Return to Transcripts main page


U.S. Intel: Russia Trying to Help Sanders Campaign; Nevada Caucuses; Coronavirus Outbreak; Iranian Elections; America's Longest War; Trump to Visit India; Harry and Meghan to Drop "Royal" from Brand. Aired 4-5a ET

Aired February 22, 2020 - 04:00   ET




GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): 2020 election interference: the United States now saying Russia is trying to help the U.S. president and Bernie Sanders. But the difference in how each is reacting is clear.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Also, courting voters before the caucuses, Democrats make their final appeals before the voters have their say in Nevada, just hours from now.

HOWELL (voice-over): Also the coronavirus, the cases are surging, a sharp increase outside of China.

ALLEN (voice-over): All these stories ahead this hour. 4:00 am here in Atlanta, Georgia. Welcome to our viewers in the U.S. and around the world. I'm Natalie Allen.

HOWELL (voice-over): And I'm George Howell. CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.


HOWELL: it is early morning here and we are just hours away now from the caucuses set to take place in Nevada.

ALLEN: It comes on the heels of U.S. intelligence officials sounding the alarm that Russia is already meddling in the 2020 election and its efforts are crossing party lines.

Intel officials say the Kremlin is working to ensure president Donald Trump gets another four years in office and it is also looking to help senator Bernie Sanders secure the Democratic nomination.

HOWELL: What is not clear yet is how Russia is looking to help Sanders in his campaign. But the senator was quick to condemn the Kremlin's efforts.

ALLEN: CNN's Ryan Nobles has more from Las Vegas.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Senator Bernie Sanders confirming a report from "The Washington Post" on Friday that he received an intelligence briefing that said Russian actors were trying to intervene in the 2020 election on his behalf. But Sanders made it clear, he is not interested in any help from Vladimir Putin.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Mr. Putin is a thug. He's an autocrat. He may be a friend of Donald Trump. He's not a friend of mine.

Let me tell Mr. Putin, the American people, whether you're Democrats, Republicans or independents, are sick and tired of seeing Russia and other countries interfering in our elections.

The intelligence community has been very clear about it, whether Trump recognizes it or not or acknowledges or not, they did interfere in 2016.

The intelligence community is telling us they are interfering in this campaign right now in 2020. And what I'll say to Mr. Putin, if elected president, trust me, you are not going to be interfering in American elections.


NOBLES: This is not the first time that intelligence officials have deduced that Mr. Sanders might be getting help from Russia. The Mueller report stated, in 2016, Russian bots were attempting to help Sanders as well.

But the Sanders team makes it clear that they believe this is not necessarily about helping the senator himself but sowing discord in the Democratic primary and perhaps the leak of this information was designed to hurt his chances in the upcoming Nevada caucuses and into the Democratic primary and beyond.

Still Sanders making it clear that he believes this intelligence report and also, that if he were to be elected president, he would take great steps to prevent Russia from intervening in elections in the future -- Ryan Nobles, CNN, Las Vegas, Nevada.


ALLEN: And there is a stark difference in how President Trump is handling the news compared to Bernie Sanders.

HOWELL: That's right. We get that from Jim Acosta at the White House.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At a rally in Las Vegas, the president seized on what he views as the latest threat to his reelection, the U.S. intelligence community's warning that Russia is already interfering in the 2020 race to benefit Mr. Trump.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Disinformation, that's the only thing they're good at, that Putin wants to make sure I get elected.

Listen to this. Doesn't he want to see who the Democrat is going to be?

Wouldn't he rather have, let's say, Bernie?

ACOSTA: Earlier in the day, the president tweeted, "Another misinformation campaign is being launched by Democrats in Congress, saying that Russia prefers me to any of the do-nothing Democrat candidates who still have been unable to after two weeks count their votes in Iowa. Hoax number seven."

Sources tell CNN the president berated then acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire last week, one day after House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff and other Democrats clashed with Republicans during a classified briefing, where DNI officials warned of the Russia threat.

