Return to Transcripts main page


London Suspect Held on Suspicion of Terrorist Acts; Negotiations Begin with U.K. in Disarray; Russia Warns U.S. over Syria; American Dies after Returning to North Korea in Coma; Top Democrats Investigate Flynn Trips to Middle East; A Rabbi, a Reverend and an Imam United for Peace. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired June 20, 2017 - 00:00   ET



[23:59:53] JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: This is CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles.

AMARA WALKER, CNN ANCHOR: Ahead this hour, attacks in London and Paris just hours apart. In one attack, a white man appeared to target Muslim worshipers.

VAUSE: Raised tensions in the skies over Syria. Tough talk from Russia coming one day after the U.S. shot down a Syrian war plane.

WALKER: And a U.S. college student is dead days after being released from North Korea. One prominent American lawmaker says Otto Warmbier was murdered.

VAUSE: Hello everybody. Thank you for being with us. I'm John Vause.

WALKER: And I'm Amara Walker. NEWSROOM L.A. starts right now.

Welcome everyone.

We start with the two attacks in two major European capitals within hours of each other. And now investigators in the U.K. and France are searching for answers.

VAUSE: In Paris on the famed Champs Elysee police say a man deliberately rammed a car filled with explosives and weapons into a police van. The car went up in flames. The driver who was known to French security services later died. No one else was hurt.

WALKER: And in London the driver of the van that plowed into pedestrians near a mosque has reportedly been identified as Darren Osborne of Wales.

VAUSE: He's now in custody accused of attempted murder and acts of terrorism.

Fred Pleitgen has more now on how this attack unfolded.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Just after midnight as worshipers from one of London's mosques filled the street after prayers, a van mounted the pavement driving through the crowd.


ABDKADIR WARFA, WITNESS: A van was coming and driving very high- speed. And he just blew that (inaudible). He took --

PLEITGEN: One man died but it's unclear if this was the result of the attack.

When police arrived, the suspect, a 47-year-old man had been detained by shocked members of the Muslim community.


PLEITGEN: In an extraordinary intervention, the local imam protected him until he was handed over to the authorities.

TOUFE KACIMI, MUSLIM WELFARE HOUSE: He was shouting, I did my bit and you deserve it and stuff like this. And thanks for our Imam, Muhammad Mahmoud who went quickly and grabbed the guy because the people there was trying to hit and kick the guy. But he saved him and kept him safe until the police arrived.

PLEITGEN: Described by eyewitnesses as deliberate, police are treating this as a terror attack but cautioned that the investigation is still in its early stages.

NEIL BASU, METROPOLITAN POLICE ASST. COMMISSIONER: It appears at this time that this attacker attacked. That is not to say that we are not investigating the full circumstances of how he came to be where he was.

PLEITGEN: Prime Minister Theresa May described the act of violence as "sickening".

THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: This was an attack on Muslims near that place of worship. And like all terrorism in whatever form, it shares the same fundamental goal. It seeks to drive us apart and to break the precious bonds of solidarity and citizenship that we share in this country. We will not let this happen.

PLEITGEN: London's mayor also condemning the incident.

SADIQ KHAN, LONDON MAYOR: This attack behind me at Seven Sisters, the attack in Manchester, the attack on London Bridge, the attack on Westminster Bridge are all an attack on our shared values -- our shared values of tolerance and freedom and respect. And we will not allow these terrorists to succeed.

PLEITGEN: For the third time in three months, authorities here are investigating the deadly consequences of a vehicle being driven into people. But local leaders here say that while extremists try to divide this community they will stand united. Fred Pleitgen, CNN -- London.


VAUSE: Joining us now former FBI special agent Bobby Chacon and Edina Lekovic. She's the communication director for the Muslim Public Affairs Council. Thank you both for coming in.

Bobby -- it seems almost every time there is a terror attack which has been carried out by a Muslim that person is either known to authority or is on some kind of watch list like the case in Paris who targeted police. He was flagged because he had links to extremism for example.

But yet, what we're seeing in London, the attack on Muslims this guy came as a terrible surprise. No one seems to know anything about him. How do you explain that?

