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Call Transcript, Whistleblower Complaint Fuel Calls for Impeachment of U.S. President; Opposition: No Vote until Brexit Extension Secured; Netanyahu Chosen to Try to Form Coalition Government. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired September 26, 2019 - 02:00   ET




JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello and welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm John Vause, live from Studio 7 at CNN World Headquarters.

Ahead this hour, the White House releases details of the conversation between Donald Trump and Ukraine's president, a master stroke which has been devastatingly effective at building an impeachment case against the president.

A recalled British Parliament erupted in fury with prime minister taunting the opposition to trigger an early election. They in turn out were outraged by his use of violent and inflammatory language.

And when finishing second puts you in first place, Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party were runners-up in last week's elections but Israel's president have given him the crucial first shot at forming a coalition government.


VAUSE: In the coming hours, the White House is expected to release the whistleblower complaint, which was filed over Donald Trump's phone call with Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelensky. That report has already been declassified and when it is released, sources tell CNN, there will be few redactions.

In a summary of the phone call which was released Wednesday, President Trump pushes President Zelensky to open an investigation into former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden. He is one of the leading contenders for the 2020 presidential election. Here is part of that conversation.

President Trump, "I would like you do us a favor, though, because our countries have been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it."

He then added this, "There is a lot of talk about Biden's son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that. So whatever you can do with the attorney general would be great."

Well, many saw those details as a devastating political blow, President Trump did not. During a rambling, unfocused, low energy news conference, he lashed out at Democrats, brought back the witch hunt and scoffed at impeachment.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: When they look at the information it's a joke. Impeachment for that? When you have a wonderful meeting or you have a wonderful phone conversation?

I think you should ask -- we actually, you know, that was the second conversation. I think you should ask for the first conversation also. I can't believe they haven't. Although I heard there is a rumor out there, they want the first conversation. It was beautiful. It was just a perfect conversation.


VAUSE: And on Capitol Hill, support for impeachment continues to grow. Now at least 215 Democrats in favor of opening an impeachment inquiry. That is the first concrete step towards filing articles of impeachment.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), UNITED STATES SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The fact is that the President of the United States in breach of his constitutional responsibilities has asked a foreign government to help him in his political campaign. At the expense of our national security as well as undermining the integrity of our elections. That cannot stand. He will be held accountable. No one is above the law.



VAUSE: And with us from Los Angeles this hour, Jessica Levinson, professor of law and governance at Loyola Marymount University.


VAUSE: Jessica, thanks for being with us.


VAUSE: OK. Remember, you know, when there was that blue dress, gold dress thing? Same dress but to some people it was gold, to others it was blue and neither could understand how the other saw it that way. It seems when the president and his staff read the phone call summary with Ukraine's president, they see gold. As in good as gold. Nothing to worry about.

A whole lot more people see blue, as in flashing lights of a police car blue because a crime maybe committed. So how do you explain this disconnect?

LEVINSON: Yes. That's such a good analogy. I mean, it really does feel like an optical illusion. I mean, one of the most depressing but accurate things that I heard today was somebody says and predictably, reaction has fallen along partisan lines.

But there is nothing that should, in fact, divide Democrats and Republicans in the sense that whether or not this phone conversation gives rise to criminal liability has nothing to do with your views on tax policy, the role of government, criminal justice reform, environmental protection. I mean, it just shows we really have become a nation of parties as

opposed to powers. So, what I would make of it is that President Trump, like he so often does, has left just enough there to give Republicans a hook, to give them cover to say, look, he was honestly asking about rooting out corruption. Or he honestly wanted to make sure that, you know, there was clarity on this issue.

So, there's always some word or phrase or sentence that gives Republicans cover to say, well, no, there's no smoking gun here.

VAUSE: You know what's interesting though, House intelligence Chairman Democrat Adam Schiff made the point that by releasing this phone call summary it brings in question the judgment not just of the president by having it released but also pretty much everyone around him. Here's Adam Schiff.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): It is shocking at another level that the White House would release this -- these notes and felt that somehow this would help the president's case or cause. Because what those notes reflect is a classic mafia-like shakedown of a foreign leader.


