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Top U.S. and Russian Diplomats meet in Germany; Senate to Confirm Trump's Environmental Agency Choice; Third Suspect Arrested in Death of Kim Jong-nam. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired February 17, 2017 - 02:00   ET



[02:00:16] MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome, everyone, to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. I'm Michael Holmes in Los Angeles where it just turned 11:00, Thursday night.

ISA SOARES, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Isa Soares in London where it is now 7:00 on Friday morning. Thank you very much for joining us.

Now, just hours after a wild White House news conference U.S. President Donald Trump learned he will have to find another candidate for national security adviser. Retired Vice Admiral Bob Harward turned the job down the job on Thursday just three days after Michael Flynn was asked to resign.

Now, Flynn's contacts with Russia came up repeatedly during Mr. Trump's face off for the media. The president says, leaks about the administration are absolutely real. But news reports based on those leaks, well, they are fake.

CNN's Jim Acosta was there with more.


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: To be honest, I inherited a mess. It's a mess, at home and abroad, a mess.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: President Trump launched into his first full news conference of his administration ready for combat with his favorite adversary, the news media. As he battled back against reports that his team had contact with the Russians during the campaign.

TRUMP: Well, I had nothing to do with it. I have nothing to do with Russia. I told you, I have deals there. I have no anything.

ACOSTA: It took a few tries. But the president finally stated that he's not aware of any aides who were in touch with Russian operatives.

TRUMP: I have nothing to do with Russia. To best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does.

ACOSTA: The president also acknowledged the mistakes made by former national security adviser, Michael Flynn who was forced out for misleading the administration about his calls with the Russian ambassador before Mr. Trump was sworn into office.

TRUMP: The thing is he didn't tell our vice president properly, and then he said he didn't remember. So either way, it wasn't very satisfactory to me. And I have somebody that I think will be outstanding for the position.

ACOSTA: He repeatedly called the reports about his campaign's contacts with the Russians fake news while conceding the leaks were real.

TRUMP: But the leaks are real. You know what they said. You saw it. And the leaks are absolutely real. The news is fake, because so much of the news is fake.

ACOSTA: A contradiction we tried to clarify.

It seems that there's a disconnect there, if the information coming from those leaks is real, then how can the stories be fake?

TRUMP: No. The reporting is fake. Look, Jim what it is, here's the thing. The public isn't, you know, they read newspapers, they see television they watch. They don't know if it's true or false because they're not involved. I'm involved. I've been involved with this stuff all my life. But I'm involved. So I know when you're telling the truth and when you're not. I just hear many, many untruthful things.

ACOSTA: This from a president who once said as a candidate that he loved leaks.

TRUMP: WikilLeaks, I love WikilLeaks.

ACOSTA: It sounds as though you do not have much credibility here when it comes to leaking if that is something that you encouraged during the campaign.

TRUMP: OK. Fair question. Ready?

ACOSTA: If I may ask you that --

TRUMP: No, no. But are you -- let me do one in return, do you mind?

ACOSTA: Yes, sir.

TRUMP: All right. So in one case you're talking about highly classified information. In the other case you're talking about John Podesta saying bad things about the boss.

ACOSTA: The president repeated that he's determined to repeal Obamacare. But on immigration, a shift, as he indicated a willingness to allow the children of undocumented immigrants to be able to stay in the country. But one area where the president said, he's not changing media critic and chief.

Aren't you concerned, sir, that you are undermining the people's faith in the first amendment freedom of the press, the press in this country when you call stories you don't like fake news? Why not just say it's a story I don't like?

TRUMP: I do that.

ACOSTA: When you call it fake news, you're undermining confidence in our news media.

TRUMP: No, no. I get it. Here's the thing, OK. I understand you. And you're right about that except this. See, I know when I should get good and when I should get bad. And sometimes I'll say, "Wow, that's going to be a great story." And I'll get killed. I know what's good and bad. I'd be a pretty good reporter not as good as you. But I know what's good. I know what's bad.

ACOSTA: The president also said he's directed the justice department to begin investigating those leaks coming out of his administration to reporters about his campaign's contacts with the Russians. Leaks he described as criminal acts.

Jim Acosta, CNN, the White House.


HOLMES: All right, joining me now here in L.A., talk radio host, Ethan Bearman, CNN political commentator and Trump supporter John Phillips, and CNN senior reporter from media and politics Dylan Byers.

And, you know, I'm going to start with Dylan. There are so many moments that stood out simply because he was talking about fake news so much. And when a reporter asked him about the size of the Electoral College win which he talks about all the time, I wanted to run that by you. Let's start with that exchange first.


[02:05:01] PETER ALEXANDER, NBC NEWS: Mr. President --

TRUMP: Are you OK?

ALEXANDER: You said -- I just want to get on tape. Very simple, you said today that you have the biggest electoral margins since Ronald Reagan, 304, 306 electoral votes. In fact, President Obama got 365 in 2008. President Obama 333 and George H.W. Bush, 426 when he won as president, so why should America trust --

TRUMP: You know, I was given that information. I don't know. I was just given it. We had a very, very big margin.

