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Condemnation and Tone Changed; President Trump Meets President Xi; President Trump Accusing Former Obama Political Appointee; Storms Battering Cities. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired April 6, 2017 - 03:00   ET



[03:00:00] ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN HOST: President Trump says the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria crossed a lot of lines beyond a red line. But it's not clear what he'll do about it.

Plus, after everything Donald Trump has said about China, he'll finally meet President Xi Jinping in a matter of hours.

And later, tornados, hails, floods and lightning, dangerous storms rip across the United States.

Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us from all around the world. I'm Rosemary Church and this is CNN Newsroom.

Well, the U.S. and Russia are trading charges over who is to blame for the chemical attack in Syria that killed at least 70 people. The U.S. says Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is responsible and the secretary of state is urging Moscow to rethink its backing for the Assad regime.

Moscow claims a Syrian airstrike hit a chemical weapons workshop run by terrorists, releasing the gas. But witnesses described chemical bombs dropped from planes. And Amnesty International says evidence points to an air-launched chemical attack.

CNN's Ben Wedeman man has more.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It was the latest in a long series of horrors that is the war in Syria. Early Tuesday morning, the town of Khan Shihoun was rocked by explosions. And suddenly there was pandemonium. Hundreds, including many children struggling for breath, foaming at the mouth.

What exactly happened Tuesday morning isn't clear. The result, however, is. For the lucky who survived like 55-year-old, Aysha Tilawi (Ph), now in a Turkish hospital, the memories return.

"There was an airstrike," she says. "I saw yellow and blue. We felt dizzy and fainted." Ahmed Adrahim (Ph) still has trouble breathing or reconciling Tuesday's events. "I don't know what happened to my children," he says.

Turkish teams in full chemical suits are deployed in no man's land to wash down those coming to Turkey for treatment. While the Turkish mobile lab for nuclear biological and chemical weapons detection heads across the border.

Thirteen-year-old, Masin Youssef (Ph), Aysha's grandson, is back on his feet in the hospital, but the trauma has seared his soul. "I saw the explosion in front of my grandfather's house," he recalls. "I ran to their house barefoot. I saw my grandfather sitting like this, suffocated. Then I became dizzy." How many of his relatives were killed? "Nineteen," he responds.

The Syrian civil war is now into its seventh year. It's left hundreds of thousands of people dead. This was not the first chemical attack, and it probably won't be the last. All these years' diplomats and politicians have talked and talked, but people continue to die.

I'm Ben Wedeman, CNN, on the Turkish Syrian border.

CHURCH: And CNN's Muhammad Lila joins us from Istanbul, and CNN international correspondent Matthew Chance is in Moscow. Muhammad, to you first, what more are we learning about what happened on the ground, and how do the facts match up against the version of events offered by Russia?

MUHAMMAD LILA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Rosemary, unfortunately we're not learning a whole lot more about what happened on the ground and that's actually part of the problem. And the reason is that there are no international monitoring groups. There are no international investigators that have any sort of presence in that area to be able to determine which version of events is true.

So, all of the information coming out of this region is coming from groups that have a vested interest in this conflict. And even with the different versions, for example, the version that the rebels have put out and the version that the Russian government have put out, there appear to be some contradictions in both versions.

For example, we know that Doctors Without Borders has said that it appears as though two chemical agents were involved, something like Sarin and something like chlorine. But it's unclear if that was delivered in the same first airstrike or if there were subsequent airstrikes that delivered different chemicals.

[03:05:02] Those are questions we don't have answers to. And when it comes fought Russian version of events, well, Russia says that there was a Syrian airstrike on some sort of weapons depot that wound up releasing the chemical agents into the air.

But so far Russia hasn't offered, for example, any coordinates of where that weapons depot was. They haven't offered any flight logs or any proof that these airstrikes took place at the time that they say they did.

And unfortunately until independent and neutral investigators can get to the bottom of this, it may continue to be a case of a different version of events and very difficult to piece together the truth behind them.

CHURCH: And, Matthew, about 24 hours ago, Russia offered its version of events. We talked about it on air, but the international community has rejected the explanation. The U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley strongly condemning Russia and the Syrian government and even suggesting the U.S. might resort to military action. So, what's been the reaction in Moscow to her comments?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think she said that they would resort to unilateral action. I think that's an important distinction. I mean, it's been speculated that that could mean military action, but it wasn't specified.

The comments by Nikki Haley were, I think, amount to the staunchest criticism by a member of the Trump administration that there have been to Russia since the inauguration of President Trump. And I think it marks another nail in the coffin of the prospects of the Trump administration building a better relationship with Moscow.

