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Pence Tries to Soothe Allies in Europe; Trump Blames Media for Russia's Provocations; FBI Director Briefs Senators on Russian Meddling; Trump Returns to "Campaign Trail"; New Arrest in Death of Kim Jong-nam; Prosperity on the Streets of Pyongyang; Video Appears to Show Boy Hit by Airstrike; Pruitt to Head EPA; Powerful Storm Brings Flooding to California. Aired 5-6a ET

Aired February 18, 2017 - 05:00   ET




LYNDA KINKADE, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): An absolute commitment to stand with NATO. U.S. Vice President Pence delivering that message at the Munich Security Conference. We'll have a live report from Germany just ahead.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): And the U.S. president left Washington, D.C., for the weekend but it is the vacancies in his administration that are triggering concerns.

KINKADE (voice-over): Also this hour, powerful storms turn deadly in Southern California. We'll have the latest from that region.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and right around the world. We are live in Atlanta. I'm Lynda Kinkade.

HOWELL (voice-over): I'm George Howell from CNN World Headquarters. NEWSROOM starts right now.


HOWELL: It is 5:00 am on the U.S. East Coast.

Just under an hour ago, the Vice President of the United States, Mike Pence, spoke to U.S. allies in Europe, assuring them the U.S. is unwavering in its support of NATO but there was one caveat. We'll have more on that ahead.

KINKADE: Well, of course, the vice president is at the Munich Security Conference to soothe the European fears over Donald Trump's month-old administration.

In the past, the U.S. president has dismissed the long established alliance. However, Pence has repeated some of Mr. Trump's words saying all of the allies needed to pay their share if NATO is to succeed.

Pence says the fate of Europe and the United States are intertwined. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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.


PENCE: And as you keep faith with us under President Trump, we will always keep faith with you.

Now the fates of the United States and Europe are intertwined. Your struggles are our struggles. Your success is our success and ultimately we will walk into the future together.


HOWELL: CNN is live in Munich, Germany, our international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson following the story this hour.

Nic, great to have you with us. It seems the vice president offered assurances to allies but also suggested for the U.S. to be there, they'll need to pay up.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, this message, I think the European leaders will be scratching their heads a little bit, saying, well, is this -- is the real message from President Trump, what was all this before that we heard about NATO being obsolete and ambivalent towards the unity of the European Union?

So you know, I think while this is being well received, there's still a relatively cool reception. Although that was a generous round of applause.

But the expectation here was that Pence was going to come and say these things. He talked about how, on the issue of Russia, which is a great concern for the European Union, a concern that President Trump will sort of reach over the heads of European concerns to strike a deal with President Putin.

He says the United States will hold Russia to account. But he also added to that a caveat that, you know, the United States will look to do -- make agreements, deals with Russia where appropriate.

And that President Trump still believes that is possible. So, you know, keeping up that, keeping up the possibly that the United States may still do something that concerns the Europeans.

The idea of paying their way for NATO, that's something that obviously is a message that does resonate here. We certainly we heard Angela Merkel talking about the power and strength of the United States being required to tackle global terrorism, the threat of global terrorism.

It's really at the borders of Europe. So their help is needed. So there is, you know, there is a feeling in Europe that they do need the support of the United States.

But, you know, the message that's being delivered, you know, by Mike Pence for President Trump, people are still going to be wondering, why have we gone through all of this so far and what's to come next?

HOWELL: This issue of allies, as the Trump administration is suggesting, not fulfilling their commitment, it's not a new issue that's come up. But it has certainly been highlighted and put in the forefront by the Trump administration.

What would you say the reaction has been of allies, just from conversations, if you had the opportunity, to hear anything from people there, about how this message was delivered and that this is now front and center?

ROBERTSON: It is. And there's -- you know -- it's not just that they need, the other NATO nations, only five of the 28 so far paid that 2 percent of GDP. And there is a lot of details in that as well, I fact, 2 percent of GDP that you are supposed to spend on defense --


ROBERTSON: -- 20 percent is supposed to be on sort of big ticket development items, not just troops.