Days after Mr. Trump's heated meeting with Maguire, he tapped U.S. Ambassador to Germany Ric Grenell to be the new acting head at DNI.


ACOSTA (voice-over): The top Republican on the Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, told the president what happened at the briefing.

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA): Vladimir Putin is not running some operation with Donald Trump. There's no evidence of that. And so all this is, is, they don't have anything to run on. And so they have got to make up Russia again.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Sources tell CNN, committee Republicans, including Congressman Will Hurd, pressed intelligence officials for more proof that Moscow was meddling once again.

REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI (D-IL): I can't comment on the specifics of the briefing. But what I can say is that, unfortunately, I think folks on the other side still have not internalize some of the conclusions from 2016, namely, that the Russians interfered in that election on the president's behalf.

ACOSTA: Mr. Trump's foe in 2016, Hillary Clinton, went on the attack, tweeting, "Putin's puppet is at it again, taking Russian help for himself. He knows he can't win without it and we can't let it happen."

The president has repeatedly questioned the intelligence community's conclusion that Russia interfered in 2016. His comments at the Helsinki summit with Russia's Vladimir Putin...

TRUMP: I have great confidence in my intelligence people. But I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today. PROKUPECZ: ... came just days after former DNI Dan Coats warned U.S. elections are at risk.

DAN COATS, FORMER U.S. DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: And here we are two decades -- nearly two decades later. And I'm here to say the warning lights are blinking red again.

ACOSTA: With the Russians eying the 2020 election, the president appears to be struggling to find a new permanent DNI. After the president floated GOP Congressman Doug Collins for the position, the Georgia Republican said he didn't want it.

REP. DOUG COLLINS (R-GA): To mention my name and, among others, to be this position. But let me just tell you right now that's -- I know the problems in our intelligence community, but this is not a job that interests me at this time. It is not one that I would accept.

ACOSTA: The president's former acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker just touched on the Russian threat during an appearance at Oxford in the U.K. earlier this evening.

He told the crowd there, quote, "I am never going to deny that Russia tried to interfere 2016. They tried to interfere in 2018. And they're trying to interfere in 2020." -- Jim Acosta, CNN, the White House.


HOWELL: So that is the reporting of how things stack up stateside.

How do things stack up there in Russia?

Let's bring in Moscow bureau chief Nathan Hodge there with the story.

Nathan, the U.S. president here saying again this we go again. Bernie Sanders quite plainly saying he is no friend of Vladimir Putin.

How is this playing there through Russian officials and media?

NATHAN HODGE, CNN MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF: Yes, we're also seeing kind of a repeat of what we've seen in the past, which is blanket Russian denials. Yesterday we were told the warnings of Russian meddling in the 2020 election were, quote, "paranoid messages."

And this squares very much with the messages that we've heard in the past from the Kremlin; basically Vladimir Putin has said that Russia does not, has not and will not meddle in the elections of other countries.

But it is also important to point out the sort of the glee with which Russian officialdom has greeted news. Take for instance, the hack of the DNC in 2016, Putin said that the important thing wasn't who did it but the information was out there.

So if we learned anything from the Mueller report, it is that these kinds of campaigns not necessarily meant to -- well, work in favor of one candidate or another; certainly the conclusion was that it was in favor of Trump but also against Hillary Clinton.

And one of the ideas here is just to sow disunity in the United States within the electorate and create mistrust in the political system itself.

HOWELL: And just driving forward on that point, the net effect of a U.S. that is divided among itself for Russia is ... ?

HODGE: Well, George, again, I mean, Russia is in a confrontational mode with the United States. It is under sanctions following the annexation of Crimea in 2014. It is at odds with the United States on a lot of matters of foreign policy crises around the globe, whether it be Syria or Venezuela, Middle East policy.

