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Russia Investigation; Violence Escalates in Two Regions of Syria; PyeongChang Olympics; White House: Russian Meddling Didn't Have an Impact; Apparent Smear Campaign Against Massacre Survivors; Rohingya Pressured to Return to Myanmar. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired February 21, 2018 - 01:00   ET




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

JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Ahead this hour, the U.S. president now says he never doubted Russia meddled in the 2016 election, despite a mountain of tweets, tapes and transcripts which prove just the opposite.

And now that he believes it's happened the president is blaming Barack Obama.

SESAY (voice-over): And days after a deadly school massacre many Florida students are taking their fight against guns to the state capital. But a far right smear campaign is dragging some of them through the mud along the way.

VAUSE (voice-over): The worst violence Syria has seen in years is now spiraling out of control with warnings the fighting could lead to the worst atrocities so far of the civil war.

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

VAUSE (voice-over): I'm John Vause, great to have you with us for the second hour of NEWSROOM L.A.


VAUSE: Well, now the White House and the president have no doubt, the Russians did it. But their election meddling, they say, just didn't make a difference.

SESAY: There was also a familiar refrain from press secretary Sarah Sanders, "No collusion."

So with this unprecedented attack on American democracy, reporters ask why President Trump has not called out Vladimir Putin, as he has so many others. And even more importantly, what's the president going to do about it?


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He has been tougher on Russia in the first year than Obama was in eight years combined. He's imposed sanctions. He's taken away properties, he's rebuilt their military, he has done a number of things to put pressure on Russia and to be tough on Russia.

Just last week there was an incident that will be reported in the coming days.


VAUSE: The mysterious incident. Joining us now, CNN political commentators Democratic strategist Dave Jacobson and Republican consultant John Thomas. Also with us, Ron Brownstein, CNN's senior political analyst and the senior editor for "The Atlantic."

OK. Let's fire up the fact check machine on that claim by Sarah Sanders. Here is Tom Foreman.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: President Obama was slow to acknowledge this before the election. He has been duly criticized for that.

However, after the election, he did expel 35 diplomats, he imposed sanctions on various Russian entities involved in this hacking and he closed two Russian compounds. By comparison, President Trump has been told over and over again by U.S. intelligence forces that the Russians did do this thing and yet he was very reluctant to admit all the way along.

He has not imposed sanctions against Russia approved by Congress and although the press office says that they have secured future elections against Russian meddling, we don't really know what that means.


VAUSE: Ron, I heard a hmm from you just before we went to Tom. So over to you.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, I'm just trying to imagine -- try to imagine the counterfactual, that President Obama comes out in September and says the Russian government is interfering in the election and trying to elect Donald Trump.

Try to imagine what Donald Trump would have said, try to imagine what Sean Hannity would have said, try to imagine what Rush Limbaugh would have said. And you don't even have to imagine.

Think about what Mitch McConnell did say when the leaders of the intelligence community went up to the Congress in September of 2016 and said, we need a joint statement from the political leadership of the U.S., sending a very clear shot across the bow to Russia to knock this off.

And Mitch McConnell refused to do that and indicated if the administration went out in a public way, he would view it and portray it as an attempt to influence a -- partisan attempt to influence the election.

So, yes, President Obama did not do as much, I think, in retrospect, everyone agrees, as needed to be done to send the signal. But he did, after the election, you know, lay down some markers.

And we have this just incredible 13-15 month period since the election where Donald Trump has both refused to acknowledge what happened, unless his arm is being absolutely twisted.

And more importantly, has refused to separate his personal interests from the national interests in establishing a clear response to this ongoing danger from Russian interference.

VAUSE: John, to Ron's point, the president has denied, denied, denied and now there's this admission that it happened. This seems as if the White House has now painted itself into a corner on this whole issue of Russian election --


VAUSE: -- meddling.

JOHN THOMAS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think they have but it's also been conflated by the media, that the Russian meddling was also collusion with the Trump campaign. And I think the Trump campaign was trying to be very clear that the Russia hoax was simply that the Trump campaign had nothing to do --

VAUSE: Do I need to play the videotape again?

THOMAS: -- but I'm saying I think -- while certainly the Trump administration has not been consistent on their messaging on this, I do think the larger thing, they've been trying to combat is public perception that collusion between the campaign and the Russians is what this was about because let's not forget that that was what the Democrats were squawking about for six months after the election, that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians.

Not so much that the Russians were just meddling in the Trump campaign and had nothing to do with it.

DAVE JACOBSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But there no evidence to prove that. Bob Mueller is still investigating.

THOMPSON: You're right. There is no evidence of collusion.

VAUSE: There is evidence of collusion. We know that Donald Trump Jr. has admitted to meeting with Russians in Trump Tower before Election Day. They emailed him, saying, do you want dirt on Hillary Clinton?

And he says I love it. Now whether or not that was a criminal conspiracy or whether it's collusion, it was definitely collusion, the criminal conspiracy part is what Mueller is looking into and that's what this is investigation is all about.

