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U.S.-North Korea Talks; Trump Lawyer Used Company E-mail for Stormy Daniels Payment; British Troops Help Investigate Nerve Agent Attack; Civilians Trapped in Afrin. Aired 12-12:30a ET

Aired March 10, 2018 - 00:00   ET




ANNA COREN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Ahead this hour, a diplomatic gamble. U.S. President Trump touts a potential deal with North Korea ahead of a historic meeting with Kim Jong-un.

Plus the mystery deepens as to whether or not President Trump knew of a deal to silence a porn star during the 2016 election.

And the tragedy of Afrin: how the once thriving Syrian city has been reduced to ruins.

Hello and welcome. I'm Anna Coren in Hong Kong. CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.


COREN: It appears the historic meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump is on, despite some cold water being thrown at the prospects earlier Friday.

A few hours ago, President Trump tweeted, "The deal with North Korea is very much in the making and will be, if completed, a very good one for the world."

Well, that came after White House press secretary Sarah Sanders had this to say.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The maximum pressure campaign we're not letting up. We're not going to step back or make any changes to that. We're going to continue in that effort.

And we're not going to have this meeting take place until we see concrete actions that match the words and the rhetoric of North Korea.


COREN: Then there's the question of who would get what at the meeting.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the president giving Kim Jong-un exactly what he wants, which is respect and stature on the international stage?

SANDERS: Not at all. I think that the president is getting exactly what he wants. He's getting the opportunity to have the North Koreans actually denuclearize.


COREN: Japan's prime minister spoke with President Trump Friday. Shinzo Abe said the U.S. and Japan are on the same page.


SHINZO ABE, JAPANESE PRIME MINISTER (through translator): Until North Korea takes steps toward denuclearization, that is completely verifiable and irreversible, we will continue to apply maximum pressure. This U.S.-Japan stance is solid and unwavering


COREN: There's also word that South Korean envoys relayed another message to from the North Korean leader to President Trump when they met with him on Thursday. It's not clear what that message was but South Korea says it was aimed directly at the U.S. president and meant to build trust.

Let's bring in our Andrew Stevens. He's live for us in Seoul, South Korea.

Andrew, North Korea, as we know, has agreed to freeze its nuclear weapons program in the past under President Clinton, President Bush and President Obama. And every single occasion, they reneged.

Why would this time be any different?

ANDREW STEVENS, CNN ASIA PACIFIC EDITOR: Well, Anna, the background to this looks like it is sanctions which are beginning to bite in North Korea and also the saber rattling by Donald Trump, the threat and, in many cases and particularly in Pyongyang, it seems, that he may actually follow through with some sort of military strike.

We heard the rhetoric build and build just a few months ago to sort of critical levels. But it is interesting at the moment because the White House does seem to be backpedaling.

You heard Sarah Sanders there talking about they want to see some sort of preconditions met before this summit takes place. She said that North Korea has promised to denuclearize.

That's actually not quite the case. North Korea has promised to talk about denuclearizing. It has its own conditions to see that through. We don't know what they are yet.

But the White House is now saying that North Korea has to take verifiable, concrete steps before these two meet.

Now it was clear that Kim Jong-un sent a message through the envoys to Donald Trump saying that he wanted to talk about denuclearization and he was prepared to freeze the tests of missiles, of nuclear weapons but not to denuclearize ahead of that meeting.

So the White House seems to be backpedaling and putting in these preconditions to any sort of talk with Donald Trump.

COREN: It's always interesting when you look at the finer detail. That, of course, could see a breakdown in the talks between now and May.

But as you mentioned, those sanctions look like they're biting and that's what the South Koreans are certainly saying. But we know that North Korea is a poor country and that the people have been suffering for a very long time.

So who in North Korean society is hurting now under these sanctions?

STEVENS: Well, it does seem to be aimed, a lot of these sanctions, they tried not to target obviously ordinary North Koreans. But, again, a lot of the latest round of sanctions, it talks about limiting textiles. It talks about limiting the amount of seafood that North Korea exports.

This is all about trying to restrict the amount of hard currency earnings that the North Koreans are getting and this is going to hurt ordinary people in North Korea.

There is also evidence and suggestions that we hear from --


STEVENS: -- the intelligence community that the annual military exercises, which are taken by North Korea, the winter military exercises, have been curtailed quite a lot this year because there's just not enough fuel. They're running out of fuel and it's expensive to hold these sort of military exercises.

So you see from this, these anecdotal stories, that North Korea is starting to really feel the effect of these. And, remember, the sanctions are now in place. But it's expected to take a few weeks before they really, really start to bite. So it is going to get worse in North Korea.

