Return to Transcripts main page


Confusing Words; Top Rater Kicked Out; Strengthening Asian Ties; A Show of Military Mite; Missing in the Photo-Op; Chaos in a Struggling Economy. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired April 20, 2017 - 03:00   ET



[03:00:00] ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN HOST: Show of force, U.S. and South Korean militaries hold combat drills amid rising tensions with Pyongyang.

Violent clashes on the streets of Venezuela as supporters of the country's president come face-to-face with his critics.

And Fox News cuts ties with its ratings king. The rise and fall of Bill O'Reilly and his defiant reaction to the split.

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

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is warning North Korea any attack would be met with overwhelming force. He's in Indonesia right now after stops in Japan and South Korea. Pence says Pyongyang is the most dangerous and urgent threat to the region, and all options are on the table.

China is praising U.S. statements on North Korea. A foreign ministry spokesman said Beijing is gravely concerned about recent nuclear and missile activity.

Meanwhile, the U.S. and South Korea are flexing their military muscle. More than a thousand U.S. service members are taking part in the annual Max Thunder military drills.

CNN's Paula Hancocks has more now from Kunsan Air Base.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is Max Thunder, a massive air exercise between the U.S. and South Korea. There' about 80 aircraft involved in this, more than 1,500 personnel. Now we're told its routine, it is annual. The lieutenant colonel in charge of it said that it is being planned for months, and they don't have specific enemy in mind when they're carrying out this exercise.

But of course, what is happening on the Korean Peninsula right now means that this is very much in the spotlight. We know that North Korea had blamed the United States for (Inaudible) t almost the brink of war. And there was rhetoric on both sides being very strong at this point. But from this point of view, the people involved in this particular exercise say that it's just important for them to be to know how to work with each other in case of a war. We're being told that this is as close a simulation as you can get to a possible war situation.

Now of course North Korea does not like these military options. They see this as a practice for invading North Korea. The U.S., though, says they are defensive. China doesn't like them either. They've suggested to the U.S. and South Korea that if they actually halt these drills, then North Korea may suspend their nuclear missile program.

It's not a new suggestion, and it's not a suggestion that the United States accepts.

Paula Hancocks, CNN, at Kunsan Air base in South Korea.

CHURCH: Well, back in Washington, the White House seems to be struggling with its messaging on North Korea. The Trump administration said earlier this month, the USS Carl Vinson was heading toward the Korean Peninsula. They later admitted the carrier strike group was taking part in training exercises with Australia's navy.

Here's how White House spokesman Sean Spicer addressed the discrepancy.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president believed that he might have spoken too quickly on this location of the vessel. But what was actually arrived...


SEAN SPICER, UNITED STATES WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president said that we have an armada going towards the Peninsula. That's a fact, it happened. It is happening, rather.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sean, just to follow-up on that, you know, obviously when the President of the United States says there's military hardware going to a region in the middle of a crisis on the Korean Peninsula, the allies of the United States are encouraged. When that happened to not be the case they can interpret that is a false encouragement.

So how is this White House explaining to South Korea and Japan that in fact during this build-up and the actual missile launch there was no USS Carl Vinson.

SPICER: Well, respectfully, that's why I would ask you to either touch base with the Department of Defense. The statement that was put out was that the Carl Vinson group was heading to the Korean Peninsula. It is headed to the Korean Peninsula. It all arrived there.


SPICER: What's that? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's headed there now, it wasn't there last


SPICER: Sire. But that's not -- but that's not what we ever said. We said that it was heading there, and it was heading there, it is heading there.


CHURCH: Sean Spicer there. Well, the U.S. Military says Syria has moved most of its warplanes to a safer location. The aircraft are now at an international airport close to a Russian airbase. The defensive move follows a punishing U.S. missile strike on Al Shayrat airfield two weeks ago.

And we get the latest now from CNN's Barbara Starr.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: The April 6 U.S. Tomahawk missile attack at a Syrian airbase now reverberating inside the Assad regime.

[03:05:02] The regime has now moved the majority of its operational fighter jets to a coastal airbase at Bassel al-Assad Airport, putting the Syrian jets under the protective umbrella of Russia's adjacent air base.


CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It points to a much closer relationship than we thought they had otherwise. And it may also be an indicator that they might want to protect some of the assets, potentially their weapons. Potentially their fuel storage areas, and it could also mean that they may be facilitating the hiding of chemical weapons.