There were also comments yesterday, of course, from Rex Tillerson, the U.S. Secretary of State, who's got long contacts with Russia, but he said something along the lines of Russia should reassess its support for Bashar al-Assad in light of the alleged weapons chemical attack.

Donald Trump also laid the blame for the chemical attack at the feet of the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad, but he didn't mention Russia by name.

And so, as being responsible morally or otherwise. And, so, I think the overall picture that we get coming from the Trump administration, at least here from our vantage point in Russia is that, there is a confusion at play as to what the policy is of the Trump administration.

First of all, towards Syria, but also towards Russia, as well. The Russians have made it quite clear what their policy is.

Within the past few minutes I've had a text message from the spokesperson of the Russian foreign ministry, Maria Zakharova and she said this. "Russia's approach to Assad is clear. He is the legal president of an independent state. But what's the American's approach?" She asked me?

And, so, the Russians are saying, look, that policy is absolutely going to be the same despite the calls on them by U.S. officials to reexamine it.

CHURCH: All right. Certainly we're watching this very closely as are you, Matthew Chance, in Moscow and Muhammad Lila in Istanbul. Many thanks.

Well, not so long ago the Trump administration said the presence of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was a political reality that the world had to accept, but the apparent gas attack on Syrian civilians has markedly changed the White House's tone.

Our Sara Murray reports.

SARA MURRAY, CNN White House CORRESPONDENT: President Trump sailed into office on tough talk. But faced with his first international crisis, it's unclear what action, if any, the U.S. will take in response.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Militarily I don't like to say where I'm going and what I'm doing. But I'm certainly not going to be telling you.


MURRAY: After meeting with King Abdullah of Jordan today in the Rose Garden, the president drew his own red line on Syria. Expressing horror about the chemical attack that left women and children dead.


TRUMP: When you kill innocent children, innocent babies -- babies, little babies -- with a chemical gas that is so lethal -- people were shocked to hear what gas it was. That crosses many, many lines.


MURRAY: The primary focus of Trump's policy is defeating ISIS while laying the blame for other foreign policy quandaries to Syria to nuclear threats at the feet of former President Obama. Even as he played the blame game today, Trump acknowledged that now he is the one in charge.


TRUMP: It is my responsibility. It was a great opportunity missed.


MURRAY: Today, congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle pointed to Syria as Trump's first true foreign policy test. Already some say he's fallen short.


CHUCK SCHUMER, (D) UNITED STATES SENATOR: What he's done with Syria is emblematic of what he always does. Instead of a policy, instead of action, there is just blame. Blame doesn't solve the problem.


MURRAY: Republican Senator Marco Rubio even suggesting the Trump administration emboldened Assad by signaling it wouldn't seek to overthrow the Syrian leader.


[03:10:00] MARCO RUBIO, (R) UNITED STATES SENATOR: Bashar al-Assad and you read that it is no longer a priority of the United States to have you removed from power, I believe that that is an incentive to act with impunity.


MURRAY: Today, Trump offered no criticism of Russia's support for Assad, saying only that his view of Assad was evolving.


TRUMP: My attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much.


MURRAY: And it is notable that Donald Trump's press conference in that Rose Garden who was there and who was not. Steve Bannon normally a fixture in the front row was not present whereas Donald Trump's Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster sat in the front row.

Sara Murray, CNN, the White House.

CHURCH: So, let's talk more now about this with CNN global affairs analyst David Rohde. Thank you so much for joining us.

Of course, the images have horrified the world, women, children and babies struck down by this chemical gas attack being and now U.S. President Donald Trump has condemned the actions of Syria's President Assad and indicated that he has changed his mind about him.

What could that mean in terms of U.S. foreign policy towards Syria, especially given Mr. Trump referred to many lines being crossed, far beyond the red line set by President Obama?

DAVID ROHDE, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, frankly it could mean some potential limited military action. There could be air strikes, let's say, in Syria. I'm in New York now and I spent the day in Washington. I talked to one official who spoke to President Trump and Trump talked about the possibility of taking military action.

If he's trying to show that he, you know, that he talks a lot about keeping his enemies guessing and not saying what he's going to do, if he's looking for a place to use military force, it could be Syria. That's a lot less risky than, let's say, carrying out a preemptive strike against North Korea which is also in the news at this point.

But, again, I'm not sure what Trump is going to do. This is one conversation I heard about, but I think it's a possibility there could be a limited American airstrike on government forces in Syria.

