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Facebook Mired in Cambridge Analytica Scandal; Russia Investigation; Austin Bombings; Trump To Host Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince; War In Yemen Could Dominate Saudi-U.S. Talks; Assad Flaunts Ghouta Onslaught, Drives There In Honda; U.S. South Korea Military Drills To Start April 1; Xi Jinping Could Be China's President For Life. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired March 20, 2018 - 01:00   ET




JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. Ahead this hour, Facebook stock price tumbles on Wall Street as lawmakers consider greater transparency and oversight after 15 million users had their personal information stolen and used in the 2016 U.S. election.

Plus driving with a dictator: Syria's Bashar al-Assad takes a leisurely drive in a Honda to the heart of the civil war that destroyed suburbs of Eastern Ghouta.

And battle with the money bog. Why this is the literary equivalent of a middle finger to the U.S. vice president.

Hi, everybody. Thanks for staying with us. I'm John Vause. We're now into the second hour NEWSROOM L.A.


VAUSE: Facebook is now the time at a growing criticism here in the United States and Europe over the misuse of personal information. The social media company has hired independent forensic auditors to investigate Cambridge Analytica after reports the firm used Facebook data to try and influence the 2016 presidential election.

Drew Griffin explains what this growing scandal is all about.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The data firm hired by Donald Trump's presidential election campaign used secretly obtained information from tens of millions of unsuspecting Facebook users to directly target potential American voters.

And according to a whistleblower now coming forward, the entire operation centered around deception, false grassroots support and a strategy that seems to border on electronic brainwashing. Whistle-blower Christopher Wylie says the idea to politically weaponize data taken directly from Facebook users came from the former vice president of Cambridge Analytica and former top Trump campaign aide Steve Bannon.

CHRISTOPHER WYLIE, FORMER CONTRACTOR WITH CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA: Steve wanted weapons for his culture war. That's what he wanted. And that's -- that -- we offered him a way to accomplish what he wanted to do, which was change the culture of America.

GRIFIFIN: The personal Facebook data came at first from people who were paid to fill out a personality test through an ad. What those users didn't know was the app allowed researchers to penetrate not only their personal data but then exploited a loophole to access their friend's data.

And from that they built psychological profiles of 50 million Facebook users.

Facebook now says it was misled, told the information would only be used for academic research. Instead it was downloaded by a company that worked with Cambridge Analytica. Listen to how the CEO of that company describes its work.

ALEXANDER NIX, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA: By having hundreds and hundreds of thousands of Americans undertake the survey we were able to form a model to predict the personality of any single adult in the United States of America.

GRIFFIN: Cambridge Analytica claimed it didn't use any of the Facebook data in the 2016 presidential campaign but their entire enterprise was funded by the political conservative Mercer family and run with help from Steve Bannon.

And there's a link to Russia. The scientist behind the data and the app is a Russian American named Alexander Cogan, who also worked with a Russian university, seen here lecturing in St. Petersburg. Cogan is a psychologist at Cambridge University and traveled to Russia several times, according to the whistleblower, Wylie. Cogan wrote an email to colleagues obtained by CNN which denies all wrongdoing, saying he's willing to talk to the FBI.

"And I've been asked quite seriously by reporters from 'The New York Times' and 'The Guardian' if I am a Russian spy. I really tried to explain that one seems just silly," he wrote.

"If I am a Russian spy, I am the world's dumbest spy."

Christopher Wylie says it's time for Facebook to come clean and for Bannon and Cambridge Analytica to be outed for potentially trying to brainwash the American electorate.

WYLIE: We were looking at, you know, things like drain the swamp, we were looking at imagery of walls and how people engage with that concept. We were looking at, you know, suspicions about the deep state. We were looking at all kinds of things that, at the time, you know, in

2014 would have sounded slightly fringe or crazy for any political candidate to go on. But what we were finding were, you know, cohorts of Americans who really responded to some of these things. And this all got fed back to Steve Bannon.


GRIFFIN: John, Facebook says it's going to conduct a full review of what happened but in the meantime, these reports of misused personal data and manipulation of voters has sparked investigations in the United States and in the U.K., where the U.K.'s Information Commissioner's office now says it is now seeking a warrant to conduct its own onsite investigation of London-based Cambridge Analytica -- John.

VAUSE: Drew, thank you.


VAUSE: And that investigation by regulators prompted big selloff in Facebook stock. on Monday. So for more on all of this we're joined now by Ryan Patel. He's a global business executive.

So Ryan, OK. If the whistleblower, Christopher Wylie, if he's telling the truth and if he has it right, Facebook, it seems, knew (INAUDIBLE). This is what he said.