You know, what we heard in Wales back in 2014, when this aspiration was laid out, was an idea that the NATO nations would get to it sometime.

What we've we heard from Secretary of Defense Mattis in the past couple of days is, you know, any time is not good, is not good enough. We need to begin to see resource by the end of the year.

That sounds very much like President Trump. It sounds a lot like pressure to the leaders here. But there is an understanding that some countries have paid less than was required and were perhaps slower than others to move forward.

The countries that are really the most worried, the Baltic States, probably when those that are sort of on the front line of what is concerned about sort of Russian potential aggression with going into those countries in the same way went into Ukraine, they have been some of the first to sort of and among the strongest to step up with those payments.

But the concern here going forward is that this is, you know, an expectation to turn around economists to focus on defense and such a big change, some countries only putting in 1.2 percent GDP.

So that is a big step for people to make in a short space of time. So they are going to want more detail.

How much, what is that level of commitment is going to need to look like?

And what are the punishments for not doing it? You know, that you have faith, if you continue to have faith in us, we'll continue to have faith in you. It does put the emphasis very much on Europe to do its part first.

HOWELL: 11:06 in Munich, Germany, our international diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson, following the story, thank you so much for the reporting. We'll stay in touch with you.

KINKADE: Well, the theories of provocative actions from Russia seem to concern just about everybody, except the U.S. president. Donald Trump, instead, blaming the media.

KINKADE: Mr. Trump accuses the media of spreading fake news. That makes it harder for him to strike a deal, to have better relations, as he says, with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. CNN's Michelle Kosinski has this report for us.


MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, this Russian spy ship works off the American East Coast. U.S. Defense officials telling CNN that someone is testing the new administration, to see how it will react.

That's different from what President Trump believes is Moscow's motivation, in part, blaming the press.

TRUMP: The false, horrible, fake reporting makes it much harder to make a deal with Russia. And probably Putin said, you know, he's sitting behind his desk. And he's saying, you know, I see what's going on in the United States, I follow it closely.

It's going to be impossible for President Trump to ever get along with Russia because of all the pressure he's got with this fake story. OK? And that's a shame.

KOSINSKI (voice-over): But at his epic news conference Thursday, Trump said he still thinks he can work with Vladimir Putin.

TRUMP: The greatest thing I could do is shoot that ship that's 30 miles offshore right out of the water. Everyone in this country is going to say, oh, it's so great.

It's not great. That's not great. I would love to be able to get along with Russia.

KOSINSKI (voice-over): He didn't dismiss Russia's provocations...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This spy ship off the coast of the United States.


TRUMP: Not good.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was a ballistic missile test that many interpreted as a violation of -- TRUMP: Not good.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- between the two countries and a Russian plane buzzed the U.S. --

TRUMP: Not good.

KOSINSKI (voice-over): At the same time, though, Defense Secretary James Mattis now meeting with NATO counterparts in Germany is taking a much more definitive line.

GEN. JAMES MATTIS, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We do not, are not in a position right now to collaborate on a military level but our political leaders will engage and try to find common ground or a way forward (INAUDIBLE) Russia's aggressive actions have violated international law and are destabilizing.

KOSINSKI (voice-over): And Secretary of State Rex Tillerson isn't letting Russia off the hook.

REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The United States will consider working with Russia, where we do not see eye-to-eye, the United States will stand up for the interests and values of America and our allies as we search for new common ground, we expect Russia to honor its commitment to the Minsk agreements and work to deescalate the violence in Ukraine.

KOSINSKI: Russia would not comment on President Trump's unexpected words, saying they had more important things to do than watch his news conference.

But a prominent Russian lawmaker himself had pointed tweets aimed at the White House.

"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."

You heard the secretary of state there. He didn't say, we would love to do a deal with Russia. He said the U.S. would consider working with Russia if certain conditions were met.

What we have been hearing lately, this backing away, a harder line coming from both sides, analysts are now wondering, is that just reality intruding on the original optimism --


KOSINSKI: -- or is it because of the politics right now?

