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Report: Al-Baghdadi Possibly Killed in Airstrike; Trump Goes Off on Russia; Rickie Fowler Leads U.S. Open After Round 1. Aired 5- 5:30a ET

Aired June 16, 2017 - 05:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

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

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: 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?


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. [05:00:12] So I think the Russians are working to caveat any announcement by saying, you know, this is still unconfirmed. But if it is true, it would, of course, be a very significant event that the leader of ISIS was killed and it would, of course, also be a major propaganda victory for the Russians.

Now, what state media are saying is that there was a meeting of so- called ISIS military council south of the city of Raqqah to try and organize an escape route for ISIS fighters out of Raqqah. Now, the city which used to be the stronghold of ISIS in Syria, has been squeezed by coalition troops, also by Russian and Syrian troops in the last few months, and ISIS are very much on the backfoot there. And so, the reporting is that there was this council meeting which the Russians hit and that al Baghdadi may have been one of those who were killed.

And this may just be a case, if it is, indeed, confirmed, that the Russians are getting lucky, that they may never have known that al Baghdadi was part of the group. But, of course, who's to say that al Baghdadi was actually there and it will depend on what evidence the Russians are able to supply as to whether they can definitively prove that he was, indeed, killed as part of this air strike, Christine.

BRIGGS: Diana, U.S. officials cannot confirm these reports. They have told CNN no confirmation on these Russian state media reports that al Baghdadi has been killed. How significant, though, would it be, Diana, if it were Russian airstrikes that killed the leader of ISIS, given the questions many have had as to whose side they are on in the war in Syria and given their role of spreading fake news around the world?

MAGNAY: Well, I suppose there are two things to think about in terms of Syria. First of all, the civil war in Syria and the fight against ISIS in Syria, and al Nusra, other terrorist groups, also. And, of course, Russia would like to claim victory on both since the stall of peace talks of announcement of de-escalation zones, which has really been on the Russian initiative, the Russian line is that they have effectively brought the civil war to some kind of peaceful conclusion and that now their focus is on fighting ISIS, al Nusra, in the sort of vast, very -- less populated areas in the northeast of the country.

And their line at the moment is that they have been more focused on battling ISIS, indeed, than the coalition has. Now that fits very well as a line for the Russian public, if you look at the amount of air strikes by coalition forces and the push on Raqqah and the effective way they have managed to push ISIS out of Raqqah, that may not, indeed, be the case. But Russia has always said, actually, we should all unite in the fight against terrorism and it certainly would be a major propaganda victory for them to claim al Baghdadi's scalp, rather than the Americans -- Dave.

ROMANS: All right. Diana, for us, thank you so much for that from Moscow. Keep us posted if there are any new developments there.

BRIGGS: All right. Joining us to discuss all of this morning, CNN political analyst and columnist for "The Washington Post", Josh Rogin. Josh, good to have you, sir.

ROMANS: Good morning.


BRIGGS: Let's talk about the breaking news, al Baghdadi, how significant would this be if the leader of ISIS was killed? Why is he believed to be, arguably, the most dangerous man in the world?

ROGIN: Well, it would be a huge symbolic event in the war against the Islamic state if Abu Bakr al Baghdadi were, in fact, killed. A big note of caution here, he's very careful about his security, very rarely participates in these kinds of large meetings with military councils. So, it's -- we have to take that into account as we evaluate these Russian claims.

But at the same time, this would simply be a blow to the ideological underpinning that ISIS bases its global efforts. Would it actually stop what has been an ongoing expansion of the Islamic State's reach all over the world? I mean, when Abu Bakr al Baghdadi was really growing is at its height it was an effort to take territory in Iraq and Syria, that phase is now largely over. And now, the effort by ISIS is to develop what they call provinces or outposts and they're in dozens of countries around the world.


ROGIN: And that will go on whether or not Abu Bakr al Baghdadi is alive or dead.

[05:05:03] So, in a sense, his mission to establish ISIS as the preeminent and most powerful and most dangerous terrorist group in the world, will survive him.


ROGIN: If he is, in fact, dead. I think the point that you -- the reporter just made right now is exactly right, it would be a huge propaganda victory for the Russians, who for all of this time have been supporting the Assad regime and the Iranians and now, would be able to I think falsely claim that they're the ones fighting the terrorists, not the U.S. coalition.

