Return to Transcripts main page


White House Restricted Access to Trump's Calls with Saudi Crown Prince and Russian President; Trump Told Top Russians He Wasn't Worried about Moscow's Meddling in 2016 Election; Zelensky Unintentionally Embroiled in U.S. Politics; Pelosi: Impeachment Not a Cause for Any Joy; How Foreign Leaders Flatter Trump; Biden: Trump Will Stop at Nothing to Hold onto Power; Trump Facing Impeachment Inquiry for Ukraine Contacts; Afghanistan Votes Despite Taliban Threat; "Abbey Road" Turns 50. Aired 4-5a ET

Aired September 28, 2019 - 04:00   ET




GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Restricted access: it turns out conversation with Ukraine's president may not have been only one the White House wanted to keep under wraps. We'll have that more on that.

Plus that call puts the U.S. president in the middle in a fast-moving impeachment inquiry. All the latest developments ahead.

Risking the wrath of the Taliban: these voters in Afghanistan are ignoring warnings from militant groups in order to vote. We're live in Kabul with details.

Live from CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta, we want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm George Howell. CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.


HOWELL: 4:00 am on the U.S. East Coast. Questions continue to grow about what the U.S. president Donald Trump said to his Ukrainian counterpart, igniting calls for impeachment. We'll have details on that story for you, where it all stands in just a moment.

But first CNN has learned that the president's phone calls with other world leaders were also held to a higher level of secrecy than others. Our Pamela Brown has this report.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Well, we have learned the White House efforts to limit access to President Trump's conversations with foreign leaders extended to phone calls with Saudi crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Russian leader Vladimir Putin. This is according to several people familiar with the matter. Now those, calls both with leaders who maintain controversial

relationships with Trump, were among the presidential conversations that aides took remarkable steps to keep from becoming public.

In the case of Trump's call with Prince Mohammed, officials who ordinarily would have been given access to a rough transcript of the conversation, never saw, one according to one of the sources. Instead, the transcript was never circulated at all, which the source said was highly unusual, particularly after a high-profile conversation.

The call, which the person said contained no especially sensitive national security secrets, came as the White House was confronting the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which a U.S. intelligence assessment said came at the hand of the Saudi government.

Now with Putin, access to the transcript of at least one of Trump's conversation was also highly restricted according to a former Trump administration official. It is not clear if aides took the additional step of placing the Saudi Arabian-Russia phone calls in that same highly secured codeword operated system that held that now infamous phone call with Ukraine's president and which helped spark the whistleblower complaint made public this week, though officials did confirm calls aside from the Ukraine conversation were placed there.

And those calls did not also reach the threshold, similar to the Ukraine conversation. But these attempts to conceal information about Trump's discussions with Prince Mohammed and Putin further illustrate the extraordinary efforts taken by Trump's aides to strictly limit the number of people with access to his conversations with foreign leaders.

I am told this practice really went into place more than a year ago after there were conversations leaked between the leaders of President Trump and Mexico as well as Australia. We should note the White House did not comment about the limiting of access to calls with the Russian and Saudi leaders -- Pamela Brown, CNN, Washington.


HOWELL: We're also learning other activity by the president has been shielded. According to "The Washington Post's" reporting, there are new details about this meeting in 2017 with two senior Russian officials.

One day after then FBI director James Comey was fired. According to "The Post," the president of the United States told the Russian official that he wasn't concerned about Moscow's interference in the 2016 U.S. election. My colleague Anderson Cooper spoke with one of the reporters who broke that story.


SHANE HARRIS, "THE WASHINGTON POST": What we know is that essentially this was no longer available to people who might actually have access, ordinarily have access to it at the White House. And I would name it is (ph), if you are sort of a country expert or you are in an issue area you ordinarily would get access to conversations from that area. Another senior NSC people (ph) who might have security clearance can get it.

At the time this conversation happened, the White House had already started restricting these memos, fearful of press leaks. We are told that this memo about this conversation with Lavrov and Kislyak was restricted even more tightly, so that only very few officials could see it.