So you know, Russia does in general treat the United States as a foreign policy adversary. But more importantly, I think that they are trying to see what the most favorable outcome might be in the 2020 election.


HODGE: There has been no reboot of relations between Moscow and Washington after the election of Trump. But Russian politicians did pin hopes that at least Putin could build a good personal relationship with Donald Trump.

HOWELL: Live for us in Moscow, bureau chief Nathan Hodge. Thank you.

ALLEN: Let's talk more about it and what it could mean in the U.S. presidential election. Richard Johnson from Lancaster University is joining us now in London for us.

Thanks for being with us. The information is alarming about this story regarding Russia but the President of the United States isn't alarmed, it seemed that he fired the Director of National Intelligence simply because the director gave a report, that he is supposed to do, that this president didn't seem to care for.

Do you think that his administration will take this threat seriously from Russia?

RICHARD JOHNSON, LANCASTER UNIVERSITY: I think what we're seeing is a continued politicization of institutions in the United States that were once thought to be somewhat beyond the kind of partisan back and forth.

And I think that the actions of the president this week just go to show us how deep this partisanship, the polarization of the American system, has gone. And it really raises serious questions about the ongoing credibility of the intelligence community, which has been upheld for so long in the United States as beyond the partisan back and forth.

But really since the time that President Trump took office, with the way that he spoke about James Comey, he has shown a disregard for that norm in American politics. And it is just another example of the way in which President Trump feels comfortable breaking long established norms.

ALLEN: And he called it a misinformation campaign, this report about Russia, a misinformation campaign by Democrats. And Republican leaders are claiming that the Democrats made this up.

Can that claim fly?

JOHNSON: Well, it is a classified report. And so we don't have access to it. We can't sort of go through, you know, line by line and see.

But I think it is clear, you know, there is a litany of evidence to show that Russia was involved in the 2016 election in efforts to try to demobilize certain communities, to put out confusing information.

It is not the case that Russia is able to sort of seize control of the American electoral system in a kind of centralized fashion partly because the American electoral machinery is so decentralized. Every state and county has all sorts of different ways of conducting their elections. It is hard to seize control of the means of an election.

But certainly what Russia can do and, I think that it is beyond dispute did do in 2016, was to send messages that were misleading, incorrect, in ways that were designed to run down people's confidence in Hillary Clinton and also confidence in the electoral process writ large.

ALLEN: Yes, and, yet again, you know, President Trump has not come out and said something about this report, he hasn't come out and said, Russia, stop interfering in our election.

So where does this go from here with this being the election year, this hanging over the election, Richard?

JOHNSON: Well, I think in some ways it is actually rather difficult to prevent some of the misinformation that comes out.

I think if you -- if I was to give some advice and counsel to officials in the United States, it is about better informing the public to be aware of potential misinformation that is being put out there on the Internet by sources that they are not familiar with.

And the president ought to be doing that as well, that he ought to be encouraging Americans to look at the information that they receive about this election with scrutiny and a careful eye.

But unfortunately again, this issue, which in some ways should go beyond the partisan back and forth, has become another part of the partisan football. And it has just been tossed back and forth between the two sides, unfortunately.

ALLEN: Very unfortunately, yes. Please stay with us because there is more to discuss as we look toward the next race on the election calendar and that is Nevada. We'll talk with you more about that in a moment.

HOWELL: That's right, Democratic presidential candidates are ready for the next contest. You will hear their final pitches to voters.


ALLEN: Also ahead here, we break down how the process is expected to work amid the lessons learned from Iowa. Stay with us.





ALLEN: In case you didn't know, it is Nevada's turn to weigh in on who becomes the U.S. Democratic nominee for president. The state's caucuses get underway in the coming hours.

