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U.S. and U.K. Demand Answers on Personal Data Misuse; Trump Slams Russia Probe; U.S.-South Korea Military Drills to Start April 1; Putin Lays Out Plans for His Next Term; Russia and U.K. Back and Forth Retaliation; Serial Bomber Roaming in Texas. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired March 20, 2018 - 00:00   ET


[00:00:11] JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. Ahead this hour --

Lawmakers from Europe to the United States are considering tighter oversight of social media after revelations that personal data of 50 million Facebook users was breached.

Plus U.S. President Donald Trump is stepping up his attack against the man leading the Russia investigation but Republican lawmakers are warning him, back off.

And (INAUDIBLE) close in but still no suspects -- police in Texas say they're hunting a serial bomber.

Hello everybody. Great to have you with us. I'm John Vause. The first of three hours, you're watching NEWSROOM L.A.

Well, Facebook and the data company Cambridge Analytica are at the center of a growing scandal which has enormous political and economic ramifications. Personal information is Facebook's currency and there are accusations that it's not protecting user data from misuse specifically during the 2016 presidential campaign. And that's raising deep concerns here in the United States as well as in Britain.

Isa Soares begins our coverage.


ISA SOARES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I first met the CEO of Cambridge Analytica Alexander Nix nine days before the U.S. presidential election in 2016. A man confident he could get inside the mind of American voters by predicting and then attempting to alter their behavior.

ALEXANDER NIX, CEO, CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA: I think it's actually extremely robust and proven to be so time and again.

SOARES: His data helped this man win -- U.S. President Donald Trump, who paid multi-million dollars for them to work their magic. But behind their winning method is more than just data crunching, it's a massive data grab, so says their former contractor now turned whistleblower Chris Wylie. CHRISTOPHER WYLIE, CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA WHISTLEBLOWER: We spent almost

a million dollars doing this. It wasn't some tiny, pilot project. It was the core of what Cambridge Analytica became. It allowed us to move into the hearts and minds of American voters in a way that had never been done before.

SOARES: And this is what Wylie says they did. Cambridge Analytica received data from a third party. A Professor Alexander Kogan based at the University of Cambridge, who was able to gather data on tens of millions of Americans through Facebook.

And then using a survey placed on Facebook, they asked users to take a personality test. The answers grouped people on their personality types. They combined it with voter history, what they buy, where they shop and what they watch on TV. And that enabled them to predict the personality of every adult in the United States and then target them with specific political ads.

But it goes further. By opting into these Facebook surveys each user was actually giving not just their data but that of many of their Facebook friends.

WYLIE: It was a grossly unethical experiment because you are playing with an entire country, the psychology of an entire country without their consent or awareness.

SOARES: Speaking to the U.K. Parliament Committee on data protection and fake news back in February, Cambridge Analytica denied they violated Facebook's terms.

NIX: They work with Facebook data, we don't have Facebook data. We do use Facebook as the platform to advertise as do all brands and most agencies, or all agencies I should say and we use Facebook as a means to gather data.

SOARES: The attention now turns to Facebook and how it reportedly allowed a data breach on this scale.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As I've said from the beginning --

SOARES: And more importantly how it was used to reach and influence voters ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

In a statement Facebook says the claim that this is a data breach is completely false and that those involved certified they had destroyed the data.

Meanwhile it says it's suspending the account of Chris Wylie, Cambridge Analytica as well as Professor Alexander Kogan who did not respond to our request for comment. If anything this shined a light in the dark heart of political advertising.

Isa Soares, CNN -- London.

(END VIDEOTAPE) VAUSE: Facebook has hired independent forensic auditors to conduct its own investigation. So for more on this, joining us now CNN's Andrew Stevens in Hong Kong; and in Oakland, California Jacob Ward, a fellow at the center for advanced study in behavioral sciences at Stanford University.

Jacob -- let's start with you. There's shock and anger that Cambridge Analytica would plunder the accumulated data of millions of Facebook users for political purposes -- why I do not know. There is shock and anger that Facebook allowed this to happen; again, why, I do not know.

