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Trump Fires FBI Director Comey; South Korea Has New President; Comey Fired After Justice Department Recommendation; Russia Reacts to Comey Firing; Migration and Humanitarian Crisis in Mediterranean; Aired 2-3a ET

Aired May 10, 2017 - 02:00   ET


[02:00:06] ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. Ahead this hour.

Donald Trump shocked the political world again firing the head of the FBI, the man leading the investigation into his campaign's possible ties to Russia.

Plus charting a new course, the times of Moon Jae-in sworn as South Korea's next president.

And nearly 250 people feared death as more and more migrants attempt the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean into Europe.

Hello, and welcome to our viewers from all around the world. I am Isha Sesay. This is NEWSROOM L.A.

The U.S. president Donald Trump has fired the FBI director James Comey at the recommendation of the attorney general and his deputy. Comey was leading the FBI's leading investigation in alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. He was fired the same day CNN learned of grand jury subpoenas issued to associates of former National Security adviser Michael Flynn, one of the central figures in the Russia probe.

Our own Sara Murray has the latest.


SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In one of the president's most controversial moves since taking office, Donald Trump firing FBI Director James Comey. The move oust the man overseeing the probe into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russians to influence the 2016 presidential election.

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: Secretary Clinton's use of a personal e-mail.

MURRAY: But the White House says the reason Trump fired Comey was because of his handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton's e- mails, a probe that Trump often praised during the presidential campaign.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE COUNSELOR: I think you're looking at the wrong set of facts here. In other words, you're going back to the campaign. This man is the president of the United States. He acted decisively today. He has lost confidence in the FBI director.

MURRAY: The administration defended Trump's decision saying it came at the recommendation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. But in his letter dismissing Comey, Trump turned back to Russia, writing, "While I greatly appreciate you informing me on three separate occasions that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the bureau."

It's a perplexing assertion after Comey testified publicly that the FBI is investigating ties between Trump's presidential campaign and Russia.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: You have confirmed, I believe, that the FBI is investigating potential ties between Trump associates and the Russian interference in the 2016 campaign, correct?


MURRAY: Trump's bombshell announcement inspired fierce political blowback and prompted Democrats to call for a special prosecutor to take over the investigation into Trump and Russia.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), MINORITY LEADER: I simply said to him, Mr. President, with all due respect, you're making a very big mistake. And he didn't really answer.

MURRAY: But concerns spread to both sides of the aisle Tuesday evening. Senate Intelligence Committee chairman, Richard Burr, a Republican, saying in a statement, "I am troubled by the timing and the reasoning of Director Comey's termination."

TRUMP: He's become more famous than me.

MURRAY: The firing caps off a rollercoaster relationship between Trump and Comey. Trump gave Comey a warm welcome once he was in office. But by Tuesday, the president was relying on one of his most trusted aides to hand deliver a letter to the FBI dismissing Comey. The only problem, Comey was in California. He learned of his firing through TV news reports while visiting a Los Angeles field office.

Sara Murray, CNN, Washington.


SESAY: With me now for a lively conversation, political commentators Mo Kelly and John Philips. I must add that John Philips is a Trump supporter. And retired FBI special agent, Steve Moore.

Welcome to you all.

Steve, to you first as our FBI guy, what is your reaction to this sudden firing of Comey? STEVE MOORE, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CONTRIBUTOR: I'm kind of taken aback

by the fact that Comey wasn't even notified of it. But beyond that what strikes me is that the president has the right to appoint and to fire the FBI director. That's within his purview. And I think James Comey had made mistakes in his handling of the Clinton issue and of even the Russian investigation issue that would have warranted someone asking for his resignation and there would be reasonable people on both sides. But to do it when you yourself are the target of an FBI investigation makes the timing -- makes the optics just horrible. And I don't see why this couldn't have waited until after that investigation was concluded.

[02:05:11] SESAY: Yes. Some good questions there.

And Mo Kelly, to you, take a listen to White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway explained the White House decision and how they got to this point. Take a listen.