Russia says that it's too early to tell what exactly this relationship will be. But they say they are still working on setting up a date and time for President Trump to meet face-to-face with President Putin -- Michelle Kosinski, CNN, the State Department.

(END VIDEOTAPE) KINKADE: Well, President Trump has also dismissed allegations of frequent Russian contacts with his administration, calling it "a ruse." Russian interference in U.S. politics is being taken seriously on Capitol Hill.

On FBI -- on Friday, FBI director James Comey briefed U.S. senators in a closed door meeting about what Russia has been up to. At least three official investigations are expected.

Well, for more on their reaction out of Russia, let's go to CNN Clare Sebastian in Moscow.

Clare, before we get to that I just want to focus a bit on the contradictory statements we seen from the Trump team on Russia.

What did Moscow make of it?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, I think we're increasingly seeing an incredible sense of resignation, this hoped-for deepening of ties, at least in the short term, might not be happening.

Certainly the immediate reaction to Mike Pence's speech just today or anything just go about (ph), just want to read you a couple of those tweets from a high-ranking Russian senator, Alexei Pushkov, just in the last hour or so, he said Mattis has already assured the Europeans the U.S. will be faithful to NATO. Now Pence has repeated it.

So I think Trump, the U.S. administration is returning to traditional politics. So you see then that they're -- this might not be that different from the relationship they had with the Obama administration which, as we know, was extremely strained.

Another quick reaction from the head of the foreign affairs (INAUDIBLE) Russia's upper house of parliament, who is kind of lie (ph) commenting on the speech from inside the room in musnik (ph).

He said that the fact that the West has been putting the responsibility of the Minsk -- fulfilling the Minsk agreements on Russia, it basically shows that the mantra about the readiness to establish relations with Russia is up in the air. So in a sense definitely a doubt there that this can actually happen -- Lynda.

KINKADE: All right, Clare Sebastian, we'll have to leave it there. We are having a few satellite issues.


HOWELL: Thank you so much.

President Trump is returning to a rather familiar setting after what has been a rocky and very busy first few weeks in office. He set the headline, a campaign-style rally in the state of Florida.

KINKADE: That's right. The president is spending the weekend at his Palm Beach resort, Mar-a lago. His aides say he will be working on the effort to repeal ObamaCare and finding a new national security adviser. Athena Jones has more on the names in the mix.


ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there. The president is spending a third consecutive weekend here at Mar-a-lago in Palm Beach. A senior administration official says it will be a working weekend. All kicking off with the rally on Saturday afternoon at the Orlando Melbourne International Airport.

It will be a campaign-style rally, according to the 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's also going to spend some time meeting with potential replacements for his now former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

He is 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.

The president's top aides are 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 that the president will not be vacationing here at his vacation home. Back to you.


HOWELL: Athena Jones, thank you.

So you will remember, just a day ago, we had that marathon combative news conference with the President of the United States, where he was really focused on the media.

KINKADE: The media.


KINKADE: And he continued to tweet about the media. And I want to bring the tweet up.

He says, "The fake news media, failing 'New York Times,' NBC News, ABC, CBS, CNN, is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American people."

HOWELL: The question is does the president knows that the media, we are here to ask the questions for the people.

Let's bring in Scott Lucas. He is live in Birmingham, England, with us. Scott, so just to start, first of all, it is important to point out that there were two ways of viewing this news conference there. There were those who were scratching their heads about it. But there were --


HOWELL: -- also people who really like seeing the President of the United States take it to the media. The president has set up and as Steve Bannon has pointed out, the media is the opposition party, in their view. So this was sort of a show called "beat the press," I think, as one of the Trump surrogates suggested.

SCOTT LUCAS, UNIVERSITY OF BIRMINGHAM: Well, a significant minority of Americans have been with Trump through the primaries, through the campaign and even now. And Trump continues to count on that minority by framing this as a battle between him -- and you are not just the opposition folks, you are the enemy.

So the idea is, if he can keep those Americans thinking, no, it's not really the question or the issues, you know, maybe the ties with Russia, maybe the question about domestic approaches to health care, maybe about questions about his tax returns, which have never been released.