But here is an old clip from Onion TV listen to this.


[00:04:59] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: After years of secretly monitoring the public we were astounded so many people would willingly publicize where they live, their religious and political views, an alphabetized list of all their friends, personal e-mail addresses, phone numbers, hundreds of photos of themselves and even status updates about what they were doing moment to moment. It is truly a dream come true for the CIA.


VAUSE: It's funny because it's true, you know.


VAUSE: And this is the end result of essentially voluntarily giving up all of your private information.

WARD: That's absolutely correct. I mean John, you know, we're living -- I mean certainly Cambridge Analytica is sort of a cartoonish bad guy in this story. But the amazing thing, right, is that it's happening because that's exactly what Facebook is built for. You know, it was not -- certainly, you know, Cambridge Analytica used it in a way that it didn't give the company permission to use but it used it exactly as Facebook has intended to, to micro-target people. It's what Facebook is for as a business.

And when you put that also in the context as that Onion clip points out of us living in a world in which people are inviting companies to listen in on our conversation in our living rooms. Not only that, we're paying money to companies to put listening devices into our living rooms, to hand over pictures of our children that is being fed through facial recognition algorithms.

I mean the incredible range of things that we volunteer on a daily basis to these companies. I mean frankly I'm sort of glad that Cambridge Analytica is such a cartoonish bad guy so that people can sort of wake up, look around and go oh this isn't just about this sort of cute baby pictures I get from my neighbors.

This is about the future of truth and democracy and the free exchange of information. That feels like maybe a positive, a silver lining to an other wise pretty scary story.

VAUSE: Well, by sort of, you know, ripping the lid up all of this it has cost Facebook. So Andrew to you, Facebook had a pretty big fall in its share price on Monday and brought the market down with it. But that wasn't the only effect though from the big sell off on Wall Street but it was the biggest.

ANDREW STEVENS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It certainly was the biggest -- John, the biggest fall for Facebook in four years -- $36 billion right off their value.

And it wasn't just Facebook. It was the FAANGs which is an acronym for Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google. These are the big companies and they are all being hit, Facebook more than the others, for the same reason and that is these alleged breaches of security on personal data.

What is that going to mean for the reaction by government? How do they crack down on these big, big tech firms to ensure the security, the privacy of personal data which could come at a cost? But because if you think about it that personal data is at the very core of these companies' advertising strategies and that's where they're making money in advertising.

So if that gets crimped at all or significantly certainly that is going to hit the bottom line for these companies and that's why we're seeing this big selloff.

VAUSE: And back to you -- Jacob because, you know, what Andrew was saying, you know, one of the concerns for investors is actually the reverse for anyone who uses Facebook. You know, for the companies, the social media companies, there's a financial disincentive to give users more control over their own data, if people share less on Facebook and other social networks, they make less money.

WARD: That's absolutely correct. I mean, you know, for Facebook to now turn and say ok, we're going to be safeguarding, you know, clear and open communication between people that we're going to, you know, encourage the rise of more positive news or more truthful news -- all of that runs against their business model which we should all remember is simply keeping you on Facebook.

The more time you spend on Facebook, the more money they make. And anything that gets in the way of that cuts into their bottom line. And so, while on the one hand, I like to believe that a company like this would sort of take it seriously that they are the number one medium of choice for more than a third of the planet, I'd also like to point out that, you know, there isn't really a lot of money to be made in safeguarding democracy. The way they make money is by keeping us on Facebook and they'll do anything to do that.

VAUSE: Andrew -- just very quickly, what sort of regulations are lawmakers in Europe and the United States looking at or oversight or whatever? What can they do here? STEVEN: Well, at this stage they're investigating and that's all their saying right now, investigating exactly. And remember these are still reports, John, so they're being investigated on both sides of the Atlantic as to whether Facebook -- this happened and what Facebook's culpability was. And then they will take action.

But just to give you a sense of it, the European parliament saying this looked like a very clear breach of citizens' privacy -- a very, very clear breach. And in Europe that is a very big deal so they are likely to clamp down hard on this. Too early to say exactly what they would or would not do. But certainly, there'll be action.

