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Trump White House Has Dozens of Staffers without Security Clearance; Trump Has History of Defending Abusers; Deficit Hawks Blast Trump Plan; Oxfam under Fire for Handling of Prostitution Scandal; Somali Terror Group Profits from Foreign Aid. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired February 13, 2018 - 01:00   ET




ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. Ahead this hour:

JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The U.S. president announces his infrastructure plan, calling it the biggest and boldest ever. Others call it a con. But once again, infrastructure week is being overshadowed by scandal and controversy at the White House.

SESAY (voice-over): And in a sex crime scandal in Haiti, one of Britain's biggest aid agencies is facing severe consequences.

VAUSE (voice-over): And it's not often that Kim Jong-un has praise for South Korea but the man with the missiles says he's impressed and grateful for the welcome his delegates received at the Winter Games.

SESAY (voice-over): Hello and thank you for joining us. I'm Isha Sesay.

VAUSE (voice-over): Good to have you with us. I'm John Vause and this is the second hour of NEWSROOM L.A.


SESAY: Nearly a week after White House staffer resigned over domestic abuse allegations, the Trump administration is still in damage control mode.

VAUSE: White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders says the president takes this matter very seriously and he supports the victims. But we still haven't heard those words actually coming directly from Donald Trump. Details now from CNN's Jim Acosta.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, do you have a vetting problem?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump avoided the question, punting to press secretary Sarah Sanders to try to defend the West Wing's handling of Rob Porter, a top aide whose history of alleged domestic abuse appears to have been covered up by the White House.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Above all, the president supports victims of domestic violence and believes everyone should be treated fairly and with due process. We've addressed this situation extensively and we have nothing more to add at this time on that topic.

ACOSTA: Sanders attempted to explain why the White House did not remove Porter from his crucial position handling sensitive documents for the president without a full security clearance.

CNN has learned dozens of White House staffers like Porter and even the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, are still going through the security clearance process. Edward Snowden, a former intelligence official who leaked classified material to the media, tweeted, "I got a security clearance faster than half of this White House."

SANDERS: Frankly, if you guys have such concern with classified information, there's plenty of it that's leaked out of Hill, that's leaked out of other communities well beyond the White House walls.

ACOSTA: Asked why there are some staffers without full security clearances, Sanders pointed elsewhere.

SANDERS: Again, that's a question that the FBI and other intelligence communities, they make that determination. That's not something that's decided by the White House.

ACOSTA: Publicly the president still sounds like he's defending Porter, tweeting over the weekend, "People's lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There's no recovery for someone falsely accused. Life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as due process?"

That after he all but stood up for Porter Friday.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He said very strongly yesterday that he's innocent. So you'll have to talk to him about that. But we absolutely wish him well. He did a very good job while he was at the White House. ACOSTA (on camera): Why is he seemingly defending Mr. Porter

publicly? Is it because he has faced his own allegations? Is there some sensitivity there? Is that why that is?

SANDERS: Look, as I just said and I'll repeat it again. The president and the entire administration take domestic violence very seriously and believe all allegations need to be investigated thoroughly.

ACOSTA: But is there a tone deafness there? Is there just a -- being on the wrong side of things?

SANDERS: I don't think the president being on -- support due process for any allegations is -- not tone deaf. I think it is allowing things to be investigated and a mere allegation not being the determining factor. He's not taking a side necessarily one way or the other on any specific issue here.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The president's comments prompted one of Porter's accusers to slam Mr. Trump in "TIME" magazine, writing, "In light of the president's and the White House's continued dismissal of me and Colbie, I want to assure you my truth has not been diminished."

The White House is also embroiled in a fight over the president's decision to block the release of the memo from House Democrats, defending the government's investigation into Trump campaign contacts with the Russians.

HOGAN GRIDLEY, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: This report from the Democrats does not keep American lives safe. What it does is it reveals serious national security information that could, quite frankly, put our lives at risk and the president is not going to do that.

ACOSTA: Democrats say Americans have a right to read their memo after the White House quickly declassified the memo from House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes.

REP. JERROLD NUNES (D), NEW YORK: I have read the Schiff memo. I have read the Nunes memo. I've read the underlying documents. The Schiff memo will show how deliberately misleading and dishonest the Nunes memo is. And it is mis -- it is totally misleading. Even the FBI said it was materially misleading. I think it's worth showing that you can't believe anything these people put out.

ACOSTA: Those issues are crowding out the president's message of the week: rebuilding the nation's infrastructure, all while he's calling for big increases in government spending as part of his proposed budget for next year.

Under the president's plan, the deficit would soar by $7 trillion over the next decade while spending more on --


ACOSTA: -- border security, including a wall and cutting programs like Medicare. The president wants to see a big jump in spending on the nation's nuclear arsenal.

TRUMP: Frankly, we have to do it because others are doing it. If they stop, we'll stop. But they're not stopping. So if they're not going to stop, we're going to be so far ahead of everybody else in nuclear like you've never seen before.

ACOSTA: The president is seeking cuts in Medicare, despite promising to protect the program during the campaign.

TRUMP: Save Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

We are going to protect your Social Security and Medicare.

Save your Social Security and your Medicare.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Jim Acosta, CNN, the White House.


