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Bombing Mosul's Landmark; U.S.-Russia's Shaky Relationship; Transfer of Power in Saudi Arabia; President's Son-in-Law Under Investigation; Queen Delivers Speech to Parliament. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired June 22, 2017 - 03:00   ET



[03:00:00] ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: A mosque that stood for eight centuries now obliterated by war. Just the latest casualty in the battle for Mosul, and it could signal ISIS is losing its grip on the city.

On Capitol Hill, security officials give new testimony on Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election, and one of them says the cyber-attacks were ordered by Vladimir Putin himself.

Plus, what the naming of the new and young crown prince in Saudi Arabia means for the future of the kingdom.

Hello and welcome to our viewers all around the world. I'm Rosemary Church at CNN headquarters in Atlanta. This is CNN NEWSROOM.

An 800-year old mosque where is declared its caliphate three years ago has been destroyed. The great mosque of Al-Nuri in Mosul, Iraq was known for its leaning minaret. They U.S. and Iraq say ISIS blew up the mosque as Iraqi forces advanced on the old city.

ISIS claims it was hit by a U.S. airstrike, but the U.S. says that's 1,000 percent false.

Our Jomana Karadsheh joined us now from Amman in Jordan with the very latest. So, Jomana, conflicting versions of what actually happened here and how the ancient mosque was destroyed. What are you learning?

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Rosemary, throughout this long and bloody battle to recapture Iraq's second city, Iraqi troops were looking to that moment where they reclaim Al- Nuri mosque. As you have mention, this has been hugely symbolic part of ISIS's history right now in Iraq.

Three years ago, that is when Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi the leader of the group made that one appearance, that first and last public appearance in Al-Nuri mosque declaring himself as a caliph over this so-called caliphate in Iraq and Syria.

And Iraqi forces wanted to recapture the mosque, take down that flag of ISIS that has been fluttering over the mosque for the past three years and replace it with the Iraqi flag. And they were hoping to do so by the end of the holy month of Ramadan, by the start of the Eid al-Fitr holiday and that is over this weekend.

They have been moving towards this mosque for months now, and in recent days they started this new push. And they were closing in on the mosque. There were also reports that they were planning to storm Al-Nuri mosque on Thursday.

But on Wednesday evening Iraqi commanders say that ISIS blew up the mosque and that landmark leaning minaret of Al-Nuri Mosque. And shortly after that we saw these claims coming out from ISIS saying that it was a coalition, U.S.-led coalition airstrike that destroyed the mosque.

Something that has been denied by the U.S. military and also Iraqi forces, maintaining that it was ISIS that blew up the mosque. You know, you can add that to the list of historic archeological religious sites that have been obliterated by ISIS in both Iraq and Syria over the past three years, Rosemary.

CHURCH: So, Jomana, what progress has been made overall, then, in this effort to win back Mosul from ISIS?

KARADSHEH: Well, Iraqi forces, Rosemary, they basically have the old city and a couple of neighborhoods surrounding it that is left under ISIS control. The estimates are we're looking at about few hundred ISIS militants left in there in this really tough urban environment where Iraqi forces are now basically on foot trying to recapture those areas of the old town with its really narrow alley ways.

But it is also a very heavily populated area. The estimates are there are about 100,000 civilians who remain trapped in the old city. More than half of them children according to some estimates, and they are in really terrifying and dire unimaginable conditions, running low on food, water, medical supplies.

And those who are trying to flee are targeted by ISIS snipers, mortars, car bombs and they are essentially being used as human shields by the militants. A very tough battle still lies ahead, possibly the bloodiest yet.

[03:05:02] CHURCH: And we're watching that progress. Jomana Karadsheh bringing us that live report from Amman, Jordan where it is just after 10 in the morning. Many thanks.

U.S. President Donald Trump is celebrating the win for republican Karen Handel in Georgia's congressional election. He spoke to an enthusiastic crowd in Iowa Wednesday night, taunting the media and pundits who predicted a democratic victory, and he also took aim at the Russia investigations.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They have phony witch hunts going against me. They have everything going, and you know what? All we do is win, win, win. We won last night.

(APPLAUSE) I can't believe it. They're saying, what is going on? What is going on?


CHURCH: Well, the Department of Homeland Security says Russian hackers targeted election systems in 21 of the 50 states during last year's presidential campaign. That's just one of the revelations that came from a series of hearings on Capitol Hill.

CNN's Jessica Schneider reports.


JEH JOHNSON, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: In 2016 the Russian government, at the direction of Vladimir Putin himself, orchestrated cyber-attacks on our nation for the purpose of influencing our election. That is a fact, plain and simple.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson pinning the election hacks squarely on Russia but also facing scrutiny for not sounding the alarm sooner.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: Why did it take the administration so long to make a public statement that a foreign adversary was trying to influence the American election? The statement didn't come until October. Why did we wait from July till October to make that statement?

