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Rescue Workers Scramble after Chinese Landslide; Hundreds Sent to Temporary Housing after U.K. Cladding Fire Tests; Obama Knew of Russian Meddling in August 2016; Trump Says "No Tapes"; Qataris Respond to Boycott with Patriotism; Hundreds Sent to Temporary Housing after U.K. Cladding Fire Tests; Johnny Depp Apologizes. Aired 5-6a ET

Aired June 24, 2017 - 05:00   ET




NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): U.S. President Donald Trump is pointing blame at his predecessor, Barack Obama, after a new report details hacking efforts by Russia.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Rescue and recovery efforts are underway as China's president calls for an all-out effort to find more than 100 villagers, who appear to have been buried in a landslide.

ALLEN (voice-over): And Johnny Depp apologizes for a joke about Donald Trump that went too far.

It's all ahead here this hour. Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. We're live in Atlanta. I'm Natalie Allen.

HOWELL (voice-over): And I'm George Howell from CNN World Headquarters. NEWSROOM starts right now.


ALLEN: Donald Trump is blaming the Obama administration for not dealing with Russian interference in last year's U.S. presidential election.

HOWELL: "The Washington Post" reported on Friday the Obama White House learned of Moscow's meddling in August of 2016, several months before the election. Here is what President Trump told FOX News.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I just heard today for the first time that Obama knew about Russia a long time before the election and he did nothing about it. But nobody wants to talk about that. To me, you know, in other words, the question is, if he had the information, why didn't he do something about it? He should've done something about it.


ALLEN: Well, he did do something about it: 35 Russian diplomats were in the end expelled from the U.S. and two Russian properties in the U.S. were closed in retaliation.

HOWELL: Our Michelle Kosinski has more now on the new details revealed in "The Washington Post" report.


MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A bombshell report: starkly laying out the U.S. intelligence community's case for Russia's meddling in the 2016 election and revealing it was directly ordered by Vladimir Putin.

"The Washington Post" detailing that intelligence sources had captured Putin's own instructions to disrupt and discredit the presidential race with the goal of defeating or hurting Hillary Clinton and helping Donald Trump.

The CIA delivered the intelligence by courier to President Obama in August. "The Post's" interview with former senior Obama administration officials revealed the frustrations now among some of them that more was not done to punish Russia, quoting one, "It's the hardest thing about my entire time in government to defend. I feel like we sort of choked."

They say the administration was worried about appearing to try to influence the election themselves as well as provoking Russia.

One official explains, "Our primary interest in August, September and October was to prevent them from doing the max they could do."

And after the election, some of the harsher options for punishing Russia, like a massive cyber attack on them or sweeping sanctions, faced concerns and roadblocks from a number of corners.

Former deputy national security advisor Tony Blinken defended the Obama administration.

TONY BLINKEN, FORMER DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR FOR PRESIDENT OBAMA: Maybe the judgment was wrong. Maybe we should have acted differently. Maybe we should have done certain things that we didn't do.

But given everything we were dealing with, given, first of all, again, the perception that Russia's main objective was to undermine the confidence in the elections, that was really one thing that motivated us to be careful about how we played this in public.

KOSINSKI (voice-over): The Obama administration did set the ball rolling for secret programs to infiltrate Russia's infrastructure, with cyber weapons controlled remotely, like digital bombs that could cripple Russia's systems. But Obama left office while it was still in the planning stage. The White House says Trump stands by his January comments that he thinks Russia was involved in the hacking and has no plans to fire the special counsel overseeing the Russia investigation, Robert Mueller, despite Trump in an interview expressing worry over Mueller's friendliness with fired FBI Director James Comey.

TRUMP: Which is very bothersome, but he's also -- and we're going to have to see.

KOSINSKI (voice-over): In that same interview on FOX, Trump also addressed why he alluded to possibly having recordings of his conversations with Comey when in fact he had none.

TRUMP: But when he found out that I -- you know, that there may be tapes out there, whether its governmental tapes or anything else and who knows, I think his story may have changed. I mean, you'll to have to take a look at that because then he has to tell what actually took place at the events.

