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Failures, Missed Signals and Politics in the Florida School Shooting; Ex-Trump Campaign Aide Pleads Guilty; Kelly to Decide on Kushner Security Clearance; Second Russian Athlete Found Guilty of Doping; Thousands of Civilians Trapped in Eastern Ghouta; New U.S. Sanctions on North Korea Aimed at Shipping Industry; #MyFreedomDay. Aired 5-6a ET

Aired February 24, 2018 - 05:00   ET




GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Missed opportunities by multiple officers and an ignored tip call, all raising concerns about the handling of the Parkland, Florida, shooting.

Plus, giving in to pressure: could the latest guilty plea in Robert Mueller's Russia investigation be a major turning point?

We will look into that.

And Ivanka Trump cheering on team USA in South Korea as they take home another gold medal.

We are live at CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta. We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. I'm George Howell, CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.


HOWELL: 5:00 am here on the U.S. East Coast and we start with failures and mixed signals sadly. The Florida school massacre is becoming a deadly combination of both. We've learned that not one but possibly four law enforcement officers waited outside as the gunman inside mowed down high school students and teachers in cold blood.

And there are more details on the missed signals that, if acted upon, could have kept a weapon, the weapon of the mass murderer, out of the hands of disturbed teenagers. We begin with Martin Savidge's report.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The call to FBI tipline about Nikolas Cruz could not have been more clear, warning that Cruz is, quote, "going to explode."

CNN reviewed the transcript of the January 5th, 2018, call, informing the agency about the Parkland, Florida, shooter. The unidentified women spoke of Cruz's Instagram feed. She talked of

his posts about guns and was, quote, "afraid something is going to happen."

The caller also talked about Cruz's history of violence in school and said she worried about him, quote, "getting into a school and just shooting the place up."

Forty days later, Cruz did just that. The FBI admits it failed to follow up on the tip.

The missed call is just one of a growing list of failures by authorities that could have prevented tragedy if only they had been handled differently. They include the case of school resource officer Scot Peterson seen here in 2015 speaking about his job.

DEP. SCOT PETERSON, SCHOOL RESOURCE OFFICER: We are all here for the same goal, to protect our kids.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Peterson resigned and retired rather than face suspension without pay and a pending internal investigation into what he did or did not do at the time of the high school shooting.

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel says, for at least four minutes, as the attack was going on, school surveillance video shows Peterson just standing beside the building rather than entering to engage the gunman.

Some angry parents have suggested Peterson was more worried about retirement than protecting students, something the officer seem to joke about it 2015.

PETERSON: I'm almost on my way out. I'm 30 years.

SAVIDGE: But Peterson is not the only shows deputy accused of not reacting properly. Sources telling CNN say some Coral Springs officers were shocked to see deputies standing outside the school shooting site, even as they rushed in.

But at a news conference today, the Coral Springs Police Department refused to talk about those accusations. Instead, first responders talked about what they did.

OFFICER TIM BURTON, CORAL SPRINGS POLICE DEPARTMENT: Immediately I grab my rifle. And I start running.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Officer Tim Burton is believed to be the first Coral Springs officer to arrive on scene, charging alone toward the building.

BURTON: I thought I was going to encounter the shooter as soon as I made that left-hand turn in the parking lot, if he was trying to escape or get away.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Instead, Burton found only silence. The first Coral Springs officer to arrive heard no gunfire. But Officer Jeff Heinrich did hear gunfire. In fact he heard it all,

recounting the moment the shooting began.

SGT. JEFF HEINRICH, CORAL SPRINGS POLICE DEPARTMENT: I hear what I now know to be five or six gunshots. At first, I honestly thought they were fireworks.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Heinrich was off duty and without his weapon, volunteering at the high school, watering the baseball field. Moments later, more gunfire. He knew it was real. He also knew his wife, a teacher, and his son, a student, were both inside.

HEINRICH: Kids started to run, kids started to scream. At that time I heard a round of probably about another five or six shots.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Wearing just shorts and a T-shirt, Heinrich ran in the direction of gunfire, first tending to a gravely wounded student then, as other officers arrived grabbing a spare vest and gun.