That said, clearly an understanding of what happened in that conversation did get around. And I would note that this is the same conversation in which the president revealed a highly classified source of information that the United States had about ISIS operations and also remarked to the Russian officials that, after having fired Jim Comey the day before, that he had relieved a lot of pressure on him at the time.

You will remember that when the president fired Jim Comey, there was suspicion that he had done that because the FBI was investigating him and his campaign for connections to Russia. And, of course, that firing ultimately leads to a special counsel being appointed.



HOWELL: Let's go now live to Russia. Our Moscow bureau chief Nathan Hodge is following this story there.

Nathan, what is the reaction so far, given this reporting from "The Washington Post"?

NATHAN HODGE, CNN MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF: Well, George, we haven't really had any reaction yet to "The Washington Post" reports about the meeting between President Trump and the ambassador and Russian foreign minister.

But we did yesterday get some comments about the unfolding scandal in Washington surrounding conversation between Ukrainian President Zelensky and President Trump back in July.

The spokesperson for the Kremlin said that he had hoped that the White House would not be releasing any of the conversations between Trump and Russian President Putin. They said it was a matter of longstanding practice that these conversations would typically be treated as something top secret and hoped there wasn't a precedence set for any kind of disclosure for the contents of these kinds of conversations or release of transcripts of conversations between Trump and Putin.

What we do know is there has been a pattern of secrecy by President Trump around his conversations with Putin.

We know, for instance, in 2017 that President Trump took away the notes of a translator who was at a conversation between him and Putin and instructed the translator not to discuss the content of that conversation.

This in many ways is nothing new. But what we do have from the Kremlin is this general concern they don't want contents of conversations, which they believe to be secret between Putin and Trump, to be revealed. But we're going to wait and see as this unfolds in Washington -- George.

Nathan Hodge with reporting, thank you.

A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers is headed to Ukraine. Their main goal is see the effect of U.S. withholding military aid. That happened before President Trump asked Ukraine's president to look into allegations against Joe Biden. The nearly $400 million in aid was eventually released to Ukraine.

One of those lawmakers is making the trip, spoke with CNN about it. Listen.


REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D-CA): We're going to have to be very, very careful. One, because of the task that the six of us have in the impeachment inquiry itself. We'll be voting yes or no on that impeachment resolution, should that come to pass and I suspect it will.

But so yes, we'll have to be very careful. With the military, those are just straightforward questions. We don't have to dance around it.

Do you have the equipment you need?

Have there been delays?

What's the implications of the delay caused by the president withholding those funds for nearly 60 days?

And it's nearly half a billion dollars of critical military equipment as well as the money to pay for the American trainers.


HOWELL: The U.S. special envoy to Ukraine is the first administration figure to resign. Since the whistleblower's complaint came to light this week, Kurt Volker reportedly decided he could no longer be effective in his post.

The whistleblower writes Volker advised Ukrainian officials on how to deal with President Trump and his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. The House Foreign Affairs Committee has announced that Volker will be questioned next week. Let's get perspective on all this, live in Ukraine, Matthew Chance is following the story in Kiev.

First of all, how is this all playing out in Ukraine, given the tone of the conversation between that president and President Trump? What is the feedback so far in his part in this?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: As far as Zelensky is concerned, he's been tightlipped. They took a strategic position because other officials in Ukraine are toeing the same line, not to speak publicly or to keep their public comments to a bare minimum.

From the Ukrainian perspective, they see this whole American political crisis completely through the prism of their own national interest. And that's how it affects the bipartisan support in the United States for their conflict in Eastern Ukraine against pro Russian rebels and their diplomatic campaign to try to secure back the territory of Crimea that was annexed by Russia in 2014.

That is their primary national interest. That's why they need a good relationship with the U.S. The incumbent president, President Trump but looking forward through to 2020, whoever follows President Trump, perhaps Joe Biden, with that administration as well. So they find themselves in this difficult position between a rock and a hard place.