BOBBY CHACON, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: Well, I think there's, you know, when somebody attacks you refer to part of an organized campaign that's being funded or at least directed from overseas either through the Internet or in person I think an attack like we saw in London, this most recent attack I think is -- could be and we'll find out very soon -- a crazed individual, deranged person that wants to some sense of -- some deranged sense of revenge or something like that.

So I think that the investigation, I think, will get to know more about this guy, whether he was a one-off, whether he was totally isolated or, you know, hopefully not. Whether he has other connections to some other groups that will carry out things like this.

[00:05:08] WALKER: Edina -- there was some anger and criticism lobbed at authorities especially from some residents in Finsbury Park for not labeling this attack pretty quickly as a terrorist incident. I think it took about eight hours before that was announced.

Do you think there is a double standard when it comes to, you know, labeling a terror attack with a white male perpetrator or white perpetrator versus a Muslim attacker?

EDINA LEKOVIC, MUSLIM PUBLIC AFFAIRS COUNCIL: There's certainly an inconsistency. I mean look, tonight our hearts go out to the families of those who have loved ones. And their families and their loved ones are worth no less than those who were killed on the London Bridge or in the market place.

And that's part of where this double standard really short changes the Londoners, right; the average people who face the brunt of any kind of terrorism that exists out there. And when we have a blind eye or a blind spot when it comes to certain forms of terrorism, certain violent extremists that are out there and we put our attention excessively in one area, we can miss individuals like this.

And I think that it is problematic that we consider individuals like this to be a lone wolf or to be deranged when the person who carried out the London Bridge attack or any of these other attacks, those people are often deranged. Regardless of what their motivations are, violence is violence.

And so I think that Prime Minister May and Mayor Sadiq Khan's statements were the right ones to make and that they promoted the idea that London is a city that will keep calm and carry on and that will continue to value its diversity.

VAUSE: The response has been crucial because one of the concerns, of course, is that this sparks some kind of cycle of violence between Muslims and non-Muslims which is exactly what ISIS wants.

Two years ago, they were openly hoping for this. They put out sort of a manifesto -- this is part of what it reads. "When Muslims and mosques will be attacked by neo-Nazis in protest, Muslims will do a counter protest alongside with anti-fascist groups. A war will happen between Muslims and their neo-Nazi enemies. People in between will be caught in the crossfire and will have to pick sides."

Again we don't know if the attacker here was a neo-Nazi but of course, Edina what needs to be done to make sure we don't get to that point.

LEKOVIC: We need a greater understanding on the ground and we need to be able to look these problems direct and call them out for what they are. Here in our own country, we also have concerns about the rise of the alt-right and certain violent voices that are out there.

We just saw the killing of a teenager last night in Virginia who was also a leaving a mosque. And that's the sad reality here. They are people who committed no crime here, especially during the month of Ramadan when it was just a time, you know -- it's like getting killed on Christmas or on Yam Kippur -- one of the highest holidays. They were just trying to go to iHop to eat at night.

What teenager can't relate to that story? And that's, you know, that's also true for the residents of London tonight and from this mosque community who now face an even more heightened level of fear.

You know there were over 120 Islamophobic events that took place in the week after the London Bridge attack according to the police in London. And so there is an environment out there that we certainly have to be fearful of. And so coming together and having unity is the best middle finger that we can give to ISIS and other groups out there.

WALKER: Yes. And people obviously concerned about their safety -- Bobby. And Theresa May in the previous London terror attack was talking about look, enough is enough. We're going to have to start expanding these anti-terror laws. But there's also concern within the Muslim community that tolerance might be fraying, that they might be profiled.

What can be done to, you know, I guess have that balance of protecting the people but also making sure that people in the Muslim community don't feel like they're being profiled.

CHACON: Well, I mean that's a very, you know, old question, a tough question. But I think that we have to be very careful when we label things and the way we move forward. The girl in Virginia last night -- there's no evidence yet that we know of that that was a terrorist.

VAUSE: -- a hate crime.


