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Dozens Killed in Suspected Chemical Attack; North Korea Fires Suspected Ballistic Missile; Republicans Scramble to Resurrect Obamacare Repeal; Republicans Pounce on Ex-National Security Advisor; Trump's Approval Rating Falls to 35 Percent; Death Toll at 14 in St. Petersburg Metro Blast; Fox Braces for Fallout from Bill O'Reilly Allegations. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired April 5, 2017 - 00:00   ET



[00:00:10] JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: This is CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles.

Ahead this hour: dozens killed in a suspected chemical attack in Syria. While most accused the Assad regime, Donald Trump says his predecessor, Barack Obama, also shares the blame.

Also, North Korea fires off what's believed to be a ballistic missile and the timing might not be a coincidence here.

And later, advertisers simply can't get away fast enough after one of America's most popular news anchors is rocked by a sexual harassment scandal.

Hello, everybody. Thank you for being with us. I'm John Vause.

NEWSROOM L.A. starts right now.

The U.N. Security Council is set to hold an emergency meeting after a suspected chemical gas attack in northwestern Syria. A warning here: what you are about to see is graphic.

Activists say the Syrian regime killed dozens of civilians including young children. Leaders around the world are condemning the strike, the U.K.'s Boris Johnson calling it a war crime.

But U.S. President Donald Trump made a point of blaming his predecessor, Barack Obama, in his first public statement on the tragedy.

CNN's Muhammad Lila joins us now live from Istanbul. So, Muhammad -- what more do we know about this attack, exactly what was used to kill all of these people, and exactly who was responsible?

MUHAMMAD LILA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well in terms of what was used to kill all of these people, all of the experts who had viewed that horrific, horrific footage agree that this was some sort of chemical compound, some sort of organophosphate compound. Some people have said that the possibility is that it could be sarin. But of course, that can't be determined with any kind of conclusivity.

The problem with this is that there are no independent investigators on the ground. We know that the Syrian government, for example, has come out very forcefully and denied these allegations.

But there's no word yet on whether any international monitoring groups or international investigators will be allowed on to the scene to investigate things like clothing and residue on the ground, and perhaps conduct autopsies on many of these bodies, of the many people who have died. So in terms of getting conclusive answers, it's very difficult at this point.

But one thing I should mention, John, you know we have been running some of this footage and we have been saying that, you know the footage is graphic. Well, just to give our viewers some context on this, the footage that they are seeing on their screens is just a small fraction of the actual footage that exists.

And that actual footage is so gruesome, that we could never broadcast it. There are images of rows and rows of young children who are dead -- dead bodies, completely lifeless, many of them foaming at the mouth. There are scenes of grown men and women who have some sort of compound on their body and they're literally laying lifeless.

And you can see rescue workers desperately trying to wash those bodies because any time, John, that there is a chemical attack, the first thing you have to do is to remove that chemical substance from the body.

So you see these rescuers, literally racing against the clock, racing against death really, to try to get this compound off these bodies. And in a lot of cases, John, they simply weren't successful.

And that's what makes this footage and this incident so gruesome.

VAUSE: Why would this area in the province of Idlib be targeted with chemical weapons?

LILA: Well that's -- you know it's a very good question. And this town that it happened in Khan Sheikhoun, it actually sits at a little bit of crossroads. Some people consider it a strategic place because it opens up the rest of the province of Idlib.

Now, for our viewers, Idlib might ring a bell. And that's because when, for example, the evacuation of Aleppo was going on or evacuation in other towns has taken place. The government has essentially given people the choice either go to government areas or go to the province of Idlib.

Idlib is a place where you have a rebel presence; you have an al Qaeda presence; you have ISIS presence; and also just ordinary civilians living there as well. So this is a sort of a very complicated delicate balance on the ground.

But the regime sees Idlib as a stronghold of the opposition and clearly there have been a lot of operations both in Idlib and neighboring provinces to remove those areas from any opposition. So the government might see Khan Sheikhoun as a strategic town that they want to take over.

And of course, from the opposition side, it's a town that they want to remain in control of because they have a heavy presence in Idlib and they'll want to stay there.

