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Gun Law Reforms Appear to Stall in Congress; Seven Years of Bloodshed and No End in Sight; Graffiti Ignited Seven Years of Unbridled Carnage. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired March 15, 2018 - 01:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): You're watching CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles. Ahead this hour, the Kremlin warns retaliation will not be long in coming after 23 Russian diplomats were ordered to leave Britain over the poisoning of a former spy in Southern England.

The Syrian civil war enters an eighth year of brutal, grinding conflict, taking a toll no one could have foreseen when it began with a peaceful protest against the Assad regime.

And across the United States, students walk out of their classrooms en masse, demanding safer schools and an end to gun violence.

Hello, everybody. Thank you for joining us. I'm John Vause. The second hour of NEWSROOM L.A., it starts now.

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VAUSE: Relations between the U.K. and Russia have not been this bad since the Cold War. The Kremlin is warning there will be retaliation after the British prime minister ordered 23 Russian diplomats to leave.

Prime minister Theresa May says Russian state assets considered a security threat will be frozen. This could be the beginning, after Moscow ignored a deadline to prove it was not behind the attack of a former Russian spy living in England.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Mr. Speaker, it was right to offer Russia the opportunity to provide an explanation. But their response has demonstrated complete disdain for the gravity of these events.

They have provided no credible explanation that could suggest they lost control of their nerve agent, no explanation as to how this agent came to be used in the United Kingdom, no explanation as to why Russia has an undeclared chemical weapons program in contravention of international law.

Instead, they have treated the use of a military grade nerve agent in Europe with sarcasm, contempt and defiance.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: CNN senior international correspondent, Sam Kiley, joining us now live from Moscow.

Sam, the Russians have said they will cooperate with the U.K. but only if they receive an official request under the Chemical Weapons Convention. On the surface, at least, that sounds like they're playing for time.

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I don't think the Russians really necessarily can be playing for time because time is out. Those 23 Russian diplomats, accused by the United Kingdom of being covert espionage agents, will be expelled by the end of a week from the time that Theresa May was talking there yesterday in the Houses of Commons.

Then in all probability, the Russians will respond in kind with expulsions of people that they say are British diplomats also operating as spies here in the Russian Federation. That, I think, has a flavor of inevitability about it.

What the Russians are doing, though, is -- and this is a pattern that they've followed in the past.

They like to set themselves up as paragons of virtue when it comes to international law, often falling back on the letter of the law that, certainly in the view of the United Kingdom and now very strongly in the view of the United States, an international law that they have so spectacularly broken, namely the continued use, stockpiling, manufacture of nerve agents that are supposed to be banned under international conventions some decades ago.

We've seen a similar pattern, for example, in Syria. Today is the day that CNN is marking the seventh-year anniversary of the start of that war. That was has been significantly increased in its levels of violence, particularly against civilians in Syria, because of the Russian role backing the regime there in defiance of a United Nations Security Council resolution that had required a ceasefire across that whole country for 30 days.

So you often see this coming out of the Kremlin, in a sense talking out of, certainly their critics would say, both sides of their mouth.

But what it does ultimately is, John, start to try and offer a degree of succor among the United Kingdom's Western allies that may be a little bit unconvinced fully that necessarily the British are right in pointing the finger so directly and so quickly at Russia for this attempted murder, double murder in the United Kingdom.

Even the French overnight, different messages coming out of different spokespeople for the government, initially indicating that perhaps they thought --

[01:05:00] KILEY: -- the British had been premature with their judgment and then rolling back with a spokesman for Macron, the president, saying, no, that they were backing the British but still not pointing the finger directly at the Russians.

Of course the Trump administration now very firmly blaming the Russians but initially were somewhat reluctant, the president himself reluctant to actually point the finger.

It is in those chinks of daylight between Western allies where opportunities for the Russians lie in trying to create frictions among them. And, therefore, falling back on these terms of an international agreement are exactly the sort of thing that one could expect from the Kremlin -- John.

VAUSE: OK, Sam, thank you. Sam Kiley there live in Moscow again for us. We appreciate it.

Theresa May did not call out any Russians by name, only saying corrupt elites might be targeted. London is home to a number of very wealthy Russian elites with very strong ties to Vladimir Putin. More now from CNN's Isa Soares.

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ISA SOARES, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): From the balcony of this three- bedroom penthouse, there are wide-open views of some of London's most iconic landmarks. It's just around the corner from the seat of British power.

The owner, anti-corruption groups believe a top official in the Kremlin, an adviser to Russian president Vladimir Putin.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now these flats, we believe were bought for 11.4 million pounds. The stated salary of the person who we believe owns them is only 112,000 pounds a year.

SOARES (voice-over): The official hasn't been charged with any wrongdoing and in the past has said his fortune was earned in business before he got into politics.

SOARES: You believe there are many more people tied to Putin, to the Kremlin, who have bought property in London?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Absolutely.

