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CNN NEWSROOM

Britain Expelled 23 Russians; Trump in a Firing Mood; Syria's Civil War Without End; Youth Power Stands Out; Toys R Us Will Close Or Sell All U.S. Stores; U.S. Ambassador To U.N. Russia Responsible For Attack; An Upset In Trump Country; U.S. Nuclear Sub Trains To Take On Russia In Arctic. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired March 15, 2018 - 03:00   ET

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


[03:00:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MAX FOSTER, HOST, CNN: The Russians are going. Britain expels nearly two dozen diplomats to punish Moscow for the Salisbury nerve agent attack. Will Russia respond?

The White House braces for another possible staff shake-up after firing the secretary of state, President Trump is now set to be looking to get rid of the dead weight.

Plus, the Syrian civil war seven years on, the simple act that sparked the uprising and a brutal crackdown.

Hello and welcome to our viewers all around the world. I'm Max Foster. This is CNN Newsroom.

The U.K. is forcing 23 Russian diplomats to leave the country over a nerve agent attack on British soil. It's the single biggest expulsion since the Cold War and just one of the measures Prime Minister Theresa May announced to punish Moscow. She also mentioned the possibility of freezing Russian assets that pose a threat.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: They have treated the use of a military-grade nerve agent in Europe with sarcasm, contempt, and defiance. So, Mr. Speaker, there is no alternative conclusion other than that the Russian state was culpable for the attempted murder of Mr. Skripal and his daughter.

This represents an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOSTER: Hours later, the U.N. Security Council held an emergency session where the U.S. ambassador publicly blamed Russia.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NIKKI HALEY, UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Russia must fully cooperate with the U.K.'s investigation and come clean about its own chemical weapons program. Russia is a permanent member of the Security Council. It must account for its actions. If we don't take immediate concrete measures to address this now, Salisbury will not be the last place we see chemical weapons used.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOSTER: Well, CNN's Melissa Bell is in Salisbury, England. Sam Kiley joins us from Moscow. And it really was, Sam, wasn't it, a remarkable statement of support from the United States for Theresa May's strategy.

SAM KILEY, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Yes it was, and very eloquently put there by Nikki Haley, warning of the possibility of the future use of nerve agents, a signal to NATO partner that perhaps the Americans have finally come around to the idea of attack on one is an attack on all.

A very different attitude she struck to the one of Donald Trump, of course who still hasn't pointed the finger of blame in tweets or in statements he's made directly at the Russians. Now, he may have been asking his ambassador to do that for him. It's a very difficult relationship to work out.

But nonetheless, the Russians are very keen to try to fall back ironically on the terms of international law and demanding from the United Kingdom that they share with Moscow the chemical details of Novichok, this agent that the British says -- say were used in this attack. And during this very doggy dog exchange in the U.N. Security Council, the Russian ambassador did not mince his words either, Max. This is what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VASILY NEBENZYA, RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS (through translator): Russia had nothing to do with this incident. The ultimatum from London is something that we consider to be something that we cannot pay attention to. And we consider null and void.

We expect that the United Kingdom will act in strict adherence with the convention of chemical weapons and other international instruments. We stand ready for such an investigation. We have nothing to fear, and we have nothing to hide.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KILEY: Now, it's exactly the same sort of attitude was struck when in 2006, a former KGB agent was murdered in London using polonium 210, a radioactive substance that was trace back by the British to Russia.

Now it's very interesting here, Max, too that while the Russians have fallen back on these terms of international conventions on the use of chemical weapons and indeed, the conventions that demanded the destruction of chemical weapons, the irony being, of course, that Novichok was developed precisely to circumvent these chemical weapons agreements. And indeed, in the view of Russian experts is probably outside of the

convention in any case. So, it's a, but it's really a technique, I think, that the Russians are using to muddy the waters, to create frictions, and to expose perhaps Britain's isolation in this matter.

[03:04:56] One of the issues that -- or one of the techniques that the British can use to strike back at Russia would be the investigations into the murky wealth of a lot of the very, very rich Russians that use the United Kingdom as a home base to educate their children and, above all, to store their financial resources.

The problem with that, of course, is if you go after those resources, you drive away other investors at a time when the United Kingdom is going to be increasingly reliant on the city of London as it negotiates its exist from the European Union. So, it's all about creating frictions, Max.

FOSTER: OK. Sam, thank you. And Melissa, that's one of the responses, isn't it? The expulsions and Sam was talking there about some of the Russian assets here in the U.K. But also we expect to hear today that they're going to boost quite significantly their defenses against any future chemical attacks.

