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Officials: 1,000+ Bodies In 30 West Darfur Mass Graves; Ukraine Says It Launched July Attack On Russian Bridge To Crimea; Trump And 18 Allies Charged In 41-Count Georgia Indictment. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired August 16, 2023 - 05:30   ET



DANNY FREEMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And federal officials easing water restrictions along the Colorado River after a snowy winter raised water levels in Lake Mead and the lower basin area. It impacts Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico.

All right. Coming up in a moment, the U.N. says the conflict in Sudan is spiraling out of control as 30 mass graves are reportedly uncovered. And we'll have more on deadly clashes in Libya between rival militias. Stay with us.


FREEMAN: Now to Sudan where a West Darfur government forum representing ethnic groups in the region says they have evidence of 30 mass graves and more than 1,000 people buried. The U.N. reports more than a million people have fled since April when two militias began fighting for control over the country.


CNN's Stephanie Busari joins us now from Lagos, Nigeria. Stephanie, so much devastating violence in this area. Please bring us up to speed about what's happening.

STEPHANIE BUSARI, CNN AFRICA SENIOR EDITOR: Danny, another disturbing discovery where community leaders in West Darfur are saying that they've discovered 30 mass graves with more than 1,000 bodies in them. And these leaders are from the mainly Masalit ethnic tribe, which is a non-Arab community and it kind of gives you a sense of the ethnic undertones involved in this conflict.

Now, you'll remember that West Darfur was the site of a genocide 20 years ago with a similar -- with similar people involved.

So the community leaders are accusing the Rapid Support Forces -- the RSF -- of hiding bodies and dumping them. They also accuse them of threatening aid workers to prepare the bodies for burial and then taking them away to hide in secret locations for burial.

Now, we also reported in July of 87 bodies found in a mass grave but the community leaders are saying that this is just a small percentage of the bodies hidden out there. And CNN has not been able to independently verify these reports or, indeed, how many mass graves there are in West Darfur, but it is a very worrying development.

And the Southern -- Sudanese Sovereignty Council chairman has called for a caretaker government to take over. Listen to what he has to say.


MALIK AGAR, DEPUTY CHAIRMAN, SUDAN'S SOVEREIGN COUNCIL: (through translator): The situation necessitates us to form a government to run the will of the state to carry out a couple of basic tasks. To provide services and rebuild what was destroyed by the war. To work with the political forces to structure and establish the state. And to prepare the environment for a constituent and constitutional conference that will lead us to elections and the peaceful exchange of power.


BUSARI: So the U.N. has also called this a senseless war that is driven by a wanton need for power. And they're saying that a lot of war crimes are going unheeded in this area of Sudan, Danny.

FREEMAN: Stephanie, just horrible. Thank you for bringing us the latest.

And we're learning more about the attack on Russia's Kerch bridge to Crimea back in July. Ukraine is now claiming responsibility for the remote-controlled sea drone that delivered the weapon. In a CNN exclusive, Nick Paton Walsh got access to footage showing the exact moment of the blast.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's become the most beleaguered symbol of Russian occupation. This weekend, Moscow saying this incident was just a smokescreen foiling a Ukrainian attack on the $4 billion Kerch bridge, the link between Russia and occupied Crimea that Putin seems to dote on.

Now CNN has obtained exclusive footage heralding a new way of warfare of another earlier devastating Ukrainian seaborne drone strike there in July from the Ukrainian security services, the SBU, who say they did it and more will follow.

This is exactly what the drone pilot saw -- thermal imagery -- the water rippling as up to a ton of explosive approaches the bridge. The feed then obviously went dead as it hit the concrete.

Russian officials said two civilians died in the attack. Cameras on the bridge captured the first blast on the road section. The cursor shows the drone moving in -- and another on the railway tracks at about the same time.

Ukraine has been coy. Some officials saying these huge blasts are from, quote, "an identified floating object" -- but no longer. The head of the Ukrainian security services told CNN this is just the start.

VASYL MALIUK, HEAD OF SBU (through translator): Sea surface drones are a unique invention of the security service of Ukraine. None of the private companies are involved. Using these drones, we have recently conducted successful hits of the Crimean Bridge; a big assault ship, Olenegorsky Gornyak; and SIG tanker.

