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Trump Threatens Unilateral Action on North Korea; Crews Search for Survivors after Columbia Mudslides; Ecuador Elections; Russia Condemns Pentagon Over Civilian Death in Mosul; Russia's "Fake News: Campaign in U.S. Election; Radio Host Uses Hip-Hop to Battle Stigma of Autism. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired April 3, 2017 - 00:00   ET



[00:00:10] NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: An ultimatum. Trump said if China doesn't act the U.S. will deal with North Korea on its own.

CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR: A desperate search after landslides kill more than 200 people in Colombia.

ALLEN: And electoral uncertainty in Ecuador as one candidate claims victory and the other calls for a recount.

It's all ahead here on CNN NEWSROOM. Thanks for joining us. I'm Natalie Allen.

VANIER: And I'm Cyril Vanier. CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.

ALLEN: Our top story: President Donald Trump says the U.S. is ready to deal with North Korea's nuclear threats with or without China's help.

Beijing is North Korea's only major ally and Mr. Trump will meet with the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, on Thursday in Florida.

VANIER: In an interview with "The Financial Times" Mr. Trump urged China to pressure Pyongyang or quote "it won't be good for anyone".

Earlier CNN spoke with Demetri Sevastopulo, the Washington chief of "The Financial Times". He said Mr. Trump wouldn't be more specific on what unilateral actions the U.S. might take.


DEMETRI SEVASTOPULO, "THE FINANCIAL TIMES": He didn't want to be drawn on what he would actually do. And he made it clear that he wasn't going to tell us.

But I think there is a range of options. During the campaign he talked about even sitting down and having a hamburger with Kim Jong- Un, the North Korean dictator. That's at one end of the spectrum.

At the other end of the spectrum, you know, a preemptive strike on North Korea's nuclear facilities and then you have a whole range of things you can do in between in terms of sanctions and covert actions and others that the U.S. has considered in the past but not done.

But I think we're not going to know until he meets the Chinese president at Mar-A-Lago later this week and they have their first conversation about what they're going to do about North Korea and where they can cooperate.


VANIER: Our senior international correspondent Ivan Watson joins us from Seoul in South Korea. He's giving us a regional perspective on this.

Ivan -- first of all, how much leverage does China actually have on North Korea?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, by all accounts, Cyril, the relations are not very good between Pyongyang and Beijing. There has not been a meeting, for example, between the two leaders -- the Chinese and North Korean leaders -- since Kim Jong-Un took office and since Xi Jinping took office.

The leverage there -- yes, China is a major trading partner and one of the measures that the U.S. could potentially take would be to further sanction Chinese companies that do business with North Korea, Chinese banks as well.

And it's hard not to interpret Donald Trump's statements as a kind of warning to China ahead of the meeting with Xi Jinping at the end of this week in Mar-A-Lago, at his resort in Florida.

It's hard not to interpret this as kind of a tough position, a warning to China ahead of that meeting to please crack down on North Korea.

But it's important to note that past administrations have issued the same warnings. This is a message that U.S. governments have given for years. They want China to further isolate North Korea.

China does criticize North Korea for flouting and breaking United Nations Security Council resolutions but it has not been willing to completely severe economic and political ties with its neighbor -- Cyril.

VANIER: So look, what are South Korea and Japan thinking about this? How do they look at this because of course, the way Washington relates to Beijing and what Washington intends to do with Pyongyang -- that affects them immediately, directly.

WATSON: That's right.

And here's an important point. You know, Donald Trump has said we could go it alone against North Korea -- and in the interview referring to China -- go without China. But can the U.S. afford to go it alone without its other key allies in the region -- Japan and South Korea? They are close military allies and political allies, where today there are joint trilateral anti-submarine drills being conducted by the three militaries presumably against the threat of North Korean submarines.

But there are bigger questions about -- in the future -- what measures the U.S. could take? Would South Korea for example come along with it? South Korea's currently in a leadership vacuum.

Its former president has been impeached and she's in jail now and is expected to be questioned on Tuesday on a host of different charges. There's an interim government here, elections planned for early May. But the front-runner, in current public opinion polls, is a left leaning candidate named Moon Jae-in who has effectively talked about diplomatic re-engagement with North Korea and stopping the hard line position that the impeached conservative president took.

