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Millions Face Freezing Temperatures; The United States Moves to Shield Saudi Crown Prince; The White House Slams GOP House Agenda as "Political Revenge"; Winter is Setting in as Power Goes Out; N. Korea Launches Intercontinental Ballistic Missile; Five Protesters Sentenced To Death In Govt. Crackdown; Dutch Court Convicts Three Of Shooting Down Flight MH17. Aired 2-2:45a ET

Aired November 18, 2022 - 02:00   ET



KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to all of you watching us here in the United States, Canada, and all around the world. I'm Kim Brunhuber. Ahead on "CNN Newsroom," much of the U.S. is shivering under freezing temperatures with New York and The Great Lakes area bracing for paralyzing snow.

Condemnation as Washington seeks immunity for Saudi's crown prince, the man U.S. intelligence officials say approved the brutal execution of journalist and Saudi businessman Jamal Khashoggi.

And as dozens of missiles hit Ukraine's critical infrastructure, I will speak to an adviser to Ukraine's defense minister.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): Live from CNN Center, this is "CNN Newsroom" with Kim Brunhuber.

BRUNHUBER: At this hour, six million people in the U.S. are bracing for severe winter storms. Five states around The Great Lakes are under snow alerts. Parts of New York are dealing with treacherous conditions after being slammed with snows since Wednesday. But the frigid winter temperature is stretching beyond the northeast. Almost the entire country is looking at freezing temperatures. New York's governor had this somber warning for residence. Here she is.


GOV. KATHY HOCHUL (D-NY): What we are talking about is a major, major storm. This is considered an extreme event, an extreme weather event. That means it's dangerous. It also means it's life-threatening.


BRUNHUBER: CNN meteorologist Derek Van Dam is trafficking at all for us. So, Derek, walk us through what the dangers are here.

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yeah. well, you know, normally, any given day, the snow in Buffalo, New York would not be leading the headlines of our show, right? But this is different. This has the potential to paralyze, even cripple a city's infrastructure.

We look back to 2014 when a similar snow event occurred. It crippled the city of Buffalo, New York, and it also collapsed some buildings just by the sheer weight of the snow that falls.

Any time you see over three feet of snow, you're going to have problems, right? So, this is localized and very centralized to Western New York, but there's also some heavy snowfall occurring downwind from Lake Michigan, Lake Superior. That's where we have winter storm warnings.

But I'm really going to focus on what's happening downwind of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. Here's the latest radar. There's Buffalo, there's Watertown, New York. Both of these locations have the potential to see multiple feet of snow, and you can already see that kind of almost fire hose of a band of snow that is formed.

That is the lake effect snow band that has become so important and the direction of that wind is going to be so critical in who gets the most snow and who says the most paralyzing impacts from this particular winter storm. So far, rates, by the way, two to four inches per hour. And look closely in the southern suburbs of Buffalo, those are lightning strikes.

Thundersnow is common in this type of a setup. It's similar to an intense thunderstorm in parts of Buffalo, but this is, of course, cold enough to see snow. We've already seen two feet in some locations, and that wind direction is ever so important because it is really going to determine who sees the most snow.

If we have more of a west-southwesterly wind, that sets the heavy snow south of Buffalo. But if it is more of a southwesterly wind direction and has more of a fetch over Lake Erie, that means Buffalo gets hit hardest.

Let me take you there because I want to show you what it looks like on the shores of Lake Erie right now. It is blustery and this is one of those bands of snowfall moving in. It's going to dump up to three to four feet of snowfall for this area. Just incredible.

BRUNHUBER: We'll keep watching that throughout the weekend. Derek Van Dam in Atlanta, thank you so much.

VAN DAM: Okay.

BRUNHUBER: Four years after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the U.S. has determined that Saudi crown prince, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, should be given immunity in a lawsuit brought against him in connection with the killing.

Khashoggi's fiancee and the human rights organization Khashoggi founded called DAWN alleged that team of assassins kidnapped, tortured, and assassinated the journalist, and dismembered his body. The 2021 U.S. intelligence report said that bin Salman approved the operation. Anna Coren joins me from Hong Kong with more. So, Anna, an extremely controversial decision to say the least that the Biden administration have a choice here.

ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kim, they did. You know, they had a choice not to make a recommendation but at the 11th hour decided to weigh in, delivering an opinion to federal court that Saudi crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, better known as MBS, should be granted immunity for his role in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi back in 2018.


COREN: The reason they say is because MBS is now considered head of state after his father, King Salman, recently made his son prime minister. That's a move that critics believe was to strengthen MBS's immunity claim.

