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New Day

Thousands in Sudan Protest Gold Exploitation After CNN Report; CNN Sources Say, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) Expected to Visit Taiwan Despite China Warnings; Death Toll Rises, Rescues Underway as More Kentucky Rain Looms. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired August 01, 2022 - 07:00   ET



JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is going to get worse, especially during the late fall, in the winter, when the temperatures start to drop. He is saying that there is, in all likelihood, not going to be gas, not going to be electricity, very difficult getting access to clean water, which is why he is telling these residents to get out now. But, of course, it's happened to convince these residents, many of whom simply say they don't want to leave because they feel as though they have no place to go. They can't afford to get out. But the president is saying that more people who leave now, he says, the less people Russia will have to kill in the future. Brianna?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. And looking at what happened Mykolaiv, just incredible, terrible, terrible attacks there. Jason Carroll live for us in Chernihiv, thank you.

We're going to speak to John Kirby, White House National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, here just in minutes.

And New Day continues right now.

Good morning to viewers here in the U.S. and around the world. It is Monday, August 1st. I'm Brianna Keilar. John Berman is off and John Avlon is here with us this morning.


KEILAR: Great to you have.

We begin with major news just in, CNN reporting that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will be visiting Taiwan after all despite China's stern warnings for her not to go. This comes from U.S. and Taiwanese sources. It's not clear which day Pelosi will be visiting as her Asia trip gets under way here. We had previously reported that the Biden administration privately tried to convince Pelosi not to go to Taiwan. So, how will Beijing respond? We're going to speak with the White House here in moments as well.

But, first -- AVLON: More exclusive CNN reporting, sparking an international response, protests erupting in Sudan after a CNN investigation revealed Russia is plundering Sudan's to help finance Putin's war in Ukraine.

CNN Chief International Investigative Correspondent Nima Elbagir is in London with all the details. Nima, tell us more.

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John and Brianna. We have known for some time about Russia's project to buttress itself against the U.S. sanctions regime, but what haven't really been able to pin down is the mechanisms of that sanctions evasion and cost of it to the people on the ground.

This is what we have uncovered. Take a look.


ELBAGIR (voice over): Deep in Sudan's gold country, miners toil in the searing heat, barely surviving in what should be one of Africa's richest countries, providing gold for a war a continent away. We investigate a force more powerful than Sudan's government controlling its gold.

For millennia, Sudan has produced some of the most sought after gold in the world, and Putin's private army, the notorious paramilitary group, Wagner, knows it.

Sudan's government is denying Wagner's existence in country, but we're not buying it and we've come to investigate.

Wagner's tentacle stretch right across Africa. We have discovered some of its most notorious operatives are working on Sudan. Evgeny Prigozhin, the head of Wagner, Mikhail Potepkin, Prigozhin's head of Sudan ops, and Alexander Sergeyevich Kuznetsov, Wagner's key enforcer, previously convicted of kidnap and robbery, working with this man, Sudanese General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, AKA Hemedti, in a quid pro quo for training and weaponry.

We travel 200 miles north from the capital, Khartoum, to gold country to take a closer look at Wagner's main moneymaker, artisanal gold.

Miners bring rocks they extract here to be processed. 85 percent of Sudan's gold is produced artisanally.

This right here, it may not look like much, this is what is left after the rocks that the miners have brought in is milled. Now, they have taken what they can out of it, but this gets sold. And when it is properly processed with someone who has superior technology, you can make ten times what those miners over there are making.

Ten times more money without any of the backbreaking work. And the only foreign processing plant operational in Sudan is Wagner's Meroe Gold despite a Sudanese law limiting ownership to locals.

Also troubling, Meroe Gold was sanctioned two years ago by the United States for exploiting Sudan's natural resources and spreading their malign influence around the globe.


According to the Sudanese government, they officially ceased operations but they are still here, still evading sanctions. We verified their location with coordinates provided by Sudanese anticorruption investigators and head there to see for ourselves.

As we approach, the red flag of the former Soviet Union blows in the wind. Increasingly used by Russian nationalists, it brazenly marks the Meroe Gold compound. A Russian tanker sits next to me. We get to the entrance and decide to ask a few questions, but not before we turn on our covert cameras.

