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Senators Demand Evidence for Trump Wiretap Claim; U.S. Ambassador to U.N.: Kim Jong-Un is not Rational; Kim Jong Nam's Son Appears in New Video; Samsung Heir's Corruption Trial Begins; Troops Arrive in Northern Syria to Help Battle ISIS; Modern Day Slavery Still Alive in India. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired March 9, 2017 - 00:00   ET



[00:00:10] ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: This is CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. Ahead this hour --

JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Political dodge ball as Vice President Mike Pence and White House staff duck questions about President Trump's unfounded wiretapping accusations.

SESAY: Botched roll out -- the launch of the Obamacare repeal and replace not going so well. Is President Trump the chief cheerleader?

VAUSE: And getting set for a major offensive against ISIS. At this hour, U.S. Marines on the ground in Syria.

Hello everybody. Great to have you with us. I'm John Vause.

SESAY: And I'm Isha Sesay. NEWSROOM L.A. starts right now.

The rising calls of lawmakers including Republicans are demanding evidence, if there is any, for Donald Trump's accusation that President Obama tapped his phones. Senator Lindsey Graham says he is ready to subpoena intelligence agencies for information.

VAUSE: A senior Republican and a Democratic senator are now coming together to ask the FBI and the Attorney General for any material they have to prove the President's claim.

And Vice President Mike Pence is now the most senior White House official so far to dodge a key question. Does he believe the wiretap allegations?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The President has alleged that that the former president committed a felony in wiretapping Trump Tower. Yes or no, do you believe that President Obama did that?

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, what I can say is that the President and our administration are confident that the congressional committees in the House and Senate that are examining issue surrounding the last election, the run-up to the last election will do that in a thorough and equitable way. They will look at those issues. They'll look at other issues that have been raised.


VAUSE: Joining us now here in Los Angels, talk radio host Mo Kelly and Republican strategist Luis Alvarado. Guys -- thank you very much for being with us.

SESAY: Gentlemen -- welcome.

VAUSE: Let's start with that non-answer from the Vice President. Luis it does seem it is getting hard to find anybody in Washington who actually believes the President.

LUIS ALVARADO, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Quite difficult, obviously. Everybody understands that Donald Trump is not your conventional type politician. Everybody expects some eccentric comments to be made.

This particular comment I think went outside the boundaries of what a Donald Trump expectation would be. And now it's the White House staff, the administration and all Republicans that find themselves having to answer and stand by the President and somehow have a cohesive answer that doesn't throw the President under the bus and allows them to still seem as responsible politicians.

SESAY: So Mo, let me ask you this. In the absence of any evidence being provided to date and Republicans failing to stand by his side, the President that is, what is his next move?

MO KELLY, RADIO HOST: The President, well he's going to have to see this to its end. I don't know what the logical conclusion is going to be.

You saw someone like Lindsey Graham hedging his bet this way. He is going to publicly support the call for the investigation knowing good and well that it may end up the President being embarrassed by there being no evidence while at the same time he still gets to save public face.

You are seeing the individual Republicans making sure that they don't seem like they are crazy, for lack of a better word, while at the same time they can seem like still in lock step with the rest of the party.

VAUSE: We should note that Lindsey graham came out with that statement the day after having dinner with Donald Trump.


VAUSE: Anyway. Ok. The House and the Senate intelligence committee, they're both investigating this wiretapping accusation.

Democrat Senator Adam Schiff says this will be a pretty easy investigation and if the President's claims cannot be proved he says there could very be some serious consequences.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: They've asked us to look into that. And be careful what you wish for. I'd like to have those that were present at the time to be asked the question was the President of the United States being honest? Was he being accurate when he accused his predecessor of wiretapping he and his associates?

Because there needs to be some repercussion to this kind of reckless allegation and in this case I think the repercussion is that we will have high ranking current and former officials telling the American people whether the President was truthful with them.


VAUSE: Luis -- you sort of touched on this just a short time ago. Up until this point, you know, the falsehoods or the misstatements have been fairly inconsequential talking about crowd size or his Electoral College win -- that kind of stuff.

This though seems to be different. If there are to be consequences, as Adam Schiff is talking about, what will they be?

