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Russia: ISIS Leader Possibly Killed At ISIS Council; Trump: Russia Probe a "Phony" Investigation. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired June 16, 2017 - 04:30   ET



[04:32:03] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking this morning -- has the leader of ISIS been killed in a Russian air strike? Moscow is investigating. We are there live.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Major news this morning. Welcome back to EARLY START, everybody. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It's 32 minutes past the hour.

BRIGGS: Breaking news this morning, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi may have been killed in a Russian airstrike. Russian state media says Moscow is investigating that possibility.

ROMANS: These reports say al Baghdadi, seen here in one of the few video clips of him known, he's in Mosul in July of 2014 in these pictures. He may have been killed in a Russian airstrike last month.

Our CNN correspondent Diana Magnay is live in Moscow with the breaking details.

And I know -- I mean, I'm reading some of this on the English-language Sputnik News Agency. They're investigating whether a May 28th news strike targeted him with a lot of other ISIS leadership.

What do we know?

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Well, Russian state media is quoting the defense ministry as saying that it is investigating with information that suggests that he was killed in a meeting south of Raqqah with a lot of other ISIS operatives are true, and the reports are that al Baghdadi was killed in a Russian air strike alongside some 330 other ISIS operatives as they were at a command post talking about creating an escape route, if you will, to the south of the city to Deir ez-Zor and Palmyra, which is cities where ISIS has allegedly fled to.

Now, the defense ministry is investigating whether these reports are true. There is no confirmation at this stage. And it will certainly be interesting what evidence the Russians come up with to prove 100 percent that it was al Baghdadi who was killed in this airstrike, especially if, as is being reported in Russian state media, there were another 330 ISIS operatives killed in the same airstrike.

And, of course, Christine, we've had numerous reports of al Baghdadi being killed in the past, so that is why the Russians are being careful to couch this one and saying we are looking to verify information. So, it will be interesting, as I said, to see what evidence they do come up with, if they can definitively prove that he was killed and it was by their airstrike.

BRIGGS: Diana, Christine made mention of this video we're seeing on the screen now, the only known video of the man some call the invisible sheikh. Back in July 2014, a sermon he delivered in Mosul. Only two photographs have ever been known to have been taken of him.

If you could give us some context, though, on just how significant this killing, if confirmed, would be, just why and how he is so dangerous.

[04:35:08] MAGNAY: Well, if you think of how ISIS was built up under his leadership, he created it into this fighting force that took so much territory through Iraq and Syria and managed to recruit foreign fighters from across the Middle East and across the West into ISIS ranks and make it into this formidable fighting force that has been so hard to counter. That said, ISIS is now very, very much on the back foot. Mosul is practically -- it's just the last few neighborhoods that Iraqi forces are trying to recapture from ISIS.

The majority of ISIS fighters who haven't been killed have fled out of Mosul, back into Syria, towards Raqqah. And actually, the onslaught on Raqqah, which started in the last few weeks, has been far more effective than we might have assumed. ISIS appears to have been fairly effectively routed from the city, and they're being pushed South.

So, it certainly is in its final stages with quite a few of the top ISIS leadership killed. But that growth was, you know, of ISIS as a terrorist force and as a force that was able to occupy a substantial amount of land, that was all Baghdadi's doing, so he is a major, major figure, the most wanted terrorist in the world, if you will. And if he was killed, that is, of course, a very big deal.

ROMANS: And the brutality of his methods have been well documented -- torture, rape, public executions, crucifixions -- I mean, paraded in front of the cameras, broadcast on social media. The American aide worker, Kayla Mueller, who was kidnapped in 2013 coming out of a Doctors Without Borders hospital, kidnapped, tortured, and ultimately died in captivity. He personally tortured her.

This is someone, the Yazidi people -- I mean, the list of atrocities is just too long to recite here, Diana.

MAGNAY: It is. And it was a culture that he managed to, you know, permeate throughout his fighting forces. And it is a culture of indescribable brutality, torture, as you say, what you've listed was everything that came from his command as well as ordering this kind of horrific killing and torture and brutality against Shia Muslims, against Muslims as well. You know, his brutality really did know no boundaries.

In contrast, perhaps, to al Qaeda, who shied away from the kind of brutality that ISIS is known for. And it will be interesting to see what, if he does go, how ISIS manages to continue. As I said, there has been just a few days ago, another senior ISIS leader, al Binali (ph), killed around Raqqah, and the organization of this network has been really demolished by the assault on is in Iraq and in Syria, and in Syria, of course, not just by the coalition, but Russian airpower and Syrian ground forces, too.

And I think it's important to mention in that context that over the last few weeks, Russia has been very much saying we are the ones who are fighting terrorism, we are, our air support is supporting Syrian ground troops as they battle ISIS, al Nusra and other terrorist groups in Syria. And the Russians have been saying, actually, coalition forces have been much more intent on targeting Syrian ground troops and on waging war against Assad than they have in fighting the terrorists.

So, if Russia does provide evidence to prove that they managed to kill al Baghdadi, they win a major propaganda victory.