ALEXANDER: I guess my question is why should Americans trust you when you accuse the information they receive as being fake when you're providing information that's fake?

TRUMP: Well, I don't know. I was given that information. I was given -- I've actually have seen that information around. But it was a very substantial victory. Do you agree with that?

ALEXANDER: You're the president. (END VIDEO CLIP)

HOLMES: Well, Dylan, I mean he does keeps saying that his victory was bigger than it was. And perhaps, I think more importantly, he does seem fixated on his win and the version of the side of it. What was your take?

DYLAN BYERS, CNN SENIOR REPORTER FOR MEDIA AND POLITICS: Well, first of all, there's, you know, an extraordinarily lack of accountability when it comes to the facts. I mean, this idea that as the president of the United States you can just cast off an untruth by saying, you know, someone gave me that information as if the buck didn't stop with you, as if you weren't ultimately responsible for the things that you said.

And, you know, part of that, there's this sense among everyone I've spoken with at the White House and certainly among the president that, you know, the media gets it wrong so often. So, you know, we shouldn't -- people shouldn't be so hard on us when we get it wrong. And yet, the things that President Trump gets wrong are extremely consequential. It's comes down not just to a provost but his accusations about voter fraud, you know, about terrorist attacks.

I mean the list goes on and on and on. I also think that there is this sort of larger question here which is the one that you bring up which is why is the president of the United States after having won the election, three, four weeks into his tenure in the White House, why is he obsessing over this? Why is he obsessing over his ratings and the media? Why is he obsessing over the media? At what point does he get down to the business of governing? At what point does he begin to act somewhat presidential in so far as he let certain things slide off of his back.

Somehow, being legitimized by the media, being validated by the media seems to matter so much to him. It seems to be his central sort of preoccupation. And I think that comes from a very legitimate place as much as it is strategic to go after the media, I think he has a sincere gripe with the media.

HOLMES: And, you know, John Phillips, we're talking a little bit about that. I mean his supporters are going to say, go for the media. Or I mean we don't like them either. But he does at some point have to switch from beating up on the media who are actually doing their job.

JOHN PHILLIPS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, today was Trump's party. And every time you hit the pinyata, candy came out. And we live in a country that's split 50/50. And whenever you do that with a country the size of ours, you're going to have a lot of desperate groups. You're going to have a lot of groups that have nothing in common. He has evangelicals that voted for him. He has libertarian, leading Republicans that voted for him. He has totally secular Republicans, Conservative, Democrats, whatever. The one thing that they all have in common is they hate the media. So when he goes out there and does what he did today, this was not a press conference. This was a public flogging. And the people -- HOLMES: Or performance.

PHILLIPS: And the people that watched that press conference that voted for him were cheering at their T.V.s., they loved it. It was therapeutic. It was cathartic. They couldn't get enough.

HOLMES: And he said it was chum in the water for the faithful?

ETHAN BEARMAN, CALIFORNIA TALK RADIO HOST: It was ridiculous. And by the way some of the groups that John just talked about are some of those hypocritical people on earth. How dare they claim to be an Evangelical Christian, you know, about family values, here's a guy who has children out of wedlock, he's cheating on people, he grabs women in his own words, sexually abusing them. This is ridiculous.

And the fact that he can't be presidential -- remember, he promised us during the campaign, "I'll be the most presidential president." He can't do that. He can't. To Dylan's point, focus on the job at hand. We have the Russian ship of the east coast. We have missiles going to Syria. We have war happening in Ukraine. We have China building military bases in the South China Sea. And he is focussed on the media and the Electoral College.

HOLMES: I do want to get to one of the point said that it was at the heart of his troubles at the moment, and that is Michael Flynn, General Michael Flynn, when he was let go, the now former national security adviser, the president said of being treated very unfairly after he fired him. And he spoke more about it today. And let's play that.


TRUMP: Mike was doing his job. He was calling countries and his counterparts. So it certainly would have been OK with me if he did it. I would have directed him to do it if I thought he wasn't doing it. I didn't direct him. But I would have directed him, because that's his job.


[02:10:01] HOLMES: I suppose the question is if he was doing his job, if that's what he was meant to be doing, why did he come back and mislead the vice president about it? If it was routine contact, as the president was suggesting, why, then, did the intelligence community feel the need to come and brief the White House about the call and the content of the call and the content of the call?

PHILLIPS: Well, the fact that they leaked it is not only a serious problem. It's illegal. And they need to figure out just exactly who is doing that.

HOLMES: We're not talking about the leaks. We're talking about --

PHILLIPS: I know, but that's a serious problem because his conversation with the Australian prime minister and the president Mexico were also leaked. What's -- what the problem with Flynn was that he lied to the vice president about what he did.

HOLMES: I don't think the the content of the call, surely.

BEARMAN: Exactly.