So we haven't heard yet from Kim Jong-un any demands about lifting sanctions before there are talks or anything. But certainly it is thought by analysts in South Korea, in the U.S., that these sanctions are pivotal in getting Kim to the negotiating table in the first place,

COREN: Andrew Stevens, we always appreciate your insight. Good to see you. Many thanks for that.

Steve Chung is an assistant lecturer at the Global Studies Program at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. And he joins us now.

Steve, great to have you with us.

How likely is it that this face-to-face meeting between Kim Jong-un and President Trump will actually happen?

STEVE CHUNG, CHINESE UNIVERSITY OF HONG KONG: I think in the coming few weeks or maybe months, like before the end of May, I think we will know that, whether the summit will be happening. Because I think in the coming few weeks, both sides have to sit down and talk.

And they will have to agree that which destination they have to choose where the meeting will be held, either in North Korea or will Kim Jong-un fly to the U.S.?

Or will there be any in between, probably some other people suggesting that probably they may choose the place like in China or in Russia that can play an intermediating role between the U.S. and North Korea.

So I think in the coming few days or few weeks, both sides have to sit down and talk and probably there will be even more confrontation afterwards. I think what President Trump and Kim Jong-un agree at this moment is that they really want to have meetings very soon. But in the technical terms, there will be even more problems afterwards.

COREN: That's right, the devil is always in the detail.

Steve, just five months ago, President Trump dismissed the idea of talks with North Korea, saying that presidents and their administrations have been talking to North Korea for 25 years and have been made to look like fools.

Now there is a real danger that President Trump could be made to look like a fool, isn't it?

CHUNG: Yes. I think that's the reasons why the U.S. has been a little bit quite reluctant to North Korea very soon because I think they have been dealing with North and the issue for decades.

And they have been cheated for several times when North Korea agreed to freeze the nuclear weapons or even they really want to go denuclearize sometimes before, in the last two decades.

But afterwards we've seen the North decide to take the agreement as a scrap of paper and they do not want to put their words into action. So that's why the U.S. nowadays, they have to be very careful about what North Korea want to say and what they're going to do.

And I think especially at the time of Obama administration, currently Donald Trump really want to have a very cautious way to look at what North Korea is trying to do. So instead of what concentrate more about what they're saying. COREN: Steve, we know that, from reports out of the White House that

President Trump caught his advisors and the rest of his administration off guard when he agreed to this meeting. Trump obviously sees himself as a master negotiator and can achieve things that his predecessors were unable to achieve because of his personality.

But this isn't a business deal. This isn't a reality show. This is international diplomacy at the highest level with so much at stake.

Can we trust him to deliver the goods?

CHUNG: I think it's still too early to say because I think, as I mentioned, that we still have to see the (INAUDIBLE) like technical terms that both side have to sit down and talk.

I think it's a very good start for both sides to show they really want to do some concessions for other side. For Trump, he really wants to achieve some kind of diplomatic triumph for himself and to set up good foundation for future leaders.

And for Kim Jong-un, I think he really wants to achieve something that especially the last few months we see the North's situation is deteriorating and they -- and I think he really needs to get the U.S. or the United Nations to lift up --


CHUNG: -- some of the sanctions. So I think both sides, they have good faith in talk to each other. But it all depends on whether it's only a business deal or a grand bargain for either side.

COREN: All right, Steve Chung, great to get your analysis. Many thanks for that.

Turning to other news now, new details are emerging in the Stormy Daniels scandal. Donald Trump's lawyer, Michael Cohen, says the $130,000 he paid the porn star came from his own home equity credit line.

Daniels' attorney says that's just an excuse.


MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS' ATTORNEY: We have heard explanation upon explanation. They are ever changing. It's nonsense. I don't care if you're on the Left or on the Right or in the middle. The American people deserve straight talk, not spin on this issue. They deserve facts. They deserve the truth. They deserve evidence.

This is not complicated. The questions are simple.

Did Mr. Trump know about the negotiation of this agreement?


COREN: Daniels says she had a sexual relationship with the president, which he denies. But another piece of evidence that could tie Trump to the payment is the email address Cohen used to allegedly used to negotiate Stormy Daniels' silence, though Cohen says he regularly uses that account for personal matters. Our Drew Griffin has more.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SR. INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The e-mails are brief. First Republic Bank, advising Michael Cohen the funds have been deposited into your checking account. Cohen forwards that message to Stormy Daniels' attorney.

What is potentially damaging for Cohen, the e-mail account he used @trump, is a Trump company e-mail account, which could indicate the Trump Organization was somehow involved in a $130,000 payment to silence a porn actress.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please tell me what the hell is going on.

AVENATTI: I think this development is significant because it shows that, at all times during the communication process relating to the negotiation surrounding this hush payment, that Mr. Cohen was utilizing his Trump Organization e-mail in those communications, not just when communicating with Mr. Davidson.