MELISSA BELL, INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: That's right. We're expecting to hear a speech to a think tank today, Max, from the U.K. Defence Minister Gavin Williamson. He's expected to announce a number of things, amongst them the vaccination of thousands of British troops against anthrax, but also the beefing up of resources at the nearby Porton Down Defence Science and Technology Center.

It was of course crucial, first of all, in identifying precisely what nerve agent had been used here, in tracing that to Russia, but also in the cleanup operation which, of course, continues here in Salisbury 11 days on.

So they are expected, that center is expected to get an extra 48 million pounds. And of course, this comes in the context, Max, where there have been cutbacks in military spending over the last few years in the United Kingdom, including on that crucial question of chemical attack indeed, back in 2011, an entire regiment that had been devoted precisely to that, to chemical and nuclear warfare was disbanded over at Porton Down just 10 miles or so outside of Salisbury.

There is speculation in the British press this morning that that is something that might be reconsidered. So clearly the United Kingdom very much looking, Max, at how it can better protect itself from these sorts of attacks going forward.

FOSTER: OK. Melissa Bell in Salisbury and Sam Kiley in Moscow, thank you both very much, indeed.

Theresa May didn't name any Russian individuals that would be targeted with sanctions, only that she'd crackdown on corrupt elites. London is home to a number of wealthy Russians with ties to Vladimir Putin.

More now from CNN's Isa Soares. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ISA SOARES, INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: 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 sea to British power. The owner? Anti-corruption groups believes a top official in the Kremlin, an adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

RACHEL DAVIES TEKA, HEAD OF ADVOCACY, TRANSPARENCY INTERNATIONAL: Now, these flats, we believe, were bought for about 11.4 million pounds. The stated salary of the person who we believe own them is only 112,000 pounds a year.

SOARES: 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.

Do you believe there are many more people tied to Putin, to the Kremlin, who have bought property in London?

TEKA: Absolutely.

SOARES: 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.

Talk to us about the ease in which they actually, you know, have their money thrown around London. What does that tell you?

TEKA: 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 Belgrade Square, one of 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.

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.

TEKA: P.R. agencies that can land you a reputation or lawyers, accountants, state agents that can help you move your money into London sometimes with very few questions asked.

SOARES: 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 Chichvarkin sells 1,000-pound bottles to global elite. He says he was forced into exile in 2008.

YEVGENY CHICHVARKIN, RUSSIAN ENTREPRENEUR: The Russian authorities, they don't represent my country.

[03:10:02] SOARES: Chichvarkin says that last week's chemical attack should force governments to crackdown on oligarchs with ties to Putin.

CHICHVARKIN: Other countries have to support personal sanctions against Putin and his friends, not against country, against personalities.

SOARES: 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOSTER: Now, White House sources say they believe Donald Trump is getting ready to clean house. Official say he's frustrated by scandals plaguing his cabinet. One person saying the president wants to purge all the dead weight.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny has our report.

JEFF ZELENY, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Another day of churn at the White House. President Trump tapping long-time friend and TV financial analyst Larry Kudlow as his chief economic adviser even as other top aides are on the hot seat tonight.

As a CNBC commentator, Kudlow has been sharply critical but always loyal to the president. Lately he's been outspoken in opposing the controversial trade policy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LARRY KUDLOW, INCOMING DIRECTOR, WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: My problem with the steel and aluminum tariffs as they were originally announced is that it might do harm to American users of steel and aluminum. I made that point on the air. I made it to him. I just don't like blanket tariffs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: But that's the specific issue that caused Gary Cohn to quit last week, raising questions of how comfortable the president is with dissenting points of view.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We don't agree on everything, but in this case I think that's good. I want to have a divergent opinion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: The president is rebuilding his team as republicans are bracing for what many fear will be a brutal midterm election following the outcome of a special congressional race Tuesday. After campaigning last week in Pennsylvania --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: But Republican Rick Saccone did not, running 600 votes behind moderate Democrat Conor Lamb who declared victory in the deeply red district.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONOR LAMB, (D) UNITED STATES REPRESENTATIVE-ELECT: I'm a Pennsylvania Democrat. A proud Western Pennsylvania Democrat.

(APPLAUSE)

This is the party of my grandfather.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: A day after abruptly firing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, CNN has learned the president is furious at the conduct and performance of other members of his cabinet, and more changes are likely coming.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We did. We helped Wall Street. We helped the Main Street. We helped everybody.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: At a stop in Saint Louis today, the president talking up the country's economic stability. But it's the stability of his administration that's raising questions in Washington and around the world.