VAUSE: Ok. Jacob -- we'll finish up with you because over the weekend Cambridge Analytic hit Twitter and put out a fairly robust defense of its reputation. And one point it made was this. "Advertising is not coercive. People are smarter than that." Really? People are smarter than that?

[00:10:04] WARD: Yes. It drives me crazy. That of all of the things that they put out publicly made me angriest.

We are working -- I'm in the middle right now of a two-year documentary project in which we have talked to Nobel prize-winning psychologist like Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel price-winning economist Richard Thaler.

All of these people, dozens of them, will tell you that that is total nonsense. That the human mind has a system by which it makes decisions. They call it heuristics (ph), the shortcuts by which you and I make decisions. And those short cuts, it turns out, are incredibly systematic across all cultures, even pre-modern cultures. We make the same decisions the same ways. Think of it as a programming language.

And so for all this talk about safeguarding democracy, Facebook and the rest of them are in the business of learning the programming language by which you and mi make decisions so that they can help to influence them. And so, you know, to say that advertising is not coercive, frankly I don't think coercive is a strong enough word for the power that these companies are about to hold over us.

VAUSE: Ok. Jacob -- we'll leave it there. We're out of time but thank you so much and also Andrew in Hong Kong. Appreciate you being with us.

VAUSE: Well, Donald Trump is back on the attack against the Russia investigation and he's targeting the special counsel Robert Mueller. On Monday he tweeted, "It's a total witch hunt with massive conflicts of interest." The President lashed out at Mueller by name over the weekend, arguing his team is politically biased.

Republicans in Congress are warning the President to back off his attacks on Mueller. but there's not much support, at least among Republicans for legislation which would prevent the President from firing the special counsel. Well, for more on this, joining me now California talk radio host Ethan Bearman and Republican strategist Chris Faulkner. Good to see you guys. Thank you for coming in.

Ok. So we've got an increasing number of Republican lawmakers who are telling the President in no uncertain terms to simply lay off. Let's listen to a couple.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How would Republicans react if he fired Mueller?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think there would be a total upheaval at the Senate.

SENATOR ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: That would be the stupidest thing the President could do is fire him. Yes, he could do that but he's not going to do that. And shouldn't do that.


VAUSE: You know -- And Chris, over the weekend, you know, Senator Lindsey Graham said if Trump was to fire Mueller it would be beginning of the end of his presidency. There's been a lot of talk.

Essentially they're doing nothing to protect the special counsel. There's legislation which is on hold before Congress to protect Mueller and they say it's not needed.

CHRIS FAULKNER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, if you look at the basic soft interest, most people can agree it's a bipartisan issue that most elected officials have. You know, if Republicans in Congress actually thought the President was going to jeopardize the majority in the House and the Senate by firing Mueller, they would pass legislation tomorrow.

They do not believe he's going to do that. So therefore there's no need to pass a law if there's not a need to do so.

VAUSE: What gives you this idea that he -- he's thought about it before.

FAULKNER: It's a fundamental Republican principle about it.


VAUSE: I get it. Every politician, you know, is out for himself, that's agreed on. But what is the indication that the President has no interest in firing Robert Mueller. I mean every indication is to the contrary, it seems.

FAULKNER: Every indication, other than he hasn't done it.


FAULKNER: Right. Yet. You could say "yet" about almost anything the President has said. He hasn't done it yet. But if he wanted to -- if he was going to fire Mueller he already would have done it.

VAUSE: Ethan.

ETHAN BEARMAN, TALK RADIO HOST: Wow. A couple of things here. First off, President Trump just last year said he would sit down and testify with Robert Mueller. He said he would do that --

VAUSE: -- at the beginning of January.

BEARMAN: -- and again in January. Thank you.

And he has not done that and then he goes on the attack. But this is an effort to undermine the Mueller investigation so when something comes out he can say this whole thing is biased. The whole thing is terrible, none of it sticks. None of it matters. That's what's going on here.

Republicans for shame that they won't pass the legislation that needs to be passed. Although we could argue that it really is up to Rod Rosenstein to fire Robert Mueller and Rosenstein is not going to do that under the current circumstances.