Ms. Clifford's attorney at the time but also internally when he was communicating with the bank about the specific issue of transferring the money.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): While there is no evidence Donald Trump knew about the e-mail or the payment, if the payment did involve Mr. Trump, it could be considered illegal, a violation of campaign finance law, because it was never reported to the Federal Election Commission.

AVENATTI: The coverup is that you have attorney Cohen claiming that Donald Trump never knew anything about this. You have the White House claiming that Donald Trump never knew anything about this.

That will be shown to be patently false. We have substantial evidence and facts that were not included in the complaint. And when that evidence and those facts come to light, the American people are going to conclude that attorney Cohen and the White House have not shot straight with them on this issue.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): And there may be more than just e-mails. The so-called hush agreement, written by Michael Cohen, says Stormy Daniels, under her real name, Stephanie Clifford, came into possession of certain confidential information about D.D., Donald Trump's alias, including information, certain still images and/or text messages.

Cohen goes to write, included in those are images Donald Trump previously represented to his counsel to exist; i.e. text messages, between P.P, Stephanie Clifford, and D.D., Donald Trump.

In other words, it implies Trump told his personal attorney Trump and Stormy Daniels shared text messages.


COREN: CNN's Drew Griffin reporting there. Let's discuss this now with political analyst Peter Matthews.

Peter, this is messy. North Korea and the tariffs that Trump is imposing certainly haven't knocked the Stormy Daniels story out of the headlines. If anything, this is gaining momentum.

How does it play out?

PETER MATTHEWS, CYPRESS COLLEGE: It's going to be amazing because, if you look at it, this is not just about campaign finance. It's also about national security. But let take the two issues.

Campaign finance: if the president knew about it and if he was actually part of the person who gave the money or at least that money was related to his knowledge of it, then he's broken the campaign finance laws in which he has to report every single contribution, his in-kind contribution, that was made to the campaign.

Plus that money is way above the in-kind contribution maximum of $2,700. It's $130,000. It's way above it.

So in each case, it's a campaign finance violation but it's also a national security issue because it looks like Trump has paid people to be silent. And this is a very dangerous situation when he has allegedly had affairs with them and then paid them to be --


MATTHEWS: -- silent. That's perfect fodder for any kind of blackmail, possible blackmail by other countries or other people who are nefarious toward our country and toward him.

COREN: Peter, obviously Trump's longtime lawyer has now claimed he paid Stormy Daniels out of his own pocket. Surely that raises more questions as well.

MATTHEWS: It certainly does and it's hard to believe that he would do that without any kind of assurance of reimbursement or some kind of favor by the president. He is his lawyer, after all. Then if he pays out of his own pocket, that's pretty unusual for any lawyer to even think of doing that.

It would also raise questions about whether or not he was involved, in a sense helping the campaign. That's considered an in-kind contribution because it helped the campaign for Stormy Daniels to not say a word about any of this before the election in November.

There's no doubt it's going to be considered some type of contribution toward the campaign, toward his victory. And if a lawyer was involved with it, that's also against the law for anyone to contribute that kind of money to a campaign. So a hard way to get around it either way.

COREN: And now that there is obviously this evidence that Michael Cohen sent emails from his Trump Organization email account, how do we read into that?

MATTHEWS: That's even worse because, there you go. It's evidence that the organization somehow was connected to this situation, which means the organization, it was covered up, that Trump denied everything at the beginning.

And so there could be -- the coverup could be worse than the violation itself. And since that e-mail was sent on Trump Organization e-mail, it's really nefarious for him, very dangerous situation at this point for the president.

COREN: Now we know that Trump is Mr. Teflon and just survives scandal after scandal.


MATTHEWS: So far. So far.

COREN: -- so far. That's correct. Yes, exactly. So far. It doesn't affect his base. People still support him, his constituents.

But could this hurt Trump in the long term depending on how this all plays out?

MATTHEWS: It certainly can, Anna, because, first of all, the fact that he has been -- seemed to be Teflon doesn't mean he's always going to remain that way because eventually the Teflon will wear out if it's hit hard enough.

He's also got this part of the coalition is this fundamentalist Christian base and some may of them may have had enough with this, in their view, immorality, very blatant immorality and they may just all stay home and not vote for him.

And don't forget, he's only got about 34 percent support right now and that's his loyal supporters, who will vote for him again regardless of all of this. Yet he needs much more than that to win the election against one single Democrat who runs against him.

However, if there's a third-party candidate, he could possibly hang on to that base and still win if there's three candidates. That's unlikely though. So I think he's going to have a very difficult time with this situation and his base is not going to be enough to put him over the top next time around.

COREN: Watch this space. Professor Peter Matthews, great to see you. Thanks for your time.

MATTHEWS: My pleasure. Thank you.

COREN: Coming up next, British investigators have called in the military to help with the mysterious poisoning of a Russian double agent and his daughter. An update on the hunt for who tried to kill them. That's next.