CHANCE: So they are trying to walk that tightrope to try to limit the damage to what they see as their primary focus, their national interest -- George.

HOWELL: Still, though, the question about how people are seeing this in Ukraine, given the tone of that conversation and this new president who was elected, fighting corruption -- that was the main pillar of his campaign -- so seeing him in this tone, in this light, in this conversation, what are people saying?

CHANCE: Yes. Look, there's some criticism that's been leveled at President Zelensky. He's a political novice. Before he was elected to the presidency earlier this year, he was a TV actor. He played the president on television and then was a comedian. He had no actual real world political experience.

So I think that probably they are being plunged into the deepest crisis in Ukrainian-U.S. relations since -- for several years -- is something that he's had to grapple with and struggle with, particularly because he hasn't surrounded himself -- and this is criticism that's been leveled at him by the former foreign minister who I spoke to earlier this week.

He hasn't surrounded himself with the best people in terms of foreign policy expertise. He brought in new people. Brought in his own people. But because they are so new at the job perhaps they could have handled this in a bit more of a slicker way if he had different people around him.

HOWELL: Matthew Chance live for us in Kiev, Ukraine, Matthew, thank you.

The impeachment inquiry could get underway in earnest as soon as next week but already three House committees have subpoenaed secretary of state Mike Pompeo. This after he missed a deadline to turn over documents on Ukraine. Now he has until next Friday to produce those documents that will be part of the investigation.

A lot to talk about this day and to do so let's bring in Natasha Lindstaedt, a professor of government at the University of Essex.

Good to have you.


HOWELL: You will remember most notably the accusations of collusion with Russia. Didn't go that far. So depending on which side of the aisle you're on here stateside, some voters saying, finally, accountability. Some to the Right, though, critics saying here we go again, grasping at straws, a nothing burger.

What makes this different?

LINDSTAEDT: It's different for several reasons. One is that this was initiated by Trump himself; it wasn't initiated by Ukraine. Trump and his aides, namely Giuliani and possibly Bill Barr, were fully involved. And it comes on the heels of the Mueller investigation. So they know what collusion is.

The biggest difference is in 2016 Trump was just a candidate, not president. Now he's the president of the U.S. and he's using his power in order to try to influence a foreign leader so that they will investigate a political opponent that will undermine the credibility of an election.

What we're seeing already is there has been a shift in the polling on whether or not Trump should be impeached. So various polls have revealed up to 10 percent more of the public is in favor of impeachment. It still isn't a majority.

On the question of whether or not Trump did something improper with his phone call to the Ukrainian president, you have a majority that does believe something improper took place. And you have about 25 percent of the public that is not sure about this.

So this may mean that, as more information comes out, public opinion may shift in favor of impeachment.

HOWELL: So if history is a guide -- and keeping in mind that there is an election just around the corner -- what is the political risk for Democrats taking this route?

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, for instance remembers that impeaching the president then, Bill Clinton, did little to hurt his approval ratings. Here's what she had to say Friday night about issue of impeachment front and center right now. Listen.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: This is no cause for any joy that we have to go down this path. It is a difficult decision to make. But we have that obligation because the actions that were taken undermine the Constitution and the oath we take to protect and defend, including the oath that the president takes.


HOWELL: Nancy Pelosi there. She has long taken a very careful, measured approach about going towards impeachment. Now she seems to be fully in favor of it.

Why take the risk now, Natasha, especially with an election approaching?

LINDSTAEDT: I think she made it clear it had to do with national security. The Mueller probe revealed there was some sort of obstruction of justice that took place.


LINDSTAEDT: It didn't deal with the national security threat in the same way that this case with Ukraine did because he was withholding military aid, military aid that would have been very, very essential for Ukraine because they are trying to stave off Russian aggression in order to get a political favor. And that crossed a line with her. And I think she could also reflect back on previous cases.

True, the case of Clinton led to greater popularity from Democrats. But that's not what happened with Nixon. When they started the impeachment inquiry, more information was revealed and then everybody turned on Nixon and he was forced to resign.