While that is convenient, they have just confirmed the Russians are at this location.

There is a black pickup approaching.


Gus (ph) just confirmed that the Russian managers in that black pickup and on his way to us.

A Russian van races to the office but no one seems to be coming over.

It seems the Russian manager has changed his mind.

But others turn up instead.

They claim this part is Sudanese-owned and is called Al-Solag. Remember that name, it's important, Al-Solag.

We head off the property to do some more filming but we're followed. Security approaches. They want us to stop.

This is public ground. This is public ground. Why is your van stopping here? Trying to get us to move on. They're taking pictures of us, of our license plates.

The reason they're so nervous, Al-Solag is a front for the Russian company, Meroe Gold. Wagner is still operating illegally, a foreign company pretending to be Sudanese to evade U.S. sanctions. We obtained their registration documents to prove it.

The document on the left is for Meroe, the one on the right, Al-Solag. These dates represent complaints made in employment courts against Meroe Gold. These ones from Al-Solag are the same. Under Sudanese law, when a company's holdings are transferred, so are any judgments against it. Here, you can see the judgments against both companies are identical.

All they've done is change the name. Wagner hiding in plain sight to avoid U.S. sanctions and keep the financial pipeline flowing back to Moscow and its war on Ukraine, a dangerous business to delve into. Since we've arrived in country, I've been informed by sources of threats that they believe to be credible against me. They say that's what happens here when you look too closely at Russia's business dealings. We're off to meet one of those sources and he's asked that I come alone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Meroe Gold is a front for the Russians, specifically for the forces of Wagner, that are working to exploit gold in Sudan and its export. It's a front. It's not a company. It extracts gold from tailings and it buys from the Sudanese artisanal miners. That's not legal because the law says that any gold producer is supposed to report the quantity it produces to the central bank and to the Ministry of Mining, and that does not happen.

ELBAGIR: Inside Sudan's central bank, a whistleblower snapped this photo of a computer screen showing officially production in 2021 at 49.7 tons, 32.7 tons are unaccounted for by the central bank. But the real figure we're told by whistleblowers could be over 220 tons. That's around $13.4 billion worth of gold a year that's being stolen from Sudan.

How has this happened?

Three years ago, the Sudanese people successfully overthrew Africa's second longest ruling dictator, Omar el-Bashir. Less than two years later, the military staged its own coup, sweeping aside civilian rule. And they did this, we're told, with Wagner's support in exchange for gold.

This man had a front row seat to Russia's machinations and has evidence to prove it stood to gain by supporting the Sudanese military's coup. Under threat of assassination, he has been in hiding for the last nine months, moving from safe house to safe house.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Russians and Sudanese officers saw the civilians and the government as an obstacle to their plan. The official anticorruption task force wasn't caving to pressure or threats or even bribery. The armed forces were found to be complicit in the smuggling of gold by the Russians and it was raised with them.

ELBAGIR: Do you blame Russia for the death of democracy here in Sudan?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Definitely. Russia carries the majority of the blame for the still-birthing of Sudan's democracy.


ELBAGIR: Just days later, his nephew was killed by state actors trying to stop a pro-democracy demonstration. In the two weeks we've been in Sudan investigating Russia's illegal gold mining, ten people were killed protesting for change.

It's not just on the battlefields of Ukraine that Russia is spilling blood. Here, too, there is a human cost, the cost of Russia's support of Sudan's generals in return for its gold. (END VIDEOTAPE)

ELBAGIR (on camera): We contacted key Russian and Sudanese government offices. We also contacted known addresses for Evgeny Prigozhin and Wagner and received no comment. That doesn't mean though that Sudanese authorities aren't responding, Brianna and John. We've heard from sources in Sudan that they've launched a manhunt attempting to harass those they accuse of being involved in our investigation. And that comes amid a spike in repression, according to Sudanese pro bono legal groups. John, Brianna?

AVLON: Nima, this is just absolutely phenomenal investigative reporting, and it's having a real world impact on the streets of Sudan right now. Tell us more about what's happening in Sudan in response to your reporting.