KOSINSKI (voice-over): But when CNN pressed...

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: But my question for you is what is the White House -- what is President Trump now doing to prevent Russia from doing this again?

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, this report is new and we'll discuss it with him later.

KOSINSKI (voice-over): -- again and again.

CAMEROTA: I mean, against Russia, what is he doing specifically to try to stop this?

CONWAY: Alisyn, I realize that you --


CONWAY: -- just like to say the word Russia, Russia to mislead the voters and I know that CNN is aiding and abetting this nonsense as well. But --

CAMEROTA: Kellyanne --

CONWAY: -- you've asking the same question three times now and I am answering it.

CAMEROTA: You're not answering it, Kellyanne.

CONWAY: Yes. I am. He is the President of United States.

CAMEROTA: And what is he doing?

CONWAY: He has said very clearly that he wants the voter integrity and the valid integrity to be protected.

KOSINSKI: So, on the investigations as of the end of the day Friday, which was suppose to be the deadline, the House Intelligence Committee was still waiting for James Comey's memos, as well as any official word from the White House that they don't have recordings of the conversations between Trump and Comey.

And as we see the investigations evolve, now the Senate Judiciary Committee wants information from President Obama's former attorney general, Loretta Lynch, to see if she might have improperly influenced the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation -- Michelle Kosinski, CNN, Washington.


HOWELL: Michelle, thank you.

Our Anderson Cooper spoke with one of the reporters who worked on "The Washington Post" story.

ALLEN: And he explained what made this bombshell story so remarkable.


ADAM ENTOUS, "THE WASHINGTON POST": What happened in this case is that the Russians, according to U.S. intelligence agencies, not only were doing what they always do which is basically snooping around in the computer systems of all political parties but, in this case, they made a decision to basically take e-mails that they knew would be harmful to one side and inject them into the public through WikiLeaks, in this case, in order to try to shape the outcome of an election.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: And Jeh Johnson, Obama's former Homeland Security Secretary, mentioned this in his testimony yesterday, but you also report that it was Vladimir Putin himself who, in fact, signed off on these attacks and they have evidence of that.

ENTOUS: Right. I think that was really the most remarkable and dramatic moment, if you will, that we discovered, which was basically the CIA, in either late July or very early in August, gets very sensitive intelligence from a very reliable source of information.

It's very rare for the CIA, despite a popular perception that they have information on everything, it's very hard for them to get Putin himself, him providing an instruction. That is as close to a bombshell internal coup, if you will, for an intelligence service and for the CIA as ever.

So for the CIA itself to get this from such a reliable source of information was a turning point for the administration, as it was trying to decide how to respond.


ALLEN: So again, that bombshell that the meddling in the election was directly ordered by Mr. Putin. The Russian foreign ministry gave a stingingly sarcastic response to "The Washington Post" reporting. For more about that, our Diana Magnay joins us live from Moscow -- Diana. DIANA MAGNAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Natalie. That's right. We asked the Russian foreign ministry for comment on "The Washington Post" article and we got a text in return from the foreign ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, saying the show must go on.

Publicly, the Kremlin, the foreign ministry have always wanted to give the impression that they're not following every twist and turn of the Russia investigation and they have in fact always used the same kind of terminology as Donald Trump himself to describe what is going on in the United States, around the Russia probe, and that is that it's a witch hunt driven by the fake news media.

But I think privately, the Kremlin will be extremely concerned at this report for two reasons, the first which we just heard from "The Washington Post" themselves, that there was a very reliable source of information, presumably deep within the Kremlin, that was able to -- that the CIA was able to determine that it had been Vladimir Putin himself who directly ordered this supposed election hacking.

The Kremlin is a notoriously unleaky organization or government body. So you can imagine that they will be trying to find out, to determine how the CIA came upon that intelligence.

And of course secondly, this suggestion that President Obama initiated a program to plant digital cyber bombs in Russian infrastructure. Now we don't know how far that program went.

But if you -- Donald Trump tweeted today, yesterday, the Obama administration knew far in advance of the election, about election meddling by Russia but did nothing.


