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President Stands Alone on Surveillance Accusations; Trump Guts Agencies in New Hard Power Budget; U.S. Secretary of State Visits Korean DMZ; Merkel and Trump Set to Meet for the First Time; Russia Launches Effort to Right "Fake News"; Key Suspect in Brussels Attacks Still at Large; Trump Insulted in McDonald's Big Hack Attack. Aired Midnight-1a ET

Aired March 17, 2017 - 00:00   ET



[00:00:09] JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: This is CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles.

ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: Ahead this hour:

The White House refuses to back down despite top lawmakers' claims that there is no evidence Donald Trump was wiretapped by President Obama.

VAUSE: Will opposites attract? Donald Trump and Angela Merkel set for their first face-to-face meeting on Friday.

SESAY: And later Russia goes on the offensive against what it says is fake news.

VAUSE: How about that?

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

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

U.S. President Donald Trump is finding himself increasingly isolated in his claim that Barack Obama wiretapped him at Trump Tower. House Speaker Paul Ryan and the top Democrat and Republican on the House Intelligence Committee all say they have seen no evidence to back up the charge.

VAUSE: And from the Senate Intel Committee Republican chairman Richard Burr and Democrat Mark Warner issued a joint statement. "Based on the information available to us we see no indications that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance by any element of the United States government either before or after Election Day 2016.

SESAY: Despite that, White House spokesman Sean Spicer mounted an extraordinary defense of the President at Thursday's press briefing.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: But Sean, what you are refusing to answer -- the question that you're refusing to answer is whether or not the President is still committee to what he believes.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: No, I'm not refusing. I just said it to Jonathan. I didn't refuse to answer that.

ACOSTA: Well, you have a Senate and House Intelligence Committee, both leaders from both parties on both of those panels saying that they don't see any evidence of any wiretapping. How can the President go on and continue to say these things.

SPICER: That's not. Because you are mischaracterizing what Chairman Nunes said. He said I think it is -- he is following up on this. So to suggest that and you are stating unequivocally that you somehow --


ACOSTA: -- literally. You said you take the President --

SPICER: Right. And I think that we have already cleared that up. And he said exactly that. But the President has already said clearly when he referred to wiretapping he was referring to surveillance.

ACOSTA: That's not what it $ sounds like Sean, that you and the President are saying now. Well, we don't mean wiretapping any more. That's not true any more.

SPICER: No, no. No, no. That's not --


SPICER: That's not true.

ACOSTA: So now we are including other forms of surveillance. What's it going to be next?

SPICER: No, no. Jim -- I think that's cute but at the end of the day we have talked about this for three or four days. What the President had to quote, "wiretapping" in quotes he was referring to broad surveillance. And now you're basically going back. We've talked about this several days ago.

The bottom line is that the investigation by the House and Senate has not been provided all the information. And when it does -- but where was the concern. Hold on.


SPICER: No, no. I think the President addressed that last night. He said there's more to come.

These are merely pointing out that I think there is widespread reporting that throughout the 2016 election there was surveillance that was done on a variety of people that came up.

ACOSTA: Where is the investigation going on -- SPICER: Jim -- I find it interesting that you somehow believe that

you --

ACOSTA: Of course, they're going to be looking at that.


SPICER: Ok. I get it. And somehow you seem to believe that you have all of this information. You've been read in on all these things which I find very interesting.

ACOSTA: I haven't been read in by the FBI.

SPICER: No. You are coming to some serious conclusions for a guy that has zero intelligence --

ACOSTA: Well, give me some credit.

SPICER: I'll give you some. No clearance. I wasn't done -- clearance.


VAUSE: Extraordinary exchange there between Sean Spicer and Jim Acosta.

Joining us now for more on this here in Los Angeles former L.A. City councilwoman Wendy Greuel, Republican consultant John Thomas, and talk radio host Mo Kelly.

You know, Thursday's White House briefing promised to be a humdinger. Sean Spicer did not disappoint. But John, first to you -- if you go through all of it, you try and boil it down, it seems that Spicer is clinging to two points here that the wiretapping refers to surveillance in general and that there will be more evidence to come from the Justice Department to prove the President's allegations were true.

Right now, though, that seems to be pretty thin ice.

JOHN THOMAS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: That's true. I mean I've maintained on this program for several weeks since Trump made that tweet that Trump talks in broad, generic terms, just like when he calls lying Ted Cruz, he doesn't mean Ted is a liar 100 percent of the time. You know, it's the same kind of thing. Now, it's complicated.