CHACON: Right. And there's all indications that it was some kind of road rage incident. That's yet to be seen. So we need to let these things play out. We need to see what they really are. We can't just jump to label things for the sense of labeling so we can come up with a number and say this number of things happened.

We have to, you know -- calmness and levelheadedness have to prevail. And for somebody like me as an investigator, you know, they always ask me was it too slow to be labeled a terrorist incident or not? It doesn't matter to the investigator. We investigate the same way whether it's a terrorist or not, whatever we -- the crime happens and we investigate it.

But, you know, it's for the bureaucrats to determine whether or not and how long it's going to take.


CHACON: As far as profiling, you know, that's going to be -- a local law enforcement has to decide when they're going to step up the surveillance or counter groups of white supremacist or alt-right as it's now known of these groups.

We already monitor them very well here in the country but like we've had the conversation before, until they take an act, a lot of times these people have never committed a crime.

[00:10:02] VAUSE: Just very quickly because often we talk about in this situation why didn't someone within the Muslim community know what was going on and say something before it happened?

Could the same be said in this situation? Why didn't anybody speak up knowing this individual was, you know, of this mind set and may have been planning? Why didn't somebody speak up?

CHACON: Right. And that's what this investigation is going to turn up. We have to see what his social media was, what groups he belonged to like we saw in the Virginia shooter where the congressman clearly this guy had violent intentions to carry out against politicians.

But when can you step in and take action against that person? As a law enforcement or a prosecutor, when can you do that? That's what Theresa May was talking about moving that line. That's a very dangerous conversation to have.

VAUSE: Ok. Bobby and Edina -- thank you so much.

LEKOVIC: Thank you.

CHACON: Thanks.

WALKER: Thank you to both of you.

VAUSE: Ok. Well, the U.K. and E.U. started Brexit talks amid disarray within Britain's government.

WALKER: Negotiators focused on laying out a time table for key issues like how much the U.K. owes the bloc and the rights of citizens settled in the E.U. and Britain.


DAVID DAVIS, U.K. BREXIT SECRETARY: There's a long way to go but we're off to a promising start. We have taken the first critical steps together. Now, we have a shared responsibility to deliver quick and substantive progress.


WALKER: Monthly meetings are now planned.

VAUSE: Meanwhile both sides are also working on how to avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland that could endanger peace in the region which has suffered through decades of violence.

We will take a short break.

Next here on CNN NEWSROOM L.A. Russia is talking tough about Syria. Why Moscow now says it will target U.S. and coalition aircraft.

WALKER: And the focus is back on Michael Flynn. What top Democrats want to know about the fired national security adviser's business dealings abroad?

We'll be back.


WALKER: Russia has a stunning warning for the U.S.-led coalition fighting in Syria -- we may treat your aircraft as targets.

VAUSE: Tensions have escalated after a U.S. Navy fighter jet shot down a Syrian war plane. We have details now from Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: U.S. pilots flying over Syria now on the lookout for Russian airplanes or missile threats following the weekend shoot-down by a U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet of a Syrian war plane. This, because the Kremlin threatened that any U.S. war plane operating in certain areas in Syria would be considered a threat.

When the Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff was asked if he was confident that Russia would not shoot down a U.S. war plane the answer was carefully worded. GEN. JOSEPH DUNFORD, CHAIRMAN OF JOINTS CHIEFS: I'm confident that we re still communicating between our operations center and the Russian Federation operations center. And I'm also confident that our forces have the capability to take care of themselves.

[00:15:03] STARR: Defense Secretary James Mattis taking the threat seriously, his spokesperson issuing a statement. "As a result of recent encounters involving pro-Syrian regime and Russian forces we have taken prudent measures to reposition aircraft over Syria.

The Pentagon won't offer details but the goal is clear. Get U.S.- backed ground forces to push ISIS out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're sending warnings to the Syrians and to the Iranians and to the Russians that this offensive must be the top priority and it cannot be hindered.

STARR: When a Syrian war plane attacked those U.S.-backed forces on the ground, the U.S. reacted.

