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Deadly Niger Ambush Turns into Political Maelstrom; Spain Crisis; Iraqi-Kurdish Tensions; Raqqa Liberated; Dozens Killed in Afghan Mosque Attacks; Russia Investigation; Puerto Rico Crisis; Harry Potter Exhibit. Aired 4-5a ET

Aired October 21, 2017 - 04:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The controversy that just won't go away. The White House chief of staff gets his facts wrong when lashing out at a Democratic lawmaker. The White House is defending him.

Catalonia's bid for independence, it hangs in the ballots at this hour. The Spanish government holds an emergency meeting that could impact the region's future. CNN is live in Barcelona.

Plus, victory in Raqqa. U.S.-backed militia declared the total liberation of the de facto capital of ISIS.

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

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HOWELL: 4:00 am on the U.S. East Coast.

The U.S. President and the White House both standing by the chief of staff, John Kelly, despite his false claims about a U.S. congresswoman. The press secretary even going as far as calling -- questioning Kelly highly inappropriate. Our Sara Murray has this report for us.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The president's response to a U.S. soldier killed in Niger, devolving into a political brawl. Trump taking to Twitter again overnight to blast the congresswoman who accused him of being insensitive in a condolence call when he told Myeshia Johnson, the widow of Sergeant La David Johnson, that her husband knew what he got into when he signed up to serve.

"The fake news is going crazy with wacky Congresswoman Wilson, who was secretly on a very personal call and gave a total lie on content," Trump tweeted. What began as a question over an ambush in Niger that left four American soldiers dead now morphing into a political battle over how the commander in chief carries out his most solemn duty, comforting the families of soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Just a day earlier, White House Chief of Staff and retired Marine General John Kelly made a rare appearance in the Briefing Room. A Gold Star father himself, he lamented that a call between the commander in chief and the widow of a fallen soldier was being politicized.

JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: It stuns me that a member of Congress would have listened in on that conversation, absolutely stuns me. And I thought at least that was sacred.

MURRAY: Wilson says she's close with the family and was with them when the president called. But Kelly went further in his criticism Thursday, taking another swipe at the congresswoman.

[18:05:10]

KELLY: And a congresswoman stood up and in a long tradition of empty barrels making the most noise, stood up there in all of that and talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for that building and how she took care of her constituents because she got the money and she just called up President Obama and on that phone call, he gave the money, the $20 million, to build the building and she sat down.

And we were stunned, stunned that she'd done it. Even for someone that is that empty a barrel, we were stunned.

MURRAY: Wilson quickly took issue with how the chief of staff portrayed her appearance at the FBI building dedication.

REP. FREDERICA WILSON (D), FLORIDA: I was not even in Congress in 2009, when the money for the building was secured. So that's a lie. How dare he?

However, I named the building at the behest Director Comey, with the help of Speaker Boehner, working across party lines. So he didn't tell the truth and he needs to stop telling lies on me.

MURRAY: A video of the 2015 dedication from "The Sun-Sentinel" doesn't back up Kelly's version of events. While the congresswoman touts her efforts in getting the building named for the fallen FBI agents, there's no discussion of securing funding for the project.

WILSON: Everyone said, that's impossible. It takes at least eight months to a year to complete the process through the House, the Senate and to the president's office. I said, I'm a school principal and I said, -- excuse me my French -- oh, hell no. We're going to get this done.

(LAUGHTER)

MURRAY: And she takes pains to thank the law enforcement officials in attendance and praised the slain FBI agents being honored.

WILSON: Most men and women in law enforcement leave their homes for work knowing that there is a possibility they may not return.

If I may, will all men and women and first-responders who work in law enforcement stand up, stand up now, so that we can applaud you and what you do?

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WILSON: Stand up. We are proud of you. We're proud of your courage. Thank you.

MURRAY: Still, the White House is standing by Kelly's criticism of the congresswoman.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: As General Kelly pointed out, if you're able to make a sacred act like honoring American heroes all about yourself, you're an empty barrel.