SOARES (voice-over): They have been depositing their cash in London for the past 15 years, sewing themselves into the very fabric of the city, from Chelsea Football Club to the "Evening Standard" newspaper, both owned by oligarchs with ties to Putin.

SOARES: Talk to us about the ease in which they actually have their money thrown around London.

What does that tell you? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It tells me that London is essentially a playground for corrupt, rich individuals that want to find a safe place to hide their money.

SOARES: So how much money are we really talking about?

This is Belgrave Square, one of the most exclusive addresses here in London, also known by some as Red Square because of the number of Russian oligarchs who have bought property here.

SOARES (voice-over): And high-end homes are just the start. Transparency International says London has a whole service industry to cater to rich Russians looking to stash their money in the U.K.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: PR agencies that can launder your reputation or lawyers, accountants, estate agents that can help you move your money into London, sometimes with very few questions asked.

SOARES (voice-over): Russian capital has helped burnish London's reputation as a global financial center and the city has also provided refuge for Russian political dissidents.

At his wine store in the heart of Chelsea, entrepreneur Yevgeny Tuchatkin (ph) sells thousand-pound bottles to the global elite. He says he was forced into exile in 2008.

YEVGENI TUCHATKIN (PH), WINE STORE OWNER: Russian authorities, they don't represent my country.

SOARES (voice-over): Tuchatkin (ph) says that last week's chemical attack should force governments to crack down on oligarchs with ties to Putin.

TUCHATKIN (PH): Other countries have to support personal sanctions against Putin and his friends, not against country, against personalities.

SOARES (voice-over): In the wake of the attack, momentum is now building behind new legislation that will subject foreign officials involved in corruption to asset freezes and visa bans -- Isa Soares, CNN, London.

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VAUSE: CNN contributor and former Moscow bureau chief Jill Dougherty joins us now from the Russian capital.

Jill, good to have you with us. Explain to us, when we look at the situation with the poison which was actually used here, it's traced back to the Soviets.

In fact, "The New York Times" basically said that this toxin that was used is so dangerous and so lethal, it is many times more lethal than VX and sarin and this is essentially a calling card of the Russians.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's true. And I think the question is, you know, everybody knows it was created during the Soviet days. But what Theresa May is saying is that Russia right now, at this present time does have a chemical program, which would be banned.

And that's something that the Russians are completely denying. In fact, they are turning it around, as often they do on many issues, turning it --

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DOUGHERTY: -- back onto the people who are accusing them and saying it's the British who actually probably have, as they put it, the formula for this type of nerve agent.

And so, you know, you have this -- the Russians are completely refusing to accept any possibility that they were involved in this. They want the evidence and that's also something that Moscow has done quite a lot on any accusation coming from the West. Show us the evidence.

Remember on the interference in the American election, they said, show us the evidence. And often that makes a problem for the people who are accusing them because they cannot do that due to sources and methods, et cetera.

But I think, John, there's worry here in Moscow, certainly among Russians, as to what is the next step coming from Theresa May's government, what could they actually -- as you heard in that previous piece, what could they actually implement.

It's not quite clear at this point.

VAUSE: What was clear, though, at the U.N. on Wednesday, the U.S. ambassador Nikki Haley came out very strongly in support of Britain. This is what she said.

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NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: Let me make one thing clear from the very beginning: the United States stands in absolute solidarity with Great Britain. The United States believes that Russia is responsible for the attack on two people in the United Kingdom using a military grade nerve agent.

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VAUSE: Haley took a much stronger line than the president did a day earlier.

So how would the Kremlin see all of this?

DOUGHERTY: Well, I think they're looking at it the way they have at the Trump administration since the beginning, which is, this is the pattern, that you have Nikki Haley, especially who has been very hard on Russia since the absolute beginning of the administration.

You have other officials, remember, now the soon-to-be ex-secretary of state Tillerson also being very harsh for the most part on Russia.

But the question is what is the president saying?

This is not coming, that hard, hard statement or even a statement about Vladimir Putin himself, that is not coming from the American president.

And so I think the Russians would look at that and say, where does Donald Trump stand on this?

Remember, John, that the sanctions that were passed by Congress on Russia last year have not been implemented by Donald Trump. And so I don't think the Russians would be surprised at all by what Nikki Haley is saying. It's that they are looking at what Donald Trump will say and also do.

VAUSE: You know, it seems this sort of dismissive response from the Russians has partly fueled the anger that we're hearing from the British government and Theresa May. The Russian embassy -- I'll show you this tweet; they put this out.

"The temperature of the Russia-Great Britain relation drops to minus 23 but we're not afraid of the cold weather."

And then the foreign minister on Facebook posted, "One little clarification before the official response to the British prime minister's statement. May revoked the invitation to Lavrov to visit Great Britain but only he did not accept it."

It seems like the Russian officials are taunting the prime minister and I guess the British people.

DOUGHERTY: Oh, there's no question. If you follow the tweets that come out of the British embassy, the Russian embassy in Britain, they are some of the snarkiest that come out of any embassy anyplace in the world.