JOHNSON: Well, congressman, I'm going to disagree with your premise that there was some type of delay. This was a big decision and there were a lot of considerations that went into it. There was an ongoing election, and many would criticize us for perhaps taking sides.

SCHNEIDER: President Trump has resisted laying blame solely on Russia.

TRUMP: As far as hacking I think it was Russia, but I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people. If you don't catch a hacker, OK, in the act, it's very hard to say who did the hacking. With that being said, I'll go along with Russia. Could have been China, could have been a lot of different groups.

SCHNEIDER: And his press secretary still refuses to answer whether the president agrees with the intelligence community's conclusions that Russia was responsible.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think I have not sat down and talked to him about that specifically.

SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: It continues to stun me that we have consensus across our intelligence community. We have consensus from all the democrats and republicans on this committee that the Russians interfered.

The one individual in America that still seems to not accept this basic fact is the President of the United States who still continues to use terms like witch hunt and fake news.

SCHNEIDER: FBI and DHS officials stressed the attempted intrusions were far reaching but there is no evidence the hacks affected any votes.

JEANETTE MANFRA, ACTING DEPUTY UNDERSECRETARY OF CYBERSECURITY, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY: As of right now we have evidence of 21 states election related systems in 21 states that were targeted.

SEN. RICHARD BURR (R), NORTH CAROLINA: But in no case were actual vote tallies altered in any way, shape or form?

MANFRA: That is correct.

BILL PRIESTAP, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, FBI COUNTERINTELLIGENCE DIVISION: I believe the Russians will absolutely continue to try to conduct, influence operations in the U.S. which will include cyber intrusions.

SCHNEIDER: Meanwhile special counsel Robert Mueller spent his second day on Capitol Hill meeting with Senate judiciary committee ironing out the parameters of each probe. Chairman Chuck Grassley reiterating that his investigation could include possible obstruction of justice by the president.

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: I think that everything is on the table.

SCHNEIDER: Judiciary committee leaders issued a statement after their meeting with Mueller stressing they are working to proceed without impeding each other's investigations.

Meanwhile, current and former homeland security officials use those hearings to urge states to beef up their safeguards in the wake of those wide ranging cyber-attacks.

Jessica Schneider, CNN, Washington.


CHURCH: Leslie Vinjamuri is a senior lecturer and international relations at the University of London. She joins me now from the British capital. Thanks so much for being with us.


CHURCH: So, as we heard, the department of homeland security revealed Russian hackers targeted election systems in 21 of the 50 states during the 2016 presidential campaign, but the U.S. president still reluctant to agree with that assessment. What should we make of that?

VINJAMURI: Donald Trump really hasn't demonstrated a great deal of concern for the Russian disinformation campaign or about this most recent information about the attack on the states because I think, in part, because he's been, first of all, as we will remember, he came in wanting to reset this relationship that's been a grave disappointment to him that he's not been able to do that.

[03:10:02] But he's so disproportionately preoccupied, I think, by the fact that the investigations now seem to be focused on him, on possible allegations of obstruction of justice.

So, I think the focus of the president is really very much more on the part of those investigations that are looking at whether or not he and his team had any collusion, whether they colluded, and whether he's attempting to block the various investigations that are going forward.

So, that's really where the bulk of the White House's focus is right now, which is -- which is a problem actually because really, if you think about it, as former FBI Director Comey said when he testified, the most important thing here really is this question of what Russia has or hasn't done when it comes to trying to meddle in the U.S. presidential elections. That's really fundamentally important question for American democracy.

CHURCH: And, of course, special counsel Robert Mueller met with leaders of the Senate judiciary committee and Chairman Chuck Grassley repeated that his investigation could include a possible obstruction of justice on the part of the president. What are the ramifications of that, do you think?

VINJAMURI: Well, you know, there's been a lot of discussion about whether or not any of this can lead to the indictment of the president and there's been a lot of question marks about impeachment.

Lawyers disagree on whether or not a sitting president could actually be indicted. Many people say he could not.

The impeachment process as we know comes down to whether or not republicans, you know, if there was actually a charge of obstruction -- if there was evidence found of obstruction of justice, would that lead to an impeachment process. This is very unlikely at this stage.

Remember that, you know, republicans broadly support the president, even if those fractures, the likelihood that this would go to the House and lead to that kind of hearings, we're very, very long ways off of that.

But what it might do is to really alter the politics and the political support surrounding the president if those kinds of investigations led to evidence that was credible that was in the public domain. People are going to start to view the president and the presidency very differently.