If you don't understand that reference, I will put it a little more simply. As we say in the South, all hat, no cattle.

MURRAY: Even going so far as to suggest General Kelly a military background inoculates him from questioning.

QUESTION: Can he come out here and talk to us about this at some point...

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HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think he has addressed that pretty thoroughly yesterday.

QUESTION: Well, he was wrong yesterday in talking about getting the money.

(CROSSTALK)

HUCKABEE SANDERS: If you want to go after General Kelly, that's up to you, but I think that that -- if you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that that's something highly inappropriate.

MURRAY: Amid all of the political sniping, still few answers from the administration on what exactly happened during the mission in Niger that went so badly awry.

QUESTION: Mr. President, did you authorize the mission in Niger?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you all very much.

MURPHY: On Friday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders refused to engage in any questions about that mission in Niger, instead saying the administration would wait until a full investigation into those events are completed -- Sara Murray, CNN, the White House.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOWELL: Sara, thank you for the report.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders has written a statement to CNN and it reads as follows.

Quote, "Of course, everyone can be questioned. But after witnessing General Kelly's heartfelt and somber account, we shall all be able to agree that impugning his credibility on how to best honor fallen heroes is not appropriate."

Also, President Trump had this to say in an interview on FOX Business. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: He was so offended. Because he was in the room when I made the call and so were other people. And the call was a very nice call. He was so offended that a woman would be -- that somebody would be listening to that call, he was -- he actually couldn't believe it.

Actually, he said to me, sir, this is not acceptable. This is really not -- and he knew I -- I was so nice. Look, I've called many people and I would think that every one of them appreciated it. I was very surprised to see this, to be honest with you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL: Let's talk more about this with Steven Erlanger, chief diplomatic correspondent for "The New York Times," live for us in Brussels via Skype.

It's good to have you with us, Steven.

Let's talk about this. In defense of General Kelly, the White House press secretary suggested first to a reporter that it's simply inappropriate to question a four-star general. In a statement she seemed to walk that back the in that comment that you just heard e- mailed to CNN.

But let's not lose focus here. The question was raised about General Kelly, about the fact that he put out there and those facts were simply inaccurate, they were wrong. As you saw in Sara's story, the video evidence proves it. Still no one at the White House taking responsibility for these incorrect statements.

STEVEN ERLANGER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": It's a very sad story. Look, a guy died. I died serving his country. The President of the United States tried in a very difficult way to make a consoling phone call. I'm sure he meant it to be that way. You don't make that kind of call in order to get into a fight with the mother of a slain American soldier.

And it's all gone wrong. And it's sad. And part of the reason it's so sad is that this White House can't seem to avoid getting into fights with people it doesn't have to fight with.

All the president had to say was I'm really sorry that my comments were misinterpreted. They were meant to be consoling and I'm sorry that they were misinterpreted and, you know, we mourn the death of Sergeant Johnson and then it would have ended.

And then Kelly, who is a guy from Boston, you know, gets into his own fight with a congresswoman, who he clearly doesn't respect. And that raises all kinds of questions all over again about the Trump White House and its relationship with African Americans and whether, you know, they're insensitive to racial issues and all kinds of things.

It was all incredibly unavoidable -- incredibly avoidable, I'm sorry. And all Kelly has to do now is simply say, you know, I misremembered. That's not the way I remembered it. And also I'm sorry. Let's move on.

HOWELL: And when it comes to these facts that have been proven inaccurate, the statements that were put out there by the -- by Mr. Kelly, again, no accountability from this White House at this point.

ERLANGER: Well, this is true.

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ERLANGER: I mean, this is absolutely true. He's not God and the president is not God. We have a country full of strong opinions. And people have the right to say them and officials have the right to be questioned.

I mean, Mr. Kelly is now Mr. Kelly. He's not General Kelly and he's not leading people into battle. He is a political aide to a political president. All presidents are political as well as being president. And so there's no problem questioning him. And I think he should simply do the right thing and say, I had misremembered. I got my facts wrong.