This may be something that could happen in Trump's case as they can use these inquiries to reveal more information about what Trump did. That may shift public opinion.

HOWELL: Speaking of public opinion, certainly front and center, given that this impeachment situation is largely political, it's not a legal matter. So what can you expect from each side trying to rally voters to their cause?

LINDSTAEDT: Well, I think for the Democrats, they are going to focus that this is an abuse of power. They are probably not going to get into some other accusations, which could include campaign finance violations, whether it was bribery, extortion, whether or not it was obstruction of justice.

They probably are not going to go into what happened in the Mueller case. I think they will focus this was an abuse of power.

In terms of the Republicans there could be some that jump ship and decide that this is too far but they're most likely going to rally behind the idea this is much ado about nothing, this is a witch hunt, all lies.

And they may start to continue to point the finger at Joe Biden and the optics of his son being involved in this gas company. I think they are going to try to divert attention away from this, the same way that they did in 2016 involving the Mueller probe.

HOWELL: Natasha Lindstaedt, we appreciate your time. Thank you.

LINDSTAEDT: Thanks for having me.

HOWELL: Still ahead, Joe Biden and his son were at the heart of the president's contact with Ukraine. Now he's making impeachment a campaign issue. What he told supporters in Las Vegas, Nevada, ahead for you.

Plus world leaders tend to be flattering to the president. The Ukraine president did the same. Details ahead. Stay with us.






HOWELL: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM. Back to our top story.

The impeachment inquiry into President Trump was sparked by a phone call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky. It seems Mr. Zelensky took a page from other world leaders, flattering Mr. Trump at every turn. Our Brian Todd has this for you.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A phone call filled with controversy and flattery. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky laid it on thick with President Trump when they spoke on July 25th.

Zelensky said Trump's plane is probably better than his. Trump is not just 100 percent right but 1,000 percent right, at one point. And Trump's winning campaign was an example for him. Quote, I would like to confess to you that I had an opportunity to learn from you. We used quite a few of your skills and knowledge.

Trump biographers say it looks like Zelensky got the memo on Trump from other foreign leaders.

MARC FISHER, AUTHOR: The way to get where you want to go with Donald Trump is to flatter, to fawn, to understand that there is no compliment that you can give that is too excessive.

TODD (voice-over): Other leaders have also been sure to get on Trump's good side whether it's whispering in his ear, inventing an American President's Cup for him to award, giving him an unprecedented visit inside the Forbidden City, or putting his face on billboards.

Not complimenting the President, biographers say, doesn't get a foreign leader very far with him, so they'll fawn and grovel. Even if they don't particularly like the man.

FISHER: It's done with enormous amounts of cynicism. Whether people like him or consider him a fool, nonetheless, they all end up using many of the same kinds of tactics.

TODD (voice-over): In that July call, Zelensky also mentioned Trump's hotel. Quote, actually, last time I traveled to the United States, I stayed in New York near Central Park and I stayed at the Trump Tower.

An Instagram post last year before he ran for president shows Zelensky jogging with the Trump Hotel in the background.

More than 110 foreign officials from nearly 60 countries have been spotted at Trump hotels, golf courses and other properties since 2017, according to "The New York Times."

ROBERT WEISSMAN, PRESIDENT, PUBLIC CITIZEN: It's the casual corruption of the Trump administration.

TODD (voice-over): And a Saudi lobbying firm paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for food and accommodations at the Trump International Hotel in Washington.

Ethics advocates warn foreign leaders could be booking stays at Trump properties to curry favor with the President, something which violates the constitution.

WEISSMAN: And so, they can change U.S. policy in ways that favor them while benefiting President Trump but presumably against what the United States would do in the absence of this kind of effort.

TODD: The Trump Organization has promised to donate the profits from foreign entities spending at these properties. And when he became president, Trump pledged to remove himself from day-to-day operations of those properties, turning them over to his sons.

