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Message to Trump from North Korean Nuclear Site; Barack Obama Plays Comforter in Chief; The Transfer of Power; Samsung Chief Free for Now; Refusing to Step Down; Buried Alive. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired January 19, 2017 - 03:00   ET



[03:00:00] ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN HOST: Message to Trump. New satellite pictures show stepped-up activity at a North Korean nuclear site.

Comforter in chief. Barack Obama tries to soothe the nerves of those still worried about the incoming president.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: At my core, I think we're going to be OK.


CHURCH: And free for now. The head of Samsung avoids an arrest warrant on bribery charges, triggering outrage across Seoul.

Hello and welcome to our viewers all around the world. I'm Rosemary Church, and this is CNN Newsroom.

North Korea will likely test-fire two new intercontinental ballistic missiles in the near future. South Korean military officials also told Yonhap News Agency that Pyongyang may be looking to send a message to the incoming Trump administration in the United States.

Meanwhile, a group that monitors North Korea says it's seeing renewed activity at the country's main nuclear facility. Analysts at 38 North say these satellite images show an uptick in work around a plutonium reactor.

So, let's turn to Paula Hancocks, who joins us live from Seoul in South Korea. Paula, what is going on here? Could this just be a strategic message to Donald Trump during his transition to power, or might we actually see the launching of these intercontinental ballistic missiles? Just how concerned should everyone be?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Rosemary, everyone I speak to points to the New Year's address from Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader. They say you have heard it from the very top of North Korea that he is close to test launching an ICBM, an intercontinental ballistic missile.

He has said that he would do it, and officials and experts say that he should be taken at his word. Now, Yonhap News Agency is citing unnamed military sources, and the defense ministry at this point is not willing to say anything on the record.


ROH JAE-CHEON, SOUTH KOREA'S OFFICE OF THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF SPOKESMAN (through translator): There are reports that show recent signs of a possible North Korean missile launch, but there's nothing we can confirm at the moment.

As you all know well, judging it can be launched at anytime and anywhere once North Korean leadership decides, we're on alert to maintain our readiness.


HANCOCKS: And that's the line that the South Korean officials have had the entire time, for many months. They have said this is possible. We are just waiting for the green light from Kim Jong-un.

We have heard that about a nuclear test as well. In fact, after the fifth nuclear test last year, almost the day after South Korean officials were saying, well, there could be another one soon. We are waiting for it.

So they are on constant alert for this. The timing will be crucial, though, whether or not the North Koreans decide to do it just after the inauguration. We've heard from North Korean officials, a director at the foreign ministry just last November after the election, saying that they weren't going to do anything.

They're going to wait and see if they could have a different kind of relationship with president-elect Donald Trump. But that may have changed at this point. Rosemary.

CHURCH: Yes, and, Paula, another reason for concern is news of renewed activity at North Korea's main nuclear facility. Satellite images apparently showing activity around a plutonium reactor. What could this all mean?

HANCOCKS: This is another thing that North Korea said it would do. It said it would restart the reprocessing of plutonium at the Yongbyon nuclear complex. Now 38 north, this U.S. think-tank that monitors these satellite images, has said that there appears to be some buildings within this complex that don't have snow on the roof, which effectively means it could be heated from inside.

So there could be activity although they say they see no steam in the satellite images between October of last year and January of this year. Roads, they say, appear to have been cleared as well.

But of course they are the first to admit this isn't an exact science. They are studying satellite images, but just another concern that there could be some move back to reprocessing plutonium. Rosemary?

CHURCH: Our Paula Hancocks, keeping a very close eye on this developing story, joining us there from Seoul in South Korea where it is just after 5 o'clock in the evening. Many thanks.

Well, a possible crisis in North Korea comes at a crucial point of transition in the White House. And as our Jim Sciutto reports, there's growing concern that Trump's team is not quite up to speed.

[03:05:05] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN'S CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Tonight, multiple officials tell CNN the crucial transition between the outgoing and incoming security teams focused on the most sensitive threats facing the nation has been slow and uncertain as first reported by the New York Times.

The White House says it is unsure the Trump team has read the thousands of classified documents provided to them, focusing on threats ranging from North Korea's nuclear program to the fight against ISIS, to the disputed islands in the South China Sea.

