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CNN NEWSROOM

Brazil Museum Fire; Press Under Fire, Rueters Journalists Sentenced; Trump Attacks AG Sessions and Justice Department; Hearings to Begin For Supreme Court Pick Kavanaugh; China Announces Giant Investment in Africa; U.S. Gulf Coast Hurricane Warning; Russian State T.V. launches Weekly Putin Program. Aired 12m-1a ET

Aired September 4, 2018 - 00:00   ET

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


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NICK WATT, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): You are watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. Ahead this hour, anger in Brazil after thousands of years of history go up in flames. Why some believe the fire at Brazil's Natural Museum was a disaster just waiting to happen.

Plus, it's being called a dark moment for Myanmar and a new low after two journalists investigating the Rohingya crisis are sentenced to seven years in prison.

And the U.S. president back to attacking his own attorney general, suggesting two Republican lawmakers are facing charges for purely political reasons.

Hello and thanks for joining us. This is NEWSROOM L.A. I'm Nick Watt.

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WATT: An investigation is underway to determine what caused a massive fire that tore through Brazil's National Museum Sunday night. Priceless artifacts, many of them thousands of years old, burned to ashes, lost forever.

Museum officials say it is a tragedy that didn't have to happen. The centuries-old building apparently didn't have an adequate sprinkler system in place and had grown increasingly dilapidates in recent years.

More on this developing story from Shasta Darlington.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SHASTA DARLINGTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: For Brazil, it is a national tragedy. They have lost the single most historical and anthropological museum in the entire country, with millions of artifacts that really helped define the national identity as well as the building itself, that was once home to Portuguese kings. Rare exhibits and priceless artifacts dating back centuries were

destroyed. Residents and museum employees gathered in the area as news of the blaze spread and watched in horror as firefighters struggled to contain the flames.

SERGIO KUGLAND DE AZEVEDO, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL MUSEUM (through translator): It's a loss for the world. This can never be recovered, for the people, the building, there is no way to get it back.

DARLINGTON: Founded in 1918 by the Portuguese royal family the museum was commemorating its bicentennial this year and was home to at least 20 million ancient relics. The museum's collection included thousands of works from the pre-Columbian era, mummified Andean skeletons and the oldest human remains ever to be discovered in Brazil.

DE AZEVEDO (through translator): Thankfully no one died, but the loss can never be recovered.

DARLINGTON: The building itself was a piece of history, now destroyed in the flames. A former imperial palace, it was converted into a museum 200 years ago. Brazilian President Michel Temer said the loss of the collection is too great to be calculated.

The cause of the fire remains unknown and an investigation has been opened.

While the investigation into the cause is just beginning, the finger- pointing is well underway. Museum and university officials say the budget has been repeatedly slashed year after year, which has made it difficult to maintain the building, forget trying to update it.

They say there wasn't a sprinkler system in place. Yet they had requested one year after year. They had requested the budget to install a sprinkler system. The warning, the fire warning system was also faulty.

And in fact, even when the firefighters arrived on the scene, the two fire hydrants they would have used to put out the blaze didn't have enough water pressure. They went to the water authorities, tried to divert the water. That didn't work.

They had to go to a nearby pond to get water from the pond and bring in water trucks to put out this fire. This has just incensed not only the citizens of Rio but Brazilians, who feel like the situation at the museum is a reflection of what's going on in the country itself after years of a deep recession and a failure to invest in what's most important to them -- for CNN, this is Shasta Darlington in Sao Paulo.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WATT: And a terrible irony. A fire prevention system upgrade for the museum was due to begin in just a few weeks.

I'm joined now by Amy Buono, from Chapman University, who, you are also an expert in Brazilian antiques.

You've worked at this museum. What has Brazil --

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WATT: -- lost?

What has South America lost?

What has the world lost?

AMY BUONO, CHAPMAN UNIVERSITY: This is an unspeakable tragedy for Brazil. The National Museum is Brazil's most comprehensive collection, not just of historical and cultural materials but also of biological heritage.

It would be as if one were to lose the entire Smithsonian complex or the British Museum in terms of the comprehensive nature of what the collection holds.

WATT: And the collection includes obviously artifacts from South America but also some things brought across by the Portuguese royal family, a lot of stuff from Egypt?

BUONO: Yes. It has the original Portuguese royal collections that they took with them when they fled Portugal to make residence in Rio. It had their original complete library and the historical collections and then all of the material artifacts collected since the 19th century. So it was an enormous collection.