Well, it would seem as though, in fact, President Obama could have left a very powerful tool in his hands -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Absolutely. And now, according to "The Washington Post" and others we have talked with here on CNN the past couple hours, it will be very hard to bring repercussions to Russia at this stage of the game.

So the question is what's next for the relations between Russia and the U.S.?


ALLEN: The last we saw, they were all having a good time, at least with some Russian officials in the Oval Office.

MAGNAY: Well, I think each week relations seem to deteriorate. Russia was certainly hoping for far more from the Trump administration, which is presumably why they decided to try and back President Trump rather than a President Clinton.

What would they have wanted from improved U.S.-Russia relations? Well, rehabilitation on the world stage, an end to the isolation that has effectively kept Russia out of bodies like the G8 since the Ukraine crisis. An end to sanctions which, along with the oil price, have had a very stifling effect on the Russian economy.

But it is clearly politically toxic for President Trump to be seen to cozy up to the Russians at this stage, despite that extraordinary meeting in the Oval Office.

And that is why you hear from the Kremlin phrases such as blaming inveterate Russophobes in the U.S. Congress for stymieing U.S.-Russia relations. I don't think you will see an improvement anytime soon, especially as new sanctions are being discussed -- Natalie.

ALLEN: And it's also with every report that comes out, it's just dismissed as fake news. Diana Magnay, thank you.

For more now, here's George.

HOWELL: Now for more from London, let's bring in Steven Erlanger, the London bureau chief for "The New York Times."

Steven, it's great to have you with us. And you talked about that image in the White House with Sergey Kislyak and Lavrov together with the president. We've come quite a distance from that with this report. Obviously the U.S. imposing new sanctions on Russia, now this bombshell, this report described as a bombshell.

It says the order came from the very top, Vladimir Putin ordering a campaign to disrupt and discredit the U.S. electoral process.

How big of a deal is this new revelation for the present administration?

STEVEN ERLANGER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, I think it is a very big deal. What it does is confirm in fact what John Brennan had said earlier, that it had been directed from the top.

I do think your Moscow correspondent put her finger on two very important responses from the Russians. They're going to try to find the leak, first of all. Then they're going to dig through their computer systems to try to find what was buried there.

So to some degree, again, I think American intelligence will feel burned by this report, which is a very good report but it will create all kinds of problems.

And it certainly creates problems for the Trump administration, you already have the Senate, which has imposed or is trying to impose new sanctions on Russia, not about Ukraine but about other things, which I don't think the White House was really very happy about.

And you have the sense that the other branches of government, including parts of the Defense Department and the National Security Council, just have a stiffer, stronger view about Russian meddling than the White House seems to do. I think it is also true that Trump's effort to reset relations with

Russia, which by itself was a perfectly reasonable idea, has been thrown backwards; maybe it now is impossible, first with the Michael Flynn revelations and now this because Trump is obviously seen, whether he likes it or not, as the beneficiary of Russian meddling, which came directly from the top.

HOWELL: The U.S. president, we've seen him ask on FOX News, basically posing the question, well, if his predecessor knew that this was happening, why didn't he do more?

ERLANGER: Well, it's a perfectly legitimate question. But one can also ask why Trump is giving back the properties to the Russians that Obama did take away from them. The Obama people say they were, I think, shocked, first of all. They were slow to respond. They were afraid a large reaction would be seen as tampering themselves in the election on the side of Hillary Clinton.

But I think one thing we do need to remember, I don't think Russians were trying to help Trump so much as hurt Hillary Clinton. Vladimir Putin believes -- and he said this and I believe he means it -- that he believes Hillary Clinton interfered in his own election, re- election in 2011, and sponsored protests against him and interfered in the Ukrainian election, in the revolution at the Maidan, which pulled down Russian ally Yanukovych.

So this, in his mind, means that the U.S. has interfered in elections in his sphere, so he was going to try to undermine --


ERLANGER: -- Hillary Clinton. Even if she won, I think his intention and I think he expected her to win, his intention was to damage her credibility because he felt that she would be more aggressive toward Russia even than Mr. Obama had been.