And this is part of their approach. I think if you look at Russia's answer right now, whether it's from the foreign ministry, foreign ministry spokesperson or embassies or the digital world that they're using, much of it is sarcasm and dismissing and laughing and memes and funny things.

That has become very much part of the arsenal that they use to get back. That's why you had Theresa May -- she used, I noted that, sarcasm, contempt, defiance. I think that particularly galled the British side that the Russians would not really engage or, let's say, engage, they would engage on that level of simply laughing at these accusations.

VAUSE: It was just so dismissive and, yes, showed a lack of respect is how many in Britain would see it. Jill, it's always good to have you with us. Thank you.

After the break, when the catchphrase of the White House is, "You're fired," it makes for a very miserable place to work. Those on the inside reportedly say it's the most toxic work environment on the planet.

Later, the battle for the Arctic, a CNN exclusive. We go inside a U.S. submarine, training to fight for control of one of the world's final frontiers.

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VAUSE: The threat of a trade war is still very real after Donald Trump's selection of Larry Kudlow as his new top economic adviser. The conservative commentator has been outspoken in his opposition to the U.S. president's tariff plan. That's the reason why Gary Cohn stepped down.

Now Mr. Trump said Kudlow is actually coming around to believe in tariffs as a negotiating point.

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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm looking at Larry Kudlow very strongly. I've known him a long time. We don't agree on everything. But in this case, I think that's good. I want to have a divergent opinion. We agree on most. He now has come around to believing in tariffs as also a negotiating point.

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VAUSE: For more, Jessica Levinson is a professor of law and governance at Loyola Law School. And Michael Genovese is president of the Global Policy Institute at Loyola Marymount University.

We'll get to Larry Kudlow in a moment. There is this new story which has just hit the Web on "The Washington Post" website. It's all about a fundraiser, where Donald Trump was actually bragging about essentially talking to the Canadian prime minister with facts he made up. This is part of the reporting.

Trump was apparently mimicking Trudeau here. This is according to the audio obtained by "The Washington Post."

"Nice guy, good-looking guy comes in, 'Donald, we have no trade deficit.' I said, 'Wrong, Justin. You do.' I didn't even know. I had no idea. I just said, 'You're wrong.' You know why? Because we're so stupid. He said, 'Nope, we have no trade deficit.' I said, 'Well, in that case, I feel differently,' I said, 'but I don't believe it.'

"I sent one of our guys out, his guy, my guy. They went out. I said, 'Check, because they can't believe it.' 'Well, sir, you're actually right. We have no deficit but that doesn't include energy and timber. And when you do, we lose $17 billion a year.' It's incredible." You know, Donald Trump has been going on about this trade deficit,

what you include, what you don't include. But the standard model is, you know, it is what it is. And if you look at the formula that every other country uses and every other economic model uses, there's a trade surplus with Canada.

But that's not the point, is it, Jessica, when you think about we have a president bragging about made-up facts to the Canadian prime minister.

JESSICA LEVINSON, LOYOLA LAW SCHOOL: Well, I mean, it is the point because what he's using, again, is a model that nobody else uses. So as somebody who did a little bit of studying of economics, it does deeply offend me that he does that.

But the bigger issue is that he is, you know, he's your kind of run- of-the-mill huckster. And he's just so excited that he feels like he pulls the wool over somebody's head. But he's doing something that is so dangerous because he's not only lying and then bragging about lying but he's doing it publicly.

And he's doing it with one of our allies. So what, you know, this isn't just people feeling like I can't trust Donald Trump. It's Donald Trump promoting you cannot trust Donald Trump because I'm going to try and pull the wool over your eyes.

VAUSE: Michael, what was interesting is that this audio -- and the story hit within hours of that fundraiser that --

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VAUSE: -- Donald Trump attended, which was incredibly quickly.

MICHAEL GENOVESE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And you can see him trying to be funny and trying to brag a little bit. That's his style.

But when things like this get out, it puts our credibility on the line and it questions whether or not our word can be our bond.

Why would another country trust us if we now brag about lying to another head of state?

And so it was infuriating and it was damaging; infuriating in the sense that leaders just don't do this, damaging in the sense that it can come back to haunt us very, very easily.

VAUSE: What is interesting is you have Donald Trump with the tariffs on aluminum and on steel. And I guess the theory ere is that could be the opening part of a trade negotiations. He's going all out, going to the brink, going as far as he possibly can. No need to rein it in for a better deal.

Now we have the situation, Larry Kudlow is coming in as the economic adviser. He's replacing Gary Cohn, who did not like the tariffs on aluminum and steel. This is what Kudlow thinks about tariffs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LARRY KUDLOW, TV PERSONALITY: I just don't like blanket tariffs and I don't think you should punish your friends, to try to punish your enemies in international affairs and that's where he went.

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VAUSE: Jessica, who do you believe in all of this?

Where does the U.S. stand when it comes to tariffs on steel and aluminum? If you believe the new economic adviser that's coming in, do you believe the president (INAUDIBLE) lies to the Canadian prime minister?