[00:04:54] ALVARADO: Well, the largest consequence to me is that a few days ago he gave a speech to the joint Houses of Congress and was attempting to create a different tone and was attempting to bring some kind of cohesive ground work where there can actually some legislative actions that would help move the country forward.

That has been thrown outside the window if we are going to start going down the rabbit holes of investigations. It doesn't help the Republican Party. It doesn't help the Democratic Party. It doesn't help anybody if this is where Washington is going to be headed.

At the end of the day there has to be some grown ups in the room that actually are going to come in and try to set a tone that legislation that actually is going to be effective for the nation is actually discussed. And we don't see that happening at this point with this specific act or the calling of these investigations.

VAUSE: It doesn't help the Republicans -- I'm not so sure about the Democrats.

KELLY: I would slightly disagree. I would say that the Democrats are somewhat celebrating this because to your point, you had a president who said that he was going to put away all the small-mindedness. And I said on this program, less than a week ago, give it maybe three or four days and he will be back to business as usual. And he is right there.

When you have the high-ranking members of the Senate and also House intelligence committees basically telling you and previewing in a very soft way that they have not seen any evidence to corroborate this, you know it's not going to go well for the President and by extension, the Republicans.

And then when you say by extension the Republicans, you have to worry about this fight to repeal and replace Obamacare. You have the President trying to sell this health care policy which has not been vetted in any well way. So this is going to be problematic for the Republicans moving forward.

SESAY: Any problem for the Democrats in how they navigate --

KELLY: Well, it depends how they play it. You can't treat everything like everything is DefCon One; everything is the greatest scandal in the history of the world. They have to very slowly and methodically lead this up to a point where you have an amalgamation of all these minor errors to construct one large picture of this President.

VAUSE: Ok. The White House really struggling to actually try and explain exactly what's going on here -- another really bad day for spokesman Sean Spicer. And it began with this question at the briefing from a CBS reporter.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sean -- is the President the target of a counterintelligence investigation?

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think that's what we need to find out. There is obviously a lot of concern.


VAUSE: Ok. Then moments later an aide sort of appears from nowhere, hands him a note and then we have a different answer.


SPICER: There is no reason that we should -- that we have to think that the President is the target of any investigation.


VAUSE: Luis -- this kind of sums up the problems the President has created for himself. Either the allegations are baseless or he is the target of some kind of, you know, a counterintelligence investigation. Is there a third option?

ALVARADO: Well, the problem is that we should be talking about the administration as a cohesive unit that actually is trying to move policy or move the country forward. And we don't even see cohesiveness inside the White House at this point.

When we talk about the executive branch we talk about Trump and his actions or inactions. And that is a very unfortunate moment for Republicans because once again they have to defend the actions or inactions of the White House and the administration. And the administration is consumed with trying to cover for their boss and that can't be good for the nation and certainly not for the party.

SESAY: And, Mo, as they have to navigate all of this, the Republican Party, they have to navigate it with the clock ticking down to mid- term elections. KELLY: Yes. And as we get closer to mid-term elections, if the

Democrats, to your last point, if they handle it correctly, will ramp it up as we get closer to the mid-terms. We saw the right hand introduce themselves to the left hand in that press conference. And it's in complete disarray.

And I don't want to use hyperbole. But that's what's going on where one side of the White House doesn't know the messaging of the other side of the White House. And that that should give any indication over what's going on as far as the strategy to move forward policy then they're in serious trouble.

VAUSE: Ok. Well, Hillary Clinton, remember her, she emerged back on the national stage (inaudible) International Women's Day with a speech at the Kennedy Center in Washington a few hours ago.


HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Never lose your optimism, your persistence, and your resistance. We can build the future, we envisioned when we started on this journey with vital voices two decades ago -- for women, for girls around the world and for us here at home.


VAUSE: Surprisingly she didn't announce that she is running for 2020.

But let's finish with some good news for Republicans here.


VAUSE: Apparently she's got bad polls in New York. Anyway, Donald Trump according to a new poll is actually significantly more popular than Hillary Clinton. So Mo, losing never looks particularly good but in some ways this sort of opens up the problems for the Democrats as they look for someone to lead the party in this post-Clinton era.

[00:09:58] KELLY: Well, they waited too long to start that search. You have to grow your talent. And they thought maybe it was going to be Julian Castro or someone else but they did not spend that time actually growing their talent in the way that they grew Barack Obama way back in 2004.