THOMAS: By that same standard, Hillary Clinton colluded with the Russian dossier.


So both sides colluded.


VAUSE: There's an investigation underway right now. So we don't know whether there was a conspiracy here.

Because the conspiracy is the crime, right, Dave?

JACOBSON: Right. And the other issue that we're not talking about yet is the DNC hacking or the Podesta hacking, which is a whole other element that nothing to do with the 13 folks that were charged by Bob Mueller last week.

I think largely, this is why the American people overwhelmingly believe that not enough is being done to tackle this issue. In fact, NBC put out a poll last week that said 55 percent of Americans believe that the federal government isn't doing enough to prevent interference in future elections. That's a staggering number.

VAUSE: And, Ron, to you, this seems to be part of this one-sided competition that President Trump has with Barack Obama. And it's not just on the issue of, you know, Russian -- and whether he's tougher on Russia than Barack Obama was.

BROWNSTEIN: Well, look, first of all, the first -- until the tax bill and really except for the tax bill, the domestic agenda and much of the foreign agenda of the Trump administration has been undoing things that Barack Obama did. I mean from the climate regulations to, of course, the epic white whale level struggle to repeal the Affordable Care Act, to all sorts of consumer finance regulations and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, I mean this -- the undoing project is central to it.

But I think there is also this -- beyond the kind of any policy arguments that President Trump has, there is always this personal dimension on every front.

And here, clearly, there is this, you know, this kind of projection, almost, where he says, no, no, no, it's not me, it's him, you know. And so we are seeing that on Russia.

But, no, I don't think there's anyone out there who can plausibly argue, whatever you think about the way Barack Obama dealt with Russia, that Donald Trump has been tough in any way on Russia since he has taken office.

VAUSE: Yes. And John, if Donald Trump has been so tough on Russia, tougher than

Barack Obama, then why has he let that sanctions bill, which was overwhelmingly passed by Congress, to punish Russia for election meddling, why was that left to lapse?

Why didn't he sign it into law?

THOMAS: I don't think he has been on terms of election meddling and I'm looking forward to the administration's plan of how they're going to push back against Russia on this capacity. You're right, he hasn't been.

JACOBSON: I think Republicans in Congress have to hold Donald Trump's feet to the fire, particularly with the indictments that came out last week. They have to make sure that the administration advances this.

This is common sense stuff. This is -- people complain that Washington doesn't get anything done. This was passed overwhelmingly on a bipartisan level, number one.

Number two, Donald Trump still, to this day, John, has not criticized Vladimir Putin by name once since the campaign, since he became president.

VAUSE: Funny you should mention that because, up until this point, Putin and Trump, or at least from Trump's point of view, have had a very special relationship. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If Putin likes Donald Trump, I consider that an asset, not a liability. Because we have a horrible relationship with Russia.

And I've always had a good instinct about Putin.

I think I get along very well with Vladimir Putin, I just think so.

I'm saying that I think I possibly have a good relationship. I don't know. I think he's said some really nice things. He called me a genius.


VAUSE: Ron, now that Trump is no longer calling Russian election interference a hoax, does that mean the bromance is over?

Should Donald Trump look to Emmanuel Macron or France maybe to be his BFF?

BROWNSTEIN: I don't think so. I don't feel like we've seen the last iteration of the way Donald Trump talks about Russian interference in the election. The evidence is overwhelming from the past several years that he may tactically retreat on this question.

But his underlying refusal to acknowledge the core reality of Russian meddling in the election, which shadows, I think, which explains a lot of the inability of the government --


BROWNSTEIN: -- to mobilize, to deal with it, I think that is always there.

And I don't think it is going to go away. And I don't think he is going to be talking about Vladimir Putin in a fundamentally different way. And it just constantly raises the question of why.

And, you know, the one thing I feel that I've learned the most from this Bob Mueller investigation is that he knows a lot that we don't know.

VAUSE: He knows a lot.

BROWNSTEIN: And that his capacity to surprise the entire political world has really been unparalleled in an era of such pervasive media, each step in the investigation, the depth of the information, the targets of the investigation have been a surprise.

So I think we all have to take a deep breath. This isn't a baseball game where we can kind of analyze it pitch by pitch, the big things that are happening, we don't know and we will see, as the results of the investigation unspool over the coming months.

VAUSE: Very quickly onto gun control, because a week, Wednesday, was the shooting in Florida, the school shooting.

The president tweeted this out on Tuesday, "Whether we are Republican or Democrat we must now focus on strengthening background checks." He also talked about regulations to ban bump stocks. But that isn't going to happen because they've looked at that. They've gone down that route before. They need a law to pass through Congress.

But, John, could this be, you know, a Nixon goes to China moment for Donald Trump when it comes to gun reform?

THOMAS: Trump is uniquely qualified to get action on this issue, more so than I think any other Democrat because Second Amendment supporters instinctually distrust Democrats on this issue. So we might get movement. I'm not holding my breath for any legislative action.

But I think, nonetheless, even for the president to tweet this, do you understand how much pushback he's probably already received, both financially and just, like, phone calls?