PHILLIPS: Well, I don't think you can't expect someone who works in national security to not deal with issues of national security. I mean dealing with the Russians is something that's going to pop up.

BEARMAN: But that was before the inauguration. He wasn't the national security adviser.

PHILLIPS: -- well, he did not say he did anything illegal.

BEARMAN: And we don't know. We don't know the contents of all of these. We don't even know the connections with Russia. We don't have the tax returns. So when the president goes on T.V. today and says, "Well, there's nothing about Russia." We don't know that, because he refuses to release his tax returns. I don't know that he doesn't have dealings with Russia. And because he refuses to fulfill a campaign promise again --

PHILLIPS: But see, this is the narrative that he objects to. The narrative is, oh, he's Russia's puppet. There's no evidence to support that matter.

BEARMAN: So release the tax returns.

PHILLIPS: There's no evidence to support that he's Russia's puppet.

BEARMAN: Release the tax returns.

HOLMES: I wanted to get another issue. And that was an exchange that happened between a reporter and the Congressional Black Caucus came up. Let's listen to it and discuss.


APRIL RYAN, AMERICAN URBAN RADIO NETWORKS: When you say the inner cities, are you going to include the CBC, Mr. President, in your conversations with your urban agenda, your inner city agenda as well as --

TRUMP: Am I going to include who?

RYAN: Are you going to include the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus?

TRUMP: Well, I would. I'll tell you what? Do you want to set up the meeting? Do you want to set up the meeting?

RYAN: No, no, no.

TRUMP: Are they friends of yours?

RYAN: I'm just a reporter. TRUMP: No. Set up the meeting.

RYAN: I know some of them. But I'm sure --

TRUMP: Let's go set up a meeting. I would love to meet with the Black Caucus.


HOLMES: And Dylan Byers, let's bring you back into the mix here. What many saw as an extraordinary exchange. And others said was no big deal. But how did it appear to you?

BYERS: Well, moments before that clip you played, the president said, "I'm the least racist person you know. And then he demonstrated that he did not know what the CBC referred to, which is the Congressional Black Caucus. And then he assumed the African-American reporter in the room asking him about the Congressional Black Caucus would be able to set up a meeting with that caucus because she's probably friends with them.

Now, it's -- look, it's unpresidential, or at least it represents a new norm in what it means to be presidential. And, again, you go back to what John said. Are there two Americas? There are absolutely two Americas. Does it make it any less troubling that the president of the United States is so callous with the way he sort of -- is only willing to represent that one-half of that America and the dwindling half of that? Yes, I think it's pretty troubling.

HOLMES: I wanted to -- and we can discuss it a little bit, but time is limited. There was something else that struck me today that I wanted to rise as well. CNN's Tom Lobianco spoke with a Republican congressman, and we can put up what that congressman told him. It's not on tape. But the quote is quite telling. He said, "We're just trying to manage this stuff," let's say. The people that love him will love him more. The people that hate him will hate him more. And the people in the middle probably will look at it the way we look at it in Congress, which is this is the new normal. That's just the S -- you fill in the blanks, that happens. I don't know how else to manage it.

And I guess John, the question is, that's a Republican congressman. Now, how many of those have to jump ship before there's a real crisis in the party?

PHILLIPS: Well, I don't know which congressman said this. But my guess is he comes from the establishment wing of the Republican Party. Those people never liked Donald Trump. They didn't like him in the primary. They didn't support him in the primary. They barely -- they gradiently supported him at the convention. And now, that they won, guess what? They have to live with him. They're married with him. So I'm not surprised to see that. But guess what? He's the president. He's going to be here for four long years.

HOLMES: What do you think, Ethan? BEARMAN: Well, we have a gigantic bureaucracy in Washington D.C. 2.1 million people work for the federal government. And here we have somebody who behaves like there isn't a system. We don't have three branches in government. There isn't a constitution. And he's just going to run things the way he ran the Trump businesses. This is the problem with having somebody with this kind of an ego and business ideas about himself --

HOLMES: But when you hear a comment like that and you're two years out from the midterm.

BEARMAN: Oh, yes.

HOLMES: And so, but is that a bad sign?

[02:15:01] BEARMAN: This is terrible. I think this is all bad signs for the country. And this whole idea that two Americas bring us down the wrong path. And I'm just waiting for that half of America to demand running man for our president.

PHILLIPS: It's healthy, because that congressman probably doesn't want border security the way that Trump does. He probably doesn't want extreme vetting the way that Trump does. And probably wants TPP.

HOLMES: And I wish we could go on longer. I will say that you're on air, well, on your radio show for three hours a day. You said everyone who called in, was loved what happened today.

PHILLIPS: The people that liked Trump loved it, the people that didn't, hated it.

HOLMES: Exactly. Yes. John Phillips, thank you so much, also Ethan Bearman and of course Dylan Byers, appreciate it gentlemen. Thanks for coming on. Isa?

SOARES: Thanks very much Michael.