HEINRICH: He got his gun, his secondary weapon and we systematically cleared back toward the 12 building.

SAVIDGE: There is yet to be any official police timeline that will tell us exactly who responded first, from what department and where they went they got on scene. That report will be critical. It is expected possibly as early as next week.

In the meantime, though, it is very clear that this is a community still --


SAVIDGE: -- very much deeply in grief. And the shock is affecting not just the civilians but the first responders as well -- Martin Savidge, CNN, Parkland.


HOWELL: Martin, thank you.

There is plenty of anger and a great deal of frustration over the missed signals and the failures to act. One of those frustrated is Samantha Fuentes, a senior at the school. She was shot in both legs and, as you see there, hospitalized. She spoke earlier with CNN's Erin Burnett.


SAMANTHA FUENTES, MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: Everyone has reported this kid. And we thought that we did everything in our power to get him off of school grounds, get him away from us because he was a violent and malicious person. And that was obvious.

And kids would even joke about how he was going to be the next school shooter. And as students, we can only do so much. We thought that if we put it into the hands of the law and the hands of our government, that it would be handled.


HOWELL: Samantha says the school resource officer who didn't go into the building that he took on oath to protect and serve, and that he broke that promise. In the meantime, the U.S. President Donald Trump is doubling down to put guns in the hands of schoolteachers.

He says an armed teacher in Florida last week could have stopped the shooter.


TRUMP: It's not all of them. But you would have a lot and you would tell people that they're inside and the beauty is it's concealed. Nobody would ever see it unless they needed it.

It's concealed so this crazy man who walked in wouldn't even know who it is that has it. That's good. That's not bad, that's good. And the teacher would have shot the hell out of him before he knew what happened.


HOWELL: The U.S. president there speaking at CPAC. CNN's Jeff Zeleny has more now on President Trump's plan to address gun control in the United States.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN SR. WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: President Trump is pledging to get Congress to act on gun policies. But he has stopped short of any specific ideas for legislation.

One thing the president has seized on again and again in the wake of that Florida shooting is the idea of arming schoolteachers and other school officials. He said it is those teachers who could actually prevent school shootings in the future.

He talked very aggressively about why.


TRUMP: A security guard doesn't know the children, doesn't love the children. This man standing outside of the school the other day doesn't love the children, probably doesn't know the children. The teachers love their children. They love their pupils, they love their students.


ZELENY: Now this idea has been roundly rejected by education groups, teachers and others. It was an idea that was first raised by the National Rifle Association some five years ago in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting. Back then it was simply viewed as a fringe idea. Now it is being pushed by the President of the United States. It is

unclear if Congress or any states would actually act on this. The Florida governor Rick Scott, a Republican, says he does not support this idea.

One idea he does support is raising the age limit for people to buy rifles and other long guns from 18 to 21. That is something that President Trump also said earlier in the week he supported but did not mention it again on Friday.

Of course, the NRA is strongly opposed to any changes in gun limits. So as another week ends, clearly there is a sign from the president wanting to do something on guns, no clear sign what types of legislation that may be -- Jeff Zeleny, CNN, the White House.


HOWELL: Jeff, thanks for the reporting.

As Jeff mentioned, Florida governor Rick Scott is proposing raising the age limit to 21 to buy a firearm. Its $450 million action plan would also assign one school officer per 1,000 students and it would increase funding for metal detectors, bulletproof glass and for steel doors.

The plan calls for more mental health counselors and a ban on so- called bump stocks. Scott says these funding changes may mean there won't be tax cuts this year.


GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLA.: The goal of this plan of action is to make massive changes in protecting our schools, provide significantly more resources for mental health and to do everything to keep guns out of the hands of those dealing with mental problems or threatening harm to themselves or others.


HOWELL: In the meantime, faculty and students returned to Stoneman Douglas High School on Friday, the first time they returned since the massacre that killed 17 people at that school.