There is a four-year run up usually. They have yet to really start that clock and so they're still looking at Hillary Clinton as one of the figure-heads of the party and that's not a good look.

SESAY: Kamala Harris?

KELLY: Possibly but she hasn't taken center stage. She is known but not well known.


VAUSE: Ok. Guys -- thank you so much. Mo and Luis -- thank you very much. Good to see you guys.

SESAY: Now, sources tell CNN President Trump hasn't spoke with his predecessor since the inauguration January 20th but their staff had been communicating.

VAUSE: Why aren't they talking? Why aren't they getting on?

Those familiar with the matter say White House chief of staff Reince Priebus has spoken with the former chief of staff Denis McDonough since President Trump made his wiretapping claim on Saturday.

SESAY: Joining us now to explore the crumbling relationship between President Trump and his predecessor President Obama and the implications is CNN presidential historian and author Douglas Brinkley. Douglas -- so good to have you with us.


SESAY: So we're hearing that President Obama was irked and exasperated in response to Donald Trump's the evidence-free wiretapping claims. I mean the fact is President Obama is essentially being accused of committing a felony here.

Put this in some kind of context for us. Before now have we ever seen a former president assailed by his successor in this way?

BRINKLEY: No, we haven't. Not even in the age of dueling did somebody accuse somebody of a felonious act when you were a sitting president like President Trump has done to Barack Obama. You know, there are -- different presidents have different, you know, rocky relationships. Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter didn't get along. Franklin Roosevelt took Herbert Hoover's name off of the Hoover Dam and changed it to Boulder Dam to punish Herbert Hoover.

So you get kind of petty things that happen if they don't like each other but this was a tweet too far accusing somebody of a felony. And it has kind of shattered the idea of the special relationship, the special club, if you like between ex-president and a sitting president.

SESAY: The current president and his administration appear to be doubling down on this notion of being under siege by the media and the previous administration. Historically when an administration takes on this kind of bunker mentality, if you will, what are the implications for the country?

BRINKLEY: That the country gets unnerved, fear and paranoia spread across the land. True facts get replaced by alternative facts -- we see some of that happening now.

The main role of a president is to unite the country, not just your followers. And Donald Trump has yet to kind of shift into that particular gear.

The attack on Obama is going to create a brouhaha this entire spring. It's not just a distraction. There very well may be hearings that are going on to determine the falsehood of Trump's claim. And so it's a bit nutty.

And the other problem Donald Trump has is in my writing presidents, the successful ones, none of them like the press but the successful ones know how to fake it. People like John F. Kennedy or Theodore Roosevelt, FDR, Ronald Reagan. And in this case you see Trump acting like Richard Nixon when he destroyed the press, see the press as an enemy.

That is somebody who doesn't understand the First Amendment properly. And in the end the press just works double hard to find out things about you and it doesn't really get you anywhere.

SESAY: We're hearing now that President Trump and Obama haven't spoken since inauguration day. I mean this relationship appears to be heading south. But I think the question a lot of people have is how important is it for a sitting president to actually have a good relationship with his predecessor?

BRINKLEY: It's helpful because nobody knows -- you know, Barack Obama knows a lot about what is going on right in the war on terror, what's happening in the Middle East, what's going on with China, climate change. Donald Trump could tap him as a resource.

I mean after all Bill Clinton came in in 1992 and regularly started calling Richard Nixon, the failed Republican president, for advice on Russia because he treasured Nixon's perspective on USSR back then or the Soviet Union.

All I'm suggesting is that it's not helpful. And it's not good for our democracy that Donald Trump has taken this tactic against Obama. But maybe they will find a way to heal it. Perhaps Trump will apologize or else there'll be an investigation and find that indeed Obama didn't wiretap Trump Tower. And maybe we'll move on with this.

[00:15:04] Barack Obama and Trump were doing pretty well together, I think, after the election and even on inaugural day. They seemed to be getting along all right. But things have blown off right now.

SESAY: Yes, indeed.

And you know, to date we have had President Obama, you know, essentially silent. I mean he had said just when he left office that he would speak out if he felt that American values were under attack from the Trump administration. But he has held back from directly taking on President Trump. Do you think that he can continue along that path so to speak?