VAUSE: But why put yourself in this position, sorry, to get into this indefensible --

THOMAS: I mean that's just how -- that's how the President speaks. I'm sure if you were being honest he wishes he could say surveillance or surveilled.

But here is the problem. If there is no there-there after Monday then they've got a serious problem because you can't tap dance your way out of that. SESAY: Wendy?

WENDY GREUEL, FORMER L.A. COUNCILWOMAN: Well, again, he used quotations and "wiretapping" once but all the other times it was not in quotations. He referred to the President of the United States, the former president of the United States that he wiretapped the President.

[00:04:59] And I just think it is outrageous. And that no one today, no one has said there is any evidence. And it could be solved, it could be proven right or wrong by Donald Trump just talking to the FBI director and saying was it ever done? There is nobody that says that it happened.

VAUSE: (inaudible) -- he has an audience of one and that is the President who he was clearly performing for on Thursday.

But Mo, to you, Spicer's briefing may have been good television, he sort of went full Melissa McCarthy for us, but also it sort of gives the impression that, you know, this controversy is spinning out of the White House's control.

MO KELLY, TALK RADIO HOST: It's spinning out of the White House's control but I think we in the media have a responsibility to not to get into all this parsing about whether he meant surveillance or wiretapping. This president for whatever reason has a very difficult relationship with the truth. He has made slanderous and libelous allegations for quite some time dating back to when he was just a candidate from birtherism to the supposed 3.5 million illegal voters, to all sorts of other things.

Why is it we cannot just hold this man accountable for not telling the truth, making unsubstantiated claims. This is not an isolated incident and we should be able to call it for what it is.

SESAY: John -- you heard Mo just say that the President has a problem with his relationship with the truth. What about his relationship with Republicans on Capitol Hill?

THOMAS: It is strained. I mean look, they like it when he is winning and he causes them to win down ticket but what's happening certainly with the health care bill as it stands today, Republicans are thinking could cost them at the ballot box. So they're not happy with the President.

But as the President said, I think on -- he was interviewed by Tucker Carlson the other night -- that it is not in its final form with the healthcare bill and it's one big negotiation.


The FBI director is expected to talk publicly at a congressional hearing on Monday. This is kind of like D-Day if you like. James Comey could in fact have evidence to support the President. It seems unlikely. He says he doesn't. So if he ends up sort of debunking all of this, Spicer's impassioned defense here on Thursday, you know, that's going to end up looking like, you know, the Swiss Guard back in 1527, 189 guardsman holding off 20,000 Roman mercenaries to give Pope Clement time to get out of the Vatican. And that did not end well.

GREUEL: It did not end well. And you know, he's going to have egg on his face. And Republican and Democratic leaders today stood up and said there is no evidence. It is clear. And I think we're wasting time and money and energy on this.

And the Republicans are getting frustrated. They are losing it every step of the way. He looked today -- Sean Spicer looked today like, you know, when you have an argument with your sibling and you're trying to say to the parent you are treating me better than you are my brother or sister. I mean it was comical and sad at the same time.

SESAY: John -- what are the chances that if Comey comes out and just -- if he knocks this thing down which is the expectation on Monday that the President will retract his claims and will, dare I say, even apologize?

THOMAS: Yes. The President doesn't apologize. So don't hold your breath for that.

VAUSE: He is Fonzie.

THOMAS: I think he will just, you know, debate his definition of "is" is. We've heard that before.

So, he will just say well, I meant it in a different context. What am I supposed to do? I'm reading the newspapers just like everybody else.

SESAY: He's the President of the United States --

THOMAS: I know.

SESAY: He can get information --

THOMAS: And he may say just like he did with the birther, I'm glad I put this issue to bed once and for all.

VAUSE: Ok. Let's get on to the budget proposal because before Spicer spun out of control we heard from the White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney. He's defending the administration's programs -- actually defending the cuts to social welfare programs like "meals on wheels". This is what he said.


MICK MULVANEY, OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET DIRECTOR: We can't spend money on programs just because they sound good and great. "Meals on wheels" sounds great. Again, that's a state decision to fund that particular portion. But to take the federal money and give it to the states and say look, we want to give you money for programs that don't work. I can't defend that any more. We cannot defend that anymore.