VAUSE: And keep in mind, this administration has bent over backwards to not give an inch to house Democrats on any of their demands in connection with oversight. But this phone call summary, not a problem.

LEVINSON: Yes, there's a couple remarkable things here. One, as you said accurately, this is not a transcript, this is a summary. So, there's a couple of situations where there's ellipsis. I would be really interested to know what is essentially redacted.

People said, well, his voice trailed off. Let's make sure that that's actually the case.

But two and more importantly, if this is what the president thinks exonerates him then what is he holding back? So, what are all the subpoena fights about?

And then you know, let's talk about what the problem is. I mean, Adam Schiff, Representative Schiff used the phrase, you know, kind of a shakedown. What happens in real life when you are bribing someone, when you're going through the process of extorting somebody, when you are violating a campaign finance law and engaging in quid pro quo is you would never say, so, president of the Ukraine, I have military aid, I'm going to withhold it unless you investigate my political opponent Joe Biden and his son.

It would look much more like what this memorandum of the telephone call is. It would be more subtle. It would say America has been a friend. You know that America has been a friend. Now I have something I would like you to do for me and he would circle back to it. This is a much more realistic view of how people talk when they are potentially engaging in those types of behavior.

VAUSE: Yes, it's never as explicit as, you know, you do this and I'll do that kind of stuff. You mentioned part of the conversation between the Ukrainian president and Donald Trump. Here's part of it which deals with the investigation into Joe Biden and his son hunter.

This is Trump. "There is a lot of talk about Biden's son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that, so whatever you can do with the attorney general would be great."

You know, William Barr is mentioned, you know, a bunch of times throughout this working hand and glove with the president's outside counsel, the world's greatest lawyer Rudy Giuliani. So, hold on to that thought as you listen to this question from Democrat Senator and presidential candidate Kamala Harris to William Barr back in May.


SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Has the president or anyone at the White House ever asked or suggested that you open an investigation of anyone? Yes or no, please, sir.


HARRIS: Seems you would remember something like that and be able to tell us.

BARR: Yes, but I'm trying to grapple with the word suggest.


VAUSE: That answer takes out a whole new meaning now once you've read this transcript, right?

LEVINSON: It really does. I mean, one, that answer's the reason that people hate lawyers. I hate to put it this way, but I'm grappling with what suggests means. We all know what suggests means.

And so, look, Attorney General Barr is a very smart person.

[02:10:00] LEVINSON: And I think what we've seen throughout this administration since he was nominated and appointed is that President Trump has really gotten his money's worth.

So, Attorney General Barr obviously refused to answer that question. He didn't want the follow-up, which is what investigation, what can you tell me, why was that investigation open?

And the conversation, the transcript or the memorandum of the conversation that President Trump has shown, I think that he really views Attorney General Barr as more akin to his personal lawyer as opposed to the people's lawyer, the White House lawyer and that, frankly, is how Barr has been conducting himself.

VAUSE: Yes and sort of going back to the old playbook here. This week Donald Trump I guess he, you know, he's thinking what worked once it's going to work again. So, he reached into his old bag of tricks and he pulled out a slightly used witch hunt. Here he is.


TRUMP: They want to try to start another witch hunt.

It's just a Democrat witch hunt.

It's a continuation of the witch hunt.

It's a witch hunt. I'm leading in the polls. They have no idea how they stopped me. The only way they can try is through impeachment.

It's the single greatest witch hunt in American history.


VAUSE: You know, it worked I guess at least partly worked for the Russia investigation. You know, muddied the waters. This time, though, it seems different because this is contained in, like, five pages of the memorandum. That's it. Not a lot of reading to do. There are three names and the American public know two of them already. This might be just a bite sized easy to understand don't have to read too much impeachment scandal America has been waiting for?