One of those returning was history teacher Diane Wolk-Rogers. She also appeared at the CNN town hall earlier this week. That's where she confronted a spokesperson for the NRA --


HOWELL: -- the National Rifle Association, about some of the group's positions. Later she spoke with CNN's John Berman about President Trump's proposal to put guns in the hands of teachers. Let's listen.


DIANE WOLK-ROGERS, MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL: If what you're telling me is that we have trained professionals who weren't able to follow protocol, then I can imagine my teachers, overworked, underpaid, exhausted carrying a sidearm and then being able to perform that, their protocol.

And I also -- I want to talk about the white elephant in the room because what we know is that students of color get suspended and get expelled at a higher rate than white kids.

So now what are we saying, Mr. Trump?

We're going to say that now students of color are going to be shot at by teachers at a higher rate?

It's absolutely ludicrous.


HOWELL: While many argued teachers should not be armed in a classroom there are some in the United States, some parts where that idea is welcomed, as CNN's Ed Lavandera reports for us.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'll do whatever is necessary to protect our kids is sad (ph).

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the stark message that greets you when you walk into the one of the two school buildings in Callisburg (ph), Texas.

Superintendent Steve Clugston (ph) oversees what the school district calls the guardian program. It's a small force of volunteer school staff allowed to carry a concealed firearm and Clugston (ph) says they're equipped to confront an active shooter.

STEVE CLUGSTON (PH), SUPERINTENDENT: We don't want to be at the mercy of somebody that's intent on doing harm. We refuse to be that person.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): In the wake of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, the idea of arming teachers has sparked outrage.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Am I supposed to have a Kevlar vest?

Am I supposed to strap it to my leg or put in my desk?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't believe teachers should be armed. I believe teachers should teach.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): But in some, mostly rural communities across the country, the idea of arming teachers is welcomed, even by some students, like this freshman and junior at Callisburg (ph) High School who asked that we not identify them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel protected. I don't feel like they're going to threaten me in any way. I feel like if someone came in, that I know that they're going to handle it. So I feel very protected. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel really safe knowing that I can like come to school and if there's an incident that does happen that they'll be able to protect us.

LAVANDERA: Out of the roughly 1,000 school districts across the state of Texas, there are about 170 that have a policy of allowing teachers or administrators to carry a firearm on campus.

Here in the small town of Callisburg, their guardian program was implemented about four years ago in large part because the city doesn't have a local police department. They rely on county sheriffs and in a county this large, it can take many minutes for those deputies to respond to something like a shooting scenes inside a school.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Clugston (ph) says the school's guardian force undergoes active shooting scenario training once a year and routine target practice at gun ranges. But critics say that isn't enough.

The school officer at Stoneman Douglas who was trained far more extensively waited outside the building as the gunman unleashed a deadly massacre. Steve Clugston (ph) is convinced that if his guardians face the same ordeal, they won't flinch.

CLUGSTON (PH): We're trying to put our teachers in a position to be better equipped to protect their kids. And I have complete faith in our team, that they are willing to stand up and protect our people.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): The armed teachers here haven't faced the worst case scenario, so the question remains, how will they react if they're forced to face a killer? -- Ed Lavandera, CNN, Callisburg, Texas.


HOWELL: It is fair to say the gun debate drags on here in the United States. At the same time, a number of companies are now cutting ties with the National Rifle Association, that powerful lobby group that defends Americans' gun rights.

Car rental companies, Enterprise, Alamo, Hertz, National, Avis and Budget, they're all stopping discount programs for NRA members. The same for MetLife insurance and Allied and North American Van Lines.

First National Bank of Omaha is stopping its NRA branded Visa card as well.

Still ahead here on CNN NEWSROOM prosecutors slam charges against former Trump aide Paul Manafort. This as his former employee gets ready to open up to Robert Mueller and his investigation. We'll have the very latest as CNN NEWSROOM pushes on.