Before leaving the White House on Tuesday, the president signaled he's still trying to put his team in order 14 months after taking office.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I'm really a a point where we're getting very close to having the cabinet and other things that I want.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: The president is or has been furious at many members of his cabinet. V.A. Secretary David Shulkin is in his crosshairs over poor management and misuse of taxpayer money. National security adviser H.R. McMaster over foreign policy differences, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke over excessive spending on travel.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt over pricy hotels and first class air fare. HUD Secretary Ben Carson over that $31,000 dining set. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for a poor performance on 60 Minutes. Attorney General Jeff Sessions over the Russia investigation. And chief of staff John Kelly for exerting too much control over the West Wing.

The president, aides say, is disturbed by how his team has become a punch line.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Baby, I'm scared.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's OK. You're going to make a great surgeon general.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. I run the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's hilarious.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: The president once praised Shulkin for his commitment to reforming the V.A.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: But I have no doubt it will be properly implemented. Right, David? Better be, did.

(APPLAUSE)

We'll never have to use those words.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: Those words, of course, are ones he often said in his previous life on the apprentice. You're fired.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: You're fired. We will never use those words on you, that's for sure.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: The president's anger at odds with campaign promises of recruiting the best team.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: The cabinet, we're going to have all the best people. We're going to have the best people in the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: The president back in Washington tonight after spending two days on the road in California and Missouri. All eyes are on his schedule on Thursday and Friday to see what personnel changes, if any, he makes. Certainly he has said he is furious and frustrated with members of his cabinet, and this week he seems to be in a firing mood.

Jeff Zeleny, CNN, the White House.

[03:14:56] FOSTER: U.S. Senate Republican Rand Paul says he'll oppose President Trump's picks for secretary of state and CIA director.

Gina Haspel is facing an especially tough path to lead the U.S. spy agency. She's currently the CIA deputy director, but she's coming under fire for her role in the torture of terror suspects at so-called black sites in the early 2000s.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAND PAUL, (R) UNITED STATES SENATOR: The quote from one of the interrogators says that Gina Haspel said, "good job. I like the way you're drooling." This is about Zubaydah as he was being water boarded. "It adds to the realism. I'm almost buying it. You wouldn't think grown man would do that."

When you read that, sort of the joyful glee at someone who is being tortured, I find it just amazing that anyone would consider having this woman at the head of the CIA.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOSTER: Not everyone is so critical of Haspel. Listen to former CIA Director Leon Panetta.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEON PANETTA, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: I would hope that the Senate would look at her entire record. She was a good officer. She served the CIA well. Obviously at that time, circumstances coming out of 9/11, I think people need to look at the situation as it was at that time.

Those -- those approaches to interrogation were stopped when President Obama came in, and so, I think what they need to do is to look at her full record because I'm glad that they have a first woman as head of CIA, and I'm glad that it's Gina because frankly, she is someone who really knows the CIA inside out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOSTER: Haspel would replace Mike Pompeo who President Trump has picked as secretary of state.

Coming up after the break, how Syrian teenagers spray painted graffiti and ignited one of the bloodiest civil wars in recent history. And a generation of future voters spells out its message to U.S. lawmakers on gun violence. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FOSTER: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has achieved a grim master that no world leader can envy. Seven years of civil war with no end in sight. Since March 2011, Syria has descended into bloodshed, chaos, and horror.

At least 400,000 Syrians are dead. The regime has being unleashed, has even unleashed hellish chemical weapons on civilians, 11 million people have been forced from their homes. And relenting bombs and artillery have reduced major cities like Aleppo and towns like Eastern Ghouta to rubble.

So far the world has been powerless to stop it. And now Turkey has jumped into the fight, going after their longtime enemy, the Kurds.

People in the Kurdish city of Afrin in northwest Syria are trying to get out before it's too late. But all around them, Turkish tanks are forming an iron noose from which there might not be any escape.

One of the most maddening things about the Syrian conflict is it began with a fairly trivial incident but quickly spiraled out of control.

[03:20:04] Our Jomana Karadsheh joins us now from Amman in Jordan. Jomana?

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Well, Max, you know, when -- whenever you visit Syria, whenever you'd enter the country before 2011, you would feel -- you would know that you have arrived in a police state. People there would not dare talk about the regime, and it's not about speaking out or criticizing the regime. It's just even mentioning the regime, and Syrian parents would tell their children not to talk about the regime because even the walls have ears.

