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New Details on Trump's Military Spending Plan; Will White House Appoint Special Prosecutor for Trump Campaign/Russia Ties; Trump: Obama & His People Possibly Behind Media Leaks; Deadly Purge Reported in North Korea; South Korea: North Korean Leader Ordered Half- Brother's Death; Hostage Beheaded by Philippines Militant Group; Stand Off in West Bank over Israeli Settlements; Trump to Accelerate Fight Against ISIS; Iraqi Forces Making Progress Against ISIS in East Mosul; Accounting Firm Apologizes for Oscars Mix-Up; Syria Takes Center Stage as Academy Awards. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired February 28, 2017 - 02:00   ET



[02:00:15] AMARA WALKER, CNN ANCHOR: This is CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Ahead this hour --


WALKER: Hello, everyone. And welcome to our viewers around the world. I'm Amara Walker.

VAUSE: I'm John Vause. Great to have you with us. This is NEWSROOM L.A.

U.S. President Donald Trump is pushing for more military spending and wants to pay for that in cuts elsewhere, possibly from foreign aid, the State Department, even the Environmental Protection Agency.

WALKER: He's expected to make his case during his first speech to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday.

Our White House correspondent Sara Murray has more from Washington.


SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just the opening volley in what is probably a lengthy negotiation process between President Trump and Congress about the first budget. But in his initial crack at it, he is making clear he wants to spend more on defense, and big questions loom about what's going to get cut.

(voice-over): Donald Trump is aiming to ratchet up U.S. defense spending as he prepares his first presidential budget.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This budget will be a public safety and national security budget. And will included a historic increase in defense spending to rebuild the depleted military of the United States of America at a time we most need it.


MURRAY: A budget official telling reporters today that Trump will ask for an additional $54 billion in defense spending. That's a 10 percent increase, and more than the total discretional spending for the State Department and Environmental Protection Agency combined. But so far, there are few details about how the administration would pay for the sharp increase in military spending.

Most federal agencies will see their budgets shrink, the budget official said, and both the EPA and foreign aid are expected to face sharp cut backs.

TRUMP: We're going to do more with less and make the government lean and accountable to the people.

MURRAY: Trump's security focused budget is sure to be a topic in his address to Congress on Tuesday.

But all eyes are on what Trump will say on repealing and replacing Obamacare and whether he'll finally serve up some specifics.

TRUMP: I have to tell you, it's an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.

MURRAY: As Trump huddled with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan today, the leaders plan to press him to tout the GOP plan on health care.

The president regularly blasts Obamacare.

TRUMP: People hate it, but now they see that the end is coming. And they're saying, oh, maybe we love it. There's nothing to love. It's a disaster, folks, OK.

MURRAY: But the political risks of the repeal and replace process seem to be weighing on him.

TRUMP: Let it implode. Politically, I think it would be a great solution. Because as soon as we touch it, if we do a tiny little change, what's going to happen? They're going to say, it's the Republicans' problem.

MURRAY: His meeting with GOP leaders comes among rising concern from Republicans on the Hill that Trump hasn't embraced the role of salesman in chief for a health care overhaul, which could put plans to appeal Obamacare in jeopardy.

REP. PAUL RYAN, (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Obamacare is collapsing under its own weight right now.

MURRAY: After meeting with insurers today, Trump joked, if health care overhaul goes awry, he won't be the one shouldering the blame.

TRUMP: If things aren't working out, I'm blaming you anyway. You know that. )(LAUGHTER0

(on camera): As of Monday evening, senior administration officials said the president was still finetuning that address he's going to deliver to Congress on Tuesday. We're expecting it to focus on national security as well as creating economic opportunity. But the lingering question is how far he will delve into the details, not just on health care overhaul but also on his plan to reform the tax system.

Sara Murray, CNN, the White House.


VAUSE: Joining us now, Democratic strategist, Dave Jacobson; and Republican consultant, John Thomas.

Let's start with the blueprint. This is how director of the Office of Management and Budget explained the math.