It takes guts even to make that statement.

VAUSE: OK. We are almost out of time. So I want to finish up with another woman who's come forward to accuse Donald Trump of sexual misbehavior, kissing her without her consent, this happened in Trump Tower a few years ago, before he was president.

On Twitter, Donald Trump denied it ever happened. Said it was fake news. Rachel Crooks, the woman in question, had this reaction on CNN a few hours ago.


RACHEL CROOKS, TRUMP ACCUSER: I would think, as our president, he would have more important things to do than to tweet at me and try to discredit my story. I know what's true. He knows what's true. And I think he should be afraid of that.


VAUSE: And Dave, to the first part of what Ms. Crooks said there, you'd think he'd have better things to do.

I mean, when you look at the choices of the subjects on which he tweets, you know, this seems to be one of the less important ones, out of everything that's happening right now, to have the president's attention.

JACOBSON: Yes, precisely. I mean, two things. One, it's another question of, like, do you believe the woman?


And we've seen the #MeToo movement has taken down U.S. senators, candidates for Congress and tycoons in business, number one.

Number two, yes, absolutely, he needs to protect our country. He needs to advance background checks. He's actually not doing his job. We're getting reports that he's watching cable news all day instead of acting like commander in chief. And that's a problem for our country.

VAUSE: Yes, OK, we will leave it on that note. So Dave and John and Ron, great to have you with us, Dave and John and especially Ron Brownstein as well. So thank you all.


THOMAS: Thanks.

SESAY: Well, the latest relentless violence in Syria has shocked veteran observers of the country's brutal civil war and left human rights groups speechless. Activists say at least 250 civilians have been killed in the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta in the past 48 hours.

The Damascus suburb is supposed to be covered by a Russian-brokered cease-fire plan and the fighting is intensifying in Syria's northwestern Afrin region. Kurdish fighters are trying to fend off a Turkish assault and those pro-Syrian forces entering the battle.

Joining us now, CNN military analyst, Lt. Col. Rick Francona in La Quinta, California.

And UNICEF's regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, Geert Cappelaere from Amman, Jordan.

Thank you so much for joining us.

Rick, to start with you, the bloodshed in Syria has sadly become a fact of daily life. And as we know, Eastern Ghouta has long been under siege. But what we're seeing now, this intensity or the bombardment of this area, begs the question of whether we're witnessing a new phase in this war.

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Oh, we are. And this comes from the territorial defeat of ISIS in Syria. The Syrians put a lot of effort into the defeat of ISIS, especially out in the eastern part of Syria, the west side of the Euphrates River.

All of those resources now have been freed up. And they're being moved back to the East Ghouta area. That's where the next area of focus for the Syrian military. The Syrian regime has wanted to clean out that area in the East Ghouta. It's been a thorn in their side.

So with massive Russian air power, a lot of artillery and they're bringing in this very elite Syrian force called the Tiger Forces under a very well-known and kind of a charismatic Syrian leader, his name is Col. Suheil al-Hassan. And he's very well respected and he will get the job done.


FRANCONA: So you can see the intensity is being turned up and this a brutal Syrian commander, very feared. So we're going to see the bloodshed increase and I think civilian casualties are going to skyrocket, even more than we've seen in the past few days.

SESAY: With that, let me turn to Geert.

Geert, UNICEF put out a statement on Tuesday, which was essentially one sentence.

"No words will do justice to the children killed, their mothers, their fathers and their loved ones."

It is a deliberate move on the part of your agency to basically say there are no words. But I'm going to ask you what the children are facing in Eastern Ghouta.

GEERT CAPPELAERE, UNICEF: Well, from the children's perspective, to be very frank, there is no new phase. There is nothing new with what we see happening over the last few days in Eastern Ghouta.

Children for the last seven years have been suffering dramatically the impact of a brutal war, a brutal war not of their making. Yesterday and dozens of children killed in East Ghouta, several children killed in Damascus.

We have been making over the last seven years, statement after statement, expressing our sadness, expressing our dismay, calling on parties yesterday. We truly ran out of words.

And we have only one question and the question is, to those responsible for the war in Syria, do you still have the words to explain these barbaric acts, from which children are suffering?

SESAY: It's appalling and hard to fully communicate to our viewers just how awful things are.

Rick, let me bring you in here. You heard what Geert said. Effectively, bodies like UNICEF, agencies like his own just don't have the words for what's happening. They're posing the question as to whether the parties responsible can justify what they're doing.

But let's face it. As far as Assad is concerned, you know, this is his war for the winning and he is emboldened, you know, with Russia at his back.

FRANCONA: With the Iranian and Russian support he knows he has got the upper hand and he's the capital. He's capitalizing on it. He has directed his forces to close out that pocket in East Ghouta and they're going to do it. And I agree with everything Geert has said but it's going to get worse because this new commander and this new push, there's no room for compromise anymore.

In the past, we saw these pockets being surrounded, put under siege, bombarded and then they were allowed to surrender and leave.

And where did they go?