WYLIE: So my understanding is Facebook authorized Cogan to (INAUDIBLE) the professor, to use the app for academic purposes. At least that's what they told me in legal correspondence that I've had with them, which means that Facebook did allow this to happen and they knew that this was happening. They just thought it was for academic research --



WYLIE: -- but nonetheless, Facebook still allowed an app to go and harvest data of friends without permission.

GORANI: But they knew that the app wouldn't just collect data from the person downloading the app --

WYLIE: No, they specifically granted that permission.

GORANI: Right.

WYLIE: Facebook granted that permission for the app, so they knew what the app was doing. They just didn't necessarily know what it was for.


VAUSE: OK, so for academic purposes, whatever, they still knew that this was going on; they still knew that it had this potential.

How much stronger now is the case for transparency, for tougher regulations, for more oversight, not just for Facebook but all these --


RYAN PATEL, GLOBAL BUSINESS EXECUTIVE: Yes, if you believe them or not, at this point, it doesn't matter. We are in this stage where there has to be this transparency, regulations. And companies, not just tech companies, any company that is touching data is now -- is watching this case, seeing how Facebook is going to respond because they really haven't really responded in these -- I mean, they've been avoiding putting their foot down.

And they have to come out now and put their foot down and decide a way to be -- in the E.U., they are facing tough regulations there, too.

VAUSE: Because the European Union takes the issue of personal information and that being revealed a lot more seriously, it seems, that in the U.S.

PATEL: Well, I'm just going to tell you this, food safety is really important. Well, food safety equals protection of data now, I think. So it's the same thing going forward. I think people downloading apps now are looking, accepting and letting their data coming out.

But now when you can see these highly geotargeted data being used by who knows what, doesn't matter whose fault this were but it starts the company needs to now make a move.

VAUSE: OK. Google and Facebook control about three-quarters of $80 billion digital chunk of money in advertising and Facebook gets that money because it's huge; 15 million users had their privacy breached. So keep in mind more than 2 billion people log on every month to Facebook, which is a big chunk of the entire world's population, about 7.5 billion.

If users no longer share as much information because they don't trust Facebook, does that essentially mean that Facebook doesn't have the data to see to these advertisers, they won't own as much money and if this is not a moment of reckoning for the company, is it a moment of looking at a business plan and thanking we need to change something?

PATEL: Yes, if you look at what they're doing in North America, last quarter was the first time where I think out of 180 million, whatever the number was, they were down and couldn't (INAUDIBLE) use it so Facebook. So the revenue stream is going to take a hit.

And the second piece behind that is, when they lose users, it's not so -- it is about likes and sharing, (INAUDIBLE). But when you lose users, you lose actually a dollar count per user. And that's how advertisers look at you and say, how many users are

going to come through here?

How much traffic are you going to be able to target?

It is about sharing but it is about the user count and most investors are looking at already before this, was looking at Facebook, are they argument, sure, in North America. So this is a bad time for them right now.

VAUSE: And this is also not their first offense. They've been wrapped in controversy for a very long time now.

PATEL: Yes and that's why I believe the board of directors at Facebook right now need to step in with Zuckerberg and everyone else on the leadership team and make a really strong stance now. And this is the time, on their board, they've got great experience from boards from Netflix. They've got eBay, HP, they've got great experience.

This is a time to take those things to be able to make that work.

VAUSE: Well, maybe the time was the first --


VAUSE: -- which is like a few years ago. Anyway --


PATEL: I think now is the time.

VAUSE: OK, Ryan, good to see you. Thank you so much.

OK. Donald Trump is stepping up his attacks on the special counsel Robert Mueller and the Russia investigation. Sources say Mueller's team and Trump's attorneys are discussing topics for a potential interview with the president. Mr. Trump's Twitter tirade continues.

On Monday he called the investigation a total witch hunt with massive conflicts of interest. Republicans in Congress are warning Donald Trump to back off.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), S.C.: The only reason Mr. Mueller could ever be dismissed is for cause. I see no cause when it comes to Mr. Mueller.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I like Bob Mueller. He's honest. He's a very good prosecutor. It would be the stupidest thing the president could do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it would be a total upheaval in the Senate if that were to happen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And when you are innocent, if the allegation -- [01:10:00]

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- is collusion with the Russians and there is no evidence of that and you're innocent of that, act like it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is serious. Firing the special prosecutor?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you say Saturday night massacre?

No, that would not be a smart thing to do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The leader may say, well, he's not going to do that. They've said they're not going to do that. A couple of weeks ago he said he wasn't firing Tillerson.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It would be an Archibald Cox moment, just as there was their own Watergate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Preemptively we ought to sit this again, don't do it, don't go there. That's a red line you cannot cross.