HOWELL: It is interesting you point that out, though, that the chief of staff now, in more of a political light, he has been seen as the person who would bring a military mind-set is to be above politics. But given this back and forth, certainly now cast into a political light.

I'd like to shift for a moment, Steven, to talk about the president's former chief strategist Steve Bannon, out now, promising a war against establishment Republicans and on stage in the U.S. state of California at a GOP convention. We heard him sharpen his focus. Listen.

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STEVE BANNON, FORMER TRUMP CHIEF STRATEGIST: There has not been a more destructive presidency than George Bush's.

(APPLAUSE)

BANNON: The rise of China started with the Clintons and Bush when they had this great theory that you let them into the World Trade Organization and give them most favored nations that they're going to become a liberal democracy as they get bigger and they're going to become more free market capitalists.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL: Let's not forget former President Bush was just in the news a short time ago, talking on stage in comments that were perceived by many as a veiled swipe at the Trump administration, though former President Bush not mentioning President Trump by name. But here is the question.

Will Steve Bannon's attacks on former presidents like Bush, will it be an attractive sell to Republicans beyond Trump's base or is this a losing strategy?

ERLANGER: I think it's a losing strategy. He did it before the California Republicans, who have is all kinds of problems and they won't solve their problems by going to the far right.

Steve Bannon is a blustery guy. He's a bit self-taught. He's the kind of person who on the far right passes for an intellectual. But one thing he is after is establishment Republicans. And George Bush and George Bush's father are by definition establishment Republicans.

Bannon sees himself as an incendiary figure trying to destroy Republican Party as it is and rebuild something else. He's perfectly entitled to do that. But I really don't personally think that's the way the Republicans will keep power in the White House or let alone take back California.

HOWELL: Steven Erlanger, we appreciate your insight today live for us in Brussels. Thank you.

ERLANGER: Thank you.

HOWELL: Steven mentioned this, the investigation into the deaths of those four U.S. soldiers, the soldiers who died in Niger. U.S. lawmakers are demanding answers. The men were killed more than two weeks ago after they were ambushed by militants.

CNN's Barbara Starr reports one of the victims was separated from his comrades and his body was found a disturbing distance away.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sergeant La David Johnson was found nearly a mile away from the central scene of the ambush, according to four administration officials familiar with the early assessment. They all caution this is the early picture and the investigation continues.

The Pentagon is still looking at the exact circumstances of how he became separated from his unit. The entire team led by Green Beret has been interviewed, officials say, about when they last saw Johnson. The U.S. team had stopped in a town on the Niger-Mali border so the Nigerians they were working with could pick up supplies, including food and water. And then they met with village elders. Investigators believe the ambush may have begun when the U.S. soldiers were back in their vehicles, possibly even driving.

As those killed are laid to rest, Defense Secretary James Mattis on Capitol Hill briefed Senator John McCain one day after McCain, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, threatened subpoenas if the Pentagon doesn't start telling Congress what it knows.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: I felt that we are getting sufficient amount of information and we are clearing a lot of that up now.

STARR (voice-over): Mattis refusing to publicly comment why the FBI is now involved in gathering intelligence on the suspected ISIS militants that ambushed the U.S. forces.

TOM FUENTES, FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: The FBI would have jurisdiction to investigate and bring back the perpetrators to the U.S. if it can be done.

STARR (voice-over): The pressure is mounting for a public explanation. What did happen to Sergeant Johnson?

WILSON: He was abandoned for two days, for 48 hours. Why? Why didn't they pick him up and put him on their shoulders like they did the other fallen comrades? And put him on a helicopter and take him to safety. He could have still been alive.

[19:25:13] STARR (voice-over): But Mattis is fiercely adamant that troops on the ground did everything they could.

JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Having seen some of the news reports, the U.S. military does not leave its troops behind and I would just ask you not question the actions of the troops who were caught in the firefight and question whether or not they did everything they could in order to bring everyone out at once.

STARR (voice-over): And taking pains to point out all troops face risks. (INAUDIBLE), pushing back hard.

LT. GEN. KENNETH MCKENZIE JR., DIRECTOR, JOINT STAFF: You know categorically that from the moment of contact no one is left behind, either U.S., our partner in Nigerian forces or French forces were on the ground accurately searching for the soldier.

STARR: In the first 48 hours when Johnson was still missing, CNN was one of the news organizations that agreed not to report an active search was underway for him because no news organization that is responsible would interfere with an active operation if it was even possible a soldier was still alive out there -- Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.

(END VIDEOTAPE) HOWELL: Barbara, thank you.

In Spain's Catalonia region, rain can't dampen the spirits of protesters who want independence there. But we'll find out what the government is trying to do to crush that movement. Stay with us.

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HOWELL: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell.

We're following the developments in Spain ,the government there holding an emergency cabinet meeting this hour. Their focus: to take action on the Catalonia secession crisis. The provision of the constitution there gives Madrid the power to establish central rule and to force new regional elections.

CNN correspondent Erin McLaughlin is following the story live for us in Barcelona this hour.

Erin, what have we heard?

What can we expect from the prime minister today?

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, George. There's a real sense of apprehension here. Catalonia has been an unchartered territory ever since the Catalan government held an independence referendum earlier in the month, a referendum which the Spanish constitutional court deemed to be illegal.

Now ever since two deadlines passed, mandated by Madrid for the Catalan president Carles Puigdemont to respond to clarify the situation, now Rajoy has decided to take emergency action in the form of Article 155 of the Spanish constitution, which would give them extraordinary powers over this region.

Article 155 has never been invoked before. It is extremely vague. So what's expected to happen this hour is a meeting of his cabinet ministers to go over a range of measures. Media reports as well as opposition speculating that that measure could include a forcing snap elections on this region in January.

But that has yet to be announced. So all of this at this point extremely uncertain in terms of the situation. I've been speaking to people here in Barcelona and they're basically blaming both sides for mishandling the situation. Take a listen to what some people had to say that I spoke to earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): This is not a good situation. First, they need to talk and understand what is really happening here. Applying Article 155 without asking us, without knowing what is really happening here, they have to sit down with Puigdemont and know what is really happening, to listen to us.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For me, the 155, it's like, let me say what I want. Let me do what I want. So 155 is like -- I don't know, return to the Francos' years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCLAUGHLIN: To get a real sense of just how nervous people are, now, out of today's cabinet meeting, we are expecting a press conference from the Spanish prime minister, sort of outlining next steps to outline what sort of measures they plan on implementing.

From there, those measures go to Senate for approval but worth noting that Rajoy's party has the majority in the senate, so whatever is decided at today's ministerial meeting is expected to pass -- George.

HOWELL: Erin McLaughlin, live in Barcelona with the reporting, Erin, thank you today.

Let's bring in our guest, David Andete (ph). He is a managing editor of the newspaper, "El Pais," live for us in Madrid at this hour.

Good to have you with us today. We just got a sense of the mood in Barcelona, one person saying if Article 155 is applied here, it's as if it's been done so without the government really talking, without enough communication.

What are your thoughts on that?

DAVID ANDETE (PH), "EL PAIS": Well, you have to consider that there cannot be a negotiation between the central government and the Catalan government because that would mean that the central government and Mr. Rajoy are recognizing that there has been independence, that they are dealing with an equal.

So that call for dialogue is very tricky. Yes, there needs to be a negotiation. But this negotiation needs to take part after the law has been restored. And one of the testimonies in the piece that you just showed said that this is going back to the Franco years.

It's something very common that has been said in Barcelona these days. But it could not be far from the truth. The Article 155 is in the constitution and it was voted by all the Spaniards in the democratic reign.