WATT: The president said, quote, "This loss is insurmountable for Brazil."

The preservation director from the museum that very little will be left. We're talking 20 million relics in this museum.

Do we know what has survived, if anything?

BUONO: As of yet, they're not sure. It's thought that most of the exhibition, the displays that were actually up in the main rooms, have all been destroyed --

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BUONO: All of them.

WATT: Gone?

BUONO: It is unclear -- yes. It is unclear if some of the material in the repositories survived.

WATT: There's got to be some strongboxes somewhere.

BUONO: So apparently there is probably a safe box in the back of the museum that may hold some of the most precious objects. But the majority of the museum is now lost. So this is -- it is -- the cultural memory of Brazil is gone.

WATT: The cultural memory of Brazil is gone.

BUONO: Not only the nation but also of living indigenous communities from across the country and the whole cultural heritage that will impact the future of research as we know it in Brazil.

WATT: And as we heard in Shasta's report, some people were saying that this didn't have to happen.

BUONO: Yes.

WATT: I mean, is this President Temer's austerity kicking in here and giving us this terrible result?

BUONO: Yes. Since 2014, the museum has been operating on a shoestring budget. So there was not proper infrastructure in place for a museum of this caliber, to keep the objects safeguarded.

And then on top of that, the infrastructure of the city of Rio has been deteriorating since the recession. So when the firefighters arrived and couldn't even get water out of the hydrants, this is, in a way, as Shasta mentioned, is a signal of how bad things really are in Rio at the moment.

WATT: It's a metaphor for what's happening in the country and the city.

BUONO: Exactly.

WATT: And if you are a researcher, I imagine the research isn't academic --

(CROSSTALK)

WATT: -- entire life and entire work is connected to this museum.

What do they do next?

BUONO: I think it is not just current research projects that are going on but it is the future of research itself that is at stake here because so many of these objects are now lost.

And so when new technologies arrive and arrive in new ways of analyzing material, there will be no objects to go back to, to research. This was also a teaching collection in the university space. So that's lost forever.

WATT: Forever.

Amy, thank you very much for your sadly bleak interpretation of what's happened in Brazil. Thank you very much.

BUONO: Thank you.

WATT: Now to two Reuters journalists who have been sentenced to seven years in prison in Myanmar, sparking international outrage. A judge found the reporters guilty of breaking a colonial-era law, the official secrets act, while reporting on an alleged massacre of Rohingya Muslims in the country.

United Nations officials quickly issued this statement, "The sentencing of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo is a dark moment for Myanmar. This is yet another clear signal of Myanmar's distancing from international human rights law."

The Asia director of Human Rights Watch says, "The outrageous convictions of the Reuters journalists show Myanmar courts' willingness to muzzle those reporting on military atrocities. These sentences mark a new low for press freedom and further backsliding on rights under Aung San Suu Kyi's government."

Alexandra Field has more details.

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ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The verdict from a court in Myanmar causes international outrage. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, two Reuters journalists, sentenced to seven years in prison for violating the official secrets act and returned to the prison they have been in since December.

Kyaw Soe Oo says they're not exactly shocked by the verdict, Wa Lone calling it a challenge to democracy; their families, their young children in court for the ruling widely seen as an assault on the press.

STEPHEN ADLER, PRESIDENT AND EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, REUTERS: Without any evidence of wrongdoing and in the face of compelling evidence of a police setup, today's ruling --

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ADLER: -- condemns them to the continued loss of their freedom and condones the misconduct of security forces.

FIELD: Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone say police handed them secret documents in December and then other officers arrested them for having the secret documents. Retribution, the journalists say, for a report they were working on, an investigation later published by Reuters into the massacre at a village of Western Myanmar of 10 Rohingya men, part of a long persecuted ethnic minority group.

The military later admitted its forces had a role in the killings, jailing seven soldiers for the crimes. But journalists who worked to expose the slaughter still behind bars.

PHIL ROBERTSON, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: This is about the military guarding its secrets and it is about the investigative journalism not being welcome in Myanmar.

FIELD (voice-over): Myanmar's military leaders already face mounting international pressure, accused in a new U.N. report of genocide for violence against Rohingya Muslims that started again a year ago.

The country's de facto leader, Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, accused in the same report of failing to use her moral authority to stop the violence. Now there are mounting calls for the country's government to pardon the two journalists who were seeking the truth and sentenced to seven years -- Alexandra Field, CNN, Hong Kong.

