percent of the population supported that.

We suspect that that the population is still very keen to see further controls brought in and we think that the government will have the numbers to pass the legislation. The only question is whether they manage to maintain a bipartisan consensus around that.

We're seeing some really strong lobbying come on with the opposition MPs to try and peel them away. And whether or not they succeed in that, the legislation will still be passed, I think. The government definitely has the numbers to do that and I'm not sure that they are going to be very successful challenging the laws in court.

In New Zealand, our parliament is supreme and sovereign; the laws cannot be overturned by the courts. And we have seen one challenge already fail. So I doubt that is going to be a very successful strategy in New Zealand. But again, we will just have to wait and see.

ALLEN: Thank you so much for your input.

YASBEK: Thank you.

ALLEN: Climate activist Greta Thunberg has a message for Washington. On Friday, the Swedish teenager joined with other campaigner outside the Trump White House, calling for action on the climate crisis. She is in the U.S. Capitol, urging the Congress to take a long, hard look at the environment.

And her visit comes just days before planned global climate strikes next Friday, which will launch a week of action around the world.

That is CNN NEWSROOM, I'm Natalie Allen. I will be right back with our top stories.