CHURCH: And then Mr. Trump's U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley went further than the president Wednesday, condemning both Syria and Russia, even suggesting the U.S. is open to using military action. If that happens, what are the possible consequences of such action and how might Russia respond do you think?

ROHDE: Well, there's all kinds of, you know, very important technical questions like would the United States notify Russia before it took this military action, given that, you know, Russian aircraft and military forces are active in Syria. If they do tell Russia, you know, is that a mistake? What do they target in Syria, what if there are civilian casualties?

And there was this large fear in the Obama administration of a slippery slope. And let's remember, Donald Trump as a candidate more than a dozen times in different tweets urged Barack Obama to not intervene in Syria. It was a waste of time.

So, you have a complete reversal of, you know, what Trump ran on which was keeping the U.S. sort of out of the Middle East and now he's sort of saying that, you know, there are these things that the U.S. should respond to, that this kind of cruel attack on children, you know, there should be a punishment for it.

CHURCH: Yes, that is interesting point for sure. On Tuesday, President Trump was blaming both President Assad and former U.S. President Barack Obama for the chemical gas attack. By Wednesday, however, Mr. Trump focused all the blame on Assad, even acknowledged that he himself is the one responsible now.

How significant do you think was that shift as he faces what is probably his real foreign policy des?

ROHDE: Yes, this is a huge moment for Donald Trump. He's got this very important meeting with the leader of China tomorrow. I mentioned North Korea is a tremendous problem. North Korea carrying out a ballistic missile test the day before Trump meets Chinese President Xi. And then the Syria crisis.

He talked about being strong, he talked about, you know, countries sort of fearing the U.S. How does he do that? I mean, he's now the president. He's now going to make these hard decisions. You know, do you actually, you know, if you're going to threaten countries, you have to be willing to use and use military force, you know.

And it's a lot more difficult to make that decision, do you use a small amount of force, is it then called a pin prick that has no impact, do you, you know, use too much force when people in the United States exhausted from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So it's a very difficult moment for him. You know, he kind of promised both things in the campaign. We'll be strong and we'll have respect, but I won't get us, you know, stuck in any new wars. Well, what's he going to do here? It's a fork in the road.

CHURCH: Yes, it is. And I just wanted to very quickly ask you republican Senator Rubio, Marco Rubio has even suggested that the Trump administration enabled the Assad regime by previously indicating that it wouldn't seek to overthrow Assad. Do you agree with that assessment?

[03:15:02] ROHDE: I do. I'm not sure if this rhetoric triggered it, but I think very clearly the Assad regime is testing Donald Trump and so is North Korea. So is Kim, the Kim regime, if you will and that's what's happening. And he is, you know, everyone is watching to see how he responds in the next few days and weeks.

CHURCH: David Rohde, many thanks for your analysis on this, we do appreciate it.

ROHDE: Thank you.

CHURCH: ISIS has executed 33 people in the eastern city of Deir Ezzor. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also says members of its group witnessed the slaughter. They couldn't say if the victims were regime forces, rebel fighters, or ISIS prisoners. It's thought to be the largest mass execution by ISIS this year.

We'll take a short break here, but still to come, more saber rattling from North Korea just as the leaders of the U.S. and China prepare for their first summit. Can either of them persuade Pyongyang to give up its nuclear ambitions?

We'll take a look at that. Back in a moment.


KATE RILEY, CNN WORLD SPORT ANCHOR: I'm Kate Riley with your CNN World Sport headlines.

History was made on Wednesday at Augusta National. But not for the right reasons. For the first time ever the Partridge competition the traditional warm up to the master's since 1960 was canceled. The plug was pulled mid round due to severe weather as storms moved through. Augusta officials suspended play just one hour into the competition, shutting down the course for the day.

The race for the Premiere League title was very much on after leaders Chelsea lost to Crystal Palace of the week. But the blues at home to match the city, not only was this one the most anticipated, but also most important game for the campaign so far on Wednesday.

And in the end Chelsea would edge the Manchester City 2-1. He led the way scoring both of the blue's goals. Chelsea still top of the Premiere League table. They lead Tottenham by seven points.

And fair to say it's been a tough last couple of weeks for Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi. A four-match international ban for verbally abusing a match official. One game domestic suspension as well which kept him out against Granada.

And on Wednesday, Messi returned to the Barcelona lineup as they hosted fourth place to Sevilla. And in Messi's return he was magical. He led the way scoring two goals as Barcelona blasted Sevilla 3-nil on the night.