[00:04:58] So if the U.S. wants to go it alone, if Donald Trump wants to go it alone against North Korea, if there's going to be some kind of preemptive action, and there's deliberate ambiguity in Trump's statements about it, he would presumably have to bring South Korea along with it.

And the indications we have at this early stage before the elections is that the front running candidate here wants to diplomatically engage with North Korea and not take a harder line position. That's going to be a challenge that the Trump administration may have to deal with, with 30,000 U.S. troops based here in South Korea -- Cyril.

VANIER: All right. Yes. Ivan Watson -- thank you very much -- reporting live from Seoul, South Korea.

We, of course, will be looking very carefully at that meeting between Donald Trump and the Chinese president at the end of the week. Thank you very much -- Ivan.

ALLEN: We want to get more analysis now on the situation from Lanhee Chen. He's a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and he was the public policy director for former U.S. presidential candidate, Mitt Romney. He joins us from Mountain View via Skype.

Thanks so much for joining us -- Lanhee.

I want to ask you -- we just heard from Ivan Watson. He's there at the region. What do you make of this talk from Donald Trump vis-a-vis China and North Korea and the U.S. going it alone? What does that mean?

LANHEE CHEN, HOOVER INSTITUTION: I think it's very, very difficult to interpret much of what Donald Trump says, especially in the source of a single comment as being comprehensive statement of American policy.

But I think what is clear from the Trump administration so far is they are trying to take a harder line on North Korea while at the same time leaving open the possibility that the United States might act on its own diplomatically.

I think obviously some of this is posturing ahead of a meeting later this week with Xi Jinping. But I also think it's the case that it causes a lot of uncertainty in the region. So it's important, you know, we've come used to some ways to Donald Trump making these pronouncements over and over again about different subjects. I think it's important for us to step back a bit rather than trying to put too much import into a single thing he said.

ALLEN: True. Sometimes it's proven to be bluster and words without things to back them up. That's true.

But now, China's leader is coming to Mar-A-Lago and Donald Trump before this said that it would be a difficult meeting with him.

What do you think perhaps the Chinese are coming to the table with to discuss and how to discuss it with this new president?

CHEN: I actually think that these meetings can be quite productive if approached in the right way. And I certainly think the fact that they're meeting so early in President Trump's term in office, the fact that they are choosing a place where clearly the President is very comfortable -- that's his own resort in Mar-A-Lago -- suggests that there is a desire on, at least on the American side here, to approach these discussions constructively.

Now, it's certainly the case that there's posturing ahead of it, there are public statements to demonstrate toughness on the part of the United States. But at the end of the day, I truly believe that President Trump views this relationship with China through very much a pragmatic lens. And that pragmatic lens is certainly with respect to economic relationships but also geopolitical ones.

So I actually think that the two sides will try to get together, at least understand each other better. And I do think that this will actually be fairly productive from a personal if not policy point of view.

ALLEN: We hope you're correct, for all of us.

And we heard Ivan Watson say there that China doesn't have a fantastic relationship with North Korea. They are its closest ally and that the United States might try for their sanctions on Chinese companies that do business with North Korea.

It's hard to say though what might work, like what this President could do. He had mentioned on the campaign having a hamburger with Kim Jong-Un -- what that might look like if for any reason the United States struck out on its own.

CHEN: Yes. I don't think a burger and fries is going to solve this one. The challenges in terms of looking at North Korea and looking at North Korean ambitions, looking at the posturing that North Korea has done and certainly their intent to continue to develop their ability to strike U.S. interests, U.S. allies and even one day the U.S. homeland should be deeply concerning to American authorities. I think it is.

But ultimately I think what Trump is trying to reflect is a desire to resolve the situation. Now, it's unclear in his comments whether that means to resolve it diplomatically, which I think will be very difficult at this point certainly in a one-on-one setting, or if it's to do it through preemptive military action, which obviously would be a much more sobering consideration.

Regardless of what it is though, I don't think this is one of things that can be solved overnight and if there is to be diplomacy it's going to have to take place over an extended period of time and have to resolve some very, very with tricky issues.

ALLEN: Tricky issues and this is a president who's had experience in real estate and now he's dealing with international situations including nuclear weapon technology. So, on his top 10 list, where would you put North Korea for this president?