And, you know, but then you had those remarkable events of early 2011. The first couple of months where, you know, the myth of the Arab strong men, the myth of those Arab regimes was being shattered by ordinary people.

And people in Syria like everywhere else were watching this, and they were watching these events unfold in Egypt and Tunisia and Libya. And then you ended up with this domino effect.

But as you mentioned, what is most remarkable to this day is what actually sparked Syria's uprising.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KARADSHEH: It might be hard to believe this is how it all started. Peaceful protests 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. MOUAWIYA SYASNEH, ARRESTED FOR GRAFFITI (through translator): My

friends and I used to stand on the corner of our school, and the police officer would prevent us from moving freely. We saw the demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt where they were writing freedom and down with the regime. So we wrote on the walls too.

KARADSHEH: Mouawiya Syasneh was one of the 15 boys rounded up by the security forces in the city of Dara'a. Their families protested, demanding their release.

SYASNEH (through translator): They took me at 4 a.m. during the dawn prayers. I was asleep. They woke me up, handcuffed me. They told my parents they will bring me back. It 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. Violence escalated, and the country slowly descended into the seemingly endless civil war.

The streets of Dara'a's old city where it all began now stand scarred. Years of battle have left this destroyed southern city split between the regime and opposition fighters. Dara'a seems an abandoned city, half its population is believed to have fled the war.

Syasneh 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.

SYASNEH (through translator): I don't regret what I did because we're 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KARADSHEH: And, Max, Dara'a province and the city of Dara'a about an hour away from where we are here in the Jordanian capital, that part of Syria has been relatively calm for months now. That's after Jordan, the United States, and Russia reached a de-escalation agreement for that part of the country.

But over the past couple of days, we've heard reports from people in Dara'a of air strikes taking place for the first time since last summer. And they feel that it's an ominous sign of what might be coming. They're really concern as they see the regime recapturing one rebel-held area after the other. They feel that Dara'a the cradle of Syria's revolution might be next.

FOSTER: OK. Jomana, thank you very much, indeed.

A Florida judge entered a plea of not guilty on behalf of Nikolas Cruz on Wednesday. The 19-year-old chose to stay silent in court. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for the high school massacre a month ago in Parkland, Florida.

And Cruz confessed to killing 17 people, students and staff included. The FBI's acting deputy director also confirmed that a tip received in January from a person close to Cruz was never forwarded to other law enforcement. That tip said Cruz was, quote, "about to explode."

The Parkland massacre has spurred a nationwide movement for stricter gun control. Thousands of students walked out of their classroom on Wednesday to honor the 17 victims and to demand action from lawmakers.

[03:25:01] Our Scott McLean has the details.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCOTT MCLEAN, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: What started in Florida on display today in schools across the country. Students in New York showing solidarity with students in Parkland, Florida. In Washington, students, most not old enough to vote, sending a clear message to the White House.

(CROWD CHANTING)

Make America safe again. End gun violence.

MCLEAN: And demanding action from lawmakers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What Parkland showed us is that this could happen in any one of our schools. And we, as students can't take this anymore.

MCLEAN: Some messages could only be seen from the air. A heart in Green Mills, Pennsylvania. In Portland, Oregon, a peace sign. And in Los Angeles County, California, the word enough.

The walkouts lasted 17 minutes for the 17 victims in Parkland. In St. Louis, 17 empty chairs, another sign of those lost. Students at Columbine High School, who weren't even born when 13 were killed inside of their school, still feel the impact 19 years later.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Every time I walk into a new classroom, the first thing I do at any year is to find the best place to hide in the door in the case of an accident. It's just a subconscious reaction, any doorway I walk through, that's the first thing going through my mind just in case. What if.

MCLEAN: These elementary students had a message in song.

Scott McLean, CNN, Jefferson County, Colorado.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOSTER: Now Russian President Vladimir Putin has long been accused of using poison to target his opponents. Why some experts say there's no reason for him to stop anytime soon.

Plus America's top diplomat is out. So who will lay the groundwork for Donald Trump's upcoming meeting with Kim Jong-un? We'll go live to Seoul for some answers.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FOSTER: Welcome to CNN Newsroom. I'm Max Foster. Let's update you on our top stories this hour.

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

[03:29:55] Donald Trump's has pick cable TV host Larry Kudlow to be his new top economic adviser. He'll replace Gary Cohn who resigned over the president's plan for steel and aluminum tariffs. Kudlow has also spoken out against those tariffs.