And that's a look at all your sports headlines. I'm Kate Riley.

CHURCH: Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump hold their first summit in the coming hours at Mr. Trump's Florida resort. [03:20:03] North Korea's nuclear program is likely to dominate their

two-day agenda. Pyongyang on Wednesday test fired another ballistic missile and it may be preparing to test a 6th nuclear device. The U.S. says it is running out of patience with North Korea and might even take unilateral action.


TRUMP: As you know, I'll be meeting with the president of China very soon in Florida, and that's another responsibility we have, and that's called the country of North Korea. We have a big problem.

We have somebody that is not doing the right thing, and that's going to be my responsibility. But I'll tell you, that responsibility could have made -- been made a lot easier if it was handled years ago.


CHURCH: And our Paula Hancocks is in Seoul, South Korea and Matt Rivers joins us live from Beijing. Welcome to you both.

Paula, let's start with you. The main topic of discussion between President Trump and President Xi will of course be North Korea and what China can do to reign in North Korea. The expectations are high, of course. How is Xi Jinping likely to respond, do you think?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's interesting, Rosemary, because what Xi Jinping has been saying consistently is that he would like negotiations. He would like dialogue on the Peninsula so presumably referring back to either the six-party talks when six countries who had the biggest stake in this crisis would get together and discuss things.

This is what China would like to see. President Xi has been telling President Trump that you should be talking to North Korea. So, the fact is Rex Tillerson, the U.S. Secretary of State, when he came to the region, made it clear that that wasn't going to happen. He said it's not the time for negotiations.

And you heard President Trump saying effectively the same thing, although it should be clarified that we don't have the exact North Korean policy of the Trump administration at this point. We're still guessing this to what it would be. And so, it will be difficult for President Trump to be asking China to do more to reign in North Korea when the main suggestion China is giving to negotiate with North Korea is not possible.

CHURCH: Matt, let's bring you in. The United States wants China to help solve the issue of North Korea, but what's China hoping to get out of this two-day summit with President Trump?

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's a lot of domestic political considerations going on right now here now in China. Later on this year there is a very important Congress that will be convened. And of course while President Xi Jinping is largely expected to continue another five-year term after this Congress finishes up later this year, he's really trying to consolidate his political power and get his people into higher echelon posts within the communist party.

And so one of the ways he can do that is by having a successful meeting in Florida. So, that kind of takes two different tracks. On the one hand, there's hard liners inside his party who are not happy with the Trump administration, who say President Trump has disrespected China with all of his anti-China rhetoric. Both as a candidate and then as president and so they want President Xi to stand up to President Trump to look like a strong man next to the United States leader.

But on the other hand, the Chinese economy is slowing down and President Xi needs to make sure that the Chinese American trading relationship which is very, very lucrative for China remains open. So, he can't really go to President Trump too far into throwing up protectionist trade barriers because that could hurt the Chinese economy and ultimately make President Xi weaker here domestically within his own party.

So, the President of China likely going to walk a very fine line here. I think overall he just want to maybe wants to get this meeting over with and hopefully emerge unscathed.

CHURCH: And Paula, just quickly back to you, of course there is concern now that Pyongyang may fire a 6th nuclear device. Is it thought that this may occur while the two leaders, President Xi and President Trump, are meeting?

HANCOCKS: Well, we've heard from many officials in Washington and in Seoul that it is pretty much impossible to predict when exactly there will be a nuclear test. Straight after number five last year, South Korean officials said North Korea is ready, is physically able to carry out number six.

It's really just a case of waiting for the green light from the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. And that hasn't changed. We've seen more activity around the area of Punggye-ri which is the area where these tests have taken place. That's from satellite images. But we've seen that in the past and then nothing happened. So it's really impossible almost to predict when exactly a nuclear test will happen.

CHURCH: All right, many thanks to Paula Hancocks in Seoul, and Matt Rivers joining us live from Beijing.

[03:24:59] Well, Aung San Suu Kyi is already on the international pressure over the plight of Myanmar's Muslims. Now the country's de facto leader insists there is no ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya minority. That flies in the face of U.N. findings which claims there is evidence of atrocities carried out by security forces.

The Nobel Peace lawyer yet talked to the BBC and offered her view.


AUNG SAN SUU KYI, STATE COUNSELLOR OF MYANMAR I don't think there is ethnic cleansing going on. I think ethnic cleansing is too strong an expression to use for what's happening. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, I think that's larger, I have to say.