[00:10:02] CHEN: I think it is a major concern. I don't know if it's top 10. But clearly as you look at the foreign policy issues that this President is facing in the very early days of his presidency, the saber-rattling from North Korea, the continued effort to threaten U.S. allies as well as U.S. interests, direct threat by Kim Jong-Un toward American troops in the region -- that is something that is deeply concerning to the President.

The one thing I will say is here in the United States, I don't think it is an issue that has quite crossed into the public psyche in a way that maybe other foreign policy issues have. For example, the threat of jihadist terrorism is something that certainly crossed over here in the U.S.

So the President is trying to walk a fine line here between making progress on an issue that is very important to the U.S. geopolitically but to the American public is not exactly something that folks either know or care to know about at this point in time.

ALLEN: Right. In many ways, it's farther away from their psyche than terrorism from other regions. We thank you for your thoughts. Really appreciate it -- Lanhee Chen from Stanford. Thank you.

CHEN: Thanks.

ALLEN: Well, we are learning new details about ties between Russia and former U.S. national security advisor, Michael Flynn.

The top former Trump aide did not originally disclose thousands of dollars in speaking fees from the Russian companies. These include the Kremlin-backed TV network RT, Russia Today, and cyber security firm Kaspersky Government Security Solutions. This is according to financial disclosures Flynn made to the Office of Government Ethics back in February.

VANIER: However, he did disclose the fees in forms filed on Friday and his lawyers say Flynn reported appropriately. Now remember this revelation comes as investigations are under way into Russia's role in the 2016 U.S. election.

Flynn lawyer says his client is willing to testify in exchange for immunity. But at least one lawmaker says that's not a deal he's ready to commit to.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I think we start out with a very healthy skepticism. There's a lot we need to learn before entertaining anything like this. There's a lot we need to learn from other witnesses but I start out I think with a very healthy skepticism.


VANIER: U.S. House Democrat Adam Schiff speaking there about immunity for Michael Flynn.

And U.S. President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser is in Iraq. Sources tell CNN Jared Kushner was invited by Joint Chiefs chairman, General Joseph Dunford, and is traveling with him. Kushner's exact itinerary is unclear but he is expected back in the U.S. early this week.

ALLEN: And this trip comes while the campaign to retake Mosul from ISIS drags on for months now. Reuters News Agency reports Iraqi forces put fighting there on hold Sunday. They've entered densely- populated areas at the city's west and there are fears of civilian casualties as we've seen recently.

A military official said safe passageways were open to allow people, citizens to flee. Up to 400,000 civilians may still be trapped inside the old city.

Emergency workers are digging through mud and debris and looking for survivors in southern Colombia. Torrential rains triggered landslides that killed more than 200 people. Look at that. Homes are destroyed, power lines cut off and more than 100 people are still missing.

Let's get more on this disaster with Provash Budden in Bogota. He's the country director for the aid agency Mercy Corps. We know you're very busy -- Provash. And thank you so much for joining us.

How are you able to assist the families right now?

PROVASH BUDDEN, MERCY CORPS: Well, right now, Mercy Corps has teams in Putumayo, in the capital of Mocoa where we've operated for nearly 10 years and know the area very well. They're looking at assessments right now to figure out if people need what types of certain aid material, including fresh water, food, shelter, but also they need psychosocial assistance for the trauma that they've suffered from the floods that hit them on Friday night and the mudslides that destroyed their houses.

ALLEN: Certainly because it just washed toddlers away, a baby missing, an infant because these people really are sitting there like nowhere to turn. And we heard the Colombian president though tell a victim yesterday things will be better for you in the long run. It will better than it was. What can you imagine that would look like when you build this area back in the same place? BUDDEN: Well, at Mercy Corps we've had a lot of experience in

building back better in many emergencies throughout earthquakes and tsunamis around the world. And we hope that to collaborate with the Colombian government will be positive in taking the steps for people to build that better. Meaning better places for people to live in less danger-prone areas in the area of Mocoa, improved infrastructure and disaster preparedness as well.

[00:15:05] This obviously will take a lot of investment from the Colombian government but also assistance with the international community and humanitarian organizations like Mercy Corps.