Coming up, U.S. officials send mixed messages on Russia policy. How that's being received in Moscow. We have that story ahead.

Plus a few more of Trump's top diplomats head to Europe to discuss global security. We'll tell you what that means, next.


KATE RILEY, CNN WORLD SPORTS ANCHOR: I'm Kate Riley with your CNN WORLD SPORT headlines. It was a family affair when Manchester United hosted St. Etienne Europa League on Thursday. The Pogba brothers went head to head in the last 32 first leg of this fixture. But it wasn't about them in the end. The opening goal went to Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He would double their lead in the second half after the youngster, Marcus Rashford found the sweet.

A penalty in the last five minutes would see him get a hat trick on the night. 3-0 it ends. Top in the meanwhile lost on the road this time to against in Belgium. Spurs fielded a strong team after (inaudible) was came to bounce back from losing to Liverpool in the league. Only one goal in this one is Jeremy Perbet on the target for the Belgians to give them somewhat surprising win in their last 32 first leg match.

And we've heard a lot about the 2026 world cup hosting 48 teams, instead of the normal 32. But another big change is likely to occur as well. FIFA President Gianni Infantino said he'll encourage bidding countries to co-host the world's biggest football tournament together. The only time a FIFA World Cup has been jointly held was back in 2002 when South Korea and Japan were involved. And it was widely regarded as a success.

And that's a look at all your sports headlines. I'm Kate Riley.

HOLMES: Welcome back, everyone, Donald Trump lashing out at the media on Thursday during a marathon news conference.

SOARES: That's right. The U.S. president denied he was ranting. But spoke for 24 minutes before taking any questions. He used most of the time to air his grievances, especially about -- well you guess it, the media. Take a listen.


[02:20:00] TRUMP: Now, they'll take this news conference. I'm actually having a very good time. OK. But they'll take this news conference. Don't forget, that's the way I won. Remember, I used to give you a news conference every time I made a speech, which was like everyday. OK. No. That's how I won. I won with news conference and probably speeches. I certainly didn't win by people listening to you people. That's for sure.

But I'm having a good time. Tomorrow, they will say Donald Trump rants and raves at the press. I'm not ranting and raving. I'm just telling you, you know, you're dishonest people. But I'm not ranting and raving. I love this. I'm having a good time doing it. But tomorrow the headlines are going to be Donald Trump rants and raves. I'm not ranting and raving.


HOLMES: Ethan Bearman, John Phillips, and Dylan Byers are back to talk more. John, let's start with you. I think it was before the news conference was over, the headlines were already saying ranting in that news conference. But your audience lapped it up.

PHILLIPS: Absolutely. I would say it's like Christmas in February. But it's more like festivus with the airing of the grievances. They saw this. And they took up. And they -- just ate it up with the spoon. They like the fact that he's going after the news media.

Now, typically is that the Republican president will go after the Democratic Congress, the party out of power. But the Democrats are in such disarray right now, where you have Maxine Waters saying, she's already preparing to impeach the president because Russia invaded Korea. You've got a massive DNC chairmans raised where the various candidates who are running on the platform of who can best control white people. So they have a lot of problems right now. And what he's doing is he making the media the enemy, the media his sparring partner.

HOLMES: It's a distraction norm.

PHILLIPS: He believes that it will benefit him. And I believe he's right.

HOLMES: It's a distraction, surely. Ethan.

BEARMAN: Absolutely. And again, I look at, for example, the Russia situation where this president is continuing the failures of President Obama in terms of dealing with Russia, playing -- having a bromance with Vladimir Putin when we have these serious situations going on, is not good.

And by the way, the irony of today was to call a news conference with the media to say, I hate you. But I love you. And I'm going to -- go ahead and ask me a question. But I'm not going to let you ask the question. This was an embarrassment today.

HOLMES: OK. I want to talk about something else. We talked before the break about the Congressional Black Caucus and the comment that went there. There was a game not for the first time, the issue of anti-Semitism and the rise of that in the U.S. post Donald Trump's election came up. I want to listen to a question that was put to the president. Let's roll it.


TRUMP: So here's the story, folks. Number one, I am the least anti- Semitic person you've ever seen in your entire life. Number two, racism. The least racist person. Let me just tell you something that I hate the charge. I find it repulsive. I hate even the question.


HOLMES: Dylan Byers, let's bring you back into the mix here, you know, one thing that I that think people have been looking for is an out and out denunciation of anti-Semitism. And the president seems to have had a couple of opportunities to do that and hasn't gone the whole way. And basically, that was teed up by a Jewish reporter. The president told them to sit down and be quiet.

BYERS: Right. There's an invitation there which effectively says, look, I'm asking you to denounce all these anti-Semitic people who have sort of feel emboldened by the fact you won the election. And he won't do that. He gets on the defensive. He basically pushes back and says, you know, I can't -- I don't understand the charge. It's unfair. It's an example of fake news in a biassed media.