LEVINSON: Maybe. I'm not sure. Because, again, you don't have -- I think what many Americans have been, frankly, conditioned to expect, that the only thing that would give rise to impeachment is something where President Trump says, since I'm President of the United States, I would like to misuse my office and I would like to direct a foreign company -- excuse me, a foreign government to help me in my political campaign.

And I think President Trump has actually been very effective at conditioning at least his base into thinking that everybody's against him and that any sort of inquiries are witch hunts and that since we have not seen that sentence that there's really much ado about nothing. You saw Republican senators, you know, tweeting out and saying today, I mean, this is -- this is a nothing burger. And so, the, you know, we're in this weird kind of post-factual era where even though, yes, it's bite size, it's short, as you said, it's not the Mueller report. People can wrap their heads around it. I'm actually not entirely sure it moves the needle for many Americans.

VAUSE: You know, you mentioned this sort of post-fact world. We also seem to be in a post-shame world in some ways with regards with respect to this nation. Jessica, good to see you. Thanks for coming in.

LEVINSON: Thanks for having me.



VAUSE: When it comes to a legal defense for the president it's hard to know precisely what the White House strategy might be. Hard to know even if there is any strategy at all. But Donald Trump himself seemed to have settle on an old Soviet propaganda technique known as whataboutism. It works like this. Discredit the accuser by accusing them of the same crime.


TRUMP: I demand transparency from Democrats who went to Ukraine and attempted to force the new president to do things that they wanted under the form of political threat.


VAUSE: And even though there is not one shred of evidence, no proof at all they did it, loudly complaining about the hypocrisy. The hypocrisy.


TRUMP: They threatened him. If he didn't do things. Now, that's what they're accusing me of, but I didn't do it, I didn't threaten anybody.


VAUSE: And finally made no effort to refute or disprove the accusations or the allegations against you.


TRUMP: No push, no pressure, no nothing. It's all a hoax, folks. It's all a big hoax.


VAUSE: And with that we go to Los Angeles and David Katz, former assistant U.S. attorney. David, it's been a while. So, thank you for coming in.

DAVID KATZ, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY: It's a pleasure to be here.

VAUSE: OK. It seems, you know, the best defense we heard from the White House, at least in terms of talking points which we should note were mistakenly e-mailed to Democratic lawmakers. It's the fact that there was no quid pro quo, there was no favor for favor even though the president asked for a favor. But in terms of a legal defense, whether there was quid pro quo or not seemed kind of irrelevant.

KATZ: Well, this is not a legal defense because you don't have to have an express quid pro quo. It's perfectly fine. You know, the extortion cases, someone doesn't say I'm going to burn your place down unless you pay me. You say, nice place you have here. Wouldn't it be terrible if something happened to it?

And that's why Adam Schiff, who I mentioned this before, I used to work with in the Reagan administration. We were fellow prosecutors here in Los Angeles. We prosecuted a lot of fraudsters. We convicted a lot of racketeers on less evidence than this.

This is a very strong case and the Republican senators who used to be lawyers know that very well. This is a very strong case.


KATZ: You have a tape by the person that there is a tape of it, this is only notes of it, but there will also be a transcript of it.

This is compelling proof out of the mouth of the -- of the suspect that an illegal, improper quid pro quo was going on and you can tell that from the sequence of events.

And one last thing. If you remember how Michael Cohen, the president's lawyer and longtime fixer described how Trump speaks. He speaks obliquely. He speaks where one thing happens and then another thing happens and it's very clear.

So, what you say is, you know, we've done a lot for the Ukraine. The Ukraine hasn't really reciprocated necessarily. Now, here's a favor I'd like to do for you and, of course, at the same time he's withheld the military aid --


KATZ: -- that Ukraine needs desperately to fight off Russian aggression.

VAUSE: Just very quickly. So more of a yes or no answer here. Is there a legal defense in the intangible powers of the presidency to conduct foreign policy or is that a stretch?

