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U.S. Vice President Speaks at Munich Security Conference; Trump Returns to "Campaign Trail"; Kremlin Denies It Meddled in U.S. Election; Make America Kittens Again; New Arrest in Death of Kim Jong- nam; China's Efforts to Reduce Pollution; Trump under Pressure to Condemn Anti-Semitism; Video Appears to Show Boy Hit by Airstrike; Powerful Storm Brings Flooding to California; Make America Kittens Again. Aired 4-5a ET

Aired February 18, 2017 - 04:00   ET




MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- domestic product on defense within the decade. In the words of the summit's declaration, such investments were necessary in meeting NATO's capability targets and filling NATO's capability shortfalls.

As of this moment, the United States and only four other NATO members meet this basic standard. Now while we commend the few nations that are on track to achieve that goal, the truth is that many others, including some of our largest allies, still lack a clear and credible path to meeting this minimum goal.

Well, let me be clear on this point. The President of the United States expects our allies to keep their word, to fulfill this commitment and, for most, that means the time has come to do more.


PENCE: We must shoulder this responsibility together because the dangers we face are growing and changing every day. The world is now a more dangerous place than at any point since the collapse of communism a quarter century ago. The threats to our safety and security span the globe, from the rise of radical Islamic terrorism to the threats posed by Iran and North Korea and to many others who threaten our security and our way of life.

The rise of adversaries new and old demands a strong response from all of us. In the East, NATO has markedly improved its deterrent posture by stationing four combat-ready multinational battalions in Poland and the Baltic States.

In the wake of Russian efforts to redraw international borders by force, rest assured, the United States along with the United Kingdom, Canada and Germany will continue its leadership role as the framework nation in the enhanced forward president's initiative and we will support other joint critical actions to support this alliance.

And with regard to Ukraine...


PENCE: -- and with regard to Ukraine, we must hold Russia accountable and demand that they honor the Minsk agreements, beginning by deescalating the violence in Eastern Ukraine.

And know this, the United States will continue to hold Russia accountable. Even as we search for new common ground, which, as you know, President Trump believes can be found, to the south, upheavals in Africa and the Middle East have sent violence rippling in every direction, reaching not only Europe but also the United States.

Today the leading state sponsor of terrorism continues to destabilize the Middle East and thanks to the end of nuclear-related sanctions under the joint comprehensive plan of action, Iran now has additional resources to devote to these efforts.

Let me be clear again, under President Trump, the United States will remain fully committed to ensuring that Iran never maintains a nuclear weapon capable of threatening our countries, our allies in the region, especially Israel.


PENCE: Throughout the Middle East, radical Islamic terrorists have found safe havens and secured vast resources. They have allowed them to launch attacks here in Europe and inspire attacks in the United States.

Driven by evil, they targeted their own communities, their fellow Muslims, indiscriminately killing or enslaving those who reject their apocalyptic mania, from Yemen to Libya, Nigeria to Syria, the rise of extremist groups, ranging from ISIS and Al Qaeda to Al-Shabaab and Boko Haram endanger millions, including many faith-based peoples whose roots in their homelands extend into the midst of history.

ISIS is perhaps the greatest evil of them all. It's showed a savagery unseen in the Middle East since the Middle Ages. As President Trump has made clear, the United Nations will fight tirelessly to crush these enemies, especially ISIS and its so-called caliphate, and consign them to the ashheap of history, where they belong.


PENCE: Now last month, the president ordered the development of a comprehensive plan to utterly defeat ISIS. President Trump has no higher priority than the safety and security of the American people and ensuring the security of our treaty allies.

To confront the threats facing our alliance today, NATO must build upon its 20th-century tactics and continue to evolve to confront the crises of today and tomorrow.

Last summer, President Trump called on NATO to step up its efforts to disrupt terrorist plots before they ever reach our borders. And we've made great progress in expanding cooperation and information sharing between our intelligence and security services --


PENCE: -- in recent years.