And while the current national security adviser, Susan Rice, has interacted with retired general Michael Flynn, Trump's pick for her replacement, the teams have, quote, "begun engaging at the staff level only recently." This, according to a source close to the transition. It's an account that Trump's incoming press secretary disputes.


SEAN SPICER, INCOMING UNITED STATES PRESS SECRETARY: K.T. McFarland, the deputy national security adviser has met with her counterpart countless times. There's been reams of briefings that have been sent over. I think there's a big different in how they judge things.


SCIUTTO: However, several State Department officials have also described very little interaction with the Trump team although the department has produced dozens of briefing papers. Earlier this month, Rice kicked off the transition with this vow.


SUSAN RICE, UNITED STATES NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: Our entire national security team has been working for months to prepare for and facilitate a smooth transition. This goes beyond party or politics. This is what the American people expect and deserve.

SCIUTTO: For which Flynn thanked Rice.

MICHAEL FLYNN, INCOMING UNITED STATES NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: I want to personally, again, thank Ambassador Rice and her entire team for their preparation, the transition materials as ambassador highlighted that they've provided to us.


CHURCH: Let's bring in CNN national security analyst and security consultant Juliette Kayyem. She joins us via Skype. Good to see you, Juliette. So, there are of course a lot of concerns, especially when it comes to foreign policy. How ready do you think the Trump team is to deal with a crisis, one perhaps posed by North Korea because indications are that that could very well be his first big challenge?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: So, I think there's legitimate questions now as we are less than 48 hours away at the preparedness, in particular of the national security staff. At the agency level, State Department, Defense Department, CIA, the only picks that we've heard of are the agency heads, the cabinet secretaries.

At the lower levels, the levels where work gets done, deputy secretaries, undersecretaries, assistant secretaries, there's not even names let alone confirmation hearings, vetting, or security clearances. At the White House, which is very different, Michael Flynn, who is the national security adviser, only has one of two deputies.

And there's no names for senior directors in areas like North Korea or nuclear proliferation. So, in terms of just the body count, this administration, this transition is very far behind than either Obama or Bush before him.

CHURCH: Yes. I was going to ask you that because just how does his team compare to previous transition teams beyond President Obama when it comes to readiness for anything that might occur?

KAYYEM: So, look, I mean it's not like there's not people there. There's, you know, career deputies. There's bureaucracy that knows how to function. But if the whole idea of having a peaceful transition is that Donald Trump, the President on Friday, will have his team in place, that's not only there physically but actually has been well versed on the issues, knows what to do, knows what the options are, that there's certainly no evidence that that is actually occurring.

They're very far behind on personnel issues, on substantive issues. And what we do know is that enemies are certainly likely to use this transition as a time to sort of strut their stuff, make themselves known, whether it's Russia, which we tend to talk a lot about, but as we're seeing North Korea -- is North Korea planning an inauguration surprise for a new president? Obama will be long gone by then.

CHURCH: And given what Trump has said about Russia, Germany's Angela Merkel, NATO, and Brexit, do you think he's in possession of all of geopolitical knowledge necessary for the leader of the free world?

KAYYEM: Well, I think that information is available to him. I certainly know that there's career staff at these agencies that know a lot. The question is just simply how receptive is Donald Trump and his team to new information?

I think what you're seeing is Donald Trump views the world transactionally. He likes Russia. He doesn't like North Korea. You know, he sort of views international relations as the deal. But what we know in the real world is many countries are sort of 'frenemies.'

Take a country like China. You know, you know, we agree with it on some issues. We disagree with it on others. And you can't really take a transactional approach to a country like China, which has its own interests. Sometimes they align with the U.S. Sometimes they do not.

[03:10:02] And so we're going to see whether he's willing to absorb that information, his team is willing to absorb that information.

CHURCH: And Juliette, this is what Trump told the Times of London. He said -- and I'm quoting here -- "Day one, which I will consider to be Monday as opposed to Friday or Saturday, right? I mean, my day one is going to be Monday because I don't want to be signing and getting it mixed up with lots of celebration," end of quote there.

