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Sources: Russia Tried To Use Trump Advisers To Infiltrate Campaign; Carter Page Denies Giving Russians Access To Trump Campaign; Scientists, Supporters Rally On Earth Day; Pence: U.S. Will Honor Refugee Deal With Australia; Altercation Over Stroller On American Airlines Flight; Trump Talks Tough On Iran, But Sticks With Nuclear Deal. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired April 22, 2017 - 11:00   ET




FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. It's the 11:00 Eastern hour. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. NEWSROOM starts right now.

Nearly 500 cities around the world are participating in the March for Science. Take a look at these live pictures from the main event in Washington D.C. The nation's capital where doctors, scientists, researchers, teachers, students and others are all advocating for more funding and support for science and climate change solutions.

Today's march coming just one week before the president's 100-day mark and while this administration is expediting the so-called to do list with health care and tax reform, new CNN reporting is revealing new details about alleged ties between Russia and the 2016 election.

CNN justice correspondent, Pamela Brown has more details on how Russia might have used Trump advisers to infiltrate the Trump campaign -- Pamela.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: We've learned the FBI gathered intelligence last summer that suggests Russian operatives tried to use Trump advisors including Carter Page to infiltrate the Trump campaign according to multiple U.S. officials.

Now Carter Page's critical speech of U.S. policy against Russia in July of 2016 at a prominent Moscow university is one factor. It's part of what raised concerns in the bureau that he may have been compromised by Russian intelligence.

But the new information adds to this emerging picture of how the Russians tried to influence the 2016 U.S. election not only through e- mail hacks and propaganda, sometimes referred to as fake news but also by trying to infiltrate the Trump orbit.

The intelligence that was gathered led to that broader FBI investigation into the coordination of Trump's campaign associates and the Russians as FBI Director James Comey has referred to.

But the officials we've spoken with made clear they don't know whether Page was aware the Russians may have been using him because of the way Russian spy services operate. Page could have unknowingly talked with Russian agents.

Now he disputes the idea he has ever collected intelligence for the Russians saying that at times he actually helped the U.S. intelligence community.

He told CNN, quote, "My assumption throughout the last 26 years I've been going there is that any Russian person might share information with the Russian government as I have similarly done with the CIA, FBI and other government agencies in the past."

And it is important to note that within the Trump campaign Carter Page was viewed as someone who had little or no influence, but he was one of several Trump advisors whom U.S. and European intelligence detected in contact with Russian officials. The FBI investigation is still ongoing. Pamela Brown, CNN, Washington.


WHITFIELD: All right, thanks so much, Pamela. The former Trump adviser at the center of this reporting, Carter Page, spoke with CNN's Michael Smerconish this morning and once again denied any wrongdoing in his contact with Russian officials.


MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST, "SMERCONISH": Are you aware of their efforts at using you to get into the Trump campaign? That's my direct question.

CARTER PAGE, FORMER TRUMP ADVISER: I was never -- nothing I was ever asked to do or no information I was ever asked for was anything beyond what you can see on CNN. There is great depth of reporting, great information, nothing I ever talked about with any Russian official extends beyond that publicly available immaterial information, Michael.

SMERCONISH: You surely have considered the idea that unwittingly you were used by the Russians. I imagine you've gone back and reviewed in your mind your notes, et cetera, all of your contacts in the last 24 months. What of that possibility?

PAGE: Michael, the only unwitting element that I'm most concerned about is unwitting media and unwitting members of Congress that really took on this dodgy dossier and read it into the congressional record.

And potentially members of the government last year that were using this as part of a domestic political intelligence operation so that to me is -- there certainly is a lot of unwitting actions that were done last year.

Let's see how things come out as we get more evidence. Again, there's been plenty of leaking and lying, but we'll see how this all plays out.

SMERCONISH: What evidence do you believe a FISA court judge would have reviewed to come to a conclusion that there was strong case, probable cause, that you committed a crime? Surely there was something.

[11:05:06]PAGE: That is a beautiful question, Michael. There is no possibility of probable cause. However, as we know, going back to the dodgy dossier and all of the times this was put out in the media by certain political operatives last year, there certainly is a lot of potential basis. Again, there have been recent reports that I'm very grateful for that, yes, the dodgy dossier was indeed an element which was used in that warrant and so that will be interesting.


