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Report Does Not Confirm Trump Spy Claim; Trump-Merkel Meeting Has Awkward Moments; U.S. Seeks Support Reining In North Korea; Famine, Drought Threaten Millions in Somalia. Aired 12-12:30a ET

Aired March 18, 2017 - 00:00   ET



CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): An awkward moment between Donald Trump and Angela Merkel as the U.S. president joked they were both under surveillance by the Obama administration.

And there's still no evidence to support Mr. Trump's claim that he was indeed wiretapped. A classified report from the Department of Justice does not confirm his allegations.

Plus America's top diplomat says 20 years of efforts to denuclearize North Korea have failed and U.S. patience is running. We'll get into what a new approach might include.

Hi, everyone, thank you very much for joining us. I'm Cyril Vanier in Atlanta and CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.


VANIER: U.S. government officials tell CNN the Justice Department does not confirm President Trump's claim that he was spied on last year by his predecessor, Barack Obama. A classified report on the matter was delivered to Congress by the Justice Department on Friday.

Officials familiar with the report say it found no evidence to back up Mr. Trump's assertion that he was wiretapped last year at Trump Tower. We get the latest now from CNN's Jim Acosta.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was an opportunity for President Trump to withdraw a baseless accusation that former President Obama wiretapped him and apologize. But for a president who never admits mistakes, it was an opportunity missed.


QUESTION: Are there, from time to time, tweets that you regret?


QUESTION: Very seldom. So, you would never wish...

TRUMP: Very seldom. Probably wouldn't be here right now but very seldom.


ACOSTA (voice-over): At a news conference with German chancellor Angela Merkel, the president refused to back down, pointing to past reports that Merkel was once surveilled by the U.S. intelligence community during the Obama administration.


TRUMP: As far as wiretapping, I guess, you know, this past administration -- at least we have something in common, perhaps.


ACOSTA (voice-over): The White House is digging in even after press secretary Sean Spicer sparked a diplomatic uproar defending the president's comments.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESPERSON: You also tend to overlook all of the other sources that -- I know you want to cherry pick it. But, no, no, but you do.

But where was your concern about "The New York Times" reporting?


ACOSTA (voice-over): And to back up the president's wiretapping allegations, Spicer cited an unsubstantiated report from a FOX News commentator.


SPICER: Last on FOX News on March 14th, Judge Andrew Napolitano made the following statement, quote, "Three intelligence sources have informed FOX News that President Obama went outside the chain of command.

"He didn't use the NSA. He didn't use the CIA. He didn't use the FBI and he didn't use the Department of Justice. He used GCHQ."

What is that?

It's the initials for the British intelligence spying agency.


ACOSTA (voice-over): The British government was outraged, "utterly ridiculous, should be ignored," said the British signal intelligence agency, GCHQ.

The British prime minister's office added, "We've made clear to the U.S. administration that these claims are ridiculous and should be ignored. We have received assurances that these allegations won't be repeated."

But during the news conference, the president said no apology was necessary.


TRUMP: All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind, who was the one responsible for saying that on television.

I didn't make an opinion on it. That was a statement made by a very talented lawyer on FOX. And so you shouldn't be talking to me.

You should be talking to FOX?


ACOSTA (voice-over): After the press conference, Spicer told reporters he was just passing on news reports from various outlets.

"I don't think we regret anything," he said.

For the president, the Merkel visit was a chance to mend some fences.

In late 2015 he tweeted about Merkel, "I told you @TIME Magazine would never pick me as person of the year, despite being the big favorite. They picked person who is ruining Germany."

Tensions Merkel appeared to acknowledge.


ANGELA MERKEL, CHANCELLOR OF GERMANY (through translator): Is that I've always said it's much, much better to talk to one another and not about one another and I think our conversation proved this.


ACOSTA: And as for a response to the president's latest remarks at the news conference, a spokesperson for the British government offered no comment -- Jim Acosta, CNN, the White House.


VANIER: Joining me now is CNN political analyst and columnist for "USA Today," Kirsten Powers.

Kirsten, you have been covering and following this press conference for us, the meeting between Angela Merkel and Donald Trump. There are two aspects of it and I'd like you to touch on both of them.

One that's more important I think to the U.S. audience and that is the wiretapping, even though I think the rest of the world is also looking at this with interest.

Once again, Donald Trump was given this opportunity, as Jim Acosta just said, to, you know, roll back his comments. And he didn't. KIRSTEN POWERS, "USA TODAY": Yes, well, not only did he not roll them back, he sort of doubled down on them, right. He said essentially in a quip to Angela Merkel, suggested they had something in common and that they were both wiretapped, referring to an incident that happened on President Obama's watch of surveilling her phones.