HOWELL: So a tit-for-tat response. Let's talk about the inner thinking here of the former Obama White House. So we're hearing from former officials that they were conflicted about whether they were able to do more, whether they should have done more.

Did they do enough, was the question.

What are your thoughts about the conflicts that were going on in that White House about how to respond here?

ERLANGER: Well, I take them at their word that they were conflicted.. I also take them at their word that now they believe they should have done more because to some degree, you can argue whether Russian meddling threw the election to Donald Trump. I don't think it did.

I think the Clinton campaign and its failures that she won many more votes through the election to Donald Trump but when you're a government during an election campaign that's going to replace you, the sense is you really should try to be neutral, that you should let democracy play out without the sense that the president, the sitting president, the lame duck president is putting his or her finger on the scales.

So I think that was their concern. And I think they were also concerned not to make relations with Russia worse for a new president than they already were over Ukraine.

So I have some sympathy for that. But there were arguments within the Obama administration to react much more toughly and publicly. And I think now many of them regret that they did not do so.

HOWELL: 10:16 in the morning there in the British capital, Steven Erlanger is the bureau chief for "The New York Times" in London.

Thank you so much for your insight.

ERLANGER: Thank you.

ALLEN: Coming up here, disaster strikes a Chinese village. The latest on a massive landslide there.

HOWELL: Plus, the battle for Mosul winds down. ISIS reduces another outrage that many say amounts to a war cry.

ALLEN: And later, President Trump seems to end a saga with James Comey only to ramp up another one with Robert Mueller.




HOWELL: Rescuers in China are scrambling to save victims after a terrible landslide that took place. State media report a family of three has been saved from the rubble. Just look at these images. You get a sense of what's happening there.

More than 120 people are still missing. Dozens of homes there are buried. The rescued family is reportedly a couple and their baby. They're being treated at a local hospital.

ALLEN: The landslide struck a village in Southwestern China's Sichuan province; 780 rescue workers responded to the scene. They are still there. Chinese President Xi Jinping has called on them to do all they can to try and reach victims.

For more on this, let's go to our Matt Rivers. He is in Shanghai for us and keeping tabs on how it's going there.

Matt, hello.

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello. Yes, it's been an ongoing story here and one that certainly is going to produce stories of tragedy moving forward. We now have the latest figures of more than 120 people missing.

Earlier, though, authorities were saying they had an exact number. They were saying 141 people were missing. So why those numbers got revised downwards, we're not sure.

But, of course, that can only mean one of two things. People were either saved and brought out of the rubble or they did find certain individuals living in this village dead as a result of this landslide. We're not sure. The state broadcaster, CCTV, did not say how they came to these new figures.

But it is not going to be surprising if this does turn into a recovery operation at some point because, as you can see with these pictures, this was a massive landslide that took out 46 homes in a matter of seconds.

There were witnesses on the scene who spoke to state media, who said that it came down with an incredibly sudden rush of force and that they were able to do nothing before it happened.

So what's happening now, is rescuers, they've grown. Their numbers have grown throughout the day. There are now nearly 800 people there helping in that rescue situation. But they face an enormous challenge, given the amount of debris.

And we're also told through state media reporting that a second smaller landslide was not very far away from this. One actually blocked a portion of the road and it's making it difficult for rescue crews to get their equipment in there.

It is also scheduled to rain over the next couple of days and you can expect this operation will last for several days. So even though there is ongoing rescue efforts, even though there is still hope that there will be more survivors found, these rescue operations face an uphill battle moving forward.

ALLEN: Yes, and more rain coming. Thank you so much, Matt Rivers for us.

And such a beautiful little town before this happened.

HOWELL: (INAUDIBLE) it's just terrible to see what happened so quickly there.



ALLEN: We have this just in. A massive wildfire in the state of Utah has grown to 33,000 acres or about 13,000 hectares.

HOWELL: The fire has been going on now for a week but it's only 5 percent contained. It's already destroyed nearly 2 dozen buildings there. Wow.