MICK MULVANEY, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT & BUDGET: The top line discretionary number is $603 billion. That's a $54 billion increase. It's one of the largest increases in history. It's also the number that allows a president to keep his promise to undo the military sequester. The top line non-defense number will be $462 billion, a $54 billion savings. It's the largest-proposed reduction since the early years of the Reagan administration.


[02:05:14] WALKER: OK, $54 billion in cuts to essentially non- defense spending. Firstly, can they get that through Congress? And can you have a $54 billion increase in military spending and not touch things like Social Security and Medicaid.

DAVE JACOBSON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: The question is, can it get through Congress with a whole bunch of deficit hawks who are cognizant of our increasing debt, number one. Number two, he says he's going to cut funding from EPA, about $2 billion. Cut from foreign aid, maybe $8 billion or so. Where's he going to get the rest of the money? National security and having a strong, robust military is a bipartisan issue. Democrats support that, Republicans support that. But both parties don't want to see the deficit grow. It those are rea

WALKER: John, what do you think of this massive budget increase when it comes to military spending. It will come at the expensive of the EPA and the State Department. There was 120 retired admirals and generals who sent a letter opposing these cuts. This is going to hurt national security and diplomacy is crucial to keeping the nation safe.

JOHN THOMAS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: Many of those generals, including General Petraeus, now work for private consulting companies that work on international business ventures. They might have a bit of a conflict of interest. Use the State Department to help lobby. I think they're conflicted. But I think Trump is trying to make good on campaign promises. He said he had to rebuild the military. And also where the U.S. Might save money, Trump believes in peace through strength. Perhaps if we have a more robust military, we won't have to go to war. And also, pull us out of entanglements we are already involved in that are costing us now.

VAUSE: This is how Democrats are already responding to these proposed budget cuts.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, (D-NY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: He broke his promise to working Americans, when after vowing not to cut Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid during the campaign, he proposes to cut Medicaid and chooses cabinet secretaries who spent their careers trying to eviscerate Social Security and Medicare.


VAUSE: Dave, a preview of 2018 there?

JACOBSON: Precisely. Donald Trump's going to have to deal with Paul Ryan, the architect of the plan, who is going to gut Medicare as we know it. And at the end of the day, Paul Ryan's going to have his fingerprints all over the budget bill, and Donald Trump's going to have to come to the table with him. And I would bet it that Paul Ryan's going to try to manipulate Medicare and cut funding where he can.

THOMAS: Chuck Schumer knew it was a bunch of baloney. He's not attacking Social Security or Medicare.

VAUSE: Here's the thing, you can't have your cuts with these programs and pay for the military at the same time.


THOMAS: Without having deficit spending, you're right.

WALKER: So you think conservatives are going to rally behind this?

THOMAS: I think yes and no. They're going to have to compromise on some things, but it's such a political win for the Trump base, the Republicans are going to be looking at midterms and four years from now, and this is feeding red meat to the base.

JACOBSON: If I could jump in real quick. We saw the poll that came out between the "Wall Street Journal" and NBC, and had a 48 percent disapproval rating, 44 percent approval rating, the gigantic swing that made Donald Trump under water was Independents. Republicans increasingly have a solid support base for the president. Democrats are in opposition. But it's Independents who are swinging away from the president, giving him the underwater threshold. A lot of GOP Congressmen are going to look at those Independents as we increasingly look towards '18 and you have those cuts coming up.

VAUSE: I also think turnout will be crucial in 2018. (CROSSTALK)

VAUSE: -- get Democrats to vote.

THOMAS: Spending on defense feeds the base.

VAUSE: The president also facing some headwind in his effort to try and replace Obamacare. Again, this is how Donald Trump addressed a surge in support for the Affordable Care Act.


TRUMP: People hate it. But now it they see that the end is coming, and they're saying, oh, maybe we love it. There's nothing to love. It's a disaster, folks, OK.


VAUSE: Dave, what I think the president is trying to say is there is a certain unnatural fear of the unknown. That's why many are clinging to the Affordable Care Act, because they know what's in it, and they're concerned about what meet come next.