STARR: Something to worry about given the Trump administration's willingness to use military force in retaliation for the regime's attack in northern Syria, using what international agencies now believe was most likely Sarin.

A finding now underscored by the international inspections regime of the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons.

The U.S. retaliatory response to the Sarin attack took out 20 percent of Syria's operational fighter jets. Twenty three fixed-wing jets were destroyed, including seven SU-22s and 16 Mig 23s.

Defense Secretary James Mattis traveling in the region, making the point the U.S. and Russian military are still talking about their combat air operations.


JAMES MATTIS, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We are deconflicting with the Russians. We continue to deconflict with the Russians for safety of flight, to avoid any kind of misunderstanding or any kind of inadvertent running into each other frankly in the air.


STARR: And while Syrian aircraft are looking for Russian protection, Russian aircraft are getting closer to U.S. shores. For the second time in two days, two Cold War era Russian bear bombers were spotted flying off the coast of Alaska. At one point, coming within 36 miles of the mainland but carefully staying in international airspace.

U.S. military aircraft conducted routine intercepts and the bombers turned back towards Russia.

Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.

CHURCH: U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is in Indonesia as part of his visit to Asia. Pence met with the country's president earlier, as well as his vice presidential counterpart.

Right now, he is at a famous mosque, the largest in Southeast Asia, to talk with religious leaders.

Well, now, let's go to Mallika Kapur, she joins us live. So, Malika, Mike Pence met with Indonesia's president, as we said, made security and trade commitments, but he wants something in return. What's he asking for?

MALLIKA KAPUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He's asking for a level playing field when it comes to trade relations between the two countries. That's what he said at the joint press conference a few hours ago.

And the reason he's talking about this is just a few weeks ago, President Trump announced review of 16 countries with which the U.S. has a trade deficit, and one of those countries is Indonesia. So, today, that's why Vice President Pence said that while they want to continue doing trade with Indonesia, it's very important that it is a free and fair atmosphere between the two countries. And that U.S. exporters get some sort of boost.

He did not go on to specify what exactly he wants Indonesia to do to help reduce this trade deficit. He did not specifically say whether he believes that there have been any trade abuses going on, but he did say clearly that he is wanting to create an atmosphere of free and fair trade and a level playing field between the two countries when it comes to trade. Rosemary?

CHURCH: And Mallika, the U.S. vice president is making a key symbolic gesture with his visit with to the largest mosque in the Southeast Asia. What's he hoping to achieve by doing this in the Muslim majority nation?

KAPUR: You're right, it is a key symbolic gesture, and many people are seeing it as a great P.R. exercise for the Trump administration. It's the first visit by such a high level official of the Trump administration to a Muslim majority country. And it is an opportunity for them to show that this administration

isn't as harsh towards Islam and towards Muslims as it is often perceived to be.

So it's a great opportunity for them to send this message that they are actually not against Muslim countries as is often the perception.

Remember, the travel ban, of course, that the Trump administration introduced a few weeks after taking office against travelers from Muslim countries. Now Indonesia was not on this list of countries, but it was very vocal in denouncing it.

So many people in Indonesia are welcoming this symbolic gesture that Vice President Pence is making touring this mosque. He was there just a few minutes ago, it was just about 15, 20 minutes ago. You're seeing pictures of him visiting that mosque.

[03:10:08] So a very welcome gesture, but of course people are saying that is hoping that the Trump administration will do more than just make a symbolic gesture.

CHURCH: But huge on optics for sure. Mallika Kapur, joining us there from Hong Kong, where it is 10 minutes past 3 in the afternoon. Many thanks.

It is the end of Bill O'Reilly's career at Fox News. What the network is saying about the exit of its biggest star.

Plus, Patriots' day at the White House, but not all the Super Bowl champs showed up. We'll explain why. That's still to come. Stay with us.



CHURCH: Fox News is severing ties with its top talent, Bill O'Reilly, after several women accused him of sexual harassment. O'Reilly's name was notably absent from the show he's hosted for decades. 21st Century Fox says after a thorough and careful review of the allegations, they decided to part ways.

[03:15:02] The conservative host was on vacation in Italy when the announcement was made. He released his own statement, saying in part, "It is tremendously disheartening that we part ways due to completely unfounded claims. But that is the unfortunate reality many of us in the public eye must live with today."

One of O'Reilly's accusers, Wendy Walsh, describes her reaction with him and interaction.