So, Trump is being inaugurated on Friday. Isn't that day one? And how laudable does that leave him and indeed the country if he is declaring to the world that he is taking the weekend off?

KAYYEM: It was a very odd statement. Even if you're going to do it, just do it. Don't say it because it is a trigger to those who may want to act up this weekend that President Trump views it as a celebratory weekend.

You know, look, the party's over. He is president. There is no vacation. There might be, you know, resort getaways, but you're never on vacation. It was a very odd and, I think, discomforting thing to say given the intensity of essentially what's going to be happening Friday at noon. I served on the transition for Obama. Our job started at 12.01 that day. There was no vacation that weekend.

CHURCH: Yes, that is day one, it seems. Juliette Kayyem, many thanks.

KAYYEM: Thank you.

CHURCH: Well, Friday marks a big change for the U.S. President Barack Obama will be turning the country over to Donald Trump. The president- elect has been working on his address ahead of Friday's swearing in. He shared this photo on social media showing him writing the speech last month.

Meanwhile, Mr. Obama used his last presidential news conference to make remarks pointed at his successor while trying to reassure Americans about the transfer of power.

Michelle Kosinski has more.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: President Obama opened his final press conference as president by thanking the press corps, telling them they make the White House work better.


OBAMA: You're not supposed to be sycophants. You're supposed to be skeptics. You're supposed to ask me tough questions. America needs you, and our democracy needs you.


KOSINSKI: And he defended his decision to commute the sentence of Private Chelsea Manning, convicted of stealing and leaking sensitive military documents to WikiLeaks.


OBAMA: Let's be clear. Chelsea Manning has served a tough prison sentence. You know, I feel very comfortable that justice has been served and that a message has still been sent.


KOSINSKI: The president promised that fundamental democratic principles are undermined in the days ahead, he will not remain silent.


OBAMA: There's a difference between that normal functioning of politics and certain issues or certain moments where I think our core values may be at mistake.


KOSINSKI: And the president offered up advice he gave to President- elect Trump, cautioning him on who he surrounds himself with.


OBAMA: This is something I have told him, that this is a job of such magnitude that you can't do it by yourself. You are enormously reliant on a team.


KOSINSKI: As the first black president, President Obama said he expects he won't be the last to lead the nation.


OBAMA: I think we're going to see people of merit rise up from every race, faith, corner of this country because that's America's strength. When we have everybody getting a chance and everybody's on the field, we end up being better.


KOSINSKI: And finished this last gathering by expressing his optimism for the future of the country.


OBAMA: At my core, I think we're going to be OK. We just have to fight for it. We have to work for it and not take it for granted. And I know that you will help us do that.


KOSINSKI: This is a president leaving after eight years very popular, but his candidate didn't win the election. He ran his historic campaign on hope and change, but he ends with a message, "I think we're going to be OK. We just have to fight for it." I mean, that is not a very optimistic attempt at an optimistic final message.

It's clear, though, he also didn't want to be critical even though he has been in the past. He wanted to frame his points as sort of warnings or advice, and he also wouldn't weigh in at all on all the democrats in Congress who are now boycotting the inauguration. There are dozens of them.

His administration has said that they don't think that they're harming a smooth transition or contributing to division in America. But this was President Obama's chance to weigh in on that, but he chose not to comment at all.

Michelle Kosinski, CNN, the White House.

CHURCH: And CNN has unique access to Barack Obama's final days in power. Tune in for The End, inside the last days of the Obama White House." it airs Thursday at 5 p.m. in Hong Kong, 9 a.m. in London.

[03:15:05] Several E.U. leaders are taking issue with Donald Trump's comments that other countries would follow the U.K. and leave the alliance. Austria's chancellor says he doesn't see that future.


CHRISTIAN KERN, AUSTRIAN CHANCELLOR: We are not concerned about a breakup of the European Union or that other countries will join the United Kingdom, because I think what somebody has to accept and also the president of the United States is that Europe is not only geography.

It's not a business model. It's a community which is based on values, respect for human rights, democracy, rule of law, social justice, equal rights for women and men.

And so, that's a -- which is something -- which is important, precious, but it's fragile, that's true. But I don't have any doubts that every party who is a member of the union today knows how important that is for the whole continent, for our welfare and for the political setup of Europe.