CHURCH: Right. And I wonder, just jump to another topic because I want to get an idea from you just how much the President of the United States should be celebrating Karen Handel's win in Georgia given the GOP has been held or had held that seat for more than 40 years, hasn't it? She won by only about 5 percent over her rival. And what could happen perhaps do you think in the 2018 midterms?

VINJAMURI: No, I think you're right. This is more of a loss for the democrats than it is a win for the republicans. It was deeply upsetting, I think, to many democrats. It's a sign that the Democratic Party hasn't really begun to mobilize and present a credible alternative at the level of messaging.

But it's not surprising really that that seat has gone -- it's been a long-held seat for the republicans, as you've noted. So, it's almost surprising that it was as contested as it appeared to have been.

And I don't think that it should be reassuring to the Republican Party that this means that they are safe when it comes to the midterm elections. Donald Trump's approval ratings are very low for a president at this stage, down to around 38 percent. His strong approval ratings are very low, around 20 percent.

But nonetheless, the most recent numbers that I've seen suggest that 80 percent of those voters who voted for Donald Trump in the past would still vote for him which suggests that when we come to the midterm elections, there may well still be a lot of support for republicans who are up for re-election.

CHURCH: Interesting. Leslie Vinjamuri, thank you so much for joining us. I appreciate it.

VINJAMURI: Thank you.

CHURCH: Well, Russia has canceled a meeting with senior U.S. officials over new sanctions on Moscow.

CNN's Diana Magnay is in the Russian capital. She joins us now with more details. So, Diana, the relationship between the U.S. and Russia was already on rocky ground. What could this cancelled meeting mean going forward?

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Russia is clearly very angry, and you get the sense from the rhetoric coming out of the Kremlin, coming from the foreign ministry that the benefit of the doubt that they gave the Trump administration in its early phases is well and truly over.

This meeting was supposed to be between the deputy secretary of state for political affairs and the deputy foreign minister here in St. Petersburg on Friday. And the day that it was announced, Russia canceled and that is because of this extended series of sanctions on a number of individuals and entities related to the crisis in Ukraine and Russia's involvement with that.

[03:14:55] Russia has said that it was a political gift to Petro Poreshenko because he went and saw Donald Trump on Tuesday at the White House, Russia didn't like that. They said that this continuous the trend of ruining relations set by the Obama administration.

And I'll just read out what the deputy foreign minister said. "We regret the American leadership takes the lead of inveterate Russophobes of the U.S. Congress where they don't even know what else to come up with in order to annoy us, and most importantly to nullify any prospects for stabilizing U.S./Russia relations."

Now, this is very strong language. Russia is also saying that they will be looking at retaliatory counter measures to these sanctions.

And bear in mind this is existing sanctions. You have also a new sanctions bill going through the Congress now being discussed by the Congress, and this is clearly a very strong message from Russia that they will not look kindly on further sanctions. Rosemary?

CHURCH: And, Diana, we are learning about the NATO jet buzzing the Russian defense minister's plane over the Baltic Sea. What more do you know about this?

MAGNAY: Well, this happened yesterday. The defense minister was on his way out to Kaliningrad, and flying over the international air space in the Baltic Sea with two Russian fighter jets.

Now NATO says that they didn't know who was in the plane. They went up to see who these Russian jets were and what they were doing. But the video shows that they were really quite close. And you see one of the Russian jets coming between the defense minister's plane and the NATO jet and showing its armaments, flipping its wing just to make sure NATO means that it -- that it means business.

Now bear in mind there have been a number of incidences like this, and a marked increase in these sort of buzzing incidents since the Ukraine crisis, but especially over the last few weeks. That is largely down to the fact that NATO was conducting exercises along the Baltic Sea and Russia's western border.

This does not go down at all well with the Kremlin. As you know, Russia is very, very touchy about NATO exercises along its western front. So, it is no surprise that you get this kind of tit for tat retaliatory actions in the skies above the Baltic Sea.

But again, it is in addition to Syria where the two sides really are not even managing to communicate much in the moment, in addition to these canceled meetings over sanctions. You really do get a sense that relations between the U.S. and Russia are going downhill fast, Rosemary.

CHURCH: Yes, and a lot of concern over that. Our Diana Magnay joining us from Moscow with that live report just after 10.15 in the morning. Many thanks.

And still to come here on CNN NEWSROOM, U.S. officials are sending a strong message to China about its diplomatic efforts with North Korea.

Plus, a former North Korean prisoner talks to CNN about the U.S. student who died after Pyongyang sent him home in a coma. Hear what he thinks may have happened to Otto Warmbier.


CHURCH: Welcome back. America's top diplomat says North Korea is the United States number one security threat. And he is urging China to put more diplomatic and economic pressure on Pyongyang.

Rex Tillerson's remarks came during a meeting with top Chinese officials in Washington on Wednesday.


REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: They have a diplomatic responsibility to exert much greater economic and diplomatic pressure on the regime if they want to prevent further escalation in the region.

Whether it is money laundering, extorting Korean expatriates or malicious cyber activity, North Korea has engaged in a number of criminal enterprises that help fund its weapons programs.


CHURCH: Joining me now is Matt Rivers in Shanghai, China, and Alexandra Field in Seoul, South Korea. Welcome to you both. Matt, let's start with you. And, of course, urging China to apply more pressure, both economic and diplomatic on Pyongyang. How is China likely to respond to that?

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, China has responded the same way it responds every single time with someone, whether it be the United States or other countries, say that it could be doing more with North Korea. China says we are doing enough with North Korea. We helped draft the two different rounds of sanctions that came out against the regime in 2016 through the U.N. Security Council.

We did not only help draft those sanctions, but helped shepherd their passage through the Security Council given the fact China has veto power at that council that they chose not to use. They say they are enforcing the sanctions under the U.N. mandate there. They say they are doing everything they can and they hold very fast to that point.

That said, critics will say what China says and what China does are two very different things. China continues to trade with North Korea at record levels, in fact, 2016 to 2017 in the first quarter year over year, total trade volume between China and North Korea was up nearly 40 percent, and critics say that China regularly exploits loopholes in the sanctions and that Chinese companies regularly do business with their North Korean counterparts.

So, what China says and what China does according to its critics, two very different things. And that is what the Trump administration, and frankly other administrations including democratic administrations, going back to President Clinton, have all argued China needs to be doing more. Whether China is willing to do more, though, is an entirely different question.

CHURCH: Yes, it certainly is and the big question.

Alexandra Field, let's go to you in Seoul, South Korea. Of course, we heard from Rex Tillerson him saying that North Korea is the number one security threat. There was a lot of concern in the wake of the death of Otto Warmbier when he was returned to the United States, that the U.S. may respond in some sort of military form.

What is the situation there on the Korean Peninsula? What is being said about that? How much concern is there?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Look, there's been tension that's been mounting for months clearly, Rosemary, between the U.S. and North Korea as you see North Korea continue to launch and test launch ballistic missiles at really an unprecedented rate.

Washington has continued to respond to that by flexing their military muscle. Now you've got this latest development where you've got a 22- year-old American university student who was detained 17 months sent back to the United States in a vegetative state only to die days later.

President Trump reacted very strongly, condemning the regime for that talking about the death of a young man in the prime of his life. This has certainly served to raise the tension in an already tense situation.

The U.S. has been flying these B-1 bombers over the Korean Peninsula since the death of Otto Warmbier. It's those kinds of training exercises that have served to rankle Pyongyang in the past. They see that as an affront, they see that an aggressive posture.

At the same time you got these conversations, this dialogue in D.C. which is being held between the U.S. and China about how to reign North Korea in. But it's South Korea that really wants a say in how to deescalate the tension. They are the ones who are just on the opposite side of that dividing line with North Korea.

This is really a life or death matter. Safety on the Peninsula for the South Koreans. And South Korea will have its say next week. That's when we're going to see a summit between President Trump and South Korea's newly elected President Moon Jae-in.

President Moon Jae-in has advocated for more dialogue, more negotiation with North Korea. That certainly marks a departure from the previous stand that you saw the previous administration in South Korea take toward North Korea.

The question now is whether or not President Trump and President Moon Jae-in will find themselves on the same page when it comes to how to continue to deal with North Korea, Rosemary.

[03:25:02] CHURCH: Indeed. Alexandra Field joining us there from Seoul in South Korea. Matt Rivers in Shanghai, China. Many thanks to you both.

Well, former North Korean prisoner Kenneth Bae is speaking out about the death of U.S. student Otto Warmbier who was in a coma when Pyongyang freed him last week. Bae was held for more than two years in the north. Now he is given a rare interview to CNN's Paula Hancocks and he has some thoughts on what may have happened to Warmbier.


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kenneth Bae was the first American to be sent to a North Korean labor camp accused of crimes against the state. After more than two years, he was released. Bae tell CNN he wants to speak out after the shock of Otto Warmbier's detention, his comatose release and his untimely death.

KENNETH BAE, FORMER AMERICAN PRISONER IN NORTH KOREA: I was shocked to see how he came home in the coma. I didn't think something like that would happen to any Americans in custody.

HANCOCKS: So Otto Warmbier's family believes that he was tortured by the North Korean regime. What they threatened you with, do you think that is possible?

BAE: I do believe it's possible. It didn't happen to me, but they did threaten me a few times. So, for, you know, for 21-year-old not really knowing what to expect and I think probably he was very terrified, they could be possible that he may be threatened or he was actually physically, you know, tortured or attacked.

They told me before while I was being questioned at the time, if you don't follow along with our program, you will get something worse.