ALLEN: And there are reports that climate change and deforestation help create this disaster. Are you hearing things about that and is that being taken into consideration for long-term help with whether they should move back into this region?

BUDDEN: Well, obviously those decisions will have to be weighed carefully about how people can move back or not. Land issues are a big concern in Colombia especially after 52 years of conflict that dealt with land rights.

But climate change is a real threat in Colombia and we can see this across the board in the country including drought that has affected the northern part the country this past year and unseasonal rains have affected the southern part of the country that have led to the landslides and mudslides.

Unfortunately the risk is still there for the rest of the year and people in Mocoa are very worried about what could come next and are taking measures to relocate to other places or stay with families in a safer place.

But our focus right now and our concern is on assisting people who need immediate attention and life saving measures and then also looking at the recovery process over the next several weeks and months and possibly over a year.

ALLEN: We look forward to talk with you again as this process pushes forward. Thank you so much for joining us -- Provash Budden with Mercy Corps. Thank you.

BUDDEN: Thank you.

VANIER: All right. Now Natalie -- let's go get the latest in that region in the latest weather forecast.

ALLEN: Karen Maginnis, our meteorologist is joining us now. She's been looking at this story. Karen -- hello.


And unfortunately, it has been a deadly combination of timing this season and just topography across the region. Here people are viewing the debris and the rocks and their personal possessions that have been left of that monstrous landslide. Now I mentioned that there is the geology and the topography. Let's give you the overall view. There are actually three rivers that come together in this region. And as I mentioned it's an unfortunate timing because the season is changing.

And typically when we go through (inaudible) change from like in the southern hemisphere, we go from winter into a springtime pattern. We're going to see an uptick in whatever moisture is typically seen.

So here's Bogota, here's Mocoa and that's about 500 kilometers apart. There are three rivers as I mentioned that's come together. And as a result of the heavy downpours that we saw and with just the layout, here we are in a valley where tens of thousands of people reside and there is a deadly combination as a result of all of that.

Let's show you also the reasons of the ingredients that have come together to produce this. We talk about the ITCZ, the inter-tropical convergent zone. Typically, this time of year, it's a little bit further towards the south. But as I mentioned, timing -- we start to see the seasons change and for the ITCZ, it starts to move a little bit further towards the north. But we get these seasonal winds, in this case, the trade winds coming up from the southeast. And then these clusters of thunderstorms that develop along the ITCZ.

So in this convergence you can see some heavy rainfall. But in particular this region has seen its fair share of precipitation that was especially heavy during the months of February and now we've seen the bulk of their precipitation for the entire month fall within just one day.

And here we see the consequences of that -- a deadly flow of mud that came off of those mountains, Cyril and Natalie, and this had deadly consequences. Back to you -- guys.

ALLEN: Certainly did. Thank you -- Karen.

VANIER: Yes. Karen Maginnis, thank you very much, from the CNN international weather center. We appreciate it.

We're going to take a short break.

When we come back though on CNN NEWSROOM, the results of Ecuador's presidential election could put Julian Assange's asylum status in jeopardy -- we'll tell you why.

VANIER: Plus another blow to the relationship between the U.S. and Russia. The Kremlin has plenty to say about the Pentagon over Iraqi deaths following U.S. comments on Crimea. We have reports from Washington and Moscow coming up here.


MAGINNIS: Hello, everyone. I'm CNN meteorologist Karen Maginnis. And this is your weather watch.

Violent storms have already turned deadly across the Deep South right along the Gulf Coast and the state of Louisiana. This violent weather manages to make its way towards the east all the way from the Tennessee River Valley down towards the mouth of the Mississippi.

As you take a look at the forecast radar going into Monday, this is where we could see the potential for violent storms, maybe an isolated tornado, damaging winds as well as large-size hail all in an area right around the east central or west central sections of Georgia down towards Mobile, Alabama.

Rainfall could be significant in a number of areas. Already, severe flooding is taking place across the Lone Star State of Texas towards the east and into Louisiana. That shifts a little bit further towards the east. So the Deep South feeling the effects of the eruption of springtime weather -- we have seen an above normal amount of tornadic activity already for the past three months.

Denver, sunshine and degrees; rain expected for Chicago; Atlanta, some strong to some violent storms; and New York City, mild weather but by Thursday it's going to be dramatically cooler.