CHURCH: And later this hour we will talk with one of Angela Merkel's confidants about what the German chancellor think of Donald Trump.

Well, now to a breaking news from central Italy, Reuters says local media is reporting that many people are feared dead inside a hotel that was hit by an avalanche. There were 20 people staying at the hotel plus staff.

The area was hit by a series of earthquakes on Wednesday triggering the avalanche. Emergency officials elsewhere say at least one person was found dead in a building that collapsed in Teramo. Inauguration plans are set in Gambia, but it's uncertain whether the

man who won the election will actually take office.

And Samsung's vice chair avoids arrest in South Korea's corruption scandal. Why prosecutors say they're not letting up on the case.


CHURCH: Welcome back, everyone. Well, it is unclear whether Gambia's newly elected president will actually take office. President Yahya Jammeh is refusing to step down, claiming there were irregularities in December's election.

The uncertainty has Gambians fleeing to neighboring Senegal, and the spokesman for Senegal's army said troops are massing at the border.

The U.N. Security Council is expected to vote on a resolution in the coming hours supporting African countries ready to intervene in Gambia.

Well, Farai Sevenzo joins us now from Nairobi with the very latest on this. And Farai, what is going on here? How likely is it that the new president will ever take office?

[03:20:04] FARAI SEVENZO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you join us right now, Rosemary. I'm just looking the President-elect Adama Barrow's tweet on my phone 14 minutes ago before you and I started talking. He tweeted, "You are welcome to my inauguration today at 4 p.m. at the Gambian embassy in Dakar."

Now, of course, Dakar is the capital of Senegal where he is being protected by the Senegalese forces. The situation at the moment is that ECOWAS, the regional grouping comprising the most powerful nations in east and West Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, are all telling Yahya Jammeh, the man who has been in charge of Gambia for the last 22 years that today is the day. He has to go.

The troops are moving in. The streets are empty. And as you rightfully say, 26,000 Gambians have fled across the border into Senegal. Senegal completely surrounding the Gambia. The Gambia is about 2,500 troops. There's no likelihood, even if this fight was to get really bloody, that Yahya Jammeh would stay for that long.

So, at the moment we're waiting to see over there, Barrow has said he's going to declares his presidency by 4 o'clock. What will Jammeh do?

CHURCH: Indeed. And Farai, how will this transition of power be resolved? What are the options here?

SEVENZO: Well, the options, as you say, that Senegal, who has been given the mandate to use force if need be by the western African countries, is going to the United Nations Security Council to seek an endorsement to say, look, supporters, the people have voted on the 1st of December, 2016. They do not want Yahya Jammeh as their president. And in this kind of situation, Rosemary, we have to think what is

being through the man's mind. He's been in charge for 22 years. His children are only 10 and 17 years old. His second wife is Moroccan and Morocco has offered asylum to Yahya Jammeh. And still he is holding on.

Is he calling the western African believers bluff or does he really mean to stay on forever? The likelihood is that he's worried, very worried about what he did during his term in power. The absentee, the restriction of journalism, the disappearances, the brutal murders of journalists, all manner of things which will likely take into the international criminal court.

But today is really the Gambia's day to say, look, we want a new president. Let's see how it pans out. It all looks like it's well tipped in Adama Barrow's favor.

CHURCH: All right. Farai Sevenzo, thank you so much for bringing us up to date on the situation in Gambia. We appreciate that.

Well, the case against Samsung's vice chairman will continue without his detention. A South Korean judge has rejected prosecutor' request to arrest Jay Y. Lee. He is a suspect in the massive corruption scandal that has led to the impeachment of the president.

Lee is accused of bribery embezzlement and perjury. He denies any wrongdoing.

CNN's Alexandra Field joins me now from Seoul in South Korea with the latest on this. So, Alexandra, how are people in South Korea responding to the news that Samsung's Jay Y. Lee will not be arrested? What impact does it having?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There's been very passionate response to this. All eyes were on this case. This is one of the most high-profile business figures in this country. You had particularly an outpouring of reaction on social media with some people expressing a lot of ire and anger toward the judge who said he felt that there was no need, no reason to detain Jay Y. Lee.