HANCOCKS: Did they say what that something worse was?

BAE: They did mention about, you know, it will be more -- more than just psychological. It will be more physical.

HANCOCKS: Bae spent months in the hospital reserve for foreign diplomat while in North Korea. He said it was clean, but not modern or high tech with no MRI or CT Scan. He believes Warmbier may have been taken elsewhere. Bae also has a message for U.S. President Donald Trump.

BAE: Every life is very important, and Warmbier's life is important and all the detainees and 24 million people living under such terrible state right now. So, I hope that President Trump will take stand with the North Korean government.

HANCOCKS: Hoping Otto Warmbier's life won't be lost in vein, but a tragic way of focusing the world on how many more are suffering at the hands of the North Korea regime.

Paula Hancocks, CNN, Seoul.


CHURCH: We'll take a short break here. But still to come, as the battle begins to liberate the Syrian city of Raqqa, residents who have escaped are now talking to CNN about the sheer terror of living under the rule of ISIS.

And what a dramatic elevation of Saudi Arabia's new crown prince means for the kingdom and the region. We are back in just a moment.


CHURCH: A warm welcome back to our viewers all around the world. I'm Rosemary Church. I want to update you on the main stories we've been following this


An 800-year-old mosque where ISIS declared its caliphate three years ago has been destroyed. The great mosque of Al-Nuri in Mosul, Iraq was known for its leaning minaret. The U.S. and Iraq say ISIS blew up the mosque as Iraqi forces advance on the old city. ISIS claimed it was hit by a U.S. airstrike. But the U.S. says that's 1,000 percent false.

Russian state media are reporting a NATO fighter jet tried to intercept an aircraft carrying the Russian defense minister. They say the NATO jet was driven off by a Russian fighter over the Baltic Sea. A NATO official confirms three Russian planes were tracked but did not identify themselves. So, the alliance fighter scrambled to verify who they were then broke away.

The FBI is investigating a knife attack at a Michigan airport as an act of terrorism. Authorities say a Canadian man yelled "Allahu Akbar" just before he stabbed a police officer. The suspect is charged with violence at an international airport and more charges could be added. The officer is recovering.

President Trump is proposing a five-year ban on welfare for immigrants to the United States. The problem is that law has already been on the books since 1996. His comments came during a rally in Iowa where he also blasted the Russia investigation as a phony witch hunt.

The fight to liberate Raqqa, Syria, the self-declared capital of ISIS is only just beginning. But we are learning more about the terror group's brutality from those who have escaped.

Our Arwa Damon spoke to people who made it out including a woman who is now leading the fight to liberate her city.


ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The coalition- backed Syrian defense forces have managed to clear the first few neighborhoods of Raqqa. Outside the city we ran into Clara, Raqqa. One of the unit commanders here and the native of the city itself just back from one of the fronts.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): In the city we can see that the city of Raqqa is above ground and there is another city below ground. Raqqa was a city that was a mosaic of people that turned into a place of women's enslavement. The place where women were enslaved has to be liberated by the hands of women.

DAMON: It's a city whose brutality transcends our current vocabulary. Raqqa the capital of the co-called caliphate ruled by ISIS since 2013 where Yazidi Kurds and even Arab women were sold on the streets as sex slaves. Where public executions and beheadings were a regular occurrence, where journalists and aid workers were held hostage and murdered.

These are the faces of those who lived in Raqqa now in a hastily put together camp. Children who have little choice but to witness the stuff of nightmares, the lines of good and evil blurred for them. This woman from Raqqa married an ISIS member, a foreigner from the caucuses who she says had an administrative job.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): ISIS made a mockery of us. There is nothing else we can say.

DAMON: When they were running away they say that they were also fired on by ISIS fighters who were basically ordering them to return.

And then there are also those who went willingly to join the so-called caliphate. It became a foreign magnet for foreign fighters and others. This woman is from the caucuses. She came with her husband and four children, claiming they wanted to live in the caliphate.

She said they were lured online by the promise of Islamic utopia and a job for her husband. This woman was originally Homs, she was an English teacher. She eventually married a Moroccan man who went through ISIS military training, although she claims she never thought.

ISIS, she says, never allowed the population to escape their brutality.

So when you walk in the streets there's big screens that are showing beheading?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They have, you know, project?

DAMON: Project, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. And we are walking on streets and just watching these videos.

[03:35:03] DAMON: How are you going to explain this to your children?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I pray for God that my children forget this without asking me. They are all the time thinking about killing when they see a video of cutting heads.

DAMON: The battle for the ISIS capital, it's just begun and what lies ahead is unknown for those who are fighting to liberate it and for the civilians who are still trapped inside.

Arwa Damon, CNN, Sa'sa (Ph), Syria.