HOWELL (voice-over): You see the video there. That happening day after day in Syria. A town there under siege as a cease-fire vote stalls at the U.N. We'll look at brutal conditions inside Eastern Ghouta -- ahead.





HOWELL: All right. Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell.

Criminal charges are stacking up against President Trump's former campaign manager. On Friday prosecutors filed a new indictment against the man you see there, Paul Manafort, accusing him of secretly paying former European politicians to lobby in the United States on behalf of Ukraine.

The new charges came hours after Manafort's former long-time aide, Rick Gates, pleaded guilty to two charges. Gates is now cooperating with Robert Mueller's investigation. CNN's Evan Perez is in Washington and breaks all this down for us.


EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Former Trump campaign official Rick Gates is now a very important cooperating witness in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. And that's a big deal to Paul Manafort, Gates' business partner, and potentially for others in the Trump campaign who are still under investigation.

After all, Manafort was the former campaign chairman. In court, prosecutors described the scheme in which the two long-time business partners allegedly laundered $30 million and failed to pay taxes for almost 10 years and used real estate that they owned to fraudulently secure more than $20 million in loans.

Prosecutors piled on new charges against Manafort on Friday, alleging an illegal campaign to use former European politicians as lobbyists for Ukraine in the United States.

Gates pleaded guilty to two criminal charges, conspiracy to defraud the United States and making a false statement.

Manafort issued a statement insisting that he is innocent, saying, quote, "I had hoped and expected my business colleague would have had the strength to continue to battle to prove our innocence. For reasons yet to surface, he's chosen to do otherwise."

Gates could face between 4.5 years and just under six years in prison. That's a big break from possibly decades if he had been found guilty on the charges he was facing -- Evan Perez, CNN, Washington.


HOWELL: All right, Evan. Thank you.

Now let's talk about the president's son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner, more security clearance problems loom on the horizon for him.

The White House was alerted two weeks ago that significant information requiring more investigation would delay his security clearance process even further. That according to the reporting of "The Washington Post."

President Trump says the decision on whether Kushner keeps his temporary clearance, that would be made by the chief of staff --


HOWELL: -- John Kelly. Questions, though, have been raised about Kushner having access to classified materials with only a temporary clearance.

The president says he is frustrated by the system. Listen.


TRUMP: It's taking months and months and months to get many people that do not have a complex financial, you know, complicated financials, they don't have that. And it's still taking months. It's a broken system and it shouldn't take this long.

You know how many people on that list?

People with not a problem in the world.


HOWELL: The deadline for stripping officials of their interim clearances was Friday. It's not clear if any action had been taken.

Let's talk more about all of these political issues with Leslie Vinjamuri. Leslie is an associate professor of international relations at SOAS University of London, live in our London bureau this hour.

It's good to have you to talk about this, Leslie.


HOWELL: Let's start with Gates' plea deal.

What kind of pressure does this put on Paul Manafort?

Specifically, what does Manafort know and what could Mueller be trying to get from him?

VINJAMURI: I think this puts a lot of pressure on Manafort. He's clearly not happy about it, not clear whether he was expecting it. But Mueller's been tremendously successful at getting cooperation from yet another individual. He's got three who have pled guilty now and who are -- seem to be cooperating with him in this particular case.

The pressure will be on Paul Manafort. Rick Gates has clearly got a lot of information. And for the president, it's yet another sign that this investigation is very serious, it's moving forward, it's not stopping and that we have every reason to believe that there's a lot going on that Mueller thinks is absolutely crucial, not only to the broader question that's at stake in this investigation, which has to do with Russia and its interference in America's presidential elections but also this question of why were these people part of President Trump's campaign, part of his administration?

Why were they allowed to be in these positions and who knew and but very specifically on this pled guilty, there's a lot of pressure that's going to be put on Paul Manafort.

HOWELL: These allegations predate the campaign and a lot of people, though, they're looking at this and they're asking, you know, is the investigation about obstruction?

Is it about lying to the FBI?

Is it about collusion or is it about all of the above?