But some groups are still suing President Trump for violating that part of the Constitution that forbids a president from making money off a foreign government, a claim that Trump's lawyers refute -- Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


HOWELL: Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is no stranger to attacking President Trump. But after he and his family were targeted in the Ukraine scandal, it's personal now. Here's the former vice president speaking in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Friday.


JOE BIDEN, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT AND PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Folks, we have a president who has violated his oath of office, a president who has put at risk our national security.

[04:25:00] BIDEN: A president who may -- and that will be the decision of the Congress to make -- may have committed a crime and a president -- and a president who used the power of his office and your tax dollars to try to persuade a foreign leader to once again interfere in a presidential campaign.

It is pretty clear that he will stop at nothing to hold on to power.


HOWELL: Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren says she wants a Senate vote on impeachment before the Iowa caucuses. The Senate Democrat is running close with Joe Biden at the top of the polls. And she spoke exclusively with CNN's MJ Lee and said she worries about the whistleblower's safety.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I do. And I worry about this whole investigation as it unfolds. Donald Trump and his administration have made clear not just that Donald Trump is willing to break the law but that they are doing their best to try to cover this up and discredit anyone who is trying to get to the truth.

MJ LEE, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And as this process unfolds, do you have any reason to believe that any of your Senate Republican colleagues will vote to convict the president?

WARREN: I don't know. But I see this as a lot more important than politics. Donald Trump has admitted -- and it is right there in the documentation -- that he has solicited a foreign country to interfere in our 2020 elections.

That is not right. It is a violation of the law. No one is above the law in this country. And that is why it is so important that Congress bring impeachment proceedings to hold him accountable.

It is not just about this president, it is about the next president and the one after that and the one after that. This is our constitutional responsibility, whether you are Democrat or Republican.

LEE: Do you think that impeachment investigation should be narrowly focused on just the Ukraine issue or everything else about the president and his conduct while in office?

WARREN: Right now, I would like to just see us do the Ukraine issue because it is so clear and it is such a clear violation of law. The president is asking for help against one of his political rivals and asking a foreign government for a thing of value for himself personally. That is against the law.

After all that happened in 2016 and the Mueller investigation, the president of the United States knows that. This is not he somehow stumbled into it and did not think about the consequences. No, he knew. He believed he could break the law and get away with it

and so did his administration. They did not leave that transcript in the regular course of transcripts of phone calls with foreign leaders.


Because it was not a regular call. It was a call that violated the law. And so they're immediate instinct is, let's lock it up. Let's make sure no one can see it, let's cover it up so no one is there. And that is why it is that this impeachment proceeding is so important on this issue.

LEE: Do you think it is important at all of this be wrapped up before voting begins in February?

WARREN: I hope that it is. I would like to see us get to the bottom of this as quickly as possible.


HOWELL: There is talk, a vote on the impeachment of Donald Trump could come by Thanksgiving. We'll take a closer look at that process as CNN NEWSROOM pushes ahead. Stay with us.





HOWELL: Welcome back to viewers here in the United States and around the world. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Atlanta. I'm George Howell with the headlines we're following for you this hour.


HOWELL: Here is how the impeachment process might play out.

Six House committees are currently investigating President Trump on various matters and if they find impeachable offenses they will recommend them to the Judiciary Committee.

Then the Judiciary Committee will decide on whether to recommend back to the House on a vote of one or more charges. Notice articles of impeachment. If a majority of the House votes in favor of any of those articles, the president is then impeached.

But then there's this crucial point. This does not mean he's removed from office. That decision is then made by the Senate. That chamber would hold a trial presided over by the chief justice of the United States.

If two-thirds or more of the Senate votes to convict, then the president would be removed from office. Since Republicans control the Senate, that is considered unlikely in this case.

To talk more about this now we have David Katz with us, a former federal prosecutor, joining us at this hour from Los Angeles.

Great to have you with us, David.


HOWELL: The impeachment process has moved quite quickly this week you could say. There's even talk that a vote in the House could come by Thanksgiving.

What do you think about how quickly things are moving right now?