If he can just say media, media, media, it's the hope that that distraction continues to keep -- give him an advantage. Now, the problem is, is that, of course, the media will not be silenced. And that there are a lot of Americans who don't actually believe that it is all just fake news.

So this is a contest which is going to run and run. And I should add it's also one within the administration. Trump's approach is one that is favored, I think, by some of his hardline advisers, Steve Bannon, (INAUDIBLE) Breitbart news.

But I think other (INAUDIBLE) like Reince Priebus, the chief of staff, are a little bit more wary of what Trump is trying to achieve.

KINKADE: President Trump is due to return to the campaign trail this weekend. The election campaign is over. He's four weeks into his administration.

Why is he going back on the campaign trail?

LUCAS: Oh, because this is where Trump feels comfortable. Trump does not feel comfortable, one, in Washington. He doesn't like being amidst a mix of people who might criticize him.

Two, he doesn't really feel comfortable dealing with the nitty-gritty of policy. He would much just rather speak to a large group of people and sort of feel the love of the Trump die-hards, who will show up today. It gives him a bit of a break from what he's going to have to face when he comes back on Monday morning.

And, again, you have the questions which are going to occur, which now include probable congressional investigations, which are going to be building on the Hill as well as, I think, a real question, which is, all right. You say you are going to replace ObamaCare.

How are you going to do it?

Oh, and remember that Muslim ban that the courts threw out, are you going to reinstitute that Muslim ban, despite the confrontation it might cause?

HOWELL: Scott, just going back on the theme that I set up earlier, that there really are two bubbles here. There is one bubble that views Trump with a great deal of skepticism. There is another that has a long leash and is expecting change.

These are the many people, millions of people, who voted for the president. With that scenario in place, with the president going back on the campaign trail, some have suggested that this is him reconnecting with the people who put him in office, the people who believe in what he's doing.

Is that something that would benefit this president?

LUCAS: Well, look, first of all, this isn't news; as much as we focus on Trump. You remember a guy named Nixon, who used to talk about the silent majority and they would keep him in office?

Well, the problem for both Nixon and for Trump is that reality bites. Reality caught up with Nixon because of Watergate. In this case, if Trump doesn't revive the economy, if he continues to make a mess out of foreign policy, if he is not seen as being reliable -- indeed, perhaps, unstable, as many people saw on Thursday -- that reality is the one that will challenge his fake news and all the rallies that he seeks to hold.

KINKADE: A very valid point. Scott Lucas, great to have your analysis on all of that. Thanks so much for joining us.

HOWELL: Thank you, Scott.

LUCAS: Thank you.

KINKADE: Still to come, a new arrest in the mysterious death of the North Korean leader's half-brother. What we know about the latest suspects, just ahead in a live report.





HOWELL: Welcome back. We are following developing news this hour out of Malaysia. KINKADE: That's right. Authorities there say they have arrested a fourth suspect in the suspected death of Kim Jong-nam, the half- brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Our Saima Mohsin is following all the developments Malaysia and joins us now.

Good to have you with us, Saima. A lot to stay across; four people now in custody.

What can you tell us about the latest suspect?

SAIMA MOHSIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the latest suspect, Lynda, is from North Korea itself. According to police, when they arrested him in an apartment building, they found an ICAD ID card on him. Now that's a card that's given to foreigners who work in Malaysia.

In fact, according to them, said that his name was Ri Jong Chol. He is 46 years old and a North Korean or DPRK citizen.

In another twist, another suspect, the Indonesian woman, more information coming out about her. According to the Indonesian national police chief, speaking to our team in Jakarta, he says that the woman believed she was carrying out some kind of prank as a part of a TV show and that she feels that she was duped.

She was not aware that she may well have been a part of some kind of assassination attempt. Now this is according to Indonesian police chief, the Malaysian police have been unable to verify that. She remains in custody alongside the others for questioning -- Lynda, George.

KINKADE: And, Saima, as I understand, the North Korean ambassador to Malaysia has spoken to reporters there. Quite some stunning statements, he said.