ALLEN: Welcome back.

The polls are closed in Ecuador's presidential election. But the Electoral Council may not declare a winner for days.

Leftist candidate Lenin Moreno has a narrow lead over his conservative rival Guillermo Lasso with more than 94 percent of votes counted.

VANIER: But Lasso is actually disputing the result and he's already asking for a recount. The outcome of this election could decide the fate of WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange. Lasso had actually promised to remove Assange from Ecuador's embassy in London if he wins this election.

ALLEN: CNN's Rafael Romo has been monitoring the results. Interesting little side twist with Julian Assange, for sure, isn't it? Do we have a winner though?

RAFAEL ROMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Depends on who you ask, especially if you go to the president. They would say yes, Lenin Moreno, our candidate has won and they have already declared so. But the opposition is saying not so fast. We have witnessed some irregularities and would like to have recount.

And in the space of about two and a half hours starting at 8:00 p.m. and then until 10:30 p.m., it was a series of events that was very curious because at 8:00, the candidate of the ruling party we are seeing in there in the video declared himself a winner. And then about an hour later an NGO that had been monitoring the results said that no, that's not true. We have a virtual tie here.

And at 9:40 the national electoral council said that indeed the ruling party candidate was ahead by 2 percentage points and that the trend was irreversible. And finally, at 10:08 the opposition candidate cried foul and called in his supporters to contest the results.

And so at this point, we don't really know who's winning. And I wanted to read some of the statements that they have made in the last couple of hours or so.

[00:25:02] For example, Guillermo Lasso, the opposition candidate said the following. "Delegates from our political alliance will challenge the results. We will not allow a distortion of the popular will."

Compare that to what the candidate for the ruling party said. He said, "We have completely accurate data. We have won the elections."

And finally, the current president who is very much the 800-pound gorilla in the room said the following. "Official results from the National Electoral Council, a difference of more than 2 percentage points. Lenin is our president, the moral fraud committed by the right will not go unpunished."

So again, to answer your questions in one sentence -- we don't know yet.

ALLEN: We don't know.

VANIER: We don't know yet.

And we're going to look at -- we need to know what this means for the country and for region.

But before we get to that, I think the global audience, the story about Julian Assange and how this impacts Julian Assange's future is very interesting. How do you see this moving forward?

ROMO: There's a very funny story about that because some time ago the opposition candidate, Guillermo Lasso said that if he won, he was going to kick Mr. Assange out of the Ecuadorian embassy in London and he was going to give him 30 days to get out of there.

And so Mr. Assange posted a tweet not too long ago saying that -- do we have it there?

VANIER: Yes, we do.

ROMO: Saying that, "Mr. Lasso, I am cordially inviting you now leave Ecuador within 30 days," if you can imagine that, "and by the way, you can leave with or without your millions in offshore accounts." So kind of clever, kind of funny but not so funny for Mr. Lasso himself.

VANIER: Ok. About the country and region, this election is important not just for Ecuadorians who are voting here but also for the balance of power between left and right in the global Latin-America region.

ROMO: It definitely defines where the political pendulum is going. We saw what happened in Brazil with the right winning again; what happened in Argentina, very decisive victories by the right. And so Ecuador with the addition of Bolivia, Nicaragua, Cuba, and of course, Venezuela are some of the last bastions of the left. And at lot of political observers were anxiously waiting for this result.

And again, at this point, it seems like Lenin Moreno, the candidate of the left, is the virtual winner. But whether he is going to remain in that position and be the next president is still too early to tell.

VANIER: Yes. Whether that's going to be confirmed and I don't know actually whether we know that at this stage but what does constitutional court have to -- or the constitutional council have to validate this. Is there some -- does this need to be confirmed at some stage? Do we know that?

ROMO: The opposition has every right to request a recall. How is it going to be done, we don't know yet. But they definitely have every right in the world to do so. That's going to delay everything. We're talking days, if not weeks and so we won't know for the time being who is going to be the next president.

VANIER: All right. Rafael Romo -- we appreciate it. Thank you very much.

ALLEN: We'll talk with you again. All right. Thank you.