BRINKLEY: I think largely so. I don't think President Obama wants to respond to every half-baked tweet that Donald Trump does at 6:00 a.m. It would be a never-ending job.

I think that he has to hope that our democratic process takes hold. In this case there will be an investigation of Trump's claim. He will be proven innocent, Barack Obama, and perhaps, you know, we're seeing difficulty with the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare getting repealed and replaced by the Republicans.

So history has a funny way of, you know, really turning things around and I think Obama knows he left the White House with a 60 percent approval rating. He is secure in his role in history and will only go after Donald Trump sparingly on occasion that he really he needs to.

This was so absurd that I think he was best just to have surrogates comment on his displeasure.

SESAY: And so finally, that being said about the former president not taking on President Trump every time he puts out a tweet, what are your expectations for these memoirs? We know that President Obama and the former first lady have signed this multimillion dollar deal to write these memoirs. What are your expectations for those books? And how much insight we're going to get from them, their feelings on what is going on right now?

BRINKLEY: Well, I know that President Obama's book is going to be very definitive and encyclopedic. It's going to be a serious memoir. I've spoken to him about it before.

Most presidents kind of do a slap-dash job kind of cobbled together policy papers, have a ghost writer and assistant do the lion's share of the work. President Obama is a writer. And he is -- that's how he came to public notoriety in many ways.

And so is going to put a lot into this presidential memoir. We'll have to see how much he deals with after, you know, Hillary Clinton loses meaning the end of his presidency whether he wants to get into issues pertaining to the Trump presidency.

But I bet he does, at least in the context of the 2006 (SIC) campaign and his sentiments and what he really feels about Donald Trump.

He was paid a lot of money for these books, so was Michelle. So I'm sure they'll deliver some of the tidbits that we're all going to interested in reading.

SESAY: Yes, we certainly will be.

Douglas Brinkley -- so good to speak to you. Thank you for the historical perspective and insight.

BRINKLEY: Thank you so much.

SESAY: Thank you.

VAUSE: Well, we'll take a short break.

When we come back the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations is lashing out at North Korea's leader after the country's latest missile test. What she said about Kim Jong-Un, just ahead.

SESAY: Plus the head of Samsung goes on trial, part of a massive corruption scandal that even reached the president's office.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Freedom means to me that I can have my own thoughts, my own feelings, my own opinions. I don't have to ask for permission to feel or think the way that I do.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Freedom to me means to be able to think, act, or say what I want.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To me freedom means the ability to make your own choices being unrestrained by another person's power.

VAUSE: CNN is teaming up with young people around the world for a unique student-led day of action against modern-day slavery with the launch of "My Freedom Day", March 14th.

SESAY: Driving all of this is a simple question. What does freedom mean to you? Send us your answer by text, photo or video across social media using the #myfreedomday.

VAUSE: The ambassador to the United Nations says Kim Jong-Un is not rational. Nikki Haley's sharp criticism of the North Korean leader followed a Security Council meeting about Pyongyang's ballistic missile launches.

SESAY: And there's a sense of frustration at the U.N. because all the sanctions and resolutions have really done nothing to stop North Korea's launches but Haley says all options are on the table.

VAUSE: For more on this let's bring our correspondents in -- Paula Hancocks live in Seoul, Matt Rivers standing by in Beijing.

Paula -- first to you. The South Koreans -- are they echoing the tough line which is coming from the United States, from Nikki Haley at the U.N.? Are they on board with what appears to be a much harder position when it comes to dealing with North Korea?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well John -- the interesting thing about this is that Ambassador Haley actually attacked the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-Un himself. In previous attacks from the United States and criticisms they've criticized the nuclear program, the missile program, the country itself.

But to have a personal attack on the North Korean leader goes one step further particularly in the minds of North Koreans. He's almost god- like within North Korea. To attack him personally is definitely a number of steps higher.

It's unlikely we'll see that kind of personal attack here in South Korea but certainly they are standing right behind Washington when it comes to criticizing Kim Jong-Un and when it comes to supporting the THAAD missile defense system being here. They are still ongoing with their military drills but I don't think you're going to see that kind of personal attack against the leader himself from South Korea. VAUSE: And Paula, very quickly, we did hear from the State Department

spokesperson saying essentially because of the improved technology when it comes to North Korean weapons, that they now need to look at alternatives for dealing with North Koreans. What would those alternatives actually be?