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WATT: And let's hear more now from the Reuters editor in chief, Steven Adler. He told my colleague, Michael Holmes, that, given Myanmar's record, the verdict was not a surprise.

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ADLER: I was very disappointed. Our entire team was very disappointed. We weren't entirely surprised because the very arrest and the indictment was based on no evidence whatsoever.

As your report, I think, showed very well, they were set up. The documents that were placed on them were done, were placed there so that they would be arrested.

And the truth is, they were just doing their jobs. They were operating with integrity, with freedom from bias. They were just trying to report on a massacre in Rakhine state.

And what was so extraordinary about the report is they had photographs. So it wasn't just the victims or Rohingya Muslims saying that something had been going on but we actually had photographic evidence, both of the victims kneeling prior to being shot and then we had victims of the -- pictures of them in the mass grave, hacked to death and shot to death.

So the level of the evidence was so strong that I think the Myanmar government was very unhappy with that --

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: What was it in, though, for the Myanmar government to pursue this case?

What was the advantage of -- particularly because of -- obviously, the massive reaction that's brought more publicity to the -- to the whole situation.

ADLER: They arrested them before the story was published. And I think you could argue that the reason they arrested them was to confiscate the photographs and to make it impossible for us to publish.

But we at headquarters did have the photographs and we our staff continued to report the story. And with the strong support of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, we went ahead and published it.

So the fact is that the facts did come out. And there didn't seem to be any further reason for them to be in prison. And yet, the case continued and it became increasingly clear as the case continued that not only was there no evidence but the evidence was absolutely clear that they were innocent.

HOLMES: What are the options for them now?

Obviously an appeal.

Do you have any faith in that, given how the actual case went -- this initial case?

ADLER: We're going to try a lot of options. We will look at international possibilities, things we might be able to do. We will look at what we might be able to do within the country.

But the important thing is that we're not going to give up. We will fight very, very hard for their freedom. We don't think they should be in prison one additional day. They have already been in prison nine months for something they didn't do.

And the fact is, what they did is they did journalism in the public interest. And it sends a really bad message in Myanmar about its approach to democracy. Myanmar's been on a path toward democracy and a free press is absolutely essential to democracy.

HOLMES: (INAUDIBLE) your question in some ways, do you regret sending them to cover the story?

Because what's interesting is they certainly seem to have no regrets.

ADLER: We have no regrets, either. We're in countries where it's sometimes difficult to report because there are good and important stories to be reported there. And our job is to get stories that the world needs to know about.

There is no question that the story of Myanmar and the 700,000 people who have fled Myanmar for Bangladesh and all the things going on there are of worldwide importance. And it is our obligation to report that.

And to their enormous credit and as evidence of their bravery, our two reporters in prison, (INAUDIBLE) strongly encouraged us to continue reporting and we will continue the reporting.

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HOLMES: And you have other staff in other countries still reporting, right?

ADLER: Yes, we do, absolutely. And they want to be doing that, too.

HOLMES: And I was going to ask you, too, given the U.N. report that came out, that basically backed a lot of what these brave men were reporting --

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HOLMES: -- what sort of international pressure do you think can be brought to bear?

ADLER: One thing that's very encouraging is that diplomats, for many, many countries, have been extremely active, trying to get them freed. We're talking about the U.S. and the U.K. and Australia and Canada and the E.U. and the U.N.

So there's been a tremendous amount of effort. I've never really seen such unanimity in worldwide condemnation. So I'm hoping that pressure will continue. People won't forget about this. It is important that this not just be today's story, that people continue to put pressure on and we all find a way to get them out of prison.

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WATT: That was our own Michael Holmes, speaking with the Reuters editor-in-chief, Stephen Adler.

Now to Malaysia, it is getting increasingly dangerous for LGBTQ people in that country. Two women were publicly lashed six times with a cane on Monday. That was the punishment handed down after they allegedly tried to have consensual sex in a car in one of the most conservative states of the Muslim majority country.

Activists are calling on the Malaysian government to decriminalize homosexuality and Amnesty International says that caning is, quote, "a sign that the new government condones the use of inhuman and degrading punishments, much like its predecessor."

Just ahead, a new tweet from Donald Trump, the clearest example yet that he doesn't understand, the U.S. Justice Department is not actually there to protect him and his supporters.