CONWAY: He has lost confidence in the FBI director and he took the recommendation of Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general to whom the FBI director reports to. The deputy attorney general has been on the job for two short weeks. He went in there, he assessed the situation and I would quote for you, he says that almost everyone agrees that the director, meaning Mr. Comey, made serious mistakes. It's one of few issues that unites people of diverse perspective. This is a man who is trying to, quote, "restore public confidence in the FBI."


SESAY: Does that make sense to you?

MO KELLY, HOST, "THE MO KELLY SHOW": It doesn't make sense because we look at the letters, they used that phrase restore public confidence, this inspires more questions than anything. If you want to have confidence in the process then you can't necessarily put your thumb on the scale during the investigation. And former FBI agent Moore said that they asked for his resignation or they fired him. They had the opportunity to ask for his resignation but they fired him outright.

This is very questionable to me only because they fired the guy who was responsible for leading the investigation or the investigation effort against Donald Trump and you had Jeff Sessions who's supposedly recused himself offering the letter of recommendation to fire James Comey? That doesn't make sense to me.

SESAY: John Philips, they're citing actions that Comey took in 2016 and then around the Hillary Clinton e-mail scandal as reasons to fire him in 2017. It strikes people as odd. It has some people saying, is this really about the Russian investigation? Is this really a cover- up?

JOHN PHILIPS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, the Russia investigation is going to continue. It's not James Comey himself that's conducting it. It's civil servants who are still working and still conducting that investigation right now as we speak. So I see it as being unrelated to that. In terms of the timing he went and testified before Congress and amended what he publicly said earlier about how many e-mails there were concerning Hillary Clinton and Anthony Weiner. So I think it was that situation and that statement that caused the attorney general to lose confidence in him.

And I'll add also that the attorney general was not confirmed right away by the Senate. So it takes time to go through this. It takes time to evaluate everyone in the executive branch, everyone in the Department of Justice, and it just took until May.

SESAY: OK. I'm going to pick up on a lot that you said, but let me go straight back to Steve Moore. You made the point right off the bat that this doesn't have anything to do with the Russian investigation.

Steve Moore, does this have implications for the Russia probe that the FBI has been leading?

MOORE: It's -- the implications, if anything, are that it might speed up because FBI agents are a pessimistic lot and likely there are suspicions within the agency that maybe, maybe that this was targeted to stop or slow down the investigation. In which case they're just going to speed it up. I'm not alleging that. I'm not convinced that that's what the purpose of this is. All I am saying is that firing him -- and you're right, Mo, I didn't mean to infer it was anything but a firing.

Firing him -- the optics are bad and it leaves people on both sides to jump to conclusions. And you know, frustratingly people have switched their opinions today between morning and afternoon.

SESAY: And John, again, going back to what you just said, you talked about how it took a while for the attorney general to be confirmed, and there was this lag between the attorney general coming in and them reaching this conclusion. But at the heart of this, again, it comes down to, according to that memo that Rod Rosenstein put out and sent to the AG about the handling of the e-mail situation regarding Hillary Clinton. These are actions Comey took that were widely praised by the president. Take a listen to what the president has said over time about Comey's handling of the e-mail probe.


TRUMP: I respect the fact that Director Comey was able to come back after what he did. It took guts for Director Comey to make the move that he made in light of the kind of opposition he had where they are trying to protect her from criminal prosecution. He has become more famous than me.


SESAY: He was praising him there. It took guts. And now the same guts that he praised, now he's out?

KELLY: Well, President Trump has never been consistent in his reasoning or his rationalization about this. He could have waited. There is an inspector general investigation of Director Comey -- former Director Comey right now that could have been concluded and used as ample reason.

[02:10:07] Director Comey had plenty of reasons to be fired. He did not have plenty of reasons to be fired right now at this juncture, send him a letter to breed more confidence in public trust.

SESAY: What about that point, John?

PHILIPS: That's part of what Donald Trump had to say about James Comey but I was at the Republican convention and I also remember everyone chanting, locker up, and I remember people at the rallies chanting, locker up. Republicans including myself and Donald Trump thought that there should have been charges filed against her.