They bused them all off to Idlib. Those days are over. They're going to reduce that pocket to rubble. And then they're going to move on to the other pockets. The Syrians sense victory. And as long as they've got that Russian umbrella over their head, there's no reason they're not going to achieve it.

SESAY: Geert, at the end of the UNICEF statement, you say we no longer have the words to describe children's suffering and the outrage. Obviously, there's anger directed at the Syrian regime, the perpetrators of this violence.

But surely the international community is also fully deserving of being a target of outrage also.

CAPPELAERE: Well, there's anger directed to all parties who are responsible for the conflict in Syria. And there is outrage also for the -- an international community, anyone with an influence over any of these parties, having not been able to today to move even an inch the protection of children at the core of their actions.

It is only a military logic. It's a political logic and, unfortunately, a logic that makes children day after day suffering. Today close to 3 million Syrian children have no longer a chance to go on a daily basis to school.

What kind of Syria are we looking at if one of Syria's biggest assets, its children, are not getting the opportunity to try if we don't -- if we are not able to protect these millions of children?

SESAY: Agreed. I couldn't agree with you more, Geert, on what kind of world is this. Rick, as we talk about the -- what's at stake here, the children, as

you talk about lives lost and futures decimated, I mean, you've made the point that this is going to get done. This is past the point of no return and yet the rebels continue to resist.

FRANCONA: Yes, but they're facing overwhelming firepower, they're facing a defeat. There is no way they're going to hold out in that Ghouta pocket, especially with the resources that the Syrians have allocated, that they've been able to pull off of the ISIS front. And now this is their primary focus.


FRANCONA: And we see the Syrians have learned, over the last few years, how this works. And they'll get it done. And then we talk about how -- what about the children and what about the people?

What about the rebels?

The Syrian government doesn't care. They're fed up with this. They just want it to be over. And I really don't see any humanitarian way out of this.

It would be great if we could get everybody to stop and evacuate these children. But we've seen no indication on the part of the Syrian government to make any kind of deal right now, because they know that they have the upper hand.

SESAY: I'm almost out of time but, Geert, I want to give the last word to you.

Given the bleak situation that Rick has spelled out for us and you know it all too well, what, if any, aid, humanitarian aid, is getting through to these kids, to their families on the ground there in Eastern Ghouta?

CAPPELAERE: Well, very important for everyone to know when, particularly, the children in Syria, the children in places like Eastern Ghouta, that UNICEF is not going to give up. We going to try and continue fighting for the interests of children.

Today, still over 100,000 children are living in Eastern Ghouta. Over the last few months, we've seen the levels of acute malnutrition multiplied by 10.

We will continue to be their voice and we will fight until the international community, until all the parties, will realize what kind of an incredible damage they are causing on what again Syria's biggest assets are.

SESAY: Yes. It is distressing. It is indeed very distressing but we are so grateful that you could both join us tonight to give us some important insight and perspective.

Rick Francona and Geert Cappelaere, we very much appreciate it. Thank you very much. FRANCONA: Thank you so much.

VAUSE: Well, next here on NEWSROOM L.A., one of America's most famous Olympians, Lindsey Vonn, makes a farewell to the downhill in what's likely to be her last ever Winter Games. And for one last time, she wins a place on the podium.




VAUSE: It's gold, gold, gold, (INAUDIBLE) for Italy. The women's downhill at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

SESAY: It's very exciting.

VAUSE: Oh, yes.

SESAY: Sofia Goggia claimed the top spot --

VAUSE: Well done.

SESAY: -- yes -- Norway's Ragnhild Mowinckel --



VAUSE: And it's bronze for America's Lindsey Vonn.

I got it right.

She had hoped for gold naturally but she's 33. Apparently that's old in this event. She (INAUDIBLE) oldest woman to earn an Olympics alpine medal. Amanda Davies joins us now from PyeongChang.

Very emotional --


VAUSE: -- a lot of this is very emotional. And clearly, everybody was hoping that Vonn would get the gold but not to be.

AMANDA DAVIES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Not to be. Welcome to my daily Olympic name issue, by the way.

It is -- it's a whole -- yes, a whole discipline in itself. But, yes. Up in the mountains, the emotions were really running high. They're pretty raw on Lindsey Vonn, the greatest female alpine skier of all time, ran her last Olympic downhill race.

It wasn't the golden goodbye that the American and her fans were hoping for. There was a massive contingent of Italians flags, with their flags flying high and Italy's Sofia Goggia, who leads the World Cup downhill standings, went out early.

She clocked a time of 1:39:22 to take the lead. Vonn went out a few runs later amid huge anticipation, looking to reclaim the gold. She'd been unable to defend in Sochi because of injury. I was actually stirred some of the U.S. Olympic Committee contingent.

They were pretty positive as she left the gate. But you saw from pretty early on she was always behind the split times of Goggia. And then there was an obviously muted kind of reception as she put herself in silver medal position.

Ultimately, Vonn took bronze behind Norway's Mowinckel. And at 33, becomes the oldest woman to earn an Olympic medal in alpine skating.