VAUSE: To bad -- (INAUDIBLE) celebrity game, "You're fired".

BEARMAN: Yes. Right. I mean -- so yes, the Saturday night massacre could happen.

VAUSE: Ok. So after -- what was it -- eight days ago, I think the President tweeted out that there would be no changes to his legal team. He's very happy with the team that was in place.

Well, there's been a new lawyer added to the President's personal legal team. It's a new attorney who seems to audition for the role by appearing on Fox News.


JOSEPH DIGENOVA, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: There was a brazen plot to illegally exonerate Hillary Clinton and if she didn't win the election to then frame Donald Trump with a falsely created crime. Everything that we have seen from these texts and from all the facts developing shows that the FBI and senior DOJ officials conspired to violate the law and to deny Donald Trump his civil rights.


VAUSE: Ok. So Joe diGenova quickly played the role of pit bull. He won't take the lead but he will be the attack guy.

So I guess Chris -- that means there's next to no chance the President has plans of laying off Mueller.

FAULKNER: Well, presidents bring others (ph) personal legal defense team, of course, he's going to have somebody who's aggressive in personally defending him. I don't think anybody should be surprised by that. [00:15:07] If you are a high profile individual and you can afford to have a high profile legal defense team, you're going to hire someone who's going to aggressively pursue your case and aggressively makes sure that you have the possible defense he can possibly get.

VAUSE: Ethan, aggressively defending is one thing, trading in conspiracy theories I guess is something else.

BEARMAN: Yes, I don't understand what's happened to the Republican Party that suddenly it has become the home of conspiracy theories. Everybody is out to get him. Everything is dangerous. Everything -- Hillary Clinton -- everything is undermining democracy around the world.

Where is this coming from? But interestingly enough, that is a page, what he was just going, right out of the book Roy Cohn, which -- you know, that's the trainer of Donald Trump originally.

VAUSE: Ok. So where is this coming from?

Well, here's part of reporting from the "Washington Post" which may explain why the President believes that the Mueller investigation is a partisan witch hunt.

"Trump is not consulting with top advisers, including chief of staff John Kelly and chief White House lawyer Don McGahn on his Russian legal choices. All his comments about the probe, according to one person with knowledge of his actions, spoke on the condition of anonymity -- blah, blah, blah. He is instead watching television and calling friends.

Chris -- if by watching television this report means, you know, watching Fox News, then of course, he thinks it's a witch hunt ordered by President Hillary Clinton overseen by the U.N. national government.

FAULKNER: You know, we can continue to speculate on what the President watches or doesn't watch. Clearly someone is getting to go and leak this information to put it in the worst possible light because there is a continuing narrative, that everyone wants to promote in the media that the President is just too (INAUDIBLE) and watching the news all day.

VAUSE: We also do this.

FAULKNER: The inference is clearly there. But it --

VAUSE: Let me take you --

FAULKNER: -- continues to be a pattern that everyone wants to say well, the President is doing this because he's watching TV and throwing things at the television like he's Archie Bunker or something like that. Clearly that's not the case.

VAUSE: This is sort of the bubble in which the President chooses to live. You know, he goes from a campaign rally. He very rarely leaves, you know, the White House, (INAUDIBLE). You know, he watches Fox News.

FAULKNER: Most presidents don't leave the White House.

VAUSE: But at least they read the PDB and they listen to their advisors and they get outside advice. I mean this is a President who chooses what he watches and what he reads very, very carefully.

BEARMAN: Yes. And it's all a reality game show for him as well, of I'm going to pit one side against the other and see who wins in a battle of the wits. It's "Survivor/Apprentice" happening in the White House. And he's doing that with his legal team now, too, is what this is evidence of.

It's a level of instability that we have never seen in our lifetimes coming out of Washington D.C. And it's a very dangerous precedent. By the way, and what's going to happen next.

So when Mueller asks to sit down with President Trump, what is this -- this is going to be something that's battled all the way to the Supreme Court and it's going to be done in the ugliest way possible to further divide Americans.