After 70 years in business, retailer, Toys R Us, will close or sell all of its store in the U.S., jobs in the U.K. will be eliminated too. The company filed for bankruptcy back in September, hoping to shed debt and reinvest in its stores, but the turnaround didn't work, tens of thousands of job are at risk.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. have a half rebuke then for Russia over the nerve agent attacks in Salisbury, England. At an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council, Nikki Haley had this to say about the Kremlin's used of chemical weapons.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: The Russians complained recently that we criticize them too much. If the Russian government stopped using chemical weapons to assassinate its enemies and if the Russian government stopped helping its Syrian ally to use chemical weapons to kill Syrian children and if Russia cooperated with the organization for the prohibition of chemical weapons by turning over all information related to this nerve agent, we would stop talking about them. We take no pleasure in having to constantly criticized Russia, but we need Russia to stop giving us so many reasons to do so.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOSTER: Well, some analysts say Russian President, Vladimir Putin, has no reason to stop using chemical weapons to target his enemies. Our CNN's Brian Todd explains why.

(BEGIN VIDEO)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: British authorities strike back at Vladimir Putin, after concluding that Kremlin is responsible for the poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter. Prime Minister Theresa May says the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats will degrade Putin's intelligence capability in Britain.

THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: It is tragic that President Putin has chosen to act in this way.

TODD: There are now serious concerns over who might be targeted next. Bill Browder believes it could be him. Browder is an American-born financier, who pushed through the passage of an American law that targeted Putin and his cronies for corruption and human rights violations. Browder has lived in Britain for several years under constant protection.

What are the security threats you've received?

BILL BROWDER, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, HERMITAGE CAPITAL MANAGEMENT: Dave, the Russian government has made numerous death threats against me, they want to kill me, they'd like to kidnap me, they'd like to have me arrested and sent back to Russia.

TODD: Putin's got a long track record of allegedly targeting his opponents with poisonings. Vladimir Kara-Murza, an anti-Putin activist, whose campaign for more open elections in Russia, says he's been poisoned and sent into a coma twice. The closest anyone's come to tracing a political murder directly to Vladimir Putin, the 2006 death of former Russian Intelligence Agent, Alexander Litvinenko.

He'd been digging up information damaging to the Kremlin. In a cold war style operation, someone slipped the radioactive substance polonium into Litvinenko's tea in London. The British investigated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There were all sides represented. There was tons of evidence. And on the basis of that evidence, a British Judge found that Mr. Putin is likely to have ordered this killing.

TODD: Is it fair to call Vladimir Putin a killer?

SARAH MENDELSON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N. FOR HUMAN RIGHTS: It's fair to say that he has ordered killings, that he has enabled a system where opponents, journalists, activists have been killed.

TODD: Experts say the chemical nerve agent used to injure Skripal and his daughter is up to ten times more potent than V.X., the nerve agent used to kill Kim Jong-un's half-brother last year. If Putin is behind the Skripal attack, what signal is he sending?

MATTHEW ROJANSKY, KENNAN INSTITUTE WOODROW WILSON CENTER: This is the system signaling that when you betray us, you cannot escape. You're not safe anywhere in the world. The additional message from Putin and for Putin is, as I have told you, the Russian people, we are in a conflict with the West. Note what the West is doing in response to this. They are seeking to punish us.

TODD: Vladimir Putin and his aides have denied any involvement in the Sergei Skripal attack, saying the accusations are unfounded. They've denied being behind the death of Alexander Litvinenko and the targeting of other Putin critics abroad. But analysts say, don't look for Putin to stop this kind of behavior anytime soon. They say, there simply aren't any consequences for him at home. Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEO)

FOSTER: Now, the outgoing U.S. Secretary of States is working towards a smooth transition at the State Department. Senior State Department officials say on Wednesday, Rex Tillerson spoke with President Trump's nominee to replace him, current CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

They're set to meet on Monday and that discussion is expected to focus on North Korea. Officials say, after the President accepted Kim Jong- un's invitation for a meeting, Mr. Trump personally asked Pompeo to take the lead in preparing for those talks.

CNN's David McKenzie is in Seoul this hour. So, what we understand in terms of these preparations, you know, where is going to place, and what -- what the premise of the talks will be?

[03:35:00] DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the headline has been established that is that this meeting should take place. The details, certainly, have not been yet at least publicly, Max. And now you have the South Korean foreign minister rushing off to Washington. The question was, was she going to go at all? Was there turmoil at the State Department?

She said -- Foreign Minister Kang said, as she was leaving, speaking to reporters saying that they need to keep this momentum going, after those surprisingly quick developments from the Winter Olympics onwards that have led to this detente, potentially between the U.S. and North Korea on this high stakes, highest level meeting.