ELBAGIR: Well, the demonstrations have been extraordinarily for some months. People have been taken to the streets. But it really feels like that there has been this sense of widespread outrage because Sudan is a country that is so resource rich. And this plunder of Sudan by Russia really has colonialist echoes that in a country where a third of the people are hungry, where people are being dealt with in such brutality.

You saw in our piece the way when that body fell to the floor, the police officers actually pushed the person with his foot. There is such an extreme brutality, such an extreme of exploitation and people really now seem to be reenergized to state that they have had enough.

It's incredibly moving and heartbreaking in equal measures because the government is responding with such violence to these calls for a return not just to civilian rule but for the prosecution of those responsible for exploiting Sudan for Russia's gain.

AVLON: Niman, this is an ongoing story, but, again, absolutely phenomenal reporting. Thank you so much.

ELBAGIR: Thank you.

KEILAR: All right. Let's bring in White House National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby with us now.

New report there, as you heard, John, from our Nima Elbagir on Russia exploiting the Sudanese gold trade to pay for its war in Ukraine. What does this tell you about Russia's ability to sustain its war, the lengths that it will go and also what the international community, including the U.S., may need to do here?

JOHN KIRBY, COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: Yes. There are a couple things there, Brianna. Number one, it certainly does show the degree to which the sanctions, the export controls, the pressure that Russia has been put under since it invaded Ukraine again is showing an effect. And we see this in many different ways. This is another potential implication here of the degree to which the Russian economy is suffering. And Mr. Putin's war- making machine is being put under increasing pressure.

Number two, and we shouldn't forget this, that while this is typical of Russian exploitative behavior around the world, they simply act in their own selfish interests wherever they are without care to local political dynamics or frankly the needs of people in those countries, which, again, that makes laughable Mr. Lavrov's trip throughout Europe yesterday claiming that the food security problem was all the fault of the west and they had nothing to do with the war on Ukraine. So, it's typical Russian behavior even without the war in Ukraine.

Now, as for what the rest of the world is going to do, I think you've heard President Biden talk about this program for global infrastructure and investment, additional food security commitments. When we were in the Middle East, the GCC countries ponied up to $3 billion more for this program. So ,we're working very hard.

And as you've also seen this morning, the first ship now has left Odessa and on its way to Turkey to be inspected, has more than 26,000 tons of corn onboard. That's a good sign. It's a good start. So, we're going to continue to work with allies and partners around the world to try to alleviate the food security problems and the instability that Mr. Putin war has caused.

KEILAR: I want to ask you. We just learned from Taiwanese and U.S. sources that Speaker Pelosi is indeed going to visit Taiwan here in the coming days as part of her Asia trip. Has the White House talked to her about this directly? And has White House heard of any specific threats from China when it comes to this visit?

KIRBY: Well, the speaker will talk to her travel.


We'll let her and her staff speak to this trip that she's on.

We absolutely have, before she left, as you know, communicated with her and her team about context, geopolitical context, the facts or analysis of what was going on in the region at every stop on this trip, as we always do. I'm not going to talk about security requirements, but, clearly, we want to make sure that when she travels overseas, she can do so safely and securely and we're going to make sure of that.

There is no reason for the Chinese rhetoric. There is no reason for any actions to be taken. It is not uncommon for congressional leaders to travel to Taiwan. It is very much in keeping with our policy and consistent with our support to Taiwan under the Taiwan Relations Act. We shouldn't be -- as a country, we shouldn't be intimidated by that rhetoric or those potential actions. This is an important trip for the speaker to be on and we're going to do whatever we can to support her.

KEILAR: Is the U.S. prepared for any fallout from China?

KIRBY: I think we -- I don't want to get ahead of where things are, Brianna. There is no change to our policy, no change to our focus on trying to keep a free and safe and open Indo-Pacific. And the United States has a lot of capacity across all levers of government power to make sure that we can do that.

KEILAR: You said it's an important trip for her to be on. Why is that?

KIRBY: Well, this is an important region. It's one of the most critical regions for our economy tied to the global economy. There is a lot of tensions geopolitically not just because of China but because of North Korea and other tensions in the region. So, there is an awful lot of business for the speaker of the House to conduct on a trip like this and she can speak to her stops and what she's trying to accomplish.