Next here on CNN NEWSROOM, did Russia spread fake news in the U.S. using Internet troll factories? We'll take a look right after this.


[00:31:43] NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: You are watching CNN NEWSROOM. We appreciate you watching. I'm Natalie Allen.


Let's take a quick look at your headlines this hour.

U.S. President Donald Trump is telling China help solve North Korea's nuclear threat or the U.S. will do it alone. The president didn't offer more details, however, in a new interview with "The Financial Times." Mr. Trump says he'll bring up the topic of North Korea when he meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday in Florida.

ALLEN: More than 100 people are still missing after devastating mudslides in Southern Colombia. Torrential rains triggered the disaster over the weekend killing more than 200 people. Many highways, bridges and neighborhoods have been wiped out.

VANIER: The Russian state media say dozens of protesters have been arrested in Sunday's anti-corruption demonstrations. That's one week after 100 of others were detained during a rally organized by leading Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. The latest protests come just days after President Vladimir Putin admitted that Russia has a serious problem with state corruption.

And ties between the U.S. and Russia are taking another hit as the Kremlin slams the Pentagon over an airstrike in Mosul that apparently killed scores of civilians. The U.S. says it was targeting ISIS militants. ALLEN: Russia calls the Pentagon's comments absurd.

Paula Newton has more for us from Moscow.


PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on-camera): The River Valley is going back and forth between Washington and Moscow. The language continues to escalate and the defense ministry this weekend also weighing in. This time on U.S. coalition airstrikes in Iraq.

Now at issue is an airstrike that killed several dozen civilians in Iraq. The U.S. coalition says it's still investigating, but they blame ISIS using human shields.

Now what the defense ministry wants to say is that it is a double standard. That when it happens to Russia, they say that they have no intention of killing civilians and that explanation is not accepted. The Russian defense ministry now wants an explanation from the Pentagon saying in a statement what are the motives of the American command putting the veil of confidentiality and keeping secret the crimes of terrorists from the international community.

They say that if you have evidence that ISIS is using civilians as human shields, show it. But this is really based on a much larger landscape now and it's beginning to come into focus with the Trump administration and the Kremlin now coming to grips with the fact that the relationship between the two will begin to look a lot more like what went on with the Obama administration.

You had secretary of state Rex Tillerson and secretary of defense Mr. Mattis saying that in fact they felt that Russia's actions were aggressive. That started off, a lot of rhetoric are flying on both sides and it is an indication that while those Russian investigations are going on in Capitol Hill and the FBI investigation that there will definitely will not be a thawing of relations between the U.S. and Russia as they hoped in the Kremlin.

Paula Newton, CNN, Moscow.


ALLEN: Paul, alluded to the U.S. Senate investigations into Russia's meddling in the U.S. election.

VANIER: Well, CNN's Brian Todd reports on what's being called a sophisticated Russian campaign that aim to push fake news in the run up to the U.S. vote.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It started with several tweets alleging a terrorist attack at the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey last summer. Russian state media outlets R.T. and Sputnik posted variations of the story. Soon, even Donald Trump's campaign manager apparently thought it was true, repeating it on CNN. PAUL MANOFORT, TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: There's plenty of news to cover this week that I haven't seen covered. You had the NATO base in Turkey being under attack by terrorists.

TODD: No attack had, in fact, occurred at the base. Researchers say it's an example of fake reports spread online on purpose with the help of pro-Russian users in what's believed to be a disinformation campaign supported by Vladimir Putin, all designed to influence elections and sow dissent and confusion in the West.

CLINT WATTS, FOREIGN POLICY RESEARCHER: They have a coordinated information campaign and a deliberate strategy. So they pick their objectives in the information space.

TODD: In another case, a leaked e-mail from Hillary Clinton's Campaign in which she asks a question about a treatment for Parkinson's disease was spun into a fake story alleging she was sick, triggering allegations and chatter that the Democratic candidate had the disease.

Researchers say the story was shared and reposted by pro-Russian sites and read eight million times. Evidence, experts say, of how Russia was trying to throw last year's election.

How easy is it for them to spread bogus stories?

WATTS: Once they build an audience with their accounts, it's very easy to do that just through amplification. Anytime you have the ability to promote a story hundreds or thousands of times, then that puts it into trending feeds. Once it's in a trending feed, it takes on a life of its own.