And again, it goes to this question about whether or not he's going to assume the mantle of the presidency, about whether he's not actually going to be presidential. But I want to go back to what his strategy here was with the press conference generally. What he's trying to do here is both air very sincere grievances. He feels wronged by the media. And he's clearly obsessed with being legitimized by the media. But it's also strategic. It's a distraction from the important questions surrounding Russia, surrounding his former national security adviser. And I think the media, I think it would be wise of the media can sort of not buy in this debate about the media coverage and instead focus on some of those more significant questions.

HOLMES: Ethan, you were saying you know this reporter. And he's actually a Trump supporter?

BEARMAN: Jake Turx from Ami is, yes, he's very supportive of Donald Trump. He's an ultra orthodox Jew or at least fully orthodox at a minimum. And he threw the question out there because in his mind he was asking what is basically a softball question. And somehow the president, because he's so mad at the media, and his ego is in the way of actually listening to what somebody else has to say, misheard Jake's easy question, which is, hey, look at all these horrible anti- Semitic acts that have happened here in United States, these threats, bomb threats all across the United States to various Jewish groups. And all Donald Trump had to do was say, "This is terrible. I denounce it. There's no place for that in the United States of America. But his ego got in the way.

[02:25:14] HOLMES: I wanted to touch on something else. Distract is very odd. He has this -- he has rally on Saturday, I think it is in Florida. And he said today, he's going to expect huge crowds are going to be there. He's the president. Why is he having a rally? He won. Why is he doing that?

PHILLIPS: Because, first of all, he likes it. He enjoys playing to the crowd. It gives him energy. He goes where the love is. But also if you read the papers, you think that everyone in the country hates him. I know "Time Magazine" is going to savage him on the cover of their next edition. But the fact of the matter is, is this country is split down the middle. Half the country likes him. And he's going to go out there and force the newspapers to print pictures of him in front of a huge rally, because those can't be biassed.

BEARMAN: Half of the country doesn't like him. Half of the country doesn't like him.

BYERS: -- issue of that. His approval rating already just less than a month into his tenure suggests that less than half the country likes him which is our colleague Ron Brownstein said is, remarkable given that he's only been in office for less than a month.

HOLMES: Thirty-nine percent according to one poll. What do you think of that? Because -- are you -- Dylan, do you think that having a rally is an odd thing to do once you've already won? It's like the campaign for the next election is starting up.

BYERS: Well, look, President Obama held many rallies. I mean for, you know, for people who really relish the spirit of the crowd while they're on the campaign trail, that's something that's much more easy to do than the actual governing that's required to the president of the United States. That said, doing it this early, going back to doing it again less than a month into your presidency, it suggests a sort of retreat. It indicates that he's already growing tired of the business of governing. And again, I think that's problematic.

HOLMES: Dylan Byers, Ethan Bearman, John Phillips, thank you so much for being with us, fascinating discussion. Thanks to you all. Isa?

SOARES: Thanks very much Michael.

And coming up, right here on the show, the top U.S. diplomat says the U.S. might be able to work with Russia. What that means for U.S. allies in Europe. We'll have that story for you just ahead.


[02:31:12] MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Michael Holmes live in Los Angeles. Where it is 11:30 p.m.

ISA SOARES, CNN ANCHOR: And Isa Soares in London where it's 7:30 on Friday morning.

Now the U.S. Secretary of State says the country will consider working with Russia when it's practical. Rex Tillerson made the comments after meeting Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Thursday. Tillerson said -- excuse me the two countries might find common ground in some areas but the U.S. will continue to back its allies. (INAUDIBLE) spoke on sidelines of a G20 meeting in Bonn as it take place in Germany.

CNN Atika Shubert is there for us now. And for the view from Russia we joined by CNN's Clare Sebastian in Moscow.

Atika, I want to start with you if I may because this was of course Tillerson's debut in the world stage as Secretary of State. And it seemed to have made a clear, pretty clear his foreign policy position in light of Russia/Ukraine, taking a pretty firm line. He has met of course with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov. How was that meeting in light of some of the comments we've heard from him?

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's hard to know, of course. I mean, what happens behind closed doors, only the aides and the participants themselves know. But what we do know from the beginning of the meeting, it was of course a first meeting.

So it's more than introductory meeting. They didn't really get into the needy-greedy details of any hot button issues. From the brief exchange that the press saw when they went in, it seemed cordy enough (ph). Afterward that we saw a pretty tough statement from Rex Tillerson, it was a lot more measured and he basically, you know, the U.S. will cooperate with Russia when it fits the U.S. interest, but when it does not, then United States will stick to values and its own interest. Now at the end some pretty tough words on Ukraine saying that United States expects Russia to stick by the Minsk agreement. So I think it does seem that Tillerson is trying to project a more measured tone than that of President Donald Trump and that will be reassuring for U.S. allies. For Moscow, however, it may be more wait and see.