She said that it's important to deal with whoever is in charge at the State Department, even if it's an acting person, at this stage, and that they need to hash out the details, both of -- of course, President Trump's proposed meeting with Kim Jong-un but, of course, South Korea's leader, Moon Jae-in's meeting with the North Korean dictator because Kim Jong-un has never met any Head of State. And now, he has two potentially hugely important meetings back-to-back. Max?

FOSTER: But we've heard very little, have we, from North Korea despite the fact the invitation came from them in the first place?

MCKENZIE: Yes. The invitation came from the North Koreans. It was made public to the world by the South Koreans. And President Trump seemed to be keen to have that meeting as soon as possible. It's worth describing just how unusual this is. Normally diplomacy works from the low levels up to the top. The principals come in really just to put pen to paper. But now it's happening in reverse, possibly because of Donald Trump's unusual way of doing things.

And as you say, the North Koreans at least publicly have said very little. They come -- continue to bash the U.S. in their own propaganda channels, haven't said anything about the meeting, and there's a sense of a wait and see approach from the State Department. Remember key official including, of course, the Secretary of State, but also Asia -- top Asia diplomats are not in place. There's no ambassador to South Korea. It's almost like President Trump is pushing ahead with this without

the kind of ground team in place. So South Korea and their officials are absolutely critical in helping iron out this meeting between Trump and Kim Jong-un, but every one waits to hear the details. And in this and everything in diplomacy, the devil will be in the details. Max?

FOSTER: Yes. I know the South Korean have been on this diplomatic tour of the region, trying to drum up support for the talks. Are there any concerns that have been expressed from Japan and China, for example?

MCKENZIE: Well, it seems like everyone's trying to pile in, particularly Japan, now that it seems that Trump's willing to talk directly with Kim Jong-un. Prime Minister Abe saying they are willing also to have talks. China is standing on the sideline somewhat. I think there would be, from my previous experience -- previous experience talking to Chinese officials that they will be taking a very cautious approach.

Normally China is seen as a strong ally of North Korea. And in previous years, you had the leaders, Kim Jong-un's father and grandfather, having relatively regular visits with the Chinese leader. You haven't had that happen with Xi Jinping, but none of the actors in the region will want to be left out in the cold.

Previously, these were six-party talks that we're trying to hash out the difference, but those fell apart some years ago. And really, it shows that even complex negotiations are difficult when everyone's involved.

What will happen when the leaders are having face to face talks? That is really the big wild card here and what everyone's waiting to see. But again, until there's a date, a venue, and you know, details on what the talks are exactly about, we kind a have to wait and see.

FOSTER: OK. David McKenzie, thank you.

A U.S. Democrat claims victory in a Republican stronghold. Just ahead, why some one-time Trump voters say they've lost faith in their President. Plus, meeting the candidate looking to give Vladimir Putin a run for his money in Russia's upcoming Presidential election.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[03:41:26] FOSTER: The White House is trying to distance itself from a Republican Congressional candidate, who apparently lost a special election in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania. President Trump even campaigned for Rick Saccone less than a week ago. But Democrat's Conor Lamb is claiming an upset victory in the heart of Trump country.

CNN's Gary Tuchman asked voters, how they decided.

(BEGIN VIDEO)

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're here at the Carnegie Coffee in Carnegie, Pennsylvania. All of you voted for Donald Trump for president?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Correct.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

TUCHMAN: How many of you did what Donald Trump wanted you to do when he spoke here over the weekend and vote for the Republican candidate for Congress? How many of you switched and voted for the Democrat? What made you decide not to vote for the Republican candidate? You're a life-long Republican voter for Donald Trump. Why did you switch?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I made the decision very early on in the campaign. I thought that Conor Lamb was the best candidate based on his priorities and his background, and I think we needed some new blood in Congress.

TUCHMAN: Steve, you're a registered Democrat?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

TUCHMAN: But you switched and voted for Donald Trump for President.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

TUCHMAN: Because you wanted change?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

TUCHMAN: And Donald Trump say, OK. Vote for Saccone, if you continue to want change. Did you not agree and believe in that message?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I stop believing Donald Trump six months ago.

TUCHMAN: And why?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just don't trust anything he does. I'm a vet, and I'm actually ashamed (inaudible) and I am ashamed to be a vet. You are ashamed to be part of the country sometimes.

TUCHMAN: Is that one of the reasons, you didn't vote for this candidate, Saccone?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are right. I think it's time for a change.