MOHSIN: Yes, it was a lengthy statement full of anger, is the only way to describe it. Late at night, a car drove up to the mortuary, where Kim Jong-nam's body is, where they're carrying out the autopsy right now.

A man got out and it was the North Korean ambassador. He read out the statement to the press who were waiting there and part of that statement, it is, and I'll read it to you.

"The Malaysian side forced the postmortem without permission and without our permission and witnessing. We will categorically reject the result of the postmortem conducted unilaterally excluding our attendance."

So they're saying that they should have been involved in this. We've spoken to the Malaysian authorities. And they said they didn't need to ask permission from the North Korean embassy to carry out the autopsy. The body will only be handed out once the autopsy is complete and once they have a DNA sample from Kim Jong-nam's family. Back to you -- Lynda.

KINKADE: Yes, Saima, interesting developments there. Saima Mohsin, thanks for staying across it for us.

This week North Korea celebrated what would have been the 75th birthday of the late leader, Kim Jong-il. The festival included fireworks and dancing. But North Korea doesn't really have much to celebrate.

HOWELL: Malnutrition, even starvation is widespread in that nation. But CNN's Will Ripley found a different reality on the streets of that nation's capital, Pyongyang.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a mocha, a cafe mocha.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They sip designer coffee, send text messages to friends.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How did it turn out?

RIPLEY (voice-over): Even take selfies.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, it looks good.

RIPLEY (voice-over): This could be any coffee shop in any city, not what you'd expect in Pyongyang.

"Even here in North Korea, during holidays or on weekends, we sit with friends, talk about work and life," says Ri Jyong Yee (ph), a commercial manager. North Korea watchers say this is light years away from how most people live in one of the poorest countries in the world.

RIPLEY: What do you think is the biggest difference between your life here in North Korea and the rest of the outside world?

"We're a socialist country. I think that's the main difference," says researcher Yun Sol Mi, a socialist country with a high end department store, selling everything from gourmet groceries to flat screen TVs, all despite unprecedented sanctions over North Korea's nuclear and missile programs.

Outside observers say this is not the norm, that life is vastly different in other parts of North Korea. The U.N. World Food Programme says millions face serious food shortages and many suffer chronic malnutrition.

"Pyongyang is the capital, the face of our country," says economist Ri Gi Song (ph).

"So it's true Pyongyang develops faster but our state policy is to grow both urban and rural areas simultaneously."

The nation's supreme leader, Kim Jong-un, promised to strengthen the military and economy at the same time. In the showpiece capital, we do see plenty of construction, new high-rise apartments, more cars on the streets.

RIPLEY: We see people with smartphones, with new clothes, new sneakers. The West would call these people middle class.

"Our society doesn't have a so-called middle class," he says.

"But in the near future, we hope to have everyone living above the middle class."

Ri says North Korea will never embrace capitalism. But in recent years, some private enterprise has been allowed in. Markets supplement what the state distributes. But Ri says some day those markets will disappear because the government will provide everything people need.

We don't know how the rest of North Korea lives. Those are places and people we're not allowed to see -- Will Ripley, CNN, Pyongyang.


HOWELL: Also pretty cool, check out Will Ripley's Instagram account if you're on social media. He always has these great images during his reports of North Korea.

Still ahead on CNN NEWSROOM, the President of the United States is ready for a reset after a rough first month. We'll look back at the turbulent week and how the president is looking to shore up his support. Live from Atlanta, Georgia, this hour. To our viewers around the United States and around the world, you are watching CNN NEWSROOM.




HOWELL (voice-over): Welcome back to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. You are watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell with the headlines we're following for you this hour.


KINKADE: President Trump's return to a campaign-style event follows a tumultuous first month in the White House.

HOWELL: Jonathan Mann has more on how Mr. Trump is hoping to reset the narrative.


JONATHAN MANN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Saturday, the president and Japan's prime minister met at Mar-a lago, what was supposed to be a working weekend at the winter White House, interrupted by a missile launch from North Korea.

TRUMP: The United States of America stands behind Japan, its great ally, 100 percent.

MANN (voice-over): On Monday, Mr. Trump welcomed Canada's prime minister to the White House and offered an unapologetic defense of his travel ban.