VINJAMURI: Well, think it's clearly in the immediate instance about lying, conspiracy and about a number of financial charges. And there's an outstanding question that we don't know very much about yet, which is this broader question of collusion that a number of people are wanting to know more about.

But Mueller is a very careful investigator. He's not going to go beyond the evidence. But he's very clearly moving people in a direction that he's getting the evidence that is important and central to the questions that we all need and want to know much more about.

So it's a very effective and very important investigation and it's going to continue to proceed carefully and slowly.

HOWELL: And that is a question, there are people in the White House, many people around the president, suggesting the investigation would be over in a matter of months. But Leslie, as you point out, this looks to be a very long and a very methodical investigation that could play out as long as it will.

The president also made some comments, switching now to the fatal shooting that took place in the U.S. state of Florida. He talked about that officer that stood outside the high school, saying that officer didn't love the students and making a comparison that teachers would love the students more, basically pushing forward his policy message of arming teachers.

The teachers' union clearly against this idea.

Do you see this going anywhere?

VINJAMURI: Well, it is very remarkable what you've just said, that the national and federal associations, that work on behalf of teachers have come out very clearly opposed to this proposal of arming teachers.

I think most teachers see this as disturbing, distressing and, quite frankly, shocking. So I would be surprised if there was broad support for this amongst those people who would really have to buy into this.

It's a distraction, to be honest, at a moment when there's been such an extraordinary crisis. When the students across America are so effectively mobilizing to really keep this issue now front and center, I think the response to this most recent devastating attack in Florida, the shootings has been really remarkable.

One thing that's very interesting here will be to see whether or not the president himself begins to think differently about a number of concrete proposals. And that's where I think we'll watch and see whether there's any movement.

Of course we'll get a lot of resistance from the NRA, a lot of resistance --


VINJAMURI: -- in Congress. But he's going to continue to come under pressure and putting out proposals to arm teachers, I just don't think that's going to -- it's going to generate a lot of backlash, a lot of public backlash and a lot of controversy.

But these very specific proposals to talk about raising the minimum age which people can buy guns, having increased background checks, really dealing with the issue of mental health, individuals who have been -- fended as having mental health issues having access to guns.

And then the broader question about whether specific weapons will be banned. And that's the very difficult nut to crack, I think.

But it was remarkable to watch that conference yesterday, with the Australian prime minister; of course, Australia's taken a very different set of policies and reaction to its own gun violence, buying back weapons, having bans that are really unconceivable right now politically in the United States.

HOWELL: Yes, it is important to point out those optics, to have those two together side by side, and the United States certainly figuring out its way with regard to this issue that is certainly front and center for many Americans.

Leslie Vinjamuri, thank you so much for your time and perspective, live for us in London.

VINJAMURI: Thank you.

HOWELL: And still ahead here on CNN NEWSROOM this hour, bombs continue to come down on Syrian civilians. This as a U.N. cease-fire vote stalls. How President Trump is responding to the carnage that's taking place there -- ahead.

Plus the Olympic Games have helped reduce tensions between North and South Korea. Why one North Korean refugee, though, doesn't think it will last.





HOWELL: Live coast to coast here in the United States and to our viewers around the world this hour, you're watching CNN NEWSROOM. Thank you so much for being with us. I'm George Howell with the headlines we're following for you.


HOWELL: There is still no real action on demands for a 30-day cease- fire in Syria. The Security Council vote set for Friday has now been pushed back to Saturday. The United States accuses Russia of blocking the truce while the Kremlin says the U.S. and its allies can't guarantee militants will observe it.

All of this comes as areas like Eastern Ghouta here remaining under intense bombardment, people essentially living underground, hiding from bombs. Much of the rebel-held enclave has been reduced to rubble. And there are reports that hundreds of civilians have been killed in just the past few days alone.

This video you see here, it is truly heartbreaking, it shows rescuers, they're trying desperately to find survivors there in the ruins. Here's what the U.S. president Donald Trump said Friday about who's responsible for the bloodshed.