What Comey did was split the baby. He didn't file charges against her but he came out and talked about all these (INAUDIBLE) deeds that she did and he became a man without a country. The Democrats for the last week or two have been killing him. I mean, Hillary Clinton came out and said that he was the reason that she lost the election. Harry Reid said he had to go. Nancy Pelosi said he had to go. And since all of this happened today, the one person who's been totally silent is Hillary Clinton because I bet you she's in Chappaqua, New York, right now toasting a hot tottie with her server.


SESAY: Hillary Clinton has not commented, President Obama has not commented. Former President Bill Clinton has not commented. Bu the fact still remains. Even if we fully align with logic that -- since Comey appeared on Capitol Hill the Democrats have put him under the caution, have been going after him. Why now? That is the question. Why is this happening now?

PHILIPS: Because the testimony was last week and there's a discrepancy between the number of e-mails that he mentioned before and the number of e-mails that he mentioned or amended it with last week. And, you know, when there's a huge discrepancy like that you lose confidence with people.

KELLY: But does --

PHILIPS: And the president is in charge of the executive branch.

KELLY: But doesn't this hurt the president more than it helps him in this moment? He had the good news of the jobs report, he had the fight that he was already engaged in terms of health care reform. This if anything gets in the way creates more enemies for him on Capitol Hill.

SESAY: Go ahead, John, before I bring in Steve.

PHILIPS: I'll tell you what it does. It muddies the waters in terms of the story lines that are out there right now the Democrats are driving. They're saying that he won the election because James Comey gave him the assist. Well, if that's the case then you want to throw the guy a flung. You don't want to fire him. They said that he's Russia's puppet, yet what does he do? He goes and bombs Syria. He's muddying the waters right now and I think that a lot of people don't know how to react to him as being a disruptor which is why people elected him. He's an outsider.

SESAY: OK. Steve Moore, the president also said in the letter that he sent to James Comey. "It is essential we find new leadership for the FBI that restores public trust and confidence and its vital law enforcement mission."

Do you feel that under Comey the FBI was suffering from a lack of credibility or damaged credibility?

MOORE: No, I -- well, it depends on who you ask.

SESAY: I'm asking you. You get to answer.

MOORE: No. I don't believe they were suffering from credibility. I was confused by some of his actions but I think Director Comey is a man of honor and integrity who made some mistakes so I am saddened that he's going. I am saying he shouldn't have been fired. It's -- but the timing bothers me.

SESAY: OK. Timing bothers you. The timing bothers Republicans. Some Republicans, John Philips. I want to give you a sampling of the Republican response, there are those like Lindsey Graham who support the move, let's put up some of Lindsey Graham's statement. "Given the recent controversy surrounding the director, I believe a fresh start will serve the FBI and the nation well. I encourage the president to select the most qualified professional available who will serve our nation's interests."

The view there of Senator Lindsey Graham. But there isn't unanimous support amongst Republicans. This is what John McCain said in a statement. "While the president has the legal authority to remove the director of the FBI, I am disappointed in the president's decision to remove James Comey from office. I have long called for a special congressional committee to investigate Russia's interference in the 2016 election. The president's decision to remove the FBI director only concerns the need and the urgency of such a committee."

John Philips, will the GOP support for -- the president's move to fire Comey, will it hold in the coming days?

PHILIPS: Well, the ones that hated him still hate him. John McCain and certainly Ben Sasse and others. The one that's surprised me is Lindsey Graham because Lindsey Graham has said nothing nice to say about Donald Trump. So I don't think that this is going to cut across the normal Washington lines where they look at everything through a political prism. There's politics and there's confidence. And the argument that Trump made is that Jim Comey is not competent to be director of the FBI because of all of the mistakes that he made related to Hillary Clinton's e-mails. That's different that the arguments that they're used to having.

When Donald Trump ran for office he said he was going to drain the swamp. I consider what happened today draining the swamp.

SESAY: All right. Well, Chuck Schumer doesn't see it like that, Mo Kelly. Take a listen to what Chuck Schumer, the minority leader of the Senate Democrat leader, had to say. Take a listen.