HOWELL: It is important to point out that nuance that --

[04:25:00]

HOWELL: -- you say it can't seem like the two are equals but, at the same time, many are questioning, you know, is there enough communication between these two sides?

So look. If Article 155 is imposed, if we do see the government impose direct rule, is there a chance that this could backfire?

ANDETE (PH): Of course. Of course. I mean, this is a really bad outcome. It comes from the central government not negotiating, not negotiating enough when they had the chance to actually listen to the Catalan leaders about what was going on in Catalonia.

Maybe they wanted more autonomy in government. That's feasible. That can be done. But now we see that there's this deadlock in which they are going to take control of the regional government.

It's a serious measure. But it's the only measure they can take is the only measure in the constitution through which they can actually -- and this is according to our sources, what they are going to do -- we just learned that they are going to take away their government, the premier and the full regional government, and they are going to bring in a new figure that will run Catalonia until we have elections, maybe, most likely in January.

HOWELL: Since October 1st, pressure has certainly been mounting. But let's talk about the pressure on prime minister, Rajoy.

How much pressure is on him to bring some sort of order to this situation?

ANDETE (PH): Well, there are two types of the pressure here. One is international pressure and one could say that his most staunch supporters have been Theresa May from the United Kingdom, Jean-Claude Juncker and Angela Merkel from Germany, the European Commission in Germany; also France.

So in the international level, there has been no pressure whatsoever. Within Spain, he has pressure from the main opposition party, especially the Socialist Party, to find common ground and negotiate.

But, you know, while Rajoy is not a man to take strong measures in a fast pace, he likes to take his time, he usually tends to take his time when taking measures, you know, this situation has been going on and on and on until the Catalan premier has been in a situation in which he's breaking the law, like about declaring independence, organizing a referendum.

So one could claim, replying to your question, that the pressure has been internal. But, you know, at the end, you've seen the Socialist Party and other opposition parties supporting Rajoy because it's the only option that they have right now.

It's the only option. There's not another option. They have to go there, restore the law and, from there, call for elections.

HOWELL: David Andete (ph), giving us perspective and context live in Madrid this hour, thank you so much for your time today.

You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. Still ahead, they fought for years to rid their country of ISIS. Why the Kurds are now under attack in Northern Iraq.

In the meantime, in Syria there are celebrations as rebel forces claim a major victory over ISIS fighters.

What's next for Raqqa, Syria?

CNN live from Atlanta, Georgia, this hour, simulcast on both CNN USA and CNN International worldwide this hour. Stay with us.

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HOWELL: Welcome back to viewers here in the United States and all around the world. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. It is good to have you with us. I'm George Howell with the headlines we're following for you this hour.

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HOWELL: Baghdad has already seized Kirkuk from Kurdish control. CNN's Ben Wedeman was there during the fighting on Friday. He joins us live in Irbil.

Ben, if you could, explain to our viewers what you witnessed, what you saw.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we saw is really the most serious outbreak of fighting between Iraqi forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga that's taken place since the crisis began at the beginning of the week, when Iraqi forces took the oil-rich town of Kirkuk.

Since then, we've really seen tensions ratcheting up, unprecedented, really, since the days of Saddam Hussein. Now overnight, we understand the guns have gone silent but only for now.

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WEDEMAN (voice-over): Weapons once fired at ISIS, now fired at an ally turned enemy. Early Friday, Iraqi troops, including Iranian armed-Shia paramilitaries entered the town of (inaudible), north of Kirkuk pushing Kurdish forces ever further back.

This is the most serious outbreak of fighting yet between the two sides and does not bode well for a country that after three and a half years of bitter combat has come close to defeating ISIS.

This is the beginning of a war between Kurdistan and Baghdad, says Peshmerga Commander Goran Izz El-Dean (ph). We won't allow them to take our land. Sporadic mortar and artillery fire echoes in the distance. As the days were on, more Kurdish forces (inaudible). According to an old adage, the Kurds have no friends but the mountains, their traditional refuge.