HANCOCKS: Well, we heard consistently from this Trump administration that all options are on the table. When you look basically at the options, you have sanctions, you have negotiations, you potentially have the military option which is highly unpalatable to many in the region, many in the U.S. as well.

But they are saying that all options are on the table. Whether this is a negotiating ploy we don't know because at this point we actually don't know the official North Korean policy of the Trump administration yet -- John.

VAUSE: And to you Matt -- South Korea and the United States very quickly shutting down any prospects of talks with the North Korean which were put forward by the Chinese. What is the next move now for Beijing?

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Beijing has had that position for a long time now ever since the six-party talks broke down a year ago. You heard foreign minister Wang Yi say in a press conference yesterday here in Beijing that North Korea should stop testing their missiles, the United States and the South Koreans should stand down on their military drills.

But as you say, realistically that's not going to happen even though the Chinese really want these direct negotiations to continue.

So I think the next step for the Chinese is the calculation as to how much they're going to continue to play ball at the U.N. Security Council. Don't forget the Chinese actually help draft both rounds of sanctions that were levied against the North Korean regime in 2016.

But if the Chinese continue to see no progress made on their favored position which would be negotiations how much are they going to continue to go along with the U.S. and Japan and South Korea at the U.N. Security Council or are they going to return to previous ways where they were seen as being more obstructionist? That is the calculation for the Chinese moving forward -- John.

[00:25:04] There are also questions being asked about how much influence China actually does now have over Kim Jong-Un especially compared to his father, where you know, Beijing in many ways, called the shots?

RIVERS: Absolutely. And I think that there are a lot of observers who say that the further North Korea goes in terms of developing its weapons technology the less influence Beijing really has. I mean yes, Beijing has more economic leverage over North Korea than any other country on earth. It is the only major ally of North Korea. It is the vast majority -- responsible for the vast majority of North Korea's food and fuel aid and trade. But how much leverage does that really mean if North Korea is not willing to give up its weapons program because on the world stage, Kim Jong-Un's only real card to play is that nuclear weapons program. And so I think many people will tell you that no matter what China does in terms of stemming the flow of that commerce between both sides, Kim Jong-Un is not going to give up this weapons program so easily.

VAUSE: Ok. Matt -- thank you. Matt Rivers in Beijing. Also Paula Hancocks, live in Seoul. Thanks to you.

SESAY: Well, the son of Kim Jong-Un's half-brother has appeared for the first time since his father's murder. In a video posted by a group called Choellima Civil Defense, Kim Han-Sol identified himself.

VAUSE: The group says the family asked them for extraction and protection last month. The young man's father, Kim Jong-Nam died after being attacked with VX nerve agent in Kuala Lumpur last month. Malaysia and North Korea are in a diplomatic dispute over this murder.

SESAY: And in South Korea the trial of Jay Y. Lee, the head of the Samsung Group started just moments ago. It's the next chapter in a political corruption scandal that's rocked South Korea to its very core.

VAUSE: We're told Jay Y. Lee was not in the courtroom for the start of today hearing. He was arrested last month, accused of paying tens of millions of dollars to win the favor of then-President Park Geun- Hye. Lee was hoping those payments would help secure a controversial merger for Samsung.

SESAY: Time for a quick break. Iraqi forces advance into an ISIS stronghold and the militants are fighting back -- the deadly toll in attacks targeting Iraq and Afghanistan.

VAUSE: Also the U.S. military moves heavy artillery into northern Syria. A decisive battle against ISIS could be imminent.


[00:30:47] ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles, I'm Isha Sesay.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John Vause. We'll check the headlines this hour.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is dodging questions about whether he believes Barack Obama wiretapped Donald Trump. Mr. Pence says it should be up to congressional committees to look into the matter. The vice president joins a growing list of Republicans avoiding that very question.

SESAY: A former 2012 U.S. presidential candidate has accepted President Trump offer to be the next ambassador to Russia. Jon Huntsman was the ambassador to China during President Obama's administration. If confirmed by the Senate, Huntsman will take the post amid questions about Russia's relationship with the Trump administration.