But we must do more, much more. Consistent with the president's call, we are heartened to see that NATO has taken steps to increase focus on counterterrorism and collaboration. The appointment of a new intelligence chief, charged with facilitating collaboration on counterterrorism, marks a positive strategic shift in NATO's ability to fulfill its mission.

Going forward, we must intensify our efforts to cut off terrorist funding, increase our cyber capabilities. We must be as dominant in the digital world as we are in the physical world.


PENCE: We must always stay at least one step ahead of our adversaries for our shared goal of peace and prosperity can only be achieved through superiority and strength.

For our part, thanks to President Trump, the United States will be stronger than ever before. Our leadership of the free world will not falter even for a moment. Our strength and that of this alliance, it's not derived solely from our strength of arms, though. It's more of our shared principles, the principles and ideals that we cherish, freedom, democracy, justice and the rule of law.

These are the wellspring of the United States' strength and Europe's strength. They spring from that timeless notion that our unalienable rights of life and liberty are not granted to us by sovereigns or governments or kings. They are, as the American founders observed, endowed by our Creator.

Marshaling the will to confront the evils of the 21st century will require faith, faith in these timeless ideas. And as President Trump has said in his inaugural address, it's important to know, and I quote, "We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to follow."

This, then, is our cause. It's why NATO exists. It's why, after so many centuries of strife and division, Europe is unified. The United States has been faithful to Europe for generations and we will keep the faith that drove our forefathers to sacrifice so much in defense of our shared heritage.

We share a past and, after all we have been through, we share a future. Today, tomorrow and every day hence, be confident that the United States is now and will always be your greatest ally.


PENCE: Be assured, President Trump and the American people are fully devoted to our transatlantic union. Our choice today is the same as it was in ages past, security through shared sacrifice and strength or an uncertain future, characterized by disunity and faltering will.

So the United States chooses strength. The United States chooses friendship with Europe and a strong North Atlantic alliance. And in the name of all the sacrifices of the generations who have gone before, who have fought and bled and died for this alliance, with confidence in all of you and firm reliance on providence, I know the best day for America, for Europe and for the free world are yet to come.

Thank you for the honor of joining you today and God bless you all.


GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR: 10:08 in Munich, Germany. It is 4:08 here in the United States on the East Coast. And you are just listening to the Vice President of the United States, Mike Pence, at a security conference in Munich, Germany, talking about several different things --


LYNDA KINKADE, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, this is the vice president's first international trip in his new role and he sought to reassure his European allies that the U.S. is committed to stand behind NATO and the alliance.

HOWELL: In fact, he's saying several things, in one instance saying that, under President Trump's leadership, the United States will be strong, stronger than ever, also pointing out that defense requires your commitment, speaking to the allies, as well as ours.

And really made that point, saying that, you know, there needs to be more of a promise to share the burden on common defense. These were some of the themes that were hit by the vice president.

ASHER: Well, for some more analysis on all of that, we are joined by our international diplomatic Nic Robertson from Munich.

Great to have you with us, Nic. Looking at what --


KINKADE: -- the vice president had to say, he certainly, it certainly was quite different to what President Trump has said in the past, when he has attacked both NATO and the European Union.

How big a mission is it right now for the vice president to reassure European allies of America's commitment?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: It's a very big stretch. Absolutely, the Europeans are rattled by what they've heard from President Trump.

And while these words of assurance today went down very well, some elements of it getting quite large rounds of applause, it's what's been waited for and the vice president, Pence, was very, very clear, saying this is a message from President Trump, leaving no one in the room in any doubt that this is the new message from President Trump.

So disregard the old one that NATO is obsolete and that President Trump is ambivalent about the future of the European Union. And there he said, your success is our success. Your struggles are our struggles. Really I'm talking about the sort of common history and fighting together in both world wars to bring democracy, you know a freedom of democracy, of justice, of rule of law, all of these things being important.

But it was a first bit of his speech that he got to very, very quickly, speaking about NATO, that seemed to get the biggest round of applause, because that's been the biggest worry. This is what he said.