JACOBSON: They're hearing extremists within the GOP saying, at the end of the day, we're going to cut coverage, not everyone can have coverage. And that's a glaring example that people are scared. They don't want to lose their care. These are cancer patients. These are people who depend on the Affordable Care Act. It'll be a real challenge for him, number one. Number two, he said that the health care issue is a little more complex than --


JACOBSON: But the GOP voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act over 60 times. So clearly, folks in Congress know this is a complex issue, otherwise, they would have voted to appeal it.

[02:10:06] WALKER: The quote here was, "Nobody knew health care could be so complicated."

Do you think President Trump is just realizing that now? Most Americans know that's a fact. We've seen decades of presidents and Congress trying to get universal health care passed, obviously, not an easy subject.


WALKER: And President Trump sounded surprised by this.

THOMAS: I'm sure, until you get in there and take a look under the hood, it's more complicated. It looks like the president is recognizing that.

Here's the deal, only 30 percent of Americans want to keep Obamacare as is. Most, even though they don't want to completely repeal it, they want it changed. So Trump has to figure out what's that fine reason to people who have lost coverage or demoted their coverage because of increased premium costs. He has to find that line. It looks like he's figuring that out.


VAUSE: Fix it, don't repeal it.

OK, the other big story, today, John, how much longer can this White House resist appointing a special prosecutor for the ties between the election campaign and Russia?

THOMAS: A long time. Until a smoking gun comes out. I think the way the Trump administration's looking at it is, we don't want to create a witch-hunt where there is none. There's a lot of smoke but no fire. Until the smoking gun or fire is revealed, let Congress do an investigation and see where we go from there.

WALKER: If Congress is involved, you have partisan interests that could feed into a witch-hunt, whereas, an independent prosecutor could be the way to go.

JACOBSON: Darrell Issa seems to think that we need a special prosecutor. So does George W. Bush, potentially. He didn't rule it out. He said we all want to know, we want to bet to the bottom of it. Those are Republicans saying that.

VAUSE: Issa did put a caveat, saying if there is evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

THOMAS: Which there isn't yet.

VAUSE: Right now, the administration seems to be more concerned about finding out who's leaking information to the press as opposed to what that information actually is. Donald Trump putting the blame for the leaks at the feet of former President Obama.


TRUMP: I think President Obama's behind it, because his people are certainly behind it. And some of the leaks, possibly come from that group, you know, some of the leaks, which are really very serious leaks, because they're very bad in terms of national security. But I also understand that's poll it particulars. And in terms of him be being behind things, that's politics, and it will probably continue.


WALKER: John, how realistic is that statement from President Trump? And listen to how he was kind of speaking, seemed kind of relaxed about it all. That's how it is.

THOMAS: He's right. Leaks are never going to stop. Leaks are in every industry, not just politics. But he does have reason to be concerned. He had it to fire his attorney general, who was an Obama appointee. This is not unusual, and I wouldn't be surprised if they were linked to the last administration. So it's something he's going to are to deal with. I think he's right to try to smoke it out at the highest levels. But at the end of the day, you have to run a tight ship and hope it settles out.

WALKER: Dave, how unusual is it for the U.S. president to sign off on his press secretary to check his aides' personal cells phones to make sure that no one is leaking this information to the press?

JACOBSON: It's jaw dropping. It's like they don't acknowledge the Fourth Amendment that assures privacy rights. At the end of the day, Donald Trump thrives off chaos and dysfunction, and he's created this mess. These are individuals working at the pleasure of the president and the White House, working for him, he hired them, that are promoting the leaks.

VAUSE: John, many of these leaks would not be happening if they'd done the transition properly, if they'd had those jobs filled by Trump appointees.


THOMAS: That's a fair point. But we know this election wasn't exactly a stable, predictable outcome.

VAUSE: Trump said he knew he was going to win from day one.


VAUSE: Dave and John, again, thanks so much.


WALKER: Thank you.

VAUSE: Well, China and the United States are holding their highest level talks since Donald Trump took office.