WHITFIELD: And to be clear that dossier of allegations just mentioned was only one part of the evidence the FBI used to get approval to surveil Carter Page. CNN has reported there were other pieces of evidence used to get that FISA warrant, which is not obtained very easily. So there's a lot to comb through here.

Let's bring in my political panel. CNN global affairs analyst, David Rohde, a national security investigations editor for Reuters as well, and CNN political commentator, David Swerdlick, an assistant editor at the "Washington Post." Good to see two Davids today.

All right, so David Rohde, you first, you know, what do you make of this new reporting? Do you buy that Carter Page unwittingly may have been a participant here or that he may have been used without his knowing because Trump allies have said that he was not a key player in the campaign in the first place.

DAVID ROHDE, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Yes, I want to be fair to Carter Page and until he's charged with a crime, you know, I think we should be. Therefore, he was unwittingly used. But what's disturbing is this is another piece of evidence of this, you know, very intensive, very sweeping Russian effort to influence the American presidential election.

They tried to turn him into an asset. They at least tried to get him to unwittingly to give them information and get them, you know, close to the Trump campaign.

Early this week, Reuters reported there was an internal strategy paper that was eventually obtained by U.S. intelligence that was written by a think tank in Moscow about how to use propaganda to push down support for Hillary Clinton and increase support for Donald Trump. So it was a very sophisticated and very wide Russian effort.

WHITFIELD: David Swerdlick, you know, how might these interviews involving, you know, Carter Page, influence his potential testimony on Capitol Hill?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't know how it's going to influence his Capitol Hill testimony, but I'm not sure he acquitted himself the way he may have wanted to today, Fred. I agree with David that -- you know, Carter Page has not been accused of a crime. So you can't -- if he doesn't believe he's done anything, you can't expect him to do anything other than deny that he's done anything wrong here.

But you know, if you go back two weeks ago, my "The Washington Post" colleagues reported that the FBI got a FISA warrant to look into specific contacts between him and Russians and so that at least means that the FBI thought that they had probable cause to get that warrant.

Our CNN colleagues reported yesterday on the contacts between Carter Page and Russians and David's Reuter colleagues reported as he said about this Russian think tank that produced a white paper about influencing the U.S. election.

So when he goes on, when Carter Page goes on Smerconish's show and says essentially nothing to see here. You know, the press is unwittingly chasing the story, tries to brand this phrase dodgy dossier that used a few times, that does not make him look like someone who is really trying to clear his name. He makes him look, frankly to me, smug.

WHITFIELD: So D. Rohde, does that mean that makes him less naive if initially a defense was perhaps he was just naive. He didn't know that he was meeting with someone who had interest to try to infiltrate the Trump campaign?

ROHDE: It's odd. I mean, I guess, the broader way -- again, I don't want to characterize him or attack him personally, but in a way it shows how incredibly polarized we are. I mean, in the Smerconish interview he's asked like, you know, would you be concerned, Carter Page, if the Russian government tried to influence the American election.

He said he was more concerned about the eavesdropping against himself. You know, the FBI was doing its job. These were foreign intelligence agents trying to contact, you know, it seems advisers to the Trump campaign.

Trying to monitor the communications of what Russian intelligence agents were doing in the United States. That's their job so it's odd that he's responding this way, but again, he has not been accused of a crime.

WHITFIELD: And D. Swerdlick, so, you know, all of this now happening on the eve of what could be another pivotal week for the Trump administration. Donald Trump going into this week making promises that Wednesday is going to be a big day as it pertains to tax reform, that once again he is going to take a swipe at repealing and replacing Obamacare.

But does this upstage this ongoing investigation involving Russian ties and people in his orbit?

[11:10:09]Does it upstage any potential progress that could be made on these matters this week? If progress can really be made. We talk about a matter of days before that 100-day mark a week from today.

SWERDLICK: Yes, Fred, I mean, I think, look, President Trump has had any number of stories come out on any given day during his first 90 some odd days. Depending on what happens on Capitol Hill this week, yes, maybe the Russia story will recede to the background.

Yes, maybe he'll get a boost for looking energetic in the last week of his first 100 days, but his first 100 days report card is not going to be good. Almost surely no matter what happens on the Hill this week.

And the Russia story is not going to go away. It might just fade off the front page for a few days, but there will be congressional hearings and this story will be back because members on both sides of the aisle want to know what happened.

WHITFIELD: All right. Davids Rohde and Swerdlick, thanks to both of you. Appreciate it. See you soon.