The State Department says that sovereign immunity is based on -- quote -- "longstanding and well-established principles of common law" and suggestion of immunity for MBS in Khashoggi's murder is purely a legal determination. It did, however, condemn the murder as heinous.

Khashoggi's fiancee and human rights group DAWN filed a civil suit in a Washington court back in 2020 against MBS and 28 others involved. U.S. intelligence came, as you pointed out, concluded that the Saudi crown prince had ordered the murder of Khashoggi, a "Washington Post" journalist who was an outspoken critic of MBS.

Now, the crown prince is currently in Asia. He's attending the APEC Summit in Thailand. He arrived late last night. He was greeted warmly by the Thai prime minister. We are yet to hear from him or from any world leader for that matter.

We are also expecting to hear from human rights groups. They will condemn this stance taken by the Biden administration. Let's now listen to what Sarah Leah Whitson, the executive director of DAWN, that human rights group founded by Khashoggi, as well as a member of this civil lawsuit against MBS.


SARAH LEAH WHITSON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, DEMOCRACY FOR THE ARAB WORLD NOW: What we are doing by granting this concession to Muhammed bin Salman, by shielding him from accountability, is giving him a green light to keep at it, keep attacking people in the United States as he has been doing because they criticize him, keep jailing women and men in Saudi Arabia because they have an opinion about the politics of the country, keep subjecting Yemen to a siege where millions of people are starving as a result of this idiotic war that he started. This is a green light.


COREN: Now, President Biden was in Saudi Arabia back in July trying to convince the kingdom to undo a series of oil production cuts. Saudi Arabia did not comply on that front nor it improve its human rights record, leaving many, Kim, confused as to why the administration would recommend immunity for MBS.

BRUNHUBER: Yeah, many questions swirling about this. Anna Coren, thank you so much.

Major change is underway for Democrats in the U.S. Congress. The party is looking forward to a new slate of leaders after speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, announced she would not run for another leadership post. Democrats are likely to pick New York Congressman Hakeem Jeffries.

The 52-year-old will become the first Black person ever to lead the party in Congress. Fifty-nine-year-old Katherine Clark and 43-year-old Pete Aguilar are expected to run for supporting positions in the November 30th leadership elections.



BRUNHUBER: Pelosi will remain in Congress representing the San Francisco area since 1987. She became the first and only woman elected speaker in 2006. The 82-year-old Democrat helped to pass President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act in 2010, and she led Democrats to impeach Donald Trump twice.

PELOSI: I will not seek reelection to democratic leadership in the next Congress. For me, the hours come for a new generation to lead the democratic caucus that I so deeply respect, and I am grateful that so many are ready and willing to shoulder this awesome responsibility.


BRUNHUBER: Pelosi will be giving up the speaker's gavel in January since Republicans won control of the chamber in this month's midterm elections.

President Joe Biden says he is willing to work with new republican majority but GOP hardliners apparently are in no mood to reciprocate. On Thursday, Republican lawmakers made clear they intend to open numerous investigations into the Biden administration and the president's family.

The Republicans are expected to use their new subpoena power to go after the Homeland Security over border security. They also want to investigate the private finances of the president son, Hunter, the chaotic withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, the various government probes into Donald Trump, and to look into the COVID vaccine mandates. The White House is slamming the agenda as political revenge based on discredited conspiracy theories.

Joining me now on all of this is Julie Norman, an associate professor of politics and international relations at University College London. Thanks so much for being here with us. So, Julie, let's start there with the Republicans' plan to go after the Biden administration and his family. So, how big of a distraction will this be for Biden as he attempts to work with the republican majority in the House?


JULIE NORMAN, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY COLLEGE LONDON: Well, Kim, it's a distraction that certainly has been expected. The Democrats expected that the House will go to the Republicans as it did even by a slim margin. And with that majority, they probably will just use this as a time to hold Biden's feet to the fire, really try and make him as unelectable as possible going into 2024.

And the main tool they have to do that is through launching these investigations, which they can do just that simple majority however small it can be. And what that does is it just keeps the attention and the news cycle and their own party's views on what they see as the main failures of the Biden administration from the Afghanistan withdrawal to COVID and, of course, personal issues as well, especially around Biden's son, Hunter Biden.

So, I think we'll see a lot of attention there. Otherwise, it will be a lot of gridlock on Capitol Hill with either party really able to get much real legislation through. So, still, we'll see a lot of politics (INAUDIBLE) 2024 and trying to smear the other side as much as possible.

BRUNHUBER: Well, do you think that gridlock -- I mean, might this all kind of help Democrats in a way? I mean, Republicans said they would do better than Biden on crime, immigration, the economy. Will they pay a price with moderate conservatives and independents if they are seen as bringing Washington to a standstill instead of concentrating on those issues, keeping in mind as well that there are about, what, some 30 House Republicans who represent swing districts?