But I will tell you, just a couple points, five of our seven treaty alliances are in the Indo-Pacific region. So, the United States, President Biden is committed to making sure we revitalize those alliances and that we are able to meet our security commitments in that region. Number two, it is a very dynamic region right now and part of that dynamism is caused the aggressive and coercive behavior that China is conducting throughout the region, both in the north and the south.

KEILAR: Is it important for her to be in Taiwan?

KIRBY: That is for the speaker to talk to. It is important for the United States to make sure -- let me make this clear, that when the U.S. government officials travel to Taiwan, they can do so safely and securely.

KEILAR: Russia made a counteroffer in the proposed prisoner swap for Americans Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, as you obviously know, and they want to include Vadim Krasikov, or that is at least their proposal, who was convicted a murder in Germany recently. You spoke to this a little bit, but why is a Viktor Bout, who the U.S. is willing to trade, different from a Krasikov?

KIRBY: I'm not going to confirm the outlines the proposal that we set forth, Brianna. I think you know that. We're not going to negotiate this in public. But this so-called -- you call it a counteroffer, we would call it a bad faith attempt to avoid what is a serious proposal already on the table, and, oh, by the way, Brianna, has been on the table now for several weeks.

KEILAR: Bad faith, why? Is it intentional, do you believe, by Russia to have the U.S. kind of, you know, asking Germany for a favor as Russia is cutting Germany's energy supply? Why is it bad faith?

KIRBY: Holding two Americans who have been wrongfully detained hostage for a convicted murderer and a third country is just -- we don't consider that a serious counteroffer at all. It is nothing more than a bad faith attempt by the Russians publicly to avoid what is a serious proposal, one that we are not making detailed in public and has been on the books for several weeks. And we urge the Russians to accept it.

KEILAR: I know the president watching this burn pit sort of debacle play out on the Hill with some interest, calling in their over the weekend.


KEILAR: Why does he think Republicans reverse their vote?

KIRBY: I don't think the president is going to speak for Republicans and why they did this. I think he has spoken loudly and clearly. You heard Secretary of the V.A. Denis McDonough do so well about how incorrigible this behavior is. You want to be angry about a piece of legislation that moved past you, okay, fine. But don't hold veterans hostage. Don't make them further victims of your political ire.

This act will do good things for men and women who have served in this country in dangerous places. It will expand medical care for them for toxic exposure, make it easier for them to file the claims and it will make it easier for the V.A. by increasing V.A. capacity to treat their conditions. This is all good news. This is all good for the men and women who have served this country, including many friends of mine.

So, I don't think we frankly understand the Republican psychology here. It's deeply, deeply flawed and, quite frankly, it's unpatriotic.

KEILAR: John Kirby, we appreciate you being with us from the White House. Thank you.

KIRBY: Yes, ma'am.

AVLON: We're going to be finding bodies for weeks. That dire assessment from Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear as rescue efforts continue around the clock with the death toll from the devastating flood rising.


At least 28 people have died, including four children. And now the region is bracing for even more rain.

Now, we have seen incredible stories of survival and bravery like this, a man was able to save a 98-year-old woman and two of her family members who were trapped in a house by rising floodwaters.

Joining me now is Randy Polly. He witnessed the rescue of that elderly woman and her family. Randy, it's good to see you. Tell us about that moment at the ambergris house and what you saw.

PAUL POLLY, WITNESSED RESCUE OF 98-YEAR-OLD WOMAN: Well, it started early that morning. They actually got trapped there. I was on the way to get gas and I had to turn back around, and as I approached where she lives at, it kind of merged (ph) me to the left up on a little hill. It happened around 6:30 is when I got trapped. Then about 9:30 is when we had a local hero to go try to save this lady. He actually tried to go across in front of me at the time but he couldn't. The current was so strong. So, he came back and he went back up and he drifted over to them.

For about two hours, there was a screaming for help. And I called 911 and there were so many calls and the guy knew me on the phone and he said, Randy, there is no way we can get to -- we're aware of the situation but there is no way for us to get her. And so at that time, I didn't panic and just (INAUDIBLE) somebody to help.

