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War in Syria Killed More Civilians; Mueller Got Another Guilty Plea for the Russia Probe; Pence and Kim Jong-un's sister Snub Each Other; White House Claims Trump is Tougher on Russia; Rights Group 250 People Killed in Syrian Eastern Ghouta; Attorney Plead Guilty To Lying In Russia Probe; Students Pushing For Changes In Gun Laws; Tricked By Russian Trolls; Game Creators, Stopping Fake News Requires Practice. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired February 21, 2018 - 03:00   ET



[03:00:00] ROSEMARY CHURCH, HOST, CNN: The horrors of eastern Ghouta. We are witnessing some of the deadliest days in Syria's civil war.

Despite all his tough talk against Kim Jong-un's regime it the American vice president had planned to meet with North Korean officials in Pyeongchang.

And activism after tragedy. Students in Florida driven to action after the deadly shooting at a high school. We will talk to one of those students.

Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us from all around the world. I'm Rosemary Church, and this is CNN Newsroom.

A suburb of Syria's capital is being reduced to rubble, and the human toll is just staggering. A monitoring group says at least 250 people have been killed in the Syrian regime shelling and air strikes over a 48-hour period.

Eastern Ghouta is supposed to be a safe zone, but now residents feel a ground invasion is imminent. And fighting is intensifying in Syria's northwestern Afrin region. Kurdish fighters are trying to fend off a Turkish assault and pro-Syrian forces are entering the battle.

One doctor said there's never been an escalation like this one in five years of air strikes on eastern Ghouta.

Ben Wedeman has our report on the relentless violence. But we must warn you it contains graphic video that viewers may find disturbing.


BEN WEDEMAN, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Nidal (Ph) weeps over the body his daughter, Farrah. His other five children went missing. The Syrian government subjects the eastern Ghouta, the rebel- held suburb of Damascus, to the most intense bombardment since the war began. Bodies line the floor of this hospital's morgue. The bedsheet this

child's simple death shroud. And as always, it's the children that suffer most in this war without mercy.

According to local tradition, Ghouta was the original Garden of Eden. Now it's perhaps the closest thing to hell on earth.

Home to as many as 400,000 people it's been under siege for years. Tuesday the United Nations children fund, UNICEF, issued a blank statement on the situation in eastern Ghouta, a small footnote at the bottom explains, "we no longer have the words to describe children's suffering and our outrage. To those inflicting the suffering still have words to justify their barbaric acts."

CNN reached out to the Syrian government for comment. They had no words. these are the worst days of our lives, Dr. Ahmeni Bahlour, (Ph) a hospital director told CNN by phone from the eastern Ghouta. "It couldn't get worse than this," she said. She may be wrong.

It's widely believed the bombardment is a prelude to an offensive to retake eastern Ghouta, one of the last opposition strongholds. Many of these disturbing images are captured by local civil defense units, the so-called White Helmets, rushing from one bomb site to another. Here there are no bomb shelters. People huddle in their homes and all too often die in there, beyond that there are no words.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, Beirut.


CHURCH: And this bombardment isn't being carried out in some far- flung corner of Syria. In fact, it's in a suburb of the capital. I want to show you on the map now. The area on the left is Damascus. On the right is eastern Ghouta. Just five kilometers from the city center and you're in rebel-held territory.

Now, if you've been to New York City that is a little more than e length of Central Park, just to give you an idea there.

And Syria's civil war has been going on for nearly seven years now, starting in March 2011. The United Nations envoy estimated some 400,000 Syrians have been killed and more than 11 million have been forced from their homes because of the fighting.

I want to bring in Jomana Karadsheh now. She's in Amman, Jordan with more on this. Jomana, the U.N. says there are no words to describe the suffering in eastern Ghouta in the wake of the worst bloodshed there in years.

[03:05:03] The rebels are resisting but the Syrian regime appears to have the upper hand. What is the latest information that you have on what civilians are facing right now?

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Well, Rosemary, according to activists, we are hearing that what they say is regime attacks on eastern Ghouta are continuing today with reports of barrel bombs raining down on parts of eastern Ghouta. Late last night also activists were reporting air strikes on other parts of that enclave.

They're also saying that there are reports of casualties including children. We don't have exact figures yet. Of course it's very difficult to verify casualty figures in this area that has been under siege as you mentioned for years now.

And we depend on the, on local activists, on medical workers, on rescue workers who have reported this devastating casualty toll they say since this new intensified attack on eastern Ghouta that began on Sunday, reports of about 250 people killed in the air strikes and the artillery shelling and also hundreds of others wounded.