[02:15:01] SCHUMER: Are people going to suspect cover-up? Absolutely. If an independent special prosecutor is appointed there still can be some faith that we can get to the bottom of this. If not, everyone will suspect cover-up.


KELLY: Well, if he was hoping that this Russia story was just going to go away President Trump himself added fuel to the fire. I mean, he could have been talking about the other things, he could have been talking about North Korea, he could have been talking about Syria, he could have been talking about domestic policy, health care and jobs. But now he's forced to have to address through Sean Spicer or any of his surrogates Russia. I don't think that that was the plan to get rid of Russia, the hoax and the taxpayer fraud investigation, this only elongated it.

SESAY: John?

PHILIPS: It's politically convenient right now for Chuck Schumer to make James Comey the kid that fell in the well. But I'd love to know what he was saying at 9:00 in the morning about him. My guess is, he was saying the same thing that Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton was, and that was that he cost them the election and should go.

SESAY: Steve Moore, last word to you. What --

MOORE: Go ahead.

SESAY: The question being to you now is, A, the implications for the FBI now that Comey has been removed in this manner. I know you're talking to your friends, your former colleagues. What are they saying to you about the lasting damage this may or may not do to the FBI?

MOORE: This is going to disturb the agent population because appearances that possibly he was removed because of an ongoing investigation whether it's true or not. The agents are paid pessimists. That's what they do. So I would say that the best thing anybody can do is to appoint a special prosecutor, then you would have those people who yesterday wanted Comey fired but today think the president is evil for doing it. And everyone else. It will solve the issue if we had a special prosecutor and let us get on with other things.

SESAY: Interesting, Steve, that you are calling for a special prosecutor. There are those who say a special prosecutor is the wrong move here, that they should be getting an independent commission. People are split on that as well. Gentlemen, my thanks to you all. Lovely conversation. Quick break


South Korea has a new president. And he could drastically change how the country deals with a nuclear threat from its neighbor, North Korea.



[02:21:15] SESAY: Hello, everyone. South Korea's new president could drastically change how the country handles the North Korean nuclear crisis. Moon Jae-in says he's willing to visit North Korea under the right conditions. He favors dialogues and economic cooperation with Pyongyang. Mr. Moon is replacing Park Geun-hye who is awaiting trial in a corruption scandal. He is promising to boost the economy and fight corruption. Two main issues for voters.

Our Paula Hancocks joins us now live in Seoul, South Korea. And with that in mind, he's got a pretty full plate, Paula. What will he tackle first?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we have heard from the new South Korean president just this morning. Just after he took his oath he made a short speech, and he sort of outlined the main things that he would be looking at. He said if necessary he would fly to Washington immediately in order to try and deal with the North Korean nuclear issue. He also said he would fly to Beijing and Tokyo if necessary and if conditions were right he would travel to North Korea.

Now this is something he has said during campaigning. He is pro- engagement. It's something that his critics are concerned about. But certainly at this point, what we've seen today is him traveling through the streets of Seoul in a motorcade, standing up out of the sunroof, almost like a victory lap around the South Korean capital. And he clearly looks very happy that he's won the presidency.


HANCOCKS (voice-over): The man of the hour. Moon Jae-in was all smiles Tuesday night, clearly enjoying the crowds and the moments.

MOON JAE-IN, SOUTH KOREAN PRESIDENT (Through Translator): From tomorrow, I will be the president for all the people.

HANCOCKS: Rewind to the 1970s, Moon was a special forces commando. Not by choice but as punishment for fighting for democracy against the then dictatorship. His former colonel, Ro Chang-nam tells me Moon was thin with big scared eyes on first glance but soon proved he was mentally tough. Supporting diplomacy with North Korea at that time when such talk could brand you a traitor.

"He told me we should punish the leader but talk to the North Korean people. I was in shock, I told him don't talk rubbish and do not repeat this to anyone else."

At the age of 64, Moon's opinions remain the same. The issue of North Korea is deeply personal for him. The son of North Korean refugees, his parents fled South during the Korean War. He accompanied his mother to North Korea in 2004 for a rare family reunion so he could meet his sister for the first time in decades. He is pro-engagement, pro-dialogue, but against North Korea's nuclear program.