VAUSE: Joining us now for more, Democratic strategist Caroline Heldman and associate professor of politics at Occidental (ph) College and Republican strategist and media consultant Luis Alvarado.

Good to see you guys. OK. Let's hear a little more of what was a mindbending moment at the White House briefing on Monday.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why haven't we heard the president say exactly what you just said right there, that he takes domestic violence very seriously?

SANDERS: I spoke with the president. Those were actually directly his words that he gave me.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But why hasn't he said that?

He had the opportunity.

SANDERS: It's my job to speak on behalf of the president. I spoke to him and he relayed that message directly to me and I'm relaying it directly to you.


VAUSE: So, Caroline, Sanders, she's spinning her wheels here.

Is that the best they've got for this argument right now?

CAROLINE HELDMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, yes, if the president isn't actually going to come out and condemn it and stand by the one in four women and one in seven men who experience an intimate partner violence in the United States.

What else can she possibly do?

I mean, he's sending out Sanders; he's sending out Kellyanne Conway in this thinly veiled attempt to have women support him in this or support his indefensible position and silence on this issue.


VAUSE: But it's like Fonzie on "Happy Days," he couldn't say, oh, I was wrong.

Why can't he just say those words?

HELDMAN: Because he has 22 allegations against him. VAUSE: Right, from women who've accused him of sexual harassment over the years.

HELDMAN: Right. Sexual harassment, sexual assault and in fact, according to his first wife's sworn deposition, some domestic violence.

She's taken it back but she said that under oath. She took it back after a very lucrative settlement.

VAUSE: OK. Because when she does talk about allegations of sexual harassment, he says stuff like this.


TRUMP: He totally denies it. He says it didn't happen. And you know, you have to listen to him also.

I can tell you that some of the women that are complaining, I know how much he's helped them.

These vicious claims about me of inappropriate conduct with women are totally and absolutely false.


VAUSE: OK, Luis, how do you spin this better than Sarah Sanders?

LUIS ALVARADO, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, you can't. You can't and I'm not going to try to because that would just fall into the argument that this is what's really important for the president. And I think America already knows that this president is outside of the box presidency. He is not a perfect president. He is certainly not anybody who comes with a pedigree that we expect or we have seen presidents to have in the past.

HELDMAN: But (INAUDIBLE) domestic violence is not something that the president --


ALVARADO: It's not a priority from the political sense. And if we're talking about politics, (INAUDIBLE), midterm elections, we're talking about getting bills passed --


HELDMAN: -- the American public is female, right? So this is actual an issue that matters a lot to Republican women and Democrat women.

ALVARADO: But it got Bill Clinton reelected. So the reality is that for people's who goes to the polls, there are many things that are important to them. But at the core essence of what voters want is this country to be strong. They want the military to be strong. They want the economy to be strong.

And if Donald Trump is not the perfect president they're OK with him not being the --


VAUSE: I guess we'll find out what people really feel about this issue when the midterms in November and how the president's party holds up when voters actually get to have their say.

But despite what the president's saying or not saying privately, he was reportedly furious with Porter.

"President Trump was blindsided by the allegations against his staff secretary of spousal abuse and called Rob Porter a 'sick puppy,' a close ally of the president told CBS News."

Caroline, is it possible that Donald Trump doesn't want to talk out about Porter because he wants to keep him loyal, wants to keep him close because he's worried that a senior staffer who was in this position for a year has a lot to say and could go to the media, could go to Robert Mueller, the counsel investigating Russian ties?

HELDMAN: I think that's a really good point. I think we've seen some of this with Bannon and others who've left the White House. I think he also needs to be concerned about Sorenson, although the speech writer who left under the dark cloud of domestic violence as well.

It's hard to say what Rob Porter might know. But at the end of the day, the fact that he's sending this mixed message is probably to send the message of -- that he doesn't really care about domestic --


HELDMAN: -- violence to his base and then his silence acting and sending Sarah Sanders out performing empathy when he simply doesn't have it.

VAUSE: OK. There are questions, too, about how Portman (sic) stayed in the job for a year; he only had interim security clearance. Again, here's the explanation from Sarah Sanders.


SANDERS: It's the same process that has been used for decades for other and previous administrations. And we're relying on that process at this point. I do think that it's up to those same law enforcement and intelligence agencies to determine if changes need to made to their process.


VAUSE: Luis, (INAUDIBLE) that ain't the case, that's not how it works. (INAUDIBLE) investigation, the White House makes the final call.

Why can't we get a straight answer from the White House on this issue and a lot of other issues about (INAUDIBLE)? ALVARADO: Well, from day one, this administration was at odds with processes and procedures, especially when it come to safety and security of the White House, the presidency. His trips to Mar-a-lago is not something that have been well prepared. The people he's brought into the White House were brought in expediently without proper vetting process --



ALVARADO: So he's now paying the price. He's now paying the price for having done a very poor job of vetting the people that he's surrounded himself. I think he wanted to be liked more than wanted to ensure that he had professionals that were going to do the job that they were hired to do at the White House on behalf of the American people.

VAUSE: OK, well, we now have Trump's budget blueprint, a plan which the director of the Office of Management and Budget would not vote for if he was still in Congress.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congressman Mick Mulvaney, would he have voted for this?