AVLON: You answered the call when 911 couldn't. So, what did you do then?

POLLY: Well, I mean, just a local guy, just come out of the woods on the hillside. He said, Randy, I got to get over there. And he tried to go over there. And we tried to tell him not to go because we were fearing for his life to go over there. So, he just took a hero moment and just went behind us and went up the mountain and went down.

I panicked because I sent CNN three videos because you all contacted me. At the first approach, he tried to break the window. We were still talking to the guy. And he finally bust the glass. And he was in there for like two minutes what seemed like for an eternity. Then he came back out, he said, I finally found them. So, he kind of get his way back down. And I sent you the long video that Ms. Ambergit (ph) her coming out. But for like two minutes when they tried to get her out, she was in panic mode. She didn't want to come out because of the drift. It was just so bad.

AVLON: Well, I mean -

POLLY: And when they started going down the river -- go ahead.

AVLON: Go on, sir. Go on, sir.

POLLY: When they started going down the river, you know, I was commentating. And I didn't know what to do or say because I couldn't get in the current. They were going down in the middle. And to the right about 30 feet, it goes straight into the river. And once I lost sight of them, I thought that was the end of them. Because at that time of that morning, a lot of people know that -- I witnessed two fatalities right in front of me in front of the school that I could do nothing about. It happened in a matter of ten seconds. And at that time I thought we lost four more people. So, there was nothing I could do. I felt helpless because I was stranded at 3:30 and there is nothing that I could do.

AVLON: Yes. You said also that you had seen something even more terrible. You've filmed some folks who were caught in a truck. Tell us about that.

POLLY: I'm really not obligated to say much about it but there are two that was accounted though. They got probably about 30 feet from me and I could do nothing about it because the current is so bad. In a matter of ten seconds, the truck submerged and it looked like that they were just going down the riverboat where it went. It went underwater is actually where they found the truck. And that incident, we lost two (INAUDIBLE) in Eastern Kentucky.

AVLON: Tell us before we go what your fellow Americans do to help you and your community right now, in your town? POLLY: I sent a message to our state representative. She was on the ground with the governor yesterday. And I sent her anything that we need to let North America know in the world. (INAUDIBLE), number one, pray. Pray for our community. Let's come together like it never has before.

There is over hundreds of homes or more that are devastated. And a lot of the homes have heroes. But we're going to have to be in this for not days but for months and maybe years. You know, we're going to need volunteers. We're going to need donations. And money is not just going to just stop this. I was talking to someone about the school system yesterday. We lost all books to the schools. Just the necessity from a toothbrush to cleaning supplies, it's the things that you wouldn't even think of that we use as daily thing. We need so much help here. It is unbelievable.

I took a chance to go up in a lot of the holler. People still have not even got out. We're five days in this. There is no internet. There's no power. In a lot of places, they say, we won't have water for months. People are bringing stuff in. But as fast as they bring it in if, it just gets spirited out (ph). We need help more than anything. I don't care if it's a pair of Fruit of the Looms. Babies need diapers.


Babies need formula. We need everything that's possible to get here.

And our state representative, Angie Hatton, and the mayor of Whitesburg, they have done a phenomenal job. We have all of our kids in school being volunteers, one on (INAUDIBLE) in four-wheelers, (INAUDIBLE) in the mountains and the hollers to deliver them what we're trying to get in, because people can't even get out to get their supplies.

AVLON: This is a time to step up in a sustained way to help your community. Randy Polly, thank you for coming on CNN to tell your story and the story of your community. Good luck.

POLLY: All right. God bless you and have a blessed day.

AVLON: God bless you.

All right, one of the Republican senators who blocked a bill to aid veterans exposed to toxic burn pits is lashing out at Jon Stewart calling him a, quote, pseudo celebrity.

And on the positive side of things, one winning mega millions ticket, but so far no winner to claim that billion dollar prize yet.

KEILAR: Plus, a deadly mid air mystery. Did a co-pilot fall or jump or what from a small plane? We have details ahead.



KEILAR: Did he jump, did he fall, or did something else happened to a co-pilot midflight?