It is so difficult to treat the wounded as we've heard from the United Nations and from other groups saying that hospital after hospital, at least six hospitals now we are told that have been taken out have been destroyed and they're not operational anymore after these strikes.

And these hospitals, Rosemary, were already struggling to cope with this area under siege. They've been running out of medical supplies and running out of food, running out of water. So it's very difficult living conditions to say the least for people there.

The ICRC and other aid groups at the end of last year were warning, they were saying that it is impossible to survive, to live in eastern Ghouta. Now this is before this latest bloodshed that we are seeing unfold right now.

And people there are absolutely terrified that the worst is yet me. They feel that what we are seeing right now is another scenario like what we saw in eastern Aleppo unfolding again, this time in eastern Ghouta, and it will not stop until the regime recaptures that rebel enclave.

CHURCH: Of course. And Jomana, what efforts are being made to get humanitarian aid in there?

KARADSHEH: Well, I think it's very difficult right now, Rosemary, right before this latest, this latest surge in violence that we've seen, this renewed campaign that began on Sunday, there were reports by the Syria Red Crescent and the United Nations last week that a convoy did make it into eastern Ghouta for the first time in a very long time and it had enough supplies to feed about 2 percent of the population there.

We're talking about more than 400,000 people who have been living under siege in eastern Ghouta. And the food that was sent in was enough for 7,000 people.

It really is unclear right now what is being done to try and reach a ceasefire or to try and get that desperately needed aid in. What we do know, we've heard from the Syrian regime. They're saying what they are doing is protecting the capital and protecting Damascus from what they say is terrorist groups operating in eastern Ghouta.

They accuse these, quote, unquote, "terrorist groups" of holding civilians there as hostages and human shields. They say that they have been firing into different parts of the heart of Damascus, the capital, reporting yesterday according to the Syrian state news agency. Sana'a saying at least 13 people were killed and 77 others were wounded in shelling by these groups into Damascus.

So they're describing what's going on as defending the capital from these terrorist groups. But right now for the civilians of eastern Ghouta it is an absolutely horrific situation with no end in sight at this point, Rosemary.

CHURCH: It is disturbing. It is shocking. Jomana Karadsheh bringing us up to date on the situation from her vantage point there in Amman, Jordan where it is just after 10 in the morning. Many thanks to you, Jomana.

Well, we mentioned the fighting in Afrin, which is making for some strange alliances in the Syrian conflict. You can see the region highlighted in green there in the northwest corner of Syria, along the border with Turkey. Kurdish forces currently hold the territory there but they've been under attack from Turkish troops who considered them terrorists. Well, now pro-Syrian government forces are helping the Kurds.


[03:10:06] RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN, TURKISH PRESIDENT (through translator): It was detected that pro-Damascus forces were moving towards Afrin, but when artillery fire was carried out they had to turn back. And this case is closed for now.


CHURCH: And CNN's Sam Kiley joins us live from Abu Dhabi keeping an eye on this. Sam, this is making for very strange bed fellows, with pro-Syrian forces supporting the Kurds how is this playing out on the ground and how will this alliance likely end?

SAM KILEY, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Well, as President Erdogan indicated there, he thinks the file is closed. The reality is that it's not those forces did make it into Afrin although it has been confirmed that they did come under attack by artillery from the Turkish side.

Now, in that context it does seem pretty strange that a Shia -- probably a Shia militia that is supportive of the Damascus government is coming to the aid of Kurds who themselves are trying to establish a sort of autonomous enclave for themselves in northern Syria.

But the reason for that I think is twofold. First of all, as something of a distraction from the atrocities going on in Ghouta that are being perpetrated by the central government. And secondly, this is an opportunity for the Assad regime to start to show that perhaps it does its own thing, this is not being done we don't think with any kind of Russian backing.

The Russians who of course are very much alongside the Syrian regime in terms of controlling the airspace have allowed the Turks to continue their operations against the Kurds. Because of course if they did not do that then there was a risk of an actual conflagration between Russia and Turkey. Turkey of course being a NATO power and that could actually spread into something catastrophic like a third World War.

So this is a little local difficulty in a very nasty bloody civil war. If this local militia do start getting attacked from the air by Turkey it will be interesting to see whether or not the Syrians and/or their Russian allies come to their aid. That is the point at which it escalates into something much more than something very much localized.

For now, though, it is simply a sign I think really that the Kurds and the Damascus regime are prepared to work in this very complex enclave.

CHURCH: So Sam, what's the situation for civilians in the area?

KILEY: Catastrophic. The civilians in Afrin, they're not in the same state as we've seen just from Ben Wedeman's report in Ghouta, but there have been a substantial number of civilian casualties.