VAUSE: Ok. Muhammad -- thank you. Muhammad Lila there, live from Istanbul with the very latest details.

Well, for more we're joined now by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, she's a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations; Barbara Walter, professor of political science at UC-San Diego; and Lisa Daftari, editor-in-chief at the Foreign Desk.

[00:05:01] And so Lisa, first to you, the Syrian government denies it carried out this attack, has actually blamed rebel fighters instead. Does that claim at this point even have a shred of credibility?

LISA DAFTARI, FOREIGN DESK: No, absolutely not. I mean, you know, we know who had access to chemical weapons and we know why they would use them. The agenda there is for the Assad regime under this justification of fighting ISIS to go after these rebel-held areas.

And they don't stop at anything. They use the children, the families as human shields. They go after them. They kill them.

I was recently in Syria, on the borders and was able to interview some of these Syrian -- rebels from the Free Syrian Army. We call them just Syrian rebels. We have given them weapons. We want them to go after the Assad regime.

But at the same time, what these rebels are saying is that what the world is doing is just focusing on the situation about ISIS. We are just looking at this fight against ISIS.

And in the meantime, the Assad regime, with the help of the Russians and the Iranian regime is using this time to brutally, brutally go after the opposition, which is their Achilles' heel.

VAUSE: So Gayle, we heard from a Syrian member of parliament. He told the BBC that accusations the Assad regime was behind this attack is just simply foolish because their entire chemical weapon stockpile was destroyed under the U.N. mandate a few years ago. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I clearly deny that neither the Syrian army nor the Russian army used any chemical weapons in Syria. Of course, I deny. And this is proven by the U.N. There was a committee by the U.N. that double checked on this and clarified that we don't have any chemical weapons.


VAUSE: Clearly, that is not true. But it does raise the question of just how ineffectual that U.N. program really was.

GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Well, the worst part of this, John, is that we could have had the same conversation in 2014, and 2015, and 2016. I mean the thing is that these attacks are not new. What is new is the horrific nature of these pictures. And I think really the war that has run out of adjectives, has finally for a day, or maybe a moment, awakened the world to its horrors.

What happens next? I think we do not know. Because the options that the Obama administration faced none of which they found terribly appealing in terms of intervening in the Syrian civil war are exactly the same ones that the Trump administration now faces.

And so I talked to a former Obama administration official today who said, listen this was entirely predictable. If you look at what Assad does, he keeps escalating because he knows he has absolute impunity to attack his own citizens.

VAUSE: And Barbara, let's bring you on this. Despite the high death toll that we're seeing at Idlib, chemical weapons just simply aren't that effective for killing large numbers of people. But they're incredibly effective at striking fear, they're described as a psychological weapon.

Is that the motivation here from Assad? Is he sending a message not just to Syria but also beyond Syria?

BARBARA WALTER, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA SAN DIEGO: Absolutely. If you wanted simply to kill civilians, there are lots of different ways that you can do that. You use chemical weapons because they are very symbolic. They are a strategy of intimidation if you really want to, as you said, set fear into the population.

And I actually think that Assad is trying to communicate with Syrian civilians, and in particular civilians who are supporting the opposition. And he wants to send a very clear signal to them, that he is willing to do absolutely anything to win this war. And, to tell them that there is nothing the international community is going to do to stop him.

And I think that is a very powerful message to individuals who are trying to decide whether in fact they should continue to support the rebels, or whether they should just try to keep quiet. Potentially, even shift their support to Assad and just try to survive.

VAUSE: Ok. Well, this was the statement from the U.S. President after the chemical attack in Syria. This is what he said. "Today's chemical attack in Syria against innocent people including women and children is reprehensible and cannot be ignored by the civilized world. These heinous actions by the Bashar al Assad regime, are a consequence of the past administration's weakness and irresolution. President Obama said in 2012 that he would establish a red line against the use of chemical weapons and then he did nothing. The United States stands with our allies across the globe to condemn this intolerable attack." Gayle, if you look closely at it, it is 77 words long -- 37 words condemning Assad, 40 words to blame his predecessor, Barack Obama, and nothing on what the Trump administration would actually do differently.