There are sharp response coming from the United Nations after ISIS blew up an Iraqi landmark, the Great Mosque of Al Nouri in Mosul. It's -- basically, they're talking about the possibility of war crimes from what happened here. Right now you're looking at exclusive drone footage. Want to show you

this, obtained by CNN, of the old city of Mosul before and then after this destruction of the historic mosque. The terror group blames Washington and Tehran.

ALLEN: Iraq's prime minister says that when ISIS blew up this 800- year-old landmark, there it goes, it was making an official announcement of their defeat. Iraqi commanders say the militants made the move after troops closed in.

HOWELL: Let's bring in now CNN's Nick Paton Walsh, live in Irbil, Iraq.

And the United Nations certainly making its position very clear about all this.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SR. INTL. CORRESPONDENT: (INAUDIBLE) levels here. There is the cultural damage done to Iraq's heritage, condemned by UNESCO and there amounting to a war crime, of course, which we've seen, frankly, going on in the past weeks or so.

The sheer disregard for human life being shown by ISIS as this harrowing phase of the conflict reaches a very bloody and unfortunate climax.

Now the drone images we've managed to obtain show the extent of the destruction, now filmed from quite some distance away. And there is still quite a lot of dust there. And we're also seeing images from ISIS, part of that propaganda, which we won't show you, that do show from a ground level from their side substantial destruction, too.

That can no longer be any doubt that the Al Nouri Mosque is pretty much obliterated here. Only part of the minaret, it seems, still standing here. And the key point here, George, is that this should have been one of the most sacred symbols of ISIS' in that particular part of their most cherished population center in Iraq.

They were willing to destroy it to this extent it appears now from when you see the night vision video you showed, the way the explosion ripples through the building, looks so much more like controlled detonation than it does the airstrike that ISIS claimed had occurred.

I'm no munitions expert but a simple glance could give you that basic idea. If they're willing to show that level of disregard for their own sacred monuments, so to speak, this is vital to the Islamic faith, this building, but also to ISIS' ideology, because it's where Abu Baker al-Baghdadi gave his one single public appearance, announcing the beginning of their so-called caliphate.

If that's what they can do to their own monuments, then, well, what is it for the human life still caught inside the old city of Mosul itself?

We believe tens of thousands, according to aid agencies, are kept inside that densely packed series of alleyways that is the old city, that the Al-Nouri mosque formed the gateway to. And they may be being used as human shields, some kept in huge numbers in tightly backed basements. Some peering their way out through gaps in the walls, running for their olives.

We've seen images of children desperate for water when they finally emerge. There is a searing heat that I'm standing in here. It will be intensified in the week ahead as we move into the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Fitr at the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

This is potentially the most harrowing time, really sadly, at the end of all of this and we've heard aid agencies talking about thousands of people escaping from the old city, possibly every day. It's simply unclear, the access at this point is limited to much of the media. But we are entering possibly the most bloody chapter of the fight for Mosul -- George.

HOWELL: Searing heat there in Irbil, Iraq, 12:28 there in the day. Nick Paton Walsh live, thank you for the reporting.

ALLEN: And just ahead, demands and defiance, Gulf neighbor countries issue an ultimatum to Qatar. We'll tell you what that's about.



NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Welcome back to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM life from Atlanta. I'm Natalie Allen.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): And I'm George Howell with the headlines we're following for you this hour.


HOWELL: Here in the United States, these investigations that are underway, just a short time ago, the special counsel, Robert Mueller, he seemed unassailable. Both Democrats and Republicans basically agreed with the choice, that he's an honest professional with integrity.

ALLEN: But the perception on the Right has changed lately, starting at the top with President Trump. Our Jeff Zeleny has that.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And, by the way, other things are happening. We've done a lot. This is a big one. We have a lot of good ones coming.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SR. WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump signing a new law to reform the Veteran Affairs Administration, rare bipartisan action in a divided Washington.

But the Russia investigation is threatening to overshadow the president's agenda. He raised new questions today about the objectivity of special counsel Robert Mueller, suggesting in a FOX News interview --


ZELENY (voice-over): -- he's too close to fired FBI Director James Comey.