HOWELL: The presidential hopefuls are looking to break out of the pack with many eyeing the current frontrunner, Bernie Sanders. They spent the eve of this contest making their final pitches. Listen.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We cannot continue having a president who is a bully, who can't even get along with people that he appointed in his administration. Yet every other day, he is firing some guy. Let us go forward together, let us defeat Trump, let us transform this country. Thank you all very much.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is the moment in history that we have been called to, the moment to choose courage over fear, the moment to choose hope over hopelessness, the moment to dream big, fight hard and win. Thank you, Nevada.

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't know if you've noticed how, on the news, they took the word "hopeful" and they turned it into a noun and they use it as another word for candidate.

Have you noticed this?

I'm a 2020 hopeful. That's what I'm doing here. How fitting because running for office is an act of hope. And so is volunteering. And so is caucusing. And so is voting itself. You are here because some measure of hope animates you. I look to you to spread that hope to everybody you know.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I refuse to keep this guy in the White House. We have to change this.

We are the wealthiest nation in the world. We're the most productive workers in the world. We're in a position we're the most powerful nation in the world. We've led by the example of our power. We are better than any country in the world and it is time that we stood up and took back America.

This is the United States of America. So take it back.

TOM STEYER (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So here are the circumstances that I would cut Social Security: over my dead body. That is ridiculous. No, really. Think about that. You are going to give a cut, tax cut, to rich people and big corporations who don't need it, who have too low a rate anyway.

And you are going to take it away from seniors who are suffering and take away health care from Americans, especially low income Americans?

Are you kidding me?

That is where we are. We are in a situation of cruelty.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is not about the biggest bank account. It is about the best ideas and if you can put those ideas into action. Courage is whether or not you are willing to stand next to someone you don't always agree with for the betterment of this country. That is what courage is. That is courage.


HOWELL: We got to hear from all those different candidates a sense of what they are talking about there on the platforms. The results though, from the last Democratic caucuses, those are still in dispute. And it is causing questions about whether Nevada can avoid a repeat of that debacle in Iowa.

ALLEN: Yes, we sure hope so. The turnout was high in Nevada's four days of early voting but that is also adding to possible complications. CNN's Dianne Gallagher has that from Las Vegas.


DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It looks like Nevada's first ever early voting in a caucus is paying off with huge numbers.

But will it make getting results more complicated?

The Nevada Democratic Party nearly 75,000 participated in the first ever early caucusing, nearly the total number of voters in the 2016 caucus, when roughly 84,000 people participated on caucus day.

In 2008, 118,000 Nevadans caucused in the Democratic race. And while the party celebrated the high turnout, it adds to the uncertainty of whether Nevada is ready for Saturday or if it will be a repeat of the Iowa fiasco, where final results are still pending.

TOM PEREZ, CHAIRMAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Our goal is to have a successful caucus and we provide multiple sets of eyes and ears and wisdom Democrat and observations and lessons learned from Iowa so that we can be successful here in Nevada. GALLAGHER (voice-over): Volunteer Seth Morrison raised a red flag

early in the training process. Now he's more optimistic, saying things are getting better but worried about lingering issues.

SETH MORRISON, DEMOCRATIC PARTY VOLUNTEER: One is we still don't know any details of the back office, of how the early votes were tabulated, how this tool works. Second of all, there is a massive shortage of volunteers.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): The Democrats are scrambling to train caucus volunteers, adding 55 additional training sessions. Volunteers can also try out the much talked about caucus calculator, which Morrison says is user friendly.

MORRISON: The tool is very well designed. It is very intuitive.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): But he does see potential problems for people who aren't familiar with iPads.

MORRISON: Somebody who has not used that kind of technology would find it challenging.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): These slides replicate what CNN saw during a party hosted demo of the calculator. It did not allow our cameras to film the demo. It will have pre-loaded early vote information which will be combined with the choices of people there to determine the winners and losers through two rounds.

The backup if the calculator doesn't work is tedious, a likely lengthy process and manually searching a paper list of early voters' ranked choices. But the chair of the Democratic National Committee says that he believes everything will be smooth sailing come Saturday.

PEREZ: I'm very confident that we have thought of every contingency.