VAUSE: Joining me now for more, California talk radio host Ethan Bearman and Republican strategist Chris Faulkner.

To speak out is good. To do something would be better. But, Ethan, for Republicans, it seems to now come down to the leadership. It comes down to the leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell and the Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan.

They need to have some kind of spine here. They need to be with the legislation which is currently before Congress to protect Mueller.

Now that it's happened, and if you look at their past history when it comes these kinds of scandals or controversies with Donald Trump, I wouldn't expected anything anytime soon.

ETHAN BEARMAN, TALK SHOW RADIO HOST: I think they're actually afraid at this point and they're not moving on this because they're afraid of President Trump. They've had so many run-ins with him where he brings them to the White House to negotiate a deal. They walk away and then he undermines them.

I think that's what's happening here. I think there's actually some weird fear that is happening in the Republican leadership. They don't know what to do with this president.

VAUSE: Chris, how do you see it? Do you see this as a problem of the leadership essentially not knowing which way to go on this with Trump?

CHRIS FAULKNER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I don't know. Again, there's a level of self preservation, Republican or Democrat, that always takes effect when you have control of Congress.

And if the Speaker and Senate majority leader felt for a moment the president was actually going to fire Mueller, they would pass that legislation tomorrow.

Republicans are always going to err on the side of not passing more legislation because they don't feel like you should have to pass a law every time you're afraid of something.

VAUSE: OK. I'm just wondering, is this possibly Trump testing the waters here, putting this out there, calling it a witch hunt?

He's sort of road testing many a strategy here and seeing how Republicans react, seeing how the reaction gets from the media, from Sean Hannity and his good friends over at FOX News?

FAULKNER: The president's not a politician. It's something -- it's not who we hired as President of the United States.


FAULKNER: He's someone who speaks off-the-cuff. He is someone who speaks exactly what he is thinking, whether we like it or not. Sometimes whether it's a fully formed thought or not, he says what he is thinking and he does throw things out there to see how people are going to react.

He said this today in terms of opioid epidemic. He said maybe we look at stronger penalties. Maybe America's not ready for that.


FAULKNER: He is having a real conversation and real talk. He is not coaxing and trying to frame every single word with what is politically correct or what's politically palatable.

VAUSE: OK. Ethan.

BEARMAN: Totally disagree with that. He's calculating everything. He is doing this to divide. He's using classic Machiavellian techniques. This is nothing new that's going on. He does this to separate the American people. He has not brought us together. He paints people as the Other. He constantly drives us apart instead of bringing us together.

This is just another method of doing it.

VAUSE: Listen to the Republican senator, Jeff Flake, when he was asked what would happen if the president fired the special counsel, Robert Mueller.


SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: Talking to my colleagues, all along, it was, once he goes after Mueller, then we'll take action. I think that people see that as a massive red line that can't be crossed. I would just hope that enough people would prevail on the president now, don't go there. Don't go there.

We have confidence in Mueller. I certainly do. And then I think my colleagues do as well.


VAUSE: There's also this -- as you were saying, Chris -- that the leadership and the Republican senators and the lawmakers in Congress believe that, well, he wouldn't go that far.

What must 14 months is -- suggests to you that he wouldn't go that far?

Because everything else seems to suggest that he would. He's fired Comey; he tried to fired Sessions. The list goes on.

FAULKNER: He's -- the president has made some statements that are extremely strong on Twitter and otherwise. He has -- like I said, he will sometimes shoot from the hip on what he's thinking and what he's saying at a given time.

But whether it comes to his dealings with foreign countries or his dealings with Democrats on immigration, he's showing a level of pragmatism that is, quite frankly, unusual in Washington in terms of his ability to actually sometimes use a hammer or a baseball bat to negotiate but still get what he wants.

BEARMAN: What's this pragmatism you're talking about?

He brought Democrats and Republicans together into the White House on an immigration deal and then as soon as they walked away, he started stabbing them in the back on Twitter.

He himself sunk the deal between the Democrats and the Republicans. So I don't see that at all. I see this as some wild egomaniac that's running around, throwing out deals to benefit himself, living in his little world, his bubble and not listening to people who actually are smart.

Jeff Flake, I maybe don't agree with him on a number of political issues but he's right. Robert Mueller is the man to run this investigation --


BEARMAN: -- and has a great track record. And everybody respects Robert Mueller.