TRUMP: Well, he's very, very good friends with Comey, which is very bothersome. But he's also -- we will have to see.

ZELENY: The president didn't mention that he interviewed Mueller for the FBI post one day before the Justice Department named him to conduct an independent investigation into Russia's role into the 2016 election.

TRUMP: Look, there has been no obstruction. There has been no collusion. There has been leaking by Comey.

But there's been no collusion, no obstruction and virtually everybody agrees to that. So we will have to see.

ZELENY: Inside the West Wing, the president is growing increasingly furious at the widening Russian probe, CNN has learned.

One day after finally admitting he didn't tape his conversations with Comey, the president said he had no regrets for what amounted to a 41- day wild goose chase in Washington.

TRUMP: My story didn't change. My story was always a straight story. My story was always the truth, but you will have to determine for yourself whether or not his story changed. But I did not tape.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was a smart way to make sure he stayed honest in those hearings.

TRUMP: Well, it wasn't very stupid. I can tell you that.

ZELENY: Beyond the Russia investigation, the administration facing criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike for not speaking out about Russian meddling.

The U.S. intelligence community said it has no question Russia interfered.

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: The reality is, in two or four years, it's going to serve Vladimir Putin's interest to take down the Republican Party and if we weren't upset about it, we have no right to complain in the future.

ZELENY: The White House banning cameras again today at Press Secretary Sean Spicer's briefing, part of an ongoing quest to limit transparency. Three days after saying he didn't know if the Russian interfered in the election, Spicer said the president thinks it was Russia.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Of course he's concerned about any country or any actor that wants to interfere in our elections. I confirm that he stands by that.

ZELENY: But by saying it could have been any country and any actor, the White House is still taking the softest posture against Russia than anyone in Washington, from Capitol Hill to the intelligence communities.

Now one other note here, early next month at the G20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany, it could be the first time President Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin come face to face for their first meeting. We'll see if President Trump takes his message to President Putin then -- Jeff Zeleny, CNN, the White House.


HOWELL: Jeff, thank you.

The White House is calling a dispute between Qatar and other Gulf nations a family issue that they should work out together. Doha is accusing Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain of trying to limit its sovereignty, after telling Qatar they would only lift sanctions if a series of demands is met.

ALLEN: Let's look at some of those demands. The list includes closing the Al Jazeera news network, stopping the development of a Turkish military base, reducing ties to Iran and cutting ties to terror groups, a link Qatar denies.

CNN producer Gul Tuysuz is in Istanbul with more about it.

Let's look at the reasons behind these demands and what's going on among Qatar and these countries.

GUL TUYSUZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Natalie, the move to isolate Qatar came suddenly and surprisingly. But, of course, there is a backstory to it. Now the countries led by Saudi Arabia say Qatar has been funding terrorism and is funneling money to extremist groups, charges that, of course, Qatar denies. But there's really a backstory here, which is about Qatar's very active and very effective foreign policy that it's been carrying out independently of Saudi Arabia, without Saudi Arabia.

And it's been a very critical and very strategic in crises around the region and it's been a conduit for allowing conversations to happen between different proxies that don't always talk to each other.

And that's been a source of great irritation for Saudi Arabia because the impact of Qatar's foreign policy has been much greater than how small Qatar is. And this impact has really irritated Saudi Arabia to the point where it is now leading this charge.

And if you look at the list of demands, shutting down Al Jazeera and not allowing for Turkey go ahead with establishing that military base in Qatar, you see Qatari say, well, look at these demands. They're proving what we've been saying all along, that this move didn't come in a way to combat terrorism or to stop us from funneling money to extremists but rather it's about reining in our foreign policy and making it non-independent and a part of Saudi Arabia's hopes in the region -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Yes. And we should say Al Jazeera is based in Qatar. Al Jazeera responded, saying any call to close down the network is an attempt to silence freedom of expression in the region.

What is behind that?


TUYSUZ: Well, Al Jazeera Arabic and Al Jazeera English are really at the heart of Qatar's foreign policy. It's their soft power. When you look at the region and how Al Jazeera has been coverage it, it's been across all of the developments in the region and has really been a sore eye for Saudi Arabia.