KATZ: Well, I think Speaker Pelosi wants it to move along and I think that, during the recess, House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff will continue with the investigation, calling witnesses. And I think the country couldn't have a better attorney, better Congress person in charge of the investigation.

I had the privilege to work with Adam Schiff when he was in the U.S. attorney's office here in Los Angeles. It was under the Reagan administration. We were both completely nonpartisan.


KATZ: He's a very fair minded prosecutor. I think that he'll look at both sides of this.

But from what we've seen so far, the whistleblower has great sources. The whistleblower is a patriot who has been able to tell us, George, that there is this up-classification. These documents are being classified at a higher level than they ought to be as a way to hide them.

Now we are finding there are documents and conversations of Trump with Putin and the Saudi Arabia prince which are highly embarrassing but not sensitive. They are being put at a higher sensitivity level, secrecy level, as a way to hide them. I think Chairman Schiff will get to the bottom of this promptly.

HOWELL: You talk about working in the past with Congressman Schiff. But this is more of a political setting.

So given that, how do you see him moving forward?

KATZ: Well, I think he'll move forward, not hastily but deliberately and call these witnesses. Like I say, he and his committee are working over these next two weeks. They are not taking a recess. I think that these other committees will also act speedily, even the two that are recess have issued subpoenas to the State Department to Pompeo.

Because, first Giuliani has been running this foreign affairs of the country. He's not a government official at all. But he's made it clear today he's not going to take the fall. He's not going to go to jail for President Trump.

He says, look, the State Department was involved in setting up those meetings. That's the fellow who resigned today, the day after this phone call, which I believe was an implicit quid pro quo and very incriminating of Trump the day after these couple of people were sent out from the State Department, these two ambassadors, including the one who resigned today to quote, "navigate," the -- basically the attempt to have the Ukrainians gin up a political prosecution of Biden and his son so that Trump could say in the 2020 election, oh, I'm running against crooked Joe like I ran against crooked Hillary.

That was the purpose of this. Then it was hidden. All the people that defended Trump and said, oh, he didn't do anything wrong, why did they go to such pain to hide it? Just like in Ukrainegate and Watergate why did Nixon and his cronies go to such trouble to hide the evidence except these tapes were explosively incriminating. And that's why I think this one is, read in context.

I want a favor. Here's what the favor is. And there's the holding up of about $400 million in aid for Ukraine.

What was the purpose of that?

The timing was extremely suspicious.

HOWELL: The theme of impeachment is nothing new for the 45th president. Critics have been calling for impeachment for some time now. Most loudly over that question of collusion with Russia.

What makes this different?

KATZ: Well, it was always possible for Trump to say he wasn't involved, other people were involved, it wasn't out of his mouth, he didn't know.

But as I say, I think he had the hubris the day after that tepid testimony of Mueller that, from Trump's point of view didn't really put him away. He got away with it. So Trump made this call the very next day.

And it was, you know, like the mafia don who doesn't say I'll burn your house down if you don't pay me, he says, nice house you have here. Wouldn't it be terrible thing if something happened to it?

And when you look a this in context, I think what will happen is there will be a vote on the articles of impeachment and the case will be sent over to the Senate. You asked about timing. I think that's likely to happen right about after Thanksgiving, maybe December or January.

People think, well, McConnell will just, you know, bury that like he buried the hearings on Merrick Garland to be on the Supreme Court. But he can't do that. This is going to be handled by the chief justice, by Roberts. And McConnell will be just another juror.

There basically will be 100 jurors sworn. They will be the senators. And I guess we'll see.

Will the public -- will we have televised impeachment hearings and impeachment trial in the Senate led by the chief justice?

Will the senators, including the Republican senators, put their fingers in their ears?

Will the public say it doesn't matter to me at all?

When they see this -- and you think to yourself what if President Obama -- can you imagine if he had done this, if he had called a foreign leader and said, why don't you gin up a case against Trump abroad, can you imagine how these same Republican senators would be howling?

Imagine even Lindsey Graham, who howled about the private sexual conduct of Clinton and was one of the impeachment managers, how he would have howled if that happened?