VAUSE: We have a bit of idea what the Mueller team will be asking -- or they'd like to ask the President because there has been face-to- face meeting, or another one, between lawyers for Trump and the special counsel to talk about topics for this interview.

Here's part of that reporting. "Mueller's team added granularity to the topics it originally discussed with the defense team months ago -- excuse me -- like the firing of FBI director James Comey. According to one of the sources, this time around for instance, the prosecutor said they would ask about Attorney General Jeff Sessions' involvement in the Comey dismissal and what Trump knew about national security advisor Michael Flynn's phone calls with then Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in late December 2016."

Again, you know, Chris -- if everything is above board, basic question why do we have such a cranky Commander-in-Chief and this also seems to indicate that the Mueller investigation is not wrapping up by Thanksgiving. It's not wrapping up Christmas. It's not wrapping up by Easter. It's not wrapping up for a while.

FAULKNER: I think most Americans, myself included, we really want to give Bob Mueller the benefit of the doubt; long, long career in public service as a public servant; no indication to think that he would somehow be a bad actor in this or overly partisan.

But again, you just clearly read from leaked testimony, leaked documents, his special -- this special counsel, this special investigative process has been a non-stop leak-fest of things that the President supposedly said or didn't say and at some point they're eroding their own credibility to give (ph) critical investigation if they continue to leak things to the press and continue to involve attorneys that are clearly partisan hacks for the Democratic Party.

Fortunately Andrew McCabe is now no longer involved and hopefully we won't see any more of that. But this continual process of leaking this information and constantly talking about things that are supposed to be in confidence in terms of discussions with the President's attorneys is undermining their credibility to do their job.


Although Ethan -- you know, a lot of the leaks have turned out to be true.

BEARMAN: Yes, they have. And by the way, who else complained the loudest about leaks was President Richard Nixon if I recall. And so this is --

VAUSE: And it failed him -- yes.

BEARMAN: Right. And so this is typically -- there is a lot of smoke happening here. There clearly are things that they're worried about being guilty of. President Trump, by the way, the one thing that I will give his legal team at all is that they're trying to protect him, just stop him from actually talking to Robert Mueller because as we now know the President in his words just makes things up when he talks to world leaders, so he'll probably do the same with Robert Mueller.

[00:20:04] VAUSE: Because (INAUDIBLE) an interesting relationship with the truth at times.

Chris, Ethan -- good to see you both.

BEARMAN: Thanks -- John.

FAULKNER: Thanks -- John.


Next here on NEWSROOM L.A., the U.S. military will resume its regular war games with South Korea but how will the North react? We'll take a look at what's at stake.

Also ahead, Russian President Vladimir Putin won his fourth term with calls for Russian unity. But it remains to be seen if that means anything will actually change.

More on that when we come back.


VAUSE: Well, for weeks it's all been sunshine and roses between North and South Korea, a lot of friendly talk, playing together at the Olympics. But that newfound friendship might be tested soon with the announcement of the annual joint military drills by the U.S. and South Korea which will start April 1st and it's no joke.

Paula Hancocks live in Seoul this hour. So Paula, you know, the drills have been a big issue for the North. They were initially pushed back for the Winter Olympics to try and maintain the calm. So now they're back on. What's the potential here that these military drills could upset the applecart when it comes to the summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John -- the interesting things about this announcement that we have this morning, not that the drills are starting on April 1st but that the field training part of it, the (INAUDIBLE) is just going to be one month, this is according to a South Korean defense official.

Now usually these drills last for about two months so they are effectively halving the amount of time that that field training drill will take place. Interesting as well considering we heard from the Pentagon spokesman a few hours ago as well and he said that it would be at the same scale, scope and duration as previous years.

But clearly the amount of time that we are going to be seeing these drills going on is less. Now we have heard that there'll be 11,500 U.S. forces; 290,000 South Korean forces involved in this. There's also a computer simulation drill which goes for a couple of weeks.