It began Sunday at 4:30 p.m. Pro-Syrian regime forces attacked the U.S.-backed fighters near the city of Tabqa, a key area on the way to Raqqa, the ISIS capital driving them from their fighting positions. U.S. aircraft flew in launching flares to scare off the pro-Assad units. The U.S. also contacted the Russians to try to stop the fighting.

At 6:43 p.m. a Syrian SU-22 dropped bombs near the U.S.-backed fighters. It was immediately shot down, the coalition said, by that U.S. aircraft as a matter of self-defense.

A full court press is now on by the Pentagon to try and keep talking to the Russians to make sure none of this escalates out of control.

Barbara Starr, CNN -- the Pentagon.

WALKER: Lisa Daftari is a Middle East expert and the editor in chief of the Foreign Desk. She's joining us now with more analysis on all of this.

We'll get to those threats by Russia in just a bit. But just to get context of what happened. I mean the U.S. shooting down a Syrian airplane -- I mean this is the first time that they've done this, you know, since the conflict began.

How significant is this and were you surprised or was this just a matter of time?

LISA DAFTARI, THE FRONT DESK: It was just a matter of time. I think each time we have an escalation here we look at it as an isolated situation and not look at the entire picture and think how many different groups are involved, whether it's the Iranians or what their agenda is. The Syrian government -- what their agenda is. You see the Russians and you know.

In the name of ISIS we have all of these different battles with all of these different agendas going on whereas the U.S.-led coalition is focused just on ISIS. No one else is.

So I think as we're getting closer and we're really zeroing in on Raqqa and all -- this has become a land battle. We haven't been able to beat ISIS on the Internet or where they've been growing in other places such as Europe. But we've definitely been able to zero in on their headquarters, on the different places that they have, these patches of land in Syria.

And as we get closer, we realize that the different agendas are competing agendas. And each one of these is extremely target whether it was the missile strike because of the nerve gas used in April (ph) or now this, you know, strike --

WALKER: Yes. It really is a complex battlefield to say the least. But when it comes to Russia's threats, how do you take that when the one of the few threats -- first saying that they're threatening to target and essentially follow any U.S. aircraft and allies -- all flying aircraft detected west of the Euphrates. But Russia stopped short of saying we're going to shoot the plane down.


DAFTARI: We'll shoot them down.



WALKER: How do you take that?

DAFTARI: And there's obviously -- you know, there's an international stage here and I think that, you know, the Russians are absolutely masterful at dominating that international stage as they have particularly in the theater of Syria.

But look, they threatened to disconnect the hotline, you know, after the April strike. So, you know, regardless I think that they understand that they have to watch themselves if the Trump administration or the U.S.-led coalition and that they are really getting caught red-handed in a lot of different places because the story that was told to the west with regard to the activity of the Russians and the Iranians in Syria is much different than what we're detecting that's going on, on the ground. Obviously they're pushing forward their own agenda.


DAFTARI: Obviously, innocent civilians are being killed. You know, I had an opportunity to interview some members of the Free Syrian Army when I was in Syria last summer and when you look at the situation, you look at we're arming the same individuals that the Iranians and Russians and Bashar al-Assad's regime is killing.

So you know, what's the truth here? And as we're getting closer to it, the truth is very ugly. WALKER: When you hear Moscow once again threatening to end that deconfliction line which is also very crucial to avoid collisions in the air because they're all operating within the same Syrian air space.

I mean if Russia does end up falling through with that threat because again, as you said the last time around, they ended up, you know quickly resuming this deconfliction line. But if they continue through with this threat, how dangerous is that especially when there is this risk of miscalculation and mistake being made and that could lead to an event bigger escalation.

DAFTARI: Right. There's going to be a bigger loss to the Russians who have been warned every time that the U.S.-led coalition has made a move.

[00:20:02] So that's why it wouldn't be in the interest of the Russians to actually go through with any these threats --


WALKER: You don't think they're going to --

DAFTARI: I don't think so. Each time they've said this on the public stage and behind the scenes, they've actually gotten closer with the U.S. generals and the officials who have gotten basically, you know, a domineering hand in this that President Trump believes that they are the people who are on the ground who know the best and he's put it in their hands to make these decisions and make these calls.