The Canadian ice dance pair of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir won gold in style down at the ice arena yesterday. Four years ago, they called it a day after failing to defend their gold in Sochi. But after two years away they made a spectacular comeback. And boy, did it prove worthwhile. They set a new world record en route to their record fifth Olympic medal. And they came to see me right here in the studio last night.


SCOTT MOIR, ICE DANCE GOLD MEDALIST: You get it from 20 years of a fantastic business relationship. We've been through so much together. We've grown up together.

Sometimes when we look back at the support and how our parents let us leave home, we kind of think that they're crazy but we're lucky that we've had the support of them. But we needed each other along the way. And it is a unique relationship. We're not quite sure how to describe it but we're sure thankful to have it.


DAVIES: The Internet have been trying to describe it as a really kind of -- they've broken the Internet with people talking about their relationship. But there has been a brilliant ding-dong going on, on the ice this morning as well.

We were expecting a classic head-to-head between training partners, Evgenia Medvedeva and Alina Zagitova in the women's figure skating. They're both competing as Olympic athletes from Russia. They have dominated the sport in recent years and they have not held back.

They have traded world-record setting performances. Medvedeva went first; the elder of the two, the two-time world champion described as one commentator this morning as part ballerina and part butterfly. She set a record of 81.61 in her short program.

But then Zagitova took to the ice and the 15-year old pulled off a shock victory over her teammate, claiming European gold last month. And less than 20 minutes after the new record had been set, she went on and rewrote it with a score of 82.92 to take the lead heading into Friday's free skate. It's set up to be an absolute cracker, that one. VAUSE: We've got Ding Dongs and crackers all happening there at PyeongChang.

SESAY: A lot to eat.


SESAY: They're all edible.


SESAY: Amana, thank you for that.


VAUSE: 'Bye.

SESAY: Well, I think she's tired of us.



Quick break. It's been less than a week since the school massacre in Florida. And now we're learning about an apparent smear campaign against some of the survivors. Details next.



VAUSE: And welcome back everybody. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles, I'm John Vause.

SESAY: And I'm Isha Sesay, the headlines this hour. The White House says it's clear Russia meddled in the U.S. elections, they just didn't have any impact.

Press Secretary Sarah Sanders says it's also clear Trump campaign did not collude with Russia in any way. She claims Mr. Trump has been tougher on Russia than its predecessor, Barrack Obama.

VAUSE: (INAUDIBLE) Alex van der Zwaan has pleaded guilty to lying to investigators in the Russia probe, that is Zwaan amid covering up discussions with former Trump campaign aide, Ricky Gates in 2016. He also said he lied about e-mails involving former Trump campaign manager, Paul Manafort.

SESAY: U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to meet with North Korean officials while he was in South Korea attending the Olympics. But the North Koreans canceled the meeting, that's according to the vice president's office.

Pence and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's sister sat close to each other at the opening ceremony but never spoke to one another. VAUSE: Syrian Regime shelling an airstrikes near the capital of Damascus. Have killed at least 250 people in the past 48 hours. What human rights group says more than 1,200 people have been wounded. Presidents believe a ground invasion by a regime forces may be imminent.

In less than a week, the students of Stoneman Douglas High in Florida have become the leading voice of gun reform in the U.S., they've been articulate and passionate, and their moral outrage over guns and gun laws seems to be gaining some traction. Perhaps it's no surprise then there now appears to be a far right smear campaign targeting some of the more prominent students who started their "Never Again Movement."

Here's a headline from the "Gateway Pundit", the far right Pro-Trump website, "School shootings survivor turned activist David Hogg's father in FBI, appears to have been coached on Anti-Trump lines." The story strongly insinuates that David is being used by his father to take the heat off the FBI.

Here's part of the report, "Immediately, these students turned activists threw up some red flags and what was initially seen as an incredibly odd move for a high school student, Hogg vehemently defended the FBI and placed the blame squarely on the president's shoulders before admitting that his father was in the FBI."

The right have then uses a quote from David's appearance on CNN, "I think it's disgusting personally. My father is a retired FBI agent and the FBI, some of the hardest working individuals I have ever seen in my life" proclaimed David Hogg to CNN.

OK, so here is David on CNN's NEW DAY and unlike the "Gateway Pundit" we'll include the question.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What did you both think about the president tweeting over the weekend" "Very sad that the FBI missed all the signs signaled sent out by the Florida school shooter, this is not acceptable. They're spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign, there is no collusion. Get back to basics and make us all proud."

DAVID HOGG, FLORIDA SHOOTING SURVIVOR: Yes. I think it's disgusting personally. My father is a retired FBI agent and the FBI are some of the hardest working individuals I have ever seen in my life.


VAUSE: There are other examples where facts have been twisted or hyped beyond context. Now the story has been picked up by other right-wing outlets like "One America News," the small Pro-Trump cable channel based San Diego.