WENDY WALSH, ACCUSED BILL O'REILLY: I was invited by him, according to a segment producer, to come on his show as a guest, and then a couple weeks later, I got an e-mail from his executive assistant, asking me to join him for dinner in Los Angeles.

And I was excited because I wanted to talk about my career prospects at Fox, but I didn't have to bring it up, because at the beginning of the dinner, he brought it up and said he was good friends with Roger Ailes, and they would like to make me a contributor.

He caught with me and said, "No, come back to my suite," and I said, "I'm sorry, Bill, I can't do that. And he said, "what? Do you think I'm going to attack you or something?" And I said, "No. I mean, we're both parents raising teenage girls, maybe we should model good choices for them."

So, we went to the bar and soon afterwards, he became hostile and told me forget any career advice I gave you and slowly weaned me from his show.


CHURCH: Well, Bill O'Reilly's exit from Fox News is the biggest shake-up of its talent. He's been at the company for 21 years and was for many the embodiment of Fox News.

CNN's Brian Stelter tells us more about his time there.


BILL O'REILLY, FORMER FOX NEWS HOST: Caution, you are about to enter the no-spin zone.


BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Bill O'Reilly is a Fox News original, who got his start as a local news reporter.


O'REILLY: Happy New Year, everyone. I'm Bill O'Reilly.


STELTER: He later went on to report for both CBS and ABC News. In 1989, O'Reilly joined Inside Edition. He anchored the show for six years. Known for his big personality, even back then, he also became known for his temper, on display in this video that later went viral.


O'REILLY: I can't do it. We'll do it live! We'll do it live!


O'REILLY: (muted) it. Do it live! Don't write it and we'll do it live! This (muted) thing sucks!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Again, five, four, three.

O'REILLY: That's tomorrow and that is it for us today. I'm Bill O'Reilly. Thanks again for watching.


STELTER: O'Reilly took a break from television in 1995 and enrolled in the John F. Kennedy School of government in Harvard University, where he got a masters in public administration.


O'REILLY: I'm Bill O'Reilly. Thanks for watching us tonight.


STELTER: The following year, he was hired by Roger Ailes to host a show at a start-up network called the Fox News Channel. The show was a huge hit. For a time O'Reilly also hosted a radio show which combined gave him a massive audience for his outspoken conservative views.


O'REILLY: Free law advice.


STELTER: But for all his fans O'Reilly also earned nearly has many detractors. He was called a bully for his aggressive interviewing style. And at a book fair in 2003, liberal comedian and now Senator Al Franken called him a liar to his face.


O'REILLY: All he's got in six and a half years is that I misspoke, that I labeled a polka award a Peabody. He writes it in his book. He tries to make me out your mind.


O'REILLY: Shut up! You had your 35 minutes. Shut up!



STELTER: O'Reilly was the chief inspiration for the bombastic conservative character played by Stephen Colbert on comedy central. The show routinely poked fun at some of O'Reilly's more controversial comments.


STEPHEN COLBERT, THE LATE SHOW HOST: Papa bear O'Reilly has found yet another reason she should be taken out of the not yet running.

O'REILLY: There's got to be some downside to having a woman president, right? Something?


STELTER: But his controversial comments were not what would eventually bring O'Reilly down. Accusations about his behavior toward women started surfacing in 2004.

After a Fox News producer filed a sexual harassment suit against Fox News, alleging O'Reilly repeatedly spoke to her about his sexual fantasies.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The last time I had spoken to Bill when this inappropriate conversation had happened the last time, he said it was going to be in person. And I was -- I felt extremely threatened for many reasons.


STELETR: O'Reilly vowed to fight the charge.


O'REILLY: This is the single most evil thing I have ever experienced.


STELTER: And filed a countersuit for extortion. The case was settled for a reported $9 million, and it didn't end there.

In 2016, after accusations about Fox News founder Roger Ailes became public, some women also came forward with allegations against O'Reilly. Fox investigated Ailes and he stepped down under pressure.

The New York Times started looking into accusations against O'Reilly as well. Just a little more than two weeks ago, the Times story detailed a total of $13 million in settlements between O'Reilly and Fox and the women who had accused him.

[03:19:59] The reaction was fierce. Advertisers pulled out of O'Reilly's show by the dozens. And just like that, the cable news king, who once seemed untouchable, is off the air for good. At least at Fox.

CHURCH: And CNN senior media correspondent Brian Stelter joins me now from New York to talk more about this. Always great to have you on.

STELTER: Thank you.