We're $20 trillion in debt. We're going to spend money -- we're going to spend a lot of money but we're not going to spend it on programs that cannot show that they actually deliver the promises that we've made to people.


VAUSE: Mo, to you, the problem with what Mulvaney is saying is that the research shows "meals on wheels" actually, you know -- that does work. Elderly people get a meal, they get fed. And they are not hungry. You know, other programs like school lunches feed kids.

KELLY: And it's beyond that. It seems like if this has to do with education or tools for training or anything which is going to protect the least of us, the people who are the youngest like children, or the elderly or the disabled, those are up for cuts.

And we have to make a decision as a nation are we going to be truly about America first or are we simply just trying to cut the bottom line so we can build a wall? I'm quite sure most Trump supporters did not vote for him so they can have their meals cut, their education cut and then also have to foot the bill for a wall.

We were sold a bill of goods that we were going to build this wall and Mexico was going to pay for it. Honestly, that is not the truth and I don't think that anyone really wants to pay for this wall at the expense of meals and our education and other very important services.

And now we know why we had Ben Carson as the director of HUD because it actually allowed Donald Trump to do this without any resistance at all.

[00:10:04] And I'm just -- it's just blowing my mind that we are actually considering a budget like this which is going to harm so many Americans.

SESAY: John, when it comes down to it, this proposed budget is a declaration of this administration's principles. It speaks to what they value.


SESAY: Does it trouble you to see programs like this in the crosshairs?

THOMAS: Not really. Because look, when the government runs wild with spending and an adult finally comes into power he has to make hard choices. They believe, just like Marco Rubio and other Republicans have said that the number one job of government is to keep people safe.

We're not even doing that well. so until we figure that component out we don't have money for other things. VAUSE: But Wendy, this comes down to the argument these programs if

they are not working or there's a problem you fix them, you don't kill them, right?

GREUEL: That's right. you know, instead of -- he says it's an America-first budget. Well, it's America-first if you are not elderly or low income or someone who doesn't have housing, you're homeless on the streets of our country.

And I think that when you look at this budget -- I worked at HUD, I worked at the interagency council on the homeless but now it's been cut out of this recent budget -- he is also cutting billions of dollars out of the National Institute of Health for things like cancer research, the kinds of things that are going to save us money in the future. It is not about America-first in my books.

SESAY: Mo, I mean again, let's stress to our viewers around the world that this is a budget proposal. That's what it is. It has to be, you know, passed through Congress. They have to make the amendments. But as it stands now it seems hard to imagine that Republican congressmen who are up for re-election, you know, at the midterms will be able to sell this to their constituents.

KELLY: No. And we know with a budget, this is like a first look. It's not going the end up like this eventually but it does say what is important to the administration. You made the point. It's about the principles of the administration.

But there is something that is going to be cut which is near and dear to the hearts of many Americans. And it just pains my heart as being an American, someone who cares deeply about African-Americans, who cares deeply about poor people, who cares deeply about making sure that our children have equal access to education and housing and good lunches that this is what we want to say to the rest of the world that is most important to not only this president but to American principles.

And I just don't understand it for the life of me.

VAUSE: Ok. Well, we're out of time. But we didn't get to the point that at the same time that the programs are actually proposed for cuts there is a big increase in Defense spending and Homeland Security.

Well, that is also another debate. John -- thank you very much. And Wendy and Mo -- as always, good to see you all. Thank you.

SESAY: To be continued. Thank you all.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson touched down in South Korea a short time ago. It is the second leg of a trip that will also take him to China. He arrived at a moment of heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula. South Korea is in political turmoil after its elected President Park Geun-Hye was forced out of office just days ago.

CNN's Paula Hancocks joins us now from the DMZ. Paula -- to date South Korea had been a key U.S. ally but now Mr. Tillerson arrives in the country as relations between Washington and Seoul are heading into uncharted territory.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right -- Isha.

Secretary of State Tillerson is currently in the DMZ, the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. He is meeting with the top military brass, so the USSK -- U.S. Forces Korea Commander -- he's also meeting with some of the soldiers at the DMZ so he can really figure out what sort of atmosphere there is at this point.

He can understand the reasons behind what is happening and of course, this comes at a time when many U.S. intelligence officials are telling CNN that there is a good chance of a potential of a nuclear test, a potential increase in missile tests. Certainly is it a very tense time on the peninsula.