Some of the comments that we're seeing on social media suggest that this is a judge who has a history of being too lenient, some members of the public feel, toward CEOs, toward other high-profile executives.

These family-run conglomerates like south -- like Samsung are a major part of South Korea's economy. Of course Samsung is the crown jewel among those conglomerates. So, it would have been rather significant if you did see this judge decide to detain Jay Y. Lee.

But again the judge listening to points made by both sides in court yesterday and then decides overnight not, in fact, to issue that arrest warrant for Jay Y. Lee. Jay Y. Lee left the detention center early this morning. We know that he went straight to the Samsung offices where local media is reporting that he met with Samsung's leadership team. The company has publicly come to his defense. He has denied the

allegations against him, that he ordered the movement of tens of millions of dollars in order to buy political backing, governmental support for a corporate merger that helped him to consolidate his position within Samsung.

He has again flatly denied the allegations. Samsung is standing by him. But prosecutors did come out after losing, you know, their argument with the judge for this arrest warrant, and they said that they are, in fact, going to continue this investigation, Rosemary.

CHURCH: So, what comes next -- what happens now, though? What is next?

FIELD: Yes, look, the door is not closed here because the request was simply to get the warrant to make this arrest and to detain Jay Y. Lee.

[03:25:00] Of course, you know, as I just mentioned, that does not preclude investigators from continuing to look at his ties, to look at these possible allegations about the movement of this money.

So that investigation continues, but we should again point out for our viewers that this is tied to a much larger investigation of the political scandal, the crisis that has rocked this country over the last few months.

All of this of course related to the scandal at the center of which is the country's President, Park Geun-hye, who has been impeached in a vote by lawmakers. Her case now sits with the constitutional court, which will have to determine whether or not to remove her from office.

This is a case that has generated much public interest to say the least. There have been tens of thousands of people who had taken to the streets calling for justice, calling for transparency, trying to fight against corruption, and that was in terms of a political figure.

And now of course we expect to see more reaction when it comes to this current decision concerning one of the country's top business leaders.

CHURCH: And Alexandra, while this all plays out, what does happen to Jay Y. Lee in the interim period?

FIELD: Nothing. Look, he can return. He was at Samsung offices this morning. There was a lot of concern about what would happen if he was detained, that that would create some chaos around Samsung, which is such a vital part of the economy here in South Korea. It makes up about 20 percent of the country's exports.

So, any uncertainty about the leadership or the future of the company could have created a certain degree of chaos, or at least there was concern that it might have done that. So there is a lot of relief being expressed by Samsung.

They put out a statement today saying that they appreciate that the merits of this case will now be decided with Jay Y. Lee not in detention, not in custody. He is, in fact, the de facto leader; the actual chairman of Samsung is of course his father who has been hospitalized for the last couple of years after suffering a stroke.

But a lot of people, you know, thought this was going to be a new era of Samsung when Jay Y. Lee joined the board of directors back in October. They hoped this signaled a brighter future.

Just last week, the company announced its highest earnings in the last three years. It seemed that some dark days were behind them. Now they're dealing with this. Rosemary?

CHURCH: All right. Alexandra Field, with that live report from Seoul in South Korea where it is nearly 5.30 in the evening. Many thanks.

Well, President Barack Obama leaves office with a 60 percent approval rating. Up next, the legacy he leaves behind.


CHURCH: A warm welcome back to our viewers all around the world. I'm Rosemary Church. I want to update you now on the main stories we've been following this hour.

In central Italy, many people are feared dead inside a hotel that was hit by an avalanche. That is according to Reuters, quoting local media. There were 20 people staying at that hotel plus staff. The area was hit by a series of earthquakes on Wednesday, triggering that avalanche.

A group that monitors North Korea says the country's main nuclear facility has stepped up its activities. Analysts of 38 North say satellite imagery suggests an uptick in work at that site which houses a plutonium reactor.

Meanwhile, South Korea's Yonhap News Agency says the north is likely planning to test fire two new intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Gambia's political future is up in the air. President Yahya Jammeh refuses to step down, saying last month's election was fraught with irregularities.

An army spokesman says Senegal's troops are massing on the border. Adama Barrow is supposed to take office Thursday. In a tweet, Barrow said, "A new era in Gambia is here at last."