WALKER: Do you think this is just the beginning the escalation point in Syria and the U.S. involvement considering that the Trump administration has given the generals, the commanders on the battlefield a lot more discretion and freedom to make decisions and to do things like this, shoot down a Syrian plane?

DAFTARI: Look, we're looking at a six-year war in which we've seen the (inaudible) each time there's been some sort of escalation only because each time there has been an escalation it's been used as a justification for another escalation. And now we saw the Iranians that there are two alleged ISIS attacks back in Tehran and now they're going to go and shoot, you know, into Syria because of -- before they're shooting into Syria they're killing Bashar al-Assad's enemies. They're not going after ISIS.

So I think again, there's so many different complex layers and nuances here. And I think the message for all of us is that we've waited so long to get involved and really to understand the nuances on the ground in Syria. We've waited six years, half a million people and innocent people have died. So many people have been displaced and moved from their homes.

And now to make sense of this, it's genuinely very, very difficult but I think what we're going to be seeing is we're going to see more escalations as we get closer into Raqqa.

WALKER: Especially as you see the Syrian regime forces and the other side that --

DAFTARI: No one's going to let go --


WALKER: All closing in on Raqqa. What happens when they both of them actually meet on the battlefield? So it is quite complex.

DAFTARI: Battle for the land is very, very important here.

WALKER: Yes. The strategic entrance of players. Well, Lisa Daftari -- thank you very much. Pleasure having you.

VAUSE: Well, the American university student who was held by North Korea for nearly a year and a half has died. Otto Warmbier's parents are blaming the torturous mistreatment their son received while he was in detention.

The 22-year-old was sentenced to 15 years hard labor last year for so- called hostile acts against North Korea. Warmbier returned to the United States last week in a coma.

WALKER: North Korea claims Warmbier contracted botulism and had been unresponsive for more than a year. Doctors in the U.S. say they found no evidence of the illness.

On Monday U.S. President Donald Trump condemned the brutality of Kim Jong-Un's regime.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just wanted to pass on word that Otto Warmbier has just passed away. He spent a year and a half in North Korea, a lot of bad things happened. But at least we got him home to be with his parents. We're so happy to see that even though he was in very tough condition but he just passed away a little while ago. It's a brutal regime and we'll be able to handle it.


WALKER: CNN's Paula Hancocks joining us now from Seoul, South Korea. Hi there -- Paula.

So we're now getting word or reaction from the South Korean government, the President who favors dialogue with North Korea. What are -- how's the South Korean government reacting to this.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Amara -- we've heard that the President Moon Jae-In, who as you say is pro-dialogue with North Korea, has condemned what has happened. And he's also we understand from the Blue House, actually sent a letter to the parents of Otto Warmbier as well.

And of course, he has to consider that are a number of South Koreans apparently being detained North Korea. There are six according to the intelligence agency -- this is a figure they came out with last week through defectors. There are three pastors who were doing missionary activities and you still have three Americans in detention and a Canadian.

So this is obviously of great concern to the Blue House at this point. And we did hear just a number of weeks ago that in a phone call with the Japanese leader, Shinzo Abe, Moon actually agreed that yes, now is not the time to be talking with North Korea.

And again, this would just compound that issue. So he maybe pro- dialogue, he may be pro-engagement but this, of course, will make it very difficult for him to push any policy like that.

WALKER: Also a lot of pressure Paula, on the White House and how it will respond or retaliate against North Korea. Senator John McCain released a statement today saying quote, "Let us state the facts plainly. Otto Warmbier, an American citizen was murdered by the Kim Jong-Un regime."

You also had the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson saying that North Korea must be held accountable for this. In fact, Tillerson and the Secretary of Defense will be meeting with their Chinese counterparts in Washington for an annual meeting.

[00:25:01] What can we expect out of that meeting? Do we expect Trump administration officials to take a much harder line when it comes to China?

HANCOCKS: Well, what we've seen in the past is the fact that Washington acknowledges that they need China when it comes to dealing with North Korea. They need China when it comes to making sure that these international sanctions, the U.N. sanctions are fully implemented given that China is the main trading partner and the main ally of North Korea.