LEMMON: Well, and that's the thing -- right. I mean if you look at that statement, actually, there are pieces of it that Obama administration officials would have agreed with. But not just America -- that the world's inaction for years is what enabled the horrors of today's attack.

The thing though when you talk to former Obama administration officials also, though, is that they will say well, recently, the Trump administration -- Ambassador Haley, Secretary Tillerson -- has said, you know, the policy of Assad must go is really Assad can kind of stay for now.

[00:10:01] And that is one more factor in offering him impunity. So I think there is plenty of blame to go around.

But this is not about partisanship. This is about little ones who are struggling to breathe as they try to survive a chemical attack. And I think that's why we are having this conversation because what is new is that pictures are piercing the hearts of ordinary folks. And what that means for policy? My guess is not much. But stay tuned.

VAUSE: Well, as -- with regards to Bashar al Assad and this new administration essentially saying that he can stay for now, that they're going to focus on ISIS despite this attack, this chemical weapons attack in Syria. The White House -- White House spokesman, Sean Spicer says there will be no change in that policy.

Listen to Sean Spicer.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: With respect to Assad, I mean there is a political reality that we have to accept in terms of where we are right now. We lost a lot of opportunity the last, the last administration with respect to Assad. And I think that our statement that both U.N. Ambassador Haley gave yesterday and Secretary of State Tillerson reflects the reality.


VAUSE: So, Lisa, can you draw a straight line from this new sort of softer policy towards Assad and what happened on Tuesday in Syria?

DAFTARI: No, this isn't a new policy. This is what we have had to almost accept and evolve regarding the Assad regime. Basically you would see the U.S. and the allies combining forces and going after the -- ISIS with the coalition air strikes. You would see them giving weapons to the rebels.

On the other side you would see John Kerry on the side lines trying to cut a deal with the Russians in making a cease-fire, a peace deal in Syria.

And the big elephant in the room that no one talked about is that we are on opposite side. We wanted Assad to go for a long time. And they want obviously Assad to stay. I think the difficult question going forward will be, how will the Trump administration address the Iranian regime and Russia's influences along with Assad, this trifecta that has brutally gone against the Syrian people with war crimes, doing whatever they can to keep Assad in power?

And the faux pas during the last years of the Obama administration, if I can say that, the mistake was that U.S. -- U.S. interest was never talked about. If we want a seat at the table, in terms of foreign policy, what do we want in Syria?

What would be the best outcome for come for us? Meaning, yes, there is a humanitarian crisis here no one can turn their eyes from -- left, right or center you cannot deny that there's a humanitarian crisis here.

But at the same time, there's also a refugee crisis globally. What's good for the global community? Listen, people do not become refugees when they show up at LAX or JFK. The problem starts there. We've been talking about safe zones.

I think the Trump administration, their priority has been ISIS. That's a mistake. Hopefully they have also talked about creating safe zones in Syria. They should shift after today's news, and make that the priority. To make safe zones so that they can create a peaceful situation or at least, a temporary situation, for these civilians who are caught in this cross fire.

VAUSE: Well, the only immediate action that we're going to see, I guess, is this meeting of the U.N. Security Council, an emergency meeting. This is what the U.K.'s ambassador to the U.N. said.


MATTHEW RYCROFT, U.K. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: The (inaudible) measure session would first of all be to shine a spotlight on the -- on the heinous use of chemical weapons yet again by the regime. Secondly to rally opinions so that those of us on the council who want to insist on no use of chemical weapons ever, anywhere by anyone, that, we can, see that we -- we have the -- that we are the moral majority, if you like.


VAUSE: The moral majority. Barbara, I'll finish up with you. Given all the past failures of the U.N. when it comes to Syria, what's the point here?

WALTER: Well, the U.N. is really a paper tiger when it comes to Syria. It is not going to take any action unless there is agreement within the five permanent members of the Security Council which includes both United States, Russia -- they're on opposite ends of this conflict. They're not in agreement about what should be done. And the United States is not willing to take action or become more involved in this conflict. In fact the Trump administration has made it clear that they're likely to become certainly less involved in terms of fighting Assad. So, I think it's -- it's a lot of cheap talk.