BRIGGS: No doubt there. Many have questioned whose side Russia is on in the ongoing war in Syria.

Primarily, was social media the tool by which al Baghdadi was able to grow this organization and recruit thousands of jihadis?

MAGNAY: I think to a very large extent, if you look at the growth of ISIS. And at the time when ISIS was growing when there was an explosion of social media, it absolutely benefited the group, and al Baghdadi was quick to recognize how to exploit social media for his own benefit and to create propaganda, outlets within media, branches within is that put together unbelievably slick propaganda videos, which looked as if they had been done by any kind of professional organization.

[04:40:08] You know, there is Amaq, which is the ISIS news agency. He wanted to establish ISIS as a state that was in control of territory, that had its own administration, that had its own very, very effective media campaign. And the message that he broadcast through social media with these incredibly slick propaganda videos, managed to bring in huge numbers of recruits from across the Middle East and from across the world to ISIS ranks.

But that said, ISIS has been very much on the back foot in the last few months because of the forces battling it in Iraq and Syria.

ROMANS: Again, the news, if you're just tuning in, we are learning the Russian state media is saying it is investigating whether that man on your screen, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, has been killed in an airstrike, May 28th, by a Russian air strike.

You know, Diana, there have been rumors of his demise before. This sounds like the Russians are seriously investigating this.

MAGNAY: It does sound as if they're seriously investigating this. It's possible that he was in the surroundings of Raqqah. You know, it is highly likely that ISIS leaders would have fled Iraq, given the state of the battle around Mosul, that they would go up to Syria, but it is also questionable whether he would have been so close to Raqqah. I mean, Raqqah is the focus of coalition air strikes right now, of ground forces onslaught.

This supposedly, according to Russian state media, happened, the air strike happened at a command post south of the city. And Russian state media is also saying that some 330 other ISIS fighters were killed in these same air strikes. Now, that does raise questions as to what al Baghdadi was doing at such a major meeting, which would have been an obvious target. Would he necessarily have been so close to Raqqah, although we don't know how close that was, and would he have been in the safer areas that aren't so much the focus of the fight right now?

So, there are still many questions, and it would depend on what evidence the Russians are able to put before the world to prove that they did, indeed, kill this man.

BRIGGS: Diana Magnay live for us in Moscow -- thanks so much.

ROMANS: Thanks, Diana.

BRIGGS: We'll check in with you soon.

And always a word of caution with any reports out of Russia. This is the same government that hacked into our elections, and intended to interfere in the French elections, that spread fake news around the world. So, always, you think word of warning with anything coming out of Russian state media.

ROMANS: Absolutely.

Also new developments in the Russian investigation to tell you about. The special counsel goes on a hiring spree as the president goes off and the vice president lawyers up.


[04:47:17] ROMANS: All right, new developments in the Russia investigation. Special counsel Robert Mueller bringing 13 lawyers on board to help with the probe, and we're told he's not done hiring.

"The Washington Post" reporting Mueller's team is now investigating the finances and dealings of the president's son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner. A lawyer for Kushner says they don't know what the report refers to, since it would be standard practice, of course, for the special counsel to examine financial records to look for anything related to Russia.

BRIGGS: CNN has already reported the FBI is looking into Kushner's role with the campaign. The report, which cited U.S. officials, also appeared to prompt an unusual statement from the Justice Department. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein denounced anonymous allegations and unnamed sources.

He says in part: Americans should exercise caution before accepting as true any stories attributed to anonymous officials, particularly when they do not identify the country, let alone the branch or agency of the government with which the alleged sources supposedly are affiliated.

ROMANS: That's remarkable, the country.

BRIGGS: Especially in light of the news that we are reporting this morning, that Russia reporting the death of the leader of ISIS. He is -- that has to speak to Russia's involvement, or perhaps their involvement. What other country would he be speaking to?

ROMANS: Or the veracity of the information coming from other countries.


ROMANS: Also developing, the Senate Intelligence Committee announcing it will not, it will not be looking into possible obstruction of justice by this president. "The Washington Post" reported Wednesday the special counsel is probing that angle. Now the leaders of the Senate panel say they will focus instead on Russian meddling and possible collusion.

BRIGGS: CNN's Athena Jones tried to get the president to respond to the obstruction report to no avail.


ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Mr. President, do you believe that you are under investigation now? Mr. President, do you now believe -- do you want to comment on camera to "The Washington Post" report, Mr. President?


BRIGGS: President Trump keeping mum on camera, but he did have plenty to say on Twitter.

We get more now from CNN's Jeff Zeleny at the White House.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, there is a policy here at the White House to not comment on the Russia investigation, the ongoing Russia investigation. That, of course, does not apply to the man in the Oval Office, President Trump. He made his views perfectly clear throughout the day on Thursday, from morning until evening, going after the investigation, calling it a witch hunt. He called it a phony investigation.

And then he went after Hillary Clinton herself in a series of messages on social media, saying what about her dealings with Russia? It certainly underscores the challenge here and the frustration in the minds of the president going forward as this Russia investigation goes forward, and it is widening, indeed.