SOARES: And Clare as Atika was saying, that they discussed the ongoing violence in Eastern Ukraine, which Rex Tillerson probably I believe urged basically a Moscow to pull back in Ukraine. I know the White House and the Kremlin have engaged kind of back and forth commentary on Crimea in recent days. So wow were Tillerson's comments received in the Kremlin?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Isa, all we got from the Russian Foreign Ministry was to confirm that Ukraine was discussed and sanctions specifically were not. You know Lavrov called this meeting productive and useful.

But I think it's fair to say that it hasn't gone unnoticed here in Moscow that President Trump's stance on the issue of Ukraine appears to have hardened in recent days. He tweeted on Wednesday that Crimea was taken by Russia, that, you know, this perhaps suggested that the Obama administration was too soft on Russia.

And here in Moscow, there's a scene, you know, as a closed issue. Crimea now is part of Russia. It says that we've heard both from the Kremlin and the foreign ministry this week saying we will not be giving this back. This issue is not up for discussion. So I think there's definitely some concern that on the issue of Ukraine this is maybe setting up the exact same empire that Russia had with the previous U.S. administration.

You know, they still need to work toward finding a way to move past this in order to try and improve the relationship. As I said, public the foreign ministry saying this was a productive meeting, Isa.

SOARES: And Atika, I know we've been focus on U.S. but for the other G20 countries, this was -- this meeting was an opportunity for them to better understand what President Trump's America first policies meant to them. Have they been reassured by some of Rex Tillerson's comments? What are you hearing?

SHUBERT: Well, absolutely. There was a lot of curiosity as to what kind of Secretary Of State Rex Tillerson will be.

[02:35:05] And so, a lot of people hoping for more that reassurance. And I think for the most part U.S. allies here are much more reassured. There is a more measured tone coming from Rex Tillerson. It's interesting actually from the exchanges that we've been able to see between Secretary of State and his counterparts here.

He perhaps said some of the much more candid conversations with Germany's Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel. They even had sort of life had conversation about poker and how card game relates to international diplomacy last night after the dinner at Lamar Smith (ph). So, I think there is an improvement in relations, but so far Rex Tillerson has kept a low profile and his aides has said that he's in listening mode, simply trying to gain more experience here, learning and listening before taking any concrete action. So for many U.S. allies, it will be about, OK, this is your debut. Now you're going to go back. What are you going to do next?

SOARES: Yes, poker tactics. That's a good way to break the ice isn't it? Now Clare, we heard President Trump said he's press conference yesterday who would have liked to have had a good relationship with Russia. At the same time when he Defense Secretary and Foreign Secretary taking on a much harder stance when it comes to Russia. How is the Kremlin basically processing what I think is fair to say these mixed messages from this administration?

SEBASTIAN: Yes. I think it's fair to say there is a level of conclusion. They are playing their cards very close to their chest. Yes, publicly, you know, in saying hat they're still open to improvement in relationships but they are waiting for, you know, the U.S. to define its foreign policy objectives and to fill certain key positions.

But I want to read a tweet from a prominent Russian politician, Alexei Pushkov tweeting in the wake of those events of the last 24 hours he tweeted Trump hopes to make a deal with Russia. Mattis thinks in vain that he can put pressure from a position of strength. Tillerson is playing a second Kerry, three lines from one administration.

So I think he get the sense that they're trying to decide what's going on in the U.S. and waiting to see how this will affect their relationship. But of course, as I said still leaving the door open to a better relationship with the U.S. than they had under the Obama administration.

SOARES: Clare Sebastian in Moscow this morning. Atika Shubert as well for us in Bonn, Germany. Thank you to you both.

Well, as Tillerson gets set to leave Germany. More of Mr. Trump's team are seem are headed in. Vice President Mike Pence, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly will attend the Munich conference on Friday. That's a security conference.

Joining me now is Raffaello Pantucci. He was Director of International Security Studies at the Royal Services Institute. Raffaello, thank you very much for coming in. How much of this meeting is a reassurance tour? In other words, basically the U.S. coming here and telling the rest of Europe that they stand by them?

RAFFAELLO PANTUCCI, DIRECTOR OF INTERNATIONAL SECURITY STUDIES, ROYAL UNITED SERVICES INSTITUTE: Well, I mean the Munich security conferences sort of very substantial and the important event on this of annual calendar all of the events that you see in the sort of NATO alliance and sort of European alliances.

And so, in many ways the U.S. administration coming here is trying to reassure a group of allies who've been quite concerned by what we've seen a statements coming out during the election campaign and more recently, some of sort of commentary around NATO and Russia. These are key concerns for the community people gathering in Munich. And they've been key concerns for many years.

And so, the U.S. administration coming here at a very senior level, Vice President Pence is clear signal. Its part of a signaling package to show the European and NATO allies in particular that they are with them. This is part of an alliance that's important to them.

SOARES: And the NATO comments and the fact that they said -- that he said NATO was obsolete. What would the allies, what would they want to hear? We've got major leaders here, life of Chancellor Merkel. What would they -- do you think they ought to be hearing to reassure them about President Trump's America first policies?