CHURCH: So before we get to the details, let's go big picture for a moment. And after 21 years at Fox News, what will Bill O'Reilly's sudden departure mean for conservative media in America?

STELTER: Well, it means an enormous amount. You know, Fox was Bill O'Reilly and Bill O'Reilly was Fox. O'Reilly and the founding CEO, Roger Ailes, built this channel together in the mid-1990s. They presented this conservative alternative to what they said was the biased liberal media.

Now you and I can debate the accuracy of that, I think it's a pretty cynical view of the media, but millions of Fox's fans believe it. They believe Bill O'Reilly when he talks about things like, you know, the war on Christmas. Or when he says he's a culture warrior, trying to stand up for traditional values.

I would put O'Reilly right alongside Rush Limbaugh as sort of the most prominent conservative media voices in America. So to have O'Reilly suddenly yanked off the air by the Murdoch's, the owners of Fox, that's a stunning development.

CHURCH: And it's worth noting Bill O'Reilly calls the claims of sexual harassment against him completely unfounded. So what happens to him now, will he fight this? Will another conservative media outlet pick him up? And how much money will he likely walk away with?

STELTER: So he was being paid 20 to $25 million a year, most likely for several years to come. You can do the math there, 50, 60, $70 million is what's conceivable. The problem is, Fox won't confirm it and neither will O'Reilly. There's confidentiality agreements in place.

But it's clear, O'Reilly is walking away with a lot of money. What we don't know is how long he'll be forced to stay off the air and not allowed to go anywhere else. You know, oftentimes there's a non- compete clause, which means he can't walk across the street and go to some other conservative channel like News Max that might be interested in having him.

But I do wonder if he will look to it at some point when that clause expires to go ahead and join a rival. In the meantime, though, you point out something really interesting, he says the allegations are unfounded, but he didn't put up much of a fight, he did not coming out swinging with a statement on Wednesday.

Instead, he says he wishes Fox well. That indicates to me that the lawyers who were investigating O'Reilly did find something, they found enough to give the Murdoch's cause to remove him.

CHURCH: And Brian, Fox News has known about this for years. So why take action now? Was it the 60 advertisers fleeing his show, or was it a recognition that this culture needed to change?

STELTER: All of the above. All of these advertisers on screen, plus the looming sky deal in the U.K., the Murdoch's are desperate to get this deal approved. They were concerned about any blowback, it was the result of this bad press about O'Reilly.

It was really a confluence of events, a harsh spotlight put on Fox by the New York Times. The advertisers withdrawing from the O'Reilly Factor, concern from employees inside Fox and concern about more women coming forward making similar accusations.

CHURCH: And how likely is it that there's more talent at Fox News that might be accused of sexual harassment how deep that this culture go? And does this mark the end of it, perhaps?

STELTER: I don't have any visibility into specific accusations against other specific stars on Fox, but there are still pending lawsuits, including one involving the current co-president of the network.

There are a number of different allegations flying in multiple directions, all of it speaking to a toxic culture at Fox News, involving women and men at the network. And mostly about sexual harassment, but racial harassment has also come up.

There's also a pending federal investigation. This is one of those situations where Fox can say there's nothing amiss, but there's a whole lot of smoke.

CHURCH: Just quickly, even though the 60 advertisers abandoned O'Reilly, his audience certainly didn't. With higher ratings showing viewers don't care if he sexually harasses women, what does that tell us?

STELTER: Or they don't care enough to turn the channel. This is going to be a big question going forward. How many of O'Reilly's fans are going to be ticked off at Fox, or going to try to find him elsewhere, or how many are just going to go having watch his replacement?

Tucker Carlson. On Monday, Carlson takes over and he's a lot like O'Reilly, pretty pro-Trump, unpredictable, provocative. Fox knows what they're doing. They're creating a pretty stable line-up, even though they're removing the most important piece of the schedule.

CHURCH: We'll see what happened going forward. Brian Stelter, thanks so much. Always a great pleasure to talk with you.

STELTER: Thank you.

CHURCH: Well, if anyone knows about beating the odds, it's Donald Trump and the New England Patriots. The NFL champions visited the White House Wednesday to meet with the long-shot president. The patriots came back from a huge deficit to beat the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl 51 back in February, you'll recall.

[03:25:06] The team presented the 45th president with a Patriots jersey, number 45, of course. But MVP quarterback Tom Brady was one of the several patriots who didn't make the trip. He cited family matters. But another player says Mr. Trump's comments about forcing himself on women kept him away.