So that also suggested --


POWERS: -- that Donald Trump still believes that he has somehow been under surveillance and, you know, that Barack Obama probably did it, even though there is no evidence whatsoever to prove that.

And he then reiterated what Sean Spicer had said at the podium, that we should look at this FOX News report by a legal analyst there. He's not even a reporter, a legal analyst there.


VANIER: Yes, he deflected blame towards FOX News, which is amazing for the president of the U.S.

POWERS: -- FOX News then came out and, through Shepard Smith, one of their hosts, and said that FOX News cannot confirm that the President of the United States was ever under any surveillance at the behest of Barack Obama.

VANIER: Yes, and let me just remind our viewers that the information is piling up against Donald Trump's claim of having been wiretapped by the former president, Barack Obama.

CNN reported earlier -- we did so at the top of this show -- that two government officials have told us that the Department of Justice report that was handed to Congress today doesn't support that claim, either.

I'd like to move to the other part of this story, which is very important to the rest of the world, which is how Donald Trump gets along with the rest of the world's leaders and whether that matters.

There were some sort of contentious moments between Donald Trump and Angela Merkel.

I'd like you to listen to how Angela Merkel responded after Donald Trump said that immigration was a privilege, not a right, and the safety of our citizens must come first. Listen to this.


MERKEL (through translator): We have to protect our external borders because -- and there we have to work in the basis of mutual interests with our neighbors.

Migration, immigration, integration has to be worked on, obviously. Traffickers have to be stopped. But this has to be done while looking at the refugees as well, giving

them opportunities to shape their own lives where they are; help countries who, right now, are not in an ability to do so, sometimes because they have civil war.

I think that's the right way of going about it. And this is obviously what we have an exchange of views about. But my position is the one that I have just set out for you.


VANIER: "My position is the one I've just set out," a very polite way of saying we disagree.

POWERS: Right, yes, I think it's fair to say that they do not have the same world view on this or probably most things, frankly. And that she recognizes that he is the President of the United States and that she needs to have a relationship with him. She reportedly was studying his speeches and his remarks and trying to get a sort of sense of him. Good luck with that.

And, you know, she's trying to figure out a way to have a relationship with somebody who I think who doesn't seem to have a lot of concern about maintaining good relationships with world leaders, is very happy to alienate, for example, the U.K., one of the -- the U.S.' closest ally, I guess you could say.

So I think she's got her work cut out for her and that was the most diplomatic way that she could say that. But they disagree on so many things. And I don't think she particularly -- if you looked at the body language of when he made his joke about her being --

VANIER: Yes, she was poker-faced.

POWERS: I don't think she really found that that funny.

VANIER: No, she did not laugh. She looked down. She wouldn't even look at him.

You say that he doesn't mind alienating allies and the common view is that that is it a problem.

Is it, though?

When you are the world's only superpower, can't you afford to some extent to be uncouth or rude sometimes to your allies and still get away with it?

POWERS: I don't think so. And I think, look, we are dependent on other countries. If you want to just take one of Donald Trump's key issues he's concerned with, it's radical Islam, it's ISIS. The U.S. can't fight that battle themselves. They need the help of other countries on a lot of different levels.

We need to work with other countries and maintain good relations with them just for our own security. There is just so much cooperation. So I think that he has this idea that it's fine; he is a disruptive force and somehow the United States is getting pushed around by all these other countries, Mexico being an example of an ally and a neighbor that he feels somehow has pushed the U.S. around.

But in fact there are a lot of countries that really hate the United States and really want to harm the United States. So it doesn't make sense to alienate people who actually like you and want to have a relationship with you and we have these long-standing relationships with.

VANIER: All right, Kirsten Powers, thank you very much for your time.

POWERS: Thank you.

VANIER: America's top diplomat just landed in Beijing for meetings with China's leaders. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is seeking Chinese support to rein in North Korea's weapons program.

His visit follows a stop in South Korea where he said the U.S. would consider military action against Pyongyang if Kim Jong-un threatens either his neighbors or U.S. forces there. CNN's Alexandra Field has more on the tensions.


ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Kim Jong-un's nuclear ambitions are fueling Fast and Furious developments, putting South Korea under mounting pressure. The U.S. is racing to deploy THAAD, a missile defense system, on South Korean --


FIELD (voice-over): -- soil, insisting it is purely about protection from North Korea. U.S. President Donald Trump and South Korea's acting president say it must be installed as quickly as possible. China demands they stop and Korea is stuck in the middle.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think when I see people discuss about the THAAD deployment issue, people also worry about the escalating tension in the Korean Peninsula and also in Asia.

FIELD (voice-over): South Korea is in the throes of a political crisis; protesters demanded the impeachment of disgraced conservative president Park Geun-hye. Now some want to push pause on THAAD. They want the next president, to be elected in May, to have the final say.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I read the Trump's -- the autobiography, "The Art of --

FIELD: "The Art of the Deal."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- "Art of the Deal." It is very impressive.

FIELD (voice-over): But Songyung Yo (ph), who represents a presidential front-runner for the Democratic Party, says... UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can't decide our destiny, our problem. The United States and President Trump needs to -- should respect our -- the democratic government, new government.

FIELD (voice-over): He says Seoul is too close to North Korea, that THAAD can't protect it. The system is designed to intercept short- and medium-range missiles. But the reach of its radar raises concern for countries in the region.

Russia and China say the U.S. could use it to monitor their own missile launches. Now China appears to be pushing back. China says they haven't taken any official action against Korea.

But South Korea says there are signs of retaliation for the installation that are hitting the country in the pocket, like cancellations of Chinese tours, leaving local businesses to feel the effect.

"The popular shops are a little emptier in this tourist neighborhood," she tells us.

"Shop owners are out in the streets, trying to attract customers."

Older conservative party voters, proud proponents of the U.S. alliance, support THAAD. Liberals pushing for more open dialogue with North Korea fear it could keep everyone away from the negotiating table.

Six-party talks, which involved Russia and China, broke down in 2009.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: North Korea has developed their nuclear power during the period where the six party is not working properly. And we actually gave them an opportunity. While we're not actually talking to them, they used that moment to develop their nuclear weapons.

FIELD (voice-over): Kim Jong-un is once again upping threats, promising this year to test an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead to the U.S. -- Alexandra Field, CNN, Seoul, South Korea.


VANIER: Let's get more from Will Ripley. He's in Beijing, following U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's visit to China.

Will, how does Rex Tillerson get Beijing to lean on North Korea?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there are a number of different strategies that we believe he's going to use. Number one is -- and this was leaked to CNN through State Department sources but not yet officially confirmed by Secretary Tillerson -- that he may threaten to sanction Chinese companies that violate U.N. sanctions by trading with North Korea in prohibited areas because, of course, China's North Korea's primary trading partner.

Also, you know, just the simple language that no option is off the table, that the strategic patience of the Obama administration is over, might leave China wondering, would the United States actually consider military action against Pyongyang, which of course would be incredibly destabilizing for the Korean Peninsula?

It's something that China does not want to happen. It's why they trade with the North Korean regime. It's why they are -- continue to be an ally with the North Korean regime because strategically China doesn't want to see a U.S. allied control over the entire Korean Peninsula.

And so if China does believe that the Trump administration is serious about possible military action, perhaps then they will step up their own enforcement of the U.N. sanctions and take other measures to try to slow down the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.

VANIER: But look, Will, Tillerson was essentially saying we are looking at what other avenues might be in order to curb North Korea's nuclear ambitions. They've already tried diplomacy. They've tried economic sanctions. Reportedly they've tried -- the U.S. has tried cyber strike.

What could be a plan D or F here?

RIPLEY: Well, the economic sanctions the U.S. has long believed have not been fully implemented here in China -- and they do feel that, if they are fully implemented, that they will have a very serious effect on the North Korean regime. Perhaps not on the leader, Kim Jong-un himself, perhaps not on his inner circle, because they would still be able to hoard, if you will, what little resources remain in the country but many others might feel the effect. And they certainly hope that the nuclear missile programs would feel the effect of heightened sanctions.

Also there is talk of really expanding the pressure on North Korea from mainly a regional approach right now involving China, Japan, South Korea, to a more global approach, very similar, by the way, to the --


RIPLEY: -- strategy that the Obama administration used before signing the Iran deal, which Trump has very vocally criticized.

So that will be interesting to see if the State Department is considering an Iran-style approach in dealing with North Korea which is something that has been reported, again, leaked from the State Department but yet to be confirmed by Secretary Tillerson.

VANIER: All right, Will Ripley, reporting live, thank you very much. We'll continue crossing to you in the coming hours. Look forward to speaking to you again. Thanks a lot, Will.