LEVINSON: Well, unfortunately I think you could fill in, who do you believe on tariffs with who do you believe on gun control?

Who do you believe on climate change?

Who do you believe on immigration policy?

So this has become a much broader problem for the Trump administration, which is that President Trump's opinion really changes with the wind. In terms of who do we believe, I actually take both at their word.

I think Donald Trump has become so aggressively uninformed about basic economic principles that I do believe that he thinks that this might be -- it might work. Let's throw spaghetti at the wall and see what happens. And I think that Kudlow truly believes it's a mistake.

The interesting thing will be to see how, my guess is, how quickly Kudlow says, actually, you know what?

It's a really brilliant negotiation strategy.

VAUSE: Right and then walk it back from there, I guess.

Do you remember the TV show, "The West Wing," staffed with brilliant people, everyone, if there was tension it was resolved. It was all for the greater good.

Well, this White House is nothing like that. CNN's Kaitlan Collins has this report.

"White House officials say they are on edge over the recent string of firings and departures, describing an uneasy atmosphere in the West Wing. Multiple staffers tell CNN they feel left in the dark, unsure of who could be fired or walked out next."

Michael, it's not unreasonable considering there are a lot of reports out there that as many as nine senior officials, nine very high profile senior officials, not counting the workers, you know, beneath them, but nine senior officials who could be on the chopping block.

GENOVESE: Well, to give us some historical context, there's already been higher turnover in the first 14 months of the Trump administration as in the Obama, Clinton and George W. Bush administrations combined.

VAUSE: Wow.

GENOVESE: And so people who are working for him are always looking over their shoulders. They're always walking on eggshells, am I next?

And there's been widespread reporting and naming of names of all the people the president have set out for all the reasons he's upset. Each one of those people has got to be thinking, is my head on the chopping block next?

And so what that means is that they're going to be very cautious. They're not going to be going to the president and, saying, I've got some bad news here for you. But it's the truth. They're going to say what the president wants to hear. And that can lead to disaster.

VAUSE: Which does beg the question, what exactly was the president talking about when he repeatedly said this on the campaign?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We're going to make America great again. We're going to use our best people. I'm going to get the best people. We're going to deliver. We're going to get the best people in the world. We don't want people that are B level, C level, D level. We're going to use our smartest and our best. We're not using political hacks anymore. It's a sophisticated chess match but I have the best people lined up. You need people that are truly, truly capable. We have to get best people.

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VAUSE: Jessica, if there is one thing which seems obvious, Donald Trump does not hire good people. His campaign chairman has been indicted; so has his national security adviser. You know and his lawyer, I think, is being outplayed by a porn star.

Well, this isn't that we haven't gotten the A team. This is we have the X, Y and Z team. So yes, you point to the most obvious, which is that a number of Donald Trump's affiliates and surrogates and members of his administration have now been indicted or have openly pleaded guilty to making false statements to the federal government or are under serious investigation.

But I have to say I just get chills whenever I see this "Make America Great Again" by hiring the best people because that is such coded language --

[01:25:00]

LEVINSON: -- for exactly what he has been trying to do. And I have somewhat of a contrarian view in that part of me is happy about the chaos because it means that they can't accomplish what they want to accomplish. And so Steve Bannon imploding and Reince Priebus imploding, all of

this means that really very little has happened other than a massive tax cut, which, frankly, most Republicans I think would have tried to push through.

VAUSE: OK. We're almost out of time so let's move on to the Republicans have now settled on their talking points for losing that special congressional election in Pennsylvania. Here's Speaker Paul Ryan.

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REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: First of all, we need to execute. We need to get our message. We need to make sure that our candidates aren't massively outspent on TV, which was the case between these two candidates.

The second point I'd say is, both of these people, both of these candidates, the Republican and Democrat, ran as conservatives, ran as pro-gun, pro-life, anti-Nancy Pelosi conservatives. And I think that's the takeaway you see here.

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VAUSE: Michael, if they stick to this, essentially saying Conor Lamb was a great candidate who was not a Republican, the Republican guy was just awful, how much trouble are they in come the midterms?

GENOVESE: Lamb was strongly in favor of ObamaCare, strongly against the tax cuts. So this isn't -- he wasn't aping the Republican line.

The Republicans had two problems in Pennsylvania. One, they did have a bad candidate. But, two, they also had a bad president, who people are running away from. And so now we keep seeing Democrats winning in Republican districts.

And the strategy has to be and the question has to be, do I run to Donald Trump or do I run away from him?

Is there going to be a blue tsunami and is it going to sweep the nation?

Or can we ride the Trump train to victory?

Increasingly, it looks like the Republicans are in trouble and they may want to and need to distance themselves from their own president.

VAUSE: Jessica?

LEVINSON: There are I think 114 House seats which were won by a smaller margin by President Trump than the margin that we're talking about with respect to this Pennsylvania race.

And I think that Democrats only need to flip 24 seats in order to regain control. So I think, yes, Paul Ryan is doing the best he can do, which is to say, well, everybody was a Republican so Republicans won.