CHURCH: Saudi King Salman seems to have signaled a new era of reforms for his kingdom. He's reordered Saudi Arabia's line of succession with a new crown prince who could have a big impact on the region and the world.

John Defterios has more.


JOHN DEFTERIOS, CNN EMERGING MARKETS EDITOR: A choreographed transfer of power at the heart of Saudi Arabia's monarchy. Outgoing Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef pledging allegiance to his cousin 31-year- old Prince Muhammad Salman as the new king heir to the throne.

Scenes of royal deference masking radical change. All triggered by this royal decree from King Salman removing the previous crown prince, stripping him of his titles and roles in the government. Power now consolidated in the hands of this man, Mohammad bin Salman.

His swift rise began when his father ascended the throne in 2015. Young and ambitious, he's adopted an activist approach. He spearheaded Saudi vision 2030 an economic transformation plan meant to wean the kingdom of his addiction to oil and bring about more social reforms.

As the prime minister he was the primary architect of Saudi Arabia's military intervention in Yemen against Houti rebels and their allies. Two years on, he has yet to achieve its goals and has been criticized for causing civilian deaths and worsening the humanitarian conditions of the region's poorest country.

And as his portfolio expands, so, too, will the challenges he has to grapple with. Chief among them, the ongoing diplomatic standoff with Qatar. How to counter the kingdom's regional arch rival Iran and deal with low oil prices depleting his cash pile.

But the prince's backers aren't limited to his father's royal court. U.S. President Donald Trump chose Saudi Arabia as the first stop of his first trip abroad, signaling his strong support for the kingdom and its regional policies. Support that will be key in helping the young prince push through bold domestic reforms and pursue a more confrontational foreign policy.

John Defterios, CNN, Abu Dhabi.


CHURCH: Democrats in the U.S. Congress are demanding answers about Michael Flynn. They want to know why he kept his top secret security clearance despite warnings about his contacts with Russia. And they have similar concerns about the president's son-in-law. But right now, Jared Kushner is focused on Middle East peace.

We're back with a live report on that.


CHURCH: House democrats in the U.S. want to know why former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was allowed to keep his security clearance despite warnings from the Justice Department.

Congressman Elijah Cummings has written a letter to the White House citing concerns about Flynn being vulnerable to blackmail by Russia.

Cummings has similar concerns about the president's son-in-law Jared Kushner who also failed to disclose Russian contacts. House democrats are demanding Kushner's clearance be suspended while the investigation continues.

Well, the questions about Michael Flynn and his security risks are not new. The fired acting attorney general painted a vivid picture during her Senate testimony.

CNN's Randi Kaye has more on the time line she laid out and how the White House responded.


RANDI KAYE, CNN INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: The warning came January 26th from Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates.

SPICER: The president was immediately informed of the situation.

KAYE: Yates told the White House counsel that National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was potentially vulnerable to blackmail by Russia because he lied about his conversations with the Russian ambassador.

Despite this urgent warning, it seemed to be business as usual at the White House. Keep in mind, Flynn had been labeled a security risk. Yet the very next day he was seen walking with other White House staff along the West Wing colonnade.

On January 28, two days after the warning, he was in the Oval Office as the president signed executive orders. And while the president called not only German Chancellor Angela Merkel, but also Russian President Vladimir Putin. Remember at this point, the White House is aware that Flynn is potentially compromised by Russia.

That same day the president tweeting out this photo of a major security gathering, Flynn standing right behind him. None of that was in keeping with what critics say should have been done in light of the warning about Flynn.

One democratic senator telling CNN, if there was concern a White House staffer may have been compromised, that staffer should have been, quote, "firewalled, separated from classified material, and kept out of sensitive meetings with foreign officials."

Instead, the trump administration appears to be focused on getting the president's travel ban through, even firing Sally Yates after she made it clear she would not defend it.

Flynn, meanwhile, remained on the job. On February 1st, a week after the warning, General Flynn was publicly condemning Iran.

MICHAEL FLYNN, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: As of today, we are officially putting Iran on notice.

KAYE: And hiring more staff.

SPICER: The National Security Advisor Mike Flynn today announced addition to the NSCC senior staff.

KAYE: On February 6 Michael Flynn joined a briefing at Central Command. And on February 7th after a suicide bombing in Afghanistan.

SPICER: General Flynn spoke with the Afghan national security advisor to reaffirm our continued support for Afghanistan and for our strategic partnership.

KAYE: On that same day, Trump denying any connections to Russia. "I don't know Putin, I have no deals in Russia and the haters are going crazy."

On February 8, in an interview with the Washington Post, Flynn denied discussing U.S. sanctions with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. But the next day a spokesman for Flynn hedging, telling the Post, "Flynn couldn't be certain that the topic never came up."