WALKER: Beijing's point man on Chinese policy led a Chinese delegation to the White House on Monday and briefly met with the U.S. president. It's believed the Chinese state counselor urged the administration to meet with North Korea. A day ago, the U.S. called off upcoming talks between a North Korean delegation and team of former U.S. officials by revoking the North Korean's visas. The meeting was to be held in New York.

[02:14:40] VAUSE: Well, reports of deadly enforcement in North Korea. Up next, we'll have details on the latest government purge in Pyongyang.




WALKER: There are new reports of another deadly purge within the North Korean government. VAUSE: Kim Jong-Un is believed to have ordered the execution of five

security officials, reportedly because they made false report to the North Korean leader.

Paula Hancocks is joining us from Seoul.

Paula, not a lot of details. We do know this was an especially brutal execution.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Apparently, so, John. This is what we're hearing from intelligent officials in South Korea who briefed lawmakers who in turn briefed us. At least five of these security officials at the deputy minister level were executed by anti- aircraft guns. This is what intelligence officials brief. But of course, North Korea is a very closed country. What they believe is the case is that the state security chief was fired last January. They announced that earlier this month, the South Koreans at least, because he had displeased Kim Jong-Un. And they believe there was false information given to the leader. We don't exactly know what that is. But we are hearing from intelligence chiefs that once again there has been a particularly brutal way of executing people who have displeased him -- John?

VAUSE: And, Paula, the other big story out of North Korea is the execution of Kim Jong-Un's brother in Malaysia. And there has been some suspicion that probably these two events could be linked?

[02:20:17] HANCOCKS: Well, we haven't heard exactly a connection from the intelligence chief. What we should point out is at that the state security chief was fired in January. So that would suggest that it's not related in that respect. We do know that Kim Jong-Un was displeased with his state security chief. It's a very important job, a very significant unit within North Korea, it's effectively their intelligence agency. They're in charge of the prison camps in North Korea. They're in charge of monitoring people, espionage as well. So certainly, it's a very, it's a unit that's very close to the North Korean leader himself. Interesting that the state security chief has been fired, not executed, as we have seen with many other elites. We're hearing from some high-level officials who have defected recently, that there is a real fear among the elites that if they displease Kim Jong-Un they may well face the consequences quite quickly -- John?

VAUSE: Quite often, we find out the politics of these events long after the event. What does this say about Kim Jong-Un and his leadership and his hold on leadership?

HANCOCKS: Well, there was one high-ranking official, the number two to the North Korean embassy in London who defected just last summer. I spoke to him quite recently, and he was talking about this loyalty through fear in North Korea at this point. It's been 2011 since December 2011 that Kim Jong-Un has been in control and yet he is still executing and purging high members of his elite. We had a report from one South Korean state-run think tank saying that up until the end of last year, there were 340 executions ordered by Kim Jong-Un. 140 of those members of his open elite. Some say that he's trying to solidify his power, others say he's trying to hold onto his power and make sure there is this loyalty through fear -- John?

VAUSE: Paula, thank you. Paula Hancocks, live in Seoul, with the latest details on another purge within North Korea.

A security warning is out for Jewish institutions across the United States after another wave of bomb threats.

WALKER: The Anti-Defamation League says at least 20 facilities in a dozen states received threats Monday. In all there have been about 90 threats this year. A Jewish cemetery was vandalized over the weekend with dozens of headstones overturned. A similar incident happened in St. Louis last week. The White House has condemned these acts as hateful.

VAUSE: The man accused of shooting an Indian engineer in Kansas made his first court appearance on Monday. And witnesses say Adam Purinton shouted, "Get out of my country," before opening fire at a bad last week. Two others were wounded. Investigators are trying to determine if this was a hate crime.

WALKER: The deadline for a huge ransom to be paid to Abu Sayyaf militants passed, and they followed through on a grisly threat. They held 70-year-old Jurgen Kantner hostage three months before beheading him.

Saima Mohsin is joined now from Bangkok with the very latest on this story.

Saima, this deadline did come and go. The ransom deadline was not met. Do we know if any negotiations had happened? If there were any efforts under way to secure his release?

