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Theresa May Demanding Russia to Explain; Republicans Ending Russia Investigation; Deafening Silence from North Korea on the May Summit; Bombs Exploded in Austin, Texas; Nepal Plane Crash; U.S. Warns Of Action As It Urges New U.N. Ceasefire; Army Divides Eastern Ghouta, Cuts Supply Routes; A Voter's Change Of Heart; U.S. House Race In Pennsylvania, A Test For Trump; My Freedom Day Aired 3-4a ET

Aired March 13, 2018 - 03:00   ET



HANNAH VAUGHAN JONES, CNN ANCHOR: Theresa May's ultimatum. The British prime minister is demanding an explanation from Russia over a military-grade nerve agent used to poison a former spy.

And South Korea tries to calm jitters over what would be an unprecedented meeting between the leaders of the United States and North Korea.

Plus, on the eve of CNN's My Freedom Day, we'll see how a human trafficking survivor is helping students understand and fight modern day slavery.

Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us from all around the world. I'm Hannah Vaughan Jones, live for you in London, and this is CNN Newsroom.

The British Prime Minister Theresa May says Russia has until the end of Tuesday to explain how a former spy and his daughter were poisoned on British soil. She says they were targeted with a deadly nerve agent last week in Southern England.

In a statement, the U.S. Secretary of State Tex Tillerson also denounced the attack and supported the prime minister's assessment that Russia was indeed behind it. Here's part of what Mrs. May told parliament.


THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: It is now clear that Mr. Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia.

Our knowledge that Russia has previously produced this agent and would still be capable of doing so, Russia's record of conducting state- sponsored assassinations, and our assessment that Russia views some defectors as legitimate targets for assassinations.

The government has concluded that it is highly likely that Russia was responsible for the act against Sergei and Yulia Skripal. Either this was a direct act by the Russian state against our country, or the Russian government lost control of its potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others.


JONES: Well, CNN is covering this story from multiple angles for you. Erin McLaughlin is in Salisbury, England. Sam Kiley has the reaction from Moscow. Erin, to you first, though. This small city of Salisbury now very much under the international spotlight and nervous 10 times for those in that city as well who potentially were caught in the trail of these nerve agents.

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Absolutely, Hannah. And as you say, this is a small city. Prior to this attack, it was best known for its stunning cathedral and proximity to Stonehenge. Nothing like this has ever happened here, and people are extremely concerned, especially now that they know the type of nerve agent used. Know extremely lethal, military grade, made by the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

And security experts are telling me that they believe that trace elements - the problem with agent is that trace elements could stay in the environment for a long period of time leading to potential contamination potentially dangerous for anyone in its path.

And that is a concern, which is why we're hearing from health officials saying if you were in the path, in the pizza restaurant after 1.40 or 1.30 in the afternoon on Sunday, March 4th, you need to wash your clothes.

And it also tells us that Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, were poisoned prior to reaching the park bench where they were later found unconscious. And it doesn't seem -- authorities now saying, being very tight lipped with the details of this investigation, but it doesn't seem that they know where exactly Skripal and his daughter were poisoned.

So, people here are very worried. We see the military come in. Over 180 military personnel, specialized decontamination units removing vehicles, police cars, ambulance, ambulances, anything that Skripal and his daughter may have come into contact with.

They've also cordoned off the local cemetery where Skripal's wife and his son are buried, also cordoned off Skripal's home. So they're extremely concerned, clearly, about the possibility of contamination, the long-term impacts of that. And key questions remain as to how this happened, Hannah.

JONES: Erin, we appreciate it. Erin, live for us in Salisbury in Southern England. Well, as I mentioned in the introduction earlier, the U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has condemned Russia for this attack. But his position was much stronger than that of the White House.

Here are just some of Rex Tillerson's words. He said, quote, "We are outraged that Russia appears to have again engaged in such behavior. From Ukraine to Syria, and now the U.K., Russia continues to be an irresponsible force of instability in the world, acting with open disregard for the sovereignty of other states and the life of their citizens."

[03:05:11] Let's turn now to Sam Kiley. Sam is standing by for us in Moscow, the Russian capital, of course. Sam, Theresa May put it in her own words to say there are really two options here. Either this was a nerve agent ordered by the Kremlin itself for actions on the U.K. soil, or indeed this nerve agent Novichok was somehow put into the wrong hands and smuggled out of Russia, but either way, all the roads here lead back to Russia.

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they do. I mean, this is an agent that was only developed by the Russians, specifically to try to get around nonproliferation treaties that require the destruction of chemical weapons and the nerve agents of this nature during the 1970s and 1980s.

Interestingly, the British MI-6 handler who recruited Skripal was during the 1990s -- and we know his name -- was during the 1990s tasked with keeping as his top priority, keeping an eye on the movement of weapons of mass destruction, be they nerve agents or the ultimate weapons of mass destruction, of course being nuclear know-how and nuclear weapons.