He then goes down to Seoul. He'll meet with the acting president Hwang Kyo-Ahn and his counterpart, the foreign minister. But it's an unusual time to come here to South Korea as many of those he will be meeting with potentially won't even be in power within a couple of months.


HANCOCKS: South Korea has no president. Its people are sharply divided. The government says it's business as usual when it's anything but.

This is the South Korea that U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is visiting.

DUYEON KIM, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: It's only a matter of time until the North is able to successfully launch a long-range missile, tipped with a nuclear device aimed at the U.S.

HANCOCKS: The top topic is North Korea and Kim Jong-Un's determination to set the U.S. in its nuclear sights. North Korea describes itself as a nuclear state that Washington says it will never accept -- one policy at least the Obama and Trump administrations agree on. But the more North Korea tests the more it improves. The next four years are crucial.

Tillerson arrives as the U.S.-South Korean military drills are well underway -- war games that infuriate North Korea and have resulted in threats from Pyongyang of nuclear war.

[00:15:02] North Korea gets very nervous this time of year. The annual military drills which the United States and South Korea say are defensive in nature. But Pyongyang still sees them as a threat. They feel the U.S. forces (inaudible)

The U.S. disagrees.

REAR ADM. JAMES KIRBY, U.S. NAVY: To build a relationship requires trust to operate together. So that requires practice and working through a series of exercises.

HANCOCKS: And military hardware apparently -- the U.S. THAAD missile defense system is arriving in parts. South Korea wants assurances it will be fully operational to counter the threat of North Korean missiles as soon as possible.

The next president coming in, in a couple of minds is likely to be liberal and is likely not to want it.


HANCOCKS: So it's not just South Korean officials that will be listening very closely to what the top U.S. diplomat has to say but also officials in the country you can see behind me, North Korea will be watching very closely to see what he will say especially after in Tokyo he said that North Korean policy has been failing for the past 20 years -- Isha.

SESAY: Paula Hancocks joining us there from the DMZ. Paula -- we appreciate the reporting. Thank you.

VAUSE: It is time for a quick break. When we come he once accused her of ruining German, she was very close to Barack Obama. Now Donald Trump will meet face-to-face with Germany's Angela Merkel.

SESAY: Plus we have new details about the key suspect in the Brussels terror attack. Why former intel agents think he could have been stopped.

Stay with us.


RICHARD QUEST, CNN MONEY: I'm Richard Quest and these are the top business headlines.

The White House has unveiled what it calls a hard power budget that would slash spending on foreign aid, the arts, the environment and health research and move billions of dollars into defense instead. The director of the Office of Management and Budge said that the budget was in line with the President's campaign promises.


MULVANEY: The President said specifically hundreds of times you covered it, I'm going to spend less money on people overseas and more money on people back home. And that's exactly what we're doing with this budget.


QUEST: Stocks in the Netherlands rallied after a weaker than expected showing from the far right in the country's national election. The euro also strengthened hitting a five-week high against the dollar. And the London FTSE close at (inaudible) high. It's emerged that a letter bomb sent to the International Monetary Fund in Paris contained fragments of Greek stamps. That's according to the Paris prosecutor. One person was slightly hurt when they opened the letter. A day earlier a bomb sent from Greece was discovered at a German finance ministry in Berlin.

Shares of Canada Goose, the luxury parka, brand soared over 25 percent when it made its market debut. The shares closed at more than $16, well above the offer price. It values the company at around $2 billion U.S.

You're up to date with the business headlines. I'm Richard Quest in New York.


VAUSE: Rarely has a meeting of two of the world's most powerful leaders had this much anticipation, a meeting which has already been delayed by the week's blizzard in Washington and is now set for Friday.

She grew up in East Germany, holds a PhD in quantum chemistry, is known to be calm and detail-oriented. He comes from the world of New York real estate and reality television. He went to an Ivy League school and says he is really smart.

Beyond their backgrounds, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. President Donald Trump seem to be polar opposites on policy issues as well like immigration, the European Union and trade. And this relationship has been off to a rocky start from the very beginning.

Here's candidate Trump last year.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In short, Hillary Clinton wants to be America's Angela Merkel -- true. And you know what a disaster this massive immigration has been to Germany and the people of Germany. Crime has risen to levels that no one thought they would ever, ever see. It is a catastrophe.


VAUSE: And when Mr. Trump won the election, Chancellor Merkel offered her congratulations but it seemed laced with criticism.