SAIMA MOHSIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Amara, the peace adviser to the Philippines government said we tried our very best. "We all tried our best," is how he puts it. Now whether that alludes to some kind of back-channel negotiations, we're not clear on that. Philippines does have a no-ransom policy. And they have been also simultaneously using that two-pronged approach of trying to deal with others militarily as well.

This is what the foreign minister had to say earlier on CNN, speaking on the "Amanpour" show.


PERFECTO YASAY, PHILIPPINES FOREIGN MINISTER: The military is poised to really come up with a massive campaign to eliminate and destroy them, however, we are also concerned about the other hostages that they have held.


MOHSIN: So it's clear, it's a very delicate situation to have to deal with. And the U.S. and the Philippines is militarily been trying to tackle this since 9/11, when at that time, they had some kind of allegiance to al Qaeda -- Amara? [02:25:09] WALKER: What do we know about how they were abducted by

Abu Sayyaf? From what I understand, this is not the first time he's been in such a situation.

MOHSIN: That's right. This is the second time they, he had been abducted himself. Previously, it was him and his partner. That was by Somali pirates in 2008. They were held for a couple months and then released at the time. There were reports that we haven't been able to confirm that a ransom was paid back then.

He refused, though, to stay at home, as we're told. Family members pleaded. He said his boat was his freedom. It was his life, and he would not give that up. So they went back out to sea together. And in November last year, Sabina was found shot dead and Jurgen Kantner was found missing and they claimed that they had abducted him. Now Abu Sayyaf's modus operandi is kidnapping for ransom. You see them reading out that ransom demand surrounded by men wielding swords. Abu Sayyaf means "father of the swordsman." And he broke down saying if this fails, good-bye to my family. So it was quite a heartbreaking video. We decided, of course, not to show the video of the beheading, though, it's too graphic for viewers -- Amara?

WALKER: A very sad story and ending.

Saima Mohsin, thank you very much.

VAUSE: We'll take a short break. "State of America" with Kate Bolduan is up next for our viewers in Asia.

WALKER: For everyone else, President Trump is weighing his options to obliterate ISIS. We'll see what's on the table and how long the fight might take.


[02:30:16] JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm John Vause.


The headlines this hour --


VAUSE: A standoff is happening right now in the West Bank. Israeli forces are preparing to evict settlers from a number of homes. The court ruled those homes were built illegally on Palestinian lands.

CNN's Oren Liebermann is in the West Bank.

Oren, so the court said the evictions would not happen before 9:00 a.m. We're now at 9:31 a.m. So we've passed the deadline. When will the police and the IDF move in?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORERSPONDENT: The police have already moved in. They've surrounded the first two homes, and now you can see them getting ready to go into the first of the homes. Making sure no one else moves in. They will be pulling the protesters out. We take a look back at the house. There are protesters, inside the home. They've tried to impede police from moving in here to first evacuate and then destroy or demolish these nine homes. That, of course, will be part of the process here. You can see police have surrounded this home and the home next to us. Two of the nine homes that are set to be evacuated and then demolished. This has been a years-long legal process. The police and security forces decided to move in late last night into this morning. Evacuations set to happen as we're seeing it start now.

VAUSE: So, Oren, we're talking about nine buildings here, eight homes, one building. Are the residents there right now? There are hundreds of protesters, so who are they? Where did they come from?

LIEBERMANN: They've come from all over. We saw them a few weeks ago, at a demolition on the next hill over. Here the police moved in quickly, but, again, these protesters, many of them religious and right wing came in to slow down the police. Many from the area, some coming from a bit farther away. The whole idea is to slow down the police and if they can slow down or stop the evacuation. It won't happen here. It didn't happen there. Police are of moving in. Once these nine homes are empty, they will be demolished -- John?

VAUSE: And is there a sense that the settlers and the settler movement are being motivated because there is a new president in Washington who seems much more sympathetic to the building of settlements in the West Bank?