KATZ: No, that's a far stretch and it's not true at all. The president can't go around and bribe somebody for his personal benefit or for his political campaign and say, well, I'm allowed to do anything I want to in the conduct of foreign affairs.

VAUSE: OK. It seems there's in this five-page summary to paint a picture of extortion, abuse of power. Democrat Senator Chris Van Hollen told CNN that could be just the start.


SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD): The letter is actually worse than I thought for this reason. The president then says to the Ukrainian prime minister, I want you to meet with my personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and we're going to engage the United States attorney general in this effort.

So, the president is just expanding the scope of the use of his office and the U.S. government to try to get a foreign leader to intervene in an election. This really should outrage every American regardless of political party.


VAUSE: So, you know, in the big picture here, is it counterproductive to use standard criminal terms to describe what the president may or may not have done. You know, we know the sitting president can't be indicted. The only remedy is impeachment. So, would it be better to talk in terms of high crimes and misdemeanors?

KATZ: Well, that's a very good point. But these are high crimes and misdemeanors. It happens that they're also crimes --


KATZ: -- which, unfortunately, the president is never going to be charged with under this memo that exist over at the Department of Justice written by some lawyer years ago but taken as an article of faith by Mueller.

VAUSE: OK. So, we got this situation where there, you know, there is another element in all of this, which is the timing. The timing of the phone call to Ukraine's president. Literally the day after Robert Mueller testified before Congress about Russian interference in the 2016 election. And that's the day Donald Trump thought would be a good idea to ask a foreign leader for help in winning the next election?

KATZ: Well, I view this as two things, John. First of all, I think that, you know, like a criminal who gets away with something, the day after they get away with it, they think, wow, I walk on water.

VAUSE: I can walk on -- yes.

KATZ: I can do anything. And so, there is an arrogance. But there's another thing too. You know, what Mueller emphasized in his tepid testimony in front of Congress, he did emphasize that the president can be charged once he leaves office. The way I think Trump interpreted that was, wow, I better do anything to stay in office. I better take these kinds of risks because if I lose in 2020, I'll be indicted in 2021.

VAUSE: Yes. It means that out of all the candidates he probably may have the most to lose out of everybody. But now we've got this formal impeachment inquiry under way. Just explain for us briefly where we are in the timeline between now and the president ultimately if it ever happens standing trial before the Senate.

KATZ: Well, it looks like according to some reports that there are about 218 Democrats already in the House who are for the impeachment inquiry. I think that this is just the tip of the iceberg and so as they get the other information about this call it will be worse.

So, I think as it gets worse for Trump, I think he led with what he thought was his best opening today with the -- with this five-page summary. I think it's going to get worse.

So, what I'm saying is that I think the House will impeach. The impeachment is like a formal indictment. The president will stand, as it were, indicted, he'll be charged and then the Senate has a trial.

And people who remember the Clinton trial, the chief justice shows up. There will be a trial. I think all of that will happen probably about December, January, the impeachment is likely to be voted and then the trial will be January, February, March whenever a -- McConnell can't just push this down the road. The Senate majority leader has to hold an impeachment trial. And that should be very dramatic. It will be televised. It will have this sort of aghast presence and these will be his terrible witness.


VAUSE: Let me interrupt you there. Does he have to hold the impeachment trial like he has to hold, you know, a seat -- a Supreme Court justice? Because we know that he didn't exactly do that last time around.

KATZ: Well, I think that that was a little bit different. He had --


KATZ: -- that was sort of setting a calendar. But I think an impeachment. It's right there in the Constitution. There has to be trial by the Senate. I suppose if they had enough votes, they could dismiss it without even having a hearing, but we have had two impeachments in our history.


KATZ: And once the House votes articles of impeachment there was a Senate trial.

VAUSE: Right.

KATZ: There can't just be a dismissal or failure to put it on the record. So, I really think that we're heading toward an impeachment trial in the Senate which requires a two-thirds vote. (CROSSTALK)

VAUSE: Normally -- you're absolutely right. Yes.