NORMAN: Well, that is exactly right, Kim, and it's one reason why Kevin McCarthy or whoever speaker is going to have quite a challenge with keeping Republicans on board and also not alienating moderates and independents across the country going into 2024.

I think he is aware of that challenge. I think they are doubling down on the fact that most Republican voters will lean into a lot of these issues and investigations that they are planning to look into.

But at the end of the day, they do have to be aware of that, and I think that is one reason why McCarthy and others have pulled back on some earlier murmurs of saying, you know, impeaching Biden. That was something we heard from Marjorie Taylor Greene and some other more extreme MAGA members.

I think they know not to push too hard on some of those things. But at the same time, some of these investigations, I think, will play to a relatively broad conservative base.

BRUNHUBER: Yeah. Those extreme members that you mentioned will have a huge amount of power because of that narrow margin in the House there. So, let's turn now to the passing of the torch. Nancy Pelosi is saying she is stepping down from democratic leadership. So, first, a quick look back. Why was she so effective for so long, from a democratic standpoint, and what do you think her legacy will be?

NORMAN: She did stand out as a strong leader and a very long lasting one for nearly two decades, the first woman speaker. She did several things that, I think, were really consequential. First, we are just moving through really key democrat legislation over the Obama and Biden administrations, most notably the Affordable Care Act, which was really a bruising process but they did get that through, and then some of Biden's legislation as well, especially infrastructure and the Inflation

Reduction Act.

She did that also while shepherding Congress through some really tough periods, through COVID, changing some of the rules to keep the chamber operating, through the stormy Trump years and, of course, through January 6th. She also managed to keep her own caucus together as the Democrats themselves started to diverge in ways that they haven't really before between progressives and more centrist wings.

So, she did manage to do all that. She obviously had her enemies and critics through all of that as well. She was obviously seen as a villain often from the right, even among some Democrats sometimes seen as too aggressive or too cautious, depending on one's view. I think there was also a sense that she maybe times was holding on to the gavel too long and not making room for this new generation.

BRUNHUBER: Let me jump in -- let me jump in because we only have about 30 seconds. I want to ask you about that new generation because it's not just Pelosi leaving, it's also the number two and three Democrats in the House. Do you think the party will benefit from the injection of new blood or will they suffer in this divided Congress without all that experience at the helm?

NORMAN: I think it's an advantage, Kim, especially as we are looking at a potential 2024 rematch between Biden and Trump. We see a lot of the older generation, octogenarians, still in these positions. It's really key to have Hakeem Jeffries as a new young leader, the first Black person to hold that role, as well as Katherine Clark and Pete Aguilar in those potential roles will really bring some new kind of spirit to the party and I think to the chamber.

BRUNHUBER: We shall have to see. We have to leave it there. Julie Norman in London, thanks so much for being here with us.

Now that the U.S. House is headed to republican control, former U.S. President Barack Obama has delivered some of his most forceful comments yet on the stakes facing the country. Here's what he said Thursday in a keynote speech at the Obama Foundation Democracy Forum.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What's being challenged are the foundation of principles of democracy itself. [02:15:00]

OBAMA: The notion that all citizens have a right to freely participate in selecting who governs them. The notion that votes will be counted and the party that gets more votes wins. That losers concede. That power is transferred peacefully. That the winners don't abuse the machinery of government to punish losers. We're going to have to figure out how to live together, or we will destroy each other.


BRUNHUBER: In an interview with Trevor Noah on "The Daily Show," the former president praised Democrats for voting down Republican election deniers, adding they were running the state and national races where they -- quote -- "really do some damage."

The power is out across Ukraine just as its harsh winter begins to set in. Millions of Ukrainians still have to get through cold weather after new Russian strikes on their infrastructure. That's ahead next. Stay with us.


BRUNHUBER: Ukraine is scrambling to contain the damage from the latest wave of Russian strikes on its energy infrastructure. Some missiles also hit Ukrainian cities which was caught on video. Have a look here.




BRUNHUBER: Missile strike in the city of Dnipro Thursday morning, wounding dozens of people. Meanwhile, the capital of Kyiv is receiving only about half of its usual power supply after Russia rained missiles on electricity infrastructure across Ukraine. Temperatures are dropping below freezing in parts of the country. President Zelenskyy says millions of Ukrainians have to ride that out without power. Here he is.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE (through translator): The consequences of another missile attack against Ukraine continues all day. Again, there have been emergency power outages in addition to plain ones. As of now, more than 10 million Ukrainians are without electricity.