LIEBERMANN: Absolutely. Emboldened and very happy about the election of President Trump, who they saw as almost a savior. They were hoping that his election would stop this from happening, stop the evacuation and demolition, not only here but in some of the other homes that have demolition orders against them, because they were illegally built on private Palestinian land. We've seen that not the case. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been far more cautious in his statements about his meeting with President Trump and there has been no ability or no way of slowing down these evacuations even with a different president there, even with a right-wing government here. The evacuations here set to move forward -- John?

VAUSE: Oren, thank you. Oren Liebermann there, live, with the evacuation in the West Bank.

The Trump administration is reviewing plans to accelerate the fight against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, depending on different Pentagon scenarios that the White House could use, and that includes sending in ground troops to northern Syria.

WALKER: CNN's Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, has the details.



BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORESPONDENT (VO: The Pentagon plan, according to a senior U.S. official, lays out how to rapidly destroy is in less than ten months.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have also directed the defense community to develop a plan to totally obliterate ISIS.



STARR: Part of the 30-day review? Significantly increasing the U.S. military presence and risk to U.S. troops inside Syria. Options being explored include sending U.S. artillery units into Syria for long- range support for local units moving on the city of Raqqa and putting U.S. spotters near the front lines to look for ISIS targets. It's already happening in Iraq.

[02:35:28] UNIDENTIFIED ARMY OFFICER: We go ahead and bring out the lightening and take it now and move up and try to mark that location.

STARR: The plan also includes diplomatic and financial options. But the Pentagon leads stepping up the military campaign, something President Trump has long advocated.

TRUMP: I know more about ISIS than the generals do, believe me. I would bomb the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) out of them.


STARR: But top U.S. generals warn even with more than 50,000 ISIS operatives killed, the international reach of the threat is a worry.

GEN. JOSEPH DUNFORD, CHAIRMAN, U.S. JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: We estimate probably over 100, 120 countries have provided 45,000 foreign fighters just to Syria and Iraq alone. That's one element that makes it a transregional threat.

STARR: National security advisor, H.R. McMaster, breaking with his boss, saying the term "radical Islamic terrorism" isn't helpful for U.S. Goals.

President Trump seemingly with a vote of no confidence so far on the military campaign.

TRUMP: Everyone used to say we never lost a war. We never lost a war. You remember. Some of you were right there with me, and you remember, we never lost a war. America never lost. And now we never win a war. We never win. And we don't fight to win.

STARR: The coalition has liberated about 60 percent of ISIS-held territory in Iraq and is pushing to get ISIS out of its stronghold in Raqqa, Syria.

(on camera): Putting more U.S. troops into the fight will be costly and risky. No one can yet say how much it will cost and how risky it may be.

Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon. (END VIDEOTAPE)

WALKER: Meanwhile, Iraqi forces are claiming more progress in their fight to capture Mosul from ISIS.

Let's go to Jomana Karadsheh in Amman, Jordan, standing by.

Jomana, the expectation is the fight for western Mosul looks to be more challenging than eastern Mosul. What's the latest on that offensive?

JOMAMA KARADSHEH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Amara. No one was really expecting this to be an easy or a fast fight when you compare eastern Mosul to western Mosul. It took about three months to capture that part of the city. When it comes to western Mosul, that is the more complex part of the environment. You're talking about the old part of the city, narrow streets that are more densely populated. Despite the resistance that the Iraqi forces are meeting along the way as they push into western Mosul, they have been making some advances, as you mentioned, over the weekend, capturing the Mosul airport and yesterday we heard from Iraqi troops that they have also captured an important bridge. This is known as the fourth bridge, one of the bridges over the Tigris that is under government control with the west. Now most of these bridges have been destroyed during the military campaign and the fight. But what they do aim to do here is to build up some temporary bridge, a ramp where they would use this as a main supply route from the east to the west. And so, as they're makes these advances, as they're pushing more into western Mosul, a lot of concern remains for the civilian population in this part of the city estimated to be about 750,000 people there, living in dire humanitarian situation -- Amara?

WALKER: Yeah, some of those civilians who are eastern Mosul fled to western Mosul and are now in harm's way.