All right, meantime, today is Earth Day. Thousands of people are gathered for worldwide marches for science. You're looking at live pictures right now in Washington, D.C. and New York City.

Scientists and their supporters are gathering to push for science and evidence based policies from the Trump administration and other governments around the world. This follows massive turnout for marches in cities abroad including London, Sydney, Geneva, and Munich.

CNN's Miguel Marquez joins us live now from Washington D.C. So Miguel, what's happening? Even inclement weather is not deterring the crowd there.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the soggy weather is not dampening spirits if I may be so cheese ball. Look, they are here gathering for several hours. I'll show you what's happening on the stage right now.

You have lots of scientists who are making short presentations about their various scientific endeavors. We're in the shadow of the Washington Monument in the backyard of the White House.

While this is not a partisan event, it is highly political. A very hard political protest that they want the president to hear. They are gathered here today, they say, because they are concerned about budget cuts.

They are concerned about general tenor out of the White House on science issues and in particular federal employees are concerned about politics getting in the way of some of their research and their research having to be sifted through a political lens essentially they say.

Lots of concerns here. Lots of water as well. The rain has been coming down. Starting to get harder. They'll be here for several more hours and march to the capitol. It must be tens of thousands.

I can't tell how far it goes back right now. They are still pouring in here. This is one of over 600 events around the world. Clearly science is having a good day and Earth Day as well -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right, uncomfortable as it is, how apropos that you would have rain on Earth Day nourishing all living things. Miguel Marquez, thank you so much.

All right. Still ahead, we are a week away from that 100-day mark and President Donald Trump is hopeful that he'll get tax reform and an Obamacare repeal on the table before then. Is it possible?

And Vice President Mike Pence says peace with North Korea is possible thanks to China.



WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. This just in to CNN, the official death toll following an attack on an Afghan army base could rise. One hundred people were killed following a six-hour siege by the Taliban on Friday.

Several sources say that number may be closer to 140. The soldiers, most of them unarmed, were shot while eating lunch and leaving a Friday prayer service. Afghanistan's president says Sunday will be a national day of mourning.

We are now a week away from a major milestone for President Trump, his 100th day in office. He's looking for a big victory this week. Congress will face a renewed push to repeal and replace Obamacare when they return from recess on Monday.

They will also have to find a way to keep the government from running out of money on April 28th, Friday, just one day before the president's 100th day in the White House. If that's not enough, the president promises to unveil a surprise massive tax cut in just a matter of days.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We'll be having a big announcement on Wednesday having to do with tax reform, the process has begun long ago, but it formally begins on Wednesday.


WHITFIELD: All right, CNN White House correspondent, Athena Jones, is covering this for us. So Athena, it's setting up to be a very big week for the president as he approaches his 100-day mark and even some of the folks in his Treasury Department were a little surprised to hear him say that something on tax reform is going to happen by Wednesday.

ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Fred. And as soon as the president said that or soon after the president made that big announcement about a big announcement that he said would be on Wednesday, White House officials began tamping down expectations at least on the timing.

They say it may not be on Wednesday. It could be shortly thereafter. This is something officials have been focused on. After the spectacular failure of the first effort to repeal and replace Obamacare a little over a month ago, we're told by White House officials that they would be turning their attention to tax reform.

Senior administration official told me that Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, Gary Kohn, have been in consultations with the appropriate folks on Capitol Hill to look at what they hope to do in terms of tax reform. Remember, there's tax reform and there's tax cuts.

Tax cuts are something that one White House official says a lot of people like. A lot of agreement about people wanting to give the middle class tax relief, wanting to give businesses tax relief.

[11:20:04]Tax reform is a much larger undertaking. A White House official told my colleague, Jeremy Diamond, this morning what to expect from the announcement next week, whether it's Wednesday or a couple days after.

They said that at the time of the announcement, we will outline our broad principles and priorities when it comes to tax reform. Comprehensive tax reform that would cut rates for individuals, simplify what they see as an overcomplicated system, and then create more jobs by making businesses more competitive. That would certainly also include corporate rate cut as well -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, Athena Jones at the White House, thanks so much.

All right, so the White House is now saying it will honor a refugee resettlement agreement forged with Australia despite that plan previously being described by President Trump as a, quote, "dumb deal."

In February, Trump tweeted after learning of the agreement with Australia, quote, "Do you believe it, the Obama administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia. Why? I will stull study this dumb deal," end quote.