VAUSE: Yes, a lot of talk. Ok. Barbara Walter, Gail Tzemach Lemmon and Lisa Daftari -- thank you so much for being with us.

WALTER: My pleasure.

DAFTARI: Thank you.

VAUSE: Well, just days before the U.S. President meets with China's president, Pyongyang has fired a medium range ballistic missile which landed in the Sea of Japan also known as the East Sea.

Let's head to Seoul now. CNN's Paula Hancocks standing by live. So Paula -- they're launching a lot of these ballistic missiles. They're doing it fairly often, it's not really the specific launch which is important but how far the North Koreans have advanced in its weapons program. What can be learned from this launch with regards to that?

[00:15:02] PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John -- what we have learned from officials in Washington and also here in Seoul is that the military officials believe that this was a type of KN 15. Now this is -- a missile which uses solid fuel.

So it effectively means it is much quicker for them to get it together, for them to launch it and it's much more difficult for anyone else to be able to track this kind of -- of missile.

This isn't something new we have seen from North Korea. Certainly they have been trying to perfect this in recent months. And it appears to be a very important part of their development at this point. We have seen a great focus on this solid fuel in recent months.

Now we know from -- from officials as well, that it went about 60 kilometers, but it also flew around 189 kilometers into the air. So they're looking at what else they can gather from this at this point. But, but as they consistently say, any launch from North Korea they will learn something from -- John.

VAUSE: There was a rather unusual response from the U.S. State Department. It was terse, but also dismissive saying, you know, they have spoken enough about North Korea, would have no further comment. Is this tough talk or are they just trying to sort of deprive North Korea of the oxygen of attention?

HANCOCKS: This was -- this was very interesting. This is the most interesting part of what happened to day, really, John. The fact that, the State Department has -- departed from the usual strong condemnation of what North Korea has done. That's what you always saw within the Obama administration. Now you're hearing from U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in this response that we have no further comment. The U.S. has spoken enough about North Korea.

This will likely take the North Koreans by surprise. Many experts in the past have, have confirmed that what, what North Korea wants is U.S. approval and U.S. acceptance that -- that Pyongyang is a nuclear state. Something that Washington has consistently said that they would not give.

But for the U.S. to then turn around and say, such a dismissive statement towards the North Koreans I think will likely throw them off balance. This isn't what they're used to when they dealing with the United States. It is very difficult to know if there will be a reaction; if there is, what sort of reaction it will be but it's certainly an interesting development and a sign of a slight departure from the Trump administration -- John.

VAUSE: Ok -- and previous administrations as well. Paula -- thank you. Paula Hancocks live this hour in Seoul

And with that we'll take a quick break.

When we come back, a trillion dollar -- the price tag for President Trump's infrastructure project to rebuild the country. But who is going to pay for all those roads and bridges?

Also, Russia is mourning the victims of Monday's deadly blast on the St. Petersburg Metro. We will have the very latest in the investigation.


[00:20:08] VAUSE: U.S. President is renewing his promise to push a trillion dollar infrastructure plan through Congress and he's looking for a big win after his administration's failed attempt at health care reform. He told workers in the building industry on Tuesday together they would rebuild the nation.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We enriched foreign countries at the expense of our own country, the great United States of America. But those days are over.

I am not, I don't want to be, the President of the world. I am the President of the United States. And from now on it is going to be America first.


VAUSE: Well, joining me here in Los Angeles, Ron Brownstein, CNN senior political analyst and the senior editor for "The Atlantic".

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Good to see you -- John. VAUSE: Ron, it's been a while.

BROWNSTEIN: We did a lot of time in Washington the last few weeks.


VAUSE: -- since you went away. Ok. The President, he may be talking about infrastructure, but the Vice President still talking about health care. He met a few hours ago with three factions of the Republican Party.

Listen to Mike Pence right now.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We continue to work earnestly with Congress, for a new future on health care reform. The President and I remain confident that working with the Congress we will repeal and replace Obamacare with health care reform that will work for the American people and work for the American economy.