Appreciate that report, Jomana Karadsheh, live for us from Amman, Jordan.

[02:39:09] VAUSE: Still to come, they're risking their lives to save victims of Syria's civil war. CNN talks to the film makers of the Oscar-winning documentary, "The White Helmets."


WALKER: The accounting firm that oversees the Oscar votes is issuing another apology for that stunning best picture mix-up.

VAUSE: I think that makes it number two or three now. "La La Land" was first announced. PriceWaterhouseCooopers says an employee gave the wrong envelope to the presenters. The moment after that, the producer stepped to the microphone in the middle of the acceptance speeches.


UNIDENTIFIED PRODUCER: This is not a joke. "Moonlight" has won best picture.


UNIDENTIFIED PRODUCER: "Moonlight", best picture.



WALKER: The chairman of PriceWaterhouseCoopers was scheduled to be on CNN with Anderson Cooper Monday evening. He actually canceled, apparently, at the request of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

VAUSE: Lorraine Ali is a television critic from the "Los Angeles Times" joins us. She joins us with more on this.

Lorraine, thanks being with us.

We have a statement from PriceWaterhouse explaining what happened, saying PWC partner, Brian Cullinan, mistakenly gave the envelope. Protocols were not followed through quickly enough by Mr. Cullinan or his partner.

There's this one guy who screwed up and caused all of this?

LORRAINE ALI, CRITIC, LOS ANGELES TIMES: Yes, and I would hate to be that guy today. Yeah, and here you have all of the "La La Land" crew up there essentially, already had their awards in their hands when they catch this. And that is not just a blunder, that's like a massive, massive --


VAUSE: He was apparently tweeting before he handed the envelope over, he was distracted. He deleted the tweet. So was he focusing?

WALKER: He had one job, to hand the right envelope over, and it was the wrong envelope. I mean.

ALI: Correct, yes. One job, and you think that whole entire broadcast Jimmy Kimmel had hours to fill. He did fine.

ALI: Exactly. And he had one job. Hand over the right envelope.

And this led to some really hilarious memes that have been tweeted out. I want to show you some of these. The first one being Hillary Clinton for president, obviously, they show her saying she's winning the presidential race, every Hillary voter thought-process this morning. The other one, lemonade, Beyonce, a reference to Beyonce not winning the top spot at the Grammy. Seth MacFarland said, and you know what the problem is, millions of Academy members voted illegally.


WALKER: That was a reference to President Trump's unfounded allegations that millions of people voted illegally in the U.S. election.

But we talking about this yesterday. I felt so horrible for the "Moonlight" cast. Because we said the day after, everyone's going to be talking not about "Moonlight", but case in point, all of these memes tweeted out.

[02:45:38] ALI: If it had gone as it was supposed to, that would have been a surprise in itself, because "La La Land" was favored to win. This did take away from "Moonlight's" moment.

VAUSE: The Oscars are broadcast by ABC. The chief executive of CBS was scathing. He said, "The accountants have one job to do, to give Warren Beatty the right envelope. That's what these people are paid to do. If they were my accountants, I would fire them."

What recourse does ABC have? Could they sue PriceWaterhouse for this?

ALI: This is so unprecedented. We're using this word a lot lately.


ALI: It really is, though, you're talking about PriceWaterhouse has been doing this something like 80 years.


WALKER: Almost the entire duration since Oscars have been around in existence.

ALI: Exactly. What's going to happen moving forward is kind of anyone's guess, but, you know, to have this happen in a way made this one of the most exciting Oscars. You could say, you know, I was reading tweets, and people were going, this is the best Oscars ever, because it was the most dramatic, exciting ending. For Hollywood, drama is the thing.

WALKER: Ratings weren't very good. 33 million viewers. That's it. And it was the second-lowest total since they started tracking the viewership in 1974. Why aren't people tuning in? Is it the political atmosphere, that they're afraid they're going to hear political speeches?