KATZ: That requires a two-thirds vote in order to remove him. And the problem is there is 52 Republican senators and you can imagine maybe Sasse, maybe Romney voting to convict and remove the president, but it's very hard to imagine how they get to 67. That's what's been daunting for the House.

VAUSE: But, you know, we're out of time, David. Yes, it's a good point. But the other two impeachments, Johnson and Clinton, you know, they both remained in office. They weren't removed from the presidency by the Senate. So, you know, that was the outcome then. Probably be the same this time around as well if we get there.

KATZ: Well, Clinton's was too much of a stretch --


KATZ: -- and Johnson after the Civil War survived by one vote.

VAUSE: Your history is good. Thank you. Good to see you, David. Thanks so much.

KATZ: Pleasure to be with you.

VAUSE: Cheers.


VAUSE: After Britain's Supreme Court ordered the Parliament back into session, the chamber erupted into some of the most raucous and rowdy and vitriolic scenes in memory. All of the details when we come back.

And the quest for a coalition government in Israel. Why hopes are not high.




VAUSE: The political battle over the political battle over Brexit is back with a vengeance, it seems, after a stunning rebuke from the Supreme Court. Prime Minister Boris Johnson doubled down in a raucous appearance at the House of Commons on Wednesday.

He challenged lawmakers to hold a no confidence vote or get on with Brexit. Cyril Vanier explains why the deadlock still holds.


CYRIL VANIER, CNN CORESPONDENT: The Parliament is back in session with a vengeance. The prime minister had a target on his back the moment he stepped in the House of Commons where, remember, he doesn't have a majority. Far from it. The majority of lawmakers in fact are fiercely opposed to him and they're extremely vocal about it. Watch this. Just a sample of what the prime minister faced in the House of Commons on Wednesday.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- adhering his opinion, he should be absolutely ashamed of himself.


VANIER: But if the prime minister was contrite, if he was browbeaten after the Supreme Court ruled that his suspension of Parliament was unlawful, handing him another humiliating defeat, he didn't show it. In fact, Boris Johnson was defiant.


VANIER (voice-over): He even dared the opposition to call a vote of no confidence on him and the minority government that he leads.


BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY: So if in fact the party opposite does not have confidence in the government they will have a chance to prove it. They have until the house rises -- listen -- listen. Listen. I think they should listen to this, Mr. Speaker. They have until the House rises today to table a motion of no confidence in the government. Come on. Come on. Go on then. And we can have that vote tomorrow.


VANIER: But that is a no-go for opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn who kindly declined the offer and stuck to his guns. That is yes to an election, to reshuffling the political deck and putting it to voters, but only after an extension to the Brexit deadline has been secured.


JEREMY CORBYN, BRITISH LABOUR PARTY LEADER: He says he wants a general election. I want a general election. It's very simple. If you want an election, if he wants an election get an extension and let's have an election.


VANIER: So here we are in London once again stuck. The Prime Minister wants an election, but can't make it happen. The opposition says it wants one, too, but not now and in a sign that the prime minister isn't done tussling with lawmakers, we're learning the government intends to try once again to adjourn Parliament.

This time, though, just for a few days during the Conservative Party conference that begins Sunday. This with less than five weeks before the current Brexit deadline of October 31st. In the words of my esteemed colleagues, Richard Quest and Bianca Nobilo, it would take a chess master to know what happens next -- Cyril Vanier, CNN, London.


VAUSE: The political landscape in Israel just is unclear. The final results from the general election show that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's bloc of parties, with 55 votes now pledged, 120 seats, so they need 61 seats to win the majority.

Benny Gantz and his Blue and White Party and all the other parties he has managed to win over is at 54 and then we have Lieberman down there at eight seats as well.

So Israel's president has given the task of forming a coalition government to Benjamin Netanyahu but there is not a lot of optimism that he will actually succeed. Oren Liebermann reports now from Jerusalem.


OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been given the first chance to form a government in Israel, despite not having the biggest party or any clear path to a coalition.

So how is it that Netanyahu goes first and not his rival, Benny Gantz, who has the bigger party?

Netanyahu has 55 total seats standing behind him; Gantz has only 54 seats supporting him. Despite Gantz receiving more votes on Election Night. So Netanyahu, the longest serving leader in Israel's history, will go first.

The announcement came just moments after Israel's president tried and failed in another attempt to bring Netanyahu and Gantz together in a unity government. The president, Reuven Rivlin, did not seem too optimistic about the chances for success for anyone here, especially since Netanyahu failed in this task after April's election and his prospects appear even worse now.

The president says as long as there is no real will to compromise, there will not be a government. Netanyahu called for a wide unity government, saying it is the only way to deal with the challenges and opportunities facing Israel -- security, economy and even the Trump peace plan.

But Gantz fired back, saying his party refuses to sit with a prime minister under criminal investigation.

So how does this all work out from here?

Netanyahu now has up to six weeks to form a government. If he fails once again then it is likely Gantz will get a chance to try to form a government. If he also, fails the members of Israel's parliament have three weeks to come up with another name who has the support necessary. And if that fails, Israel's third elections within a year will

automatically be triggered -- Oren Liebermann, CNN, Jerusalem.


VAUSE: As the drumbeat for impeachment grows louder and his phone call with the president, Trump at the center of all of, this Ukraine's president is pleading with anyone who will listen, keeping ahead of the controversy.



VAUSE: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm John Vause, with the headlines this hour.

A defiant Boris Johnson has challenged U.K. lawmakers to either call a no-confidence vote or get on with Brexit. The House of Commons was back in session on Wednesday after the U.K. Supreme Court ruled the Prime Minister's suspension of Parliament was unlawful. Mr. Johnson's opponents do not want to call it a no-confidence vote until the Brexit deadline of October 31st has been extended.

The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu now has 28 days to try to form a coalition government. Israel's President has chosen him for the task after power-sharing talks with his rival, Benny Gantz, failed. Neither Mr. Netanyahu's Likud Party or Gantz's Blue and White Party won majority seats in the Knesset.

In the Trump-Ukraine investigation, two of the key players: the U.S. Acting Director of National Intelligence and the Intelligence Inspector General are set to testify before lawmakers on Thursday.

At issue is the whistleblower complaint regarding President Trump's July phone call with the President of Ukraine. A summary of that call shows President Trump pushing Ukraine to investigate one of Trump's political opponents, the former Vice President Joe Biden as well as his son.

When President Trump and Ukraine's President met formally for the first time at the U.N., it made clear that Volodymyr Zelensky wants nothing to do with this political controversy now playing out in the United States. We have details from CNN's Nic Robertson.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much, it's a great honor.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: At the center of a political storm here stumbled into, Ukraine's novice President, Volodymyr Zelensky, says he is taking it in his stride. ZELENSKY (through translator): I am very calm. I don't want to offend any American citizen now. But I'll tell you honestly, I am a citizen of Ukraine. America is a big country, but for me, the largest country is Ukraine. Therefore, if I am very popular here, then for me, it is very nice. That's all.

ROBERTSON: Following his meeting Wednesday with President Trump, he told Ukrainian journalists he was surprised but not upset, a transcript of their call had been released.

ZELENSKY: I did not speak to President Trump before that. Yesterday, he simply shook my hand and said that he had not seen such a long time before so many people voted for one person.

ROBERTSON: Zelensky, a former comedian, is on a charm offensive with Trump in New York.

ZELENSKY: Can you give me your word that you will come?

ROBERTSON: Inviting Trump to Ukraine.

ZELENSKY: I'm sorry, but I think you forgot to tell me the date.

ROBERTSON: And reminding him, Trump forgot to date his invite to the White House.

Meetings like his phone calls, he'd rather keep under wraps.