U.S. President Barack Obama gave his last news conference at the White House on Wednesday. He said he would avoid weighing in on policy matters unless he felt America's core values were being threatened. Mr. Obama expressed concerns over Donald Trump's presidency and also shared some of the advice he gave his successor.


OBAMA: If you're only hearing from people who agree with you on everything or if you haven't created a process that is fact-checking and probing and asking hard questions about policies or promises that you've made, that's when you start making mistakes.


CHURCH: So, President Obama is leaving office with his approval rating at 60 percent. Only two other presidents have fare better in the modern era. How do you explain that, especially given the hyper partisanship during his term, the nasty election we saw last year, and of course the fact that voters chose not to go with Hillary Clinton, who would have essentially continued his policies? Yet here we have his approval rating so high.

TIMOTHY NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: I believe he benefited from the nastiness of the election in the sense that he's a calm man. He is a man who avoids using epithets, at least publicly. And so it was a marked contrast between his style of government and the election.

And I think that led to you would see, you see an uptick, a series of more and more positive poll results regarding President Obama as the election, you know unfurled in front of everyone. So I actually believe he benefited, as do many presidents by the way, from comparison. And I don't doubt that his approval ratings will continue to increase as a former president once we see the first months of the Trump administration.

CHURCH: Interesting. Of course he came in, didn't he, at 84 percent, and we're seeing now Donald Trump at 40 percent. That's going to be interesting, but that's another story.


CHURCH: And of course as the first African-American president, many people thought or hoped perhaps unfairly that Obama would usher in a post-racial era in America. But that clearly hasn't happened. So what did his -- what did his presidency achieve in terms of race, and what might happen under this new president?

NAFTALI: Well, Rosemary, in a couple of speeches recently, President Obama has been explaining why he never shared the vision of a post- racial America now. He did -- he really -- he's now saying that that was too ambitious an objective, and that was not something he anticipated.

But many people looked at the way in which he campaigned in 2008, and saw that he had not made race an issue and was signaling that America perhaps could move beyond the divisiveness of the race issue. Of course as things played out, it couldn't.

[03:35:10] CHURCH: Obama came into office with soaring rhetoric, talking about hope and change and pledging to heal the planet. Here are his departing words in his last news conference as president. Let's take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: At my core, I think we're going to be OK. We just have to fight for it. We have to work for it and not take it for granted. I know that you will help us do that.


CHURCH: "I think we're going to be OK." Interesting departing words there from the president. How much of his legacy do you think is going to depend on the actions of Donald Trump?

NAFTALI: Well, of course that's not soaring rhetoric, is it at all? It's a more weathered, wiser man who is speaking at the end of his two terms.

I think the challenge for President Obama and his many supporters in the United States is to see whether the optimism about the trajectory that the country was on can be sustained at a time when you have really an anti-Obama in office.

With the exception of gender, every other element of the Trump persona is a negative with regard to Obama. It's an opposite. He's a, in every other way, he's the opposite of President Obama. So, for President Obama to see the election of this man is, in a way, it's natural for him to see it as a rejection of some of - of his vision of the country.

CHURCH: CNN presidential historian, Timothy Naftali talking to me a little earlier.

Well, still to come, Joe Biden in one of his final appearances as U.S. Vice President, warns European leaders to expect Russian meddling in their elections.

Also ahead, Donald Trump has been harshly critical of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. We will hear what the Germans think of Trump.


CHURCH: Welcome back, everyone. Well, the outgoing U.S. Vice President is warning Europe that Russia is at the forefront of efforts to dissolve the community of democracies.

Joe Biden told the world economic forum in Davos, Switzerland, that Russia is using every tool available including cyber-attacks. He called on the U.S. and Europe to defend the values that, quote, "brought us where we are today."


JOE BIDEN, UNITED STATES VICE PRESIDENT: With many countries in Europe slated to hold elections this year, we should expect further attempts by Russia to meddle in the democratic process. It will occur again, I promise you. And again the purpose is clear. To collapse the liberal international order.