TRUMP: And I said at the beginning we are going to get the bad ones, the really bad ones. We're getting them out. And that's exactly what we're doing.

MANN (voice-over): Then a firestorm erupted over national security adviser Michael Flynn and his ties to Russia.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP COUNSELOR: General Flynn does enjoy the full confidence of the president.

MANN (voice-over): Despite that reassurance after a little more than three weeks on the job, Flynn was out.

On Tuesday, the White House scrambled to explain the about-face.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESPERSON: The evolving and eroding level of trust as a result of this situation and a series of other questionable instances is what led the president to ask for General Flynn's resignation.

MANN (voice-over): At a Wednesday news conference with Israel's prime minister, Mr. Trump defended Flynn.

TRUMP: General Flynn is a wonderful man. I think he has been treated very, very unfairly by the media, as I call it, the "fake media."

MANN (voice-over): While the resignation overshadowed talk of Middle East peace, Mr. Trump backed away from the idea of a two-state solution.

TRUMP: I'm looking at two state and one state and I like the one that both parties like.

MANN (voice-over): And more cabinet drama: fast food chain CEO Andrew Puzder withdrew as Trump's choice for Labor secretary.

On Thursday, the president quickly named Alexander Acosta (ph) as Pozner's replacement. That happened during a long and rambling news conference, in which he also blasted the media...

TRUMP: The press honestly is out of control. The level of dishonesty is out of control.

MANN (voice-over): -- blamed the Obama administration for problems facing the country...

TRUMP: I inherited a mess, it's a mess, at home and abroad, a mess.

MANN (voice-over): -- and slammed stories about his campaign's contacts with Russia as "fake news."

When asked if anyone in his administration was in contact with the Kremlin...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: During the election?

TRUMP: No, nobody that I know of.

MANN (voice-over): On Friday, Mr. Trump was back --


MANN (voice-over): -- on the road, visiting a Boeing plant in South Carolina, marking one month since he took office.


HOWELL: And that was our Jonathan Mann reporting for us.

Mr. Trump has faced heavy criticism for his Thursday news conference. But it was his exchange with a reporter from a Jewish magazine that sparked a great deal of scrutiny.

KINKADE: Yes, that's right. That reporter tried to ask the president about how he'll address rising anti-Semitism. Mr. Trump responded abruptly, telling that reporter to sit down. CNN's Sarah 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.


KINKADE: Well, the U.S. Senate has approved one of Donald Trump's most controversial nominees.

HOWELL: Why activists say it is a major setback in the fight against climate change. Stay with us.





HOWELL: Welcome back.

We want to share with you a video that's coming out of Syria. This video really shows the brutality of that nation's civil war. Opposition activists say that it shows a young boy, screaming in agony after losing his legs.

KINKADE: And we do need to warn you that this report contains material that you may find difficult to watch. Our senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman has more.



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. The U.S. Senate has confirmed Scott Pruitt to head the international -- the Environmental, rather, Protection Agency. It's one of the most controversial appointments of Donald Trump's administration.

HOWELL: Pruitt has ties with the fossil fuel industry and he has a history of fighting the agency that he will now lead. Rene Marsh filed this report to look back at Pruitt's background before he was confirmed.


RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Scott Pruitt, the man Donald Trump wants to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, has spent most of his career trying to dismantle the agency he could soon lead. SCOTT PRUITT, EPA DIRECTOR: We have an EPA, we have a federal government that is actively involved in picking winners and losers and using regulatory power to penalize fossil fuels.

MARSH (voice-over): As attorney general of Oklahoma, the biggest oil and natural gas producing state in the nation, Pruitt launched multiple legal battles against the Obama administration's key climate change laws. Regulations, his soon-to-be-new boss, made clear he opposes.

TRUMP: The Department of Environmental Protection -- we are going to get rid of it in almost every form -- we're going to have little tidbits left.

MARSH (voice-over): The Trump transition team says Pruitt, quote, "brings a deep understanding of the impact of regulations on both the environment and the economy."