Plus, a new warning is issued as America's Gulf Coast braces for tropical storm Gordon. We'll explain what the region could soon be facing.

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WATT: Donald Trump is launching yet another attack on the U.S. Justice Department and his attorney general, Jeff Sessions. His latest tweets seem to indicate that, once again, the president thinks that the department should be protecting him and his supporters. CNN's Jeff Zeleny reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Summer may be over at the White House but the same storm clouds are gathering as President Trump heads into the fall.

Tonight, the president lashing out again at attorney general Jeff Sessions but this time over the Justice Department's recent indictments of two Republican congressman.

"Two easy wins now in doubt because there is not enough time. Good job, Jeff," -- [00:20:00]

ZELENY (voice-over): -- the president said on Twitter.

He's referring to Chris Collins of New York, indicted on insider trading charges, and Duncan Hunter of California, accused of stealing $0.25 million from campaign funds. It is an extraordinary statement, not only for the president to weigh in on specific cases but also suggesting the Justice Department should overlook criminal allegations for political reasons.

All this as a confrontation is looming between special counsel Robert Mueller and the White House over publicly releasing his report into potential Russian collusion and obstruction of justice.

RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP: It has nothing to do with collusion.

ZELENY (voice-over): Rudy Giuliani, the face of the president's legal team, saying they're likely to cite executive privilege, telling "The New Yorker," "I'm sure we will try to block the release of the report."

The president walking out of the White House today, presumably to go golfing for a third straight day but abruptly changing course and going back inside.

On a day traditionally seen as a kickoff for the fall campaign, the president had no public events on his schedule but tweeted, "Our country is doing better than ever before with unemployment setting record lows," as Democrats like Joe Biden provided the opposing view while marching on Labor Day.

JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're in a fight for the soul of America.

ZELENY (voice-over): With the midterm elections only two months away, the president is hitting the road again this week, heading to Montana, North and South Dakota, and he's still threatening to intervene in the Russia investigation as part of his ongoing feud with his own Justice Department.

TRUMP: I will get involved and I'll get in there if I have to.

ZELENY (voice-over): The president also increasingly isolated from all but his most loyal supporters, as words from the funeral service of Senator John McCain still echo.

MEGHAN MCCAIN, ABC NEWS HOST: The America of John McCain has no need to be made great again because America was always great.

ZELENY (voice-over): As Meghan McCain spoke, applause filled the Washington National Cathedral, where the president's daughter, Ivanka Trump, and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, were seated.

While President Trump's name was never spoken, a critique of his tribal brand of politics was a notable theme.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: John's voice will always come as a whisper over our shoulder, "We are better than this. America is better than this."

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a politics that pretends to be brave and tough but, in fact, is born of fear. John called on us to be bigger than that.

ZELENY (voice-over): Only hours after the service, a Trump tweet served as a quiet rebuttal, "Make America great again," all this setting the stage for confirmation hearings for the president's Supreme Court nominee.

TRUMP: I will nominate Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court.

ZELENY (voice-over): His nomination is one of the bright spots for the White House, as the president seeks to secure a more conservative legacy on the high court.

ZELENY: Now those confirmation hearings will begin in the Senate on Tuesday and will continue all week. Many Republicans hope this is a moment to unify them around the president's quest to build a conservative judiciary. Of course, he has done that at the Supreme Court appointments as well as the federal court.

But the president seems to be focusing more on his war with his own Justice Department just two months before the midterm elections -- Jeff Zeleny, CNN, the White House.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WATT: And joining me now in Los Angeles is Professor Peter Matthews from Cypress College.

Peter, I was trying to decipher your nods and your headshaking during that. I couldn't keep up. Let's start with Brett Kavanaugh.

Now this appointment could help cement a legacy for President Trump. It could color politics in this country for the next 40 years. Give our international viewers an idea of why this Supreme Court pick is so crucial and what might happen.

PETER MATTHEWS, CYPRESS COLLEGE: Because right now it is 4-4, four conservatives, four liberals. You have this fifth justice, who could put everything over the top for the conservative side and that's Kavanaugh.

And Kavanaugh has had a dozen years of experience on a D.C. court. And we know how he's ruled. He's quite conservative. He voted to overturn regulations. He voted for Big Business as opposed to regular folks. He voted for -- he may actually go against the Roe v. Wade decision with a woman's right to choose and --

(CROSSTALK) WATT: He has apparently said that that is stable law.