[04:50:04] The vice president, he has hired a personal lawyer. That was announced Thursday evening. Richard Cullen, a former Virginia attorney general, a former U.S. attorney from Virginia, will be representing the vice president separately in this investigation.

So, the president trying to get back on message, but he's doing that today by flying to Miami, to basically rewrite, revise, retract some of President Obama's policy on Cuba, on travel, on other things on Cuba. So, the president doing that to try and get back on message, but, boy, this Russia cloud still waiting for him here in Washington. It deepens in many respects -- Christine and Dave.


ROMANS: All right. Jeff Zeleny at the White House, thanks.

BRIGGS: Meanwhile, Russia investigating whether one of its airstrikes killed the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. We'll have a live report from Moscow, ahead.

ROMANS: Also, Facebook is taking aim at terrorism, and it's using cutting-edge technology. We'll have details on "CNN Money Stream."


[04:55:06] ROMANS: All right, to business now. President Trump says American business is booming.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Job enthusiasm and manufacturing, business enthusiasm, is at record levels, never been higher.


ROMANS: But get this, some of America's top CEOs give him a failing grade. A stunning 50 percent of business execs grade him an "F" for his first 130 days. That's according to a survey at the annual Yale CEO summit. Just 1 percent gave him an "A."

And there were some big names on that list, including Blackstone CEO Steve Schwarzman and IBM boss Ginny Rometty. Both sit on Trump's advisory council. The survey's overarching message -- stop distracting from the economic agenda, especially tax reform.

While the investor class may be disappointed with the president, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich says -- well, the investor class is not upset with him because they're making so much money right now, but listen to what Robert Reich says about how he's failing the working class.


ROBERT REICH, FORMER U.S. LABOR SECRETARY: The working class, particularly the white working class that supported Donald Trump, they don't want Wall Street to run rampant again, and they don't want to lose their Medicaid, they don't want to lose their health insurance. You know, a lot of people are going to suffer because of the tax cuts and the Dodd/Frank watering down and also the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and they are Donald Trump voters.


ROMANS: Reich also said turning back things like overtime pay, something this president did right away when he came into office directly hurts his base.

All right. Let's take a quick look at futures right now. You see global markets are higher after U.S. tech stocks fell once again. Tech has been on a tear this year, driving the markets to records, an 18 percent spike. Recently, investors worry they may have run too high.

Big names like Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix all fell, dragging all three indices lower. We could see a rebound today, though, because I'm looking at futures right now, and futures are a little bit higher. So, a little tumble in tech, maybe there will be a bounce back.

There is a new in-demand job at Facebook, counterterrorism specialist. The company greatly expanded its team that combats terrorism. The mix includes more than 150 academics, analysts, and former law enforcement agents.

It is also using cutting-edge technology like artificial intelligence. The company previously said it wants to be hostile to terrorist content. It and other tech companies have come under fire for supposedly fostering terrorism, or just not doing enough to take it down quickly when it is identified.

Just in time for Father's Day, JPMorgan Chase is accused of discriminating against new dads. According to a new complaint, the bank grants the primary caregiver of a new child 16 weeks leave. Otherwise, it's just two. But the bank only classifies mothers as primary, discriminating against men, according to this complaint. JPMorgan Chase says it's reviewing the complaint, but despite laws requiring equal treatment, many major employers still have unequal leave for new mothers and fathers.

I will say, though, 16 weeks paid leave, that is on the big end of the spectrum for paid --

BRIGGS: For fathers?

ROMANS: Well, for primary caregivers in general, but dads there, some of the dads there say they want it, too.

BRIGGS: That's an awful lot of time off for dads. That's all I will say about that. EARLY START continues right now with breaking news out of Russian

state media.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ROMANS: Breaking news: The leader of ISIS possibly killed in an airstrike. We are live in Moscow with what the Russians this morning are claiming.

BRIGGS: Good morning, everyone, and welcome to EARLY START on a breaking news day. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is Friday, June 16th, 5:00 a.m. in the East.

BRIGGS: Up first, that news that word ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi may have been killed in an airstrike, one of the most dangerous men in the world, that according to Russian state media.

ROMANS: Let me walk you through these reports. The reports say al Baghdadi, seen here in a rare video clip of him in Mosul preaching in July 2014, he may have been killed in a Russian airstrike last month.

CNN correspondent Diana Magnay live in Moscow with the breaking details coming out of Russian state media.

Diana, what can you tell us?

MAGNAY: Hi, Christine.

Well, what we're learning from Russian state media is that the defense ministry here are working to verify information that would suggest that Abu Bakr al Baghdadi was killed alongside some 330 other ISIS militants on May the 28th in an evening airstrike by the Russians.

Now, the Russians are being very cautious about this. They are saying they are working to verify that information that he may have been killed. Of course, there have been numerous reports in the past about al Baghdadi's possible death that turned out not to be true. And, in fact, in the Russian state media's report about this, they mention the fact that American media has in the past reported Baghdadi's death and it turned out not to be true.