That, frankly, it's so disingenuous that it's really troubling. But if you look at the math and you look at the number of registered voters who are Republican in the district and how heavily the district went for Trump, I think it actually does show some optimism for Democrats going into the midterms.

VAUSE: Yes. It may not be a blue wave just yet but it seems that it could be coming. Michael and Jessica, good to see you. Thank you.

LEVINSON: Thank you.

GENOVESE: Thank you.

VAUSE: A short break here. When we come back, a generation of future voters spelling out a message to U.S. lawmakers on gun violence. We'll take a look if Congress is, in fact, listening.

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VAUSE: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I'm John Vause with the headlines this hour.

The U.K. is expelling 23 Russian diplomats over the poisoning of a former Russian double agent and his daughter. The U.S. is standing by Britain and then publicly blaming Moscow for the attack. Russia denies any involvement and calls the U.K.'s measures unacceptable.

The White House says Larry Kudlow has accepted Donald Trump's offer to be his new top economic adviser. The conservative TV host has spoken out against the U.S. president's tariff plan but Mr. Trump says he welcomes a difference of opinion.

And tens of thousands of students across the United States walked out of their schools on Wednesday demanding strict gun laws. The demonstration came one month after the shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida which left 17 people dead.

Although activism has resulted in new restrictions in weapons now in Florida but push for gun control appears to be stalled in Congress. Ryan Nobles has details now from Capitol Hill.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Enough is enough. That was the message from waves of high school students across the country today as they poured out of schools across football fields and into the streets to demand action on gun violence.

In New York City, Governor Andrew Cuomo participated in a die-in alongside local teens. To get the attention of national lawmakers, thousands more students skip school taking their message directly to Washington. MATT PORA, STUDENT ACTIVIST: We will accept nothing less than comprehensive gun control and if it's what it takes, we will shame our national policy makers into protecting us.

NOBLES: This generation of students was born after the 1999 massacre at Columbine.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think of my little brother and sister and how it could have been them and how it could be them if they don't change the law.

NOBLES: They participate in school shooting drills regularly.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're starting to realize, "Wait, why is no one in Washington doing anything? Whether you are on one side of the aisle or another, all students want to live."

NOBLES: Despite unified message from their youngest constituents just outside, senators inside the Capitol continued to question how shootings such as the one in Parkland, Florida could have been prevented.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The man did everything but taken ad out in the paper, I'm going to kill somebody. We tell our citizens too, if you see something, say something. Well, doesn't it become an incumbent part of us as a society to do something?

NOBLES: The FBI admits it failed to follow-up on tips it received about the Parkland shooter prior to the massacre. Today, another admission.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Has anyone been reprimanded? Has anyone been terminated?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As of today, no.

NOBLES: Meanwhile, on the House side --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The motion reconsiders laid on the table.

NOBLES: Lawmakers passed a bill designed to fund more security at schools across America but the bill does nothing to address current gun laws. Students who flooded the national mall warned that won't be enough to silence them.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, STUDENT ACTIVIST: Give us concrete solutions and for once, value our lives over your bank accounts or we will vote you out.

NOBLES: And while there is no doubt that these students were hoping to send a message to lawmakers at all levels of government, much of their message was directed right at the president of the United States.

And Donald Trump never specifically acknowledged the effort of all these students walking out all across the United States but his spokesperson Raj Shah did say that the president shares their concerns about school safety. Ryan Nobles, CNN on Capitol Hill.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Joining us now is (INAUDIBLE) she's an organizer, one of the organizers of the National Walkout. Hi.

WINTER MINISANO, ORGANIZER OF NATIONAL WALKOUT: Hi.

VAUSE: Thank you for coming here. It's good to see you. Hey. Tell me, you were in Sacramento to, the state capital of California, don't worry about that. What was it like to know that all these kids all around the country and not just here but in other places around the world were doing what you had hoped they would do which is walkout and stages mass protests that could not be ignored?

MINISANO: It was amazing. I couldn't have even dreamed in my wildest dreams the amount of support that was received. We have about over -- we have estimated about one million students have walked out across the nation and protest. So, that's amazing.

VAUSE: OK. Usually adults are very dismissive of younger adults, teenagers. How will it be different this time? How will you get your message across to the people in Washington, the various state capitals, this is serious, we mean business, we want change.

MINISANO: Right. So, 2018 is mid -- the year of midterm elections, right? And so my generation and generations, a lot of us will be of age to vote this year and we have been clear about our demands, we have released them, we've sent them to Congress so they have heard us loud and clear. And come election time if they do not take action, they won't have a job.

[01:35:17]

VAUSE: So you actively signing people up, getting them registered and ready and up for voting?

MINISANO: Yes. So Women's March actually has a 2018 initiative called "Power to the Polls" and to register and for registered vote you can text P2P to RT vote and get registered in an instant.