GALLAGHER: Not long after we finished our interview, Seth Morrison went to collect his supplies for his caucus site and was told that he had to sign a non-disclosure agreement. A Nevada state party Democratic official tells me that it is standard practice to have their staffers and volunteers sign NDAs because they are privy to strategic information.

But Morrison didn't feel comfortable doing it because it was broad in its language, prohibiting him from speaking to the media at all and also from disparaging the party. He refused to sign it. They offered him a lower level position, he says, that would not require an NDA to be signed.

But Morrison said no thanks and he quit. So Seth Morrison will not be a site lead come caucus time on Saturday -- Dianne Gallagher, CNN, Las Vegas.


ALLEN: Fingers crossed that Nevada can pull this off.

And we're joined again by Richard Johnson.

Richard, I want to talk about Bernie Sanders. He is in the lead in Nevada. A lot of support.

But what about those reports that Russia is tampering with the election to make sure that he is the Democratic candidate?

Want your opinion on that.

Why Bernie?

JOHNSON: Well, I think first the thing to say, it would be difficult I think for Russia to be directly involved in say the machinery of the election, the caucus, today.

But at the end of the day, I think the accounts of Russia perhaps cheerleading for Sanders, I think the broader point is that Russia is interested in chaos and confusion and also running down Americans' trust in their electoral process.

So if reports are saying that they're cheerleading for Sanders, it is maybe not so much about any particular policy commitments Sanders is making that they like. I suspect it is probably the opposite. But it is about making Americans feel less confident about the integrity of their system.

ALLEN: And they have been doing that, haven't they. Let's talk about what might happen as people caucus. After Elizabeth Warren's takedown of Michael Bloomberg in the debate over non-disclosure agreements he has with former employees, now we've learned that he will release three women from those agreements.

Is that too little too late?

JOHNSON: I think that it shows the perils of being a late entry candidate. So many of these other candidates have been vetted, scrutinized through the media and the public for months, over a year in some cases.

And so for them, any kind of embarrassing details about their past have already been discussed and they have, you know, dealt with that; whereas with Bloomberg, because he is a late entry, these sort of reports about their non-disclosure agreements mean that he is having to almost deal with them in real time as the election is ongoing.

And I think that causes some particular difficulties for him. This is probably not what he wants the discussion to be about. And if he had come into the race much earlier, then maybe he would have been able to rectify this earlier.

ALLEN: Right. This tactic may have backfired for him. Well, time is running out for the other candidates who have been stomping around America for so long, trying to get the nomination.

Which candidates really need to break out of the pack after Nevada?

Who still has a shot after Nevada?

JOHNSON: I think because the expectations are that Bernie Sanders will do quite well today, really I think eyes will be looking at South Carolina and I think Joe Biden, who has long been expected to win South Carolina, has obviously suffered a bit in the polls lately.

And so I think if Biden doesn't do well in South Carolina, frankly, if he doesn't win South Carolina, then that means that the setup for him for Super Tuesday is going to be very difficult indeed.

So today I think, you know, I think that the one impactful result would be if Bernie Sanders did badly because the expectations are that he would do well. And then I think it is all eyes on South Carolina. And I think that is an unknown entity so far and that is what will set us up for Super Tuesday.

ALLEN: Richard Johnson, always appreciate your insights. Thanks so much.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

ALLEN: Early voting has been underway in the Nevada caucuses and now it is near. Tune in Saturday at 2:00 pm Eastern here in the U.S., that is 7:00 pm in London, 8:00 pm in Berlin for special coverage right here on CNN of the caucuses and hopefully the results.


HOWELL: I know that they are nervous about that, not to have a repeat of Iowa there.

Still ahead here on NEWSROOM, the coronavirus may be gaining a foothold outside of mainland China. South Korea has seen an explosive growth in the number of infections there. We'll take you live to Seoul, South Korea, for reporting there.