ROMANS: That's my question about the Russian angle. I mean, I'm reading Sputnik here which is, you know, an English language, Russian state, Russian sponsored news agency, but I was also reading it during the French elections and there was all kind of garbage on there that wasn't true, talk about fake news, that was a lot of fake news. I question I guess the credibility --

BRIGGS: The Qatar situation also, injecting fake news right there.

ROMANS: I question, I mean, how credibility should we give these reports? The U.S. officials are telling us at CNN they can't confirm them at this point. ROGIN: Yes, I don't know that it's going to be easy for anyone to

confirm this for days, for weeks, if not ever. I mean, how do you confirm that he's not around, he's not -- this is a guy who never speaks in public, who --

ROMANS: Already basically a ghost.

ROGIN: Exactly.

But let's look at these claims in the context of Russian claims over the Syria war, you know, according to U.S. intelligence officials and the U.S. government, Russia has been engaged in a campaign of, you know, indiscriminate bombing, complicity and atrocities in Syria, targeting of hospitals, targeting of aid convoys. They've very literally been, you know, killing innocent civilians on behalf of the Assad regime for over two years, OK?

So, now, the Russian contribution to the war against the Islamic State is not nothing, but it's their secondary goal, and their first goal is to bolster the Assad regime. The context here is very clear. Now, what's true is ISIS is getting pushed out of Raqqah and there's a huge battle going on in the south of Syria, near the city of Deir ez-Zor, the Iranians are flooding in. You remember we struck pro-Assad forces twice in the last month.


ROGIN: It's a pretty crazy volatile situation. What I see coming out of Russian press, what I see is a clear effort to say, here's a pretext for Russia to vastly increase its operations in this region, which is now the center of the war and the crisis in Syria. You know, whether or not we ever confirm that Abu Bakr al Baghdadi is alive or dead, now the Russians have a very good story to tell, if they drastically expand their strikes in this place, which is really not about Abu Bakr al Baghdadi or ISIS, it's about control of the bread basket of Syria and the future of the region and the access of the Syrian/Iraqi border.

ROMANS: The context.

BRIGGS: And, Josh, their statement made no mention and they specifically -- no mention of any coordination of foreign forces in the strike, so they want sole credit if, in fact, they did kill al Baghdadi.

We want to turn now to the latest in the Russian investigation though. The special counsel, the latest developments there, that they're at least asking questions about obstruction of justice, that they are looking into the finances of Jared Kushner.

But I want to get your reaction to a statement from Rod Rosenstein, the number two at the state -- at the Justice Department, and this statement in wake of those developments, quote: 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 government with which the alleged sources supposedly are affiliated.

Josh, what do you make of that statement, the word country, and the timing of it?

ROGIN: Unprecedented. I've really never seen anything like it. Why the deputy attorney general is -- seems to be sub-statement, sub- tweeting an article in "The Washington Post", criticizing its sourcing is beyond me. It doesn't really seem like that's his role.

At the same time, you know, there's like a hypocrisy here because, of course, the administration is talking on backgrounds to journalists and officials all the time. Now, I guess this was meant to address "The Washington Post's" reporting that now that obstruction of justice is a subject of the Mueller investigation. There's no way to know for sure because it wasn't specified in the statement, you know.

But what's going on here is that the administration wants to sort of say, you know, do as I say, but not as I do. And, you know, that's been their stance and nothing in that statement and nothing in that sort of what seemed to be kind of a denial but not actually a denial, while refusing to issue a denial, none of that is going to change the work that reporters are doing, which is using whatever access and research tools they have to get the best sourcing they can possibly use to bring important information to the people.

ROMANS: You know --

ROGIN: I mean, if we didn't have background sources, we would just be reporting on the record statements.

[05:10:03] We'd be living in a world of spin and that would not serve the American people.

ROMANS: We would be a state sponsored media.

ROGIN: Exactly.

ROMANS: It would be like, you know, the very -- the very --

ROGIN: Like Russia.

ROMANS: -- the credibility that we question here.

You know, yesterday, there was this moment of unity. I'm looking at pictures of Nancy Pelosi sitting next to Paul Ryan and you saw, you know, Republicans and --

BRIGGS: Smiling.

ROMANS: In the dugout.

BRIGGS: Smiling, touching one another.

ROMANS: There was a moment of unity in the congressional baseball game. The president stood before the cameras and sounded presidential and talked about, you know, unity and then revealed his true obsession with Russia and the -- and Hillary Clinton again via Twitter. You know, so there was sort of this split screen moment for the president.