CHURCH: And CNN contributor and former Moscow bureau chief, Jill Dougherty joins us now live from Moscow. So, Jill, in a news conference, Russia's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, lashed out at the E.U., calling any accusations that Russia interfered with the U.S. election slanderous.

He says it's not true and, instead, blames Germany, France, and Britain for gross interference. Let's just take a listen to what he said.


SERGEY LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): Unlike us, a whole number of allies of the United States supported Hillary Clinton actively. Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande, other leaders of European states made this quite clear.

There was this clear agitation and support for Hillary Clinton by the official representatives of European countries that were not ashamed to delegitimize Donald Trump.


CHURCH: And Jill, what do you make of Lavrov's comments here, and have you ever seen or heard Russia lash out like this?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, they're in line with what Moscow has been saying. The Kremlin has been saying for weeks now, if not months, that they had nothing to do with the hacking. And now you see also this kind of talking about interference in general.

And what I think the minister is talking about is he is alleging that the European leaders spoke out in support of Hillary Clinton and against Donald Trump. And he is making the claim that that is interference whether you like it or not, not necessarily hacking but definitely political interference.

And the minister also brought up the fact that President Obama himself spoke out against Brexit. So his argument is, look, the President of the United States actually was interfering in the political process in the U.K. and in Europe.

So that's what we're getting, but I think, Rosemary, what's notable to me right now is the personal nature of this. I mean you have this comment obviously from Secretary -- or Minister Lavrov, and then you also have President Obama himself last night talking about the relationship with Russia and saying like in the beginning when President Putin was there, we tried. We really tried to have a good relationship, especially economically.

But Mr. Obama said, when Putin came back, the relationship went south, and that is because Putin, he alleges, treated it like a zero-sum game, and there was a lot of anti-Americanism.

So, what you're seeing is intensely personal and, yes, I have never seen it quite like that. Personal attacks from both sides but especially I'd have to say the vehemence of the Russians against President Obama.

CHURCH: So now, of course, we're seeing President Obama bow out. Donald Trump will become the new President on Friday. So what sort of new relationship might there be between Russia and the United States given the animosity that has come before this?

DOUGHERTY: Well, now I think that they've set this up as it's Obama who messed it all up. Then once Obama is out of the picture, then you have the possibility of a better relationship with Donald Trump. And that is what is expected.

But I do think there is a lot of caution here in Moscow about totally buying into some type of, you know, quick change. I don't think anybody in the Kremlin really believes that any change is going to be quick.

And also if you read some of the commentary in newspapers, you know, kind of the more serious papers, you can see some concern about exactly what Donald Trump is going to do. Nobody can predict it.

The Russians are saying they don't know exactly what he's going to do. They have hope. They've heard good things. But I don't think that anybody here is really jumping or putting their eggs in the basket, let's put it that way, that things will magically get better because they know they can't.

[03:45:03] And they're listening to the briefings, the hearings on Donald Trump's own members of his cabinet, who are saying very sometimes radically different things from the incoming president himself.

CHURCH: Indeed they are. Jill Dougherty, joining us there from Moscow. It is 11.45 in the morning. Many thanks to you.

We'll take a short break. But still to come, we will talk to a close ally of Germany's chancellor about where things stand between Angela Merkel and Donald Trump.


DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Cold weather across Central Alaska. This photo actually from a friend of mine who is a pilot for Delta Airlines. He snapped this picture in Fairbanks, Alaska.

He's grounded along with his airplane because the operational temperature of the airplane can't actually start the engine until it's above negative 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

If you see the temperatures here near the Arctic circle, we're well below that. In fact, the temperature for today expected at negative 44 degrees, believe it or not. That's significantly warmer than, let's say, Minneapolis or Boston where temperatures are hovering right near freezing. The other big weather story across the United States is flash flooding

that took place across Houston, Texas. Take a look at this image coming out of this particular city. Wow, they experienced over 150 millimeters of rainfall in less than a six-hour period of time. That led to the flash flooding there.

We have a assistant system moving inland across the West Coast. Once again, mountain snowfalls will be measured in feet this weekend, and the potential for flash flooding exists across the valleys as well.

Take a look at the amount of rain we're anticipating. Easily 150 millimeters or more from Los Angeles northward into San Francisco. Denver, 11. Chicago, 7 degrees. Atlanta, Georgia, 22 and very mild.