The movement of these during the -- roiling 1990s when the Soviet Union came to an end in Russia was in economic turmoil. That was a period when there were deep concerns that some of these very dangerous weapons may end up in the wrong hands. And that may give ironically a degree of wiggle room.

Perhaps it's part of a signal if it was a Kremlin plot to be seen to the MI-6 agent and his agent, Skripal, who he had working for British intelligence inside Russian military intelligence. It may be some kind of a spy on spy plot there.

But nonetheless, the issue is really how are the Russians going to react to this? Are they likely to fold in and say, yes, we lost control of this deadly nerve agent, or are they likely to say, yes, we did it. We are a state sponsors international assassinations.

I think in all probability they will make neither statement at the moment. They're simply softening up the international audience with a statement saying that Russian journalists are coming under pressure, even suggesting that they've been getting death threats in the United Kingdom following this attempted murder of Skripal and his daughter.

Read perhaps softening up the international community for some tit- for-tat expulsions which is one of the options available, of course, to Theresa May's government to throw out some Russian diplomats, other people suspected of being agents of Russian intelligence, and of course, then that would almost inevitably be met with expulsions or perhaps the expulsions of organizations such as the BBC.

There is always this sort of options available in these tit-for-tat operations. But ultimately, I think, Hannah, one of the things that the Kremlin is keen to exploit other divisions within western allies.

Theresa May will be looking for support, for example, from the European Union if she wants to impose more economic sanctions at a time when she's actually trying to negotiate Britain's exit from the European Union.

And if you look across the water in the United States, yes, Rex Tillerson has come out with some very, very, very strong statements condemning Russia's international position, a force of instability. That has not been met at all by statements coming from the official spokesman for the White House.

So, again, there are opportunities there where for the Russians are very, very good at exploiting these frictions within western powers.

JONES: Sam Kiley, we appreciate it. Sam live for us there in Moscow. So let's bring in CNN's international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson. He joins me in the studio now. Nic, this deadline that Theresa May has set is looming now. How big a test, first of all, of her premiership is this and how she handles Russia.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: It's a very big test. She's at the crossroads. What she decides in the next 24 hours is going to impact and influence the relationship with Russia going forward. That's a huge number of business interest.

Let's just look two weeks ago when Britain was going through that really cold freeze, and it was declared that Britain's gas reserves were below capacity on that day to handle the outgoing gas to heat the country. Businesses are told to throttle back.

Britain turned to a Russian supplier of gas as a way to bring in some cheaper gas to the U.K. National security issue, big issue. If she ramps up sanctions on Russian businesses, expels handfuls of diplomats as Ted Heath did, the British Prime Minister back in 1971, 105 diplomats he expelled. That was one-fifth of the total contingent of Russian Soviet diplomats in the country at the time.

[03:09:57] There are big choices at stake, and she managed to push the can down the road a little bit and by wiggle room maybe to find allies yesterday. But there is a serious time crunch for her to make this decision.

JONES: And this is part of the problem here is that Britain is in a very different standing on the global stage than it was, say, in the 1970s as well. And Russia clearly is almost laughing at the U.K. at the moment, saying this is a circus show.

ROBERTSON: Russia perhaps is looking at the U.K. with a view that whatever it says or does is of no great impact to Russia at this time. I mean, if this was state sanctioned then that would have to be the underlying message. Putin does go to the polls very soon. He is expected to win. He would like to see a higher turnout.

When you listen to some of the things that the Russian embassy has been saying here yesterday it's very reminiscent to what they were saying about the need to protect Russian, ethnic Russian people in Ukraine, and we saw the lengths that Russia was prepared to go to there.

I don't think Russia is talking in any way in terms about that kind of level of crossing international borders. However, it's that language.

So, I think what Russia was signaling yesterday through the embassy here, that everything's at stake, and we're up for it. If you're going to push hard, then that's exactly what we're going to do.

JONES: Would Russia react more seriously, should we say, to the allegations from the U.K. if NATO became more seriously involved?

ROBERTSON: I think it would be an escalation. It will be an escalation of an already growing tension. But Russia hasn't throttled, it appears as far as we know its capacity for cyber-type espionage in Europe. We know that most European governments are concerned about that. We know obviously there are investigations in the United States precisely about beyond cyber espionage but meddling.

This would come on top of that. That was one of the points Rex Tillerson was making. It's one of the points we've heard coming from NATO. Britain under radical (Inaudible) of NATO is entitled to go and say we need to talk about this current security issue.

But what Theresa May doesn't have time for here is to build an alliance of partners within the European Union. She was in Munich at a security conference a few weekends ago, telling her E.U. partners that Britain still wants to contribute to the security relationship in the whole of Europe. That's important.

However, she has also -- Britain is also been really upsetting its E.U. partners...

JONES: Absolutely.

ROBERTSON: ... by this terribly top Brexit negotiation divided party, divided time, and this is absolutely, all, all, all to Putin's liking. A divided White House, State Department, a divided Europe amongst its partners. No time for Theresa may to pull them together.