Here's a tweet from one of their anchors, it seems to have been deleted but here's what it says, "Could it be that this student is running cover for his dad who works as an FBI agent at the Miami field office which botched tracking down the man behind the Valentine Day massacre. Just wondering, just connecting some dots."

Well for more on the art of the smear, Judd Legum is with us now from Washington, he's a reporter with "ThinkProgress" a liberal-leading news website. Judd, thanks for coming in. You've taken a closer look at what the right-wing blogs and the conspiracy websites have been doing, so when do they actually start these attacks on the kids who survived the school shooting?

JUDD LEGUM, REPORTER, THINKPROGRESS: Well, I first saw this really emerge on Monday night, Monday -- late Monday afternoon.


And the "Gateway Pundit" is a pretty obscure right-wing blog but it's also highly influential in right-wing circles. It was on the "Gateway Pundit" in the evening, by the morning Donald Trump, Jr., the president's son had liked several tweets that were carried in the "Gateway Pundit" and linked in to the "Gateway Pundit's" reporting, I guess, such as it is.

And we know that Donald Trump, Jr. has been talking according to the -- at least some reporting in the daily beast has been talking to his father. So these things, though they seem wild, they seem outlandish, the idea that this 17-year-old who just lost 17 people in a high school, in a mass shooting was -- is really a stooge for the FBI, it's kind of a crazy story. But these kind of narratives have the potential of becoming very influential overtime and I think we've seen it spread very considerably since Monday night.

VAUSE: And some of the examples that they've used, just to make any sense, they put a video on their website which they say proved that David was being coached by someone, he couldn't remember his lines.

It's been removed by YouTube because it violated their policy on bullying. But in that video, you see David, he's stammering, he's struggling to find the right words. I guess it's possible he's being coached but it seems far more likely he's a kid who's emotional and really struggling after come to a school shooting where his classmates were killed.

LEGUM: Yes. I think there's just a lot of bad faith in this and this has been extended beyond -- far beyond that now on the "Gateway Pundit" and elsewhere alleging that David Hogg and others are actually paid actors and stooges of George Soros.

So you -- it starts maybe where you say, "Oh, there's this video, it does seem a little weird but what they're doing is taking every scrap of evidence and formatted into a narrative and I don't think it's so much that they accept -- expect people to accept this narrative widely but aspects of it, this general notion that we should reject what they're saying that they are puppets for someone else is something that's being absorbed and that is going to be more prominent in right- wing narrative.

So even if you watch -- before I came on here, I was watching some of the "Fox News" in the evening and you see little bits and pieces of it kind of show up elsewhere in more mainstream sources.

VAUSE: Yes. Maybe not the whole conspiracy theory, but just little parts of it which some of it is insidious in a way. And not just David, you mentioned this, he's not just the only victim here. Here's another story which is also in the "Gateway Pundit."

"Shocking photos posted to Twitter of a "CBS News" reporter and students who survived last Wednesday's high school massacre in Parkland, Florida that killed 17 students and faculty, show the reporter and students laughing uproariously and posing for the photos like they are partying like rock stars." OK, and here is one of those shocking photos they referred to, the only thing true it seems is the fact that there is a photo taken with the "CBS News" reporter.

But, again, do the people who read this and the people who want to believe this, do they take a -- obviously they take (INAUDIBLE) any of this stuff, they just read the headline.

LEGUM: Yes. And I think it's less about it being true and less about it being believable, and more about establishing a counter narrative. And I think a lot of this popped up because what these students are doing is really incredibly powerful.

I mean, you saw the president today announcing that he had sent a memo to the Attorney General to take some actions on bump stocks which weren't really an issue in the most recent shooting but it had been an issue in the Las Vegas shooting and I think him doing that shows that people feel that the politics are changing.

And I think these students are behind a lot of it and its just about, "Hey, we can help establish something else to talk about and trying some things out." So that's what you see with something like this photo, it's hard to believe anyone's really going to take it too seriously but you try some things out, you see what sticks, and some of it will start to bubble up.

VAUSE: OK, I get the idea behind it. All about creating doubt and muddying the waters but what sort of person be -- what -- where's the decency here -- what sort of person can do this to a group of kids who have been through what they've been through? Because this has an impact on these kids, it doesn't happen in a vacuum.


LEGUM: It does. It's hard to really fathom what someone could be thinking to want to do this. I think the most charitable thing is to believe that they really aren't thinking about it. But I do think that really over the last couple of years we have seen a really vicious environment online that really knows no bounds, that has no sense of decency or for pride -- or propriety and nothing's off limits. But I think what we've learned is that ignoring them doesn't work either. So if you ignore --

VAUSE: Sorry, I was just going to say, if you ignore them they do not go away which is one of the reasons why we decided to do this, to publicize it. LEGUM: Yes, very true.

VAUSE: Yes. Judd, thanks so much. And we really appreciate you being with us.

LEGUM: Thanks for having me.

VAUSE: And don't miss CNN's town hall where students, parents, and others impacted by the shooting in Florida. We'll speak out, stand up for the students of Stoneman Douglas demand action. It is live on Thursday at 10:00 in the morning Hong Kong time, 2:00a.m. in London at 9:00, Wednesday evening in New York.