But it's interesting if in fact these are shortened drills because there was a lot of speculation as to whether they would be going on during that potential meeting between the U.S. leader and the North Korean leader, much speculation that they would be shorter so that there wouldn't be that awkwardness or that potential for the thawing (ph) of relations to have an (INAUDIBLE) -- John.

VAUSE: Also in Finland, we had the face-to-face meeting between North and South Korean about the United States and the goal for the next round of talks. What more do we know?

HANCOCKS: Well, this is called the track 1.5 talks. They're not related to what we're expecting from Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un to be meeting. They're not preparation for that but they are an indication that the three sides are talking. Representatives from the U.S., South Korea, and North Korea are involved in that.

It's a more unofficial, more casual discussion between the three parties, quite often involving government officials if it's the 1.5. Although we understand that there are no South Korean or U.S. officials within there.

[00:25:10] There is though a top North Korean diplomat, Choe Kang-il (ph). He's the man who's in charge of the U.S. affairs in the foreign ministry in North Korea. He was also down here in South Korean during the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and within those meetings with South Korea officials. So he's front and center.

So it's not the official preparations for any potential meetings but it's certainly a good chance for all sides to figure out where the other participants are and what the other participants want out of this potential foreign relations.

VAUSE: Well, they're still talking. We'll see if -- it's a good sign. Paula -- good to see you, thank you. Paula Hancocks live for us there in Seoul.

Well, next here on NEWSROOM L.A., Vladimir Putin is promising better relations with the rest of the world for his fourth term as president. Yes, really, he said that. More in a moment.


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

Facebook has hired independent forensic auditors to investigate how the date firm Cambridge Analytica used personal information in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Facebook is under fire for not protecting its users' data. U.S. and European lawmakers are calling for hearings and possible new regulations.

Lawyers for Donald Trump are discussing specific topics for a potential interview with the special counsel in the Russia investigation. Sources say the two sides met face to face for the first time last week. On Monday, the U.S. President once again called the investigation a witch hunt.

U.S. says annual military exercises with South Korea will begin April 1st. They were postponed until after the winter games in Pyeongchang. The drills come as North Korea's Kim Jong-un prepares for a possible summit with Donald Trump as early as May.

Well, after winning reelection in a land slide, Russian President Vladimir Putin is trying for a softer tone towards his critics in the west. He met with his opponents from Sunday's election and assured them there will be no new arms race.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Of course, we must vote and we will give the necessary attention to further strengthening the country's national defense capability. But I wanted to tell you now that no one is going to accelerate any kind of arms race.

On the contrary we plan to build relations with all countries in the world in a way that is constructive. WE will aim for, and of course, encourage our partners towards constructive dialogue.


VAUSE: Robert English is director of the School of International Relations at the University of Southern California. Good to see you, Robert. Thanks for coming in.

[00:30:01] How much eye-rolling would there have been in Western capitals once they heard Putin talking about building constructive dialogue and constructive relations with all the countries in the world.

ROBERT ENGLISH, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: I don't know, probably quite a bit but among those who look more closely at Russia and haven't got too swept up in some of the exaggerated, even hysterical threats, much less. They would see something positive there and hope that we've hit the bottom and maybe about to turn into a recovery in Russia's relations with the West. I see reason for some cautious optimism.

VAUSE: OK, so what are those reasons?

What specifically can you point to as an indication that maybe it is going to be Putin's word and maybe things will get better?

ENGLISH: Well, let me just say first why the exaggerated version is a little too simplistic, which is essentially that, now that he's got a new mandate, now that he's got total control at home, his hand is even freer for mischief abroad.

And his hand was free anyway. There's no reason to think that another mandate makes any difference. On the contrary, however, watching closely we've seen, in recent months, both moving out some of the kind of stagnant and more corrupt officials in the government and the top business positions for some younger and more creative blood, which lays the groundwork for perhaps some liberalization of the economy and also more discussion among think tanks, top pundits, in newspapers, television, more free discussion, including critical discussion of domestic and foreign issues.

It's not as if complete freedom of the press has returned but together those suggest that maybe Putin is thinking about a more liberal course, cautiously so, and maybe about his legacy, leaving something better after he goes.