VAUSE: OK, well, the former White House counsel for Richard Nixon, John Dean, who knows a few things about obstruction of justice, he believes Donald Trump is waging a scorched earth campaign against Robert Mueller in an effort to save his presidency. This is what he said a few hours ago.


JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Trump, from the very beginning, he's involved in this. And so I see a very different profile and the big difference being Nixon was behind closed doors so everyone was surprised when there were recordings of it.

Trump is just right out front on it. And he's doing it very publicly.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: That's a pretty stunning statement that your -- I just want to have you repeat it. You're saying, in your opinion, Donald Trump is -- has gone farther than Richard Nixon did to obstruct justice.

DEAN: That's exactly what I'm saying. I think Trump is Nixon on steroids and stilts.


VAUSE: Steroids and stilts, Chris.

FAULKNER: Clearly Mr. Dean has got some guilt issues left over from his previous life and he's irrelevant mostly in life so he's going to say these things to get on the news. It works for him, great. Congratulations. Him and Stormy Daniels can get both together.

VAUSE: You don't think there is anything, any weight in what John Dean has to say?


FAULKNER: -- saying those things so he can get more air time.

VAUSE: Ethan.

BEARMAN: Wow. So here's a guy who's been there, he's been on the inside of this type of a situation and coming out of our White House, he's speaking from a place of wisdom and experience. Maybe we ought to listen.

VAUSE: OK. CNN is reporting that lawyers for Trump and the special counsel have met face-to-face and they've discussed details about specific topics that could -- that they would like to explore when the president is interviewed by Robert Mueller.

"The Washington Post" is reporting this, "Trump's legal team recently shared with Mueller's office documents containing written descriptions that chronicle key moments under investigation in the hopes of curtailing the scope of a potential presidential interview. The lawyers are worried that Trump, who has a penchant for making erroneous claims would be vulnerable in an hours-long interview."

In other words, Ethan, they're saying that this interview could be a potential perjury trap, which in some ways is like saying a bank is a potential robbery trap.

BEARMAN: Yes, it is true here, though. The president has openly stated that he'll make things up as he sees fit in a meeting like he did with Prime Minister Trudeau from Canada.

But also I believe his ego is at play here. He thinks he's smarter than everybody else in the room. The problem with somebody like Robert Mueller and his team is they know things the president doesn't know that they know and he would -- I mean, if I was his attorney, I'd be saying the same thing, you are not allowed to testify. We will fight this thing to the Supreme Court so you don't do it -- you don't actually sit down and testify verbally with them. That is a dangerous place to go.

VAUSE: Very quickly, Chris, if the president's telling the truth, if everything is above board, why is there so much concern out there about perjury?

FAULKNER: I don't think there's concern out there because people want to believe the salacious details.


VAUSE: -- salacious details will send you to jail if they're not true.

FAULKNER: Agreed. It's been 15 months.

What else do we need to know?

What other things have not been revealed, leaked to the press or fabricated that have not result in (INAUDIBLE)?


VAUSE: -- 19 people have been indicted, 19 -- (INAUDIBLE) --

FAULKNER: -- 13 --

VAUSE: -- 13, sorry. Yes.


FAULKNER: And again, if there has an many and the president's guilty, it's something yes, thank you, probably would have brought that forward already.

BEARMAN: And Ken Starr took four years to get to the point where Bill Clinton was impeached.

VAUSE: On that, we're done. Thanks, guys, appreciate it.

We'll take a break. When we come back, there have been four attacks, two people have been killed and a city is on edge. Police in Austin, Texas, are now hunting for a suspected serial bomber.

Plus this:


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The FSA have robbed our vehicles, have stolen our homes and our shops. We feel homeless in our own homes. VAUSE (voice-over): (INAUDIBLE) Syrian residents are living in fear after Turkish troops and the Free Syrian Army have seized parts of their town. Details on that in a moment.






VAUSE: In Austin, Texas, police are appealing to the public to help after a string of deadly attacks. In the past few weeks, four bombs have exploded killing two people, wounding four others.

Authorities now say they believe the attacks are the work of a serial bomber. And their hunt is taking on new urgency since the latest explosion just this past Sunday. Nick Watt explains.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're transporting a 22-year-old male patient. Can you give me my closest trauma centers?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's affirmative. Demand 3, closest trauma --

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Two more victims of what Austin police are now calling a serial bomber, two men walking down a suburban sidewalk tripped a wire that triggered the blast.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got trip wires there in the grass. They're going to retrieve and pull them back.

WATT: The sound of that blast was caught on a home security camera about a half mile away. The victims are described as white men in their early 20s. Both suffered significant injuries, leaving nearby residents in this affluent neighborhood shocked.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Before we had to look for a package. Now, you have to look for everywhere. I mean it's harder to see a wire than it is a package, so that's very scary to me.