ALLEN: And plus the Taliban and United States are testing a way to reduce violence in Afghanistan.

Could this lead to the end of America's longest war?




ALLEN: Welcome back to our viewers here in the U.S. and around the world. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Natalie Allen.

HOWELL: And I'm George Howell with the headlines we have for you this hour.

(HEADLINES) HOWELL: Across China, the death toll from the coronavirus continues to rise and the virus continues to spread. One of the most troubling spots is South Korea now. Members of a large religious group there account for a huge spike in infections.


HOWELL: More than 400 cases in just the past week.

ALLEN: In the coming hours, a team with the World Health Organization is due to arrive in Wuhan, China, the capital of Hubei province, where most of China's 76,000 infections have been. Of the more than 2,300 deaths so far, all but 15 have been in China and most have been in Hubei.

HOWELL: We have the latest reporting now from both China and South Korea. Ivan Watson is in Seoul and Blake Essig is in Yokohama.

Ivan, the precautions seem to have failed.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What we've seen in the last 36 hours is the confirmed number of coronavirus infections has more than doubled to about 433 cases at this time.

So far, South Korea has had two people pass away who had contracted the coronavirus. But certainly a very dramatic surge in cases. Now a lot of this has swirled around the central city of Daegu and one religious group in particular called Shincheonji.

And a gathering of worshippers in that city some time ago where roughly half of the confirmed cases seem to be linked, both to that religious group and to that city.

The South Korean ministry of health and welfare are calling for self- isolation for more than 9,000 members of this religious movement and they are testing more than 500 of them for coronavirus. Meanwhile, the religious group itself says that it has ceased all religious meetings and it will be disinfecting all of its places of worship.

But this goes, of course, beyond one religious group. For example, at least four members of the South Korean military have been diagnosed with coronavirus. All of them have in recent days traveled to that city of Daegu.

And that has prompted the South Korean ministry of defense to impose restrictions on the movement and leave time for its service personnel. Measures echoed by the U.S. military, which also maintains tens of thousands of service men and women here in South Korea, who have now been ordered not to leave U.S. military installations in this country.

HOWELL: Senior international correspondent Ivan Watson live again in Seoul. Ivan, thank you.

ALLEN: And now we'll turn to Blake in Yokohama, Japan, where the cruise ship had so many cases there.

What are the latest concerns there, Blake?

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Natalie, the big concern when it comes to the Diamond Princess is just how effective, if at all effective, was the quarantine. If you look at the infectious disease specialists here and governments around the world are saying, there is a big question again just how effective it was.

We actually were able to obtain an email sent to an American passenger by the CDC earlier today, which said, once he gets off the ship, he then has to wait another 14 days before he is able to return to the United States. And that is despite the fact that, in order to get off the ship, he had to have tested negative for the coronavirus several times.

But when you talk about the Japanese government and the way that they feel about the way this quarantine has played out, they feel good about it. Over 900 people have disembarked over the past four days from the Diamond Princess. They received a certificate that they have a clean bill of health.

They can go anywhere. Of course, that's after they completed their 14 day quarantine and received multiple tests that have come back negative for the coronavirus.

So the question again, was it effective?

Time will tell to figure out exactly the answer to that question.

ALLEN: All right. Blake Essig, thank you.

The other country the world is watching in this situation, of course, is Iran. Iran's health ministry is reporting 10 new cases there, so that brings the total to 28 cases with five deaths.

HOWELL: And this new comes during vote counting underway from their parliamentary elections with hardline candidates expected to win big. Our senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen has this update.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Voter turnout is certainly going to be one of the things that the authorities are going to look at after this election is over and the votes are counted.

We went around to several polling stations here in Tehran.


PLEITGEN: It seemed to us as though more people seem to be coming in the evening hours rather than the morning hours.

We don't usually see too many long lines, but the authorities did extend the period where voting was allowed. It was supposed to end at 6:00 pm local time, but then they extended that to 8:00 pm local time. Folks that we spoke to who are casting their ballots pretty much all said that the main topic for them is Iran's very difficult economy and how that economy can be fixed.