I want to read what he said: Why is that Hillary Clinton's family and Dems dealing with Russia are not looked at but my non-dealings are. Crooked H destroyed phones with hammer, bleached e-mail, and had husband meet with A.G. days before she was cleared and they talk about obstruction?

The president's obsession, Josh, with the Russian investigation has hurt him and made the Russia investigation continue. I mean, that's the irony here. His obsession with getting rid of the Russian investigation has only, you know, blown oxygen on the flames of the Russian investigation.

ROGIN: Yes, right. I mean those tweets, two reactions, one, of course, they -- the FBI did look into Hillary for all of these things. That's how we know about them, right? She was thoroughly investigated.

Now, ultimately, James Comey made the decision that there wasn't enough evidence to bring charges, but history will debate that. But it's not correct that the -- the president is not correct to say it was never looked at, it was looked at.

And, you know, the second thing, I don't think the sort of pivot to Hillary is really going to work for the president going forward. I mean, the biggest difference being that she was not the president of the United States, OK? And he doesn't seem to sort of acknowledge that since he has taken the oath of office, he has a fiduciary responsibility to act differently and do things differently and he doesn't seem to believe that or act that way. That is hurting him.

You know, I agree with Lindsey Graham on this, like, you know, he's much better -- he might get cleared, let's just say that, there might not be any evidence of collusion that we ever see, so why is he making this so much harder on himself. Nobody can figure that out. The journalists, his aides, you know, nobody really understand.

Is it just a lack of self-control, or lack of self-discipline, or is it, you know -- or bad strategy that he's getting? It's really hard to tell.

ROMANS: Three-dimensional chess, maybe it could be three-dimensional chess.

ROGIN: The least likely possibility, I think, yes.

BRIGGS: Marco Rubio and John Thune both saying this is not a witch hunt, we should let that investigation proceed and play out, and perhaps to your point he will be vindicated.

Josh Rogin, thanks so much. Talk to you in about 20 or 30 minutes.

ROGIN: Sounds great.

ROMANS: Thanks, Josh.

Twelve minutes past the hour.

The president and first daughter Ivanka want to fill the record number of U.S. job openings. A new executive order aims to fill those jobs left behind. Will it work? Next.


[05:17:21] ROMANS: So, the administration says it wants to close the job skills gap. President Trump joined by first daughter Ivanka signing an executive order to expand apprenticeship programs.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're empowering these companies, these unions, industry groups, federal agencies, to go out and create new apprenticeships for millions of our citizens.


ROMANS: All right. Companies blame a record number of job openings on a skills mismatch. There are record number of open jobs in America, also in manufacturing.

The White House says apprenticeships close that gap. Now, the executive order does two things, it shifts program oversight from the Labor Department to companies and unions. They already pay the bulk of the costs.

But the order also doubles federal support to $200 million each year. Now, that's a stark contrast to the president's budget, his budget slashes more than a billion dollars from all work training programs, which experts like former Labor Secretary Robert Reich says is a problem.


ROBERT REICH, FORMER U.S. LABOR SECRETARY: Apprenticeship is a small slice of the larger issue of workplace training and young people getting the kind of experience they need and we've got to spend money on it. You can't do it on the cheap.


ROMANS: Corporate groups argue apprenticeships can lead to good- paying jobs. Right now, only 500,000 Americans are in such programs.

BRIGGS: Jurors in the Bill Cosby trial set to return for another day of deliberations in just a few hours, even though they've told the judge they're deadlocked. The sequestered jury has been ordered to continue after 40 hours of deliberations. So far, there is no limit to how many times a judge can ask jurors to keep trying to reach a verdict. Prosecutors accuse Cosby of drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand at his Philadelphia home in 2004. The 79-year-old comedian has pleaded not guilty.

ROMANS: All right. We're following breaking news this morning. Russia says its investigating whether it killed the leader of ISIS in an air strike. We're going to go live to Moscow with what they're claiming and why.

BRIGGS: And a record-setting first round at the U.S. Open.

ROMANS: Andy Scholes has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report", that's next.


[05:23:36] ROMANS: All right. Golf's second major. The U.S. Open gets under way with plenty of drama on and off the course.

BRIGGS: Andy Scholes has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report."

Good morning, my friend.


You know, this is the first major without both Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson since 1994. Perfect timing for one of golf's young stars to go out and put on a show and that's what Rickie Fowler did, conquering the waist-high rough at Erin Hills. He scored a record-tying 7 under par 65 in the first round. You know, some say Fowler is the best player in the world without a Major championship. Maybe that title goes away this weekend.