WATT: This city is on edge. Three package bombs left overnight on porches have detonated since March 2nd, killing two African-American men and severely injuring an elderly Latina woman. It's thought those attacks could have been targeted and possibly racially motivated. But this latest blast appears indiscriminate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're very concerned that with trip wires, a child could be walking down a sidewalk and hit something.

WATT: Police were already hunting a sophisticated bomb maker. The explosion on Sunday shows an even higher level of sophistication. BRIAN MANLEY, AUSTIN POLICE CHIEF: We believe that the recent explosive incidents that have occurred in the city of Austin were meant to send a message.

WATT: What message, what motive still unclear. Just a few hours before the last bomb was set off, police appealed directly to the bomber.

MANLEY: And we assure you that we are listening. We want to understand what brought you to this point and we want to listen to you. We want to talk to you.

WATT: Silence. Police are actively appealing to the public for help, raising the reward to six figures for information leading to an arrest.

MANLEY: We now need the community to have an extra level of vigilance and pay attention to any suspicious device whether it be a package, a bag, a backpack, anything that looks out of place and do not approach it.

WATT: Nick Watt, CNN, Austin.


VAUSE: CNN law enforcement contributor Steve Moore is with us now. He's also a retired special agent for the FBI.

The biggest development in the past 24 hours seems to be the use of tripwires. Listen to the Austin police chief Brian Manley on what that could actually mean.


MANLEY: We do believe that it's the same person based on the components that are comprising the explosive devices across all four that we've had so far. So we do believe that this is the same person or persons that are involved in these. And the -- using the tripwire on this one, the first three felt as if they were targeting a specific residence and possibly a specific person.

The way this fourth device was placed in a neighborhood and then left with a tripwire to really injure the person who randomly came across it was very different than the ones that fell targeted in the first three.


VAUSE: Just pick up on the police chief there. So why does this tripwire now essentially elevate the threat level?

STEVE MOORE, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: It elevates it because now we're not looking at a potentially targeted bomb and it also elevates it because the tripwire is a much more sophisticated triggering device. And when you add that to the whole milieu, you now have a -- [01:25:00]

MOORE: -- much more dangerous person is a mystery who may be a mystery.

VAUSE: It seems also uncommon from what I've read that a bombmaker would change the type of bombs that they would normally build.

MOORE: And this is -- you're absolutely right and this is what is bothering the police out there so much besides the crime itself is that they don't do this. Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber used the same type of bomb all the way through.

And as you heard the police chief say, he's using the same components but he's mixing it around a little bit. It's enough for him to say, yes, this is me again. He wants them to know it's him. But he's moving things around.

VAUSE: OK, he wants them to know it's him but there's been no communication from the bomber with the authorities, no demands, no extortion, no demand for money, whatever and we have this kind of situation, an unusual situation where the police will probably be calling on him to contact them.

This is weird.

MOORE: Yes, and I've heard some news outlets say, well, that's desperation. No, it's not desperation. That's calculated. That that is the police knowing that this person needs to talk to them.

And part of the thing is these are never senseless. We look at them we say senseless. No, this makes complete sense to the bomber or he wouldn't be doing it. He's risking his entire future to get a message out there. And he's probably looking at us and saying, this is so obvious to me.

How are you missing this?

VAUSE: So you're saying the police know a bit more about him; obviously than they're letting on.

MOORE: I suspect.

VAUSE: OK. These explosion have centered -- put a ring around the center of Austin (INAUDIBLE) where they've gone off over the last couple of weeks.

The reality is, though, while people getting hurt and some are dying, each time there is a blast, it also leaves behind more evidence for detectives.

The more the bombings happen, the more specific the evidence gets. It's not just that -- you may not have all the batteries, you may not have all the wires but you are getting more and more of the components each time you have a bombing.

VAUSE: I get this feeling that the police have a fairly clear idea.


VAUSE: -- of the type of person if not the person.

MOORE: I believe that they have an idea of the type of person they're looking for and the type of motivation that this person would have because asking for him to contact them is not -- it's not in their playbook.

VAUSE: OK, it's very murky (INAUDIBLE) we'll have more in the next couple of days.

MOORE: Yes, I think we're going to learn some stuff pretty soon, I hope.

VAUSE: OK, Steve, thanks. Appreciate it.

Still to come here, a high-profile visitor comes calling at the White House. Just ahead, what's on the agenda for Saudi's crown prince when he meets with the U.S. president. Also ahead a surreal scene in Syria, a place where there are many surreal scenes but this takes the cake. President Bashar al-Assad celebrating his troops' advance into one of the last rebel-held strongholds. Why he's taking his Honda for a spin.