JONES: Yes, definitely she's got enough negotiations on the plate with the E.U. asking sanctimony.

Nic, thank you very much.

Now to other news, Donald Trump is hailing the House intelligence committee's decision to end its Russia investigation and the key conclusion of the Republican-led panel is music to his ears. No collusion.

CNN's Manu Raju reports.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Republicans in the House intelligence committee moving to shut down the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 elections, believed they've gone through everything that they need to go through.

It went through 73 witnesses they've interviewed, thousands of pages of documents. And they say they have reached this conclusion. There had been no collusion between Trump officials and Russians in the 2016 elections.

And also very significant finding on their part, they say that they cannot support the intelligence community's assessment, the United States intelligence community's assessment that the Russians actually tried to help Donald Trump become president under the direction of Vladimir Putin. That is something that the intelligence committee -- community concluded in January of 2017.

But the Republicans on this key committee in the United States House are saying, well, we don't agree with that assessment.

That is a pretty remarkable finding, essentially aligning with what President Trump has been saying all along, but breaking sharply from Democrats who said there are a number of issues that this committee has refused to investigate, subpoena they refused to issue, everything from Trump family finances to conversation that Donald Trump, Jr. had with his father that he said were protected by attorney-client privilege, as well as they believe that there is ample evidence of collusion that the Republicans have just decided not to investigate in order to protect the White House.

Now, Republicans are pushing back on that assertion. They said they have done more than enough investigation.

But in a significant development, Senator Richard Burr, who is the Senate Republican chairman who is investigating the Russia meddling issue on the intelligence committee on the Senate side, separate from the House probe, told me that he also has not seen evidence yet of collusion, and he also does not see anything to substantiate that intelligence community finding of Trump being aided by this Russian cyber effort on behalf of Vladimir Putin.

Now, this is a sign that this investigation in both the House and the Senate side breaking down very sharply along party lines, and we may not get a consensus from Capitol Hill about what exactly happened in the 2016 elections.

[03:15:00] That may leave all the pressure on Robert Mueller to lay out to the American public what he finds as part of his criminal investigation into Russia meddling.

Manu Raju, CNN, Capitol Hill.

JONES: Manu, thank you. Well, the intelligence community is pushing back on the claim that Russian meddling wasn't meant to help Donald Trump.

The director of national intelligence released a statement saying the community stands by its assessment and, of course, Democrats say the House investigation should not have ended.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D) CA.: They went through the motions of bringing witnesses in, and we learned a great deal through those witnesses. But when we needed to compel them to answer questions, when people like Steve Bannon would stonewall or Corey Lewandowski or others, all too often they were willing to accept no for an answer.

They would ask, you know, very conclusory questions like, did you conspire, did you concluded? And if they said, no, the Republicans were content to leave it at that. That's not conducting an investigation. That's going through the motions.

So the fundamental problem from the beginning was that my colleagues view their job as protecting their client, the president, rather than getting to the truth. And I think that's a grave disservice to the country.


JONES: Well, House Democrats are expected to draft their own report, making the case for collusion and highlighting the things the intelligence committee did not investigate.

OK. Coming up, South Korea's shuttle diplomacy, its top envoys are trying to persuade wary allies to get behind President Trump's potential meeting with North Korea's Kim Jong-un.

Also coming up, people in Austin, Texas, are on edge. Police don't yet know who's behind the past week's deadly package bombs.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello. My name is Suhad (Ph) and I live in Bangkok, Thailand. Freedom to me is to be who you are created to be.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My name is Kaitlin (Ph) and I live in Orange County, California. Freedom to me is pursuing my passions and dreams.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi. My name is Loida (Ph) and I live in Barcelona, Spain. To me, freedom is a right that every human being deserves.


JONES: Some answers there to the question, what does freedom mean to you? It is all part of CNN's My Freedom Day campaign, the student-led day of action against modern day slavery is on Wednesday.

And we want you to get involved, so you can use the hash tag My Freedom Day and connect with us online. Tell us what freedom means to you.

South Korea's envoys are trying to pave the way for what would be an unprecedented meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. South Korea's national security adviser met with the Chinese

President, Xi Jinping in Beijing. Mr. Xi said he supports the talks. And South Korea's spy chief held talks with Japan's Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe reiterated he wants concrete action from North Korea on denuclearization.

[03:20:01] Well, despite Pyongyang's public silence so far about any meeting with President Trump, the White House is still confident the meeting will go ahead.


SARAH HUCKABEE-SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We fully expect that it will. The offer was made, and we've accepted. North Korea made several promises, and we hope that they would stick to those promises. And if so, the meeting will go on as planned.


JONES: Joining us now, CNN's Ivan Watson is live in Seoul, South Korea. Also journalist Kaori Enjoji is in Tokyo for us. Ivan, to you first. South Korea very much engaging in shuttle diplomacy at the moment. But is there an element of concern in the South that the North is yet to even publicly acknowledge the possibility of a face to face meeting?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's certainly yet another day of silence from Pyongyang on this diplomacy and the possibility of not only a summit with the South Korean president in the coming month but also a first ever sit-down meeting with a U.S. president and a North Korean leader.