ZELENSKY (through translator): I personally think that sometimes such things, such calls between heads of states, presidents of independent countries don't have to be published. Because, you know, there are some geopolitical issues, some plans, et cetera. But you can see for yourselves, I am not afraid of it.

ROBERTSON: Zelensky may be new to global diplomacy, but not what's at stake about what he says now.

ZELENSKY (through translator): I would not want my answer to draw us into the elections of another country, any result, and any victory or loss. I do not want to do this. And therefore, I said that no one can press me and no one will press me.


ROBERTSON: So far, Zelensky seems to be successfully sidestepping blowback from Trump's impeachment headaches.

ZELENSKY: It's better to be on T.V. than by phone, I think.


ROBERTSON: It's early days, yet. Nic Robertson, CNN, New York.


VAUSE: Just ahead, a CNN exclusive on the treacherous journey for so many migrants hoping to leave violence behind. It's a journey which can often be just as dangerous as what they're leaving behind them at home.


VAUSE: Four years after the height of Europe's migrant crisis, efforts to clamp down on the flow of migrants appear to be working. The International Organization for Migration, says more than 43,000 migrants entered Europe by sea from January to August, down 30 percent from last year. And this, on the main three Mediterranean routes have dropped by about 55 percent.

While migrants are being stopped from getting into Europe, they say they would rather go -- they would rather die, rather, than go back to their home country. CNN's Ben Wedeman, explains in this exclusive report.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Sailors with the Libyan coastguard threw a lifeline to a boat full of migrants, who throw it back in the water.

We don't want it, this man shouts.

Since the beginning of 2014, more than 33,000 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean according to the International Organization of Migration. Yet, these people don't want to be rescued because rescue means returning to Libya.

Eventually, one of the sailors jumps overboard and swims to the boat and attaches the rope. Reluctantly, the migrants climb onto the Coast Guard ship.

Death is better, says one of the women.

There's little love between rescuers and rescued.

You're all cursing Libya, you animals, shout the sailor.

28 people were on the rickety boat. 22 from Somalia, five from Bangladesh, one from Yemen. Fleeing the conflict, chaos, and poverty, that is the new world disorder.

Abdul Somad from Somalia explains why he tried to make this dangerous crossing.


ABDUL SOMAD, REFUGEE FROM SOMALIA: The reason that I entered the sea is the situation which is going on in our country. Our country is on war.

WEDEMAN: The European Union has paid the Libyan government in Tripoli more than $250 million to stop the world's tired, poor, and huddled masses, yearning to breathe free from arriving on its blessed shores. The E.U. money funds the Libyan Coast Guard and indirectly supports detention centers for those caught trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe. Nearly 6,000 people are stuck in centers like Tripoli's Tarik al-Seka Detention Center. Eventually, they might be sent back to their home countries or what's left of them.

Human rights organizations have criticized the conditions at these detention centers. But the E.U. riven by differences between member states has not changed its policy regarding migrants in Libya despite its glaring shortcomings.

The migrants may leave Libya someday, but the trauma they experienced on their journey will stay particularly with many of the women for the rest of their lives.

18-year-old donate from (INAUDIBLE) from Eritrea says traffickers sexually assaulted her. They beat us with a belt, she recalls then they raped us. And they fed us, and they raped us.

She's now pregnant. Soon to give birth in a detention center with little in the way of medical attention.

Laki (ph), also 18 years old is from Somalia. She says smugglers raped her repeatedly and she subsequently gave birth.

Praise God who blessed me with this baby. I can't throw it away. The baby is a part of my body, but please, she begs, take me from here.

Of the eight women, freelance cameraman Gabriel Chaim interviewed at this Center, seven said they were raped.

Nearby on the outskirts of Tripoli, the war between Libya's competing factions rages on. The West was eager to help bring down the regime of Muammar Gaddafi. But since then has turned its back on Libya. The country has become an arena for local and regional rivalries. The madness here tolerated by the world as long as the madness stays here.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, Beirut.