Today with United States officially neutral in this conflict, there is a sense among these fighters that indeed only the mountains are their friends. We were one hand with the Americans says (inaudible), but unfortunately, unfortunately, unfortunately, today the Americans have sold us to the Shia and the Iranians.

The new American president once adored by the Kurds now the object of their anger. We celebrated for Trump says Aram (ph), but Trump betrayed us.

After ISIS stormed across Iraq in the summer of 2014, the U.S. made defeat of the terror group its top priority and it worked. But in victory, there is little to savor.

(on camera): A year ago, Iraqi and Kurdish forces were fighting side- by- side with the support of the U.S.-led international coalition to drive ISIS out of Mosul. Today that grand alliance is collapsing.

(voice-over): And collapsing with it perhaps Iraq itself.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WEDEMAN: Iraqi commanders and leaders now say that this is as far as Iraqi forces will go, that they plan to go no further.

But what has happened really is that what little trust existed between the Kurdish leaders and the government in Baghdad seems to have collapsed and, therefore, there's not a lot of confidence, at least among the Kurds that this is the end of the story -- George.

HOWELL: Is there any sense, Ben, that there could be some communication, some mending of trust in this situation?

WEDEMAN: Well, certainly what we've seen is statements from both Baghdad and the Kurdish leaders that they do want to open a dialogue, that they do want to restore sort of a warm level of communications. And I think both sides are looking to the Americans to sort of sponsor that restoration of ties between the two.

But Kurds are very worried about the influence of Iran on the government in Baghdad and feel that the Iranians aren't so keen on any sort of American intervention when it comes to rather involvement in negotiations when it comes to the resolution of this conflict.

So it's very complicated at this point and, in a sense, there's a feeling both in Baghdad in here and the Kurdish areas that this is a problem that is, in a sense, heavily influenced by outside players, by the Americans, by the Iranians and others -- George.

HOWELL: The reporting in context from our senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman, live for us in Erbil. Thank you for the report today, Ben.

U.S.-backed fighters in Syria are celebrating a major victory over ISIS.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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HOWELL (voice-over): That's the scene there in Raqqa, Syria, on Friday, that city declared totally liberated from ISIS. Syrian Democratic Forces danced there at the stadium, where ISIS fighters made their last stand just a few days earlier.

Raqqa was the de facto capital for ISIS for more than three years. The terror group isn't completely finished, though, in Iraq and Syria. But its grip is crumbling. This map shows the territory that it held back in 2014, compared now to what it holds presently.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL: That stadium that we showed you was also an ISIS headquarters. The terror group used it to plan attacks and also to hold prisoners. Our Nick Paton Walsh has an inside look at the prison there and the ruin that ISIS brought to Raqqa.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): ISIS usually leaves places looking like this in their self-declared capital. It was no different, with one exception. Where are the people? Hardly a soul here by the victors swarming around ISIS' old HQ, the stadium.

(on camera): It's extraordinary to stand exactly where ISIS, just a matter of weeks and months ago may in fact have been plotting attacks against the west. This, the stadium, one of the symbols of their presence here.

(voice-over): It was underground where this place mattered most, torture, imprisonment of foreigners, even their own.

(on camera): Eerily, graffiti here, some of it explains to prisoners. One saying, if you're reading this, there's four main reasons why you're here. You did the crime and caught red handed. Using Twitter, GPS locations, or having GPS location switched on mobile phone, uploading videos and photos from a sensitive Wi-Fi account, i.e., you need your emir's permission, which you didn't do.

Be patient, be patient, be patient. The enemy of the Muslim, Satan, will do every whispering while you stare at the wall or the floor.

(voice-over): Further down still, the hazard that still remains. A city beset by tunnels that run deep. The main fight may be over but the flame that ISIS's sick idea lit flickers worldwide online.

The global fight here for its volunteers though, is over. (on camera): How was it?

JOHN, VOLUNTEER: Sad now that we're not fighting anymore.