The North Korean state media is publishing reports every day. For instance, today there was an article in KCNA about congratulating a group in Austria for putting on its web page the fact that it was acknowledging a book written by North Korea's leader about his grandfather.

Yesterday, for instance, there was an article about a new method of enriching rice which had been established by the Rice Institute of North Korea. But no mention whatsoever from official figures, from the state media, about an imminent meeting with President Trump, which raises questions about how to interpret messages that have been delivered by South Koreans who met with Kim Jong-un in recent weeks.

Messages such as the fact that North Korea allegedly will not object to upcoming joint military exercises scheduled to take place in April here in South Korea.

That has traditionally been a real source of tension and frustration on the part of the North. It has led to missile launches and even nuclear tests in the past.

Also South Korea saying that they're willing to talk about denuclearization, which has been a red line for the North Koreans in the past. And what it has done is basically, over the course of the last week, put South Korea's government in the position of kind of being Pyongyang whisperers, where they're trying to translate the silence and messages that they've heard face to face with the North Koreans to the White House, to the Chinese government, to the Japanese government as well.

And the unification ministry official on Monday had to basically say that he interpreted the silence out of Pyongyang as being basically caution and the North Koreans trying to be careful as they're trying to figure out how to present themselves to the international community.

One little additional note I'd like to make. There is a poll published this week, Hannah, for South Koreas in real meter how do they interpret the change of attitude coming from the North Koreans. Seventy three percent of South Korean adults surveyed said they welcome North Korea's change of attitude, but 64 percent say they do not trust the change of attitude. Hannah?

JONES: Fascinating stuff. Ivan, thank you. Let's go to Kaori Enjoji who is in Tokyo for us. And Kaori, of course, Japan has a huge vested interest in what goes on here given the fact that it is in the direct firing line of the past missile aggression that we've seen from Pyongyang. Is Tokyo very much cynical, skeptical of the motivations and the likely outcomes if this meeting does indeed happen?

KAORI ENJOJI, JOURNALIST: Well, I think to use the words of various government officials, they're cautiously optimistic. Yes, there is some underlying skepticism and I think that will linger for many weeks and months to come because everyone here from the top government officials to the general public remembers rounds and rounds of negotiations with North Korea in the past where they got some promises, but then they backtracked.

And there were a number of those occasions when these so-called six- party talks unraveled. So I think everyone remembers that, and that is the source of the skepticism.

Having said that, the fact that the South Korean spy chief Suh Hoon was in town over the last two days, sat down with the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, sat down with the foreign minister last night, and tried to project an image of a full-court press between the U.S. -- with the U.S., South Korea, and Japan in these upcoming talks, I think is giving some reassurance that perhaps Japan's position, particular position in this might be heard.

[03:24:59] And I think there is a little bit of optimism that the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been very deftly maneuvering around Washington politics and has developed, oddly enough, a very strong rapport with the president in the United States.

So, I think there is some hope that the U.S. -- that the Japanese government will be able to leverage that and try to get its position heard in these upcoming talks.

So, yes, there is a little bit of skepticism but I think in the words of the foreign minister, we're not going to be fooled by this. Make no mistake. We want denuclearization. And the words of the prime minister - we want to see North Korea actually walk the walk. Hannah?

JONES: Yes. Trust is clearly so important for all of the players involved in this going forward. Kaori Enjoji, many thanks indeed for reporting there from Tokyo, Japan.

OK. On the technology front for you now, President Trump is blocking Broadcom's $117 billion bid for U.S. chip maker Qualcomm. In his order, Mr. Trump wrote that he had credible evidence the Singapore- based company might threaten national security.

Broadcom said it's reviewing the order and, quote, "strongly disagrees" that the hostile takeover raises any security concerns.

A Treasury Department panel raised concerns the takeover would cause the U.S. to fall behind China on developing so-called 5G technology. Such action against foreign investment in an American company is rare.

Police in Austin, Texas, are warning people to be cautious about any packages they receive. Three package bombs have exploded in the past 10 days, killing a teenager and also killing a 39-year-old man. Also critically injuring one elderly woman.

Two of the explosions happened within hours of each other on Monday. Police say the bombings appear to be connected and could be hate crimes because of the victims' races. Authorities do not think the bombings are linked to the south by southwest festival which began on Friday.

The poisoning of a former Russian spy has sparked health concerns in Salisbury in Southern England. What officials are now telling people there to do. That's just ahead.

Plus, it seems only a matter of time before the Syrian regime recaptures Eastern Ghouta and the U.S. is warning it may now take action on its own.

And later on in the program, a new offer from Stormy Daniels. The adult film star says she'll give the $130,000 back to Donald Trump's lawyer. What she wants in return, coming up.