ALAN BRANCH, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: For me, it was a personal matter. What President Trump said on the bus really struck a nerve with me. You know, I'm a father of three daughters and I have a son as well and, like, I just can't see myself having any type of interest, you know, to go meet this person that said such horrible things.

And then I have a baby boy, not even a year old yet. You know, I don't want him to grow up to think that saying stuff like that is all right at any point of his life.

So, I mean, I have no interest in meeting the guy. I hope he does a great job. You know, I'm American at the end of the day, so I hope he does well. But I just don't believe in, you know, any of the locker room talk that he said or anything like that. It just struck a nerve with me.


CHURCH: Well, the mood was a little more relaxed in the White House press room where Patriots star Rob Gronkowski crashed Sean Spicer's daily briefing. Take a look.


SPICER: See what pans out in the negotiation, but I think there's -- can I just --


SPICER: I think I got this, but thank you.

GRONKOWSKI: Are you sure?

SPICER: Maybe. All right, thanks, man. I'll see you in a minute.

Hold on.

All right. That was cool.


CHURCH: That made his day, I think. Just ahead here on CNN Newsroom, Venezuela's crisis gets worse. At least three people are dead in what's been dubbed the mother of all protests.

And boosting the rhetoric against Iran. The U.S. secretary of state's warning. That is still to come.

Plus, a disgraced American football star meets his end in prison. The tragic tale of Aaron Hernandez just ahead.


CHURCH: And a warm welcome back to our viewers all across the globe. I'm Rosemary Church. I want to update you on the main stories we've been following this hour.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is visiting Indonesia during his trip to Southeast Asia. He met the country's president and vice president earlier and just a short time ago, he toured the country's most famous mosque and spoke with religious leaders there.

The U.S. and South Korea are putting on a show of military mite in the face of nuclear tensions with North Korea. The annual Max Thunder drills are underway at Kunsan Air Base right now. More than a thousand U.S. military personnel are taking part.

Two weeks after a punishing U.S. air strike destroyed dozens of Syrian warplanes, the remainder of Syria's air force has been relocated for safe-keeping. The U.S. military says the aircraft were moved closer to a Russian air base where they presumably have more protection.

At least three people have been killed in massive demonstrations in Venezuela, where the economy is crumbling and the president is facing a growing backlash.

A national guardsman was shot and killed Wednesday night south of the capital, Caracas. Also on Wednesday, a teenager who wasn't even taking part in the marches was gunned down in the capital. And a young woman was killed in San Cristobal near the Colombian border.

Shasta Darlington has more on what's driving these protests.

SHASTA DARLINGTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This was billed as the mother of all marches. It ended in violent clashes with Venezuela security forces firing tear gas on protesters.

Now hundreds of thousands turned out to protest against President Nicolas Maduro, what they view as an emotion of democracy and a steady march towards a dictatorship. They have a clear set of demands. On the one hand, they want more autonomy for Congress, which is controlled by opposition lawmakers.

They'd also like to see a timetable set for regional elections, which have been repeatedly delayed and they'd like to see this crackdown on protesters ease up. There were -- there was however a dueling demonstration, the supporters of Nicolas Maduro organized their own counter-march that drew big crowds.

Maduro addressed those crowds, accusing the protesters of being nothing more than hooded terrorists.

We also heard from U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who said the government is closely watching developments and is concerned that Maduro is violating his own country's Constitution and preventing the opposition from organizing and having a voice.

Maduro, however, is not listening to his critics and is refusing to meet any of their demands.

Shasta Darlington, CNN, Rio de Janeiro.

CHURCH: And as Shasta explained there, economic woes are at the heart of the antigovernment protest. The International Monetary Fund said unemployment will likely pass 25 percent this year. Just two years ago, it was roughly 7 percent. The country's economy shrank 18 percent last year, and inflation is expected to skyrocket to 720 percent this year.

Well, the Trump administration says Iran continues to be the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson accuses Tehran of what he calls alarming provocations, designed to destabilize the Middle East.

Michelle Kosinski has the details.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: For the first time in this new administration Secretary of State Rex Tillerson officially certified to Congress that Iran is keeping up its end of the nuclear deal. Something the administration must do every 90 days. But this administration also made it extremely clear today, that is not enough.


REX TILLERSON, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF STATE: Really does not achieve the objective. It is another example of buying off a power who has nuclear ambitions. We buy them off for a short period of time, and then someone has to deal with it later.