KYI: Further, I think there is a lot of hostility there. As I pointed out just now, it's Muslims killing Muslims as well. If you think they are collaborating with authorities, so it's not just a matter of ethnic cleansing.


CHURCH: Rohingya Muslims are denied citizenship in Myanmar, also known as Burma. They are considered illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

Well, Donald Trump takes aim at former Obama National Security Advisor Susan Rice. Still to come, why he is accusing her of breaking the law. We're back in a moment.


CHURCH: A warm welcome back to our viewers all around the world. I'm Rosemary Church. I want to update you now on the main stories we've been following this hour.

U.S. President Donald Trump says the chemical strike in Syria has changed his view of Bashar al-Assad. During the meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah, Mr. Trump condemned the attack as an affront to humanity. At least 70 civilians including many children were killed.

[03:30:01] China's leader arrives in the U.S. Thursday for his first one on one meeting with President Trump, but it won't be in Washington. Instead, President Xi Jinping will stay at Mr. Trump's resort in Florida.

The two leaders have plenty to talk about including how to deal with North Korea on its nuclear weapons program.

Violent protests broke out in Venezuela Wednesday. Students clashed with riot police who can be seen throwing teargas at the crowd. Tensions heightened last month when Venezuela Supreme Court tried to remove power from the opposition-backed national assembly. The court has since backed down.

All right. We want to return now to Syria and world leaders are contradicting one another at every turn as they argue over who is responsible for the attack. Here are some of the biggest moments in that major geopolitical debate.


TRUMP: When you kill innocent children, innocent babies -- babies, little babies -- with a chemical gas that is so lethal -- people were shocked to hear what gas it was -- that crosses many, many lines beyond the red line, many, many lines.

NIKKI HALEY, UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: We walked the pictures to children, foaming at the mouth, suffering convulsions, being carried in the arms of desperate parents.

We saw rows of lifeless bodies, some still in diapers, some with visible scars of a chemical weapons attack. We know that yesterday's attack bears all the hallmarks of the Assad regimes use of chemical weapons.

VLADIMIR SAFRONKOV, RUSSIA'S DEPUTY PERMANENT REPRESENTATIVE TO THE U.N. (through translator): The Syrian aviation conducted an airstrike in the eastern edge of Khan Sheikhoun on a large warehouse of ammunition and military equipment.

On the territory of that warehouse, there were -- there were -- there was a facility to produce -- to produce ammunition with the use of toxic weapons. Those were supposed -- that ammunition was supposed to be used in Iraq and in Aleppo.

MOUNZER MOUNZER, SYRIAN DEPUTY AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N. (through translator): We categorically reject false claims and accusations on the use of the Syrian Arab Army toxic chemicals against Syrians in Khan Sheikhoun. These are used as human shield by the armed terrorist group.

Syria also reaffirms that the Syrian army does not have any form or type of chemical weapons. We have never used them and we will never use them.


CHURCH: And to find ways to help Syrian survive the civil war you can visit your world.

U.S. President Donald Trump says former Obama National Security Advisor Susan Rice may have committed a crime.

CNN's Manu Raju has the story.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: President Trump now leveling a stunning new accusation, that former President Obama's national security advisor may have broken the law. This after Susan Rice has faced allegations that she tried to learn the name of Trump associates speaking with foreign officials under surveillance, which is not illegal when asked if he thought Rice broke the law, Trump told the New York Times, "Do I think? Yes, I think."

He added, "It's such an important story for our country and the world. It is one of the big stories of our time." Rice defended herself yesterday.


SUSAN RICE, FORMER UNITED STATES NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: The allegation is that somehow Obama administration officials utilized intelligence for political purposes. That's absolutely false.

(END VIDEO CLIP) RAJU: It's unclear which law the president thinks Rice broke. And he offered no new evidence. A Rice spokesperson says she's not going to dignify the president's ludicrous charge with a comment.

On Capitol Hill, the House intelligence committee plans to invite Rice to testify as part of its widening probe into Russia and the Trump campaign.


RAJU: But when you think about the president is saying that she may have broken the law.

JOAQUIN CASTRO, (D) UNITED STATES REPRESENTATIVE: Well, hopefully he has some evidence and facts to back that up.


RAJU: Democrats say Rice did nothing wrong and they accused the GOP of slandering Rice to distract from revelations of Trump campaign contacts with Russians accused of meddling in the elections.


DENNY HECK, (D) UNITED STATES REPRESENTATIVE: We're watching the movie in 3-D, deflection, deception and distraction. And this is just part of a grander strategy of distraction. And don't look over here where we're trying to investigate Russian interference and the potential coordination and collusion of Trump operatives.