VAUSE: The eternal optimist.


VAUSE: Right now in the case of Donald Trump, you know, repealing and replacing Obamacare is the art of the ordeal.

BROWNSTEIN: That's a great way of putting it.

VAUSE: Thank you very much.

BROWNSTEIN: By the way, I'm reminded here on "Sunset Boulevard" of Gloria Swanson's great line, "It was the pictures that shrunk."

So, look, the loss, the defeat of Obama care repeal in the House was I think the biggest 100-day loss you can remember for an incoming president. And there really hasn't been anything look it in the first 100 days of an administration to have a legislative defeat of that sort.

So it's understandable that the administration is extremely focused in finding a way to get this through the House. The problem is what they're doing to try to resuscitate this bill is move it to the right in a way that further diminishes the odds that it could get it through the Senate even if they could somehow get it through the House.

Because what they're talking about is repealing the regulatory parts of Obamacare that are among the most popular elements in the bill. Allowing states to opt out of the idea that you would have to provide health -- you would have to provide -- insurance would have to provide coverage to people regardless of their prior health conditions at comparable rates.

And you know, you take that away, very difficult for any moderate to vote


BROWNSTEIN: -- and very difficult in the Senate especially when you add it to the Medicaid cutbacks that are part of the bill.

VAUSE: So will infrastructure be any easier though than health care reform? Trying to get this trillion dollars through this Congress?

BROWNSTEIN: If you try to do infrastructure on its own, you could face the same problem they have on health care, which is that you would have element of the Republican conservatives who don't want to do it because it's a trillion dollars in new spending. And you have Democrats who would resist it the way that President Trump is talking about doing it is through tax credits for builders, paid for by tolls on people. That doesn't work.

If there is a path to do it, it is in fact by tying it to tax reform. There has been interest in both parties particularly under President Obama, in the idea of, you know, a one-time repatriation of corporate profits overseas, using part of the revenue from that to lower corporate rates but also using part of it to fund infrastructure. If he is going to get an infrastructure plan, I would bet it's going to be through that route.

VAUSE: The grand bargain.

BROWNSTEIN: Grand bargain on taxes.

VAUSE: Ok. All of this happening -- the House investigation into, you know, the alleged ties between Russia and the Trump campaign that seems back on track. We heard from a Democratic congressman who's on the committee making some pretty startling predictions.


JULIAN CASTRO (D), TEXAS: My impression is that people will probably be charged and I think people will probably go to jail.


VAUSE: You know, Joaquin Castro offered no evidence or further details. Isn't that the kind of politics which has sort of paralyzed this committee in the first place?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. Well, you know, Joaquin Castro is a smart guy who I think got ahead of himself there. And that is one of the problems on these investigations. I mean, you know, the political atmosphere is so much more, even compared to say Iran-contra in the 80s, much less the Watergate committee in the 70s when it was Howard Baker who said what did the President know, a Republicans? And when did he know it?

I think everybody has to be careful to stay within the evidence. And of course, in this case, it's further complicated because much of the relevant evidence is classified. VAUSE: Ok. Well, also caught up in all of this, former national

security advisor Susan Rice. She is under fire with these allegations she used her position --


VAUSE: -- to unmask or identify Americans who are caught up in this incidental surveillance. The allegation is she did it for political reasons. She denies that. But the Republicans are not letting this go. Here we go.


SEN. TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS: Susan Rice is the "Typhoid Mary" of the Obama administration foreign policy. Every time something went wrong she seemed to turn up in the middle of it. Whether it's these allegations of improper unmasking and potential improper surveillance; whether it's Benghazi or many of the other fiascos over the eight years of the Obama administration.


[00:25:09] VAUSE: You know, Rice really is a favorite punching bag of the Republicans.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. Look, this has been -- the entire Russia inquiry has been extremely difficult for Republicans who really haven't found a place to stand and try to defend President Trump even if they were inclined to.

This is at -- this gives them a talking point. But I think that's all it does. You know this is, this is -- we were talking about something in, in the routine collection of intelligence on foreign targets. America, you know, the names of Americans come up. Is it unreasonable in this case if you are concerned about active Russian measures in the election to want to know who those Americans are?