[03:30:00] HANNAH VAUGHAN JONES, CONNECT THE WORLD GUEST HOST: Hello and welcome back to CNN Newsroom. Just coming out to half past 7:00, a local time here in London, I'm Hannah Vaughan Jones. Let me take you now on our top stories this hour.

Republicans on the U.S. House Intelligence Committee say there is no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. They ended their investigation on Monday without consulting Democrats. The Republicans also claimed Vladimir Putin was not trying to help Donald Trump get elected.

Officials in Nepal are investigating what caused a plane to crash while landing at Kathmandu airport. At least 49 people were killed. Airport officials say the plane approached the runway from the wrong direction. The airline blames air traffic control for giving the wrong signals.

The U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says he agrees that Russia is likely responsible for poisoning a former Russian spy and his daughter in England. That echoes the accusations of British Prime Minister Theresa May made earlier on Monday. She told parliament that a weapons grade nerve agent created by Russia was used to poison the pair last week in Salisbury. Russia is calling her assertions, quote, "a circus show."

While Russia dismisses the Prime Minister's accusation as that -- as fairy tales and a circus show, experts are taking it much more seriously. The U.K. says the nerve agent used in the attack is a substance developed in the Soviet Union, back in the 1970's. Chemical weapons expert, Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, tells CNN, few countries would be capable of handling it.


HAMISH DE BRETTON-GORDON, CHEMICAL WEAPONS EXPERT: It is difficult to imagine the scenario where it is not -- hasn't got Russian hands all over it. The only possibility would be another key state likely the U.S., the U.K., or perhaps France and we know that they aren't developing them. So, the chance that perhaps some of these Novichoks have been stolen by criminals or terrorists from Russia is a possibility. And we wait to see an explanation from the Russian ambassador in London tomorrow, but I think highly unlikely.


VAUGHAN JONES: Meanwhile, health officials are warning customers who dined at the pub or the restaurant where the nerve agent attack occurred that they may have been exposed, as well. CNN's Erin McLaughlin has all the details now.


ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Salisbury is known as a sleepy little City, remarkable for its stunning cathedral, now the center of an international spy mystery after a former Russian double agent and his daughter were poisoned, found slumped on a park bench on a Sunday afternoon. An hour before the grim discovery, Steve Cooper says he and his wife were sitting in the exact same spot.

STEVE COOPER, SALISBURY RESIDENT: That is actually when I saw the bench on the news that is when, it kind of started to hit home, how close we were to the events. And we actually transpired that we are in the park as well, that the park was contaminated became real.

MCLAUGHLIN: Now Cooper worries, he is still not OK. Seven days after the poisoning, news that remnants of the deadly and rare nerve agent were found at both the pub and a nearby pizza restaurant, both visited by Sergei Skripal and his daughter earlier in the day.

SALLY DAVIES, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFEICER FOR ENGLAND: Some people are concerned that prolonged long-term exposure to these substances may, over weeks and particularly months, give rise to health problems.

MCLAUGHLIN: The warning along with advice that patrons should wash their clothes and belonging belongings. Even though authorities say the risk is low, Cooper says, he wishes he'd known sooner.

COOPER: I've myself been in contact with the general public, some major companies, major customers and my colleagues, my family and friends, and I'd like to know just how serious it is, whether it would impact them, whether it would affect them or whether we should have taken action earlier.

MCLAUGHLIN: There are also fears of further contamination. The military removed police cars and ambulances, objects tied to the attack. Parts of the city remain cordoned off, including the cemetery. Mother's day visits, not allowed, as experts collect evidence in hazmat suits.

COOPER: We we're concerned that we didn't know there would be a spy -- a Russian spy in our midst and it was a threat, that there would be assassins after them, would make all of us threaten by their actions.

MCLAUGHLIN: I asked him what he wants to see done.

COOPER: If there are spies in our midst, that were actually -- they themselves are protection, and that we are protected from the chemical substances that they use coming into the country or being obtained in the country, and that we, the general public are kept safe.

MCLAUGHLIN: It seems like a simple enough request. Now, Cooper says he is concerned about the long-term health impact of his decision to go to his local pub for a Sunday pint. Erin McLaughlin, CNN, Salisbury, England.


VAUGHAN JONES: The United States is calling for another United Nations ceasefire in Syria, to save thousands of civilians currently trapped in a rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta. The U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, is blaming Russia for undermining the last cease fire. The Syrian regime is now getting closer to fully retaking the area of Ghouta. And the United States warns, it is ready to act on its own if needed.


[03:35:05] NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: We also warn, any nation that is determined to impose its will through chemical attacks and inhuman suffering, most especially the outlaw Syrian regime, the United States remains prepared to act, if we must. It is not the path we prefer, but it is a path we have demonstrated we will take and we are prepared to take it again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (TRANSLATOR): All of this is being done in order to prepare the ground for the unilateral use of force against sovereign Syria and we have heard hints of that in the statements of some delegations today. (END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUGHAN JONES: Well, despite all of the talks at the United Nations, the diplomatic efforts do not appear to be doing much to help the most vulnerable people in Syria. UNICEF says 1,000 children have been killed or injured in Syria's civil war in just the first two months of this year. Meanwhile, the battle over Eastern Ghouta could be nearing a turning point, as our Jomana Karadsheh now reports.