TODD: Experts who research Russia's fake news campaigns testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee, explaining how Putin's Government uses an army of trolls, online critics who push their agendas to confuse and frighten audiences in the West, an idea that played out dramatically on the show time series Homeland.

A troll factory where hundreds of employees toil away, hosting fake tweets under fake names.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's me, too.

TODD: Their marching orders, post-phony stories and tweets and spread them as widely as possible.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Use that talking point in your folders. Get outrage.

TODD: Experts say the real-life troll factories used by Russians may not look as slick as the T.V. version, but they are real. They say paid trolls who spread fake reports can amplify their impact using botnets. Thousands of other people's computers infected with viruses and harnessed to do their bidding. Analysts say Putin's goal is to create distrust among Americans and their allies in their political systems.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They didn't just want to discredit U.S. Elections. They wanted to discredit Hillary Clinton, sowing division within the European Union. These are all things that are part of the Russian agenda.

TODD: When asked about accusations of Russia's interference in America's Election, Vladimir Putin said, "read my lips, no". But experts have testified before Congress saying we can expect Putin's Government to continue to support fake news campaign. They say for Putin, it's easy. It's effective and best of all for him it often can't be traced directly back to him.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


ALLEN: A lot of people throwing around the fake news term. The president has used it, the media has lashed back at President Trump saying, no, you're putting out fake news. But we have to really look at messenger these days and we promise we're not fake news.

VANIER: Yes, and that was the story behind it.

All right, we're going to take a short break. When we come back, a Saudi D.J. is using hip hop to bring awareness to the stigma surrounding autism in the Middle East. That story just ahead.


VANIER: Autism is a difficult journey for any family. One radio host in Saudi Arabia whose son is autistic is using hip-hop to help fight the social stigma surrounding his condition.

ALLEN: He says he's not ashamed to share his experience and here's his story.


HASSAN "BIG HUSS" DENNAOUI, RADIO HOST: My name is Hassan Dennaoui, better known as Big Huss. I host Saudi's first F.M. hip-hop show.

Hello, welcome to Nation Hip-Hop. Here's your man, Big Huss.

You see, 99.99 percent of Arabic, you know, music is all about only love. We have other issues. Community issues, social issues. And, yes, political issues.

I started reading into hip-hop in 2008 when I started listening to some hip hop from Syria, from Iraq, from Palestine. I'm like, whoa. And these rappers were my news source. You know, I would listen to them and educate me about what's going on in the region.

Really, so this is my hero. Ahmed (ph) is 6 years old.


DENNAOUI: 2010, we were blessed with a baby boy. Three, four years down the line, we found out that he's autistic.


DENNAOUI: Like he's the best thing that happened to us, of course, and shout out to this woman, man. Say it live on TV. She's doing really great. My better half.

You know, Dubai is a bit different place than Jeddah. A bit more open, of course. And we moved here exactly a year ago, and now he's starting to speak. He has -- he's starting to be much more aware about his surroundings.

Say hip-hop.


DENNAOUI: When I say on the air that my son is autistic and I'm not ashamed of it, and when I take a picture with my son, for example, I always use the hashtag, autism is not a disease or autism parent. And I get like -- some people are very, you know, a bit rude. They say, why are you so proud? Like he's disabled. And I engage with a discussion. I think that's what we want in our world. So as a radio host, that's what I try to do.


DENNAOUI: The number one difference between like Saudi Arabia and the UAE is the awareness that people have. The UAE has done a great job with just making that awareness. A lot of events happen. OK, that's what autism is like, you know? And my son being autistic just has opened another dimension for me.

So it sported local talents. It's changing perception about hip-hop. It's talking about my son. It's talking about how he changed me, how he made me more patient.

I want Ahmed, my son to be the person he's destined to be, to become a man that can be dependent on himself, you know, which is very challenging when it comes to autistic autism, but I will definitely fight for that to happen.


ALLEN: That's our father of the day story, I do believe.

VANIER: Inspiring story.

ALLEN: Thanks for watching CNN NEWSROOM, I'm Natalie Allen. VANIER: And I'm Cyril Vanier. "World Sports" is up next. And we will be back at the top of the hour with more news from around the world so stick around for that.