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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, Chinese Space Station Falling Back to Earth. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired March 10, 2018 - 03:00   ET




ANNA COREN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): U.S. dealmaker in chief, Donald Trump silences the mixed messages from the White House on North Korea, saying a deal to meet is very much in the making.

In the U.K., police combed for clues in the poisoning of a former Russian double agent with British troops coming in to assist.

And later, an earlier symbol of China's rise into space now in a slow fall back toward Earth. And it's anybody's guess where parts of it may land.

Hello, everyone. Thanks so much for your company. I'm Anna Coren in Hong Kong. CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.


COREN: Will it happen or won't it?

A day of mixed messages from the White House on that historic meeting between U.S. president Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong- un. Well, late in the day, the White House said, yes, it will, indeed happen.

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: They have made promises to denuclearize. 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.

We have accepted the invitation to talk based on them following through with concrete actions.

This meeting won't take place without concrete actions.

The president will not have the meeting without seeing concrete steps and concrete actions.


COREN: There is also word that South Korean envoys relayed another message from the North Korean leader to President Trump. South Korea says it was aimed directly at the U.S. president and meant to build trust.

Well, let's bring in our Andrew Stevens live from Seoul.

Andrew, just five months ago, President Trump dismissed the idea of talks, saying that 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.

There is, of course, a real danger that Trump could be made to look like a fool.

What has changed?

ANDREW STEVENS, CNN ASIA PACIFIC EDITOR: Well, I think what has changed is Kim has obviously very clearly reached out to the U.S. administration and made it clear that he is prepared now to talk about denuclearization.

The reason Kim has done that is suggested that the sanctions are biting and also Donald Trump's sort of military posture towards North Korea as well. That not only has spooked North Korea but it's also spooked China as well, because we know China has been asking much more stringently on the sanctions and enforcing the sanctions there. But it's interesting to see just this latest development. You heard from those clips there, Sarah Sanders making it very, very clear that the U.S. is expected some sort of concrete action to match the words of Kim Jong-un.

They almost seem to be rewriting history here because Kim Jong-un, as far as we're aware, from what we hear from the South Korean side -- and they're the only people who so far have given us idea of what Kim has said -- but Kim has said that he will he -- he recognizes that the U.S. and South Korea will go through with their military drills and that he will freeze any tests of nuclear or missiles.

He didn't talk about making any concrete actions on denuclearization ahead of those talks. But the U.S. is -- or Sarah Sanders, at least, is insisting that is, indeed, the case. So it's already begun in confusion, these talks, when they'll take place, where they'll take place.

So it's not a good start even though we're hearing from Donald Trump that that meeting will take place. It's still getting murkier at the moment.

COREN: Andrew, we know that he caught his closest advisers off guard when he agreed to this meeting. Trump obviously sees himself as the master negotiator and can achieve things that his predecessors weren't able to achieve.

But this isn't a business deal, you know, this is international diplomacy at the highest level with so much at stake.

STEVENS: That's right. And it's always been that a meeting with the president is seen as a carrot in itself. So there are preconditions to be met and the reward is that actual meeting with the President of the United States.

Now in his acceptance, which came from what we can gather pretty much straight away after the South Koreans -- excuse me -- after the South Koreans had talked to him about Kim's offer. Trump very, very quickly readily agreed. So he sort of threw away that whole sort of preamble, if you like, about setting conditions, about building up to a meaningful summit.

So Donald Trump, as you say, fancies himself as a businessman. Managing government is not a business. It's much more complex than that. Can he deal --


STEVENS: -- with Kim Jong-un?

These are two maverick leaders, who have pretty healthy egos, going head-to-head. It's really anyone's guess. And let's face it, Donald Trump isn't known for sticking by playbooks.

COREN: No, that's absolutely right. Andrew Stevens, good to see you. Thank you.

The Stormy Daniels saga continues to hover around Donald Trump's presidency. Mr. Trump's longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen, insists he acted alone to buy the porn star's silence about the alleged affair with Mr. Trump. But the e-mail address Cohen used to communicate details of the agreement could tie the episode back to the president.

Our Drew Griffin reports.


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 -- Drew Griffin, CNN, Atlanta.


COREN: Cohen says he regularly uses his Trump Organization email account for personal matters and that the money for Stormy Daniels' payment came from his own home equity credit line.

In a statement, he said, "The earth-shattering uncovered email between myself and the bank corroborates all my previous statements, which is I transferred money from one account of that bank into my LLC and then wired said funds to Ms. Clifford's attorney in Beverly Hills, California."

But Daniels' attorney, Michael Avenatti, is still pushing back. He provided an email to CNN allegedly discussing the payment that included a reference to Cohen's office being closed. Avenatti said it indicates Cohen was acting in a professional capacity.

MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS' ATTORNEY: If, in fact, the payment was being made personally by attorney Cohen, he wouldn't need his office open in order to effectuate the payment. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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 --


MATTHEWS: -- 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 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: The powerful U.S. gun lobby, the National Rifle Association, is suing the state of Florida, claiming parts of a new gun control law are unconstitutional. Florida's governor signed the $400 million measure on Friday. Just week ago, a teenage gunman killed 17 students and teachers at a Florida high school.

The NRA objects to the provision that raises the age to buy a firearm from 18 to 21. Some gun control advocates are also unhappy with the new state law because it allows some teachers to carry firearms on a voluntary basis.

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 assist authorities there. 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 --


BLACK: -- 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, destroying Syria's past and future. How the war has damaged another ancient temple -- ahead.



COREN: Welcome back.

Just as U.S. secretary of state Rex Tillerson was about to arrive in Kenya on Friday, the country's bloody political stalemate suddenly ended. President Uhuru Kenyatta on the left and arch rival Raila Odinga stood side by side to tell the nation their bitter feud was over. We get more now from CNN's Farai Sevenzo.


FARAI SEVENZO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was a shock to many Kenyans today to see Raila Odinga shaking hands with Uhuru Kenyatta, two men who have been such protagonists for such a long time.

Remember, we had an election back in August which was annulled by the supreme court on the 1st of September. Then another election was called in October, which Mr. Odinga and his national coalition boycotted, leaving millions of people without a vote who followed his pew.

And now the two men have decided there's a new way possible for Kenya and that is to discuss the problems this country has had, not in just in the last three or four years but since independence 50 years ago.

And, indeed, many people are wondering now whether this is the opportunity all Kenyans have been waiting for, for the economy to pick up and for them to get jobs. But there are many dissenting voices within Mr. Odinga's new party, the NASA coalition. And it is many who are saying there are so many wasted lives in post-electoral violence and so many people followed him on this path to Kenya, as he called it.

And what will become of Kenya now?

But in general, people are pleased that the political impasse has passed -- Farai Sevenzo, CNN, Nairobi.


COREN: Well, 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 area shot by filmmaker Gabrielle Chaim (ph) and includes video of damage to an ancient temple. The Turkish military released a response, saying it doesn't target archeological sites.

CNN's Hala Gorani has our report. And a warning: the piece you're about to see --


COREN: -- 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 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: Well, CNN is partnering with young people around the world for a student-led day of action against modern-day slavery on March 14th. In advance of My Freedom Day, CNN's Amara Walker explains what freedom means to her.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) AMARA WALKER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hi, everyone. I'm Amara Walker. Freedom to me means being able to pursue your dreams, your goals, all your ambitions in life and having access to all the opportunities to be able to pursue whatever it is that you want to pursue regardless of your race, your religion, your sexual orientation, your gender and even your socioeconomic status. That is what freedom means to me.


COREN: Well, tell the world what freedom means to you using the #MyFreedomDay.

Tropical cyclone Hola has left a path of destruction across Vanuatu and New Caledonia. And now it has its eye on parts of New Zealand.



COREN: Chinese space lab is falling towards Earth and no one is completely sure that parts won't make a hard landing. Michael Holmes reports.


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): China's space lab is barreling towards Earth and it could be just days until a potentially deadly crash. The Tiangong-1 or Heavenly Palace has been a symbol of China's rise since it launched in 2011. And now the space lab is about to plunge into the Earth's atmosphere.

Leroy Chiao is a former NASA astronaut and an International Space Station commander.

LEROY CHIAO, FORMER NASA ASTRONAUT: It's going to come down and most if not all of it is going to burn up in the atmosphere. But it's possible that one or two pieces might survive the entry and strike the Earth.

HOLMES (voice-over): Where it could hit a populated area causing casualties. The space lab hasn't been used by taikonauts since 2013. It was kept in space to make sure its successor, the Tiangong-2 got into orbit successfully.

But China says the Tiangong-1 ceased functioning back on March 16, 2016.

So the real question is, why didn't the Chinese bring it back?

CHIAO: The answer is probably -- I'm speculating a little bit -- but probably because the Tiangong-1 is a pretty darn small spacecraft. It's very likely it will all burn up in the atmosphere and so they didn't plan for it. Looking back, maybe they should have planned for it. HOLMES (voice-over): The Chinese were late to join the space race, launching their first spacecraft, the Shenzhou 1 in 1999. Their first manned mission launched in 2003 and their first attempt at a space walk, 2008.

Since then, Beijing has stepped up its funding and increased expeditions. The Chinese plan to launch a permanent 20-ton space station in 2022. As the International Space Station's future is in doubt after 2025 due to U.S. budget cuts.

CHIAO: China is on the assets. They're going to be operating space station, their own space station with international cooperation. We're going to be ending our part of the International Space Station. So I'm not sure where that's going to leave the U.S. as far as, you know, being the leader in human space (INAUDIBLE).

HOLMES (voice-over): Michael Holmes, CNN, Atlanta.


COREN: Thanks so much for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Anna Coren. I will be back with the headlines in just a moment.