An unchecked Iran has the potential to travel the same path as North Korea and take the world along with it.


KOSINSKI: Tillerson says the U.S. is also reviewing whether it might re-impose sanctions that were lifted as part of the Iran deal. If that happens, then no more deal.


[03:35:07] TILLERSON: Strategic patience is a failed approach. The comprehensive Iran policy requires that we address all of the threats posed by Iran, and it is clear there are many.


KOSINSKI: And this today from Defense Secretary Mattis in Saudi Arabia.


JAMES MATTIS, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Everywhere you look, if there's trouble in the region, you find Iran.


KOSINSKI: President Trump never actually said he would rip up the deal on day one, but he said plenty against it.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The dumbest deal, perhaps, I've ever seen, in the history of deal-making, the Iran deal.

My number one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran.


This will be a totally different deal. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KOSINSKI: Now his administration is beginning a 90-day inter-agency review of the deal.


SPICER: If he thought everything was fine, he would have, you know, allowed this to move forward. I think he's doing the prudent thing by asking for a review of the current deal.


KOSINSKI: They worry about the fact that nuclear inspectors don't have any time anywhere access to suspected nuclear sites. They question whether then anyone can ever know whether Iran is really complying. And Iran continues to sponsor terror. Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen.


MIKE POMPEO, UNITED STATES CIA DIRECTOR: They're on the march, the list of Iranian transgressions has increased dramatically since the day that the JCPOA was signed.


KOSINSKI: But those activities were kept separate from the nuclear deal, which the U.S. can't unilaterally re-negotiate anyway. And breaking the deal by imposing nuclear-related sanctions, which Tillerson appears to be saying the U.S. would consider, could bring its own repercussions.


JOHN KIRBY, FORMER SPOKESPERSON FOR THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF STATE: By not implementing it, you give the mullahs, you give the hard-liners in Iran the ammunition that they need to pull Iran out of the deal, and that would be disastrous, not only for the deal, but potentially for the region.

What they may be doing by ordering the review is signaling to their base. They can say to their -- to their voters, honestly, hey look, we really didn't like it, we looked at it, but we think, you know, it's the least bad alternative and we're going to keep it.


KOSINSKI: What's not clear if you're calling the Iran nuclear deal a failure, why do a review? Sounds like the administration's mind is already made up on that. And also, if you're focused on Iran's destabilizing and terror-related activities, why are you talking about sanctions that are connected to the Iran nuclear deal? Even though those activities were intentionally treated separately so that Iran would join the deal in the first place.

Why aren't you talking about those other sanctions that are already in place that directly address that kind of activity?

Michelle Kosinski, CNN, the State Department.

CHURCH: Massachusetts police are investigating the apparent suicide of former American football star Aaron Hernandez. Guards found his body in his prison cell early Wednesday. The 27-year-old was serving a life sentence for murder. But he was acquitted just last week of two others.

Officials say Hernandez hanged himself with a bed sheet. His family may not be convinced his death was a suicide. Attorney Jose Baez issued a statement saying this, "Those who love and care about him are heartbroken and determined to find the truth surrounding his untimely death. We request that authorities conduct a transparent and thorough investigation."

British Prime Minister Theresa May said she wanted a stronger mandate for brexit talks, and now she's poised to get it. But having her way on that may worsen another problem.

We'll explain on the other side of the break. Stay with us.


CHURCH: The first round of voting in France's presidential election is just days away. And the race remains unpredictable. Supporters of conservative Francois Fillon rallied Wednesday. He has struggled with a financial scandal, but he received last-minute endorsements from former President Nicolas Sarkozy and former Prime Minister Alain Juppe.

Far right leader Marine Le Pen told supporters she's the only candidate who can overthrow the elite. Hundreds of people protested Le Pen's party, the National Front. Some reportedly threw rocks at police.

Police prevented the demonstrators from reaching Le Pen's rally. Polls show about a quarter of French voters are still undecided and the race is too close to call.

Well, the U.K. will be holding a snap election in June. Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favor of the prime minister's proposal, but that doesn't solve all of Theresa May's problems.

Our Nic Robertson has more.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Order, order! The leader of the opposition must be heard and the prime minister must be heard.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Starting gun fired, the opening salvos of a snap election have begun.


THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Every vote for the conservatives will make me stronger when I negotiate for Britain with the European Union. And every vote for the conservatives will mean we can stick to our plan for a stronger Britain.