Well, now, today Vice President Mike Pence appearing at a press conference with the Australian prime minister saying the U.S. will obey that previous deal even though the administration might not like it.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let me make it clear, the United States intends to honor the agreement subject to the results of the vetting process that apply to all refugees considered for admission to the United States of America.

President Trump has made it clear that we'll honor the agreement. It doesn't mean we admire the agreement. Frankly, looking back at the last administration, the president has never been shy about expressing frustration with other international agreements.


WHITFIELD: All right, CNN's global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott, joining us now with more in Pence's diplomatic Asia-Pacific tour. All right, so Elise, there's that on the whole Australia and the refugee issue. I also understand the vice president talked today about China helping to ease tensions with North Korea. What did he have to say?

ELISE LABOTT, GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, I mean, it's pretty clear over the last couple weeks that the administration's new policy towards combatting North Korea's nuclear program can really be summed up in one word. That's China.

You know, when they do this review, the U.S. really realized that China is the country that has the most influence. Eighty five percent of trade from North Korea comes from China. That's why President Trump has really singled out help from Chinese President Xi Jinping as key to getting North Korea to the table. Take a listen to Vice President Pence earlier today.


PENCE: The United States of America is determined to work with our allies and especially with China to achieve the objective of a nuclear free Korean Peninsula. We believe that can occur peaceably largely owing to the new engagement of China.


LABOTT: So Xi Jinping of China really the key here. Officials tell me how do they get China to agree to crackdown on North Korea? They have already done some things. They have cut coal imports from North Korea. That's really a source of income and revenue for the regime.

They've also halted flights between Beijing and Pyongyang for Air China. That's really something. The U.S. is looking for more. They're looking for China to cut on trade and to cut maybe oil shipments. Not sure they're ready for that.

How does the U.S. get China onboard, Fred? A mixture of carrot and sticks. President Trump has offered President Xi a better trade deal if he's willing to work with the U.S.

He's kind of given them a little bit of a pass on what he called their currency manipulation. That's the carrot. Now, the sticks could be that if the Chinese do not cooperate with the U.S. on North Korea, they could start sanctioning Chinese banks or Chinese companies that do business with North Korea.

So you know, President Trump always considers himself the deal maker. There's a deal on the table with China to pay or play really.

WHITFIELD: All right, Elise Labott, thanks so much from D.C. All right, a mother in tears and an American Airlines worker now suspended. How a stroller is in the middle of this latest airplane confrontation next.



WHITFIELD: All right. This just in, former NFL player and convicted murderer, Aaron Hernandez, will be laid to rest next week. His family announcing just minutes ago that Hernandez will be buried at a private service Monday afternoon. Hernandez was found dead in his jail cell Wednesday morning. Officials say he hanged himself.

All right, flying the friendly skies just got a little unfriendly again, this time, American Airlines is in the hot seat leaving a traveling mother holding her toddler in tears.

American has opened an investigation now after an airlines employee allegedly grabbed a stroller from the traveling mother with such force that witnesses say it hit her in the process. We do have video, which shows the aftermath of what eyewitness accounts has been. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You do at that that to me, and I'll knock you flat.


WHITFIELD: So as you can see, that incident then unleashed something else. There were other passengers who were unnerved by what they had just witnessed. You see the one passenger who got up challenging an airline employee with resolving the matter. So it is very complicated.

Our Polo Sandoval is with us now. A lot took place in front of the camera. A lot took place allegedly without any video documentation. So where are we on this investigation in what happened?

[11:30:04] POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right, Fred. What's important to point out is there are two very different incidents that took place here. One of them is based solely on witnesses' accounts, which is what you just mentioned a little while ago.

An individual on this Dallas bound flight out of San Francisco yesterday says that an employee with American Airlines, quote, "violently" took the stroller of this woman, hitting the woman in the process, and narrowly missing her baby.

Again, this is entirely based on witness accounts. Then there's what video picks up here, which is the woman who is now in the front of the plane having a discussion with one of the pilots there and eventually this employee in question here makes his way back onboard. And then has a conversation and that is when another passenger decides to jump in, and then this confrontation then ensues. That is what American Airlines right now is basing their decision on to remove this employee off the job for now until they are able to sort this.

As you see here, a few minutes later this passenger steps into the aisle and then has that confrontation. Important to point out the plane had not left the gate yet.