And now these two countries, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, don't always see eye-to-eye but most of their objectives are the same. So this really coming down on Al Jazeera and limiting press freedom in the region is a very bad sign for things to come -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Yes, it is. Gul Tuysuz, thank you so much.

HOWELL: Still ahead on NEWSROOM this hour, putting safety first. Evacuations took place overnight in London to make sure there's no repeat of the Grenfell fire disaster. That story -- ahead.



ALLEN: More fallout from the Grenfell Tower tragedy in London. Hundreds of families have been moved to temporary shelters. They're out of their homes for the next month or so because the cladding on their buildings in North London is flammable.

HOWELL: The siding on the Grenfell Tower contributed to last week's fire, a fire that killed 79 people. Safety checks are underway at apartment buildings across the United Kingdom. Local London officials say Grenfell has changed everything.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I realize it's disruptive to people's lives but it's particular (ph) safety comes first. If it's not safe, then people need to go.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What we found that while the insulation was safe, the external cladding was not up to the standards that we wanted. It was not fire retardant.

Obviously, this was very disappointing. We shared that news with our residents and, on Thursday night, we had a public --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- meeting with local residents, where they shared a number of concerns about fire safety that I hadn't been aware of.


HOWELL: No doubt, there are a lot of big questions.

The big question, how far could this go?

I spoke earlier with Kuldeep Virdi. He's a professor emeritus of structural engineering at City University of London and I asked him how this happened in the first place.


KULDEEP VIRDI, CITY UNIVERSITY: The authorities have made a risk assessment and they decided that the fire services could not cope with a fire of this magnitude. Therefore, they've decided to evacuate many of the buildings.

HOWELL: Kuldeep Virdi, so on the side here, we're seeing these images inside the Grenfell Tower following this fire. If we could take these images full because I want to talk about the gladding that was on the exterior. I want you to tell us about this cladding.

What is the process to remove it?

How difficult is it to go back to buildings, to identify which buildings are affected and then strip them of this cladding?

VIRDI: I think the decision as to which buildings to be stripped of the cladding is straightforward because we would know what materials were used in those buildings and if it was the case that the material was flammable, then you decide to remove the cladding.

The question whether it's easy to remove or not, I think it's not very difficult because these panels are not very heavy, made of aluminum and some polymer materials. So handling them is not too difficult.

Of course, when the cladding is at, say 20 stories high floor, then you have to take care that the persons removing the cladding are also safe. So there has to be consideration of safety of people removing the cladding.

But as for the weight of the cladding, elements are concerned, it's not too heavy. Should not be too difficult.

HOWELL: We hear this from officials. They say that Grenfell changed everything. In this case, we're talking about a particular set of buildings.

But with regard to the scope and scale of this problem, look, could we be talking about hospitals?

Could hotels be concerned about the cladding on their structures?

How common is this type of cladding?

And how far could it go?

VIRDI: My understanding is that this type of cladding was used for all the buildings where they decided to do two things: one, to improve the appearance of the building and, second, to improve the thermal insulation. So the aluminum on the outside is there for appearance and the insulation there is to improve the performance of the buildings, retaining heat, et cetera.

So from an energy point of view, this would have been a good product. But, unfortunately, it's turned out that another aspect of this is whether the material is flammable or not. And I think we have seen the case that the material was flammable.

It is not the case that all cladding systems have (INAUDIBLE) material, only some of them do. So I think the authorities would have a sense which buildings have this kind of panel and then these buildings will be to be refurbished. These panels will have to be removed and something else will have to be put in place.

HOWELL: Obviously, the fire in London has drawn attention to this type of paneling, this cladding.

Now the question, you know, certainly in the United Kingdom but what other countries, what other buildings around the world could be affected by this?

Kuldeep Virdi, thank you so much. Thank you for your time.

VIRDI: You're welcome.


HOWELL: I want to tell you now about a development on a story that stunned the United States and certainly around the world and led to a national debate on race relations, the fatal shooting of an African American teenager, Michael Brown, by a police officer.