More widely there has always been pressure in Idlib, another area which is further south which was supposed to be a de-escalation zone but the government forces there have been increasing their attacks and there have been aerial bombardments too.

This has all resulted, both the Afrin conflict, the increasing activity in terms of conflict in Idlib has resulted in a movement, internal movement for now of Syrians throughout that northeastern region, putting an enormous amount of pressure on already very, very stretched help coming from NGOs and the wider aid community.

But for now the Turks are trying to move fairly slowly through this conflict area in order from their perspective to rid themselves of the threat that they say come from these, what they call Kurdish terrorist groups, notably the Kurdish Workers Party.

CHURCH: All right. Many thanks to you, Sam Kiley, joining us from Abu Dhabi. It is 12.15 in the afternoon there. Thanks so much.

We'll take a very short break here, but still to come, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Kim Jong-un's sister sat near each other during the Winter Olympics but they seemed so distant. Well, now the U.S. says they were supposed to meet.

Plus, you've probably never heard his name, but his father-in-law is a Russian oligarch. And he's just pleaded guilty in a U.S. courtroom. The details for you still to come.


CHURCH: Welcome back, everyone. Well, after threats, provocations, and mixed signals the U.S. and North Korea came really close to talking.

U.S. officials say Vice President Mike Pence was scheduled to meet with North Korean officials during his visit to the Winter Olympics in South Korea. That meeting was supposed to include Kim Jong-un's sister. But the North Koreans canceled at the last minute.

Our Paula Hancocks joins us live from Pyeongchang. So Paula, what all do we know about just how close Vice President Mike Pence and North Korean officials got to holding these talks and why they were cancelled?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Well, Rosemary, what we're hearing from the vice president's office is that a meeting was planned. It was likely going to be at the Blue House, the presidential office in Seoul, the day after the opening ceremony. So, the day after you saw the photos of the two sitting very close to each other but both ignoring each other.

Now, we understand that the U.S. President Donald Trump had given the green light for this and had said to the vice president that he was able to meet with North Koreans as long as he hammered home the point that there would be sanctions, that they had to denuclearize and that this was a very important element of this.

Now, according to the vice president's office it was the North Koreans who canceled at the last minute. They are reading this as a sign that the pressure that the U.S. had been putting on North Korea was working.

But certainly it was what the South Korean President Moon Jae-in wanted. He had said that he was going to try and set up this meeting. And we'd heard from the vice president before he arrived in Pyeongchang as well that let's wait and see whether or not there would be a meeting. So it appears as though it was very close but never happened. Rosemary?

CHURCH: Ad what about why it didn't happen and is there a chance there will be talks in the future?

HANCOCKS: Well, there is another chance coming up just this weekend. The closing ceremony for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics is on Sunday. We understand Ivanka Trump, the U.S. president's senior adviser and daughter will be here. She will be leading up the U.S. delegation.

We don't know at this point who will be part of the North Korean delegation. We know that the sportsmen, for example, is still believed to be in country. But it will be interesting to see whether there is any interaction between Ivanka Trump and a North Korean counterpart or whether the South Korean president will try even harder this time to get the two sides together.

Because Mr. Moon has consistently said that if North and South Korean talks are to succeed then they have to be followed by U.S. and North Korean talks. He has said on the record that it's inevitable that in the future they will clash again but he believes that both sides, the U.S. and North Korea, feel and understand the need for dialogue there. Rosemary?

CHURCH: All right. Our Paula Hancocks joining us from Pyeongchang there at the Winter Olympics bringing us up to date on those talks that nearly happened. It is 5.20 there. Many thanks to you, Paula. Well, anger at the Trump administration was on clear display when

Palestinian authority President Mahmoud Abbas spoke Tuesday at the United Nations.


MAHMOUD ABBAS, PALESTINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): In a dangerous, unprecedented manner this administration undertook an unlawful decision which was rejected by the international community to remove the issue of Jerusalem off the table without any reason.

It decided to recognize the city of Israel's capital and to transfer its embassy to the city to Jerusalem.

[03:20:01] It did so, ignoring that east Jerusalem is part of the Palestinian territory. It has occupied since 1967 and it is our capital.


CHURCH: Abbas then walked out of the Security Council before U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley spoke. She said she would not, quote, "chase after him" and there will be no turning back from President Trump's Jerusalem decision. Take a listen.


NIKKI HALEY, UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: The United States knows the Palestinian leadership was very unhappy with the decision to move our embassy to Jerusalem. You don't have to like that decision. You don't have to praise it. You don't even have to accept it. But know this. That decision will not change.


CHURCH: But Haley also invited the Palestinians to negotiate. Abbas called for an international conference on Middle East peace this year.