PENCE: Today, on behalf of President Trump, I bring you this assurance, the United States of America strongly supports NATO and will be unwavering in our commitment to this transatlantic alliance.


ROBERTSON: Now there was a less sort of loud, if you will, round of applause when he talked about the President Trump's concerns about the Iranian nuclear deal, which, of course, a lot of countries in the room were a part of that as well.

He had a message of worry for Europeans, is what is the relationship that President Trump will have with President Putin.

And he said, you know, we, United States, will continue to hold Russia accountable. That was something that the, you know, you can believe that European leaders here wanted to hear.

But he also added something on the end of that as well, which may have people here a little bit worried. He said, you know, we will continue to seek common ground, which President Trump still believes is possible.

So there is that sort of part of the message in there, that President Trump is sending very clearly here, that he is going to strike some kind of deal or intend to try to find some kind of deal on some issues with President Putin.

Not clear what those are. But this is what Europeans have been really very much waiting to hear from Mike Pence.

And we heard from Angela Merkel just before that, laying out how she believes the United States is important, their power, their strength, important, counterterrorism, tackling threats like ISIS. She laid out the importance of that there as well.

KINKADE: And Angela Merkel, of course, has been insisting that NATO is not just good for Europe but also for the U.S.

Given what Vice President Pence has said, does she really have to make a strong case?

Now can she breathe a sigh of relief that the U.S. is on the same page?

ROBERTSON: You know, she had some sort of subtle messages, and perhaps for her, untypically being a bit more straightforward, not quite so subtle, but she had pushback for some of the things President Trump has said about her.

You know, President Trump has said there's plenty German cars, talking about Mercedes and BMWs, on Fifth Avenue, his point being that there is a trade imbalance between the United States and Germany.

And Angela Merkel said President Trump should take some satisfaction, knowing that there are a lot of iPhones here in Europe and in Germany as well.

You know, I don't think anyone is going to just walk away from this and think this is the end of the day, we've got what we wanted from this new administration. I think that those, the concerns are deep and they're far from laid to rest. This is a potential beginning of a reset after a lot of damage done by things President Trump has already said.

KINKADE: All right, Nic Robertson, great to have your analysis on all of that for us. Thanks so much.

HOWELL: So the vice president in Europe, setting the new record straight, as you pointed out in your interview with U.S. allies. The President of the United States in Florida for what his aides say is a working weekend. He is set to headline a campaign-style rally later Saturday in Melbourne.

KINKADE: It is, of course, a familiar setting after what has been a turbulent first month in the White House at his Palm Beach resort of Mar-a-lago. He is expected to hold meetings on the effort to repeal ObamaCare and finding a new national security adviser. We have more now from our Athena Jones.


ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, the president is spending a third consecutive weekend --


JONES: -- here at Mar-a lago in Palm Beach. A senior administration official says it's going to be a working weekend, all kicking off with that rally on Saturday afternoon at the Orlando Melbourne International Airport.

It will be a campaign-style rally, according to White House, paid for by his campaign and something aimed at getting around the media filter that we've heard the president talk so much about and being able to talk directly to the people. He also will spend some time meeting with potential replacements for

his now former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. He's slated to meet with former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, also with Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster and with the acting national security adviser, Keith Kellogg, who is a retired lieutenant general.

Now the president's top aides are also down here in Florida with him for the weekend. They will be joined by the newly confirmed Office of Management and Budget director, Nick Mulvaney and also by the Health and Human Services secretary, Tom Price, to talk about next steps when it comes to repealing and replacing ObamaCare and tax reform.

So that senior administration official, making it clear hat the president will not be vacationing here at his vacation home -- back to you.


HOWELL: Athena Jones in Florida. Thank you, Athena.

So let's talk more about this with Scott Lucas, a professor of international politics at the University of Birmingham.

KINKADE: He is also the founder and editor of World View, a website on the Middle East and U.S. foreign policy.

Great to have you with us.