LORIS: -- has been a leader in fighting against excessive regulations from the EPA that have driven up costs for American families and businesses and have been devoid of any real meaningful environmental benefit.

MARSH (voice-over): Critics are pushing back hard, saying Pruitt is a climate change denier.

The 48-year old once said, quote, "Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind."

And in a November radio interview, he gave insight on how he would run the agency.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tell us, under a Trump administration, what are you looking forward to?

PRUITT: Regulatory rollback. Washington has become way too consequential to the lives of citizens across the country. They've been dictating to the states, dictating to business, dictating to industry, sometimes outside of the Constitution.

It's a joy to be with you this morning --

MARSH (voice-over): The fastest and easiest action Pruitt can take on day one without the help from Congress is to simply not enforce the laws on the books, like the Clean Air Act and the Clean Power Plan.

Trump has said his administration will value clean water and air. But his EPA pick has sued the agency at least 12 times, challenging its Clean Power Plan, which seeks to curb carbon emissions from power plants. He's also sued the EPA for trying to curb methane emissions from the oil and gas industry. FRED KRUPP, ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENSE FUND: As head of EPA, it would be like letting the fox in the henhouse.

MARSH (voice-over): Pruitt is a strong supporter of the energy industry and they support him, too. In 2014, his campaign committee received more than $700,000 in contributions. More than 17 percent of that came from energy donors.

A 2014 "New York Times" investigation found he collaborated secretly with the energy industry, sending letters lobbyists wrote for him to the U.S. government, attacking the EPA.

In a statement Pruitt said, quote, "I intend to run this agency in a way that fosters both responsible protection of the environment and freedom for American businesses."

I'm Rene Marsh reporting.


HOWELL: Rene Marsh, thank you for that in-depth report.

Now a powerful storm has killed two people. It's torn up parts of Southern California. High winds and flooding in that part of the world.

KINKADE: And our meteorologist, Derek Van Dam, has been following all the developments there.

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: This is one of the strongest storms in recent history, comparing it to back the same time of the year, but 2011 it's a comparable storm for anyone watching in California.

But you've got to see some of the visuals coming out of this region. One of our affiliates in Los Angeles captured this moment in a sinkhole. Two cars dropping into this 20-foot sinkhole at Studio City.

Firefighters arrived there and found one car already upside down in rushing water. You can see it right on your screen now. They lowered a 20-foot ladder to the driver, allowing her to climb out to safety. She explained that while she was driving she felt the car pitch to the left.

It tumbled into the sinkhole, airbags deployed, water started to come in. She tried to raise her windows, she was able to open the door, climbed to the top of the car, where she screamed for help. Firefighters were able to save her.

And look at the moment right when the second vehicle fell into the sinkhole. That driver was fortunately able to get out unharmed. But those are one of the many multitude of stories coming out of Southern California, as a monster storm continues to impact the region. Several swift water rescue attempts taking place.

This is one of them that occurred Friday evening in Sun Valley, California. You can see this woman taken from her vehicle just moments before it got swept away. Remember, it only takes a foot of rushing water to actually rise or raise a vehicle and wash it downstream.

So what's the old saying from the National Weather Service?

Turn around, don't drown, never cross flooded roadways, that's the best advice we can get out to you there. This is the storm system that continues to bring the flooding rains to California.



VAN DAM: End with this, you got to see this visual coming out of the San Bernardino National Forest. This is a moment rarely captured on camera. A landslide coming from the region. You can see how quickly conditions can change when you have this amount of rain in such a short period of time, it soaks into the soil, becomes extremely heavy, eventually gravity wins. takes the rock and the mud along the mountainside with it. It can cause quite a catastrophe like this. Fortunately, no end to this.

KINKADE: Incredible pictures.

VAN DAM: It really is.

HOWELL: We'll stay in touch with you with all of this.

And we thank you for being with us this hour. I'm George Howell.

KINKADE: And I'm Lynda Kinkade. For those of you in the U.S., "NEW DAY" starts in just a moment.

For our international viewers, "INSIDE AFRICA" is next. Stay with us right here on CNN.