VAUSE: The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations had harsh words for Kim Jong-un after North Korea's latest missile launch. Nikki Haley says he is not a rational person. She says the U.N. members are trying to figure out how to get North Korea's attention to stop these provocations.

SESAY: In Guatemala, officials had declared three days of mourning for 21 people killed in a fire at a youth center, house of victims of violence. At least 19 of the dead were teenage girls. An official says the blaze started when a youth set fire to a mattress. Human rights groups criticized the center in the past saying it has poor living conditions.

VAUSE: A deadly battle in Iraq against ISIS is heating up. Iraqi forces entered the old city of Western Mosul on Wednesday. ISIS used snipers and suicide car bombs to defend its stronghold.

SESAY: Bomb blasts tore through a wedding party in the village Hajjaj. At least 20 people were killed and dozens were wounded when suicide bombers targeted the party. No group has claimed responsibility, but ISIS has carried out similar attacks as it fights for Mosul.

VAUSE: The battle to retake Raqqah, Syria from ISIS could be just weeks away. U.S. official tells CNN, marines equipped with heavy artillery have been deployed to the north of Syria. The artillery will add fire power to U.S.-backed fighters as they are closer to the ISIS stronghold.

SESAY: U.S. intelligence suggests some ISIS leaders and operatives are trying to get out of Raqqah before the assault begins.

VAUSE: CNN military analyst Rick Francona joins us now from Quentin, California. He is a former U.S. military attache to Syria and retired from the U.S. Air Force with the rank of lieutenant colonel.

So, colonel, thank you for being with us. There was a similar deployment last year near Mosul in Iraq. A few hundred marine with artillery. They provided cover for the advance on Mosul. I guess it's safe to assume it's a sign the military offensive on Raqqah is now imminent.

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, I'm not sure how imminent it is. There's still a lot of preparation that has to be done, but you're right.

What we are seeing now is very reminiscent of what we saw last August when the marines were brought in to provide that fire power to advancing Iraqi forces as they neared Mosul. But, John, I think we need to be very careful of drawing a relationship -- a core, a parallel between these two deployments because when we deployed the marines into Iraq, they were supporting the Iraqi army, which had two years to reconstitute itself. And a lot of armor provided by the United States. And it had reconstituted itself as a cohesive, fairly competent military force. What we have in Syria is altogether different. We basically got a light infantry, militia kind of organization made up mostly of Kurds, very effective, but to take a fortified city like Raqqah is going to require a lot more fire power.

And I just wonder where that firepower is going to come from. I don't think the marine artillery is going to be enough. We may have to put additional troops in there. And, of course, once you start down that slope, where does it stop?

VAUSE: Well, the U.S. military deployed into the region so there is no need for presidential approval. But I'll just say if there is a need to ramp this up, could you see the president and the Pentagon actually sending in significant, greater numbers of U.S. troops?

FRANCONA: I think if they're serious about having the Syrian Democratic force. That's this mixture of Kurds and Syrian Arabs of who we are supporting there with air power and supplies and training and U.S. special operations personnel on the ground and now the marines.

If we are going to use that as the force, we'll probably going to need additional fire power. And I know that that's what the United States would like to do because we talked about this time and distance. The Kurds are right there. They pretty much surrounded and isolated Raqqah where as the Turks and even the Syrian army are over 100 kilometers away.

[00:35:00] So if time is of the essence and General Townsend has said that it is, he said the people and the ISIS fighters in Raqqah are planning attacks against the West, he needs to get in there and eliminate that pocket.

To do that is going to require more fire power than is on the ground right now. And that will require the president to decide just what our policy is and how many troops we're going to put on the ground in Syria.

VAUSE: OK. So we have the Kurdish rebel fighters, who are back by the United States on the ground in position almost ready to go with this assault. But you also have, you know, the Turkish-backed rebels. You have the Syrian regime forces also wanting to actually, you know, be a part of this liberation of Raqqah. They want to be a part of it.

So if it does get to it, where you have this multilateral assault taking place, could you have U.S. artillery cover from forces loyal to the Syrian government?

FRANCONA: Yes, that's a real possibility. We've already seen -- and all this will be through the Russians. We're not going to talk to the Syrians, but we're going to talk to the Russians and we've already done that.

There were American air strikes in the city of Palmyra which is a little further south of Raqqah. It has gone back and forth between ISIS and the Syrian regime. But what we saw last week were American air strikes basically in support of a Syrian military assault to retake Palmyra. So it could happen.