PANTUCCI: I mean, I think the concern is the United States is going to retract into the shell and you're going to see a much more isolationist this countries can take much less interest in international affairs events and yet the U.S. is still the worlds major super world power. There are many other rising powers but United States, its military power acts as sort of an umbrella that protects and throws a lot of defenses over a lot of other people.

And if that order is suddenly going to shifted. If we're going to see the United States who going to transform its relationship with NATO fundamentally, we're seeing one of sort of major pillars of international security since the Second World War really.

Be slowly sort of eroded and that really changes the security dynamics as considered from a lot of European capitals. And so getting some reassurance that actually the United States position is maybe not going to changes dromically or maybe exactly what it means that the new United States position is actually going to be.

It's really essential to reassure the long standing partners of what actually they can rely on from the United States for.

SOARES: And the world has changed so much since last year when this meeting took place, because we've got Brexit, we got a new U.S. President, but also with President Trump concerns of his connections to Russia. We've heard that you heard Rex Tillerson said they were prepared to work with Russia. How will that go down? How will that sit with European allies?

[02:40:07] PANTUCCI: They're getting most Europe. You know sitting in Europe, you're next to Russia. You know in the United States ultimately sort of further way. So there is a realization. You have to have some sort of functioning relationship with Moscow.

The question is on what terms and how is that actually going to be established. And now we just going to accept the Russia which sort of redefines Europe's borders at will so they're claiming Crimea taking it over sort of ripping apart or helping feed the sort of chaos that's happening in the Ukraine?

You know, that is really -- reshaping Europe's borders. And that's again, changing in sort of order that we've had for a very long time. And that's very negative. And so, the point is to make sure the United States is, everyone wants a productive relationship with Russia but in what terms.

And it's making sure that we don't let Russia redefine things in their own terms but making sure there are certain lines are drawn. Not setting press on (ph). And then might later be used again.

SOARES: Very briefly Raffaello, what would you say be the number one issue being discussed here?

PANTUCCI : I mean, I think Russia is going to be the big issue quite frankly on the table. Though there's lots of other issues on terrorism maybe Israel and Iraq. But I think for this particular audience, probably Russia will be one of the main --

SOARES: And I'm sure we'll be heard this week coming out of the U.S., I'm sure that will follow Vice President Pence. Thank you very much. Raffaello Pantucci there, Michael.

HOLMES: Isa, thanks. Well, the man who has sued the EPA multiple times is likely to be confirmed as the new head of the agency.

Next, why our guest calls Scott Pruitt the most dangerous man for the job. We'll be right back.


[02:45:29] HOLMES: Welcome back. A confirmation vote is coming Friday for U.S. President Trump's pick to head the environmental protection agency.

SOARES: Scott Pruitt says he doesn't think climate change is a hoax but he also isn't planning any quick moves to curb it. On Thursday Mr. President Trump overturned a regulation preventing coal mining weight for being dump into water waste. Take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: In eliminating this rule, I am continuing to keep my promise to the American people to get rid of wasteful regulations that do nothing, absolutely nothing. But slow down the economy, hamstring companies, push jobs to other countries, which is happening all over.


HOLMES: Bruce Nilles is the Senior Director and co-founder of the Beyond Coal Campaign, joins me from San Francisco.

We'll get the scope though it in a minute. But, you know, just touching on what we saw there, we're already seeing environmental rules being removed. That legislation ending a key Obama administration rule designed to protect waterways from coal mining waste. And then on Tuesday he also did away with a financial disclosure requirement for energy companies. How concerning are those moves before Mr. Pruitt is even at the EPA?

BRUCE NILLES, SENIOR DIRECTOR AND CO-FOUNDER, BEYOND COAL CAMPAIGN: It's really shocking. If you think about the fact that Congress has done basically nothing on energy for several years. And the very first thing this new Congress does at the request of Donald Trump is to pass an energy law, the first thing they did and that was to allow more coal waste to get dumped into our lakes, rivers and streams across the united states.

It is so taking us backwards to the 19th century, and that's their vision for our energy future, which is to allow more pollution for an industry that's really on it last legs. It's really a cynical hoax.

HOLMES: OK, back to Scott Pruitt. There's massive level of opposition to that nomination given his past actions against the EPA. Some had said he's made a career out of it. But he probably in reality has the numbers. What will be the impact if he's running the agency in your view?

NILLES: Well, I think you look at the last six years. He was in charge. He was elected in Oklahoma to be attorney general. The very first thing he did was to eliminate the office of environmental enforcement. Think about that. The first thing he did was take the public money that was used to protect the people clean air and water in Oklahoma.

He took that office to eliminated it and put the money into not doing the people's business but defending the polluters in Oklahoma. So he took public money and spent the last six years on behalf of ExxonMobil, large multinational oil and gas of coal companies and been suing to protect them.