TUCHMAN: Another change?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Another change.

TUCHMAN: You voted for Saccone?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

TUCHMAN: But you are saying you thought Conor Lamb was a better candidate? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think, he ran a better campaign. I think the things he campaigned on were -- really resonated with this area.

TUCHMAN: So why didn't' you vote for him?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because I would not to be able to support the Democratic Party right now. I think, he is going to vote Democrat, every time.

TUCHMAN: So he said, you know, he comes off as a conservative Democrat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He comes offs as a conservative, but he is going to vote Democrat, in my opinion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Great candidate. In reality (ph), he's not going to be a very good congressman in our eyes because he's not going to do what he said he is going to do. He's going to vote with Pelosi and Schumer. If he doesn't, then they're going to cut him off at the legs.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But that is going to be the same thing on the Republican side. If Rick Saccone doesn't follow the party line, it's going to be the same thing. When are we going to -- when are we going to -- when are we going to stop this?

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... (inaudible) Democrats, Republicans.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is the divisiveness. This is what the American public is tired of. I want to see some fresh new ideas in government.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is why we voted for Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. I totally agree. That's exactly right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We all agree on that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We all agree with that.

TUCHMAN: Gary Tuchman, CNN, Carnegie, Pennsylvania.

(END VIDEO)

FOSTER: We're just days away from Russia's Presidential election. President Vladimir Putin spent time on Wednesday addressing voters in Sabbatical (ph) or rather where he highlighted, rather, Russia's annexation of Crimea.

It's been our years since Russia annexed the peninsula from Ukraine, or as Mr. Putin told the rally four years since Crimea returned home. Well, the President is widely expected to secure a second consecutive and fourth overall term in power, but that is not stopping other candidates from running against him. Our Fred Pleitgen, profiles Communist Candidate, Pavel Grudinin, who is polling second behind Mr. Putin.

(BEGIN VIDEO)

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: A specter is haunting Russia, the specter of past Soviet Ideology attempting to make a return.

[03:45:05] Meet Pavel Grudinin, the Communist candidate looking to give Vladimir Putin a run for his money. In an interview at his headquarters, he told me why he is in the race.

PAVEL GRUDININ, COMMUNIST PARTY PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE 2018, RUSSIA (TRANSLATOR): What do we need to change? Not funneling money abroad, we need to invest in the social programs. It is a Russian model of socialist development.

PLEITGEN: Grudinin's background seems bourgeois, but it is impressive. He is a businessman who took a failing collective strawberry farm and turned it into a thriving almost Utopian enterprise. He branched out into other sectors like cattle farming and tourism, making millions.

His supporters see Pavel Grudinin as a modern socialist, the man with entrepreneurial prowess, but who is also in favor of nationalizing key Russian industries and expanding both workers' rights and salaries.

Grudinin has reinvested into the local community, building this state of the art school, which management says doesn't charge tuition fees. A teacher there describing Grudinin as powerful but approachable.

GRUDININ (TRANSLATOR): I have spoken with him personally. He is approachable and a very nice person. He's helping ordinary people and answers any questions he is given.

PLEITGEN: But even as Pavel Grudinin strives for a communist future, some feel he too readily embraces the darkest chapters of its past. Constantly praising former soviet leader Joseph Stalin, under whose reign millions of people were killed.

Grudinin's is currently polling second behind Vladimir Putin. But in a weak, field of contenders, he is still only at between 6 and 7 percent. And asked if he would change Russia's policy towards the U.S., he said, "not really."

GRUDININ (TRANSLATOR): America is also the country that will only reckon with the strong. We have to be strong not only in terms of defense complex but economically. We then will have an opportunity to speak on equal terms.

PLEITGEN: While Pavel Grudinin is an intriguing candidate for some Russians, the specter of the modern-day communist doesn't appear to be giving Vladimir Putin any sleepless nights.

Fred Pleitgen, CNN, at the Lenin Collective Farm in Russia.

(END VIDEO) FOSTER: Now, an Afghan man's decision to name his son after the

current U.S. President isn't going down particularly well with his family. This 18-month-old Donald Trump, his father says he picked the name because he is a fan of the President's business and political work. But choosing a non-Islamic name made his relatives so angry, he decided to move away from them.

Still to come. CNN goes inside U.S. nuclear submarine, challenging Russia for control of the Arctic. Jim Sciutto, has the exclusive report.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FOSTER: There's a growing battle for military dominance in one of the world's final frontiers and that is the Arctic. It's one of the most challenging environments on earth and strategically important to countries like the U.S., Russia, and China. Our Jim Sciutto traveled aboard a U.S. nuclear submarine in the arctic for this exclusive report.