WALSH (voice-over): This, another Ukrainian drone attack on the Russian amphibious assault boat, Olenegorsky Gornyak, on which Ukrainian officials said 100 personnel were on board. It was a remarkable feat carried out by a growing fleet of what they call the "Sea Babies."

Hundreds of miles away from Ukrainian bases and right in Russia's coastal heartland, it put the Black Sea's east suddenly at risk.


MALIUK (through translator): These drones are produced in an underground production facility in Ukraine. We are working on a number of new, interesting operations, including in the Black Sea waters. I promise you it will be exciting, especially for our enemies.

WALSH (voice-over): Ukraine's ingenuity again and again toppling the lumbering Russian Goliath.

Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, Dnipro, Ukraine.


FREEMAN: Our thanks to Nick Paton Walsh for that incredible report.

All right. Coming up in a moment, "Swifterature" -- a new course studying Taylor Swift. We'll tell you where you can enroll. Plus, how Donald Trump is using his criminal indictments to power his campaign.


FREEMAN: Former President Trump was just indicted for the fourth time and despite the legal troubles, Trump has continued to lead GOP presidential polls by a wide margin. So will Trump's political support remain high?


CNN's Jeff Zeleny has more.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (on camera): So if these past indictments is any indication of what will happen with this, the former president is likely to regain his base of supporters. He's likely to raise considerable money off the indictment, and he's likely to turn this into his advantage, at least politically speaking. But talking to a variety of Republican advisers and campaign officials they say this could be different.

Of course, the case in Georgia is so much different. It's much longer and it is in a state court, so these proceedings are likely to be televised -- far different than the federal indictments he is facing.

So for now, at least, in the short term -- yes, he's gaining politically from this, but it is unclear how this will play out. One thing is certain now. The former president's legal campaign and his political campaign are one.

Jeff Zeleny, CNN, Washington.


FREEMAN: All right. For more on this, let's bring in Mariana Alfaro, a reporter on the breaking political news team at The Washington Post.

Mariana, I want to jump right in with a question that I feel like we've asked quite a bit now, but is there any reason to think the post-indictment political boost we've seen before for Trump will be any different this time around?

MARIANA ALFARO, POLITICS BREAKING NEWS REPORTERS, THE WASHINGTON POST (via Skype): I think there's no reason to believe that. In fact, I think that this time around he's probably going to use all of the media attention around him, potentially showing up in jail, having a mugshot taken in his benefit. So I think that's just going to rile his base a little more.

FREEMAN: All right. So, similar to some previous indictments, some of Trump's fellow Republican presidential candidates have criticized the charges instead of Trump himself. Let's take a listen.


RON DESANTIS, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it's an example of this criminalization of politics.

TIM SCOTT, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We see the legal system being weaponized against political opponents. That is un-American and unacceptable.

VIVEK RAMASWAMY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The reality is this. These are politicized persecutions through prosecution.


FREEMAN: All right, Mariana, that rhetoric -- is that going to play well with the GOP voters?

ALFARO: Yes. In fact, I feel like only the ones that have a longshot in the presidential primary are saying this is what disqualifies Trump. I think it's Asa Hutchinson, Will Hurd -- two candidates that are really pulling very behind the former president who are saying that the indictment could hurt him. Other than that, the other ones are really playing to the base. I mean, Ron DeSantis is running second -- a very far second -- and has

really stood through Trump and said that if he is elected president, he's going to make it so that these things -- this criminalization of government institutions doesn't happen.

So it's definitely playing to the base right here.

FREEMAN: Yes. I mean, you saw that poll on the screen. It's hard to not play to that sentiment.

All right. Trump has teased a news conference coming up on Monday addressing the indictment. Mariana, I'm curious. Just how do the other GOP candidates get their message with Trump just constantly commanding the spotlight?

ALFARO: Yes. I think it's going to be really interesting to see when he decides to turn himself in to jail -- to jail -- to the court. He has until August 25.

But then, the first GOP presidential debate is on August 23. You know, there is some concern -- I mean, there's an idea that he could turn himself in that day because he's already said he's not going to participate in the debate. And you can just imagine how the split screen of the debate and then Trump showing up to turn himself in could draw all the attention away from the debates.

So I think that -- you know, all of these other players are going to have to really continue making all of these statements saying they either support the president or they really think that this should take him out of the race. But at this point, Trump's platform and all of the attention he has is really commanding the waves and it's going to take a very "out there" statement, maybe, for a Republican candidate to break through that ground.