[03:34:57] RAJU: And today more squabbling in the House committee as democrats accuse republican chairman Devin Nunes of preventing a public hearing from going forward. Namely to hear the testimony from Sally Yates, a former top Obama justice official who had warned the Trump administration that former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn may have been vulnerable to blackmail by the Russians.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think there is a great deal of resistance.


RAJU: A republican source tells CNN that republicans are working on an agreement to schedule Yates' testimony but declined to say if it would be in a public session. Other republicans on the committee refuse to comment today.


RAJU: They're saying you're resisting signing -- having her testify publicly.

DEVIN NUNES, (R) UNITED STATES REPRESENTATIVE: We're not going to talk about anything to do with this investigation.

RAJU: Why not?

NUNES: Because the investigation is ongoing.


RAJU: And another wrinkle in the House intelligence committee investigation as the White House is now resisting giving that information that Devin Nunes saw last month that he said showed incidental collection of some Trump team communications with foreign officials.

The White House now saying it is not going to give that information to the full committee, at least that is according to Adam Schiff, the top democrat on the committee.

And I reach for comment, the White House spokesman is not denying that saying the information is going to go to the so-called gang of 8, those are the top leaders on Capitol Hill who get that highly classified intelligence information.

So, it sounds like that information will not get to the full committee and leading to more questions about why the White House is choosing not to release more broadly the information that now Donald Trump says shows that Susan Rice committed a crime.

Manu Raju, CNN, Capitol Hill.

CHURCH: And there is more going on in Washington. President Trump just removed Chief strategist Steve Bannon from his permanent seat on the National Security Council. Trump's decision is a reversal of his controversial choice to place Bannon on the council in the first place, but Vice President Mike Pence is downplaying the move.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He said it is not a demotion for Steve Bannon.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, not for Steve, not for Tom. These are very highly valued members of this administration. They're going to continue to play important policy roles, but I think with H.R. McMaster's addition as our National Security Advisor, a man of extraordinary background in military, this is just a natural evolution to ensure the National Security Council is organized in a way that best serves the president in resolving and making those difficult decisions.


CHURCH: CNN counter terrorism analyst Philip Mudd gave this explanation for the change in Steve Bannon's role.


PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: When you work in Washington, D.C., Steve Bannon is what we call big hat no cattle. That is, he's good some ideas, he's got a big title but he has neither money nor people. When you've got money or people that is the CIA director, the secretary of defense, the secretary of state, you've got to do things. You've got to negotiate with the Russians, you've got to deploy forces, you've got to run clandestine operations overseas if you're the CIA.

At a certain point the president has to step back and say, if I want to do stuff, it's the secretary of state, the secretary of defense, the CIA director. The guys with money and people who have to do stuff. The big idea guys, we saw what happens to them today. This guy got his ass handed to him.


CHURCH: A senior White House official tells CNN Steve Bannon is still involved with the council and attended a meeting Wednesday night.

Still to come here on CNN Newsroom, some U.S. residents are dealing with damage left behind by a system of storms that produced tornadoes, heavy rain, even grapefruit sized hail. We'll explain when we come back.


CHURCH: Devastating floods have killed more than 100 people in northern Peru, but out of the disaster, a story of hope.

A military helicopter rescued one woman just in time for her to give birth to a brand-new baby girl. The troops had trouble pinpointing her exact location. So her family had to light a fire to signal to the chopper. Mother and daughter are in the hospital and local media say they are doing well.

And we want to show you some dramatic images of a tornado in the U.S. State of Kentucky and if you look carefully, you can see it during the flashes of lightning.

Terrifying for the people there and that siren is warning people to take cover from the tornado. The storm was just one of many that barreled through the southeastern Midwest sections of the U.S. on Wednesday.

And here you see hail pelting parts of Birmingham, Alabama where the governor declared a state of emergency. Then here in Atlanta, Georgia, some city workers had to be rescued from flood waters.

And our meteorologist Pedram Javaheri joins us with more details on this. And I can't speak to the other areas, but certainly across Atlanta, those storms were relentless.

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Absolutely. It was a scary day. I spoke to my family about having the proper precautions in place as far as what we were going to do if a storm like that was to move through as the conditions were in place. And Rosemary, we got a tornado on the ground across parts of Georgia,

the State of Georgia for one hour. If was on the ground. We had grapefruit size hail as you said. So we'll show you what exactly is in store. Because some areas could still see some strong storms over the next several hours.