MATTHEWS: -- stable law. But before that, he has also ruled before that a young woman -- she was a 17-year-old immigrant -- could be actually taken away and taken to a -- she wanted to have an abortion, the young woman.

He said she could have one but she would has to be -- we have find a family to adopt her and the family has to have a counselor as to whether she could maybe not have an abortion.

So he plays it both ways. And to me, be honest, I'm not sure how we could predict how he will vote. I have got a feeling, though, he would be pro-life and not choice.

WATT: So he is being put forward by the president. The Senate has to approve him.

Do you think that they will?

We've seen increasingly partisan, increasingly belligerent battles in the Senate in recent years for the Supreme Court picks.

MATTHEWS: I'm afraid this time it is only a 51 percent majority. A majority vote will do it, not two-thirds anymore. So it is very possible that the Republicans could put this over the top and get him in there.

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MATTHEWS: However, we don't know for sure yet. It is 50 Republicans to 49 Democrats and then (INAUDIBLE) senators. So we'll see how that goes.

There is a lot of controversy. President -- Mr. McCain, Senator McCain just passed away. So it depends who gets appointed in time; if not, we'll see what happens there.

WATT: And if you are appointed to the Supreme Court, it is an appointment for life --

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MATTHEWS: Oh, it is --

WATT: -- Brett Kavanaugh, he is in his mid 40s.

MATTHEWS: -- 53 years old.

WATT: OK. He could be on there for another 30-plus years.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: -- 30 or 40, absolutely. This is one interesting thing about the U.S. Supreme Court. The court was established by the Constitution, very back at the beginning of the country. However, judicial review, the most important power that it has, was

not in the Constitution. It was brought in 1803 with Chief Justice John Marshall stepping in, in a government dispute, and saying the court will be the referee of everything.

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MATTHEWS: So the court will decide what is constitutional and what's not in the (INAUDIBLE) branch of government --

WATT: But it has become increasingly political and --

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WATT: I just want to move on next to this now. The other -- his tweet at Jeff Sessions today was regarding these two Republican congressmen; Chris Collins, who is under suspicion of insider trading, and Duncan Hunter, who allegedly misused $0.25 million in campaign funds.

I just want to -- he allegedly -- he and his family spent $14,000 on a vacation to Italy and he spent $462.46 on 30 tequila shots and a steak at a bachelor party in Washington, D.C. Now surely the president, who campaigned on draining the swamp, should applaud the Justice Department for going after these two.

MATTHEWS: He should.

WATT: But not so. He's again attacking Jeff Sessions for I believe the 26th time on Twitter and saying that this is perhaps politically motivated.

MATTHEWS: Mr. Trump should applaud that. Instead, he's broken all decorum, all kinds of rules were broken with this president. And the rule of law especially has been broken by him.

The rule of law says that the law should be applied evenly and equally to everyone, evenly and equally to everyone. No one is above the law.

Yet this president thinks that some people are and that the politics supersedes the law. He's saying you should consider how the election will come out, Mr. Sessions. Don't do the right thing with the law. It's just unconscionable.

WATT: A quote from his tweet was, he said, now that the Justice Department is moving on these two congressmen, "two easy wins now in doubt" in the midterm elections coming up. In doubt because there is not enough time. "Good job, Jeff."

Now Republican Ben Sasse said the United States is not some banana republic with a two-tier system of justice. You are saying maybe it is.

MATTHEWS: It might be becoming that way. Hopefully not. But it is moving in that direction under President Trump because so much of the rule of law -- the rule of law is ignored by this president. And what banana republics do, they don't have any rule of law. It is the rule of man, a rule of person. The dictator tells what should be done.

And this is a dangerous direction.

WATT: We have got the midterms coming up about in nine weeks. Right now the Republicans control the House and Senate.

Quickly, will they either lose both or neither?

MATTHEWS: I think they're going to lose the House. The Senate will be very close. It depends because there are some red states where Trump actually -- there are Democrats in there and Trump won. And it just depends on how those elections go.

WATT: It will be crucial --

(CROSSTALK)

WATT: -- for the Trump administration and for the country --

MATTHEWS: Absolutely.

WATT: -- coming up in November. Peter, thank you very much for your time, as always.

Next on NEWSROOM L.A., tropical storm Gordon is bearing down on America's Gulf Coast and the region is bracing for impact. A look at how bad it could get -- after the break.

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[00:30:00] NICK WATT, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: You are watching CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles. I'm Nick Watt.