ANGELA MERKEL, GERMAN CHANCELLOR (through translator): Germany and the United States are joined by common values -- democracy, freedom, respect for the law and human dignity regardless of skin color, religion, gender, sexual orientation or political beliefs. Based on these values I offer close cooperation to the future president of the United States of America, Donald Trump.

(END VIDEO CLIP) VAUSE: CNN contributor Jen Psaki is with us now. She's a former spokesperson for the U.S. State Department which means she has a very unique perspective on what could happen at this Merkel-Trump meeting.

Jen -- good to have you with us.


VAUSE: Looking at this on a personal level how you to see these two very different leaders actually working together? Can they put aside their differences?

PSAKI: Well, this is a very important meeting for President Trump coming up. The relationship that President Obama and President Bush had with Merkel was one of the most important relationships they each had with a leader in the world, certainly a leader in Europe.

And as you've noted, Trump has some personal hurdles in their relationship to overcome. What he has going for him is that Merkel is a pragmatist and she knows that they need a strong transatlantic relationship. And so I'm sure that she will be looking for ways to work together.

It's interesting that she is taking some business CEOs with her on this trip as well.

VAUSE: So, on issues of policy, where do you see potential for the biggest flash points between these two?

PSAKI: There's no doubt, refugees and the handling of refugees will come up. Obviously, the Trump administration has had several stumbles with their refugee ban. During their call that Merkel and Trump had earlier this year, reportedly, she reminded him of requirements under the Geneva Convention that the United States has.

So there's certainly some tension and there's a disagreement about even a moral obligation and a moral reason to find a place for refugees in your country. I suspect they will try to find areas of agreement on the economic relationship.

Again she is bringing the CEO, I believe of Siemens and of BMW here to maybe try to find some common ground with President Trump. We'll see if that works. What that results in -- it's hard to predict

This meeting may be purely about their personal relationship and that may be the outcome that the Trump administration is really focused on.

VAUSE: Ok. So Angela Merkel, she will stand for re-election later this year. So in terms of domestic policy -- or politics rather for her, is there much to be gained for her by making nice with the U.S. President?

PSAKI: I think she has to be pretty careful here. You know, President Trump is certainly not anywhere near as popular as President Obama was around the world. And, you know, she has to be thinking about all of the impacts on her own domestic politics. But broadly speaking the relationship between Germany and the United States is something that she wants to maintain and certainly wants to send the message that that transatlantic relationship is something that she has continued to maintain and uphold over the course of, you know, the transitions of several presidencies.

But I'm certain she's thinking about that balance and how she wants to strike the right tone with her domestic audience.

[00:25:03] VAUSE: Very quickly let's wrap this up with how Politico described Friday's meeting. This is what they said. "The leader of the free world meets Donald Trump." It's a little snarky but how much truth is there in that headline?

PSAKI: Well, you know, I think that the Trump administration domestically in the United States has had several stumbles out of the gate here. And there's no question that Merkel is a far more established global leader than Trump is. So in that sense she certainly has the upper hand.

Now, I don't think that the majority of the American public can identify who she is or which country she leads -- so there's that. But there's no question that by people who pay attention, certainly in Washington circles she's more respected than the current president.

VAUSE: Ok. Jen -- we'll leave it there. It's great to have you with us. Thank you so much.

PSAKI: Great to be here.

SESAY: Quick break now.

Next on CNN NEWSROOM, how Russia is fighting back against stories the government claims are fake news.

VAUSE: Also from Belgium to Iraq and back again, how a key suspect in the Brussels terror attack was allowed to go home.


SESAY: Hello, everyone. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I'm Isha Sesay.

VAUSE: I'm John Vause.

Let's check the headlines this hour.

Search efforts are ongoing in western Aleppo in Syria after dozens of people, mostly civilians, were killed in an air strike on a mosque during evening prayers. U.S. military says they did not target the mosque but says it did hit a building believed to be an al Qaeda meeting place in neighboring Idlib Province.

SESAY: The White House says President Trump stands by his claim that Barack Obama wiretapped him at Trump Tower. House Speaker Paul Ryan plus the top Democrats and Republicans on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees all say they've seen no evidence to support the allegations.

VAUSE: U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is in South Korea for the second leg of his trip through Asia. South Korea is still reeling after last week's impeachment of President Park Geun-hye. Tensions with North Korea are also high because of annual military exercises between Washington and Seoul.