All right. We turn now to Washington, where there is more progress to report in the Justice Department investigation of Russia's meddling in U.S. elections.

CNN's Jessica Schneider has the details.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Special counsel Robert Mueller now has another guilty plea in his Russia probe. Alex van der Zwaan, a London-based attorney with ties to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and top campaign official Rick Gates has pleaded guilty to giving false statements to the special counsel's investigators about his communications with Gates just two months before the election.

Though it's unclear what the two discusses or why Van der Zwaan lied, his plea may prove helpful to Mueller's team.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) PAUL CALLAN, LEGAL ANALYST, CNN: Now in this particular case Manafort

had a relationship with the Ukrainian government and this lawyer was doing work for the Ukrainian government. So that's the link and he'll try to turn this witness against gates, against Manafort, and possibly against others.


SCHNEIDER: Van der Zwaan was part of a team of attorneys at the prominent international law firm Skadden, Arps that drafted a report commission by Paul Manafort in 2012. The report was used by allies of the then-pro Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to justify jailing a political opponent.

Paul Manafort was indicted in October in connection with his lobbying work for the Ukrainian government and alleged money laundering. Manafort has pleaded not guilty.

Van der Zwaan is also the son-in-law of prominent Russian billionaire German Khan. Khan co-founded the investment group that owned Alfa bank.

CNN reported last year that the FBI investigated whether that bank had a computer server connection to the Trump organization during the 2016 campaign.

But the White House today is pointing to Van der Zwaan's false statement charges as further evidence that the Mueller team does not have any evidence of Trump campaign collusion with the Russians.


RAJ SHAH, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: We do know that this indictment just like the one on Friday only reinforces our overarching point when it comes to the special counsel's investigation which is that as the president has long stated there's no evidence of collusion because none existed and that there's going to be no findings of wrongdoing.


SCHNEIDER: Much like the 13 indictments of Russian nationals, announced by the Justice Department on Friday, this latest charge against Van der Zwaan actually does not address the issue of collusion but the charges do show the progress of the special counsel's investigation and its steady pressure on people surrounding the president past and present.

In just about nine months Mueller has brought charges against 22 people and entities, four of whom are former Trump associates. Beyond Paul Manafort there's Manafort's deputy Rick Gates, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and campaign adviser George Papadopoulos.

Four of the cases have resulted in guilty pleas including today's plea from Van der Zwaan. Rick Gates has been negotiating a plea deal that could include testifying against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

And according to people familiar with the inquiry, Mueller's interest in President Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner has moved beyond his Russia contacts, and now includes Kushner's companies financing efforts from foreign entities during the presidential transition.

So now the question is, will Rick Gates become the fifth person to plead guilty in Mueller's probe, and if so how soon. And when it comes to Van der Zwaan the FBI has seized his passport. He's not allowed to travel back to London where lawyers say that his wife is actually having a difficult pregnancy and Van der Zwaan's sentencing will be in early April.

He does face up to five years in prison, though prosecutors say he'll likely get zero to six months and have to pay a fine.

Jessica Schneider, CNN, Washington.

CHURCH: The White House is going to great lengths to say President Trump takes Russia's election meddling seriously. In a weekend tweet storm Mr. Trump blamed just about everyone except Vladimir Putin.

Now press secretary Sarah Sanders says it's very clear Russia interfered in the election, it just didn't have any impact according to her, and she say Mr. Trump has taken action.


[03:25:06] SARAH HUCKABEE-SANDERS, 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 property. He's rebuilt our military. He has done a number of things to put pressure on Russia and to be tough on Russia.


CHURCH: This isn't the first time we've heard that claim from the Trump administration. So we asked our Tom Foreman to check the facts.


TOM FOREMAN, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Let's take a look at this tweet by President Trump. He says, "I have been much tougher on Russia than Obama. Just look at the facts." Well, the facts do tell us something here. And let's start with looking at this question of Russian meddling in the election.

We know that 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 it all the way along. He has not imposed sanctions against Russia approved by Congress.

And although the press office says they have secured future elections against Russian meddling we don't really know what that means or what the details of that would be. What about the bigger question relations? We know that Barack Obama specifically warned Vladimir Putin to keep his fingers out of the American democratic process.

However, on the other side we also know that President Trump has been much warmer to Putin, even saying initially that he believed Putin when Putin said we didn't do anything over there. President Trump has hosted Russian diplomats in the Oval Office at Vladimir Putin's request.

Yes, the White House is correct when it says that it has asked for a much bigger military budget, that it's increased energy supplies to Europe, and that it's taken other steps against Russian diplomats including continuing the sanctions enacted by Barack Obama and maybe Russia doesn't like all of that.