But here you go from the bottom of the charts there, above .6 centimeters in diameter pea size hail to the top of the charts, almost 10 centimeters in diameter, softball or grapefruit size that is precisely what we saw.

So again, if this does a good job explains the severities of some of these storms that are capable of holding something that large and heavy in the atmosphere before it tumbles down to earth. It really does a good job showing it. But there goes the storm system, what is left of it pushing off towards the Carolinas.

The center of the storm well to the north. But over 200 severe weather reports scattered about a very densely populated portion of the U.S. So, again, incredible to think that with this nine tornadoes that were reported no fatalities that we know of at this point.

So, certainly, a lot of people making it out with some luck over this region. And you notice across the United States there has been a spike in tornadoes, almost 500 reports so far in 2017. That's about 200 percent of normal versus what is average for this time of year.

And incredibly, you look at the state by state layout of tornadoes in the United States, the State of Georgia actually is number one in the United States in that number there. Easily ahead of any other state when it comes to 81 reports of or tornadoes.

Another way to look at this, the U.S. State of Georgia has more tornadoes so far reported in 2017 than any other nation in the world, except Canada, where they expect to see an entire year Canada sees a little over 100.

[03:45:06] Again, the State of Georgia, well above the average of 29 which would be for the entire year.

Here's what left. The storm system again pushing offshore. Tornado watch still in effect across the northern portion of the State of Florida. Some of those storms still have rotation involved in them. But plenty of wet weather going to push off towards the northern portion of the United States with the storm system.

Speaking of wet weather, conditions out of parts of Australia, we know of course cyclone Debbie impacted parts of New Zealand, and Australia, but remnants moving in towards New Zealand and some video across this region showing you the mess that's in place across the North Island and northern tier of the North Island.

We know what the storm did around Townsville around portions of Mackay. Here is what is left now as it begins to push out towards parts of New Zealand and fall apart across that region. In fact, across Christchurch and across Auckland and work your way even around areas of south portion of New Zealand there.

Some of the wettest days we've seen in all of 2017 happening right now because of what's going on across there with what is left of cyclone Debbie. So, a lot of people in Australia dealt with this a couple days ago, Rosemary. Sometimes if the track is just right, the storm doesn't just move over open waters. It's New Zealand who sees the brunt of it and that's what's happening.

CHURCH: Amazing, just the extent of it was too, really.

JAVAHERI: Absolutely, once again.

CHURCH: Pedram, many thanks.

JAVAHERI: Thanks for having me.

CHURCH: I appreciate it.

Well, the U.S. Secret Service agent has been suspended after meeting a prostitute at a hotel. Multiple law enforcement sources say the agent was on Vice President Mike Pence's detail but was off duty in Maryland at the time of the alleged incident.

He was arrested and charged with solicitation last week. Police were called in after the hotel manager became suspicious of activity in one of his rooms.

Well, now to the sexual harassment allegations aimed at Fox News host Bill O'Reilly. More and more advertisers are pulling their sponsorship of his top-rated cable show the O'Reilly Factor. Still the right wing commentator has a very powerful supporter.

CNN's Brynn Gingras reports.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: At Fox News heavy weight Bill O'Reilly fights off sexual harassment claims, Donald Trump is in his corner. The president telling the New York Times "O'Reilly is a good person," and quote, "I think he shouldn't have settled because you should have taken it all the way. I don't think Bill did anything wrong."

Five women who accused O'Reilly of sexual harassment received pay outs totaling about $13 million according to the New York Times. The cable show host denies the allegations, even still more than 30 big name brands are pulling their ad dollars from his top rated program, The O'Reilly Factor.

The president's comments about the Fox anchor may seem like deja vu as he also defended the network's former boss Roger Ailes when he was sued for sexual harassment last year. Back then Trump also characterized Ailes as a good person and he questioned the motives of his accusers.


TRUMP: I can tell you that some of the women that are complaining, I know how much he's helped them and even recently and when they write books that are fairly recently released and they say wonderful things about him and now all of a sudden they're saying these horrible things about him, Mike Tyson has been somebody...


GINGRAS: Trump was criticized for seemingly blaming the victim decades ago. After fighter Mike Tyson was convicted of raping an 18- year-old beauty pageant contestant.


TRUMP: It's to my opinion that to a large extent Mike Tyson was railroaded in this case. You have a young woman who was seen dancing for the beauty contest, dancing with a big smile on her face, looked happy as could be.