TRUMP: I will say what Russia and what Iran and what Syria have done recently is a humanitarian disgrace. I will tell you that. We're there for one reason. We're there to get ISIS and get rid of ISIS and go home.

We're not there for any other reason. And we've largely accomplished our goal. But what those three countries have done to people over the last short period of time is a disgrace.


HOWELL: Without a cease-fire, there is no way to get critical medical supplies into Eastern Ghouta. Close to 400,000 people are trapped in deteriorating conditions with shells and bombs dropping on them day after day after day.

CNN's Arwa Damon has the latest. And we do warn you, this report contains images that are disturbing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's known as the double tap, a deliberate, heartless exercise. The dust from the first bomb had barely settled before the second one landed.

Children panicked, cry out for their father. But there's no time to wait, no time to look, only time to run and try and stay alive. With the intensity of the recent bombing, most spend their time underground in makeshift shelters.

It's disgusting, suffocating. Children get sick but the hospitals are all getting bombed. Childhood is not even a reflection of what it should be and yet these kids' giggles reverberate almost surreally through tunnels carved out in the ground, play games familiar to most of us under circumstances we cannot even pretend to imagine.

"We wish, we wish for aid, for help here in Ghouta. We're hungry. Let them understand this," this little girl pleads.

In another reality, in what may as well be a world away, it's not that no one heard her cry or any of the others, it's that, once again, the powers that control Syria's fate betrayed it.

This is Syria's story, one that is on a grisly repeat. A mother bids her son goodbye. She's already been through this.

"Say hi to your brother, Talal," she tells his bloody corpse. "Tell him you died the same way he did."


DAMON: The civil defense team posted this video to Twitter, begging people to try to put themselves in the shoes of the father whose son they are looking for. You hear sort of an anguished, low cry and the question, is he alive?

Miraculously, the child is. There are no words for this or perhaps new ones will need to be created that can describe the magnitude of the death, despair and heartbreak and how we utterly failed Syria -- Arwa Damon, CNN, Istanbul.


HOWELL: CNN's Ben Wedeman is following this story from neighboring Lebanon, live in Beirut with us this hour.

Ben, you see the video there, look, without any question, there's a lot at stake for sure with this possible vote in the coming hours. Help set the stage as to why the first vote didn't come together.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It basically comes down to, George, the fact that the Russians have a series of conditions that the other countries involved in this vote have difficulty agreeing to.

The Russians, for instance, want to make sure this 30-day humanitarian cease fire does not include any fighters with ISIS or Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, which is the Nusra Front to the Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria's new name.

In addition to that, the Russians want from the Americans guarantees that the other rebels will respect the cease-fire. Now there are two main factions in Eastern Ghouta. There's the Faylaq al-Rahman and Jaysh al-Islam.

But the problem is the Americans essentially cut off the provision of money and weapons and ammunition to these groups at the beginning of the year when they closed down their operations room in Jordan, that provided those weapons and whatnot.

And therefore they don't have much influence over those groups, either. So in a sense the Russians may simply be doing this as a tactic to buy time; whereby some sort of evacuation agreement will be worked out with the rebel factions, similar to what happened in Aleppo at the end of 2016.

Whereby the rebel fighters, the opposition fighters and their families will be evacuated, probably to the northwest Syrian province of Idlib, where we're seeing -- where there's really a concentration of opposition members and their families.

But at this point it's not at all clear where the vote will go. Now we know that Emmanuel Macron, the French president, and Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, have communicated, written a letter to Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, asking that Russia vote in favor of this 30-day humanitarian cease-fire.

But as I said, at this point, it may not come. We understand that at noon New York time, 7:00 pm in Eastern Ghouta, there will be a vote but at this point it's not at all clear whether the members of the Security Council can agree on it -- George.

HOWELL: So the question as to whether it comes at all and then the question if it does come how effective it will be. Cease-fires don't have the greatest track record of really holding up, so we'll have to wait and see as people wait, some people underground, to see what happens here.

Ben Wedeman, thank you for the reporting.