WALSH: You enjoyed it?

JOHN: Yes, like -- yes.

WALSH (voice-over): John is on his way back to sleepy Colorado.

(on camera): How close to ISIS did you get?.

JOHN: Like seven meters, you can see them running in the street.

WALSH: Is this a thrill for you?

JOHN: It's better than sitting in the desert doing nothing, drinking chai.

WALSH (voice-over): Will life for him be the same again?

JOHN: I'm 34. I was doing customer support fixing computers and stuff. So, I don't know what --

WALSH (on camera): So, probably not that.

JOHN: Probably not that.

(voice-over): What life can return here, where the only building not eviscerated is a hospital where ISIS held human shields. This is the only ISIS fighter we saw, the bodies cleaned up fast.

In the dust of this refugee camp where many have fled misery are these new sparkling tents, home to 200 ISIS fighters and their families who surrendered after a negotiated deal.

We weren't allowed to talk to them. They once lived on and in fear. Fear drove them to surrender and a future uncertain almost certainly now haunts their nights under the cold canopies here -- Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, Raqqa, Syria.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOWELL: In Afghanistan, suicide attacks killed more than 50 people at two mosques on Friday. One blast struck a Shiite mosque in Kabul. Authorities say that at least 39 people were killed, this when the attacker detonated his vest inside the building. The other attack targeted a Sunni mosque west of the capital.

A local official say a bomber detonated his explosives during worship services there. At least 20 people were killed in that blast.

Still ahead here on NEWSROOM, no power, no water; though school is out in Puerto Rico, the buildings are not empty. We'll show you how they're being put to good use. Stay with us.

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HOWELL: Welcome back. A 2016 meeting in Trump Tower in New York is getting more attention now as U.S. lawmakers interview several Russians. The Senate Intelligence Committee is trying to determine if there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow. Our Manu Raju has details from Capitol Hill.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: We're now learning that several of these Russians have, in fact, met with the Senate Intelligence Committee. This is the first time that we are now learning that those Russians who did attend that June 2016 meeting with Donald Trump Jr., with Paul Manafort, with Jared Kushner have, in fact, discussed what happened there with people on Capitol Hill investigating the potential of any collusion that occurred with the Russians and Trump associates.

Now this is significant in several ways. One, this is a big part of what investigators are trying to determine, whether or not there was any inappropriate contact with Trump associates and Russian officials.

And also it's a new sign that Trump Jr. himself may soon come to the Senate Intelligence Committee. Senator Richard Burr, the Intelligence Committee chairman, confirming that several Russians did, in fact, meet with the Senate Intelligence Committee but also saying that they do want to sequence this so they can talk to everybody who was in the room first before bringing in Donald Trump Jr.

We don't know exactly which of these Russians did, in fact, meet with the Senate Intelligence Committee. Burr would not comment on that. Neither would other Senate Intelligence Committee officials. But we do know that there were four Russians in that meeting, including the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian American lobbyist, Rinat Akhmetshin, as well as a Russian translator and a person who is tied to a Russian oligarch.

Representatives from each of those camps did not return our phone calls or would not comment. But clearly this is a key area of focus going forward. The question is, does it move them any closer to that notion of possibly collusion, possible coordination with the Trump campaign officials and the Russians? It's something that Donald Trump Jr. said there's nothing there in this meeting and investigators themselves are trying to figure that out -- Manu Raju, CNN, Capitol Hill.

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HOWELL: Now to Puerto Rico. It's been a month now since Hurricane Maria left much of that island in ruins. Since the storm, people there have been struggling to survive. Many people without water, without power or basic supplies. Our Polo Sandoval reports, when schools are out of session there, no one can feel normal.

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POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This schoolyard should be bustling with activity at the height of the fall semester. Not today. Not since Hurricane Maria threatened and later devastated Puerto Rico. Like the island's other 1,100 public schools, the doors to this high school have been closed since September 18th. Today, the only signs of life are on the other end of the campus.