BRUNHUBER: Meanwhile, the investigation into a missile that flew from Ukraine to Poland should be done in a few days, according to Polish government spokesperson who was interviewed by CNN. Poland and NATO said it was probably a stray Ukrainian missile that hit a border village and killed two people.

For more on all of this, we're joined by Yuriy Sak. He's an adviser to Ukraine's defense minister. He joins us from Kyiv. Thanks so much for being here with us.

So, I want to start with that missile. Your president first said it wasn't from Ukraine, contradicting President Biden who said essentially that the evidence indicated otherwise, and later, President Zelenskyy said he wasn't 100% sure. So, are you learning any more about this? Can you tell us any more about the origin of that missile?

YURIY SAK, ADVISER TO UKRAINIAN DEFENSE MINISTER: Hello and thank you for inviting me. Well, yes, we have said pretty much after -- immediately after this incident -- tragic incident happened, we have said that we welcome the investigation of this incident and we were asking our Polish partners to allow access to Ukrainian experts to the site of this tragic incident.

Yesterday, our experts have already arrived there and together with the Polish experts and the U.S. experts, they are now trying to establish what exactly has happened. And what we have to stress is something that has been already said by most leaders of the civilized world, that regardless of the outcome of this investigation and examination, the ultimate responsibility for this incident is with Russia.

And one of the issues that was of concern to many, of course, was, was it a deliberate attack by Russia on Poland or not? Now, we can certainly say that this was -- this tragic incident was a result of a deliberate missile attack of Russia on Ukraine because on that day, almost 100 missiles were fired at Ukrainian cities, as you know, and thankfully, Ukrainian air defense forces have been able to shoot down 73 of those. But, of course, we will have to wait until the final outcome of this investigation to draw definitive conclusions.

BRUNHUBER: Can you tell me any more about that? So, you're saying that the Ukrainian experts are actually on the ground right now? Can you tell us how they will be conducting this and how long it might take?

SAK: The latest we have heard, they are on site, they are doing everything they have to from the point of view of the investigation. They will report as soon as the investigation -- you know, within the foreseeable future, we will have the outcome and we will have a consolidated opinion of the Ukrainian experts, Polish experts and the U.S. experts as regards to what had happened.

BRUNHUBER: Ultimately, as you said, Ukraine and its allies agree that the blame for this lies with Russia because of its ongoing missile attacks. Many of those right now are targeting infrastructure and energy infrastructure in particular. So many people in Ukraine are facing the cold without power. What more can Ukraine do, if anything, to protect its power grid?

SAK: Of course, the priority number one for Ukraine in this respect is improving our air defense capabilities and this is something that we rely on our international partners for.

I would like to stress this. These missile attacks, of course, they're awful and horrible and they inflict a lot of damage on our energy infrastructure, but at the same time, they will never break our will because if you listen, for example, to what the people in the liberated city of Kherson are saying, they are saying, we don't have electricity, we don't have even drinking water, but we don't have Russians in our city.

Now, for us, the worst blackout that we can weaken experience is when the Russian war criminals, Russian looters, and Russian rapists are on our land. This is the blackout that we are fighting against the most.


SAK: We are determined to continue our counteroffensive. We are determined, you know, regardless of the weather conditions and regardless of the attempts by the enemy to intimidate us with these missile attacks on our energy infrastructure, we will keep going, and we are confident that our partners will stand with us.

BRUNHUBER: Well, on that, you know, here in the U.S., some far-right Republicans are promising to fight against Ukrainian aid. Now, there are only a few of them, admittedly, but they will have huge leverage with their party because they have such a thin majority in the House of Representatives coming up. So, how concerned are you that key support from the U.S. may be danger here?

SAK: We have said before that the bipartisan support from the United States to Ukraine since the beginning of this large-scale invasion has been phenomenal and, of course, it has been instrumental in our efforts to defend our country and to expel the enemy. So, we are hopeful that this will continue. We are hopeful because, you know, this war is far from over. We need this support.

You know, we are confident that the political elites in the United States are fully aware and understand that while this war is fought on the Ukrainian territory, this war is not just about Ukraine. Everything that happens on our territory reverberates across the international community, as you have seen: nuclear blackmail, food security crisis, energy blackmail of European countries.

So, our partners, first and foremost the U.S., of course, understand that this is a war which has an impact on all of us, on the whole of the international community. This is why we are confident that the support will continue.

BRUNHUBER: Yeah, we have seen that come into sharp relief recently this week. Yuriy Sak, thank you so much. I really appreciate your time.

SAK: Thank you. Thank you so much.