But to say that somehow that constitutes being tougher on Russia than Barack Obama while you can admit he may have been able to do more and didn't do it, there's simply no evidence to support this president's claim that he's doing much better.


CHURCH: Many thanks to our Tom Foreman.

Well, it has been less than a week since a school massacre in Florida. And now students who attended that high school are pushing to make changes to their state's gun laws. I'll speak to one of those student activists. That's next.

Plus, how do you spot fake news? The makers of a new game say they have found way, and all for the sake of science. We're back with that in just a moment.


[03:30:19] ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN NEWSROOM HOST: A very warm welcome back to you all. I'm Rosemary Church. I want to update you now on the main stories we've been following at this hour. Syrian regime shelling and air strikes near Damascus have killed at least 250 people in the past 48 hours. A human rights group says more than 1,200 people are wounded. Residents believe a ground invasion by regime forces is imminent.

Attorney Alex van der Zwaan has pleaded guilty to lying to investigators in the Russia probe. Van der Zwaan admits covering up discussions with former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates in 2016. He also says he lied about e-mails involving former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort.

Members of the Israeli prime minister inner circle are at the center of two new police investigations. Benjamin Netanyahu's former family spokesman has been arrested on suspicion of corruption. He is reportedly accused of offering to help a Judge become Attorney General if she would block any proceedings against Mr. Netanyahu's wife.

As pressure mounts on lawmakers to do something about gun violence following yet another mass shooting, a small concession from the White House. The U.S. President says he is pushing to ban so-called bump stocks, which make it easier to fire rounds faster. Bump stock were not used in the Florida school shooting, but they were very much a factor in the Las Vegas massacre last October. The deadliest shooting in modern U.S. history.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Just a few moments ago I signed a memorandum directing the Attorney General to propose regulations to ban all device that turn legal weapon into machine guns. I expect that these critical regulations will be finalized, Jeff, very soon.


CHURCH: Now, at the same time students who survived last week's school shooting in Florida are pushing state lawmakers to reexamine their positions on gun control. But Andy Rose reports, some of these student's efforts to create change may not be working just yet.


ANDY ROSE, CNN JOURNALIST: On Tuesday Florida lawmakers struck down the latest assault weapons ban proposal.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I knew -- I knew it wasn't going to go through. And I knew that people still haven't gotten it t.

ROSE: A bill that would have banned large capacity magazines and assault-style weapons like the ar-15 used in last week's deadly school shooting failed. Some of the survivors from that massacre visibly upset as the vote was counted.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The next death of someone with an assault rifle here in Florida is going to be on them.

ROSE: Buses carrying more students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school made their way to the state capitol, where they hoped to talk to lawmakers about this very issue on Wednesday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're all here because we need to fight for change and the legislation needs to change, because we've fallen victim to lazy legislation for far too long.

ROSE: Their rally cry, never again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everyone here today is here to effect change and put a stop to this. Never again will this happen to anyone.

ROSE: And despite the setback in Tallahassee earlier in the day, these students say they're in this fight for the long haul. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just as all the great people in history have, we

have to keep fighting. Change is not going to be easy. It's not going to come quick. And we're going to keep raising our voice, voicing our opinions. This is an issue having to do with common sense, with the well-being of our citizens in America.

ROSE: I'm Andy Rose reporting.


CHURCH: Now I want to bring in Ryan Deitsch. He is a student at Stoneman Douglas high school. Thank you so much for being with us. Can I start by getting your reaction to the Florida House of Representatives overwhelming rejection on the effort to ban AR-15's? The same weapon used in your school shooting and many other mass shootings in fact. What did you think when you heard that outcome? 36 votes in favor, 71 votes opposed.

RYAN DEITSCH, MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS STUDENT: I will say that that outcome of the vote today was very disappointing, but it is definitely not the end to this. This is just one hurdle that we have to cross. This is just one thing that we have to overcome. Because they would not even let the vote hit the floor. That was in committee. That was disappointing to say the least, but I expect nothing less from my lawmakers.

CHURCH: And why do you think these Florida state politicians lack the will to take any action on gun controls?

[03:05:05] DEITSCH: I mean, it's plain and simple that they are being controlled by various interest groups like the NRA, to be able to push their agenda forward rather than the agenda of people and humanity as a whole.

CHURCH: Now, of course, most politicians don't actually believe this is an election issue, something that people vote on. How do you plan to change their minds about that? And do you think the students will be able to sustain the momentum of their anger and activism right up to the midterm elections?

DEITSCH: I will say I do believe this is an election point. This is something that has been an election point year after year after year. And overall that we will try our best to keep in the public eye. We will try our best to constantly tell people this is a problem. If they are not going to vote on it, we are going to vote them out and vote someone else in who will listen to us and will listen to the innocent lives that were lost this past week.