[01:30:38] JOHN VAUSE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angles, I'm John Vause. We'll check the headlines this hour. Facebook has hired independent forensic (INAUDIBLE) to investigate how the data firm Cambridge Analytica used personal information in the 2016 Presidential Election. Facebook is under fire for not protecting its users' data. U.S. and European lawmakers are calling for hearings and possible few regulations.

Uber is pulling its self-described cars off the road after one of them struck and killed a woman in Arizona. Police say a driver was behind the wheel but the vehicle was in autonomous mode at the time of the crash. Federal authorities are also investigating.

A milestone has been reached in Brexit negotiations. The U.K. and European Union have agreed to legal terms for the transition. The U.K. will be allowed to make trade deals during the 21-month transition after ridden officially the E.U. in 2019. But Ireland's borders with Northern Ireland remains a sticking point.

The defensive leader of Saudi Arabia will meet with the U.S. President in Washington in the coming hours. Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman already has a close relationship with Donald Trump who made the unusual choice of Saudi Arabia for his first foreign trip as President. A trip which will forever be remembered for this one image, Egypt's President, the Saudi King, and Mr. Trump, all three placing hands on a glowing orb. Their faces lit with a evil sorcerer- type effect. One issue which many aide groups and human rights activists hope would be high on the agenda is the Kingdom's war in Yemen, which the U.N. says has created the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. Over the weekend, the crown prince defended the three- year long military offensive during a rare television interview with "60 Minutes" on CBS.


MOHAMMAD BIN SALMAN, CROWN PRINCE OF SAUDI ARABIA (through translator): The Iranian ideology penetrated some parts of Yemen. During that time, this militia was conducting military maneuvers right next to our borders and positioning missiles at our borders. It is truly very painful, and I hope that this militia seizes using the humanitarian situation to their advantage in order to draw sympathy from the international community. They block humanitarian aid in order to create famine and humanitarian crisis.


VAUSE: Kimberly Dozier is CNN's Global Affairs Analyst. She joins us now from Washington. Kimberly, thank you for being with us.


VAUSE: I guess the activists can hope what they want for some pushback from the White House when it comes to Yemen, but that's unlikely to happen especially when we just heard from the Crown Prince that he's framing this war as part of this wider conflict with Iran.

DOZIER: Well, we got a little bit of a preview today with a briefing from a senior administration official from the Trump White House, explaining that they frequently ask the Saudis to keep humanitarian roots open, that they do ask them to be careful with airstrikes. But U.S. Military officials are a little bit defensive, they say, we're providing them intelligence, we are providing them with refueling, but we don't watch where every single day jet drops its ordinates. That is for the Saudis to police, and we're helping them, but it's basically up to them. The Saudis for their part are very defensive about this, they insist that they follow regular U.S. military procedure and they're targeting that they do have investigations when something goes awry, and that they do publish the results of those investigations.

One of the biggest problems for us as journalists is it's really hard to get in to Yemen to test these assertions. So, you are left with taking their word for it versus the humanitarian groups versus the combatants on the ground, and that's pretty unsatisfying when you're trying to get to the bottom of this.

VAUSE: Yes, you mentioned how the U.S. military says it's providing the Saudis with intelligence but the U.S. is also providing the Saudis with a lot of the weapons they're using in this military conflict. And that's bringing some concern among U.S. lawmakers. Listen to the Republican Senator Rand Paul.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: So, we supply the Saudis with arms,

they create havoc in refugees in Yemen, then what's the answer? I think we are elevating an arms race in the Middle East, and I don't think it's good for America.


VAUSE: Yes, in the bigger context here, though, is it important for the Saudis to have Congress on the side or is this simply about the relationship with the President?

[01:35:01] DOZIER: Well, they are going to work on it. There are meetings scheduled, I understand, between the Crown Prince and some lawmakers, but pretty much, he needs to keep the U.S. President on the side, and they've already met several times. They have a good relationship. And also, the Pentagon is pushing back against this move in the Senate, a resolution that's being considered to limit U.S. military aid to Saudi Arabia for the Yemen conflict. So, I think on Capitol Hill, they're going to make a lot of noise, but I don't see them picking up enough support to actually block U.S. military aid to Saudi Arabia for this purpose.