KINKADE: I first just want to look at some of the comments that the U.S. president made during that press conference. He berated journalists; he dismissed facts. He called mainstream media "the enemy of the people."

Now looking at history, the sort of people that said that phrase were dictators, like Chairman Mao and Stalin.

How do you think that resonates with people?

LUCAS: Well, obviously, it divides people and we saw the reactions to his latest tweet yesterday, where he initially called the media "sick" as being an example of that.

But before going down that road dictatorship, I just want to keep focus on the point here. The reason why Trump does this and throws up "fake news" is that he throws up anything as a distraction, a diversion, a deflection for dealing with the real issues.

So the fact, the reason why Trump, on this latest barrage of fake news in this extraordinary press conferences, he didn't want to be held to account for details of what might have happened around his administration's ties with Russia and the specifics of Mike Flynn's resignation as national security adviser.

Nor is Trump really comfortable in terms of talking about policies because he really isn't very coherent on policy.

So this is his default tactic. And we can just expect this to go on and on and on without having to think at this point, well, does that mean he's a dictator?

HOWELL: Some critics have suggested that it could have been, Scott, a distraction from the bigger issues, the questions that we will continue and continue and continue and continue to ask, when comes to whether there were any connections with the Trump transition team with Russia, with the Trump campaign.

Another thing that's interesting is that news conference in the United States, many Americans viewed it one way. Others viewed it another way. Some liked it. Others disliked it.

Scott, while are you with us, I want to also ask you about the Vice President of the United States in Europe, at this hour, speaking with U.S. allies, reassuring them the U.S. is, you know, has got their back but, at the same time, making sure they understand it very clear that their commitments are also expected.

LUCAS: Well, that's a superficial reassurance. And it continues a week of statements, including from the Defense secretary James Mattis, who has also been in Europe . The question is whether there is substance behind the reassurance.

Pence and Mattis are from the pragmatist (ph) ring of the White House. They believe in close relations with Europe and a strong NATO alliance. Trump and some of his hardline advisers, like Steve Bannon, we're not sure they're committed to that. They've been much more committed to this idea of pursuing really a priority relationship with Vladimir Putin.

So here's where the rubber meets the road. If it's a question of maintaining sanctions on Russia (INAUDIBLE) an aggression foreign policy, will the administration stand with NATO?

Or will Trump overrule it?

Or, let's take another example, if the Russians continue cyber warfare and trying to influence elections, something which Trump denies has happened, will the pragmatists (ph) win out or will Trump and Bannon basically pursue a new type of foreign policy?

This remains to be seen.

HOWELL: It is important to point out the Vice President of the United States in that -- at the podium in Europe in Munich also said that the U.S. will hold Russia accountable. So the vice president did mention Russia in his description of how the U.S. will continue to stand with allies.

Scott Lucas, thank you so much for your insight and we'll stay in touch with you.

[04:20:00] HOWELL: Of course, CNN NEWSROOM will be back right after this.



KINKADE: Welcome back. U.S. President Donald Trump has dismissed allegations of Russian contacts with his administration as a ruse and fake news.

HOWELL: The Russian interference in the U.S. and politics, it is being taken seriously on Capitol Hill. At least three official investigations are expected.

Friday, the FBI director, James Comey, briefed senators in a closed door meeting about Russia. One Democratic senator saying the Senate Intelligence Committee has already put safeguards in place to ensure that the White House does not destroy any relevant documents.

KINKADE: For the Russian reaction, let's bring in CNN's Clare Sebastian in Moscow.

Good to have you with us, Clare. Mr. Trump continues to insist he had no contact with Russia. And he said to the best of his knowledge, he said no person I deal with has had that contact.

What is the Kremlin saying about that?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, yes, it's interesting, Lynda, when we put the question to the Kremlin earlier this week, they said, don't read your morning newspapers, it's difficult to distinguish real news from fake news.