JOMANAH KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Some reports indicate that regime forces are now in control of more than 50 percent of Eastern Ghouta. This is not just about territorial gains. What we're seeing right now is this military strategy unfold.

Over the past couple of weeks, regime forces have been pushing in with this ground offensive. And in recent days, they have been making steady gains on the ground. Over the weekend, they captured a number of towns and villages. And what that allowed them to do is split up Eastern Ghouta into three separate parts that are under the control of different rebel groups.

By doing so, they cut some key supply lines for these rebel fighters and stopped the movement of the fighters between the different areas of Eastern Ghouta, that remain under rebel control. So, it seems right now, that it's a matter of time before the regime is able to recapture Eastern Ghouta, no surprise there. They've had military superiority here with the support of their allies on the ground and in the sky. The big question remains, what are the rebel groups going to do?

Over the past week, we've seen these public statements from a number of rebel groups operating in Eastern Ghouta, rejecting offers that were made by the Russian ministry of defense, offering them safe passage out for them and their families and offers of amnesty, and these rebel groups saying that they are going to continue the fight. But with the pressure mounting now, we'll have to wait and see what they will do next.

The concern remains now for those civilian who are trapped in his part of Syria that is now being described as a hell on earth. Jomana Karadsheh, CNN, Amman.


VAUGHAN JONES: Jomanah, thank you.

Let's turn to Columbia, now, where the President is trying to secure another peace agreement, before his term ends in May. President Juan Manuel Santos is resuming peace talks with Colombia's last active rebel group, the National Liberation Army or ELN.

Right-wing candidate's critical of the peace process made electoral progress on Sunday. It was the first legislative election in which former FARC rebels participated as a political party. They won little electoral support, but they do have 10 congressional seats guaranteed by the 2016 peace agreement.

Coming up on the program, we have new developments in the case of the President and the porn star. What friends are advising Donald Trump to do about his alleged affair with Stormy Daniels?



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If someone calls you a disloyal Republican, what do you say back to them?

MARY ELLEN BUZZELLI, CONOR LAMB SUPPORTER: I would say I'm voting my heart and I'm voting what's best for the district and the future of this region in the country.


VAUGHAN JONES: A special election in the heart of Trump country has some Republicans feeling a little bit of voter's remorse. That is coming up next.


[03:41:12] VAUGHAN JONES: Hello, welcome back to Newsroom. Donald Trump's alleged affair with adult film star, Stormy Daniels, is a scandal that just won't go away. A source close to the U.S. President says, he is been asking confidants for advice, and many people are telling him, fighting back would just make him look guilty. Meanwhile, Daniels has a new offer for Mr. Trump. CNN's Sara Sidner reports.


SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: When it comes to business, Stormy Daniels hasn't skipped a bit. The porn star and director says she is busier than ever on the strip club circuit.

STORMY DANIELS, PORNSTAR: If somebody came up to you and said, "Hey, you know that job you've been doing forever? How about next week, I pay you quadruple? Show me one person, who's going to say no."

SIDNER: While she is making good money off her notoriety, due to the scandal involving the President of the United States, she is now offering to give back big money she took in 2016 from Donald Trump's personal attorney to keep her quiet.

In a letter from Stormy Daniels' attorney to Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's personal attorney, Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, offers to send back the $130,000 she was paid in a so called hush agreement, signed just 11 days before the Presidential election.

The money was part of this non-disparagement agreement, in exchange for her silence, regarding an alleged sexual encounter with Mr. Trump. It was to keep Daniels from revealing anything about her alleged affair with Donald Trump that she says began in 2006, but that story has already hit the headlines multiple times, since the agreement was signed.

Did she have sexual relationship with the President?


SIDNER: Daniels' attorney, Michael Avenatti, sent a letter, offering to hand back the money with two huge caveats. One, that giving back the money would require the entire non-disparagement agreement and side letter to be null and void.

And, two, the letter says, Ms. Clifford will pay $130,000 by wire transfer to President Trump himself. But Cohen and the White House have denied repeatedly any type of affair between the President and Clifford.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The President has addressed these directly and made very well clear that none of these allegations are true.

SIDNER: The letter comes after Stormy Daniels has already done an interview with Anderson Cooper for 60 minutes. That has not aired yet. In the letter, it mentioned allowing that show to go on after reports that Trump's attorneys are trying to keep the interview from airing.

AVENATTI: I think the American people deserve to hear from her, and quite honestly, we don't understand why all of this effort is being undertaken to silence my client.

SIDNER: The watchdog group, Common Cause, points out the reason, why the hush money issue is so important. The group says the payment could be a campaign finance law violation and has filed a complaint in the case with the federal elections commission.