JEREMY CORBYN, LABOUR PARTY LEADER: Mr. Speaker, we welcome the general election.


But -- but this -- but this is a -- but this is a prime minister who promised there wouldn't be one. A prime minister who cannot be trusted. She says it's about leadership yet, is refusing to defend her record in television debates.


ROBERTSON: May standing strong in the polls predicted to increase her majority at Corbyn's expense, but she's taking heat from all sides, including pro-independent Scots for refusing TV debates.


ANGUS ROBERTSON, BRITISH SCOTTISH NATIONAL PARTY MP: If the prime minister is so confident that her hard brexit, pro-austerity, anti- immigration case is right, then she should debate it with opposition leaders during the campaign.

We look forward to the street fight between the SNP and the Tories. Can the prime minister tell the people why she's running scared of a televised debate with Nicola Sturgeon?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The ayes to the right, 522.


ROBERTSON: Almost unnoticed in the cut and thrust.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The ayes have it. The ayes have it unlocked.


ROBERTSON: The formal hurdle, getting approval to go ahead with the snap election. A cinch.

With barely seven weeks to go, the pressure is on for all parties to formulate their campaign strategies and now Theresa May has ruled out TV debates to get out and meet the voters. Those voters, divided over the issue of TV debates.


[03:45:08] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Living in a democracy, we should be entertaining the opportunity of having a debate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We heard none of it in TV running, so I'm not sure we necessary need to have a debate.


ROBERTSON: In our small sampling in London, May's calculus to strengthen her brexit negotiations seems well founded.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would have voted to stay in the union. But unfortunate I've been really disappointed with how Europe have handled the decision to move away from it and actually I believe the sooner we get away from it, the better.


ROBERTSON: But polls have been notoriously wrong and voters fickle.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Going through this again without really a good chance of a significant difference I think isn't helpful.


ROBERTSON: This election, still a long way from the slam dunk May hopes it will be.




ROBERTSON: Nic Robertson, CNN, London.

CHURCH: Rescue crews in Sri Lanka are being sent home after a deadly catastrophe at a garbage dump last Friday. It happened in the country's capital.

Amara Walker has the latest.

AMARA WALKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The search for survivors of Sri Lanka's garbage dump collapse has been called off, the military says. Dozens were killed when a 90 meter high wall of trash came tumbling down on a working class neighborhood in Colombo Friday, burying families and homes, and taking from survivors what little they had to call their own.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): there was a big noise. We heard people shouting, houses behind us were coming towards us, they were flying at us. It was like a tsunami. Houses were cracked. My house is buried. Three of my neighbors' houses are buried too.


WALKER: Residents have been demanding the government do something about the dump for years, but little came of their protests and the mountain of trash continued to grow.

This Google earth street view gives you a glimpse of what Colombo residents have been living with. The imagery was captured in 2015 before the collapse. These photos were taken after the collapse. The remaining peak of the dump still towering high above what's left of the neighborhood below it.

Sri Lanka's prime minister announced no more trash would be deposited at the site and promises survivors would be compensated for their losses. The issue of solid waste management isn't exclusive to Sri Lanka or even to developing countries.

One hundred thirteen people were killed when a landfill collapsed in Ethiopia last month and at least 58 people were killed in China in a landslide of construction waste in 2015.

Amara Walker, CNN, Atlanta.

CHURCH: While China presses its sovereignty claims in the South China Sea, its military is undergoing a major restructuring. Dozens of combat units of the People's Liberation Army are being consolidated as the country seeks to build a leaner, more modern fighting force.

The revamped military will put greater emphasis on advanced technology, including electronic warfare.

In announcing the restructuring, President Xi Jinping told his commanders, this has profound and significant meaning in building a world-class military.

On a related note, China may launch its second aircraft carrier on Sunday, which is the anniversary of the founding of the Chinese navy.

Well, just ahead here on CNN Newsroom, Serena Williams will never forget this year's Australian Open. She won it, but that's not the reason. I'll explain after the break.


PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Quickly getting into the third week of April, incredible to believe, and you think severe weather season is going to be upon us here soon. And certainly it hasn't gotten picked up just yet.

Some strong storms scattered about parts of the Midwestern United States, mild temperatures elsewhere, back towards the northwestern U.S., another rainy day here. In fact, you look past the last six months, about 70 percent of the time the rainfall has come down for the northwest. So the saggy set up. The severe threat again notice it is going to be

on the slight end of the risk there working its way towards Detroit, on for parts with the Ohio Valley, the storms will then push off towards of say, Buffalo by the afternoon hours of Thursday into Friday.