SESAY: Well, stranded in no man's land, more Rohingya hint of refugees are being pressured to go back to the state that almost killed them.


SESAY: Well Myanmar and Bangladesh have agreed to send back about 6,000 Rohingya refugees stranded on a strip of unclaimed land between both countries, that's according to an official with the government in Bangladesh.

Rohingya escaped what the U.N. calls ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. The refugees say they will not go back to Myanmar unless the security is guaranteed. Separately, both countries are working to repatriate hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who made it to Bangladesh. Meanwhile, the U.N. Special Envoy for Myanmar says the country civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi should be held accountable.


YANGHEE LEE, U.N. SPECIAL ENVOY TO HUMAN RIGHTS IN MYANMAR: She was never a goddess of human rights, that's what happened. She was a politician and she is a politician.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think Aung San Suu Kyi should be held accountable for what is happening to the Rohingya?

LEE: She can't be not accountable, complicity is also part of accountability.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What hope of seeing Aung San Suu Kyi held accountable in her lifetime?

LEE: Well, very small but it's better than not having the truth come out and not having justice.


SESAY: Well, joining us now from London, Azeem Ibrahim is a research professor with the U.S. Army War College and Zani is a fellow with the Cambodia Genocide Documentation Center. Gentlemen, welcome to you both. Azeem, let me start with you in reference to the comments made there by Yang Lee, the repertoire from Myanmar, from the United Nations she says that Aung San Suu Kyi should be held accountable but she also says that the changes are very slim that that will happen.


Where do you stand on that issue? Do you think that's likely that Aung San Suu Kyi would be hold in front of the ICC?

AZEEM IBRAHIM, PROFESSOR, STRATEGIG STUDIES OF U.S. ARMY WAR COLLEGE: Well at the current moment, it seems highly unlikely that that would transpire but we have to understand why we're actually in this crisis and why the international community has been completely benign responding to it.

I believe that's because we have far too much currency into Aung San Suu Kyi and her fragile democracy to actually take any action. There's a mess that's been perpetuated by her supporters that if we put too much pressure on Myanmar to take action in this crisis, there might be a military coup and the military might take power again and this is obviously something that nobody desires.

I believe that's a myth because the military is actually now in a very good situation. They have the holy grail of politics which is power without any accountability while Aung San Suu Kyi, the democratic leader has no hue for the military defending the military action and a lightning rod for all the international criticism. So here's -- and I agree with Professor Yanghee Lee, the U.N. Special Envoy is that she is complicit indirectly.

SESAY: Zani, how do you see it? You heard Azeem say that she is complicit if only indirectly. To you, is it a tenuous link between Aung San Suu Kyi and what's playing out in Myanmar and what has led to the fleeing of hundreds of thousands of people or is this a direct action on the part of Aung San Suu Kyi?

ZANI, FELLOW, CAMBODIA GENOCIDE DOCUMENTATION CENTER: Well it's a direct link, it is not a 10-year sworn. As early as the fall of 2016, the chief prosecutor in the case of (INAUDIBLE) and deputy prosecutor for the Yugoslavia Tribunal that far in Bosnia genocide.

Establish the genocide of Bosnia said in writing that Aung San Suu Kyi can be held accountable for her capability. I think the issue as Azeem pointed out is correct that the chances of Aung San Suu Kyi standing alongside the Burmese generals at ICC in the hay is very, very slim, if not, impossible. But what is more important is now. We don't need to wait for the justice to prevail, until the ICC is set up if ever.

The western policies and U.N. policies need to be delinked from Aung San Suu Kyi if Aung San Suu Kyi is no longer a force for good, why is the west, is the entire United Nations including UNDP and others linking their policies to Aung San Suu Kyi? Obviously she is a potential criminal at ICC and on second -- secondly, I think we need to think of long-term viable solution. Rohingya cannot simply be repatriated under the rubric of voluntary save and dignified, that has become a mantra from the mantra of all the politicians and policy makers in the west.

SESAY: And --

ZANI: The Burmese -- the Burmese military and the society have categorically rejected Rohingya for the last 40 years. They cannot go back, there is nothing to go back to. They need a new homeland.

SESAY: So let me ask -- so that very point, let me put that to -- Azeem, that very point of we keep hearing individuals from the United Nations and the International Committee say, "We want the returns to be safe and voluntary."

I mean, it is a mockery when you bear in mind that the system in place, one has been described a basically apartheid in Myanmar against the Rohingya is still very much intact. Why they would expect anyone to want to go back under the circumstances seems -- is mindboggling? I guess my question is, as they know that, as these international actors know the conditions on the ground, why did they continue to say that?

IBRAHIM: Well you have to understand the situation, there's almost one million refugees now in Bangladesh which is one of the most overpopulated and the poorest countries in the world. Bangladesh is very keen on repatriating the Rohingya as soon as possible.