They said don't trust these anonymous sources. But having said that, they did not deny that there were contacts. This is certainly something that we have seen from high ranking Russian officials, before the deputy foreign minister just two days after the election gave an interview to Russian news agency Interfax --


-- saying that there were contacts, you know, they hope that they will continue after the campaign and that there was certainly nothing out of the ordinary about that, at least no suggestion of that.

But I think it's interesting to note that the Kremlin, in a way a bit like President Trump, has pushed this back on the media, talking about anonymous sources and fake news, because I think there is a level of concern here in Moscow that the pressure on President Trump from the media and from opponents, perhaps within his party, to his policies towards Russia will push him to kind of turn away or make it politically expedient for him to take a tougher stance on Moscow.

And I think certainly some of the mixed messages coming out of Washington, particularly when it comes to Ukraine and certainly comparing Vice President Pence's speech just now, reaffirming the U.S.' commitment to NATO with then-candidate Trump's comments on the campaign trail, calling NATO obsolete, will certainly be a cause for concern.

We will have immediate reaction to that from here in Moscow, a prominent politician, Alexei Pushkov, has tweeted just now about that speech. Matters has already reassured the Europeans the U.S. will be faithful to NATO. Now Pence has repeated it, citing Trump.

The U.S. administration is returning to traditional politics. I think that really sums it up here, Lynda a sense perhaps of resignation that that hope for rapprochement between the two countries, at least in the short term, may be fading.

KINKADE: Yes, we certainly are seeing so many contradictory statements on Russia from the president and the rest of his team. All right, Clare Sebastian, unfortunately we have to leave it there for now so much to discuss. But we'll talk to you very soon. Thanks.

HOWELL: Still ahead this hour, a new arrest in the mysterious death of the North Korean leader's half-brother. What we know now about this latest suspect.

KINKADE: Plus, how a Jewish reporter is responding after being brought up short by U.S. President Donald Trump.

HOWELL: Live from Atlanta, Georgia, and coast-to-coast in the United States and around the world at this hour. You are watching CNN NEWSROOM.




HOWELL (voice-over): Welcome back to viewers here in the United States and around the world, you are watching CNN NEWSROOM, it is always good to have you with us. I'm George Howell.

KINKADE (voice-over): Hello, I'm Lynda Kinkade. These are the headlines we're following this hour.


HOWELL: And we are following a developing story this hour out of Malaysia, authorities there say they have arrested a fourth suspect in the suspicious death of Kim Jong-nam, the half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

CNN international correspondent Saima Mohsin is live in Malaysia following this story with us this hour.

Saima, always good to have you with us. So the latest suspect is reportedly North Korean.

SAIMA MOHSIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely. This has many twists and turns, George, as you know, it's spreading right across Asia and now it includes a North Korean suspect. According to police, this fourth suspect arrested is a man 46 years old. They've named him Ri Jong Chol and say they got that information from an ICAD card. That's basically a kind of identification card that foreigners who are allowed to work in Malaysia carry.

And they say that he now being investigated in connection with the death of Kim Jong-nam. You will remember, of course, two women were also arrested, a Vietnamese woman; then a Malaysian man, who led police to the second woman, an Indonesian woman and in another strange twist, George, according to the Indonesian national police chief who spoke to our Jakarta bureau today, he said that he believes the Indonesian woman was taking part -- or rather she believes she was taking part -- in some kind of prank TV show, that she had been asked to carry this prank out on Kim Jong-nam. And she thought that she was duped. She had no idea that she was being asked to be part of some kind of assassination. That's according to the Indonesian police chief.

We have gone back and asked the Malaysian police if this is what she said during an interrogation. They said that they have had no contact with the Indonesian authorities.

So perhaps this may have come out through the Indonesian visitation from the embassy here a lot of countries involved, George, it's getting incredibly complicated -- George.

HOWELL: And then, Saima, there was also somewhat of a surprise statement coming from the North Korean ambassador.

What more can you tell us?

MOHSIN: Yes. This was completely unexpected. We did see North Korean embassy officials Wednesday heading to the mortuary to make formal identification of Kim Jong-nam.