MOON (Through Translator): To get rid of the North's nuclear weapons to prevent further nuclear provocations trilateral cooperation between South Korea, the U.S. and China is needed.

HANCOCKS: The question is how would President Moon get on with U.S. President Donald Trump? A former human rights lawyer versus a former businessman, a long time politician versus a political novice.

"The president should not be a war-maker but a peacemaker," Moon said recently. Moon organized the last summit between North and South Korea in 2007 while he was chief of staff to the last liberal president. He supports economic integration with the North. His critics say he is soft on Pyongyang and slammed comments he would be willing to visit North Korea.


HANCOCKS: South Korea, there's just a sense of relief that the past several months are over. This power vacuum is no longer. The massive corruption scandal with former president Park Geun-hye impeached, imprisoned and on trial right now. So there's really a sense of relief that the country can now move forward.

There has been congratulations coming in for Moon Jae-in as well from Xi Jinping in China and also from the White House -- Isha.

SESAY: Happy days. Fresh start in South Korea. At least for some.

Paula Hancocks, joining us there from Seoul. Appreciate it. Thank you, Paula.

[02:25:04] Still to come here on NEWSROOM L.A. we head to Moscow for reaction to President Trump's decision to fire his FBI director. Plus Mr. Trump is set to meet soon with Russia's Foreign minister. A live report on what they just might discuss. Stay with us.


SESAY: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I am Isha Sesay. The headlines this hour.

U.S. president Donald Trump has fired FBI director James Comey who was leading the investigation into alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. The White House says Comey was fired because of his handling of the Hillary Clinton e-mail probe but as a candidate Mr. Trump repeatedly praised Comey for the Clinton investigation.

President Trump will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Washington in the coming days. Lavrov will also discuss Syria and Ukraine with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Washington and Moscow are trying to repair what Tillerson calls a low point in their relationship.

South Korea's new president says he's willing to visit North Korea under the right condition. Moon Jae-in wants to use dialogues and economic cooperation to stop the nuclear threats from Pyongyang. He's replacing Park Geun-hye who took a hard line on North Korea. Park was impeached and is facing corruption charges.

Well, with the sudden changes at the FBI, the Trump White House perhaps inadvertently has once again focused a public spotlight on the investigation of his campaign.

Our own Pamela Brown looks at the impact of Director Comey's dismissal.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, in a stunning turn of events President Trump fired the director of the FBI James Comey, the man who is overseeing the investigation of his campaign and ties to Russia. Now former deputy director of the FBI, Andy McCabe, is the acting director of the bureau and the investigation is still being overseen by the deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, the same person who recommended to President Trump that he fired James Comey.

[02:30:05] Career prosecutors and agents are still working on this case and issuing subpoenas, but of course something on this magnitude happening could have a chilling effect There are already growing calls particularly from Democratic lawmakers for an independent prosecutor to take over this investigation.

We've learned that in just the last couple of weeks federal prosecutors have issued grand jury subpoenas to associates of former National Security adviser Michael Flynn seeking business records as part of the ongoing probe of Russian meddling in last year's election and the subpoenas represent the first sign of a significant escalation of activity in the FBI's broader investigation that began last July in the possible ties between Trump campaign associates and Russia. They were received by associates who worked with Flynn on contracts after he was forced out as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency back in 2014.

Robert Kelner, an attorney for Flynn, declined to comment as did the Justice Department.

Pamela Brown, Washington.


SESAY: Well, CNN's Diana Magnay is live in Moscow and joins us now.

Diana, good to see you. So the man leading the FBI's investigation into possible collusion between the Trump administration officials on Russia has been ousted. One would be inclined to think that Moscow is going to view this as a win.

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think it's hard to say. And the probe is going to continue with or without Comey. I'm sure that there is an element of Schadenfreude for the Kremlin about the fact that the man who described Russia as the greatest threat to the U.S. political system or any nation on earth in his testimony last week has now lost his job.