ALLEN: We now know Brown's family will receive $1.5 million after reaching a settlement in a lawsuit against the city of Ferguson, Missouri. Ferguson became a flashpoint for unrest across the U.S. after the shooting in 2014. That anger was exasperated (sic) when a grand jury cleared police officer Darren Wilson, who had shot Brown.

HOWELL: Now to another police-involved shooting in the United States. An Ohio judge has declared a mistrial in the case against former University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing.

ALLEN: Tensing was charged with murder, involuntary manslaughter after shooting Samuel DuBose (ph) during a July 2015 traffic stop. His bodycam caught the entire incident. Tensing testified that he feared for his life after his left arm became trapped inside DuBose' moving car.

HOWELL: This is the second time a jury has deadlocked considering this particular shooting and Tensing is the third U.S. law enforcement officer to be tried for shooting an African American in the last week. None of them were convicted.

ALLEN: Ahead here, the joke that was no laughing matter for the White House. Actor Johnny Depp apologizing for a controversial visual comment about President Trump.





ALLEN: Actor Johnny Depp is apologizing for remarks he made about presidential assassination. He says he was just trying to be funny but the joke backfired big time.

HOWELL: And he's hardly the first person in Hollywood to make political comments that have stirred controversy. Our Stephanie Elam has this report.


JOHNNY DEPP, ACTOR: This is going to be in the press and it will be horrible.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Actor Johnny Depp knew what he was about to say to a crowd in the UK would get a rise out of people.

DEPP: When was the last time an actor assassinated the president?

I want to clarify. I'm not an actor. I lie for a living.

ELAM: For the record, the answer to his question is April 1865, when actor John Wilkes Booth killed the president, Abraham Lincoln. Critics have condemn Depp for what he said but he is far from the only celebrity to engage in these kinds of comments. Yes, Hollywood has long the tended to lean Left, but this kind of extremist talk is new.

In January, Madonna said this at the Women's March in Washington.

MADONNA, SINGER: Yes! I have thought an awful lot about blowing up the White House. But I know that this won't change anything.

ELAM: In Snoop Dogg's video for "Lavender," he shoots a clown version of the president with a gun.

And graphic images of Kathy Griffin, holding a mock bloodied head of President Trump, made her a target of a Secret Service investigation, according to her lawyers. It also cost her a job. CNN called the photos "disgusting and offensive" and fired her as its New Year's Eve cohost.

At issue is free speech versus security. Threatening the life of the U.S. president is a federal crime that can result in a fine -- [05:55:00]

ELAM: -- or up to five years in prison or both. A lot of Hollywood stars are very public about their liberal politics, but these incidents cross a line.

JOE BEL BRUNO, MANAGING EDITOR, VARIETY: Really, there hasn't been anybody saying enough is enough. And I think that needs to come from Hollywood, from the left wing, from somebody who can say, hey, you know what, I voted for Hillary Clinton, but let's not incite violence against the president of the United States.

I might not support him, but, you know, there is a fine line that we -- you know, that we can't cross over.

ELAM: As for Depp, the White House released this statement, quote, "President Trump has condemned violence in all forms and it's sad that others like Johnny Depp have not followed his lead. I hope that some of Mr. Depp's colleagues would speak out about this type of rhetoric as strongly as they would if it were directed to a Democrat-elected official."

Now an update to the story, Johnny Depp did release a statement to "People" magazine saying, quote, "I apologize for the bad joke I attempted last night in poor taste about President Trump. It did not come out as intended and I intended no malice. I was only trying to amuse, not to harm anyone."

It is worth pointing out that it is probably not very likely that Depp will be arrested for this. But perhaps it is food for thought for anyone in thinking about speaking in public about harming the president of the United States -- Stephanie Elam, CNN, Hollywood.


HOWELL: Thank you, Stephanie.

And thank you for being with us for a look at your news around the world. I'm George Howell.

ALLEN: I'm Natalie Allen. For our viewers in the U.S., "NEW DAY" is just ahead. For everyone else, I'll be back with the top stories in just a moment. Thanks for watching.