MICK MULVANEY, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET: Probably not. But keep in mind, I'm not Congressman Mick Mulvaney anymore. My job is the director of the Office of Management and Budget, is to try to get the president's agenda passed.


VAUSE: One of the big problems with this budget, a lot of people believe there's a huge deficit. Ryan Patel, our financial expert, is with us.

Ryan, just talk to me about this -- the deficits here, the issue because normally governments will have this deficit spending during a recession to stimulate the economy. The economy is not in recession. So the laws of economics still apply and I guess that is still doubtful, what will you expect to happen here?

RYAN PATEL, GLOBAL BUSINESS EXECUTIVE: Well, this budget is for -- definitely not a conservative budget. When you look at it, you've got the infrastructure spending but look at what they -- one thing that stood out to me is there -- in the next three years are projecting to be economic growth 3 percent each year.

That is not really a conservative number. The Federal Reserve came out last year, said it was probably 2.2 percent; other non-bipartisan parties said it's anywhere between that number.

So you know there is a little bit of -- what can I say, you know, these numbers are a little inflated just a tad to make the rest of the budget look good.

But for me, even the infrastructure budget number, how is he going to get there to the $1.5 trillion and $1.7 trillion without relying on the cities and private investments?

VAUSE: A lot of people are saying that this would just simply overheat the economy; interest rates are going to go up and then when you hit a real recession down the track, what are you going to do?

PATEL: Well, if we learned anything, I think this deficit is going to be the -- where we may get into trouble over the next few years if we don't have a real answer to the recession because, yes, the economy is fine right now.

But in two years from now, 2-3 years, we're talking about $1 trillion in deficit and then what are you going to rely on?

And I think that's the worry of this deficit. You should be talking about it and trying to get the number down right now and be really realistic about it because you will get into trouble. That's how you get into a recession if your numbers are wrong.

VAUSE: And (INAUDIBLE) there was so much made of the deficit when Republicans were not in the White House and now it's like it's a nonissue. No one cares.


ALVARADO: Well, I wouldn't say no one cares.


VAUSE: The leadership certainly doesn't.

ALVARADO: Well, the Republicans are going to have a choice when they go back to their districts and how they defend it and promote it and if they don't square that round peg, then they're going to have an issue explaining to their -- to constituents when they go after the vote in the midterms.

And I think Republicans are going to have to be smart and they're going to have to make a decision if they're actually going to stand for the president or they're going to stand for what they think it's really right for the American people.

VAUSE: Now (INAUDIBLE) back to Ryan because you mention the infrastructure spend here. This is sort of the magic beans philosophy. You take out $200 billion and over a decade suddenly it becomes $1 trillion worth of infrastructure.

How do those numbers add up?

PATEL: They don't. I mean, the revenue stream is not really sustainable on basing what they're looking at. And again, what I said was they're going to rely on private companies, cities and state. This is what they're going to rely on. So it's a lot of insiders saying that this is not a sustainable piece for money. They're going to have to get it from somewhere else as well to even sustain this.

So to throw this number out in the budget to be reviewed I -- doesn't really add up to me.

VAUSE: OK. We should also --


VAUSE: -- keep in mind that the American Society of Civil Engineers believes the United States needs more than $4.5 trillion spent on infrastructure by 2025.

So, Caroline, you get the last word on all of this. Tax cuts, $1.5 trillion in tax cuts financed by a deficit; $200 billion over 10 years but infrastructure expenditure, sum it all up.

HELDMAN: Well, I would say that it defies conservative principles, that it is -- was a setup, the tax boon for the wealthy was a setup in order to cut entitlement programs and only Donald Trump could screw up infrastructure, which had bipartisan support.

Heading into this, he should have done it first. It should have been a no-brainer but instead now it's more self-inflicted wounds because $200 million does not equal $1.7 billion.

VAUSE: Yes, trillion.

HELDMAN: Trillion.



ALVARADO: It's a framework and it still can be molded.

VAUSE: It's a framework.

HELDMAN: It's math.

VAUSE: OK. Fuzzy math. OK.

Ryan and Caroline and Luis, thanks so much for being with us. Most appreciate it.

SESAY: Well, the presidency of South Africa's Jacob Zuma appears to be nearing the end. In a few hours, leaders from his party, the ANC, are expected to announce whether they will remove him from office.

During almost nine years as president, Mr. Zuma's career has survived many, many protests, a weakening economy and hundreds of corruption allegations, all of which he denied.

His term ends next year and he could once again refuse to step down. So the opposition wants a vote of no confidence and is calling for early elections.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our position is to say there will be removal of the president. But then what happens subsequent to that cannot just we simply say you are (INAUDIBLE).

The only way mesas (ph) can be invoked (INAUDIBLE) and peacefully is through an election process. And (INAUDIBLE). That's where we come from. To think that where Zuma lives, our problems are going to disappear. That is being disingenuous and we're not being (INAUDIBLE).

The -- when the ANC leaves, are problems will disappear because our problems are carried by the ANC.


VAUSE: It's an amazing moment in South Africa.

SESAY: It really is. It really.

VAUSE: OK. Well, still to come here, a top executive with Oxfam has resigned as the aid agency deals with a growing sex crimes scandal.

SESAY: Plus foreign aid is big business in Somalia and for one terror group it is worth millions. The details ahead in an exclusive report.