And the hypocrisy of not doing something about this phone call, which is obvious obstruction of justice, obvious abuse of power, I think it's going to come back to roost on the Republican senators.


KATZ: I think their poll numbers will fall. Just like Giuliani doesn't want to go jail for Trump, those Republican senators don't want to lose their six-year terms over Trump. And we'll have President Pence, I think that's really a possibility as we go forward.

HOWELL: So we'll see how this plays out. Again, pointing out this will be a political situation rather than a legal situation. So how these senators feel about it, to your point, will be key. Thank you.

KATZ: Thank you, George.

HOWELL: Still ahead Afghan voters are braving the threat of violence from the Taliban by heading out to the polls. Ahead, what's at stake in the vote that's playing out in that country.




HOWELL: This the scene earlier in Kabul, Afghanistan, that nation's capital. Across the country, voters are at the polls to choose that nation's next president. But again, they are defying a Taliban threat and risking their lives to vote. The militant group warned people to stay away from the polls.

The Reuters News Service reports at least three people were injured an in explosion in Kandahar. No group has claimed responsibility for that attack. But in the run-up to the election, dozens of people were killed. Nick Paton Walsh explains why people are voting anyway. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's the election few thought would ever happen, whose success may be measured in the death toll, not the turnout.

High hopes for a peace deal were dashed by President Trump earlier this month, who cancelled talks with the Taliban in a barrage of tweets. That sent Afghanistan hurtling towards a presidential vote many felt might have been postponed as peace talks progressed.

Instead, the vote will be rushed, its campaign hobbled by huge security concerns amid some of the worst violence the country has seen.

There is one likely winner from all this, President Ashraf Ghani. He was uncomfortable with the U.S.' direct talks with the Taliban.


WALSH: He had always insisted the vote go ahead and now may well win a clean endorsement, rare in Afghanistan's recent politics.

This remains America's longest war with no immediate end in sight. Yet the suffering has been more acute for Afghans, whose daily losses and intensifying violence often go unnoticed by outsiders.

Elections are opposed by the Taliban, who Thursday said they would block all roads on Election Day, adding, "This is the umpteenth time that this fraudulent process is undertaken to mislead the people."

So voters must risk the violence that has closed about a quarter of polling stations or having the thumb that's inked when you vote cut off entirely, as some Taliban have done in elections past.

Failed peace talks fomenting the violence here.

MOHAMMAD HAIDAR, STUDENT: (INAUDIBLE) in this election because Taliban want to take on government and put on them pressure so they can convince America and the Afghan government to come back.

WALSH (voice-over): (INAUDIBLE) political situation, he said, shows that Afghans can't make decisions on their own and what happens is only because of a single tweet all (INAUDIBLE) changed.

If Ghani gets over 50 percent, he can avoid a second round in November. But even that clean result won't provide a path after the brutality holding life hostage here -- Nick Paton Walsh, CNN.


HOWELL: Let's get a better sense of what's happening on the ground at this hour with journalist Jennifer Glass, who joins us from Kabul, Afghanistan. Good to have you on the line.

JENNIFER GLASS, JOURNALIST: Yes, thank you, George.

HOWELL: So talk to us, first of all, about the mood, voters there heading to the polls, given that the threat is high from the Taliban.

What are voters saying?

GLASS: Well, you know, a lot of people told me they would be voting. I know they were wary about security here in Kabul. Security is very tight by the I'm in a very large polling station. More than 5,000 voters registered here and there's virtually no one here.

When I was here in October, the parliamentary elections, people were lined up and had waited for three or four or five hours to vote. We're not seeing that at all today. Voting workers are standing idle, waiting for voters to come. It's hard to say whether it was the security or whether people feel their vote doesn't count.

There were concerns about corruption as well. And despite 72,000 Afghan troops on the streets around the country and hundreds and tens of thousands of police as well, a lot of people here, the voter turnout appears very low.

No one will give us official numbers until the polls close in about an hour and a half time. Certainly here, there's nowhere near the 5,000 people who are registered to vote.