SESAY: Well, a social media company is trying to stop the spread of so-called fake news, Moscow says it's getting involved. Russia is launching a project to crackdown on misinformation about the country online.

VAUSE: Keep in mind, Russia has been accused of spreading a good deal of misleading and downright false stories.

Clare Sebastian reports from Moscow.


CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Kremlin-funded TV channel RT, the issue of fake news is personal.

ANDREW KYASHKO, DEPUTY HEAD OF NEWS, RT: A lot of people are saying, well, this is ironic. RT is doing Fake Check. Well, we don't think so.

SEBASTIAN: Fake Check is a new project by RT, a sleek interactive Web site that it says aims to expose false or misleading element in news story.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're not labeling anyone as fake. We're just saying, well, probably you could question this a little bit more.

SEBASTIAN: The stories selected though, including a now corrected Washington Post article which initially cited federal authorities suggesting Russian hackers penetrated the U.S. electricity grid points to a Russia that is fighting back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This whole story about Russian hacking, for example, I mean, this is positioned by a lot of media as a fact, although as we know the report by the intelligence community did not have certainty. It had a certain degree of -- degree of certainty, not facts. That's why we do think that Russia is being victimized.

SEBASTIAN: And it is not just state-controlled media that feels that way.

(on-camera): Russia's foreign ministry says fake news about Russia is becoming almost a daily occurrence, and it's taking action.

Last month, the ministry unveiled a new section of its Web site dedicated to debunking what it calls fake reports.

(voice-over): So far, the "New York Times," "Bloomberg," "Al Jazeera," and "CNN" all among those given the ministry's fake stamp on real news. The claim against CNN, a report citing current and former senior U.S.

government officials that Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak is, quote, "considered by the U.S. to be one of Russia's top spy and spy recruiters in Washington."

Russia's foreign ministry spokeswoman had this response to CNN's Matthew Chance.

MARIA ZAKHAROVA, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESWOMAN: Stop spreading lie and false news. This is good advice for CNN.

SEBASTIAN: Konstantin von Eggert, an anchor for TV Rain, a rare independent Russian TV channel, says Russia is simply turning defense into offense.

KONSTANTIN VON EGGERT, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, TV RAIN: I think that accusations of fake news spread by Moscow have become so common in the West that finally a decision was taken to somehow react to that.

SEBASTIAN: So while Russia may still be waiting for a new friendship with U.S. President Trump, it seems they have at least found a common target.

TRUMP: It is all fake news. It's all fake news.

ZAKHAROVA: Please, stop this spreading lie and false news.

SEBASTIAN: Clare Sebastian, CNN, Moscow.


VAUSE: A 17-year-old student has been arrested after a shooting at a high school in southeastern France on Thursday. Three students and the principal were injured.

SESAY: The suspect reportedly had several weapons including a rifle and two grenades. CNN-affiliate BFM TV says he entered the school around lunchtime and fired at the head teacher. Authorities say they don't consider the act --attack -- I should say rather -- terrorism. >

VAUSE: Also in France, an investigation is underway after an explosion at the International Monetary Fund. One employee was hurt in Thursday's blast at the IMS Paris office. Official say it was a letter bomb. They also they found parts of Greek stamps.

SESAY: A parcel bomb was also sent to the German Finance Ministry on Wednesday. A Greek guerrilla group claimed responsibility for that device, but it's unclear if it's connected to the Paris incident.

VAUSE: Well, Europe is set to mark a grim milestone. Over 30 people were killed in the Brussels terror attack almost a year ago.

SESAY: The key suspect in the attacks remains at large and a former intelligence officer says he could have been stopped a decade ago.

Our own Erin McLaughlin has an exclusive interview.


ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): March 2016, two blasts moments apart at Brussel's Airport. An hour later, another bombing at a metro station. The deadliest act of terrorism in Belgium's history carry down by a network of ISIS operatives with clear ties to the Paris attacks.

Nearly a year on, the search continues for this man, a suspected ring leader in both attacks. His name, Osama Atar. His face well-known to this former Belgian intelligence office who is talking on camera for the first time about his interrogation of the convicted terrorist.

[00:35:00] It was July 2006 in Iraq. The young Belgian national was in U.S. custody.

ANDRE JACOBS, FORMER BELGIAN INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: I've seen a young boy disappointed to be there. Surprised also and trying to tell us that he was not a terrorist.