And the headlines this hour, authorities have launched an investigation to determine what caused a massive fire that gutted Brazil's national museum. It's feared the flames destroyed millions of artifacts spanning 11,000 years. Museum officials say the building suffered from a lack of funding. There was no adequate sprinkler system in place and nearby hydrant were dry when the blaze erupted.

And human rights groups are demanding the immediate release of two Reuters journalists convicted of possessing state secrets in Myanmar. A judge just sentenced them both to seven years in prison. The journalists say they were framed while investigating the killing of Rohingya Muslims.

And Chinese President Xi Jinping is about to wrap up this year's African Summit in Beijing. Leaders from 53 African nations are attending the summit, at which China's president announced a $60 billion development deal for Africa that includes investments and low interest loans.

So let's get a closer look at the Summit with CNN's Matt Rivers, who is live in Beijing. Matt, any headlines what particularly jumping out at you from this Summit? MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Nick, I think what we're seeing here in Beijing is just a doubling down or the tripling down or quadrupling down, whatever you want to put it, in terms of what China has done in Africa over the past 15 years or so. And that is a concerted effort to increase investment all across the continent.

And so every three years they have these Summits and China makes pledges to Africa in a lot of different areas. So this time, they talked about increasing African imports here, they talked about more direct flights, more exchange students, more food aid, more doctors and medical facilities in Africa, and that's well and good.

But the real take away here are those numbers that you mentioned right off the top, Nick. That would be China pledging $60 billion in new loans, a full quarter of which either have preferential interest rates or zero interest rates.

That's really a larger number than what we've seen from China in the past, at least, very recently, and we also know that China's going to forgive some of the loans that it's already given out to some of the least developed countries in Africa.

So taken in totality, what you're seeing here, is China, yet again, pushing forward with this plan of investing everywhere throughout Africa.

WATT: And, I mean, Matt, not everyone is a fan of the Chinese policy in Africa. There is a lot of talk of a debt trap. Are those critics, after the Summit, going to be shutting up or shouting louder?

RIVERS: It probably just will continue. You know, the people that look at China and say what China is doing here is really just predatory lending to these countries. They're going to continue with those calls. I mean, what the critics have said over the years that China is more than willing to extend bad loans to countries all around Africa, in exchange for some sort of political influence.

You look at countries like Djibouti, for example, 77 percent of Djibouti's debt is held by China. And critics would say it's no surprise that when China opened up its first military base back in 2017, overseas military base, it was in Djibouti.

That said, Xi Jinping, his government, categorically rejects that. They say they are only doing this to help Africa develop and they point to the fact that the vast majority of African countries don't have a problem with this lending, they engage in it. And also, that China is not the majority debt holder in the vast majority of African countries.

But, I think, the takeaway, at least, for me, on all of this is, both things could be true at the same time. China could absolutely be giving out these loans knowing that its economic clout in the region is increasing. But under the laws of international relations, money talks, and China knows that.

So even if they are not going out and saying that they're making all these loans for anything other than win-win cooperation as they put it, the reality remains that as economic clout increases, political swat could increase as well. Money talks, China knows that.

WATT: Matt Rivers in Beijing, thank you very much.

Now, a hurricane warning is in effect for parts of America's Gulf Coast as Tropical Storm Gordon continues its march northwest from the Florida Keys. Gordon could be a Category 1 hurricane by the time it makes landfall Tuesday night. Some two million people are in the region and under hurricane watches or warnings.

Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri is tracking Gordon and joins us with the latest. Pedram.

[00:35:12] PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN INTERNATIONAL METEOROLOGIST: Continue, Nick. Yes. You know, this is a storm system that really doesn't look very impressive right now on radar imagery or on satellite imagery. You actually notice we have a semicircle right here on what is going to begin to develop into an eye.

And this system will strengthen rather quickly, in fact, it's moving over very warm waters. You know, water temperatures of 28 degrees Celsius or warmer for tropical system developments, versus a low and mid 30s across this region, so we have that going for this system. We also have very little vertical wind shear or winds above the storm trying to cut it and shear it apart.

So, again, the hurricane center certainly taking this seriously even with the little amount of time it will have over open waters. But you take a look, as you mentioned, upwards of about two million people underneath hurricane warnings, hurricane watches, Biloxi, Mississippi, on to Mobile, Alabama, that's the area of concern for the storm at its strongest point to make landfall across that region.