Some of the best players in the world may not be sticking around long. Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day all in danger of missing the cut today.

In the meantime, a blimp pilot is recovering from serious burns after his airship crashed and burst into flames near the course. Investigators say the blimp may have had mechanical problems. Now, the pilot was trying to return to an airstrip when he went down in a field about a half mile away from the U.S. open. No one else was hurt in the crash.

Louisville's basketball team could lose its 2013 national championship in the wake of an alleged sex scandal involving prostitutes. The NCAA says the team must vacate all records from December of 2010 to July of 2014 where ineligible players competed. Coach Rick Pitino will be suspended for the first five conference games next season.


[05:25:02] RICK PITINO, LOUISVILLE BASKETBALL COACH: Not only is it unjust, unfair, over-the-top severe, but I've lost -- personally, I lost a lot of faith in the NCAA and everything I've stood for for the last 35 years.


SCHOLES: Now, Louisville is appealing, calling all of it excessive. If the cardinals lose this appeal, they will become the first program ever to have to take down a basketball championship banner. All right. Finally, the Warriors celebrated the NBA title with a

parade yesterday. And you have to check out Draymond Green's t-shirt. He was clearly trolling the Cavs, wearing a shirt that said quickie on it. The Cavs' home arena is the Q and the logos are almost identical.

Now, Draymond says he wore that shirt because after winning last year, LeBron wore a t-shirt with ultimate warrior. You see it there on the left.

Now, LeBron on Instagram made fun of Draymond's quickie shirt. Draymond went back at him posting -- re posting LeBron's video saying the warriors finally made him go bald.

Guys, I got to tell you, LeBron's Instagram was kind of just a sad place yesterday. It was almost like he was trying to convince everyone that he's not upset by losing the NBA finals to the Warriors.

BRIGGS: Draymond is such a troll. I mean, he's such a troll. He's great player, but -- Rickie Fowler, top five in all four Majors of 2014, will he get it done?

SCHOLES: You know what, maybe this is the year where the number one player without a major keeps winning. He saw Sergio win the Masters.

BRIGGS: Sergio got it.

SCHOLES: Hopefully, Rickie Fowler gets it done this weekend. I would like to see it.

BRIGGS: All right. Andy Scholes, thank you, sir.

SCHOLES: All right.

ROMANS: EARLY START continues right now.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ROMANS: Breaking news this morning, has the leader of ISIS been killed in a Russian airstrike? That is what Moscow is investigating. We are there live with what state media in Moscow is reporting.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. Twenty-six minutes past the hour.

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: The reports say al Baghdadi seen here in one of the rare video clips of him in Mosul in July 2014, may have been killed in a Russian airstrike last month.

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

This is Russian state media saying they're investigating whether he was with a group of 300 terrorists targeted by Russian airstrikes May 28th?

MAGNAY: Right. And that defense ministry is looking into information that would suggest that he was amongst those who were killed in the big Russian airstrike which supposedly happened in the evening of May the 28th.

Now, we don't know whether they were specifically out to get al Baghdadi in that strike. We do know that Syrian ground troops, with the help of Russian air support, have been trying to battle ISIS in that region and particularly with heavy Russian airstrikes so it may have been, if it was al Baghdadi who was killed, that the Russians got lucky.

But it will, of course, depend on the kind of evidence that they can present, especially if that number of ISIS operatives were killed in this airstrike. The fact of the matter is, Christine, that there have been many rumors and reports of Baghdadi's death before and then he has appeared back again and wasn't killed.

I think what raises the bar here is that Russian state media have acknowledged that. They say, you know, in the past the U.S. has claimed that Baghdadi has died. This time, we are looking into reports that he has been killed. Of course, if it is Russian air power that has killed the most wanted terrorist in the world, then that would, of course, be a major propaganda victory for the Russian president -- Christine.

BRIGGS: U.S. officials tell us at CNN that they cannot confirm the death of al Baghdadi. We should also issue a word of warning with anything ever coming out of Russian state media, the same actors that attempted to interfere in the United States elections and the French elections, that injected fake news that may have started the Qatar blockade.

But if this is, indeed, true, Diana, how significant would it be for the war on terror? How brutal has his reign been atop ISIS?

ROMANS: Well, symbolically, it will matter, but in practical terms, ISIS is, you know, in its last legs in terms of what it was, a terrorist group that had a huge amount of territory through Iraq and Syria. That has absolutely been crushed by the coalition and Iraqi ground forces and various different Syrian forces crushing ISIS both in Iraq and Syria.