ALI: That's very possible. Leading up to this, the SAGs, the Golden Globes, there was fiery political speeches. People are a little burned out on this right now. And when you're talking about entertainment, I do think people want to see entertainment much of the time. So, what was interesting, though, is I didn't think that this particular Oscars was, there was a little more levity. There was a little --


VAUSE: Yeah. There were a lot of jokes about Donald Trump. Jimmy Kimmel was the one poking fun at the president. And we were wondering why we hadn't heard from Donald Trump on Twitter. It just took a while. He told the alt-right website "Breitbart," "I think they were focused so hard on politics that they didn't the act together in the end. It was a little sad. I've been to the Oscars. There was something very special missing" -- possibly him. He turned it to about him and no word on Jimmy Kimmel.

ALI: It was really interesting. What was interesting, I reviewed this last night. I was watching carefully. Kimmel was just about the only one who actually used President Trump's name. Other people talked about issues. They talked about the wall. They talked about immigration. But they didn't actually use Trump's name. And I'm actually wondering if Trump's watching that, going, you know what? My name's not in there enough.



VAUSE: He could have been disappointed.


VAUSE: Good point.

Lorraine, thanks so much.

WALKER: Thanks for coming in.

VAUSE: There were other memorable moments at the Oscars. A documentary about volunteer rescue workers in Syria won an award and a standing ovation. And next, the film makers talk to CNN.




[02:53:04] WALKER: The war in Syria took center stage for moments at the Academy Awards. "The White Helmets" won for the best documentary short.

VAUSE: It follows a group of volunteers risking their lives to save others. One hour after the Oscar victory, "The White Helmets" was the top search in the U.S.

Nina del Santos spoke to two of the cameramen behind the documentary.


NINA DEL SANTOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From the ruins of Aleppo to the red carpet, Netflix's film, "The White Helmets" captured the world's attention, earning an Oscar and a standing ovation at the Academy Awards.


DEL SANTOS: The 40-minute documentary follows the group of volunteers as they run the gauntlet to rescue the wounded during the heaviest bombardment of Syria's second-largest city, pulling newborns from the rubble. This is one who risked his life.

21-year-old Halid (ph) was one of those who risked his life to record one of the most ferocious chapters in his country's civil war. Until then, he'd never seen such things, let alone through the lens of a camera.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): In the start of the shelling on the opposition areas, I saw so many foreign journalists entering Syria to cover the crimes. I was very moved by them and dreamt of becoming a photo journalist so I could tell the world what is happening and show the scope of the suffering caused by the bombing.

DEL SANTOS: Filming alongside him, his older cousin, Fahdi (ph). He still finds it hard to watch his own footage.

(voice-over): What is the image that stays in your mind that tells the story?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): There is a woman who ran towards one of the White Helmets and grabbed his arm. And for me, as a cameraman, looking through the lens, I felt she was saying "you are my safety." you are the person I trust. And she kept holding his arm until the plane passed.

DEL SANTOS (voice-over): He looks up to hide his tears, but checking the skies is instinctive.

(on camera): Do you ever feel safe after everything you've seen?



[02:55:12] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, because it continues.

DEL SANTOS (voice-over): Halid (ph) and Fahdi (ph) say that many of those they filmed didn't survive. But despite the dangers, Syria is a story that needs to be told. And having an Oscar will help.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): In this movie, we can influence public opinion. We can push the Syrian issue forward. It took us time to persuade them to make this film, but we eventually convinced them. And now, thanks to god, we can tell people we won the Oscar.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Most of all, thank you to "The White Helmets."

DEL SANTOS: A rare victory in a war that has no winners.

Nina del Santos, CNN, Istanbul.


VAUSE: It is an incredible documentary. When you watch it, and think about the guys who filmed it, you wonder what they didn't get into the documentary, and how they're going through dealing with all this. Obviously, they're suffering from some kind of post-traumatic stress.

WALKER: Oh, yeah. You can see they're risking their lives every minute that they're there.

VAUSE: Yeah.

WALKER: That does it for us, everyone. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles. I'm Amara Walker.

VAUSE: I'm John Vause.


VAUSE: I'm John Vause.

Next, the news continues with Rosemary Church.