SESAY: We are following two stories in which (INAUDIBLE) efforts to help some of the most desperate people in the world have instead gone wrong.

VAUSE: First, a CNN investigation has revealed the terror group Al- Shabaab is making millions of dollars by exploiting Western aid. It was money which was meant to ease hunger --


VAUSE: -- now helping fund the Al Qaeda affiliate. With more on that story in just a moment.

But first, the deputy chief executive one of Britain's largest aid agencies, Oxfam, has resigned amid a sex crimes scandal.

SESAY: The charity denies there was an attempt to cover up the behavior of senior staffers who hired prostitutes in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. Our own Erin McLaughlin has the latest from London.


ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Eight years ago, Haiti was struck by a devastating earthquake. Hundreds of thousands of people killed, more than 1 million displaced. Aid workers flocked to the ravaged nation. Some of those who came to help are now accused of abuse. "The Times" newspaper in London obtained access to a confidential Oxfam report, the product of its own internal investigation. According to "The Times," the report revealed seven Oxfam employees staged orgies with prostitutes and that minors may have been among those sexually exploited.

At the center of the investigation, Oxfam's country director, here talking to CNN in 2010 about the challenges of working in earthquake- ravaged Haiti.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have to make a choice between trying to save life of thousands of people and putting my staff at risk.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): CNN has not been able to reach director Roland van Howermeirn (ph) for comment and he has not spoken publicly about the allegations. He and six other employees involved were either fired or allowed to resign.

Now Oxfam is accused of covering up their misconduct. British and Haitian authorities say they were not notified of the alleged wrongdoing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Of course it was a cover-up by Oxfam and it is unfortunate to even mention that that cover-up went all over to the top.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): Oxfam has apologized but denied any cover- up. In a statement, the aid group said accusations that underage girls may have been involved were not proven.

On Monday, the first high-profile resignation, Penny Laurence (ph), Oxfam's deputy chief director, she released a statement acknowledging there were allegations that van Howermeirn (ph) and others used prostitutes in Chad prior to their move to Haiti. Concerns that they, quote, "failed to adequately act upon."

Oxfam says it's still investigating exactly what went on in Chad. But Laurence (ph) said, as program director, the time and ashamed that this happened on my watch.

Oxfam relies on people's good will, relies on donations and visits to charity shops such s this one. It also relies on government funding. Over $40 million of taxpayer money a year. Now all of that could be in jeopardy.

Now British authorities say they're considering cutting Oxfam's government funding.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It doesn't matter whether you've got a whistleblowing hotline. It doesn't matter if you've got good safeguarding practices in place. If the moral leadership at the top of the organization isn't there, then we cannot have you as a partner.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): Oxfam also faces questions in Haiti. The Haitian ambassador to the U.K. said the foreign ministry plans to summon the charity to learn exactly what happened in their country following that devastating quake and why it was kept from them -- Erin McLaughlin, CNN, London.


SESAY: Oxfam's chief executive apologized on Monday and spoke about what the charity plans to do next to regain public trust.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was very clear with the minister today firstly we apologize to the British public and to the Haitian public. Secondly, we've made major steps to improve since 2011. And thirdly that we recommitted to take still more steps because we know we have not done enough.

This is a much bigger issue than Oxfam, who are among the leading agencies in trying to address it. Actually is an issue for the sector. Oxfam failed. Let me be clear on that. But it's a sector- wide concern.


VAUSE: Now to a CNN exclusive investigation, which (INAUDIBLE) Al- Shabaab is fleecing aid agencies in Somalia on millions of dollars.

SESAY: CNN's Sam Kiley explains how money to fight famine and drought is ending up in the hands of a terror group.


SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Baidoa: the center of Somalia's humanitarian disaster, a source of ready cash for Al-Shabaab terrorists.

KILEY: First of all we need to talk to the guy who is the -- who knows most about the financing.




KILEY (voice-over): Somali national intelligence officers are taking us inside a secret prison for Al-Shabaab.

KILEY: How many prisoners do you have in here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have just only four -- eight.

KILEY: Eight?


KILEY (voice-over): Capture a few days earlier, this former Al- Shabaab fighter was on the front line of his fundraising, collecting thousands of dollars in road tolls, much of it taken from trucks delivering food for refugees.

KILEY: So each day you would get quite a lot of money coming in.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, every (INAUDIBLE) you can imagine.

KILEY (voice-over): It's a cycle of exploitation that has victims at its very core, hundreds of --


KILEY (voice-over): -- thousands of them, many in receipt of money from foreign donors.

KILEY: This is Baidoan (ph) refugee camp. There a steady flow of refugees coming in here every day. It is impossible to access without an escort from the African Union and the people fleeing into here are fleeing drought and they're fleeing conflict. And of course it's those two combinations that are so profitable for groups like Al- Shabaab and other warlords.

KILEY (voice-over): Fatima's family once owned dozens of goats and seven cows. Some of them in drought and conflict with Al-Shabaab forced them on the road. Now she has nothing.

Now destitute, she is still a source of income for Al-Shabaab; 270,000 refugees now live in Baidoa and more come every day and this is where the terrorist group profits. Now an agent for the government, this man was a Shabaab tax collector for eight years. Merchants bringing food for sale to refugees pay Al-Shabaab to get Baidoa.