PAUL S. RYAN, COMMON CAUSE: Our complaint hinges on, number one, this payment being made for the purpose of influencing an election and Donald Trump's campaign did not disclose, did not report this expenditure to the Federal Election Commission. That is a violation of federal law.

SIDNER: That watchdog group, Common Cause, has now filed an amended complaint to the FEC saying that the Stormy Daniels lawsuit has given more evidence to support their claim, that federal election campaign finance laws were broken.

As for Mr. Cohen, we e-mailed, called and left a voicemail for him. He has not responded with comment on the story. Sara Sidner, CNN, Los Angeles.


VAUGHAN JONES: Stormy Daniels' attorney spoke with CNN just a few hours ago and he has some harsh words for President Trump and his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) AVENATTI: I think that he knew exactly what was going on, at all

times. This was a critical point in time in connection with the 2016 Presidential election.

[03:45:03] It is a couple of weeks ago in the election. I find it incredible that he did not know. I find this explanation from Attorney Cohen to be laughable. I've run out of superlatives to describe this explanation that we've heard from Mr. Cohen, who now expects the American people to believe that he took a home equity loan out on one of his homes in order to pay $130,000 on behalf of a billionaire running for President.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. So, let me ask you this and I want to be clear. Was there a sexual relationship between Donald Trump and Ms. Clifford?




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you have proof of that and so does she?

AVENATTI: Well, I think that the American people, if she is permitted to talked, if they don't restrain her from speaking, and again, this is remarkable to me, that now we have reports that perhaps they are considering bringing an injunction, a motion for an injunction again 60 minutes to prevent an American citizen from coming forward and exercising her first amendment rights to talk about her recollection of events.


VAUGHAN JONES: We should just remind our viewers that the White House Press Secretary, Sarah Sanders, may have inadvertently acknowledge the affair and indeed the payment last week, when she said that the President had won the case in arbitration.

Meanwhile, President Trump is facing a key test in the U.S. State of Pennsylvania. In a house district, he won by 20 points back in the Presidential election. Democrat, Conor Lamb, on the left of your screen is facing Republican, Rick Saccone, in a special election. Voting gets under way in just a few hours' time, and Mr. Trump has already stakes a lot of political capital on Saccone. Republican as well, they've poured more than $10 million into his campaign and the race.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Go out on Tuesday and just vote like crazy. You got to get out there. The world is watching. This -- I hate to put this pressure on you, Rick. They're all watching, because I won this district like by 22 points. That is a lot. That's why I'm here. Look at all those red hats, Rick. Look. Look at all those hats. (END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUGHAN JONES: Well, despite the Presidential support, the latest poll from Monmouth University finds a Democrat, Conor Lamb, leading Republican, Rick Saccone, 51 percent to 45 percent. This Pennsylvania race could really be a bellwether for the 2018 midterm elections and a look at whether Republican support for Mr. Trump is waning. Gary Tuchman from CNN reports now.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Mary Ellen Buzzelli, a lifelong Pennsylvanian, is a proud registered Republican. She voted for Donald Trump for President. She volunteered on Rick Santorum first campaign for Congress.

BUZZELLI: I'm calling from the Conor Lamb, for congress campaign, how are you this morning?

TUCHMAN: But Conor Lamb is a Democrat, running for Congress in Pennsylvania's 18 district, which Donald Trump won by almost 20 percentage points. And Mary Ellen Buzzelli is a volunteer for Lambs campaign. Making calls to get out the vote for a man, President Trump just called --

TRUMP: Lamb the sham, right? Lamb the sham.

BUZZELLI: Had one Republican friend who's in shock, and has said, "I think you're a closet liberal."

TUCHMAN: But she says that is not the case at all. She likes a lot of what Donald Trump has done as President, but doesn't' like...

BUZZELLI: The demeanor. I just think we need to tone it down.

TUCHMAN: And she is concerned that Republican candidate Rick Saccone sees that type of demeanor as a positive.

BUZZELLI: What bothered me was, instead of talking about himself, he came out and said, I was Trump before Trump. And, again, that set the tone that really didn't -- why? Talk about yourself, talk about what your accomplishments were.

Have you ever already placed an absentee ballot?

TUCHMAN: The 61-year-old mother and grandmother, a consultant in the I.T industry, says she and many of her Republican friends want to see bipartisanship in Washington, and they give the Democratic candidate in this too close to call race, points for that. This district has been such a lock for Republicans that Timothy Murphy, the man who occupied the seat until resigning in disgrace this past October, ran unopposed in 2016 and 2014. No Democrat dared run against him. And Mary Ellen Buzzelli, was a strong supporter of Murphy's.

BUZZELLI: Thank you very much. We appreciate your pledge to vote, and we appreciate your support tomorrow. TUCHMAN: But the time has come, she says, for a big change.

If someone calls you a disloyal Republican, what do you say back to them?

BUZZELLI: I would say, I'm voting my heart, and I'm voting what's best for the district in the future of this region and the country.