COREN: Nearly 200 British troops are helping police investigate the mysterious nerve agent attack in Salisbury, Southern England. That's where someone poisoned former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter, Yulia. They are fighting for their lives in hospital.

Western intelligence services consider Russia a leading suspect, though they warn it's still too early in the investigation to say for sure. On Friday, British troops deployed to Salisbury to find out more. Our CNN's Phil Black has the details.


PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The military support is coming from different services, the army, air force and Marines, different units with different capabilities and expertise.

We're told some of that expertise includes chemical warfare and decontamination. The police say they've asked for this help in order to deal with -- remove some objects, including cars, implying there is some ongoing concern about the possibility of contamination from the nerve agent.

But authorities here say the health advice to the public is still the same. They don't believe there is any wider ongoing risk.

Meanwhile, police were also seen at the local cemetery in protective clothing, studying the graves of Sergei Skripal's wife and son. A close friend of family tells CNN that Skripal's wife, Lyudmila, died in 2012 at the age of 60 from cancer; his son, Alexander, passed away just last year at the age of 43 from liver failure.

The police say they're not disturbing the graves. They're not exhuming any remains. The forensic focus is simply on the grave sites themselves. This is all part of the ongoing effort as investigators here try to determine how and where the nerve agent was deployed in this small English city -- Phil Black, CNN, Salisbury, Southern England.


COREN: Coming up, Turkey says it's close to a major victory in Syria's Afrin region. Exclusive new drone footage of the embattled area -- ahead.



(MUSIC PLAYING) COREN: Kurdish forces in Syria say the fight for Afrin isn't over yet. The YPG are denying claims by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He said Friday his troops and allied rebels have Afrin city surrounded and could move in at any moment.

CNN has obtained exclusive new drone footage of the region that was shot by filmmaker Gabrielle Chama (ph) and shows the toll of the Turkish offensive. CNN's Hala Gorani reports and a warning: the piece you're about to see contains disturbing video.


HALA GORANI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This used to be an ancient temple, famed for its carved stone lions that it survived intact for over 3,000 years. But now exclusive new drone footage shows little of the Ain Dara Temple remains. The telltale scars of airstrikes in the green Syrian countryside.

Six weeks since Turkey began its offensive against Kurdish militia in the northern Syrian region of Afrin homes are leveled over 100 civilians killed. Turkey insists it is targeting --


GORANI (voice-over): -- terrorists and trying to avoid civilian casualties.

Those who have the means to leave have packed up their belongings. But some like Muhammad feel they have no choice but to stay. Hiding inside with his wife and 10 small children placing their faith, they say in God's hands.

MUHAMMAD ALI, RESIDENT OF AFRIN REGION (through translator): Our faith in God is strong and we only see him. Of course, we fear for our children but where should we go, wherever we go is the same.

GORANI: His children too put on a brave face. They no longer flinch at the sound of explosions. For another family being treated at Afrin hospital, tragedy has already struck, (INAUDIBLE) was in the kitchen cooking.

BANALSH IMMO, RESIDENT OF AFRIN REGION (through translator): I heard the sound of a shell falling in front of the door. It was dark. I went out and saw my son, Ferat (ph). He lost his legs and hands, but he was still alive. My daughter was dead and I took her out of the rubble.

GORANI: Three of their four children were killed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): These children, what are they guilty of? Are they politicians? Are they military?

GORANI: In the morgue, their small bodies are prepared for burial, faced with the senseless loss of young life, a desperate cry for help.

Where is the USA? Where is Russia? Where are the human rights? What is happening to us? I call on the Germans to respond. This is a massacre in Afrin. So far, no sign her call will be answered -- Hala Gorani, CNN.


COREN: Absolutely horrific.

Well, in response to the footage of Ain Dara temple you saw at the beginning of Hala's report, the Turkish military said, quote, "Since the beginning of the operation, the religious and cultural artifacts, historical artifacts and archeological sites and facilities that serve the public interest are definitely not among the targets of the Turkish armed forces."

Next week, CNN is partnering with young people around the world for a student-led day action against modern-day slavery. That's Wednesday, March 14th. To get ready for My Freedom Day, we're asking people around the world to tell us what freedom means to them.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hello, I'm (INAUDIBLE) and I live in the Netherlands. Freedom to me is being able to be (INAUDIBLE) and to make your own choices.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hello, my name is Dorene (ph) and I live in Amsterdam. Freedom to me is being able to live life to the full without being exploited or suppressed by anyone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, my name is Lika (ph) and I live in Amsterdam. Freedom to me is being able to make my own choices.

COREN (voice-over): We want to hear from you. Tell us what freedom means. Share your story using the #MyFreedomDay.


COREN: Thanks so much for your company. I'll be back with the headlines.