The Kremlin's official line, of course, has always been that this is more a symptom of U.S. political infighting than anything else. But I think on the other hand also there is a sense that the magnitude that this Russia-Trump probe has gained and the kind of discussion that it gets in the United States and internationally also denotes the fact that Russia is a force to be reckoned with. And that is probably something that the Kremlin rather like -- Isha.

SESAY: So with the Comey firing as the backdrop, the President Donald Trump will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Wednesday.

First of all, given the fact that Tillerson has said that the relationship between U.S. and Russia is at a low point, how significant is this meeting in terms of a step towards resetting the relationship, if you will?

MAGNAY: It's their third meeting. And the last one was here in Moscow just after the U.S. missile strike in response to the chemical attack in Syria. That was when Rex Tillerson said that relations were at a particularly low level -- low degree of trust between the two countries and of course this is an effort to step up that kind of collaboration.

When Rex Tillerson was here in Moscow last month he also had a two- hour meeting with Russia's president and now President Trump says he will meet with Lavrov also. And I think those are very important developments. It's not an invitation to Mar-a-Lago which a lot of other world leaders have had already. But it's certainly an attempt to step up relations. Because they have very important things to talk about. They have Syria to talk about. They have Ukraine to talk about, and they an improvement of U.S.-Russia relations.

But of course it's not going to be the kind of grand bargain that people were hoping for before the U.S. missile strikes. It is baby steps -- Isha.

SESAY: Yes. There are those who might be surprised when the State Department put out the note on what would be discussed, as you mentioned, the Ukraine and Syria, it didn't mention allegations of Russia hacking the U.S. election. That is not on the agenda to be discussed. What should we make of that?

MAGNAY: Well, based on the readout from the Kremlin's assessment of what would take place. I'm sure that this is the kind of thing that will be discussed behind closed doors and will probably come up in the question and answer session. Who knows whether it will be discussed between Sergey Lavrov and Donald Trump? But I think that the message from the Kremlin, the message from D.C.

is that these leaders, these important diplomats have very serious matters on the geopolitical stage to discuss and as I said the Kremlin's line is that this is a -- that the hacking situation is a domestic matter and not something for Sergey Lavrov to bring to the table when he meets with Rex Tillerson -- Isha.

SESAY: We shall see how this one all plays out there. Diana Magnay joining us there from Moscow. Thank you, Diana.

Now a beautiful refrain amid unbelievable chaos.

[02:35:12] The notes of the Venezuelan national anthem broke through the sounds of violent protests in Caracas Monday. Demonstrators places a shield around the determined violinist as tear gas flew around them. Last week a different violinist died when the protest turned violent. Venezuela has been plagued by political and economic unrest. Dozens of people have died in anti-government since March.

Time for a quick break here. Next on NEWSROOM L.A., hundreds of people are feared dead after trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea over the weekend. We'll talk to a Middle East expert about this event when we return.


SESAY: Well, the White House has delayed the decision on withdrawing from the Paris Climate Change Agreement again. Meanwhile in Italy, global warming was front and center for former U.S. president Barack Obama. He made a rare public appearance to talk about the effects of climate change on food at a conference in Milan.

Life after the presidency appears to suit Mr. Obama, he left his tie at home and looked relaxed as he talked about escaping some of the demands of being commander-in-chief.


BARRACK OBAMA, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: So you don't have the freedom of movement to be able to just take a walk or to sit at a cafe because there's always the security concern around you. I don't miss that. Yes. Now I am only captive to selfies so --


OBAMA: Which is almost as bad. I can walk anywhere as long as I'm willing to take a selfie every two steps.


SESAY: Well, Tuesday's speech was Obama's first overseas since leaving office in January.

More than 6,000 migrants were rescued after attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea from North Africa into Europe. U.N. officials say up to 245 people remained missing and many are feared dead in two shipwrecks.

For more on this, Lisa Daftari joins me now from New York. She is a Middle East expert and editor-in-chief on the Foreign Desk.

Lisa, always good to see you. According to the U.N. Refugee Agency there's been a spike in the number of migrants and refugees attempting to make the dangerous crossing from Libya to Europe.