And they're taxed there, too.

KILEY: Even now?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Even now they have their telephones.

KILEY: And if they don't pay?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is how they get their money.

Then when it comes here, the business people -- I mean, for example, those people there, they becomes those are given cash cards from the U.N., they go into the market. They buy $25 U.S. in a bag of rice.

So that $25 includes their taxation of Al-Shabaab, includes the transportation, includes the profit of the business people.

KILEY: And then Shabaab come along once a year and tax the business men?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's the business men, yes, once a year.

KILEY: On top of that. So this doesn't work. You're saying it doesn't work. The U.N. is still indirectly paying tax to Al-Shabaab.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely, for the sake of roadblocks.

KILEY (voice-over): Baidoa was at the center of manmade famines that killed 300,000 in 1992 and a quarter of a million in 2012 and one that was headed off by aid last year. To avoid theft of supplies, the U.N. switched to directly transferring cash to refugees last year and that shifted responsibility for moving food to merchants.

But Al-Shabaab has continued to profit.

KILEY: Putting the onus on the private sector...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It helped reinforce the economy rather than making aid an alternative to the economy .

KILEY: Arguably, then, there's actually an incentive for Al-Shabaab to concentrate people in Baidoa, focus the aid delivery there and just scoop off 3 bucks a bag.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that's probably right. And the thing is, how do you mitigate and manage those kinds of problems?

I mean, what is the alternative?

KILEY (voice-over): The U.N. estimates a single Al-Shabaab roadblock along the profitable Mogadishu to Baidoa route generates $5,000 a day for the terror group. The country's roads have become Al-Shabaab's financial blood supply.

KILEY: This is the bridge over the Shibele (ph) River. It marks the extent of the African Union's capability to safely patrol. Down that road to Baidoa is Somalia's hungry interior.

KILEY (voice-over): 22,000 African troops have been fighting Al- Shabaab but they're due to pull out in two years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're now just conducting minor offensive operations. If reduced, that will affect the (INAUDIBLE) operations negatively.

KILEY: They will leave a vacuum that Al-Shabaab could step into.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely. It will leave a vacuum.

KILEY (voice-over): And a vacuum will leave Al-Shabaab better able to exploit refugees.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Unfortunately, those in need and those who are going to be targeted by humanitarian organizations to receive assistance do become attractive for those who are trying to make money. And there will be all sorts of scams going on.

KILEY (voice-over): Using force to recapture roads might be a solution. But that's been tried by the African Union and U.S.-led military interventions for nearly 30 years and still the chaos reigns -- Sam Kiley, CNN, Baidoa.


SESAY: Let's take a closer look at how this plays out geographically. Food is shipping to the capital, Mogadishu. From that port city, it is trucked about 30 kilometers to Algooya, a city liberated from Al- Shabaab back in 2012.

After that, though, there's no protection. All roads west toward Baidoa are controlled by Al-Shabaab.

VAUSE: Sam Kiley reports each shipment goes through at least 20 Al- Shabaab roadblocks where they're charged with (INAUDIBLE) attacks and Leego, which recently fell to Al-Shabaab (INAUDIBLE) one checkpoint alone collects $5,000 a day.

SESAY: Quick break here. Next on NEWSROOM L.A., the Supreme Leader is impressed. That's the word of his delegation returning from South Korea. Coming up, Kim Jong-un's message to the South.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: From variant theory and rocket man who talks without three conditions, why the U.S. vice president has announced a sudden shift to the American policy.

SESAY: Plus, nothing is safe from Syrian warplanes seen it goes inside a hospital in Idlib where mothers grab their babies from incubators when the bombs started raining down.


SESAY: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles, I'm Isha Sesay.

VAUSE: And I'm John Vause. We'll take a look at the headlines. In a few hours, South Africa's ruling party is expected to announce whether Jacob Zuma will be removed from office. His term ends next year and he could once again refuse to step down. Mr. Zuma faces hundreds of corruption allegations, every one he denies.

SESAY: U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is downplaying the suggestion that the U.S. is ready to hold talks with North Korea. This after Vice President Mike Pence told the "Washington Post" that when the North wants to talk, the U.S. will talk. Tillerson adds, it's too early to discuss any neutrals with the North.

VAUSE: A member of the International Olympic Committee says the Korean hockey team should get the Nobel Peace Prize. Angelo Rodrigo says the symbolism of the two Koreas coming together is what Olympics is all about. Athletes from two countries are competing after the same play. SESAY: Well Kim Jong-un is actually happy with something South Korea

did. The North Korean leader tells state-run media that his delegation's trip to the Olympics turned out well.

VAUSE: State media says Kim was impressed and grateful for the way South Korea treated the visitors from the North including his sister. The delegation's brief lead on the troop which included meetings with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. North Korea's leader says the Olympics are an opportunity to keep pushing for Korean reconciliation, this after he invited the South Korean president to Pyeongyang.

Let's go to Paula Hancocks now who's in Pyeongchang, South Korea where the games are underway. So I guess Paula, is it really a start to warming relations between North and South or is this just another tactic by North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well it really depends who you speak to John. I mean, some people are quite happy that the tensions are far lower than they were just about two or three months ago. There was war at that point and now you have talk of peace.