If we were to expect anything, we thought there might be something coming from Pyongyang itself. And then late Friday night, toward midnight, in fact, a car drove up to the press waiting outside the mortuary on standby, got -- a man got outside. It was the North Korean ambassador.

And he made a very forceful vociferous statement. And I will read you part of that.

He says, "The Malaysian side forced the postmortem without our permission and witnessing. We will categorically reject the results of the postmortem conducted unilaterally excluding our --


MOHSIN: -- "attendance."

Now we've checked in with Malaysian authorities, which say they don't need permission from the North Korean embassy to carry out a postmortem. In fact, Malaysian authorities say that this is standard operating procedure for Malaysia.

They will complete the postmortem examination and they also will not return the body to the North Korean embassy as requested until they've got a DNA sample from Kim Jong-nam's family to confirm his identity independently.

This gets more and more complicated -- George.

HOWELL: A lot of details coming out of this. Saima Mohsin following this story for us, live in Kuala Lumpur this hour, where it is 5:35 pm, Saima, thank you so much for being with us.

KINKADE: The U.S. Senate has confirmed President Donald Trump's controversial pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Democrats and environmentalists call Scott Pruitt a climate change denier. The Republicans and the energy industry say he'll put a stop to needless regulation that has killed jobs.

HOWELL: In fact the head of one industry group said this.

"We expect the EPA to return to sensible policies that both protect the environment and recognize the need for reliable and affordable coal-based electricity."

Our colleague Cyril Vanier spoke with an activist earlier about why she thinks the Trump administration is walking away from the fight against global warming.


EMMA RUBY-SACHS, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, AVAAZ: We had this incredible moment in Paris a couple of years ago. You know, I was there. And it was unbelievable to see every country in the world sign onto a path to 100 percent clean energy.

And undermining that, pulling out of that, eliminating the United States from the global progress towards renewables, that's the worry I have.

And, honestly, I feel like, as Americans, we're scared of being left out of the global economy because the swoop towards renewable energies is happening anyways and we're going to be left behind if we don't act now.


KINKADE: And speaking of being left behind, China is acting now, spending billions of dollars to develop wind and solar power.

HOWELL: Our David McKenzie looks at how China hopes to lead a revolution in clean energy.


DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So this whole area is industrialized, basically. MCKENZIE (voice-over): Extending an invitation to Donald Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, it's called capital iron stealth (ph).

MCKENZIE (voice-over): Ma Jun (ph), of one of the country's best known environmentalists.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: More people in China believe that we should need to get rich first before you even think about environment. But now we are suffering from that.

MCKENZIE (voice-over): Suffering on an enormous scale, choking on toxic smog. In China, it's estimated that bad air kills more than 2 million people a year, hostage to rampant economic growth.

Chinese officials a history of misleading the public about pollution and harassing activists like Ma (ph). Now they are helping him, collaborating on an app (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some of the factories are not in compliance.

MCKENZIE (voice-over): It publishes real time factory emissions data, shaming the violators and harnessing the power of the crowd.

MCKENZIE: Another extraordinary thing about this application is that users can take photos of suspected pollution and load it up onto a map of China. Just a few years ago, doing this could have put them at real risk from the government.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now finally there's a real political will to try to control the pollution.

MCKENZIE (voice-over): In the U.S. the swing seems to be in the opposite direction. President Trump has signed off on a controversial Keystone XL Pipeline. The Environmental Protection Agency is now set to be led by a fossil fuels ally.

That's making executives at this wind energy plant very happy. China is funneling more than $260 billion into clean energy, far outstripping U.S. efforts. And they ship these turbines across the world.

"Donald Trump is definitely an opportunity for us," he says.

A Chinese climate negotiator told CNN they are dismayed that Trump's administration could roll back on climate commitments. And the irony isn't lost on Ma Jun (ph), that China, the world's biggest polluter, could take the environmental lead -- David McKenzie, CNN, Beijing.