Here's some alarming statistics. More than 1300 people are believed to have died or disappeared while trying to cross from North Africa to Italy since the beginning of the year. Over 43,000 migrants and asylum seekers have used the central Mediterranean route to reach Italy this year.

Lisa, what do we know about what is fuelling this spike at this point in time?

[02:40:03] LISA DAFTARI, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THE FOREIGN DESK: What I can tell you from covering this region and this crisis for a very long time is that this has been ongoing. The reason they're calling it a spike is that there's been more of a reporting on what's going on, meaning the U.N. or these NGOs are more keen to report what's going on versus before this was silently going on because there were so many refugees pouring out of these countries.

Now the question really should be at this point today, why does it become a concern only when we have video footage, when we have photos? When they're already drowned in the ocean? When they're already out one of our airports? Why don't we look at this other humanitarian crisis at the root of the problem? Why are they leaving their countries? What can we do for them at that point?

A lot of these -- many, many of the people I interview, they want to stay in their countries. If they can be provided with an opportunity to live safely. We're concerned about our own national security, Europe is concerned about their national security. If they can't absorb the sheer numbers of migrants coming through in terms of economy, in terms of job creation, the point is that we should be looking at this much more seriously at the root of the problem.

SESAY: Yes, but instead what we have is in February the E.U. leaders completing a deal to hand Libya's fragile government hundreds of millions of dollars for them to stop migrant boats in their territorial waters. What if anything is the Libyan government doing to halt these dangerous journeys?

DAFTARI: Now unfortunately there is so many individuals who are taking advantage of this crisis, meaning whether they're NGOs or the government or individuals who are smugglers, there's human trafficking, there's sex trafficking. Unfortunately these poor, poor families are at the mercy of these other individuals and again what we're seeing is an outpouring and at the very best an economic migrants.

At the very worst you have people who are not going to be participating -- or individuals who want to be active members of society. So at this point we can give money to Libya. They can take advantage of that. Everybody here has an agenda and unfortunately it's not what's best for the migrants that's talked about.

SESAY: Yes, and that being said, there is a question to be asked. Are E.U. leaders doing enough to prevent unnecessary deaths at sea? Are they prioritizing search and rescue operations?

DAFTARI: No, it doesn't seem that way. What seems like -- they're triaging when it's already at the point of the crisis, of finding them at shore. Very unfortunately. If the E.U. is serious about truly stopping this hemorrhaging, they would take more of an initiative to create those safe zones, to join the U.S. and arming the Kurds who can help in the battle against a lot of these insurgencies that are creating this chaos. It's spreading throughout the region.

These migrants aren't just coming from Syria and Iraq. They're coming from Tunisia, they're coming from Libya, they're coming from all sorts of countries where people are just picking up and leaving. And again, the point is, there is much that can be done before we can find them on the shore. Before they can either be rescued or unfortunately not be rescued at that point. But I think the serious talk would be to be helping these people in their native countries.

SESAY: Yes, there's no doubt about that. The prime minister of Malta has in recent months floated this idea of migration pacts with North African countries saying that -- and blasting other E.U. leaders for a lack of action, a lack of consensus when it comes to dealing with this problem. Is something like, you know, migration pacts, is that a viable idea? Are there any serious ideas on the table right now?

DAFTARI: There aren't any. Unfortunately with the E.U. you would see them doing a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking and talking about what could be done and what should be done. But instead, we see the problem is getting worse day by day. And again thousands of thousands every year and already the numbers are startling in the year 2017 so far as to how many have perished this way.

SESAY: It is -- it's a desperate situation to think we have been talking about it year after year after year and nothing really changes. The only constant in all of this is death. Sadly.

Lisa Daftari, we appreciate it. Thank you so much.

DAFTARI: Of course.

SESAY: Well, coming up later today, it was a horrific attack that shocked the world. CNN senior international correspondent Clarissa Ward exclusive and very disturbing video of the aftermath of last month's chemical attack inside Syria. See her report coming up at 1:00 this afternoon in London, 8:00 tonight if you are in Hong Kong, and there we must leave it.

Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I'm Isha Sesay. "WORLD SPORTS" is up next. You're watching CNN.