So certainly, that's welcome by some people. I'm down here just outside the Olympic Plaza where I was going to come and get some nice color from the fans. But even here, you can't get away from the fact that this is an Olympic that is differ which is 50 miles, 80 kilometers away from North Korea here. So inevitably, it is going to be dominating headlines and as you can see, not everybody is happy that North Korea was a part of this Olympics, not everybody thinks that this is the right way for the South Koreans to go.

But certainly, there seems to be a sense that people want to move on. We were at the hockey, the women's ice hockey match, the joint North, South Korean team just last night and some people we were speaking to was saying, enough with the politics, let's now get to the sports.


This is the Olympics, the politics part is over as far as they're concerned and they wanted to focus on having fun and on the sports itself. Now, this is where some people buying tickets for those events, they're not quite reaching targets that they had set for themselves, the Pyeongchang Olympics officials, I think it's about 85.9 percent of tickets have been sold up until this point.

They wanted a few more to be sold and a couple of issues they do have, the cold. It has been bitterly cold over recent days, although today is a bit better but then the wind as well have been affecting some of the athletes, some of the events and, of course, it's been keeping some people at home as well. John, Isha, back to you.

VAUSE: It just looks bitterly cold Paula. Go inside, have something warm to drink, get some chocolate or something. Thank you, Paula.

HANCOCKS: I will. VAUSE: And then joining us now from all of this, Philip Yun, he's the Executive Director of the Ploughshares Fund. He used to work as the North Korean advisor to U.S. President Bill Clinton, also a senior advisor to Defense Secretary William Perry and we're lucky to have you with us.

So Philip, on his way home for the Winter Games, the U.S. Vice President Mike Pence he spoke to CNN Analyst, Josh Rogin. Here's part of the conversation from Josh.


JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: On the way home on the plane he told me about there's negotiations and what happened was fascinating. Essentially, Vice President Pence asked Moon Jae-in why he should support further engagement with North Korea and Moon Jae-in made a promise that North Korea would not receive any sanctions relief until they actually take steps towards denuclearization.

Based on that promise and that assurance, Pence endorsed further cooperation and engagement with North Korea first by the South Koreans and then potentially directly between Washington and Pyeongyang.


VAUSE: Philip, just to flush this out a little bit more from Josh's story in the "Washington Post" this is what he reports, "The point is, no pressure comes off until they are actually doing something that the alliance believes represents a meaningful step toward denuclearization. So the maximum pressure campaign is going to continue and intensify. But if you want to talk, well talk." This is what Pence said. So riddle me this, why would the North Koreans want to talk if there's no incentive?

PHILIP YUN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR AND COO, PLOUGHSHARES FUND: Well, I think what we're talking about here is a plan that the United States has had for a while. They've had two components, it's been really increasing defensive measures to show the North Koreans that the United States will protect itself and its allies and then put increasing pressure on North Korea.

What has been missing out of all this component is forcing them into making sure they want to talk and then offer of talks. So this potential shift that Vice President Pence talked about is actually I think is quite welcome. We'll have to see if there's anything there there and it's all about hypothesis testing. In fact, if the North Koreans want to actually -- are willing to take a deal or not but we're going to have to see. And that's why we have to talk.

We haven't had any discussions, so we really don't know what North Korea actually wants. And as I said before, the only American who has spoken with Kim Jong-un is Dennis Rodman. So we've got to do a little bit better than that.

VAUSE: You'd hope. Is this sort of a return to the era of strategic patience which someone a while ago said was over and had failed? YUN: No, I don't really think so. I think what the -- there is some talk about how the North Koreans have genuinely been worried or are now thinking possibly that this talk about a preempt to strike is actually real.

So they're hedging their bets to some degree. I think part of what they did in November has declared that they had a nuclear deterrent and so there was a fee-saving way for them to stop and to initiate what's essentially a self-imposed moratorium depending on what the United States do -- does. And I think all is going to come back to whether or not these war exercises that usually happen at this time of year are actually initiated or somehow modified or changed in some fashion.

When we get through this Olympic moment, they key discussion has always been, what are we going to do to follow-up? And if we don't follow-up with this easing of tensions, we're going to be back right -- back -- right back to where we were about two or three months ago.

VAUSE: And with that in mind, the man who would likely take charge of any negotiations with the North Koreans, he seems less than enthusiastic. Listen to Rex Tillerson.


REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: As to the vice president's comments about potentially having talks and whether it's a start of a diplomatic process, I think it's too early to judge. As we've said for some time, it's really up to the North Koreans to decide when they're ready to engage with us in a sincere way, a meaningful way.

They know what has to be on the table for conversations, we've said for some time that I think it's important that we have -- we're going to need to have some discussions that precede any form of negotiation.



VAUSE: It sounds like Tillerson's -- they're talking about talks about having talks and the Koreans are (INAUDIBLE) they're masters at this whole, "Let's talk about talks" and stringing everybody along.

YUN: Well I think what you have to do to start right now is I think the idea of informal talks about talks actually make sense. It's the idea that people will say face in that they don't have to go in with certain positions already in line. In other words, United States doesn't have to agree to stop doing its military exercises with South Korea.