As a result, the airline is taking a step to get him off the job right now which is very different from what we saw only a couple weeks ago obviously with the United Airlines on unrelated incident that obviously the airline having a lot to learn.

WHITFIELD: The one that got a lot of attention. Airlines taking too long, according to a lot of critics, to respond. In this case, American Airlines coming out with a statement as this flight landed.

SANDOVAL: Right. United Airlines turned into a PR nightmare. So American Airlines responding with a statement I want to read a small portion of it. This was actually posted just 20 minutes after the plane landed in Dallas yesterday.

American Airlines saying, quote, "We are deeply sorry for the pain we have caused this passenger and her family and to any other customers affected by the incident."

It goes on to say, "The actions of our team member captured here do not appear to reflect patience or empathy, two values necessary for customer care. In short, we are disappointed by these actions."

That investigation does continue because again we only have about a 2 minute and 44-second look at what was a larger incident that took place on that tarmac yesterday before the wheels up.

WHITFIELD: Have we heard from the mother? Because I think so many traveling parents can really relate to, A, how stressful it is to travel with your little ones and then she's got her backpack on. She's trying to be self-contained. She's got her toddler in one arm.

So many can empathize and understand what it is to have the stroller. You want assurance it will be there on the other end. Have we heard from her point of view of what happened? She's clearly traumatized. You see her in tears. Have we heard from her?

SANDOVAL: She's clearly distraught there. We have not heard from her yet. On that point that you make there, the airline trying to help her. We do understand that they did take several steps. Even upgraded her to first class for the remainder of her international flight according to the airline and then obviously in contact with her as well.

It will be very interesting to hear from her especially since we only have a clear picture of what took place during the follow-up incident and not what led to what was a very tense moment on that plane before it took off. WHITFIELD: All right, tense indeed. All right, thank you so much, Polo. Keep us posted on all of this. Appreciate it.

All right, still to come, it has been referred to as ground zero when it comes to rising sea levels. CNN has a bird's-eye view of the impact. This as scientists refusing to remain silent on climate change are pushing for global action now. We're continuing to keep an eye on the global protests today and rallies.



WHITFIELD: Hundreds of marches are planned around the world today to coincide with Earth Day. One of the largest events is happening right now on the National Mall in Washington D.C. We also have people gathering in New York and around the world to promote scientific-based public policy.

This as the Trump administration mulls deep cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency and despite scientific evidence of changing sea levels, global warming is a hard sell in parts of Louisiana. Here now is CNN's Ed Lavandera.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For more than 30 years, Jeff Poe has guided fishing trips chasing speckled trout and other fish in these waters near Lake Charles, Louisiana.

(on camera): Do you consider yourself an environmentalist on some level?

JEFF POE, FISHING GUIDE: Yes, for sure, without a doubt. The thing with climate change, I just don't know that there's anything we can do about it.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): We're traveling these waters because according to a new study from Yale University, this part of Southern Louisiana has one of the highest concentrations of climate change deniers and skeptics in the country.

POE: I'm not a denier. Put it that way, but I'm skeptical as to how much control we have over it.

LAVANDERA: Climate change experts say the skeptics are denying what's unfolding before their very eyes and around here, climate change is a hard sell as we quickly discovered after sitting down with Cecil Clark and Leo Dotson.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just don't think climate change is real.

LAVANDERA (on camera): Is there anything a scientist can say to you to change your mind or show you any kind of evidence that would change your mind? LEO DOTSON, CAMERON RESIDENT: If he was 500 years old and he told me it's changed, I would probably believe him, but in my lifetime, I didn't see any change.

LAVANDERA: You have to hear it from a 500-year-old scientist?

DOTSON: Right.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): One scientist described the Louisiana coastline to us as ground zero of climate change in the United States where the coastline is disappearing in large part according to scientific studies because of rising sea levels.

[11:40:00]A new Tulane University study calculates sea levels along the Louisiana coast are rising 10 to 13 millimeters per year. It might not sound significant but scientists say it's more than enough to cause significant damage in the next 50 years.

Pilot Charlie Hammonds has seen the Gulf of Mexico march north since he was a teenager. That's how long he's been flying over this vast Louisiana marshland. Hammons says the gulf waters spread north like a cancer and that much of that water you see below used to be land.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Probably when I was a young pilot I would say it would be at least three or four times what you would see here.

LAVANDERA (on camera): You literally used to land next to islands.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, way out in the bay now. I'm talking about out in that bay, all right and they are gone.