Now the difficult here is that the Rohingya have actually nothing to go back to. Their villages have been burnt, the land has been seized and has already been redistributed and has already been harvested by the local -- to them, it was distributed. The Rohingya have nothing to actually go back to and the criteria that's been created to allow the Rohingya to go back has -- is impossible to meet being designed specifically to ensure that as little as possible of them will go back.


I anticipate that Myanmar is entering into this agreement as they have done numerous times in the past is simply a mechanism to (INAUDIBLE) until international attention moves on to the next crisis and those people become a permanent fixture within Bangladesh. This has happened before, it happened in 1992, 1993, 2012, 2013, and 2016.

I don't believe Myanmar is an honest broker in this agreement, I don't believe that their interest in taking the Rohingya back. They have spent half a century trying to get rid of them in the first place and they are hardly likely to take them back so easily.

SESAY: Zani, I know that one advocate for the Rohingya has said that what they need is a U.N. protected area that they call their own. Do you think that that is the only answer to a safe and peaceful existence of the Rohingya community?

ZANI: Yes, I think that's the only answer because I came from an extended military family and I know the intention of the Burmese's leadership and also the thoroughly brainwashed Anti-Rohingya Burmese society, there is absolutely nothing for the Rohingya to go back to.

But they have -- they came from their ancestral piece of land that they call their home, not in our country. We are not looking at Israel situation where re-existing population was displaced to create home for the survivors of the holocaust. We are looking at a situation where there is already a stretch of land that belong to the Rohingya at the length of 100 kilometer and longer.

And those places have been turned into like charred villages and even the villages of -- the village -- the remnants of the charred villages are being bulldozed by the government to create the special economic zone. So I think the only viable solution is that if Bangladesh cannot afford to keep one million Rohingyas there and that there's another half a million trapped inside Burma, they need to be given a U.N. protected region where they can call their own home just like everybody.

We have a situation, a population of over one million who do not have a piece of earth where they can feel safe, they can raise their children, they can have their families. We need an international conference to basically establishes region.

SESAY: So Azeem, we're also out of time. I know that one point that has made by Zani in the past is that we need a coalition of the seriously concerned to take up this issue of the Rohingya and what has happened to them.

It is hard to see how that will emerge when we are seeing this wide gap in rhetoric between western powers. President Macron of France (INAUDIBLE) calling this a genocide where as the U.S. Secretary of State says it's ethnic cleansing. Boris Johnson of the U.K. says it's industrial skill ethnic cleansing. I mean, help us understand the fractures that exists in any kind of international coalition and specifically why they're giving the term genocide such wide birth but France is willing to go that far.

IBRAHIM: Yes. And I believe as a genocide, and that's the title of my book, "Rohingya's Inside Myanmar's Head at Genocide" has not been classified as a genocide because once it's classified as a genocide by the United Nations, it automatically triggers R2P which means that the responsibility to protect, which means the (INAUDIBLE) resolution has not been good for intervention.

To the international community who do everything possible to ensure that it's not classified as an official genocide, an interview you played earlier by Dr. Yanghee Lee, the U.N. Human Rights Special Envoy, she actually states that this bears all the hallmarks of a genocide which is diplomatic speak that goes far as one can possibly go. So here's no critical appetite to classify the genocide because there's no appetite for intervention.

ZARIN: Azeem, sorry to interrupt. I think it doesn't have to be classified as genocide. R2P -- under the R2P principle, ethnic cleansing, the crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide. So there are four conditions and Burma needs at least like three -- already two conditions ethnic cleansing according to the U.N. highest official and crimes against humanity, again, by the U.N.

So I think this is -- this all puts your footing around genocide, just doesn't carry water and I think --

IBRAHIM: Absolutely.

ZARIN: This is the case where intervention clearly --

SESAY: And gentlemen -- and I'm sorry to have -- to jump in because we are almost out of time, it is a good point to end it on though, you both agreeing that what is happening on the ground is atrocious and Azeem you said genocide and Zani, I know that you agree.


We are going to get you back to keep this conversation going because it's an important one. Azeem Ibrahim, thank you. Zani, thank you as always and we will get you back.

VAUSE: OK. And with that, we'll take a short break. We'll be back right after this.


VAUSE: Donald Trump's eldest son, that would be Donald Trump, Jr. has kicked off his trip to India, he's meeting with developers of several Trump branded towers in New Delhi. He's also expected to dine with investors and partnered (INAUDIBLE) that would be a junior name perhaps. It's raising ethical concerns of possibly buying access to the Trump White House.

SESAY: Well the U.S. president's son is also planning to give a talk on Indo-Pacific relations alongside Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But Trump, Jr. dodged the question about the controversy.


NIKHIL KUMAR, CNN NEW DEHLI BUREAU CHIEF: Mr. Trump, Nikhil from CNN, are you concerned about conflicts of interest with your father's position?


SESAY: Well the top executive of the Trump organization is calling suggestions that Donald Trump, Jr. is profiting from his father's presidency as "nonsense."

VAUSE: Nonsense.

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

VAUSE: I'm John Vause. We'll be back with more news after a short break.