And North Korea doesn't have to say it wants to -- it will be willing to denuclearize. What they can do is say about talks about talks, we can raise any issue that we want in an informal setting. And this is the only way I think as in terms of a mechanism that both of these two sides can actually start some kind of discussion to see if there is any kind of overlap there. I don't know if there is at this point. It seems that North Korea, their opening positions are determined to have a small nuclear arsenal capable of hitting the United States and the United States position is that we're going to prevent that from happening.

There doesn't seem to have a lot of wiggle room here and if we are going to have -- prevent a showdown of sorts and a game of chicken, we have to start talking and talk about talks as where it has to start before we can get anywhere.

VAUSE: Philip, just very quickly, in terms of diplomacy and public relations, Kim Jong-un is having a great Olympics.

YUN: Oh, yes. Absolutely. I think some degree, I think the reason why the vice president talked to Josh Rogin about this was because I think they got outmaneuvered quite a bit on the public relation side and he wanted to show some flexibility on the part of the United States which obviously has created some news. And if it's, in fact, true, I think it's a potential opening.

VAUSE: OK. Well, you know what, let's hope because clearly the way things have been is totally unsustainable. Phil, thank you so much for being with us. Appreciate it.

YUN: Sure.

SESAY: Well after the break, we'll go to Pyeongchang but this time it's for all the fun. Ahead, the latest athlete to win gold with a spectacular snowboard run.

VAUSE: And later this hour, the official portraits of Barrack and Michelle Obama have been unveiled but not without some controversy.


VAUSE: And on the fourth day of the Winter Games, it's all about the wind, the strong, gusty, bitterly cold, miserable, horrible, gale force wind.

SESAY: But those winds didn't stop Chloe Kim from winning the gold with a near perfect score and the women's snowboard halfpipe world sports. Amanda Davis is in Pyeongchang and joins us now with the latest where it is windy. I hope they tied you down Amanda.

AMANDA DAVIS: Oh my goodness. Yes. John made it sound really appealing sitting in the studio than me. No. We are pretty firmly bolted down.


The wind this morning definitely better than it was yesterday, the men's combined did get underway up in the Alpine Center as planned or be it with a slightly lower start to the downhill but there was no doubt it has been picking up again this afternoon. There was just a huge gust probably the biggest gust that we felt since we've been sitting here. And quite amusingly a little bit earlier on as I was bringing my lunch from our little kitchen to the studio, my sandwiches on a plate, my crisps or my chips actually blew off and I was left standing holding an empty plate.

But as you said, that didn't impact on 17-year-old Chloe Kim in the halfpipe. She has waited a very, very long time for this moment. She actually qualified for Sochi four years ago you might remember but then she wasn't old enough to compete. So there's been a lot of excitement about her performances. We have now seen a couple of times so far in this games where the favorites don't always prosper but she didn't let that affect her. She put in an absolutely sensational run to take gold.

There were huge celebrations from the U.S. fans, they're watching but also from the home support because Kim's parents are both originally from here in South Korea but from the highs to the lows of Olympic life on day four here in Pyeongchang. We've had our first failed drug test. It was announced this morning that the Japanese short track speed skater, Kei Saito has tested positive for a masking agent. He's being provisionally suspended from the games and have left the Olympic village. He failed an ounce of competition test before the game started, ahead of taking part in the 5,000-meter relay later on Tuesday.

And while the Japanese team have said they're going to do everything they can to prove the 21-year-old's innocence, he himself has released a statement that says, "I have not taken any drug-based on my own will. I have no merit and motivation for using this drug. I cannot think of any other case than I accidentally and unintentionally took it."

In terms of the action and where the medal table stand, it's Germany top of the tree, they've got four gold but the USA is two medals the snowboarding today, left them up to third behind the Netherlands who've been fantastic in the speed skating arena. Once again, there's still plenty of time for that to change though today. The second run of the men's combined, the slalom is underway, Marshal Harsh looking for his ever Olympic gold. And world record holder Shani Davis is in action in speed skating, 1,500 meters. Isha, back to you.

SESAY: Oh well, Amanda let me just say this, it may be cold but your fashion sense still looks great. So let's hold on to that. Good to see you friend, good to see you. All right. On the following --

VAUSE: She's inside, right? There's (INAUDIBLE), she's got like shorts on.

SESAY: She's on flip-flops.

VAUSE: Exactly. (INAUDIBLE) total scam.

SESAY: Total scam the way --

VAUSE: I lost my sandwich to the wind. OK.

SESAY: Also following the situation in Pyeongchang, another person is --

VAUSE: Another scam. Yes. SESAY: Another scammer. From our warm Atlanta Weather Center, Meteorologist Pedram Javahari, how is it doing in those balmy temperatures there?

VAUSE: Probably one of the new studio, I could tell you that much.

PEDRAM JAVAHARI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: I had a sneaky feeling, as soon as I heard scam and you're on your set there, I knew it was coming right to me with that same transition.

But let's talk about what's happening here because Amanda was talking about the bag of chips coming down, but tell you what, the weather pattern is shifting, the winds have been howling across this region. I think the chips are going to be OK over the next 24 hours because the last couple of weeks temps have been, of course, been about three and a half to five degrees below average across the Korean Peninsula.