LAVANDERA: Those islands are gone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're gone, yes, that's right.

LAVANDERA: You couldn't land next to it today if you tried?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's open water. Open water.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Just look at how the Louisiana coastline has changed. NASA recorded these satellite images and from the mid-1980s to now you can see a subtle yet steady change around the town of Homa (ph) capturing how a significant amount of coastline is disappearing. Charlie Hammonds says the Gulf of Mexico water keeps swallowing up land.

CHARLIE HAMMONDS, PILOT: Like a cancer. It just keeps moving. I watch it every year. It keeps moving farther and farther and farther every year.

LAVANDERA (on camera): And eventually everyone is going to have to retreat?


LAVANDERA: Along desolate roads of the Louisiana bayou, one of the first signs that things aren't quite right is when you come across cypress and oak trees like these simply withering away. These trees depend on fresh water, but so much salt water has pushed north and risen up from the Gulf of Mexico that these trees are simply withering away. Leaves and limbs have fallen off. Eventually these trees will simply crumble into the marsh. Spots like this around here are often called a ghost forest.

(voice-over): After all this, you would think Charlie Hammonds and others would be on the climate change bandwagon.

(on camera): There are a lot of people out there who believe that climate change and sea level rising is contributing to what you're seeing, but you don't buy that.

HAMMONDS: Well, I don't buy that.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Hammonds and many others minimize the impact of climate change and say other factors are in play like the impact from the Mississippi River. They say marshland is naturally sinking and something called subsiding.

And oil companies have carb canals through the marsh here allowing salt water to creep north. But for environmental activists like Jonathan Foret, the skepticism is bewildering.

JONATHAN FORET, SOUTH LOUISIANA WETLANDS DISCOVERY CENTER: I don't get how you can look at scientific data and see this and very, very plainly and then say that it's not happening. That's climate change.

LAVANDERA: In front of Chris Brunet's house in Isle De Jean Charles, there stands one dying tree. The clue that underground not all is right. From weathered scrapbook photographs, he can see how the landscape and trees have disappeared.

For generations, they have been a Native American community where 350 people once lived. Now it's down to about 70. They fled north to escape the encroaching gulf waters. The island once covered 2,200 acres. It's now dwindled to about 350 acres.

(on camera): Do you think this is part of the natural evolution of the planet or do you think man-made causes have created such a rapid change here on the Louisiana coast?

CHRIS BRUNET, ISLE DE JEAN CHARLES RESIDENT: I believe that the Gulf of Mexico is such a powerful force that it wants to make its way north. More than one thing that's going on there.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Skepticism around here thrives. Even as Chris Brunet and others prepare to be the next to pack up and move north.


WHITFIELD: And that was CNN's Ed Lavandera reporting. Straight ahead, the Trump administration ramps up its rhetoric against Iran.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The evidence is clear. Iran's provocative actions threaten the United States, the region and the world.




WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. President Trump escalating his own tough talk on the world stage. Already in a stare down with North Korea, Team Trump is now lashing out at Iran with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson calling it a threat to the region and the world. And Trump accusing the rogue nation of not living up to the spirit of the agreement that is aimed at curbing Iran's nuclear program.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: As far as Iran is concerned, I think they are doing a tremendous disservice to an agreement that was signed. It was a terrible agreement. It shouldn't have been signed. It shouldn't have been negotiated the way it was negotiated. I'm all for agreements, but that was a bad one.

As bad as I've ever seen negotiated. They are not living up to the spirit of the agreement. I can tell you that. And we're analyzing it very, very carefully and we'll have something to say about it in the not too distant future.


WHITFIELD: All right, with me now to discuss this is Trita Parsi, the president of the National Iranian American Council and wrote about this for "The New York Times" and also author of the forthcoming book called "Losing An Enemy, Obama, Iran and the Triumph of Diplomacy." Good to see you, Trita.


WHITFIELD: So despite Trump's tough talk and saying that Iran is not living up to the spirit of the agreement, his administration has already issued a decision certifying that Iran is abiding by the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal. So what does this mean to you?

PARSI: Well, I think we can see three possible explanations. On the one hand, the very harsh rhetoric coming out of Tillerson immediately after certifying that Iran actually is living up to the deal.

[11:50:11]May be a reaction in the sense that they saw that a lot of people in the media, interpreted this certification as an indication that the Trump administration is now learning to live and accept the Iranian nuclear deal.