Room 204 serves as Margarita Fuentes' temporary home.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Spanish).

SANDOVAL: This 52-year-old grandmother of 11 tells me, from one moment to another, she lost her house and everything in it.

Her grandson, Ezekiel (ph), led us up the mountainside to show us what's left of the family's homes. There isn't much else you can do these days. Like most of the students on this island, a return to class may provide a welcome escape from reality.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking Spanish).

SANDOVAL: He says the first thing he'll do when he gets back to class is hug his friends. He doesn't know when that will be. As long as displaced families like his are using schools as shelters, classes can't resume.

The Department of Education announced Friday that some schools on the island would reopen on Tuesday. But the teachers at this school say that won't happen here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Spanish).

SANDOVAL (voice-over): "We have a lot of work to do," says Roxanna Miranda (ph), a drama teacher, anxious to welcome her high schoolers back to class.

While there's optimism, there's no real timeline for when the students will walk down the halls again. Even if displaced families are resettled, there are still plenty of obstacles.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Spanish).

SANDOVAL (voice-over): Classrooms are in disrepair, roads are nearly impassable because of the mudslides and there's still no running water in town, leaving families to struggle to survive.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Spanish).

SANDOVAL (voice-over): Margarita (ph) says she is staying strong and wants to see her grandchildren back in a classroom, just not this one -- Polo Sandoval, CNN, Corozal, Puerto Rico. (END VIDEOTAPE)

HOWELL: A new exhibition is dazzling visitors to the British Library in London. The magical memories on display just ahead here on NEWSROOM.

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HOWELL: In London, there's a new exhibition celebrating the 20th anniversary of the first Harry Potter book. It features some rare memorabilia along with some historic artifacts referenced in the popular series. Our Robyn Kriel has this report for us.

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ROBYN KRIEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Boy Who Lived, Voldemort and Quidditch began 20 years ago when J.K. Rowling enthralled the world with the release of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone."

On the two-decade anniversary, the British Library has conjured to life Rowling's magical world in a new exhibition.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This exhibition obviously will draw on a lot of things that the great fans of Harry Potter will know and love; things like bezoar stones won't need any explanation; mandrake roots or the Philosopher's Stone.

KRIEL (voice-over): Visitors can mix potions, study divination or look into the swirling depths of the crystal ball, brought to life by Google Arts and Culture. But perhaps the biggest selling point, a rare chance to view J.K. Rowling's own drafts and sketches for the first time ever.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) early sketches of someone who (INAUDIBLE) Harry Potter stories. I think it's fascinating to actually see how the author views her own characters, alongside which we have some of her notes, for example, her plans for writing the fifth book in the series, "The Order of the Phoenix (sic)."

KRIEL (voice-over): The scratched-out, scrawled pages are a window into Rowling's mind as she began writing some of the best-selling books of all time. But the offerings aren't limited to Potter fanatics. Regular muggles can also revel in a treasure trove of wizardry artifacts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For those of you who aren't a big fan of Harry Potter, might not even have read the books, you still, I think, get a lot of this exhibition because it does explore ideas relating to early magic, to early science and belief.

KRIEL (voice-over): An 800 B.C. caldron retrieved from the River Thames, medieval illustrations of witches, Chinese oracle bones thousands of years old or a 15th century tombstone of Nicolas Flamel, a posthumously reputed alchemist, who supposedly discovered immortality.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So one of my favorite items has to be this, the Ripley Scroll, which is just under six meters long, full of really strange, unusual alchemical imagery, telling you how to make the Philosopher's Stone. And people were working on this for centuries to try and create what is the elixir of eternal life.

KRIEL (voice-over): Perhaps it's no accident the British Library is a short walk from King's Cross Station, where wizards and witches can hop off at Platform 9-3/4 -- Robyn Kriel, CNN.

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HOWELL: Robyn, thank you.

And thank you for being with us for CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell. The news continues here on CNN right after the break.