VAUSE: That's an interesting point because protests are expected when the Crown Prince arrives at the White House. One of the organizers told the Financial Times, this is a very extensive propaganda campaign to portray Prince Mohammad as a reformer while he is really a heavy- handed bully who's responsible for bombing and starving Yemenis, gunning for a war with Iran and who has pulled off one of the most spectacular power grabs in history. That may be overstating it a little bit because to be fair, he is slowly pulling the kingdom out of the dark ages, but is that all being overshadowed, you know, by the situation in Yemen by the power grab, by you know, stashing his mother away from his father so he can continue to consolidate his power?

DOZIER: Well, I have to say in the United States, mostly they're focusing on the latest drama about the Mueller investigation. It's very hard to get a look in on this kind of issue. The Yemeni war is something that just doesn't much reach the American consciousness. So, as tragic and horrible as it is, without U.S. troops on the ground, it doesn't get that much attention. And that is part of the secret of this relationship, the secret of success for Donald Trump, is Saudi Arabia is waging a war in a place that houses Al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula, one of the deadliest terrorist groups that was taking a lot of U.S. Special Operations and intelligence bandwidth to fight. Now, U.S. Intelligence Special Operations are still helping but it's mostly Saudi and UAE jets and troops that are fighting them on the ground.

And that means Trump doesn't have to deal with as much of attention to it or focus on it from the American public back home. And for that, they're very grateful to Saudi Arabia. That's one of the things that has cemented this relationship. And I think you're going to see it in the coming days, possibly some new announcements in terms of trade deals. You can even see that Saudi Arabia is pushing hard for some exceptions to getting new nuclear power. It wants to be able to enrich Uranium which usually, if you're a third-party country asking the United States to build a nuclear power plants on your soil, you don't get to also enrich Uranium. Saudi Arabia is pushing for those kind of exceptions. And there are some officials I've spoken to who are worried that they might get their way.

VAUSE: Yes, because of the Crown Prince famously answered the question that if the Iranians had nuclear as in military capability then they would want it as well. Kimberly, thank you, good to see you.

DOZIER: Thank you.

VAUSE: Well, the U.S. is wanting to take these military offensive in Northern Syria. Has a lot of ISIS to regroup in parts of the country. Turkish special forces and the Free Syrian Army have seized part of the Kurdish town of Afrin, driving out Kurdish militia fighters who were key-U.S. allies in the battle against ISIS. Turkish President says the military offensive will be expanded to other Kurdish-held towns in Syria.


RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN, TURKISH PRESIDENT (through translator): After controlling the city center of Afrin yesterday, we completed the most important phase of Operation Olive Branch. Now, we will continue this process with Manbij, and now Arab, Ras al-Ayn, and Qamishli until we remove all of this corridor.


VAUSE: Well, there are reports of looting, civilian deaths, even bombing of a hospital in Afrin. (INAUDIBLE) insists civilians are not the target of this military offensive but the residents there still do not feel safe.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): 57 days have passed, today is day 58. We are in hell. We used to suffer because of the curfew and the increasing taxes. Our hopes were to finally get rid of this. Now, the Free Syrian Army entered Afrin so that we could live in peace. What happened was the opposite. The FSA have robbed our vehicles and stolen our homes and our shops. We feel homeless in our own homes, no food, drink, or safety.


VAUSE: Syria's embattled dictator Bashar al-Assad celebrated the advance of his government forces into rebel-held Eastern Ghouta by apparently driving himself there in a Honda. The enclave is on the outskirts of the Capital of Damascus and has well amassed opposition strongholds in Syria. And as Ben Wedeman reports, it's a scene of devastation and ruin.


[01:40:09] BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: President Bashar al-Assad is at the wheel. We're going to the Ghouta to see the situation, he says, driving through what appears to be normal traffic without an apparent security escort on his way to the Eastern Ghouta on the outskirts of Damascus.

Under sieged for years, for a month now, the scene of government offensive to crush this rebel-held pocket. According to the United Nations, more than a thousand civilians have been killed, tens of thousands have fled to government-held areas.

God willing, anything that can be liberated without fighting is best, he says. Let's not forget there are civilians and we must preserve their lives. It's a surreal work of propaganda. The Syrian everyman on a day trip to the ruins of his realm. His bodyguards reappear when he meets people who greet him with kisses and chants. With our souls and blood, we sacrifice ourselves for you, Assad. In seven years, nearly half a million Syrians have been sacrificed in a war far from over.

Many killed by a government that has showered its opponents with barrel bombs and in the Eastern Ghouta in 2013, chemical weapons. Meeting with commanders, he gives instructions to avoid civilian casualties because he says maybe the terrorists are hiding behind the civilians. The Syrian government has always framed its fight against the armed opposition as an existential struggle between order and chaos.