Only after that report did Vice President Pence supposedly learn that Flynn had given him bad information, even though President Trump had known that for two weeks. And on February 10th, just days before Flynn would be ousted, Trump was asked about Flynn's connections to Russia.

TRUMP: I don't know about it. I haven't seen it. What report is that? I haven't seen that. I'll look at that.

KAYE: On February 12th, hours before Flynn would resign, the president was golfing in Florida. And on February 13th, Flynn's last day on the job, more denials from the West Wing.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISER: Yes, general Flynn does enjoy the full confidence of the president.

KAYE: Then a short time later, a different take from Press Secretary Spicer saying the president is evaluating the situation. Finally that afternoon, 18 days after the White House had been warned about him, retired army Lieutenant General Michael Flynn was officially out of a job.

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.


CHURCH: Well, Flynn is long gone from the White House, but Kushner has become by some accounts President Trump's closest advisor. And Kushner's peace mission to Israel and the Palestinian territories is indicative of Mr. Trump's confidence in him.

The president even said if his son-in-law can't produce peace in the Middle East, no one can. Kushner met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday.

[03:45:03] So let's bring in our Oren Liebermann in Jerusalem. Oren, what all was achieved in these talks?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we weren't expecting any concrete steps and we didn't get any even though these meetings were quite long. His meeting with Netanyahu was some three and a half hours. His meeting with Abbas also lasted a few hours.

But the read outs of this meetings essentially had nothing concrete. It was -- it talked about the idea that forging peace will take time. And first there needs to be an environment conducive to peace negotiations.

Kushner didn't really make any public statements. We only heard a little bit of him when he spoke with Netanyahu. In fact, it was Netanyahu who did most of the talking about expectations.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: And, Jared, I welcome you here in that spirit. I know of your efforts. This is an opportunity to pursue our common goals of security, prosperity and peace.

And, Jared, I welcome you here in that spirit. I know of your efforts. The president's efforts, and I look forward to working with you to achieve these common goals.

JARED KUSHNER, SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: Thank you. The president sends his best regards and it is an honor to be here with you.


LIEBERMANN: As for what comes next, all of these read outs would say is that Kushner would go back to Washington and brief the president. The secretary of state and a few others and talk about the next steps. But what those next steps are, Rosemary, we are simply not sure at this point or how soon they may come.

CHURCH: Of course. And Oren, it has to be said there is a lot of pressure on Jared Kushner to deliver peace in the Middle East. A goal that's proved elusive to previous negotiators of course who had a lot more experience than Kushner. What is being said about these high expectations and whether Kushner can even deliver?

LIEBERMANN: It's the Middle East peace process. So, no matter who it is trying to approach it, you have to be a bit skeptical. As for Kushner he's been called, quote, "the secretary of everything" because of how much he has on his plate.

Whether he can do anything on his own I think everyone is skeptical, but he has a team behind him. He has another presidential advisor who has been here a few times already and was here all week as opposed to Kushner's one day visit. Can everyone achieve anything?

Well, Trump is riding a wave of goodwill with regional leaders and that includes the Israelis, the Palestinian, and the Arab state. So if he moves quickly now he, perhaps he can get some sort of peace process started. Where that process would end, we'll wait and see.

CHURCH: We certainly will. Our Oren Liebermann joining us from Jerusalem where it is 10.46 in the morning. Many thanks.

In London, the chief executive of the borough where last week's deadly high rise fire took place has resigned. Nicolas Holgate says he was forced out by the U.K. government.

Meantime, Prime Minister Theresa May is apologizing for the government's response to the fire. She says the government failed to give residence and their families the help they needed. At least 79 people are dead or missing and presumed dead from that tragedy.


THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Let me be absolutely clear. The support on the ground for families in the initial hours was not good enough. People were left without belongings, without roofs over their heads. Without even basic information about what had happened, what they should do, and where they could seek help.

That was a failure of the state, local and national, to help people when they needed it most. As prime minister, I apologize for that failure.


CHURCH: And protesters have been calling for justice for the victims and a warning against any cover up as officials investigate the cause of that fire.

Queen Elizabeth has opened a new session of parliament with less pageantry than usual, and she, too, addressed the Grenfell tower fire. Details of the queen's speech just ahead.


CHURCH: Welcome back, everyone. The FBI is investigating the stabbing of a police officer at a Michigan airport as an act of terrorism.

They have charged a Canadian man with violence at the international airport for the attack. Authorities say Amar Ftouhi entered the U.S. legally through New York and made his way to Bishop International Airport.


DAVID GELIOS, SPECIAL AGENT, DETROIT DIVISION: What we do know Mr. Ftouhi entered the airport. He spent a little time on the first level. Then he went upstairs, he spent some time in the restaurant up there. And then he came out. He was carrying baggage. He went into a rest room. He spent a little time in the rest room, dropped both bags and came out, pulled out a knife, yelled "Allahu Akbar" and stabbed Lieutenant Neville in the neck.