BRUNHUBER: All right, you're watching "CNN Newsroom." Just ahead, another provocative missile test from North Korea. The timing seems to be more than just a coincidence. Please stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)



KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN ANCHOR: North Korea has launched an intercontinental ballistic missile just as Asia Pacific leaders are gathering in Thailand for the APEC summit. Japan says the missile likely fell into the sea near Hokkaido inside its economic exclusion zone. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida condemned the launch as provocative and unacceptable. Now it's the second ICBM test by North Korea this month and the 34th of missile launches this year. Pyongyang fires a short0range ballistic missile on Thursday. CNN's Will Ripley is following developments live this hour in Bangkok. So, Will, what more can you tell us about this?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, we need to keep in mind 34 launch events, but North Korea claims to have launched around 50 ballistic missiles alone. And if you add in the Scud missiles, which are the older and slower missiles that don't violate UN Security Council resolutions, but certainly still pose a threat, especially if they were all launched at once, which North Korea launched about 80 total missiles over a period of just a few days, just a matter of weeks ago, it adds up to a potentially very, very serious threat. Because missile defense systems that exist in South Korea and the United States and Japan wouldn't be able to accurately shoot down all of those incoming missiles if they were fired in this salvo -- this barrage if you will.

So, North Korea essentially experts say has been demonstrating with these launches their ability to you know, engage a nuclear war that would be -- that would be catastrophic for all sides involved. And from the North Korean perspective, all my trips into that country, I was told these missiles are a deterrence just like the American and Russian, and Chinese nuclear arsenals, then the other countries around the world like India, Pakistan, Israel, the UK, I mean, all of the nuclear powers of the world have these weapons and they exist for deterrence purposes.

Now, this intercontinental ballistic missile traveled on a lofty trajectory, which is a typical test trajectory for an ICBM. That means it didn't travel, you know, to another continent like it potentially could but it demonstrated the ability to do that by shooting a very, very high. You're talking about 6100 kilometers. So, it went well up into space. It was traveling at 22 times the speed of sound, Mach 22 at maximum speed, and its splashdown in the waters inside Japan's exclusive economic zone but it did not have a trajectory that would have taken it over Japan.

That said, near the northern island of Hokkaido, U.S. military base there, they did actually issue a Shelter in Place alert because there was concern about falling debris. These missiles when they test them, they don't have a nuclear warhead in them, of course, but there's always the risk of this thing -- you know, some sort of a misfire or if the thing breaking apart like the ICBM that North Korea attempted to launch earlier, it just -- again just a matter of weeks ago, and it actually disappeared from radar over the sea of Japan, which is also known as the East Sea on the Korean peninsula. If that were to happen overland, Kim, obviously, there'd be the concern there could be damage or injuries. But that did not happen luckily, in this latest North Korean missile test.

BRUNHUBER: All right, thanks so much, Will Ripley, in Bangkok, Thailand.

Still, to come, Iranian judges are handing down death sentences to anti-government protesters as civil unrest now spreads into its third month. Well, that story and more after the break. Please do stay with us.



BRUNHUBER: Iran's harsh crackdown on anti-government demonstrations has led to five alleged protesters being sentenced to death in recent days. At least a thousand people have been arrested and the death toll keeps climbing. Now, well over 300 and that includes seven people reportedly shot to death in the southern city of Izeh, though it's not known who did the shooting. Now, one of those victims was a nine-year- old boy who apparently was killed while walking home with his father.

A Dutch court on Thursday convicted three men for their roles in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 eight years ago. Two former Russian operatives and a Ukrainian separatist were sentenced to life in prison. But the convictions were handed down in absentia and none are likely to serve time. The fourth suspect was acquitted. The plane was shot down over eastern Ukraine by a Russian missile launched from territory held by pro-Russian rebels. All 298 people on board were killed. Victims' families were emotional following the verdict.


MERYN O'BRIEN, RELATIVE OF MH17 VICTIM: Our objective and independent. It's come -- the process has come to an end. And it's been very fair. And it's been meticulous and it's been thorough, and the evidence has been weighed and I feel like for those who want to hear the truth is out there.

JORDAN WITHERS, RELATIVE OF MH17 VICTIM: And you've got to remember, while we were in court today, we still have to go home and sit at a dinner table without our loved ones and nothing -- that's never going to go away that feeling that you know, no matter what a court says or what happens in court, that's still always going to be the case. And so for the -- you know nearly 300 victims' families, it's a difficult day.


BRUNHUBER: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also welcomed the decision. I'm Kim Brunhuber here in the U.S. and Canada. CNN NEWSROOM continues after a quick break, but for our international viewers, "WORLD SPORT" is next.