HOWELL: The U.S. President Donald Trump has faced heavy criticism for his news conference Thursday. There were some who loved that news conference. There were some who were scratching their heads from that news conference. But his exchange with a reporter from a Jewish magazine has drawn extra scrutiny. KINKADE: That's right. The reporter tried to ask Mr. Trump about how he will address rising anti-Semitism. The president responded abruptly, telling him to sit down.

CNN's Sara Ganim has more.



SARA GANIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's one question the president seemed either unwilling or unable to answer.


JAKE TURX, "AMI MAGAZINE": Well, we are concerned about it. And what we haven't really we heard you address is an uptick in anti-Semitism.

GANIM (voice-over): For two days...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we've seen a sharp rise in anti-Semitic incidents.

GANIM (voice-over): -- reporters have pressed Mr. Trump...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some of it by supporters in your name.

GANIM (voice-over): -- about a spike in Nazi-related vandalism, online memes with known anti-Semitic tones and threats made against Jewish Americans, including 60 bomb threats called into 48 Jewish community centers since January.

A rise in hate the president has yet to denounce. It began on Wednesday at a joint press conference with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've seen a sharp rise in anti-Semitic -- anti- Semitic incidents --

GANIM (voice-over): Trump's response: a defense of his election.

TRUMP: -- that we are, you know, very honored by the victory that we had, 306 electoral college votes.

GANIM (voice-over): Then on Thursday, an even more bizarre exchange...

TRUMP: I want to find a friendly reporter.

GANIM (voice-over): -- when a reporter from Ami magazine, a Jewish publication, told the president he didn't believe he was anti-Semitic but was concerned.

TURX: I haven't seen anybody in my community accuse either yourself or any of -- anyone on your staff of being anti-Semitic. What we are concerned about and what we haven't we really heard being addressed is an uptick in anti-Semitism.

GANIM (voice-over): Trump suggested the question was a personal attack.

TRUMP: So he said he's going to ask a very simple, easy question and it's not. It's not, not a simple question, not a fair question. OK. Sit down, I understand the rest of your question.

GANIM (voice-over): When reporters followed up, Trump lashed out.

TRUMP: Some of it written by our opponents.

You do know that?

Do you understand that?

GANIM (voice-over): So why not denounce anti-Semitism?

Experts say it may be a political calculation.

BRIAN LEVIN, UC SANTA BARBARA: President Trump views loyal supporters as people to give the benefit of the doubt to. But there are times when his moral position is being eroded by his failure to throw overboard people who --

GANIM (voice-over): Brian Levin studies hate groups and the radical Right. He says whether he wants it or not, Trump has garnered the support of neo-Nazis and others.

LEVIN: We are beyond the point of abstract concern. We had Holocaust Remembrance Day commemorated without even mentioning Jews and, at the same time, he puts his immigration restrictions; by the same token, he had opportunities to address these questions head on and instead tells an orthodox Jew to sit down.

GANIM (voice-over): Tonight The Interfaith Alliance says Trump's repeated avoidance of the question can no longer be tolerated. The Anti-Defamation League called it "mind-boggling."

The American Jewish committee said it was worrisome and puzzling . The orthodox Jew reporter that Mr. Trump told to sit down is defending the president.

TURX: I was actually very hopeful because it shows someone, a president, who is so committed against this problem, anti-Semitism, that it bothers him on a personal level, on a deep personal level. And it makes me very hopeful that he will work together with the community.


HOWELL: Again, that was CNN's Sarah Ganim, reporting for us about Mr. Trump's reluctance to answer questions about anti-Semitism.

KINKADE: We will take a short break. But we will be right back. Do stay with us here on CNN. (MUSIC PLAYING)



HOWELL: There is another very difficult video that is coming out of Syria for that nation's brutal civil war. Opposition activists say that it shows a boy screaming in agony after a government air raid.

KINKADE: Our senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman has more on this story. We need to warn you that this report contains material that you may find it difficult to watch.



BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It starts with confusion, air thick with dust. A man appears carrying something. It's a boy, bleeding stumps where his legs were just moments before.

Someone cries for an ambulance.

The boy, Abdel Basit, sits up.

"Pick me up, Daddy," he cries.

This was the aftermath of what Syrian activists say were air raids by regime helicopters, dropping barrel bombs on and around the town of al-Habit in Idlib province.

The Syrian government has yet to comment on the incident.

Later, video also posted by activists claims to show Abdel Basit in a hospital bed.

"How is your health?" he's asked.

He stares back, silent.

The Syrian regime, urged on by Russia, says it's holding to a cease- fire but it's patchy at best.

In Idlib province, rebels are fighting government forces, fighting one another, fighting ISIS and other groups linked to Al Qaeda. What started almost six years ago as a peaceful uprising has descended into madness.

And the innocent children, like so Abdel Basit, like Omran Daqneesh, like so many others, pay the price.

Elsewhere, Turkish forces are backing factions of the Free Syrian Army in their battle against ISIS while, further east, U.S.-backed Kurdish and Arab forces are fighting ISIS as well. President Trump has raised the possibility of setting up a safe zone

inside Syria. And Pentagon officials tell CNN they're pondering dispatching U.S. ground troops there. So far it's all talk and no action. The bloodbath, however, continues -- Ben Wedeman, CNN, Istanbul.





KINKADE: Welcome back. A powerful winter storm has turned deadly as it continues to pound the California coast.

HOWELL: Our meteorologist Derek Van Dam is here to tell us about it -- Derek.

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Unfortunately, it's turned deadly as well. Two fatalities reported from this storm which will most likely be one of the more memorable storms in recent history. You have to see these visuals coming out of one of our affiliates in Los Angeles.

A 20-foot sinkhole formed in Studio City. Check this out. You can see one of the vehicles at the bottom. Firefighters arrived at the sinkhole, found one car upside down in rushing water. They lowered a 20-foot ladder to the driver, allowing her to climb to safety.

She explained that while she was driving, she felt the car pitch to the left. It tumbled into the sinkhole. The airbags deployed, water started coming in. She started to raise the windows. She was able to open the door and climb to safety. She said that she thought she was going to die .

The driver of the second vehicle was actually able to escape moments before that vehicle fell into the sinkhole. This is just one of the many rescues that are taking place at the moment.

This is a swift water rescue that was captured by Getty Images in Sun Valley, California. We are talking about serious stuff here. This storm is a monster. It is taking care of the drought, to say the least. But it is also a lot of rain in a short period of time, creating this flash flooding.



VAN DAM: You may have been following us over the past week, we have been talking about the threatened Lake Oroville spillway that saw some damage and some overflow. Well, it is going to be tested once again with this particular storm system as the rain continues to fall across this region. One last piece of video, you got to check this out. This is a very

rare video. I haven't seen this, a webcam actually capturing a moment of a landslide in the San Bernardino National Forest. Fortunately, no one was injured out of this. But quite dramatic to see how quickly things can change in the mountainous regions of California.

KINKADE: Some absolutely incredible pictures out of that state.

VAN DAM: It really is. We just think about people there going through this difficult storm.

HOWELL: Indeed. Derek Van Dam, we will stay in touch with you on this as well. Thank you, Derek.

KINKADE: Thank you.

Well, if you are getting a little too much Trump in your news, you can add several extensions to your Google Chrome browser to modify your view of the Web.

HOWELL: So let's take a look here.

The Make America Kittens Again extension will take any image of President Trump on your favorite news website and turn them into kittens.

Here's how it looks on "The Daily Show" came up with another extension, it's called Make Trump Tweet Eight Again. It makes the president's tweets appear as if handwritten by an 8-year old.

These extensions are also free, you can get them on Google.

KINKADE: What will they think of next?


KINKADE: Well, thanks so much for joining us. I'm Lynda Kinkade.

HOWELL: And I'm George Howell. Hour number two of CNN NEWSROOM straight ahead. Stay with us.