But cooler temperatures expected the next couple days. And bringing the temps back down just a few degrees below normal in the midst of some impressive warmth in the last couple of weeks across a large area of the United States. So at least some normality coming back, but notice a storm system just continue really coming in across parts of the western United States.

At this point, we're keeping most of the wet weather north of San Francisco on its say, areas of the i-5 Corridor towards Oregon. But 29 in Atlanta, Dallas, upper 20's, Los Angeles, about 23, Denver is looking at some showers and also windy conditions expected there.

And we would love to see the weather in your backyard if you have a weather photo you'd like to share with us. Just share it on any social media platform of your choice there, hash tag CNN weather so we can find it.

CHURCH: Well, it was a close call for the planet astronomically speaking. An asteroid, about 650 meters in size sped past Earth on Wednesday at a safe, but uncomfortably close distance, according to experts.

This shows the rock's flight path coming within 1.8 million kilometers of our planet. Astronomers predicted there was no possibility the asteroid would collide with Earth, but it was big enough and close enough that even amateur star gazers could see it with a telescope. How about that.

Well, 105 years ago this week, the supposedly unsinkable Titanic struck an iceberg and went down, killing 1,500 people. Deadly? Yes. But these mountains of ice are also beautiful and plentiful in what's been an unusually early iceberg season, hundreds of them have been drifting through the area called iceberg alley off Canada's East Coast, where the Titanic sank.

When this iceberg got stuck offshore, shutter bugs clogged the country roads with bumper-to-bumper traffic just to take some photos. Gorgeous.

Well, a follow up now, CNN recently told you about a French performance artist who hoped to, quote, "lay an egg" with his latest project, and he's done it.

Since the end of March, Abraham Poincheval has been sitting on a basket of eggs at a museum in Paris. Nurturing his potential brood just like a mother hen. Now after three weeks, he finally got cracking, the eggs have started to hatch.

But he isn't done yet. He says he'll stay in his display until all 10 eggs have hatched. After that, the chicks will live on his family farm.

I think he'll have a special connection there.

Well, Serena Williams is considered one of the greatest athletes of all time. Now she's cementing that reputation by confirming she's expecting her first child. And was pregnant when she won the Australian Open.

Jeanne Moos reports on Serena's coming addition and love match.



SERENA WILLIAMS, TENNIS PLAYER: So I think it's really difficult in a drop shot.


MOOS: Dropped a shot on the internet. A shot of herself with what looks like a baby bump, posted to Snapchat with the caption 20 weeks. The post was soon deleted, but that didn't stop the wave of reaction.

[03:55:03] Serena, what! The Daily News ran with it, game, set, baby. At the end of December, Serena revealed her engagement to the co- founder of the web site Reddit.


ALEXIS OHANIAN, CO-FOUNDER, REDDIT: Frankly, it's inspiring and it's exciting to, you know, share my life with someone who is that special.


MOOS: Alexis Ohanian whisked Serena off to Rome to propose to her at the same restaurant table where they first met. The 20 weeks Snapchat post left fans a gag when they did the math.

Serena Williams was pregnant when she won her 23rd Grand Slam tournament at the Australian Open. And did not drop one set. Let that sink in.

But Serena's not the only one getting props over the pregnancy. The fetus has won a Grand Slam title and I'm living a regular shmegular life. "We did it" caption Paris Hilton with a diagram that suggested she had been in the sense playing doubles.

Looking back at Serena's recent Instagram posts, fighting to get up this morning, fans were quick to diagnose. That morning sickness isn't a joke. This past summer, Vogue had posed 73 rapid fire questions to Serena. Among them, this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, Serena. My wife and I are having a baby boy, what should I name it? WILLIAMS: My gosh, I don't know. Grant.


MOOS: Will she still take baby names for granted? With those famously strong arms, she could easily cradle more than trophies. As the winner of 23 Grand Slams, she inspires all. When my wife was pregnant, the only thing it seems she could do was eat a Grand Slam. Bon appetit.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

CHURCH: Congratulations, Serena. And thanks for your company. I'm Rosemary Church. Remember to connect with me anytime on Twitter. I want to hear from you.

And the news continues with our Max Foster in London.

You're watching CNN. Have yourself a great day.