And look at this. Within 18 hours of being over the open water, begins to develop that eye, and potentially gets the Category 1 hurricane, sometime between 7:00 to about 9:00 p.m. local time on Tuesday night.

You take a look. This storm system, if you want a hurricane making landfall across the gulf, this is pretty much what you really hope for because (INAUDIBLE) quickly, it's moving upwards of 27 kilometers per hour. That is a fast moving tropical system.

And because of that reason, a very good, kind of, a variable in scale how things play out when storms move rather rapidly versus when they move slowly. At 10 kilometers per hour, they have the potential of producing 700 plus millimeters of rainfall, 160, 25 or so kilometers per hour and keep in mind, the storm, nearing 30 KPH.

That brings you on average about 120, 125 millimeters of rainfall, and that's precisely what this system is in line to do. And we have a Bermuda high protecting much of the south eastern United States, essentially guiding the storm system directly over southern Mississippi, into portions of Louisiana and frankly, it has been so quiet across this region, all season. A lot of people taking this very seriously, and rightfully so, because you know with very little time, it strengthens up to a Category 1 and me Michael Guy, are meteorologists here in the weather department. Nick, we were talking about -- if this storm had another day over the open warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, easily could be a major hurricane.

So certainly, we see very little room for this storm to flourish over the next 18 or so hours. Nick?

WATT: Pedram, keeping an eye on Gordon. Thank you very much.

And next on NEWSROOM L.A., why is Russian T.V. launching a Vladimir Putin show? And who is its real target audience? The answers when we return.

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[00:40:00] WATT: A new weekly show on Russian state T.V. premiered on Monday, its star, one Vladimir Putin. The new program mostly shows the softer side of the Russian leader and joined life away from his usual duties but, why now? And what is the target demo?

CNN's Brian Todd provides some intriguing answers.

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BRIAN TODD, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hiking in the mountains, traversing lakes and rivers, projecting toughness and strength, staples of Vladimir Putin's image building machine. Now, part of a weekly show on Russian state T.V. titled, Moscow, Kremlin, Putin.

A show devoted to depicting Putin as Russia's renaissance president, able to attend to the government's most crucial functions while visiting a mining operation, talking to school children or engaging with a noted pianist.

SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Classic Kremlin project to elevate Vladimir Putin and to humanize him at a time when he's under increasing fire from his own public. It's not an accident that this is occurring. It seems to me, right at a time when he's embroiled in a real political controversy.

TODD: That controversy has brought thousands of Russians into the streets this summer, protesting Putin's plan to raise the minimum age when Russians can start collecting their pensions. It's cost Putin's popularity to plummet.

According to an independent polling group in Russia, his approval ratings normally sky-high at about 80 percent, dipped to 67 percent in July. The new T.V. show almost smacks of a desperation to hike up those numbers. In one exchange with the host, Putin's spokesman gushes about the man known to intimidate and allegedly ordered the killings of those who cross him.

VLADIMIR SOLOVIEV, HOST, MOSCOW, KREMLIN, PUTIN (through translator): When Putin is talking to a mother and her child, or when he just looks at the child, you can see how much he loves children. He has these very humane and sincere feelings towards children. You can't fake that.

DMITRY PESKOV, SPOKESMAN OF VLADIMIR PUTIN (through translator): You know, Putin not only loves children, he just, in general, loves people. He's a very humane person. It is true. And this is what I see every day.

GLASSER: The slavish devotion to Putin is notable. It is a hallmark of authoritarian societies and, you know, dear leader type of propaganda.

TODD: Those falling poll numbers, analysts say, likely won't hurt Putin significantly, for now. After 18 years in power, he just won re-election by a predictable and carefully engineered landslide, nurturing any serious opposition. But experts do see a possible Achilles Heel down the road.

GLASSER: Actually, Vladimir Putin has a millennial problem. Russian millennials have grown up their entire lives. Basically, they have no conscious memory of a leader before Vladimir Putin. Young people today, in Russia, are increasingly alienated by some measures from Putin, or at least, the Kremlin is very worried about this new generation.

TODD: Analysts say that even though Vladimir Putin's rule is secured for now, he's worried enough about his slide in popularity that he might pull off a drastic move to try to boost that popularity and do something that has worked for him in the past, something like an aggressive military move or maybe, even an invasion, like what he did in Crimea.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

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WATT: Thanks very much for watching CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles. I'm Nick Watt. "WORLD SPORT" starts right after the break.

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