In the run up to the election, it certainly appeared as though the more conservative candidates were kind of in the lead or having the edge as far as the popularity was concerned.

Moderates under President Hassan Rouhani, certainly under fire, with the big problems with the economy, with the sanctions, and also all the issues around the Iran nuclear agreement.

One of the big wildcards here as far as turnout is concerned is going to be the outbreak of the coronavirus here in Iran. Iran has now confirmed that it's had several deaths from people who have contracted the coronavirus.

They also have well over a dozen confirmed cases now and even people who've been diagnosed with the coronavirus abroad, who had come from places in Iran or visited places in Iran who had nothing to do with China in the first place.

PLEITGEN: So with that, it's going to be interesting to see whether or not that could also have had an effect on voter turnout, whether or not it's high or low here in Iran as well.

What we're seeing at the polling places that we're going to is that there are people who are wearing protective gear, masks and also rubber gloves to try and heal themselves while they perform their civic duty -- Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Tehran.


HOWELL: Still ahead, the question of how realistic it is to see peace in Afghanistan. We'll be live in Kabul with a journalist on the ground who can give a first-hand account.

ALLEN: And a royal hassle for Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, just as they try to establish their personal brand. Well, it has changed just a bit. We'll explain.





HOWELL: Taliban fighters have attacked a checkpost in Afghanistan hours into an agreement with the United States to reduce violence for at least a week.

ALLEN: No one was hurt but the move could jeopardize an already fragile compromise. CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr reports.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's the first, but fragile step towards ending America's longest war, the war in Afghanistan.

If the deal to reduce violence between the Taliban and the United States works, the parties will sign a more permanent peace agreement for Afghanistan next Saturday.

It also gives President Trump a talking point for the campaign trail. Earlier this week, he made the case that the deal is better than any alternative.

TRUMP: We could win that very quickly and easily if I was willing to kill millions of people. I'm not willing to do that. I'm not willing to do that.

STARR: Significantly, this is not being called a cease-fire. It is almost certainly not the end of violence.

SETH JONES, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: I don't think, at this point, we should trust the Taliban. They continue to fight, the Afghan government, fight the United States.

STARR: And the Taliban leaders negotiating with us may not even be able to control the thousands of their fighters still in the field. If there are suicide or IED attacks, General Scott Miller, the head of U.S. and NATO forces, has to quickly determine if the Taliban are responsible.

There are still major hurdles to any permanent deal, one of the biggest being the Taliban, which once shielded Osama bin Laden, once all U.S. forces out of Afghanistan, something the Pentagon is not ready to do.

MARK ESPER, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: Nobody's right now calling for the complete removal of U.S. and coalition forces. U.S. forces will remain there as long as necessary to support our Afghan partners.

STARR: The Pentagon expects to initially reduce troop levels from approximately 12,000 to 8,600, enough firepower, it says, to suppress terrorist groups and fight remnants of al Qaeda and ISIS.

Now, the people of Afghanistan certainly have paid a huge price in these years, these decades of war, but so have American troops, more than 2,000 killed in this war, more than 20,000 wounded -- Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.


HOWELL: Jennifer Glasse joins us by phone from Afghanistan's capital city of Kabul.

Jennifer, good to have you with us.

JENNIFER GLASSE, JOURNALIST: Hey, George. HOWELL: So as we heard from Barbara Starr's report, this would be a

first step to reduce violence; by no means is it a cease-fire. And given the latest news we are reporting, violence is continuing.

What is the feeling there on the ground about the impact that this will have overall?

GLASSE: (INAUDIBLE). You know, the last few days here in Kabul. Today, people are cautiously optimistic. It's quieter than they've been in a long time. I think people watching and waiting to see what might happen here. They're fearful that somebody could use this first day in the seven-day pause in violence for some sort of attack but that's not what's happened at all.