CHURCH: And Ryan let's talk about the changes that you and the other students want to see in regards to gun control. What are you proposing here?

DEITSCH: I will say that we have been talking amongst ourselves for a few days now and we have come to the conclusion that we are still high school students, we do not know the exact legal jargon to take place that will save people's lives, but we do know certain things have been thrown around like universal background checks for one is definitely a step in the right direction.

CHURCH: And President Trump says he is committed to ban bump stocks in reaction to the Las Vegas shooting, and he also tweeted that he wants to focus in strengthening background checks. Does that give you some form of hope that he may actually do something about guns?

DEITSCH: I will honestly say anything that the president says does not cause any reaction from me. He is just another person talking at this point. Since no matter what he says his words are meaningless unless action is taken. And we've seen this time and time again. No matter what he tweets, he just keeps going back and forth, flip- flopping on basically anything he says. I can hardly trust him at this point.

CHURCH: Ryan Deitsch, thank you so much for being with us. We thank you too for your bravery throughout the shooting and of course for your strength and determination.

DEITSCH: Thank you. Thank you so much

CHURCH: Thank you.

These young people just incredible spokespeople and activists on this issue. And Hollywood is also pushing for tougher gun laws. George and Amal Clooney and other celebrities are making large donations to March for our lives. That an event formed by survivors of the school massacre in Florida last week. The group is planning a rally in Washington next month to demand that a bill be immediately brought before congress to address gun issues. And just this quick programming note for you, remember to tune in to CNN's town hall. Students, parents, and others impacted by the school shooting will speak out. Stand up, the students of Stoneman Douglas demand action, airs live on Thursday at 10:00 in the morning Hong Kong time. That is 2:00 a.m. in London and at 9:00 p.m. Wednesday in New York.

Time for a short break here. But just ahead on "CNN newsroom" --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Being patriotic was the group that contacted and helped organize some of these activities you posted on your own Facebook account.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Those were legitimate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Those were Russians.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They were not Russians. I don't go with the Russians.


CHURCH: America voter tricked by Russian internet trolls. Who they recruited and how they did it. We're back in a moment with that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [03:40:50] CHURCH: Well, the indictment of 13 Russian nationals by

the U.S. Justice Department is revealing new details about how they tried to influence U.S. voters. And they even conned a number of Americans into helping unknowingly. CNN's senior investigative correspondent Drew Griffin has the story.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: She may well be one of the unwitting Americans, Trump supporters who helped the Russian internet trolls infiltrate U.S. communities by spreading Russian-made messages without knowing it. But Fluoren Goldfarb who still runs the team Trump Broward Facebook page still thinks that is B.S. Right down to the timing of when Robert Mueller decided to release his indictments.

FLUOREN GOLDFARB, TRUMP BROWARD FACEBOOK PAGE: I think it's a cover- up. They're covering p for their blunder on the -- on the shooting that was done at the high school.

GRIFFIN: One group the Russians operate under was called being patriotic, calling themselves an online community. They were actually Russian internet trolls, according to the FBI. Trying to direct unwitting Americans to holding rallies, posting Russian-made anti- Hillary Clinton messages. Even telling them what to print on their homemade signs. According to the indictment, the Russians under the online name being patriotic encouraged Trump supporters to stage a flash mob on August 20th and a team Trump Broward group responded. Flouren Goldfarb posted information for the Fort Lauderdale flash mob on the Facebook page she still runs. Co-chair of the team Trump Broward, Dolly Rump was there. Holding a crooked Hillary sign. Dolly Rump wouldn't talk to CNN. Her husband told us by phone we are disgusting and not to bother them. Fluoren Goldfarb told us we are fake news, part of the cover-up.

But what part of it in this is a cover-up? Are you saying that is not true or what?

GOLDFARB: The Russians? I don't care if they were involved or not. That to me is the least important thing.

GRIFFIN: But they were involved with you. Did you guys know that?

GOLDFARB: They weren't involved with us. You know, just make sure that you report it correctly, that you know.

GRIFFIN: But you guys were involved with being patriotic, right?

GOLDFARB: Very. Very patriotic.

GRIFFIN: Being patriotic was the group that contacted and helped organize some of these activities that you posted on your own Facebook account.

GOLDFARB: Those were legitimate.

GRIFFIN: Those were Russians. GOLDFARB: They were not Russians. I don't go with the Russians.

GRIFFIN: That group was Russian.

GOLDFARB: I have nothing to do with the Russians.

GRIFFIN: Well, apparently you did.