(BEGIN VIDEO)

[03:50:00] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is (inaudible) weaponry. It's been a two-one, pair up time now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Weapons three, two, one, aye, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stand by two-one.

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

SCIUTTO: The USS Hartford, Los Angeles class nuclear attack submarine readies to fire.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fire, two-one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Shoot. Two-one.

SCIUTTO: In an instant, a two-ton, 20-foot long torpedo speeds towards an enemy submarine. Target acquired and destroyed. The Hartford is training for its primary mission, hunting and killing enemy ship and submarines.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 180 degree feed, zero angle.

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Try outs (ph), (inaudible) stop.

SCIUTTO: Under the Arctic ice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Keep in watch, in the 1-C (ph), vertical surface, vertical surface, vertical surface.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's vertical surface, (inaudible), stand fast.

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Five-degree up angle, point 2-3 (ph) upper velocity and increasing.

SCIUTTO: We were onboard as the submarine stalks to the surface with the full force of its 6,000 tons.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stand back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 4-1000, 2-1000, 3-1000.

SCIUTTO: We've just broken through two-feet of Arctic ice. The North Pole is this way. Russia is this way and Alaska this way. And a mission like this is all about sending a message. The U.S. Navy can operator 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 paths to wage war.

REAR ADMIRAL JAMES PITTS, COMMANDER, UNDERSEA WARFIGHTING DEVELOPMENT CENTER: We are well aware that we are in a great power competition environment, and the arctic is one piece of that.

Great power competition, talking principally about Russia but also China?

Russia and China are two of the -- 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 in the submarine force is to be able to leverage our offensive weaponry like a torpedo against a threat. So there's been a -- 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 keels depth 507, 5-5 (ph) feet.

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stationary (ph) down the ship to 180 feet.

SCIUTTO: America's biggest challenge, however, comes from Russia. The Russian military has assembled an arc 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.

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

SCIUTTO: For now, Navy commanders said the U.S. maintains a technological advantage. 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 can also launch unmanned underwater vehicles, drones, becoming more of a focus in this Navy and some submarines like this equipped to send out SEAL Team delivery vehicles as well.

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

Is it the Navy becoming more reliant on subs as a -- as a platform?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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 in and other forces to flow behind.

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

(END VIDEO)

[03:55:07] FOSTER: We're marking My Freedom Day here at CNN. The student driven event is intended to raise awareness about the millions of people impacted by slavery and human trafficking across the world. Our Lynda Kinkade visited a school in Atlanta shining a light on the crisis.

(BEGIN VIDEO)

LYNDA KINKADE, CONNECT THE WORLD, CNN: It's been a hive of activity here at the Atlanta International School, and this My Freedom Day. Students from first and fourth grade have been packing pencil cases to send to Indonesia. It's for a charity called, She Is Safe, which helps to target kids that may be vulnerable to human trafficking.

I have with me, Mateo McDaniel. You're a first grader. Come out of the line for a second. Just explain for us what My Freedom Day means to you.

MATEO MCDANIEL, FIRST GRADER, ATLANTA INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL: Freedom means to be that you can be free and you don't have to be bullied around by kids or grown-ups.

KINKADE: This is Lisa Hoffman. This is obviously a global organization. They work with seven countries around the world. Just explain why Indonesia is a focus and how many students and children you help there.

LISA HOCKMAN, SHE IS SAFE DIRECTOR OF U.S. PARTNERSHIP: Sure. Indonesia is consistently ranked number one for sexual exploitation of children.

KINKADE: And so how important is it to reach out to children, who might be vulnerable to human trafficking?

HOCKMAN: Yes, it's so important. And that's part of what we're doing here today with this Pencil Pouch Program. When we go to Indonesia, we work with our field partners. We get into the schools and we're able to give these children ten tips to safety.

KINKADE: This is the climax in a day full of activity. A thousand students and staff from tight across the school every single grader have poured out here onto the oval to spell out the words My Freedom Day, each grade forming a different letter. This took six months of planning. The idea, to make a big impact and ensure their voices are heard. Lynda Kinkade, CNN.

(CHEERS)

(END VIDEO)

FOSTER: Now, what you see in the Newsroom. After a short break, live reports of the diplomatic fallout between the U.K. and Russia. And we'll also have an exclusive report on the underground network being built in California to help undocumented immigrants targeted for deportation by federal officials. Do stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAY: To those who seek to do us harm, my message is simple, you are not welcome here.