FREEMAN: I believe it.

Mariana Alfaro, of The Washington Post, thank you very much.

ALFARO: Thanks so much.

FREEMAN: All right. Coming up on "CNN THIS MORNING," North Korea breaking its silence on a U.S. soldier who dashed across the DMZ.

And next, right here, Lionel Messi living up to the hype in Miami. We'll tell you all about it.



FREEMAN: All right. Ghent University, in Belgium, is launching a new literature course. Take a listen.



FREEMAN: Yep! The course is dedicated to analyzing Taylor Swift music. The teacher, who writes a blog called "Swifterature," compares Swift's themes, imagery, and language to writers like Shakespeare and Sylvia Plath. She says topics this fall will include literary feminism, ecocriticism, fan studies, and tropes such as -- yep -- the anti-hero. There you go.

All right, to this now. Lionel Messi proves once again why he's the greatest soccer player of all time in Philadelphia, no less.

Andy Scholes has this morning's Bleacher Report. Hey, Andy.


You know, so before signing Messi, Inter Miami -- they were just having a dreadful season. But ever since, they haven't lost a match and Messi has scored in every single one of them.

So, Messi and Miami were playing in the semifinals of the Leagues Cup against Philadelphia last night, and look what Messi did in the 20th minute. He's going to get the ball, go on a run here, and then just blast this one for more than 30 yards out past the goalie's outstretched arms. I mean, take another look. This was just an absolute perfect shot.

Messi is just the best ticket in sports right now. That was his ninth goal in six games with Miami. They would win this one easily 4-1 to advance in the Leagues Cup final.

All right. The office of the attorney general of the Dominican Republic, meanwhile, tells CNN that an investigation is underway into Rays All-Star shortstop Wander Franco for alleged -- an alleged relationship with a minor. Officials did not reveal any further details. CNN has reached out to Franco's representative for comment on the investigation in his native country.

The 22-year-old stepped away from the Rays' current West Coast road trip on Monday due to the situation surrounding social media posts. A Major League Baseball official tells CNN that they are investigating those posts. Neither Major League Baseball nor the Rays have given any details on those posts.


All right, and finally, we have all said if you do this, then I'll do this to someone. Well, a Dodgers fan by the name of Giuseppe Mancuso told Mookie Betts, before an at-bat two weeks ago, if you hit a home run here, I'll give my soon-to-be daughter the middle name Mookie.


MOOKIE BETTS, OUTFIELDER, LOS ANGELES DODGERS: I heard this and I laughed. And he said he was serious. And so I turned around and I told him no, don't do that, bro. Don't do that. And he said no, I'm going to do it. I said your wife wouldn't like that, bro. Don't do that.


SCHOLES: Well, Mookie went to the plate and hit his longest home run as a Dodger. And on his way to the dugout gave Guiseppe a fist bump. And Guiseppe -- well, he made good on his promise. He named his newborn Francesca Mookie Mancuso, even posting her birth certificate to social media.


BETTS: A shoutout to you, Guiseppe. I can't wait to meet Francesca. And that's going to be my girl. That's going to be my girl.


SCHOLES: And Betts also called it one of the coolest moments of his career.

So there you go, Danny. You know, you have to -- when you say something like that it's pretty cool when you follow through.

FREEMAN: Hey, a bet's a bet, Andy -- a bet's a bet -- and Mookie just continues to be the best. Love that.

SCHOLES: Yep, he certainly is.

FREEMAN: All right, our top of the morning now -- the top TV shows streaming at this moment.




FREEMAN: "ONLY MURDERS IN THE BUILDING" is number one on Reelgood's most popular list.

Let's take a look at number two.


Clip from Netflix "PAINKILLER."


FREEMAN: Matthew Broderick in "PAINKILLER."

And at number three.



(END VIDEO CLIP) FREEMAN: Yeah, that's "SUITS" right there, starring a then-little- known Meghan Markle.

They all look good.

Thank you so much for joining us. I'm Danny Freeman.

"CNN THIS MORNING" is coming up just ahead. And where Donald Trump is likely to surrender in his latest Georgia indictment. We'll have all of that. Plus, the death toll is ticking up in Hawaii. "CNN THIS MORNING" with a life report coming up next.