CHURCH: And that wounded officer is in satisfactory condition. Officials say a maintenance worker was also injured while helping to take down the suspect. Ftouhi could face more than -- more charges as the FBI's investigation continues.

Britain's government is back to work with a number of very difficult issues to tackle including Brexit and the recent terror attacks. Parliaments new session began with the queen's speech. And as Hala Gorani explained, it was unlike other speeches she's given in recent years.


HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A steady presence during a time of great uncertainty, Queen Elizabeth opens parliament. She delivered the government's agenda at a critical point for the United Kingdom.

QUEEN ELIZABETH, QUEEN OF UNITED KINGDON: My lords and members of the House of Commons.

GORANI: Queen's speech which is written by the government follows a rocky few months in the U.K., multiple terror attacks, the Grenfell fire tragedy, and the prime minister's snap election which backfired badly for her. She lost her majority in parliament, and still has no deal with her only coalition partners, the DUP of Northern Ireland. All this as she begins Brexit talks.

QUEEN ELIZABETH: A bill will be introduced to repeal the European Communities Act and to provide certainty for individuals and businesses. This will be complemented by legislation to ensure that the United Kingdom makes a success of Brexit.

GORANI: Prime Minister May is under heavy pressure while she cobbles together a coalition, anger and frustration rage over the response to the Grenfell fire.

QUEEN ELIZABETH: My government will take full measures to introduce an independent public advocate who will add for bereaved families after public disaster and support them at public inquest.

GORANI: Britain has face four acts of terror in the last three months alone putting the fight against extremism high on the agenda as well.

QUEEN ELIZABETH: In the light of the terrorist attacks in Manchester and London, my government's counterterrorism strategy will be reviewed to ensure that the police and security services have all the powers they need. And that the length of custodial sentences for terrorism related offenses are sufficient to keep the population safe.

GORANI: Queen Elizabeth has been delivering these speeches for decades, but this year saw a few noticeable changes. Prince Philip was not at her majesty's side, but according to the palace he's in hospital as a precaution for a preexisting condition. Prince Charles did step in for his father.

The pomp and circumstance was also scaled back. The queen traveled by car instead of carriage and opted not to wear the traditional robe and imperial state crown. Members of parliament will vote on the agenda set in the speech which could be seen as a vote of confidence on the embattled prime minister.

Hala Gorani, CNN, London.


CHURCH: And just one more note on the queen's speech and what she wore. Many on social media were stunned at how closely the royal hat resembled the E.U. flag. Now of course, it may have been a coincidence, but we couldn't resist saying this while many hats provide shade, this one could actually be throwing it.

War, terrorism, political strife, the world is in an awfully noisy place these days. But viewers in the U.K. had an unexpected respite on Tuesday when they tuned into the strangely tranquil BBC newscast.

[03:55:02] CNN's Jeanne Moos explains.


JEANNE MOOS, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Here's what the news sounds like when the anchor doesn't make a sound. For four minutes. The BBC's flagship news at 10 was silent, except for breaking news announcements run amuck.

During those four long minutes of technical meltdown, veteran newsman Huw Edwards sat calmly with only the occasional facial flinch. Tweeted one viewer, "kind of absorbing like a lava lamp."

After so much bad news lately, tweeted someone else, "wasn't it lovely, sort of time-out from all the craziness?"

No matter how many times they played the graphic saying "breaking news," the news remained broken. A show editor blamed it on a technical system crash seconds before air time. The veteran anchor told Radio 4.

HUW EDWARDS, NEWS ANCHOR, BBC: There was so much going on in the director's gallery that nobody bothered to tell me of course that I was actually on air. I have to say I sensed that I probably was so I tried to behave myself.

MOOS: He played with his mouse. He scribbled prompting everyone to ask the same question, "what did you start writing? Help? I think he was writing down his order for dinner."

EDWARDS: I was listening to all this pandemonium in the background.

MOOS: We do know one guy who would especially appreciate four minutes of silence from the BBC.

TRUMP: Where are you from?


TRUMP: OK. Here's another beauty. MOOS: And speaking of beauty, after the meltdown ended, queue the anchor. Actually, 10.04. Edwards' only sign of stress was his post newscast tweet. "A double dragon ale. I think I'm going to enjoy this little beauty after that 10, followed by Welsh equivalent of cheers. Rename that newscast Zen at 10.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


CHURCH: And cheers to him. Good he brought us some calm and serenity for a few minutes there.

Thanks for your company. I'm Rosemary Church. Remember to connect with me any time on Twitter. I would love to hear from you. The news continues now with Cyril Varnier in London. You are watching CNN. Have yourselves a great day.