VAUSE: So this was the NRA's response to the protest, I just want to put it out. They put up a -- they tweeted out basically, "I'll control my own guns, thank you." So clearly, the NRA, they have five million members, millions more support them.

And they are single issue voters mostly, they vote because they don't want these tougher gun laws. So what you're saying is that to counter that, you're going to need millions of single issue voters as well.

MINISANO: Yes. So, one, the NRA should be very scared, OK? Today was a prime example of the power of youth. Millions of students have walked -- about million students have walked out.

And so we are, of course, to be reckoned with and they should be aware. And we are calling our politicians to not take money from the NRA and we won't be voting for people who are endorsed by the NRA as well.

VAUSE: One of the measures put forward by the White House is to make school safer and to arm certain staff members, coupled with teachers who maybe have military training or a law enforcement background. How do you feel about that?

MINISANO: I will not stand to have more -- put guns in school, period. So teachers don't need to have guns, also we do not need to be implementing police in schools as well, that is a safety issue that needs to be addressed.

And I think also as when we're talking about gun violence we have to do it from an intersectional lens. And so there are consequences when it comes to putting police and to schools that will potentially be hazardous and like deadly to African-Americans, black, and brown youth.

VAUSE: Are you -- I mean, is there a daily concern when you turn up to school that you worry that maybe we'll get shot, maybe some guy will come in and shoot up the school or -- I mean, how present is it in your sort of daily routine?

Because I know you guys do drills, right? You do lockdown drills depending on the school, it could be once a month, once a week, whatever. How present is that thought?

MINISANO: And so I think it's something that we try not to think about, of course. And so when we are having these drills, it often sounds to be -- it does bother us. It's definitely something that -- especially with more and more shootings, that becomes ever more so present. And so that is why we have had enough. And my shirt -- like my shirt says, "Enough is enough" and so we are taking action.

VAUSE: And when -- what was really striking and incredibly disturbing was all the social media footage that we saw last month at Parkland. The kids in the closet, under the desks, you hear the gunfire.

When you saw that, when you heard that it must have been chilling in so many ways because imagine you could put yourself in that position.

MINISANO: Exactly. So actually in my government class when my phone buzzed and it says active school shooter at Parkland, Florida and I opened my phone and there was no updates. And the first thing I did was go to social media.

And to be able to witness the Parkland students in their moments of grief and confusion, it felt ever more so present and real in that moment and it was definitely chilling, it's the moment I'll remember forever.

VAUSE: Well it was the student movement that brought about the end to the Vietnam War and maybe it's the student movement, a little younger at this time that will bring about some real meaningful gun reform.

MINISANO: Definitely. There have been a lot of adults who have been questioning our capacity to lead. And to them, I definitely say get a history book because youth have been leading movements whether it was the Civil Rights Movement or even so -- again, like you were saying the movement against the Vietnam War.

And so once adults who do have those misconceptions or are concerned about our capacity to lead to get a history book and follow us.

VAUSE: You are incredibly impressive Winter. Thank you so much for coming in.

MINISANO: Thank you.

VAUSE: It's great to talk with you.

MINISANO: Yes.

VAUSE: OK. We'll take a short break. Next here on NEWSROOM LA how Syrian teenagers spray painting graffiti started one of the bloodiest civil wars in recent history.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[01:40:15]

VAUSE: Seven years of nonstop bloodshed, 400,000 dead, 11 million forced from their homes, that's the grim milestone Syria has now reached.

Besides the unrelenting military offensive on the rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta near Damascus and the Syrian assault that left Aleppo in ruins, Turkish forces has now surround the Kurdish City of Afrin in the Northwest Syria. Residents have been trying to get out before it's too late.

And earlier, Turkish president says he expected Afrin to fall soon. His office later clarified he meant the city would be in circled, not captured. CNN's Military Analyst Rick Francona joins us now for more on this. Colonel, good to see you. Despite to what Erdogan was saying about the next part of the offensive here, he says that the Kurdish militia fighters, he calls them terrorists, that they will be cleared from the City of Afrin.

And then it's on to Manbij about having colonies to the East, that's about 2,000 U.S. soldiers are based. So how does this not end with some kind of confrontation involving either U.S. forces directly or U.S. back forces and the Turkish military?

RICK FRANCONA, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, there are talks going on between two governments now and if you read Turkish media they say there's already an agreement whereby the Americans and the Turks are going to guarantee security in these areas as the Kurdish forces pull out.

I don't see that happening, I've not seen that from the U.S. side. I know they're talking but I don't think there's any form of agreement. So the potential confrontation may come as early as Manbij which is as you know just to the east of where they're currently fighting. I think there's probably going to be some solution to the Afrin canton where the Kurds are going to have to give up, they cannot stand up to Turkish fire power. But I think the real confrontation is going to come as they try and move further to the East.

VAUSE: Admiral James Stavridis who serves as the 16th Supreme LA Commander at NATO. He wrote an opinion piece at "Time" outlining a plan for U.S. action in Syria. Crucial that he say was repairing relations with Turkey.