There is a front coming in, milder temperatures trying to surge in from the South as well and I want to show you what the front has in- stored here because of some wintery weather still in-store as we head in over the next 24 hours. Temps as cold as 14 below 0, snow showers mixed in, some rain in the morning, transitions to snow by the afternoon, the winds are still there but as we go in from Thursday into Friday, a couple of days in a row with temps actually above the 0 degree mark there for a few days, that hasn't happened in a few days and we'll take that milder temperatures.

So anything that does fall really minimal, once again, there's the dry season, of course, about a couple of centimeters in-store across that region. Quickly, I want to touch on what's happening down across the South Pacific because we know places such as Tonga have been severely impacted by a tropical cyclone across this region. What is left of (INAUDIBLE) right now, still an impressive storm system going just south of Tonga in the past 24 hours?

We know 40 percent of the roofs across the islands, across this region have been damaged or destroyed as the storm system skirted just with south into the overnight hours of Sunday into Monday morning. We want to show you what is happening right now with what is essentially a menacing storm. Sitting there is an equivalent to a category four. In the last 60 years of satellite data we have accessed to, only three storms have come within such close proximity of this magnitude that's close to proximity of Tonga.


But a closer look, there is an island there, that's Ono-I-Lau, a Fujian Island there that's sitting there with a population of 600 people, it is really the only land mass directly impacted by the storm system but it is a menacing storm working as they cross that region. Beyond this, we look at the extended forecast, over open waters potentially, in the end, ends up somewhere around New Zealand as a remnant feature there. So a lot of rainfall still in-store for potentially a lot of people guys.


SESAY: We hope that they're OK. Pedram, we appreciate it.

VAUSE: Thank you. Yes. To go on Syria now, a CNN exclusive. Rebel- held Idlib Province has become a target of a renewed military offensive by the Assad Regime.

SESAY: CNN is the first international network to go inside Idlib since Syrian warplanes bombarded the area last week targeting markets, houses, and even hospitals. The bloodshed has turned Idlib into what some calls Syria's latest version of hell. Arwa Damon has this exclusive report from a hospital inside Idlib.


ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yasiv's tiny chest heaves with each breath. He was born during a week that even by Syria's ungodly standards was especially punishing. His mother Hanan's body still trembles and that's not because he was born prematurely, it's because the hospital he was at was bombed.

The footage from that night is a glimpsed into a magnitude of the horror, the fear. There were around 300 people, staff, patients in intensive care, and the most precious and (INAUDIBLE). This was one of the key remaining functioning hospitals in the area but nothing in Syria is sacred. This is where they have the incubators for the babies.

Hanan remembers just grabbing Yasiv's fragile body, wrapping it in whatever she could find and running through the chaos. In a span of just five days, six medical facilities in Idlib Province were targeted in airstrikes.

This is the lower level (INAUDIBLE) underground and this is where they used to do all of the main emergency surgeries and it's also where right now they're storing whatever equipment they've managed to salvage. Staff here want to remain anonymous, the small center in Saraqib has already been targeted twice this year.

That's what (INAUDIBLE) says, they announced online that they were closed and beginning operating in secret. Days before we arrived as doctors were treating the wounded from an airstrike in a market, the facility was hit again. The death from the market were outside, now buried not in graves but somewhere in the crater left behind. This is a population that feels like it's on borrowed time. Fayeed Hatab was in a makeshift underground bunker with neighbors when an alleged chlorine strike took place. He vomited, couldn't breathe and thought, "That's it, my number's up." Luckily, many of the women and children here had fled just days before. The cue toxic shells impacted near an empty field.

There's still a little bit of sort of an accurate stench. Yes, it's been six days. Two members of the civil defense team who responded were also affected. Rami remembers shaking uncontrollably, feeling like he was screaming, "Take off the mask" but no one could hear him. Mahamood's father was among those treated in the toxic attack only to be killed within days in a strike as he was loading grain nearby. His almost matter of fact and accepting Syria's inevitable faith, for those who refuse to leave their lands.

The war here have long been a science of methodical cruelty as the world looks on and Syria endorsed one of the bloodiest weeks of this conflict. Hannan watches her baby fight in one of the last remaining facilities where he even stands a chance. So what kind of a world are these babies fighting to live in?


Arwa Damon, CNN Idlib Province, Syria.



VAUSE: Well normally the unveiling of the official presidential likeness in the U.S. capitol would pass almost without notice but not this year with Barrack, Michelle Obama and the big reveal of their portrait of the Smithsonian National Gallery.

SESAY: They each selected their own artist, the former president chose Kehinde Wiley and Michelle Obama choose Amy Sherald. Both are African-Americans known for their unique styles.


BARRACK OBAMA, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Let's face it, Kehinde relative to Amy was working at a disadvantage because his subject was less becoming, not as fly. Michelle always used to joke, "I am not somebody who's a great subject. I don't like posing, I get impatient, I look at my watch, I think this must be done. One of those pictures must have worked, why is this taking so long?"


VAUSE: Wiley's famous painting is subject in the old -- or rather the old masters. In the past, he has painted rap stars like Salt-N-Pepa and musician Michael Jackson.

SESAY: You know who Salt-N-Pepa are?

VAUSE: No clue.

SESAY: I didn't think you did.

VAUSE: I know that Michael Jackson but he's dead. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles, I'm John Vause.

SESAY: And I'm Isha Sesay. We will be back with more news right after this.