MCLAUGHLIN (on-camera): Did you believe him?

JACOBS: I think that at that time, he was not already a real terrorist.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): Court documents show Atar crossed the Iraqi border illegally. Jacobs says he was found with weapons. But at the time, he saw Atar as an asset, not a threat.

(on-camera): Did you recommend his release?


MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): His family joined a campaign to transfer Atar on medical grounds. And according to documents from its Commission of Inquiry, the Belgian government repeatedly pushed for his return.

After more than seven years in prison, Atar was eventually released by Iraqi authorities. No longer, says Jacob, a disappointed young boy.


MCLAUGHLIN: He had forged links with other Jihadists in prison including the founder of ISIS Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

According to an official letter, Belgium promised not to give Atar a passport and to monitor his activity. But a force close to the inquirer says the foreign ministry did issue him a passport. And even though his name was on the foreign fighters list, the source says he was allowed to visit his cousins in Belgium prisons at least 20 times.

The same cousins who would go on to carry out the Brussels attacks. Belgium refuse to comment sighting the on-going investigation. MCLAUGHLIN (on-camera): According to a source close to the inquiry, Atar traveled to Tunisia. There authorities arrested him for having been in prison in Iraq. He was released and told to leave the country. From there he travelled to Turkey, and according to the source, simply disappeared.

(voice-over): But he still maintained contact with family online, radicalizing his two cousins who would carry out the Brussels attacks. According to a judicial source, Atar even had the confidence to return to Brussels in August after the attacks. Visiting family undetected. But the former intelligence officer who once thought he could bring Atar in, regret. He wishes he could have brought him back to Brussels in time to make a difference.

JACOBS: Because maybe it could have been a solution to avoid these terrorist act, but who knows what would have happened.

MCLAUGHLIN: With Atar still on the run, he now wonders what will happen next. Erin McLaughlin, CNN, Brussels.

VAUSE: And we will be back in just a moment.


SESAY: Hello, everyone. McDonald's is cleaning up after social media snafu.

VAUSE: The company's Twitter account appears to have been hacked after some posted an insulting tirade against the U.S. president.

CNN's Jeanne Moos has details.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Like salt on a wound, there was nothing sweet about this McTweet from McDonald's. @RealDonaldTrump, you are actually a disgusting excuse of a president and we would love to have @BarackObama back." Also you have tiny hands."

This to a guy who has been photographed eating McDonald's, who knows the menu.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR, A.C.360: What did Donald Trump order?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A fish delight sometimes. The Big Macs are great. The Quarter Pounder with cheese.

MOOS: The tweet only lasted about 20 minutes before McDonald's deleted it, later posting, "Twitter notified us that our account was compromised, hacked by an external source."

A McHack attack.

Seth Meyers tweeted, "Clown-on-clown crime."

Someone else made The Donald resemble Ronald McDonald. Was the culprit the Hamburgler, of perhaps rival, Burger King.


MOOS: While the president probably wasn't loving it, this guy may have been. Barack Obama was Photoshopped into the president's meal asking, "Too much special sauce?"

Trump supporters suggested a boycott.

Once it became known the account was compromised, there were mostly jokes.

"In fairness, Trump's hands make their regular cheeseburger look like a Big Mac."

(on camera): Do my hands make my burger look big?

(voice-over): To think the president once did a McDonald's commercial.

TRUMP: A big and tasty for just $1? How do you do it? What's your secret?

MOOS (voice-over): And guess who has to clean up this whole McDonald's P.R. mess?

(voice-over): Former Obama press secretary, Robert Gibbs, who is now global chief communications officer for McDonald's.

What does the president like about McDonald's?

TRUMP: At least you know what you're getting. I don't want to go into a restaurant and say, Mr. Trump would like a hamburger to go. I don't know what they're going to do to that hamburger. If they like me, I'm happy.


MOOS: At least his hamburger didn't get spit on.

Somebody just spit out a tweet.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


VAUSE: You know how they got hacked? The password was "Ronald".


Anyway, I have no idea.

SESAY: Oh, God, you're so cheesy.

We better go.

VAUSE: You've been watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles, I'm John Vause.

SESAY: And I'm Isha Sesay.

VAUSE: You're Isha Sesay.

SESAY: Yes. And we'll be back at the top of the hour with a look at today's top stories. But first, "World Sport" starts after the break.