Here's part of what he wrote, "Only Turkey has the credibility, resources, and geopolitical heft to steward U.S. interest in Northern Syria. Alternatively, if left unmanaged, Turkey can spoil American plans. We need to consider a Turkish security zone which can function as a military and humanitarian buffer in Northern Syria. Is a NATO border that we are sworn by treat to protect." So if he's right and Turkey is such a key player, then at this point, is the Trump Administration capable of getting Turkey back on side?

FRANCONA: Now, I'm sure we're probably capable of doing that. I'm not as optimistic as the admiral is and I don't think that we're under a treaty obligation to work with the Turks in Northern Syria.

This is uncharted territory for NATO right now and the Turks have been very vocal about where is NATO to help us here. What we're saying is that the Turks, you're a NATO ally but you've lost sight of the ball here. We're supposed to be fighting ISIS and right now, that's on hold because all of the Kurds who are our boots on the ground really taking the fight to ISIS have not stopped and are moving to the west to defend the other Kurds there. So I really would have to take a little bit of issue with the admiral's assessment at where we are with the Turks.

VAUSE: When we look at this milestone Thursday, about seven years since the conflict began, not only are we seeing the surge in violence like the assault in East Ghouta outside Damascus, on some fronts it's becoming even more complicated than ever before. This is getting worst, not better.

FRANCONA: Oh, absolutely. And if you look at what's happening in East Ghouta and, again, time is not on the rebel side. The Syrian government is pounding them into submission. I don't see an agreement whereby the fighters are allowed to escape, there's nowhere for them to go. We can't get any more people up to Idlib, that will be the next confrontation.

[01:45:15]

And the Syrians believe they're on a roll and, of course, they're supported by tremendous Russian fire power and air power. So they've got no real reason to give the rebels in that area an out. So it's only a matter of time before the Ghouta falls and then they turn their sights further north. So as you say John, this is going to get worse before it gets better.

VAUSE: Well you mentioned Idlib, the U.N. adviser in Syria, he is warning that there is much worse to come. Listen to this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAN EGELAND, U.N. SENIOR ADVISER ON SYRIA: Here is that after Eastern Ghouta we may see tremendous battles now in and around Idlib and in the South Daraa. Idlib would be a tremendous concern because Idlib is in many ways a gigantic refugee camp. It's two and a half million people in Idlib, more than half of these are internally displaced. We cannot have war in a refugee camp.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: You cannot have war in a refugee camp but that is what it could well be. Is Syria heading to a state of entrenched warfare similar to what we saw in Afghanistan or Iraq?

FRANCONCA: I don't think so. I think that eventually the government is going to emerge as the victors here because the Russians have pretty much guaranteed it. I think all of our calculations and the conversations that we had before September of 2015 when the Russians intervene really don't hold water now.

The Russians are really in the key player, they're the key driver right now. They greatly outplay the United States in their maneuverings in Syria. They will emerge as the main power broker. Assad will remain in power, the Syrian government will eventually reclaim control over its territory. And I think the envoy's exactly right, Idlib is this giant refugee camp and is going to be subdued to the way Damascus wants to form this, not the way the rebels want to form this.

VAUSE: Yes. And to think it was a year ago when we thought some kind of turner -- some kind of corner had been turned in all of this and it was -- things would get better but sadly not. Colonel, good to see you, thank you.

FRANCONA: Thank you.

VAUSE: Well the Syrian Civil War and all that has followed be seven years ago with a simple act of vandalism by school boys. Here's Jomana Karadsheh.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It might be hard to believe this is how it all started, peaceful protest demanding freedom and dignity, even harder to believe why it all started.

It was an act of teenage defiance. Five 14-year-old boys did the unthinkable, they spray painted anti-regime graffiti on their school's walls.

MOHAWIYA SYASNAH, ARRESTED FOR GRAFFITI (through translator): My friends in there used to sit on the corner of our school and the police officer would prevent us from moving freely. We saw the demonstrations (INAUDIBLE) where they were writing freedom and done with the regime, so we wrote on the walls too. KARADSHEH: Mohawiya Syasnah was one of the 15 boys rounded up by the

security forces in the City of Daraa. Their families protested demanding their release.

SYASNAH (through translator): They took me at 4:00a.m. during the dawn prayers, I was asleep, they woke me up, handcuffed me. They told my parents they will bring me back. That was a terrifying feeling. They took us to the police station where they tortured and beat us. They also broke my friend's fingers.

KARADSHEH: As protests spread across the country, they were met with bullets. Fight escalated and the country slowly descended into the seemingly endless civil war.

The streets of Daraa's old city where it all began now stand guard. Years of battles have left this destroyed southern city split between the regime and opposition fighters. Daraa seems an abandoned city, half its population is believed to have fled the war. Syasnah is now another boy of Syria's lost generation going to university a distant dream for this rebel fighter who lost his father to the violence. If he could turn back time he says he would spray paint that graffiti again.

SYASNAH (through translator): I don't regret what I did because we were only calling for freedom. It is the regime that turned it into a war, destroyed the nation and killed the people.