GRIFFIN: Even though the indictment says the Russians organized the rally, Ms. Goldfarb says she never communicated with any Russians and no one at any of her events were anything but Americans for Trump. The Russians pretending to be Trump organizer also reached out to Harry Miller in Boynton Beach, Florida paying him to build a cage large enough to hold an actress depicting Clinton in prison uniform. He did just that. Appearing at rallies. On Friday Miller, who now lives in Pennsylvania, tweeted "this is the cage the Russians paid for." by phone he says he learned about his unwitting involvement from the FBI and now believes it was Russians who called him on the phone, paid him between $500 to $1,000 to build his cage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How could you be embarrassed? They have a beautiful website, very supportive of the candidate. There was nothing, nothing at all to lend you to think that it's anything other than people trying to support a candidate.

GRIFFIN: The Russians weren't just recruiting unwitting Trump supporters. As CNN reported last October a group calling itself black fist turned out to be Russians trying to infiltrate black communities and seed social unrest. Other groups were encouraged by Russian internet trolls to hold protests against police, for and against immigrants, sometimes encouraging both at the same location to increase the possibility of violence. The indictment also reveals this post-election protest outside New York's Trump tower as organized by Russians on Facebook.

[03:45:04] It grew so large even CNN covered it. Michael White, one of the original occupy Wall Street organizers, says he believes he was contacted by Russian trolls in May of 2016. He worries about the long-term effects.

MICHAEL WHITE, OCCUPY WALL STREET ORGANIZER: If it is true that a Russian created activist group, is undisguisable from an American- created activist group, that will make -- that will have negative impacts on our ability to create social movements that are positive, that actually benefit ourselves and not some sort of foreign power.

GRIFFIN: People will always be wondering, well, is this real event?

WHITE: And I think that may have been part of the goal of the Russian thing.

GRIFFIN: To Fluoren Goldfarb there is no Russian thing, it is all a she repeatedly told us B.S.



GOLDFARB: And please, please report that, I don't believe that, that is (BEEP). I know all the people that were with me. Ok? They were at my meetings. They're all Trump supporters. Ok?

GRIFFIN: Yes, but did you realized that you guys were in communication electronically with Russians?


GRIFFIN: You were posting stuff on Facebook --

GOLDFARB: Hillary Clinton was, and so was all her bandits. Mueller --

GRIFFIN: You're in charge of the Facebook account, right? You were posting and reposting almost word for word the information that was coming out of this internet research agency in St. Petersburg.


GRIFFIN: You don't believe that?

GOLDFARB: Nope. It's bull (BEEP). She just refuses to believe what appears to be fact, that these Russian trolls were so adept at infiltrating the online political discussion in the U.S. that even at times convinced Americans where and when to stage protests, demonstrations, and even to build a Hillary Clinton cage on the back of a pickup truck. Drew Griffin, CNN, Atlanta.


CHURCH: Ok. So in this era of fake news with memes, tweets and other kinds of posts, being able to recognize fact from fiction is a skill worth having. But to do that one needs to practice and learn how to spot phony information. So researchers at Cambridge University have developed an online game called bad news that helps you think like a troll. The goal -- vaccinate people against bogus news. Jon Roozenbeek is the co-founder and designer of the game bad news he joins us now from London. Welcome to the show. Talk to us first about how this works. How do you play this game? And what's the goal here?

JON ROOZENBEEK, CO-FOUNDER AND GAME DESIGNER, BAD NEWS: Well, the interface is actually -- hopefully anyway is going to be very intuitive. Basically you click the option that you like. And in the game you earn badges, which represents a different technique that is commonly used in the dissemination of disinformation. For example, you have impersonation. Like impersonating, say, a famous person or an organization or a politician or whatever with the intent to deceive. Or posing as a legitimate news website, for example. Another one might be conspiracy. Conspiracy theories are used quite often really to disseminate let's say misleading information on the web. And the game sort of teaches you I guess how to do that. CHURCH: Ok. So what was the inspiration behind creating this game?

And what are you hoping to achieve with this? Do you think it's too ambitious to think that you could train people to spot fake news?

ROOZENBEEK: Well, the inspiration for the game is was originally a Dutch project by an organization called DROG, d-r-o-g, which I've worked together with for a while now. And the original Dutch version of this game was launched in October of last year. And that was met with quite a bit of success, actually. We were quite happy about the so that is why we decided to also create an English-language version. And the idea behind the game wasn't so much to actually make sure that people 100 percent understand exactly how fake news or disinformation works, but more to create interest, raise awareness of how these things might work by placing people in the role of the creators of disinformation.

CHURCH: Right.