As a result, they want to correct that, kind of infusing more uncertainty into the situation. It could also be that the Trump administration's decision actually is to walk away from this deal, but they want to do so not by killing it Washington, which would be very costly because it would isolate the United States.

But rather, killing it in Yemen or in Iraq or in Syria by wrapping up tensions in the region, but there also could be a third explanation, which is the Trump administration actually doesn't know what it's doing.

They have not decided on a path and the contradictions that we're seeing are actually a result of them not having figured out exactly what they want to do.

WHITFIELD: So what's your gut say of those three scenarios? Is it your feeling that this was an admission, so to speak, of not thoroughly understanding it and perhaps there is an about-face on it or what?

PARSI: I think there's an internal struggle in the Trump administration in which they haven't frankly decided exactly which path to go. But the path that they would be going is either the first or the second option in the sense of either trying to accept the deal by still ramping up pressure in the region and potentially ramping those pressures up to the extent to force the Iranians to walk out of the deal.

Either way, what is happening right now is tremendously dangerous because this deal did prevent all Iran's path towards a nuclear weapon. And the last thing we need right now is to have another North Korea situation, which is exactly the path they're on unless they change courses and start respecting this deal.

WHITFIELD: Then this, the administration saying it will conduct a 90- day review before deciding on whether or not to lift sanctions as required by the nuclear deal. Does this send yet another unusual message to you or is this in step with the expectation of the deal?

PARSI: Well, the United States actually is obliged now to lift or to continue to wave sanctions as a result of the certification that has come now both from the State Department and from the IAEA. So that the Iranians are living up to their end of the bargain and now it's the U.S.'s turn to do so.

I believe the deadline for the Trump administration to make this decision is May 18th and guess what, on May 19th, there's presidential elections in Iran.

And if the Trump administration decides not to renew the waivers, the U.S. essentially is violating the deal and that actually could have a significant impact on the Iranian elections. The most important vote in that election may be cast by Donald Trump.

WHITFIELD: Interesting. And on those Iranian elections, I mean, Mahmoud (inaudible) whose name became very familiar with kind of the consternation between Iran and the U.S., he has been banned from running for office. Can you tell us any more about what does that mean for the leadership of that country?

PARSI: Well, so the Iranian elections are not free nor fare, but they end up being quite competitive. But what they have that really makes it very undemocratic is that they have a body called the Guardian Council that vets candidates. I think more than a thousand people who submitted their names, but only six were allowed to run.

And interestingly enough, but not surprisingly, (inaudible) was not permitted to run. This is not a surprise, mindful of the fact that he had actually been encouraged or asked by the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, not to run.

I think he did it nevertheless because he's really trying to establish himself as the anti-establishment candidate. Not for this election, but perhaps for the elections four years down the road.

WHITFIELD: And then when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson accuses Iran of destabilizing the world, what kind of message does that send? Is that helpful in terms of global unity or is that potentially disruptive?

PARSI: I think it is tremendously disruptive. That's not to say that Iranians are not engaged in activities that are problematic. They are. But how do we resolve that. Well, the Obama administration showed through very tough and persistent negotiations we actually can have real results and get the Iranians to abide by the terms of those agreements as the State Department and Tillerson himself has certified.

That's the path we should be continuing. There's a complaint that the nuclear deal only dealt with the nuclear deal. It's because it's a nuclear deal. If we want to see changes in the regional policies of the Iranian government then there needs to be negotiations about that as well.

There is a clear path, a clear example of how this can be done successfully and there's also a clear example of how it can be done unsuccessfully and that example is called Iraq. The last thing we want to do is to repeat that mistake.

WHITFIELD: Trita Parsi, always good to see you. Thanks so much.

PARSI: Thanks so much for having me.

WHITFIELD: At this hour, we're keeping an eye on rallies in Washington, New York, where activists are trying to encourage lawmakers to believe the science and protect the environment.

[11:55:10]Plus we're also following this --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Enough is enough.


WHITFIELD: The U.S. attorney general putting nine sanctuary cities on notice. What those cities are saying when the NEWSROOM continues.


WHITFIELD: Hello again, everyone, and thank you so much for joining me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

All right, today is Earth Day and nearly 500 cities around the world are participating in the march for science. Take a look at live pictures right now from Washington, D.C., where marchers are advocating for more funding and support for science, and climate change solutions.