So there's no doubt about the fact that Washington still needs China. But, of course, this is going to be just one day after the passing of an American detained in North Korea could potentially Washington try to ask China to do more to try and secure the release of further detainees in North Korea.

It's a difficult situation for Washington. It doesn't have diplomatic ties with Pyongyang. It relies on the Swedish embassy to be able to even getting contact with its detainees or even to be able to check on whether the detainees are getting what they need within North Korea.

So certainly it will be interesting as to whether or not Washington will try and put pressure on China when it comes to detainees as it has done with the nuclear missile program. They are trying to ask China to do more to deter North Korea from carrying on with this program. That hasn't worked at this point. Will they try and ask them to help with the detainee situation as well.

WALKER: All right. Paula Hancocks with the very latest from Seoul. Thank you very much -- Paula.

VAUSE: We will take a short break. When we come back, the White House daily press briefing is becoming increasingly brief and seems to be no longer daily and many reporters are now asking, hey what's the point?


WALKER: You are watching CNN NEWSROOM live from the Los Angeles.

I'm Amara Walker.

VAUSE: And I'm John Vause.

We'll check the headlines this hour.

The U.S. says North Korea should be held accountable for Otto Warmbier's unjust imprisonment and now he's dead. The 22-year-old died on Monday, less than a week after Pyongyang returned him to the U.S. in a coma.

North Korea claims Warmbier contracted botulism during his 17-month- long detention but American doctors say there's no evidence of that.

WALKER: Authorities in Paris say a man who deliberately rammed a car full of weapons and explosives into a police van was known to France surveillance services.

Monday's attack on the Champs Elysee is the fifth on security forces in Paris in just four months. The attacker later died. No one else was hurt.

[00:29:57] VAUSE: And the man who rammed a van into a crowd of people near a mosque in London has reportedly been identified as a 47-year- old from Wales. He's being held on suspicion of attempted murder and terrorist acts. One man died at the scene. It's unclear if it was a result of the attack. Nine others were hospitalized.

WALKER: All right, right now to U.S. politics. And joining us are Ethan Bearman, talk radio host here in California.

VAUSE: Also, CNN political commentator and Republican consultant John Thomas.

OK. We did hear from the U.S. State Department with regards to the attack in London, extending simply to the victims. But we have not heard from -- directly from the president of the United States.

His daughter, Ivanka, did send out this tweet, "Sending love and prayers to the victims in Finsbury Park, London. We must stand united against hatred and extremism in all its ugly forms."

But, John, Ivanka is not the president. At least not yet. And silence from her father follows the pattern when it comes to violence carried out against Muslims.

JOHN THOMAS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: Well, I just think it's funny. He can't win either way. When he weighs in on something in the U.K., it's what is he doing picking a fight with the mayor or what is he doing weighing in on things that he shouldn't be weighing in.

And now that he remained silent via tweet, even though his administration has already spoken to the State Department, he is somehow a bad guy.

Look, it would be nice if he did tweet, but he's probably been busy today. But the government did weigh in.

WALKER: Ethan, what are your thoughts, because Trump -- I was looking at his Twitter feed, and I mean Trump tweeted just once on Monday and it was about the Georgia special election, you know, bashing Democrats etcetera, but again no tweet on the London attacks and no tweet even when the U.S. Navy announced seven bodies were found after this accident.

What are your thoughts?

ETHAN BEARMAN, CALIFORNIA TALK RADIO HOST: Yes. I mean, actually, John, kind of made my point which was -- which is this. So here he is busy tweeting out things, getting into fights with the mayor of London, talking about the Georgia election, not recognizing our seven sailors who sadly died, not recognizing that there was a terror attack and I would even suggest that it's intentional on his part because it was targeted at Muslims. I mean, this is a part of a pattern of his anti-Muslim violence.

THOMAS: The State Department that works for him did weigh in.