ROOZENBEEK: So what we're hoping is that this will be the start of what we call a vaccine against disinformation. So we're hoping that by taking on this role as the bad guy you actually become much better at recognizing how these techniques are used in real life.

CHURCH: So why do you think the people generating this fake news have so much success in infiltrating the United States particularly and fooling people into believing stories that clearly are not based in fact?

[03:50:00] ROOZENBEEK: Well, part of that has to do with human psychology. People are quite likely in general to fall for stories that let's say are emotionally charged, that play well into preconceptions, that draw on their let's say innate sense of wanting to find out the truth about something, and if the truth is something hidden or it's something that is being hidden by some kind of nefarious organization that might be very interesting to some people and why it's had more success in the United States, well, the United States is quite a politically polarized society, which means that people might be more susceptible than in other places to stories that could be considered to be polarizing or playing into these sentiments. But I have no more than a working theory on that to be quite honest with you.

CHURCH: And what would your advice be to people with all of the research that you've had? And of course working on his game before people actually have access to this game, how do people spot fake news? What would be your advice if you had to just be put on the spot and just say ok, this is how you do it?

ROOZENBEEK: I could look at the techniques that are used. So the very, very simple thing that we're trying to create with the game and that we're hoping to achieve with this is to build a trigger in people's heads that says with every piece of news you that you read or consume is this reliable, is this real, am I being misled, is someone trying to deceive me with this piece of information? That is the only thing I really hope we will achieve with this game, with the other efforts that we've made. CHURCH: Yes. And of course check your sources. Always check your


ROOZENBEEK: Check your sources. Exactly.

CHURCH: You need to have more than one source for each story. John Roozenbeek, thank you so much. Good luck with the game. It sounds like it will be a good education for everybody. Appreciate you coming on the show.

ROOZENBEEK: Let's hope so. Thank you very much

CHURCH: Thank you. USA's Lindsey Vonn says she gave it her all in what may well be her last Olympic downhill. She wasn't just racing for a medal. She was raising for her grandfather. And we will go live to Pyeongchang for all the details. That is next. Stick around.


CHURCH: It has been an emotional and nail-biting day at the winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. USA's Lindsey Vonn says she raced in Wednesday's downhill for her beloved grandfather. And it looks like the upcoming ladies free skate will be one to remember as two teenage Russian phenomes vie for gold. CNN's Amanda Davies is in Pyeongchang for us. She joins us now live on what is day 12 of the winter Olympics. Hi there, Amanda.

AMANDA DAVIES, CNN WORLD SPORTS: It is, Rosemary. And this has been a sensational day in terms of the ladies sport. We will start up in the mountains, though, because even of all time things don't always go to plan and emotions were really running high as you said, as Lindsey Vonn ran her last Olympic downhill race eight years after winning gold in Vancouver. But it wasn't the golden good-bye that the American was hoping for. In front of a big contingent of Italian fans with their flags flying high, Italy's Sophia Goggia who leads the world cup downhill standings went out early and clocked the time of 1:39:22 to take the lead.

[03:55:05] Vonn went out a few runs later amid huge anticipation as she was looking to reclaim that gold she had been unable to defend in Sochi because of injury. The U.S. contingent I stood with were pretty positive as she left the game, but she was always behind the split times of Goggia and there was obvious disappointment as she put herself in silver medal position. But ultimately, Vonn took bronze behind Norway's Ragnijld Mowinckel and technically becomes the oldest woman to earn an Olympic medal in alpine skiing. We saw the run-up to the games Vonn talked about how much she wanted to win for her late grandfather. She said it was tough to concentrate, this being my last Olympic downhill. "It's been really hard for me not to get emotional for so many reasons, especially because of my grandfather. I wanted to win so much because of him. But I still think I made him proud."

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


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, 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: Scott Moir talking about their infamous chemistry on the ice. It seems a little bit ridiculous to talk about a ding dong between a 15-year-old and an 18-year-old, doesn't it? But that l exactly what has been playing out in the women's figure skating. Training partners Evgeniya Medvedev and Alina Zagitova are both competing as Olympic athletes from Russia. They've dominate the sport in recent years and they did not hold back their short programs. Trading world record- setting performances. Medvedev went first. The elder of the two. And two-time world champion. Described by one commentator as part ballerina, part butterfly. As she set a record of 81.61, but the Zagitova took to the ice. The 15-year-old had 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 rewrote it with a score of 82.92 to take the lead heading into Friday's free skate. Rosemary.

CHURCH: Magnificent Amanda Davies, thank you as always. A great wrap there. And thanks for your company this hour. I'm Rosemary Church. Connect with me anytime on twitter. And the news continues now with Max Foster in London. You're watching CNN. Have a great day.