CHURCH: Welcome back, everyone. We want to return now to breaking news from central Italy. The country's national news agency is reporting that dozens of people are feared dead inside a hotel that was hit by an avalanche. Two people have been rescued.

There were at least 22 guests staying at that hotel plus staff. The area was hit by a series of earthquakes on Wednesday, triggering that avalanche. Emergency officials elsewhere say at least one person was found dead in a building that collapsed in Terama.

[03:49:59] Well, Donald Trump's recent comments about Europe, NATO, and Russia are worrying European leaders. This comes as they try to navigate what will be a very difficult divorce when Britain leaves the E.U.

Norbert Rottgen joins me now from Berlin. He is chairman of the committee on foreign affairs in Germany's Bundestag and a close ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel. Thank you so much, sir, for being with us. Now, I wanted to start by getting...


CHURCH: I wanted to get your reaction first to what Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said about Germany and other E.U. nations, accusing it of grossly interfering in U.S. internal affairs, campaigning for Hillary Clinton, and openly demonizing Donald Trump. What do you say to those allegations?

ROTTGEN: These allegations are simply wrong. They are part of agitation of a propaganda against European countries, against Germany, and against the Trans-Atlantic community. This is only one tool in the tool box of Russia.

They are applying all tools you can imagine and propaganda and lying is one of the tools in this toolbox.

CHURCH: Now, just days ago, Donald Trump talked to the Times of London and Germany's Bild newspaper, and he put Angela Merkel on the same footing as Russia's President Putin, saying he trusted them equally. He also criticized Merkel's refugee policies, calling them

catastrophic. Despite this, Angela Merkel says she can work with Trump. But how does Germany really feel about the United States new president given what he thinks of Germany and its leadership?

ROTTGEN: Yes, you're right. Of course it created a sort of irritation when we read that Vladimir Putin, who is not a really democratically elected leader, who has conducted war crimes in Syria, has interfered militarily in Ukraine.

And under his presidency has illegally annexed Crimea, was on an equal footing with regard to trust as the German chancellor, who is in office for 12 years and contributed with the predecessors of Donald Trump to strengthening the international order, the Trans-Atlantic partnership.

So, we thought there would be a closer relationship between allies than to those who obviously spoil the international order. But of course, we remain and stick to our position that we want not only to preserve but to strengthen the Trans-Atlantic partnership.

We are absolutely sure that this partnership that the president of the United States in Europe, that the liberal international order is at the core, has been at the core of European security and this is also true for the moment and for the future.

So, we want to strengthen and have this partnership, and we want to have a lively partnership with the United States here in Europe.

CHURCH: But what do you think of Donald Trump's views of the world? His comments about Russia, NATO, Angela Merkel, the E.U., Brexit -- does it worry you? Do you think he has a firm grasp of geopolitics?

ROTTGEN: My perception is after his remarks during the campaign, election campaign and now after the election, that the, that multilateral systems, that the institutions of the international western order like NATO, like the E.U., don't really occur in Donald Trump's feeling and intuition, I would say, and instincts.

He is very much focused on the national interest of the United States, and he sees this interest very much in competition to everybody else. And he is very much seems to be focused on bilateral organizations and multilateral systems are not of real interest for him.

And this is of course, what this means, a break at least with the post-war tradition of the western world and of the United States foreign policy, which as I mentioned contributed fundamentally to the fact that we now have enjoyed 70 years of peace in Europe.

[03:55:05] This is an extraordinary long peace time we never enjoyed before. And this is very much due to the engagement of the United States and to these institutions of the western security and -- security and political architecture.

CHURCH: All right. ROTTGEN: So, our fundamental interest is to preserve that, and I

think that also the United States will not flourish when they think they can go it alone. Also the United States needs partners, and we want to be a good partner and stay a good partner for the United States.

CHURCH: All right. Norbert Rottgen, thank you so much for joining us. We do appreciate it.

And I'm Rosemary Church. Do remember to connect with me anytime on Twitter, @rosemarycnn. We love to hear from you. CNN has unique access to President Barack Obama's final days in power, "The End, Inside the Last Days of the Obama White House" is up next.

Stay with us.