GINGRAS: The president's recent remarks about O'Reilly comes days after declaring April National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention month, a crime he's been accused of by a number of women, many who went public with their allegations during the campaign last year. That, after this notorious audio leak of Trump bragging on a bus in 2005.


TRUMP: And when you're a star they let you do it, you can do anything.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whatever you want.

TRUMP: Grab them by the (muted).


GINGRAS: Trump brushed that off as quote, "locker room banter" and later released this video on his Facebook page saying he's a changed man.


TRUMP: Anyone who knows me knows these words don't reflect who I am. I said it, I was wrong, and I apologize.


GINGRAS: Brynn Gingras, CNN, New York.

CHURCH: We'll take a short break here. But still to come, we will introduce you to some Kansas high schoolers who are proving local journalism is alive and well.

[03:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK) DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: A lined up severe weather moved across the southeastern United States. For the day on Wednesday, check out some of the damage that was left over in the Americas, Georgia region. Trees falling through people's living rooms and their bedrooms, a scary situation for many as several tornadoes touched down.

We have many reports of hail and wind damage as well. On the backside of the system it's pulling down enough cold air that's transitioning this precipitation into snow fall. We could have upwards of 10 to 15 centimeters on the ground for portions of northern Michigan by the time the storm system finally pulls away throughout the day on Thursday.

Here it is across the East Coast of the United States this Thursday. So double-check your travel plans if you're going in and out of Philadelphia, New York City or the nation's capital. Tune in for the potential for severe weather across the Mid-Atlantic States.

Warming up across the Rockies and another storm system just waiting across the Pacific, that is the next weather maker for central and northern California. You can see the heavy rainfall and high elevation snow expected with this particular system.

Let's talk temperatures. Nineteen for Los Angeles, 25 and sunny near Dallas. Chicago, 9 degrees. Thirteen for the big apple. Temperatures cooling off considerably into Atlanta, Georgia as well. Look at the cooler air impacting the eastern half of the United States.

CHURCH: Next Tuesday NASA will up load a series of instructions to the Cassini spacecraft that will be its death sentence. Cassini was launched 20 years ago and for the past 13 years it's been orbiting Saturn and its moons with spectacular results.

Now Cassini is running out of fuel so NASA is going for broke. The new instructions will send Cassini diving into Saturn in mid-September. But before that fatal plunge, Cassini will make a series of epic orbits between Saturn and its rings that could up stage everything it's done so far.


LINDA SPILKER, CASSINI'S PROJECT SCIENTIST, NASA: In so many ways, the grand finale is like a brand-new mission. We're going to a place and obtaining data with the Cassini spacecraft we could only obtain in doing it this way.

In fact, I wouldn't be a bit surprised if some of the discoveries we make with Cassini might be the very best of the mission from these grand finale orbits.


CHURCH: And Cassini will crash into earth's atmosphere on September 15th sending back data up until the very end. How about that? And finally, we'd like to give a shout out to the Pittsburgh High

Purple Dragons and their team of student journalists in the U.S. State of Kansas. When their school hired a new principal, they did a routine fact check on her credentials. Before long she resigned over what they uncovered.

CNN affiliate KSNF has this report.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What started as a profile about their new high school principal ended in national attention?


[03:55:02] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congratulations from me. Give yourself a round of applause.

PATRICK SULLIVAN, PITTSBURG HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: It's shocking to see how people interact with one another and how someone could think they could get away with something like that.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Journalism students at PHS were writing an article about their new principal Dr. Amy Robertson, that's when they found some things that didn't quite add up.


SULLIVAN: Everyone was really shocked. The most common question is how did the school board not catch this earlier and you know, not follow-up on it? How did we catch it before everyone else? And my response is I think we just did our job as a journalist.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: While Robertson does have a bachelor's degree from the University of Tulsa, the school where she received her doctorate Corllins University doesn't seem to exist.


DESTRY BROWN, SUPERINTENDENT, PITTSBURH HIGH SCHOOL: She had a lot of documents that she was using to back up the claim that they were valid degrees.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: School administrators say they have a vetting process that would have caught the same things, but the students were able to release the information sooner.


BROWN: We can't go out and tell everybody what we've been doing and that sort of thing. So, we were asking the same questions.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were just writing to give our community some information like it has turned into this big ordeal.


CHURCH: The students had a better vetting system, didn't they? And their work has been celebrated by all kinds of professional outlets and they'll even be appearing on the popular morning news show Good Morning America in just a few hours from now.

Thanks for joining us. I'm Rosemary Church. The news continues with Isa Soares in London. Have a great day.