And the idea that you are targeting specifically Trump people, you are asking who they are, right? I mean you don't know in advance who they are.

VAUSE: Right.

BROWNSTEIN: So, I mean, it is certainly going to be something that is going to kind of work through all of the channels that conservatives have to kind of -- you know, activate the base. Kind of shift the focus at least among their own supporters if not among the mainstream public.

VAUSE: Odd that you should mention Republican supporters because right now we have, you know, the latest numbers are out for Donald Trump's approval rating. Historically low numbers -- according to (inaudible) -- just 35 percent approval.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. VAUSE: But if you take a closer look at some of those numbers. Even among his base, his supporters, his numbers continue to slip. He is losing support among the people who he is governing for right now -- or at least apparently, you know.

BROWNSTEIN: First of all -- you must understand 35 percent is not slightly lower. It is kind of an order of magnitude lower than any president has ever been at this point in the presidency. 57 percent disapproval -- most presidents don't get up to 50 percent disapproval within any --

VAUSE: Lot of work.

BROWNSTEIN: -- within their first term.

VAUSE: Right.

BROWNSTEIN: You know, within their first term. You, you -- I think Reagan, W. Bush and Obama -- none of them reached 50 percent disapproval at any point in their first term. And as you say the numbers are declining among some of the key groups in particular, I notice in this poll, only 51 percent of non-college whites said they support him.

And I think that is probably a reflection of the reversals that he is having. Not so much that they are turning away from his agenda but they're frustrated and losing faith in his ability to kind of "I alone can fix it" when so many things like the -- the immigration executive order, like the repeal and replacement of Obamacare have gone off the rails.

VAUSE: So very quickly. So when he threatens, you know, Congressmen, support my bill or I'm going to go after you in the midterms, if he's got a 35 percent approval rating that doesn't mean a whole lot?

BROWNSTEIN: It doesn't. You're seeing it on both sides. The Freedom Caucus, the right flank of the Republicans, this week seven of the 10 Democrat senators who are up 2018 in states that Donald Trump won say they're supporting the filibuster of Neil Gorsuch. Not that much (inaudible) on the other side either.

VAUSE: That's very indicative. Ron -- thanks so much.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.

VAUSE: Well, taking us to a break.

When we come back, new details about the man Russian officials are blaming for Monday's metro bombing. We'll have the very latest from St. Petersburg.


[00:30:00] VAUSE: Welcome back, everybody. You are watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles, I'm John Vause with the headlines this hour. World leaders are condemning an apparent chemical gas attack on civilians in Northwestern Syria. Activist say the Syrian regime killed dozens of people including children. The Syrian military is blaming rebel groups. The U.N. Security Council is said to discuss next steps at an emergency meeting on Wednesday.

North Korea has fired a medium-range ballistic missile that fell into the Sea of Japan also known as the East Sea. The test comes days before U.S. President Donald Trump will meet with China's President Xi Jinping. Mr. Trump recently said the U.S. will deal with North Korea's nuclear threats with or without China.

Three days of mourning are under way in Russia after Monday's deadly suicide blast on the St. Petersburg Metro. Authorities say the attacker was a 22-year-old national born in Kyrgyzstan.

Let's go now live to CNN's Oren Lieberman. He is in St. Petersburg.

So, Oren, are they any closer to knowing a motive for the attack if in fact this 22-year-old was acting alone?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We don't have a motive yet. So we don't have the why of what happened with this attack. But authorities had given us quite a bit of insight into how they came to the conclusion that it was Kyrgyzstan born, 22-year-old, Akbarzhon Dzhalilov, who in fact was behind this attack. They say they found his DNA on the unexploded device that was one or two stations away from here, the Revolutionary Square station.

Remember, authorities found that device before it exploded and we're able to disarm and diffused it. They say they combined that with closed circuit television. It come to the conclusion that it was, in fact, Dzhalilov who was behind not only the unexploded device but the exploded device as well. And they say he was in fact a suicide bomber. So that was a bit of an insight into the direction the investigation is taking at this point.