VAUSE: OK. Well, (INAUDIBLE) at the White House on pretty much everything on Monday. There was no on-camera White House briefing. They weren't even allowed to have an audio recording. A lot of reporters were left fuming. His briefings are getting shorter and less frequent. Sean Spicer continually comes up with string of no answers. Here's a sample.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think the president's tweets stand for themselves. I'm going to say I'm going to let the tweets speak for itself. I think the president's tweets speak for themselves. I think that his comments and his tweets speak for themselves with respect to how he feels and why.


VAUSE: John, this is a president who is not having this conference for a long time. And this does seem to be at least on the surface another way of trying to keep reporters at arms length and away from asking questions.

THOMAS: I think there's two things. First of all, Sean Spicer is being consistent in its message on Trump's tweet so pulling multiple clips -- I mean, that's just message discipline.

And the other is, remember Seas Spicer today has announced he's not going to be doing the briefings anymore. So they are reworking the coms department. I think if this process continues two or three weeks from now, then we should start barking. But I think until then, let them get it sort it out.

WALKER: Is this media blackout acceptable, Ethan?

BEARMAN: Absolutely not. I mean, it is just like the Senate Republicans. Why -- how can we argue things because somebody might question me? Therefore, if I don't have a press conference, I don't have to answer a difficult question.

VAUSE: OK. There are some difficult questions out there for the former national security adviser Michael Flynn. He is back in the spotlight.

In particular, Democrats want more information out of this unreported trip he made to the Middle East. Senior House Democrats agreeing to Flynn's lawyer, part of that lawyer is actually focusing on a business venture and the lawyer from the Democrats to Flynn's lawyers quote this article from "Newsweek," and here's part of it.

"The genius idea developed by Flynn and Co. was a U.S.-Russian partnership to build and operate plants to export the dangerous spent fuel under strict controls. In promoting this consortium, Mr. Copson" -- that's Alex Copson, was head of the ACU -- ACU Strategic Partners, one of the lead companies involve -- reportedly touted connections to General Flynn and then Senator Jeff Sessions who served as the Trump campaign's top foreign policy adviser."

John, again, Russia, Flynn, Sessions.

VAUSE: These guys are like Larry, Curly and Moe. It will just keeps coming up together.


THOMAS: Well, first of all, Sessions has been a long time senator. His job is dealing with a lot of people. So the fact that you are naming, I mean, I hear that in politics all the time. I know so and so congressman. It doesn't mean they're going to get action from Senator Sessions at the time.

Flynn, also, he's not a good actor. I mean, this isn't anything new but there's lots of smoke but there's no fire. So I just, I feel like we're getting worked up about nothing.

WALKER: Lots of smoke, but no fire. I mean, how significant or insignificant is this Ethan when you have Flynn, I mean, compounding his legal troubles now if he did indeed mislead officials when filling out the security form.

[00:35:00] BEARMAN: Well, I think Flynn is in a world of trouble and we're going to find out exactly bad it is.

But it's interesting that it comes back to Sessions again, then senator, who really made no connections with foreign powers until he became part of the Trump campaign. We have that data. We have figures that say as much. And then on top of it all today. I don't know if you saw the report in "The Washington Post," but I was speaking to Tom Hammers, one of reporters on that. There's a whole new connection between Paul Manafort and Ukraine that was never reported. That could have some serious ramifications in this whole Russia connection.

VAUSE: And, John, there's such a web here. If only Donald Trump had listen to Barack Obama when Obama said, hey, don't hire Flynn. I mean, that seems to be like the start of a lot of all the problems, right?

It's good advice.

THOMAS: I mean, it certainly would. But, remember, back in the doldrums of the Trump campaign, I mean, there weren't a lot of military advisers with experience that were willing to jump on board.

VAUSE: This is after the election.

THOMAS: Well, that's true, but they had already built a relationship at that point. So it's not exactly like the president held Barack Obama in high esteem. So I'm not sure his advice would carry a lot of weight.

VAUSE: Ethan?

BEARMAN: Well, I don't know that President Trump, now President Trump, likes to listen to a lot of people including his own family members who he tells is being such great confidantes of his.

So, you know, this is an ego play. General Flynn played to his ego. We know have a pattern and we know this. The people that played to President Trump's ego got prime jobs.