But it will all be done, the coordination will be done through the United States and Russia. And if the Turks are involved and the free Syrian army is involved, that will be through the Turks. So we're going to have -- basically the sponsor states are going to be the ones that make the decisions and the ones that do the coordination.

VAUSE: You know, one official -- one U.S. official said the increasing pressure on ISIS in Raqqah appears to be working. Explains to me, working in what way? What is actually this pressure doing to the ISIS leadership and the ISIS fighters inside that city?

FRANCONA: Just what we saw in Mosul. You're seeing Raqqah, they know that the assault is coming. This is not a secret. So they have taken the same precautions they took in Mosul. They put a lot of tarps around the city. A big, huge tarps to try and mask what's going on. They're raising taxes. They are cutting salaries and they're doing their fortifications.

At the same time, a lot of people are trying to flee Raqqah. We are also seeing more defections in the ISIS ranks. So it adds a lot of pressure. And, of course, if you look at the map now between the Kurds, the Syrian army and the Russians and the Turks, there's nowhere for them to go. They're completely surrounded. They're bottled up. They're not getting anymore reinforcements. And their oil has been cut off. The supply routes are cut off. Their situation is getting very dire. And as you know, you know, a cornered animal is very dangerous.

This is going to be a fight to the finish. It's going to be very, very difficult. We're going to see the same kind of fighting in Raqqah that we're seeing in Mosul right now.

VAUSE: OK. Colonel, thank you for being with us.

Colonel Francona with some insights into what is happening and will happen there in northern Syria.

Thank you, sir.

SESAY: Turning now to Afghanistan. And three gunmen who assaulted a military hospital in Kabul are dead after a fire fight that lasted for hours. More than 30 people were killed and dozens wounded. A suicide bomber first blew himself up at the hospital's gate, then the gunmen went inside dressed as medics.

Afghan troops recovering from battle wounds were among those killed. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack.

VAUSE: A short break. When we come back, from child slavery to promising classroom education. We'll take a look at how some kids are dramatically turning their lives around in parts of India.


VAUSE: Well, aid workers say there is some very good news in the fight against modern day slavery in parts of India.

SESAY: CNN's Ravi Agrawal introduces us to a unique program that uses education to give child slaves a taste of freedom.


RAVI AGRAWAL, CNN NEW DELHI BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): Meet Sitara. She just loves to dance.

In the classroom, she's a top student. She is a shining success story of a group called Schools for Freedom.

Just one year ago, Sitara was working at a brick kiln like this one. It was dusty unforgiving work, she says. It was bonded debt labor. But let's call it what it really is, slavery. And it's prevalent across these parts of (INAUDIBLE), an Indian state with 200 million people.

One of the people still enslave is Papu (ph). He is just 12.

We're not showing his face. We don't want him to get into trouble for talking to us.

Papu tells me the masters at the brick kiln come and beat him if he skips a day at work.

He shows me his fingers. They're almost sandpapered by brick. He has cuts, calluses. But they haven't broken his spirit.

Papu (ph) tells me he sneaks in an hour a day at the classroom. Sometimes when the other kids line up to wash their hands, he joins in. The children get free hot lunches at the school.

At night, Papu (ph) practices the alphabet in dim light. He dreams of being a teacher someday.

And here's Sitara again, cooking for the family. She knows her parents need to work late.

The school is an example for Sitara. The Sitaras are an example for the Papu (ph). This is what freedom looks like. This is what can be.


SESAY: Well, our own Becky Anderson met with India's labor minister and he had a response to the story. Be sure to watch it on "Connect the World," which airs at 8:00 a.m. Thursday in Los Angeles.

VAUSE: Also, a quick reminder here. March 14th is My Freedom Day. CNN is partnering with young people around the world for a student-led day of action against modern day slavery.

Driving "My Freedom Day" is a simple question. What does freedom mean to you?

Send us your answer via text, photo or video across social media using the #MyFreedomDay.

SESAY: And there, we must leave it. Thanks for watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles, I'm Isha Sesay.

VAUSE: I'm John Vause. "World Sport" is up next. But then we will be back with another hour of news from all around the world. You are watching CNN.

SESAY: So come back.