A bit more about Dzhalilov. He is a Russian citizen. He was born in Kyrgyzstan. He's been living here in St. Petersburg for the last few years. And that, at this moment, is the direction of the investigation.

Meanwhile, as you pointed out, we are on day two of three days of mourning here in St. Petersburg. And the memorial here behind me, tripled or quadrupled in size as the day went on yesterday. And it was busy from the very morning, from the moment we were here in the morning until we left after evening rush hour. And suspect we will see it stay busy today as people still come here to pay their respects to mourn in their own way and to drop off flowers and light candles here.


VAUSE: Oren, thank you. Oren Lieberman live in the St. Petersburg.

Next here on NEWSROOM L.A., the "Fox News" channel is facing a growing advertiser revolt over its biggest star, Mr. Bill O'Reilly.


[00:36:00] VAUSE: Welcome back, everybody.

More than a major dozen advertisers are pulling their ads from the "Fox News" channel's "The O'Reilly Factor" amid a scandal involving the host Bill O'Reilly. It comes in the wake of a "New York Times" report about settlements paid to five women who alleged sexual harassment or verbal abuse by O'Reilly. 21 companies now including Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Hyundai have pulled ads from the show.

For more, CNN's senior reporter for media and politics, Dylan Byers, is with us now.

OK, in the past, controversies like this have not affected Bill O'Reilly's ratings. Its viewers are incredibly loyal. But the other side of the equation, if you have millions of viewers and you can't monetize them, because advertisers don't want to be connected to this program, the network has a problem.

DYLAN BYERS, CNN SENIOR REPORTER FOR MEDIA & POLITICS: The network does have a problem. At the end of the day, this really is about money. The reason that "Fox News" loves the fact that Bill O'Reilly is the highest rated host in cable news, it's because he draws the viewers which draws the advertisers.

Now, look, 24 hours ago, two advertisers walked out. Now, 21 advertisers pulled out just in the course of a 24 hour period. We are seeing a sort groundswell, or I suppose a better term would be an exodus. We're seeing an exodus away from the O'Reilly program.

Now, the issue here regarding the finances and the economics of it is that the exodus is only from the O'Reilly program. It is not from "Fox News." It is not from 21st Century Fox.

All of those advertisers are basically just reassigning those ads to other parts of the "Fox News." So this is really a public campaign so far, more so than it is one, where the advertising revenue is going to suffer.

VAUSE: And you say there is this sort of exodus and this is growing. And the activist group, "Color of Change," they've actually started a campaign specifically focusing on advertisers to withdraw from the O'Reilly show.

We've also had from the "National Organization for Women" demanding O'Reilly be fired. According to their statement, "Mr. O'Reilly abused his position on power and engaged in a pattern of predatory, misogynistic behavior, enticing women with promises of career advances and threatening retribution when they rebuff his sexual advances. The reported use of his powerful position to repeatedly manipulate women reveals a cruel, misogyny that runs to the core of his character"

I mean, that is scathing. Yet in the past, the network just labeled these groups, left wing loons. And it kind of fired up their base, and they actually, you know, they've sort of profited off this.

BYERS: That's right. It's hard to label these accusers left wing loons or the organizations coming after them when you have so many accusers whose stories fit a pattern that is not dissimilar from the one described, that you just described there. That's sort of the problem.

Again this is also coming in the wake of the ouster of Roger Ailes. There has been an acknowledgement, if not a direct acknowledgement by getting rid of Roger Ailes. There is an acknowledgement that sexual harassment was taking place inside that work place.

There was a commitment from the company to have zero tolerance policy for that. Nine months later, we're dealing with the same stories. Everyone inside of "Fox News" feels like they have been through this movie before. Whether they're just trying to keep their head down and get their work done or whether they feel really uncomfortable with the environment that they work in.

VAUSE: How significant was that the three big evening newscasts covered the O'Reilly story on Tuesday.

BYERS: It's immensely significant. It's -- I would know not just that. But you have media organizations around the world covering it. I mean, remember seeing, you know, France 24 did a package on it.