And that's exactly what he has threatened to do, and why we are so vehemently opposed and we hope the Senate tomorrow. We'll have the courage to say this is not American values. This is not what we're about. We're not going to have public money being used advance the interest of the polluters.

HOLMES: You know, even that I was reading today employees of the environmental protection agency are being urged by the union to call senators to urge them to vote against the confirmation of Scott Pruitt. I mean, can you think of any other part-time when people in the bureaucracy have been this active against the man coming in to lead them?

NILLES: Well, it is the most dangerous man ever proposed to lead this agency. For 45 years they've been in the forefront to clean up our air and get rid of smog, get mercury out of our fish. And this guy has said he's going to take us backwards.

And so, it's not just the employees. Most importantly, it's the people who have been enjoying clean air, who love to go fishing, who love the fact that it's safe to breathe on most days across this country. They're the ones who calling the senators and saying you've got to stop Scott Pruitt if we're going to have a sense of continuing to build on the progress of the last 40 years.

HOLMES: Efforts to try and delay that vote, but as you say it is coming up. Bruce Nilles of the Beyond Coal Campaign our thanks.

NILLES: Thank you.

[02:49:23] SOARES: Now, police have arrested their third suspect in the death of Kim Jong-un's half-brother. We have the latest in that investigation next.


DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Check out this astounding photograph coming from the Yosemite National Park in the Sierra Nevada of California.

This is known as a fire fall at horse tail falls in the park. It's an annual event. It occurs this time of year. The sun hits the water fall just perfectly and create this beautiful almost fire-like -- what a sight.

Now we are shaping up for an active weather pattern across the west coast -- typically into California. So certainly no sunshine expected across this state over the next 24 to 48 hours. In fact at atmosphere river of moisture will bombard this region with rain, wind and heavy mountain snowfall.

In fact so much rainfall that we could experience localize flooding specially into the greater Los Angeles region. In fact we have flash flood watches in effect from Los Angeles County into San Diego, even toward the central parts of the states, where we anticipate anywhere between 100 to 200 millimeters of rainfall through the course of the weekend.

And we'll be measuring snowfall in the higher elevation in feet. Look at this we have clear conditions across much of the eastern half of the United States. And this is all associated with a high pressure that's going to warm the temperatures up. Six degrees today in New York City. But look at the warmup into the weekend.


SOARES: Welcome back. Now Malaysian police have arrested a third suspect in connection with the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong- un's half-brother. The first suspect seen here was arrested days ago followed by another woman and a man.

Our Saima Mohsin is live in the Malaysian capital for us. And Saima, three people now being questioned. Two women, one man. What do we know about the third suspect, this man, this Malaysian man, I believe?

SAIMA MOHSIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Isa, he's name is Muhammad Farid Bin Jalaluddin, 26 years old, local Malaysian man. He was arrested late in the evening or at least the press release about it from Malaysian police came out late in the evening of the 15th of February.

Now, interestingly throughout our own digging we have teams covering right across Kuala Lumpur right now to investigate this death. Apparently according to police they told us that this Malaysian man led police to the other female suspect, the Indonesian woman Siti Aisyah.

In fact, he's her boyfriend. So that's the connection between the suspects. So far, Isa, no charges. They have been rumored for being custody for questioning. No charges come forward yet. Isa.

SOARES: And Saima, we know the post-mortem is being finished. Any word as to the results and what they reveal. Indeed the body, what's going to happen to the body?

MOHSIN: Yes, I mean, all eyes continue to be on this mortuary. On assuming mortuary at central hospital in Kuala Lumpur where the one time would be leader of North Korea is currently lying.

[02:55:00] Well, yes, the autopsy, according to some reports locally has been completed, but according to police here, they told CNN that they will not release the body until a DNA test is completed. That's because they won't release effectively an unidentified body in a mortuary until a family member confirms the identity and confirms that that's who this body belongs to.

Of course, that may be a little tricky given that Kim Jong-nam has been living in exile and this is a murder investigation. Isa?

SOARES: That was exactly my point. I mean, that might make it very hard in trying to release his body. Do we know whether he had any other family? Because I know when we were talking yesterday Saima, you said that he was presented very much kind of a playboy lifestyle. Tell us a bit more about his lifestyle. Did he have any family with him?

MOHSIN: Yes. We understand that his main family, so to speak, the one he spends most time with is in Macau, and that's where he was traveling to, that's according to the South Korean intelligence committee that spoke at -- that National Security Council that you and I have discussed a few days ago in Seoul.

Other mistresses, apparently, and children, yes, but there have been various suggestions that he had partners in Singapore and here in Kuala Lumpur. No one has come forward yet, though, according to the police and the hospital here. Isa?

SOARES: Saima Mohsin there for us in Kuala Lumpur. Thanks Saima.

HOLMES: And you've been watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Michael Holmes in Los Angeles.

SOARES: In London -- picks up our coverage right after a very short break. Do stay with CNN. We -- the most trusted name in news.