KARADSHEH: How it all started, a chapter for the history books. Now, it's hard to imagine how it all ends. Jomana Karadsheh, CNN Oman.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Well still to come here, a CNN exclusive insider U.S. nuclear submarine challenging Russia for control of the Arctic.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[01:5:15]

VAUSE: Although it's a growing battle for military dominance in one of the world's final frontiers, the Arctic, it's one of the most challenging environments on earth and strategically important to countries like the United States, Russia, and China. CNN's Jim Sciutto travelled aboard a U.S. nuclear submarine in the Arctic, this exclusive report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Office three, two, one (INAUDIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Standby, tube one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ice pick submarine bearing 182, 300 yards.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: The USS Hartford Los Angeles Class Nuclear Attack Submarine readies to fire.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fire tube one. Show tube one.

SCIUTTO: In an instant, a two ton, twenty foot long torpedo speeds towards an enemy submarine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, it's going to get in the dark.

SCIUTTO: Target acquired and destroyed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All units (INAUDIBLE) are in progress.

SCIUTTO: The Hartford is training for its primary mission, hunting and killing enemy ships and submarines.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 180 feet, 0 angle.

SCIUTTO: But these exercises with CNN was given exclusive access to are taking place in the harshest sea environment in the world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) stop.

SCIUTTO: Under the Arctic ice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Keeping a watch (INAUDIBLE) burn at the surface, burn at the surface, burn at the surface.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) stand pass.

SCIUTTO: It's an arena where even surfacing requires enormous power and skill.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Five degree up angle, 0.23 upper velocity and increasing.

SCIUTTO: We were on board as the submarine stocks to the surface with the full force of its 6,000 tons.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Impact.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Four one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand.

SCIUTTO: We've just broken through two feet of Arctic ice, the North Pole is this way, Russia is this, and Alaska this way. In a mission like this, it's all about sending a message, the U.S. Navy can operate or wage war if necessary in the harshest environment in the world.

The Arctic is the newest and most daunting front in the expanding global competition between the U.S. and Russia. These 5.5 million square miles are under an intense battle for dominance as the ice shrinks and opens new oil exploration, new shipping lanes, and crucially new pans to wage war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are well aware that we are in a great power competition environment and the Arctic is one piece of that. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Great power competition, talking principally about

Russia but also China. Russia and China are two of great powers that are trying to catch up with us as fast as they can.

SCIUTTO: This year, these exercises called Ice X are taking on new urgency. A British submarine joined for the first time in a decade and U.S. submarine forces are refocusing on a mission dating to the cold war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is our primary mission the submarine forces to be able to leverage our offensive weaponry like a torpedo against a threat. So there's been a shift in emphasis in our ability to do that.

SCIUTTO: Operating under the Arctic presents unique challenges with no access to GPS navigation, limited communications, and dangers from below and above.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ice (INAUDIBLE) 07, 5'5 feet.

SCIUTTO: Ice skills as long as 150 feet extend down from the ice sheet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) to 180 feet.

SCIUTTO: America's biggest challenge however comes from Russia.

[01:55:18]

The Russian military is assembled in ark of steel along its Arctic coast comprising dozens of military bases, ports, and airfields, and it is building and deploying faster, quieter, and more capable subs of its own.

COMMANDER OLLIE LEWIS, SUBMARINE SQUADRON 12: In every case they're trying to get faster and better in what they do and integrating technology into their platforms, and to really set them on a ramp to where if we don't continue to do the same we'll find ourselves in place of falling behind.

SCIUTTO: For now, Navy commanders say the (INAUDIBLE) maintains a technological advantage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ramming.

SCIUTTO: Subs like the Hartford are virtually invisible and silent to enemies allowing them to strike without warning against targets below and above the surface.

These are two of the four torpedo tubes but you could launch a lot more from a sub than torpedoes. You have 12 vertical launch tubes, they can launch cruise missiles from those torpedo tubes, you could also launch unmanned underwater vehicles, drone become more of a focus in this navy and some submarines like this equipped to send out seal team delivery vehicles as well.

These subs designed to project power in many, many ways. However, Russian and increasingly Chinese submarines are getting better at doing the same.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE)

SCIUTTO: Is the navy becoming more reliant on subs as a platform?

LEWIS: We do expect that submarines are going to be able to get to places and to conduct action where other units may not be able to right off the bat. We're going to need the submarine force to kick the door and other forces to flow behind.

SCIUTTO: That is the firm message to audiences in Moscow and beyond.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Thanks to James Sciutto for that exclusive report and thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles, I'm John Vause. Join us on Twitter @cnnnewsroomla for highlights and clips in the show, but stay with us I'll be back with a lot more news after a short break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAUSE: This is CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles, ahead this hour. A diplomatic crisis not seen since the cold war. Theresa May says Britain will expel 23 Russian diplomats over the poisoning of an ex spy on U.K. soil. Russia warn retaliation will not be long in coming.