VAUSE: That's a good question because right now there is no obvious successor to Putin. In some ways a pro-Putin successor is crucial for him if he -- to when he leaves the Kremlin, if nothing else to guarantee he does not stand trial on corruption charges that he isn't sent to jail.

Is there no obvious sign that he is grooming someone for that role, can we read that as he plans to stay on, that that there will be some kind of change to the constitution, a new position created of supreme leader and Putin will be there for a very long time to come?

ENGLISH: That's certainly possible but it's I think a little early to be that pessimistic. He's got six years now to loosen the system, allow maybe not just one but some group, multiple candidates to prove themselves in the defense ministry and maybe in the economics area, in business.

And we will see who emerges. That, of course, is my optimistic scenario.

VAUSE: I understand (INAUDIBLE) China. So stay with us because China's making plans for a Putin visit later this year and there he will find a ruler for life, a kindred spirit, perhaps, Xi Jinping. And there we find Matt Rivers.

And, Matt, just a few days after presidential term limits were abolished there by the National People's Congress, Xi Jinping has been given even more authority when it comes to courts, arrest and detention.

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, John, a hallmark of Xi Jinping's first term in office was this anticorruption drive that netted thousands and thousands of different members of the Communist Party throughout the country, put a lot of them in jail.

And what we've seen is a new agency here in China to institutionalize that drive, moving forward, a super ministry here that basically is tasked with continuing that anticorruption drive.

The critics say it was a very convenient way for Xi Jinping to purge a lot of his political enemies. What activists are saying is that even though the government says that this new super agency is going to act in conjunction with the justice ministry here, what they're saying is that this could act outside the rule of law and it could make an already bad situation for human rights here in China that much worse.

But what you're seeing here is this is the way Xi Jinping is choosing to wield this newfound power. He could be president for life. He's already had his name written into the party constitution. This kind of restructuring of the governmental bureaucracy here in China is how he will use his power.

And it's just a very good example of what he's been able to do, really, over the last six months by formalizing and institutionalizing this power grab that he's been so successful in -- John.

VAUSE: Early days, still, too, Matt. Thanks, Matt Rivers, live in Beijing, appreciate the update.

Robert, just back to you. Supporters in Russia of Vladimir Putin have been looking to Xi Jinping as an example, they say, for Russia. There was one presidential candidate who is a Putin supporter, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, to give my pronunciation.

He was on state television. He said that because voters seemed uninterested in electing a different leader then maybe they should just get rid of elections. He said these elections were the last ones. You should understand that. There will be a state council governed by the president.

And that's just one example. There's a lot of other people talking about making Vladimir Putin supreme leader or sort of the ayatollah --


VAUSE: -- of Russia.

How serious is that sort of talk, at least people essentially just sucking up to Putin?

ENGLISH: I think it's more the latter and not only sucking but in the case of Zhirinovsky, he's known. He's as crackpot. He's the one who said we should take our nuclear waste, line on the border with the Baltics and install giant fans to blow it west.


VAUSE: (INAUDIBLE) could have picked a better example.

ENGLISH: But, no, the people saying that, they're sucking up. You said it well yourself. It is too early to know if they're serious. But I -- again, we see signs -- look, Putin, I think, is a patriot. And he sees, even if we don't agree and even if it's objectively misguided or wrong in some cases, he sees himself doing what he thinks is best for Russia.

And the situation in China is very different. In Russia, it's time to relax. He has stabilized a crisis situation of a decade ago. He's improved things administratively and now the next task, he knows it well, is to loosen, liberalize and resume integration economically with the West.

VAUSE: Because it seems that Putin does not get credit for that because people are better off they can now go and buy houses. They do have more money. The economy hit the skids when they crashed the oil price. But it's coming back. And he does intend on liberalizing and investing in future industries as well.

And if all that happens -- and that's obviously a positive -- I guess the concern that many have is that won't happen and it'll just be a continuation of the last six or 18 years.

ENGLISH: It's hard for us to understand how Russians, intelligent Russians, would say democracy is not so great. Why do you Americans just measure it in terms of how much freedom, how much democracy?