The (INAUDIBLE) whether this will go on. (INAUDIBLE). The economy is terrible. There's a political crisis right now with the presidential candidates. And of course, some terrible civilian casualties. Thousands of civilians killed and wounded in 2019. Security is worse than ever. So (INAUDIBLE) something has to change. (INAUDIBLE).

HOWELL: All right. Journalist Jennifer Glasse, and, again, it was challenging a bit to hear your report. We get the gist, though, of what you have to offer there from the ground in Kabul. We thank you for the reporting.

ALLEN: On Monday, Donald Trump will arrive in India for his first official visit there as U.S. president. The trip will mix business and pleasure. And as CNN's Lynda Kinkade shows us, India is trying to make a good impression.


LYNDA KINKADE, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): At India's famous Taj Mahal, workers paint, spruce and polish. Those are renovated. And nearby, the Yamuna River rises, as millions of liters of water are released to cover its foul, polluted smell.

Around the country, these are just some of the preparations for U.S. president Donald Trump's imminent arrival.

VIVEK V. NAIR, AHMEDABAD VISITOR: It's a big thing because it's his first visit. The fact that it's a big thing.

KINKADE (voice-over): Set to arrive Monday, the president's first-ever state trip to India will likely focus on trade. Tensions over tariffs and diverging economic policies.


KINKADE (voice-over): His two-day visit comes just months after a so- called "Howdy, Modi" event welcomed the Indian prime minister to Texas.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Howdy, my friends.

KINKADE (voice-over): Then Narendra Modi declared before a crowd of about 50,000 people that India had a true friend of the White House.

Now a massive welcome rally for his American counterpart may help distract from policy differences between the two leaders.

TRUMP: We're not treated very well by India but I happen to like prime minister Modi a lot and he told me we will have 7 million people between the airport and the event. So it's going to be very exciting.

KINKADE (voice-over): After landing Monday, Mr. Trump is set to address a record crowd as he opens what is claimed to be the world's largest cricket stadium.

On his way to the stadium, a new wall will hide the city's slums. Indian government officials say it was built for security reasons.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The government could have spent that money in a way that is beneficial for the poor.

What is the point of spending thousands of rupees here in building this wall and hiring workers?

KINKADE (voice-over): Though his arrival may not be greeted enthusiastically by all, new research show polls show India has increasingly gained confidence in Trump since 2016. Few supporters are as ardent as one man in south central India, whose home is now a Trump shrine. There he prays for the U.S. president, ecstatic for his arrival -- Lynda Kinkade, CNN.


ALLEN: Well, barely out on their own and Britain's Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, are already having to change their brand. Whether we return, we find out why Sussex Royal is soon to be no more.






HOWELL: I'm sure you've heard that question famously asked, what's in a name?

It turns back when you step back from Britain's royal family, quite a bit is in a name.

ALLEN: Prince Harry and wife, Meghan Markle, will have to change their personal brand after this spring. CNN's Anna Stewart explains from London.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ANNA STEWART, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ever since it was agreed that Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, would step down as working members of the royal family, questions have swelled as to what they would do about the word "royal" in their brand name. The website they launched only weeks ago is Their Instagram handle is @SussexRoyal and they have made trademark applications for the same branding internationally.

Now a spokesperson for the couple has said the Duke and Duchess of Sussex do not intend to use Sussex Royal in any territory post spring 2020, which, means their new nonprofit organization to be launched in the coming weeks will no longer have the word royal in it.


STEWART: And the couple have removed their Sussex Royal trademark applications already. A rebrand will allow the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to pursue the next chapter in their lives and their financial independence to support it -- Anna Stewart, CNN, London.


ALLEN: They'll be all right.

HOWELL: I think they will be.

ALLEN: Thanks for staying with us. Please stay there. The day's top stories are just ahead. I'm Natalie Allen.

HOWELL: And I'm George Howell. Right back after this.