TUCHMAN: And the more people who agree with her, the more likely Democrats get a surprise victory here. Gary Tuchman, CNN, Carnegie, Pennsylvania.


VAUGHAN JONES: Interesting self. Now, we go to a stunning career's end for the famed New York metropolitan opera director and longtime conductor, James Levine.

[03:50:06] The MET announced on Monday that it was firing him. It said an inquiry that began in December has found credible evidence that Levine had engage in quote, "sexually abusive and harassing conduct towards vulnerable artists in the early stages of their careers." The 74-year-old has denied the accusations against him.

You are watching CNN Newsroom. Still to come on the program, young people around the world are joining the fight against modern day slavery. Just ahead, how a human trafficking survivor is inspiring high school students in Virginia.

And you can at least send in your submissions. Don't forget to do that for CNN's My Freedom Day campaign. Let us know what freedom means to you.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, my name is Yuta, I'm from London. Freedom for me is choice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is Jake and I'm from Bozeman, Montana, I'm here today to support freedom and that means to me, that the ability to really just walk outside and not be afraid of what's going to happen to you. So, I am supporting #myfreedomday on March 14th.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi my name is Pia (ph). I'm from London. Freedom to me is to be able to pursue my dreams to the fullest.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi my name is (inaudible). I'm from London and to me. Freedom means being able to wake up every day and (inaudible) --

CROWD: What are you doing on March 14?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All human being have inherited dignity and deserve to be free.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is when your freedom is denied, is when you really feel it. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Don't be pushed around by people.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Freedom to me means never ever taking it for granted.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I will not rest until every living human being is free.

CROWD: Joins us on March 14 (inaudible).



VAUGHAN JONES: For my freedom day on March 14th, young people around the world are joining forces with CNN to fight modern day slavery and students at one high school in the U.S. State of Virginia, want officials to require every school in their community to have an anti- trafficking curriculum. Take a look at this.


MATT FLOYD, TEACHER, USVA GOVERNMENT: Smithfield, Virginia is a very rural family-based town. This small (ph) community is a very big part of our local culture and identity. My name is Matt Floyd. I'm a teacher of USVA Government Extra Field (ph) High School.

Hi everybody, good morning, how are we doing?

My first day on this job about a year and a half ago, my new department head asked me, what do you know about human trafficking? And have you given any thought in making that your project based learning topic? And the answer was, nothing and no and sure. I jumped into it and haven't looked back. I like that, convince.

The prevention project is a non-profit organization and they provide a curriculum for us to teach human trafficking in a very real-world sense to high school kids. Our students are taking the information there getting and they're taking it off to PowerPoint. They are taking it out of the textbook, and they're addressing it in the real world.

They are making sure their congressman, their senators and their government officials, know what they're learning and know what they expect for them to do about this problem. And they've actually pushed for events in community, to help bring awareness to the community about how serious this is in our world.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And then, every single state in America, there has been a case of human trafficking.

FLOYD: We decided to put together a presentation to help raise awareness of human trafficking. The goal being to try to convince local lawmakers to institute education on human trafficking in the local curriculum across the board and all middle schools and/or high schools in the county. In this one classroom can make this big a difference, in this one classroom, you can have this much of an impact, what can an entire school system do? The one thing that kids said, is they want to meet somebody that really had to live with this -- that has to deal with this.

[03:55:09] MONICA, HUMAN TRAFFICKING SURVIVOR: My name is Monica, and I am a human trafficking survivor.

FLOYD: Having Monica come in, has inspired the kids and made it real. Now, it's not something that you read about or see in a movie. It's somebody flesh and blood standing right in front of you. And I thought it was important for them to see, first hand and hear a story and not being able to turn the other way.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When Monica came and spoke to us, that is when, I got the idea of writing Monica monologues to show what the different views are.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Check every, every piece of my body.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I decided to take her story and to put it into words from my point of view of what it would be like if I was in her shoes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Monica was a part of my inspiration. I don't want this happening to anyone else, it needs to stop. Things need to change, and we can't just be that person that sits and watch. We need to do something about it. We want better. We want change.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have found such a passion in this problem that I now want to take that on to my college career and be able to make a change, not only in my community here, but future communities that I'm going to be a part of.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I wrote a song, I call, The sale of your sister, this being chosen to perform or just share my piece, it's an honor.

FLOYD: My students humble me on a day to day basis. My students send to push things further than what I anticipate seeing them doing. They have a drive that I couldn't have imagined before I started doing this. My students are rock stars.


VAUGHAN JONES: Just a snapshot of one high school there and some incredibly dedicated high schoolers as well. We'll be joined by many more students and schools from around the world on March 14th. That is tomorrow, Wednesday as CNN marks my freedom day. We'll have special programming and online interactive, highlighting how young people are getting involved in the fight against human trafficking. Thanks so much for joining us, I am Hannah Vaughan Jones live in London. The news continues here in London with Max Foster. After a quick break, stay with us here, on CNN.