So that is where it graduates from. You know, media reporters such as myself caring about it. And we care about a lot of things that the world doesn't care about.


BYERS: Because we're upset. You know, we are in the news.



BYERS: This is bigger than that. It's much bigger than that. And it's -- you know, I would say at the sort of global level, where it gets to or the international level where it gets to is the culture of 21st Century Fox.

They let Roger Ailes do what he did for as long as he did. There was the phone hacking scandal in the UK in 2011. There was a question here about, do the Murdochs -- does Rupert Murdoch sort of turn a blind eye away from problems in his companies so long as they're making him a profit.

VAUSE: You're talking about the culture within 21st Century Fox and within the "Fox News" channel.

[00:40:00] There has been this long-standing rumor that female anchors at the "Fox News Channel," that they are not allowed to wear pants. They have to wear like skirts or dresses. It's been denied. But a former "Fox News" contributor Jedediah Bila, she seemed to confirmed that the rumor is in fact true. Listen to this.


JEDEDIAH BILA, FORMER FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: We used to go into the room, and there were a bunch of dresses that you could choose from. I told -- I was told at one point I wasn't allowed to wear orange because Roger doesn't like the color orange. So I didn't wear orange. But, yes, I mean, I didn't see any pants. People always say why didn't you wear pants? You'll notice I wear pants a lot here. I didn't wear pants, because I didn't see a pants option. I wasn't given a pants option so I had to choose skirt.


VAUSE: And just to be clear, she followed up with a tweet saying I was told repeatedly that pants weren't an option.

How does that sort of play into the current accusations of sexual harassment and the culture of the place?

BYERS: Well, look, you know, was there a written policy saying that you have to come in with a dress this high and heels and whatever? Probably not.

Now is there a written policy at any news organization that gentleman such as you and I have to wear a coat and tie. No, probably not. But should we if we are going to host an evening newscast, should we wear a coat and tie? Probably.

VAUSE: Well, you know, there is a clause about your presentation and that kind of stuff.

BYERS: Exactly. But what this is is not so much a written policy as it is. What she described in that clip from "The View," which is, a culture in which the expectation is that where men might go on camera and, and, sound smart, women are expected to go on camera and look sexy.

VAUSE: We also heard from Megyn Kelly about the glass desk. And how Roger Ailes wanted her to have a glass desk because he allegedly like her legs.

BYERS: And by the way, let's talk -- getting back to Roger Ailes. No one understood the aesthetics of television so well as he did. And if he had that "Madman" era and archaic 1950s world view, it was very much about the appearance of women, about the sexuality of women more so than it was about their ideas.

VAUSE: And such as these allegations of sexual harassment. A third black female employee has joined a lawsuit alleging racial discrimination. This just happened on Tuesday. They all worked in the payroll department at "Fox." And it look at some of the details they went through some pretty horrendous abuse.

BYERS: The details from that lawsuit are pretty horrendous. And they involve things that I actually wouldn't even want to repeat on air. And indeed that woman who the complaints were lodged against, she was fired. The complaint in the lawsuit now is that "Fox News" knew about it for years and didn't do anything about it.

But, look, you are getting to what, one former "Fox News" source I spoke with described as just a dark and toxic environment. They are dealing with so many problems. They're drowning in problems.

There's the sexual harassment allegations against Bill O'Reilly. New sexual harassment allegations against Roger Ailes. This case involving racism you brought up. On top of all that, there is a federal investigation into whether or not they improperly handled the payments to the accusers of Roger Ailes. I mean, it's honestly of all the media organizations in the country right now, it's probably the last one where you want to be working in their legal department.

VAUSE: Embattled doesn't describe it. I spoke to a friend -- you know, someone I know at "Fox News." He said did you see the O'Reilly story in "The New York Times?" He said, no. Oh, that's why we had sensitivity training last week.

BYERS: Right. Exactly.

VAUSE: Dylan, good to speak with you.

BYERS: Good to see you.

VAUSE: You've been watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles, I'm John Vause. Stay with us. I'll be back at the top of the hour with more news from around the world. But, first, "World Sport" starts after a short break.