But they had a gigantic experiment with democracy in the '90s and it backfired utterly for a variety of reasons, some foreign, some domestic. And so, objectively for them, a period of authoritarian rule made sense. It doesn't indefinitely. And I think they understand that, too.

VAUSE: So if you were Chinese (INAUDIBLE) think about democracy, that's not so good. (INAUDIBLE) they were more worried about (INAUDIBLE) so I guess in some ways it's (INAUDIBLE). Robert, thank you so much. Good to speak with you. Appreciate the point of view.

OK, now in Austin, Texas, police say a skilled bombmaker appears to be behind a string of deadly attacks. We'll have more details after the break.




VAUSE: Uber has taken self-driving cars off the road after what's believed to be the first death involving a driverless car. Police in Tempe, Arizona, say an autonomous SUV struck and killed a woman as she walked her bicycle across the street. The vehicle was traveling about 5 miles over the limit, had a backup driver behind the wheel. Uber says it will cooperate with the investigation and the Maricopa County Attorney's Office will determine whether charges will be filed.

Police in Austin, Texas, are confirming what many have feared, a suspected serial bomber is on the loose. In the past two weeks, four bombs have exploded, killing two people, wounding four others. Brian --


VAUSE: -- Todd reports, the latest explosion, which happened just this past Sunday, made use of a more complicated system involving a tripwire.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Austin is a city on edge as police say they are now on the hunt for what they believe is a serial bomber. The latest blast happened overnight, injuring two men who set off a hidden tripwire, triggering an explosion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got tripwires there in the grass.

TODD (voice-over): Investigators say they see similarities in all four bombs that have exploded in the city since March 2nd. But following Sunday's incident, they now see something even more chilling.

BRIAN MANLEY, CHIEF OF POLICE, AUSTIN, TEXAS POLICE DEPARTMENT: The belief that we are now dealing with someone who is using tripwires shows a higher level of sophistication, a higher level of skill.

TODD (voice-over): Unlike the previous bombs which were stuffed inside packages apparently placed by the bomber at the homes of people of color. Two African-American men were killed and a Hispanic woman was injured.

But police and the FBI say the tripwire bomb overnight did not appear to target anyone specific. It was hidden near a fence in a predominantly White neighborhood and the two people injured are both White men.

Still, police are not ruling out the possibility that the previous bombings could have been hate crimes. Tonight, a former FBI profiler says the tripwire bomb might have been an attempt to throw investigators off the trail.

MARY ELLEN O'TOOLE, FORMER PROFILER, FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION: Previous victims may have been targeted and now he wants to put time and distance between the targeted victims and make it appear that he's out just to randomly victimize anyone. So it could be a game-playing technique on the bomber's part.

TODD (voice-over): No matter the motive, investigators say their most urgent concern now is the bomber's change in tactics because the bomb overnight was not easily noticed. COMBS: We're very concerned that with tripwires, a child could be walking down a sidewalk and hit something.

TODD (voice-over): Overnight, police warned residents using a reverse 9-1-1 call system. And today, a school near the site of the bombing was shut down.

According to Mary Ellen O'Toole, who profiled the Unabomber for the FBI, the fear of random terror in Austin is exactly what the killer wants. She says she thinks the bomber is most likely a man who is arrogant and reveling in a sense of power.

O'TOOLE: This is someone that appears to be having -- enjoying -- some type of enjoyment over what he is doing, holding the city of Austin in a fixated state of fear. They are scared. They're upset.

TODD (voice-over): And tonight, police are appealing for help from the killer himself.

MANLEY: We asked him to contact us and gave him phone numbers to contact us at. And, again, we won't understand what the motive might be behind this or the reason behind this until we have an opportunity to talk to the suspect or suspects that are involved.

TODD: Police and FBI officials in Austin meanwhile are appealing for the public's help, saying they need anyone with surveillance video, other video or images of any suspicious activity to come forward. Police say they have persons of interest in this case, but so far, no suspects -- Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


VAUSE: Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. Please stay with us. I'm John Vause. "WORLD SPORT" (INAUDIBLE) right after the break.