HOWELL: Voter turnout appears to be low so far. Talk to us about the person who appears to be the front-runner.

GLASS: Well, you know, a lot of people say there are two front- runners. President Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah. Those are really the two contenders here, making it a rerun of the 2014 presidential election, which, of course, ended in very much a deadlock with a national unity government that has ruled here for the past five years.

Both candidates have ruled that out. I spoke to some of Ghani's people. They believe they can win outright in this first-round. But so do supporters of Abdullah. It doesn't help that there are 18 names on the ballot; 15 candidates running. Three of those candidates have dropped out. That makes it hard to have a majority. But with such low numbers, anything can happen.

HOWELL: Journalist Jennifer Glass, following the election in Afghanistan, joining us by phone. Jennifer, thank you.

Still ahead, an iconic Beatles album turns 50. To mark the anniversary, fans of "Abbey Road" are getting a new mix of the album. Details ahead.







HOWELL (voice-over): You're watching a newly released music video for The Beatles' classic, "Here Comes The Sun," released to mark the 50th anniversary of their iconic album, "Abbey Road."

The Beatles fans are also being treated with a special anniversary edition of this album and it features new and unheard material from the original recording session. Our Neil Curry reports it was developed by the son of legendary Beatles producer.


JOHN LENNON, MUSICIAN: I got very involved, you know, one, two, a one, two, three, four.

NEIL CURRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Released in 1969 to mixed reviews but now widely regarded as a classic, the critics didn't realize that "Abbey Road" was the last time The Beatles would come together in the studio to record an album.

CHARLES MARTIN, SON OF GEORGE MARTIN: They still respected and loved each other but they wrote songs separately.

And George became much more of a strong songwriter for "Abbey Road" with "Here Comes the Sun."

CURNOW (voice-over): Charles Martin had remixed the Sgt. Pepper and White albums and spent months listening to tapes of the Abbey Road recording sessions produced by his late father, George Martin, who became known as the fifth Beatle after working on all the band's original albums.

MARTIN: The Beatles experts that know way more than me, I'm pretty useless, claim that The Beatles didn't think it was their last time. My dad always said that he felt that it was.

GEORGE HARRISON, MUSICIAN: You can go a bit faster, Ringo.


MARTIN (voice-over): I think they knew things were changing. The band knew things were changing. They were becoming more individual. You know, creative people want to create and they want to do different things. And I think they all wanted to do different things.

CURNOW (voice-over): He admits it's often proved to be an emotional experience.

MARTIN: Sometimes it's hard dealing with listening to your father's voice on a tape machine. [04:55:00]

MARTIN: It's great for me to hear how much he meant to them and how much, you know, they mean to him.

CURRY (voice-over): E-technology allows Martin to enhance the listening experience for fans without trampling on a famous musical legacy. His work received a thumbs-up from Paul, Ringo and the widows of John and George.

MARTIN: Paul and Ringo and indeed Yoko and Olivia, they don't employ me to be safe. They don't want that. The biggest thrill I get is their reaction and pinning Paul or Ringo down and getting them to listen to the album.

There wasn't a "Come Together." And separately they will say, I remember this day. We were really good on this day. And if I can bring them closer to that day they recorded it on, that's an achievement well done.

We live in a world with Spotify and Amazon and Google and whoever. And there's a global jukebox that kids can listen to all the music in the world. And for them, The Beatles and Duran Duran, they cheer and whoever it is, all on the same playlists. And there's no reason why Beatles shouldn't be as relevant as everyone else.

CURRY (voice-over): Beyond the music, the album cover itself has become iconic, featuring the band on the separate crossing outside the Abbey Road recording studios, it's been copied, mimicked, lampooned and recreated countless times. And fans of the Fab Four still flock to the site to capture their own memento -- Neil Curry, CNN, London.


HOWELL: Thank you so much for watching CNN NEWSROOM this hour. I'm George Howell at the CNN Center in Atlanta. Let's do it again. Another hour of news right after the break. Stay with us.