Still ahead here on NEWSROOM, the U.S. says it's cracking down on companies that help North Korea to avoid economic sanctions. We'll explain how the U.S. is trying to apply maximum pressure on North Korea.

Plus she is the surprise star of the Winter Olympics, taking home two golds in two different sports. We'll explain with a live report from PyeongChang. Stay with us.





HOWELL: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM.

There is a new round of U.S. sanctions against North Korea. This time the U.S. has targeted dozens of shipping companies and vessels that it believes are helping North Korea to evade trade restrictions.

The U.S. and South Korean officials say that the aim is to force North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons. The White House press secretary visiting South Korea for the Olympics called it, "a campaign of maximum pressure."


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president's been very clear, he's not going to broadcast exactly what his plans are. We are going to continue a campaign of maximum pressure.

The latest sanctions are the strongest that we've had on North Korea. We're going to continue in that form. And hopefully we'll see a change on behalf of the North Koreans to start to denuclearize the peninsula. That's what our focus is.


HOWELL: The U.S. president's daughter, Ivanka Trump, is in the Olympic spirit as well. While in PyeongChang, South Korea, she cheered on Team USA at several events ahead of Sunday's closing ceremonies.

But the first daughter and senior advisor to the president say that the main purpose of her trip is to push for that maximum pressure on North Korea.

Let's talk about all of that with CNN's Will Ripley, live in PyeongChang, South Korea.

So Will, clearly the first daughter has two objectives, obviously, to cheer the USA Team but also play into diplomacy here.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. There are two missions, if you will, on the ground here One are the photo ops that we saw today of Ivanka Trump, at one point in a bright red ski suit, cheering on U.S. athletes, smiling, shaking hands, taking pictures. That's the public side.

But behind closed doors, there have been discussions about very sensitive issues with South Korean officials, including yesterday at the Blue House, South Korea's president, Moon Jae-in.

And one of the things that Ivanka Trump briefed President Moon about was this new round of U.S. Treasury Department sanctions against North Korea, the largest sanctions ever imposed against North Korea.

Because the United States more than a year into the Trump presidency still doesn't have an ambassador here in South Korea, the first daughter is the one who is conveying this sensitive information all the way to South Korea's head of state. And so, George, obviously, he's been briefed about a lot of different topics; North Korea the number one topic.

HOWELL: All right, Will. With regard to these sanctions from the U.S. president, what has been the response so far?

And how biting have the sanctions been that are already in place?

RIPLEY: So the Treasury Department said -- Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said yesterday that the U.S. has intelligence that the sanctions already in place are beginning to have a significant impact in North Korea.

But North Korean state media put out an article --


RIPLEY: -- just before the announcement of this latest round of sanctions, saying that no sanctions or military pressure will cause them to relinquish their nuclear weapons. They are digging in their heels, saying that they are a nuclear weapons state.

But these new sanctions are significant, George, in that they're now what the United States is doing essentially is targeting all of the ships that North Korea uses to conduct these illicit transfers of coal and other raw materials that North Korea sells to make money.

What North Korea has done and they've proved very adept at getting around sanctions over the years, they sailed their ships out to a part of the ocean where they think nobody's watching. And they meet up with a ship from another country, for example, Russia or China.

They transfer these materials, they offer a very good price and then the company from a country that is not sanctioned will then sell those materials and not say that they're from North Korea.

So what the Treasury is doing now is they're not only are all of these North Korean ships and shipping companies being sanctioned but they're also warning anyone that does business with North Korea, if they are spotted, and they have planes in the sky, they have satellites looking to take images, trying to catch these types of fuel transfers and other transfers in the act, they're saying if these companies are caught they will also be added to the sanctions list.

So basically they want to make it so risky for companies to do business with North Korea that they will decide it's simply not worth the risk. This is part of the United States' campaign to just try to completely cut off North Korea economically.

Some have called it an economic blockade -- George.

HOWELL: All right. Will Ripley, live for us in PyeongChang, thank you so much. And we'll stay in touch with you, Will. So sports and diplomacy. We've seen these two themes play out hand in hand throughout these Winter Games. But with North and South Korea reducing tensions, if only for two weeks during these games.