Stay with CNN. We're going to take a very short break. When we come back, one football player says it's time for South Sudan to find peace and reconciliation. We'll tell you how a recent sports day is involved. (MUSIC PLAYING)



VANIER: Millions of people could starve to death in a famine that the U.N. is calling the worst in decades. In Somalia, a severe drought has made conditions even more desperate. The U.N. is now asking for immediate financial assistance to help those who are suffering.

Our Robyn Curnow takes a look at how health workers are trying to treat the sick -- and many of them are children.


ROBYN CURNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In a hospital in the Somali capital of Mogadishu, workers struggle to save people affected by famine.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In most of the cases, they are dying -- the death cause is dehydration.

CURNOW (voice-over): The head of pediatrics says they are rehydrating a baby, treating for diarrhea and cholera. But their best efforts are at times not enough. Some of the children come in already severely malnourished and workers here say nearly 50 died from hunger-related ailments over the past two months.

The land in much of this country is dry and barren. There was little rain here for about two years until 2016. And when the rains came, they did not last. Water sources have dried up in the countryside. Animals are dying and people are moving to the cities in search of food and water.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was in the country earlier this month, appealing for more than $800 million to help about 6 million people who face the risk of starvation. He warned of a tragedy without that support.

Somalia is just one of several countries that the U.N. says faces the world's worst humanitarian crisis since 1945. Others are Yemen, South Sudan and Northeast Nigeria.

STEPHEN O'BRIEN, U.N. UNDERSECRETARY-GENERAL FOR HUMANITARIAN AID: Now more than 20 million people across four countries face starvation and famine. Without collective and coordinated global efforts, people will simply starve to death.

CURNOW (voice-over): In Yemen, more than 7 million people are facing what the U.N. calls severe food insecurity, not yet a famine but getting there.

ERTHARIN COUSIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, WFP: We don't have enough food to support the scale-up that is required to ensure that we can avoid a famine. CURNOW (voice-over): More than 2 million people face starvation in Nigeria while more than 5 million are at risk in South Sudan, where the World Food Programme, the WFP, has been airdropping --


CURNOW (voice-over): -- supplies. Armed conflicts in need countries are compounding the problem. In Yemen, the WFP is asking warring factions for road access to deliver aid to some of the hardest-hit areas.

And in the affected areas in Northeast Nigeria, Boko Haram remains a threat even though the Nigerian government has had recent military success against them.

In Somalia, as people forage the land for food and water, Al-Shabaab continues its deadly campaign against any attempt at asserting central rule for Mogadishu. Yet aid workers, doctors and nurses are braving the storm to save some of the worst affected -- Robyn Curnow, CNN.


VANIER: And in South Sudan, U.N. officials are calling for emergency help for more than a million displaced people. Fighting has devastated the country and led to severe famine conditions. Drought has made the situation all the worse there, too. Here's how one U.N. leader explains this disaster.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Eight months after fresh violence erupted in South Sudan, a famine produced by the vicious combination of fighting and drought is now driving the world's fastest growing refugee crisis.

Total displacement from South Sudan into neighboring region is now at 1.6 million people. The rate of new displacement is alarming, representing an impossible burden on a region that is significantly poorer and which is fast running short of resources to cope.


VANIER: Despite the deepening crisis, a sports day encouraged students to be champions of peace in their schools and communities. One athlete says he is hoping for a reconciliation in South Sudan very soon.

And intense flooding in Peru right now. Meteorologist Derek Van Dam looks at what's ahead.

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, Cyril, catastrophic flooding there. We have a Peruvian woman escaping with her life with this video coming up after the break. I'll have an explanation of what's to come for the country. Stick around.




VANIER: Torrential rains and flash floods are wreaking havoc in parts of Peru, at least 62 people were killed and more than a hundred injured after weeks of heavy downpours. Peru's government says more than 60,000 people have been displaced and more heavy rain is in the forecast for the country. Meteorologist Derek Van Dam joins us now with the latest -- Derek.



VANIER: Prince William vows Brexit will not change links between Britain and France, links which he says are forged in sweat and blood. He made the remarks on his first official visit to Paris, where his mother, Diana, died 20 years ago.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge met French President Francois Hollande on what some are calling a charm offensive.

That's them at the French presidential palace.

To dispel anxiety over Britain's planned departure from the European Union. On Saturday, the royal couple will also be meeting victims of the Paris terror attacks.

And that's it for us for now. Thanks for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Cyril Vanier. I'll be back with your headlines in just a moment. Stay with us.