VAUSE: OK. Ethan and John, good to see you both.

WALKER: Thank you, gentleman.

All right, still to come here on CNN NEWSROOM -- a rabbi, a reverend and an imam are on a mission to bring their faith together.

A look at what they created just ahead.


VAUSE: A story here about the rabbi, the reverend and the imam, you know, this sounds like a start of a joke, right? But it's not.

These three men of faith totally serious about bringing people on different religions together in some kind of harmony actually.

WALKER: Right, a story. They are doing something no one has ever done. Building their houses of worship side by side.

VAUSE: And CNN's Dan Simon met all three men. He joins us now live from San Francisco. Dan, this is the positive good news story I think we've all been praying in a very long time to hear.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think you're right about that.

You know, I grew up in Omaha Nebraska. And so that's what's surged by interest in all of this. And you're right. It does sound like the beginning of a set up, John. But they say this is really serious business. And they are asking the question, if you cannot bring peace to the Middle East, what about the Midwest as a heartland of America.


SIMON (voice-over): Nebraska is known for beef, Buffet and big red football. But if this group of clergy man have their way, it will be known for something else.

ARYEH AZRIEL, RABBI EMERITUS: It will be a little taste of paradise.

SIMON: It is a one of a kind project situated at a one time golf course in Omaha. You might call it a powerful drive to make history on these 35 acres of land.

[00:40:00] ERIC ELNES, COUNTRYSIDE COMMUNITY CHURCH SENIOR MINISTER: One would think if it can happen in Omaha, it can happen pretty much everywhere, couldn't it?

SIMON: These three houses of worship side by side -- a mosque, a synagogue and a church.

The last of which just broke ground.

IMAM MOHAMAD JAMAL DAOUDI, AMERICAN MUSLIM INSTITUTE: And the land called Omaha, the Jew, the Muslim and the Christians soon as one and started a movement that had changed the world.


SIMON: Called the Tri-Faith Initiative, the idea began to take shape after 9/11.

AZRIEL: They took a group of members of this congregation and we went to protect, defend the mosque.

SIMON: It was an act of good will leading to friendships and a dialogue between Omaha Jews, Muslims and Christians. We are here to learn about each other and to live as neighbors with each other without crossing any boundaries or any rights.

With Omaha's Temple Israel made plans to construct its new synagogue and help form the initiative and together the three faiths decided to become neighbors.

(on-camera): Being originally from Israel, how do you think that informed your belief that this initiative can be possible when peace in the Middle East is silence off. AZRIEL: I saw complete stagnation and no movement at all in solving the Middle East issue. If you can't do it in Israel, and it took so many years in Israel, what about Omaha?

SIMON (voice-over): The overall project is expected to total more than $65 million. It will include a fourth building, a shared space for interfaith activities and classes to help build trust and understanding.

Still the initiative hasn't been entirely free of controversy. Some Omaha Jews have expressed private concerns about the possibility of the synagogue being targeted by the radicals. And the Imam conceives that many in his faith remains skeptical.

DAOUDI: Right now they are suspicious, they are hesitant. But very soon, they will find out that it's a good idea. It's a positive idea.

SIMON: Reverend, paint a picture of what things look like 10 years from now.

ELNES: We represent the tip of an iceberg. Right now, they are -- 10 years from now, I would expect 200 Tri-Faith initiatives to be all over the world.

SIMON: A bold idea in the nation's heartland to spread peace around the globe.


SIMON: And that site was actually build on an old golf course for a, quote, unquote, Jewish country club. It was developed during the 1920s when Jews were excluded from country clubs in Omaha and around the country. And now those groups of clergymen are so grateful that the land has now come to symbolize religious tolerance.

John and Amara?

VAUSE: (INAUDIBLE) and God willing that their enthusiasm and good will spreads very quickly.

WALKER: What a way to promote peace and unity. Great uplifting piece.

VAUSE: Thank you, Dan.

WALKER: Simon, thank you.

VAUSE: And you've been watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles, I'm John Vause. I'm Amara Walker. "World Sports" starts after the break.