But one North Korean man who fled to South Korea 70 years ago doesn't think that this will change his situation. Our Paula Hancocks has his story for us.


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Kwon Moon-kook, who was just 19 when the Korean War broke out in 1950, he deserted the North Korean military, hating the ideology and walked 14 days to get home, hiding in his mother's attic.

He then joined the U.N. forces led by the United States.

"I thought it would be a matter of days," he said, "for our forces to take over the North. I told my parents I'd be back in a week and ran away in the middle of the night."

Kwon said he wouldn't have left if he had known he would never see his parents or two brothers again. He's heard nothing in almost 70 years. He doesn't know if any of them are still alive.

One of millions of families destroyed by the Korean War, one of thousands of North Koreans that settled here in Abai (ph) village on the east coast near the DMZ so they could move back home easily when the time came. But it never did.

Kwon married in South Korea and has four children and nine grandchildren but still misses his North Korean family every day. He checks Google Earth once a week to see satellite images of his hometown near Wonsan in the north, the closest he can get to seeing it again.

HANCOCKS: Ah, so there. That's where you used to --


"No, this is my school," he says. "My mother and father live there."

Some see the Olympic sporting diplomacy between North and South Korea as a positive development. But Kwon says he's not happy to see a joint Korean team. He says they're wearing masks and he doesn't think it will change his situation.

He has not applied to be part of official family reunions between North and South, fearing any family still alive would be punished for his military desertion a lifetime ago.

"I was almost 20 when I left home," he says. "I'm now almost 90. There's no joy of life for me. I'm waiting to die.

"I don't know why," he says. "The older I become, the more I miss my brothers." -- Paula Hancocks, CNN, Abai (ph) village, South Korea. (END VIDEOTAPE)

HOWELL: A lot at stake here beyond the games but focusing on the games, there's just one more day before the Winter Olympics wrap up and another athlete from Russia is in trouble. The Court of Arbitration for Sport says a female bobsledder has been found guilty of doping.

She is now the second Russian to test positive at these games. In the meantime, the Czech superstar Ester Ledecka has claimed her second gold of these games in the snowboard giant slalom after winning her first gold seven days ago in alpine skiing. She's the first athlete ever to have competed in both events at this level.

And Team USA added another gold to their medal tally after defeating Sweden in men's curling. This was their first-ever gold in the event. The United States still has a long way to go to catch up to Norway. Norway, they have 38 total medals. That's more than any country has ever won in a single Winter Olympic Games and 10 medals more than Germany and Canada, who are in second and third place on the medal tables.


All right, homes are flooded and roadways are a mess in many parts of the United States right now. Our meteorologist Ivan Cabrera joins us in just a moment to give us the details on what's happening.







HOWELL: I want to tell you now about the second annual My Freedom Day. CNN is partnering with people around the world for a student-led day of action against modern-day slavery. It's set for March 14th and you can join the fight. We're looking for your views on what freedom means to you. So you post a photo or a video. Just use the #MyFreedomDay.

Also we've also asked celebrities to join in, celebrities like actor John Kani. He plays in the film, "Black Panther," here's what he had to say.


JOHN KANI, ACTOR: In 1994, I was 51 years when I voted for the first time in my life. When the noble rated nettleman (ph), they're like the first democratically president. For the first time I understood what it means to be free. I could look myself in the mirror and be proud of what I see.

Freedom means the greatest responsibility for peaceful coexistence among the peoples of the world and puts on my shoulders the responsibility to make sure that I will not rest until every living human being is free.


HOWELL: What does freedom mean to you?

Again, you can post a video or a photo. Just use the #MyFreedomDay and join us. March 14th for CNN's day-long event.

And thank you for being with us this hour for CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell at the CNN Center in Atlanta. For viewers in the United States, "NEW DAY" is next. For viewers around the world, "AMANPOUR" is ahead. Thanks for watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Atlanta, Georgia. Have a great day.