The battle is bigger than Syria, Assad tells the troops. You're waging a battle for the world, ever bullet you fire to kill a terrorist, you're changing the world order. And while the Syrian President bask in the cheers of his troops, Sunday, the bloodshed carried on. According to the Syrian-American medical society, during Assad's day-out, government forces subjected the Ghouta to intense bombardment killing 28 people including four children and five women. Ben Wedeman, CNN Beirut.


VAUSE: Well, Xi Jinping has cemented his power as China's President and with the rare public move as well. Details on that when NEWSROOM L.A. continues.


[01:45:00] VAUSE: Well, after the Winter Olympics, North and South Korea have entered a new era of diplomacy, but come April 1st, that friendship might be tested. That's when the U.S. and South Korea resume their annual military drills. North Korea sees those drills as an act of aggression and has tested missiles in the past. Let's go to David McKenzie now, he's live in Seoul with more on this. So, you know, David, we had a situation where the drills were sort of pushed back because of the Olympics as a good will gesture. How seriously could they put a, I guess, a wrench into the works or potential summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it certainly could be a big test, John. And these annual drills have always been as you say, a creator of tension on the Korean Peninsula. Kim Jong-un has repeatedly said that these kind of drills which involved thousands of U.S. and South Korean troops and boasts their simulative war games as well as underground war-like drills. He has used those opportunities to fire missiles in the past and to say that this is an act of aggression against North Korea. As you say, we are in a very different scenario right now where everyone seems to be falling over themselves to meet with Kim Jong-un and try to broker some kind of long-lasting peace agreement.

There is also some contradiction between the South Koreans and the Americans at this stage. An American Pentagon official, excuse me, saying that they have the same scope, scale, and duration as years past but a South Korean official telling CNN that they are roughly half the length. So, it certainly appears like they might be trying to quietly curtail these war games to at least send a message up North. John?

VAUSE: OK. So, just speaking from what's happened in the past, as you say, you know, the North Koreans have made a huge deal about these drills, describing them as an act of war, you know, they've launched missiles, so what do they say this time now that these -- if these drills get underway as expected to, come April 1st?

MCKENZIE: Well, they also depend also whether the drills are publicized by the press if the press like CNN are invited to (INAUDIBLE) if they kept very quiet then perhaps Kim Jong-un will decide to ignore them. He said earlier, according to South Korean officials that in fact he expected these drills to go ahead and that didn't necessarily see a huge problem in them. So, you have seen this 180-degree turn, John, in this region where, again, everyone including the South Koreas, the North Koreans, and the Americans all pushing towards this highly-anticipated as yet undated meeting between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump. So, it still could be a bone of contention, but it's really up to Kim Jong-un, I think, to decide whether he wants to make some of it, or just let it slide as it were, John.

VAUSE: It sounds like a very Trumpian 180-degree turnaround. David, good to see you. Thanks!

China's Xi Jinping has started his second term as President with a very rare speech at the National People's Congress. His remarks at the closing ceremony came two days after he was unanimously elected as President by the (INAUDIBLE) parliament. Last week, changes to the constitution were approved and paving -- and that paved the way for Xi to stay in office pretty much for as long as he wants. CNN's Matt Rivers was present in the hall for Xi's speech. It's a -- it's a worst hall in the world. It's just so cold and big. I always had trouble hearing anything. So, I guess, you were there, you heard Xi actually speak. So, what else can you tell us, Matt?

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they have the volume turned up loud so I could hear him a little bit. The band was next to me as it always is. They played off the leaders after it was done. So, it was OK. It was exactly the kind of scene I think you've probably seen before. The speech, though, is not what we've seen before in the sense that the President doesn't usually give a speech to close out the NPC, and yet, this is Xi Jinping's China, he can do whatever he wants, and clearly, he wanted to give a speech.

The speech itself, nothing really that extraordinary in terms of being different than what we've seen in the past. Actually, he used some of the same lines that he gave in that marathon speech if you'll remember, John, that was three hours long at the party congress which happened last October. This one only clocked in at about a half an hour but he touched on those similar themes that the party is the most important thing in this country and that the state overall does better when the party has more power, that's been a big theme. The other thing he talked about where he got the most applause was about Taiwan. Let's play you a little bit of the speech.


XI JINPING, CHINESE PRESIDENT (through translator): The Chinese people and the Chinese nation have a shared conviction which is not a single inch of our land will be and can be seeded from China.


[01:50:01] RIVERS: So, he's talking, really, there about any sort of independence movement that might be coming out of Taiwan that won't be tolerated here in the mainland. That's the line that we would have expected to hear in other speeches but it's interesting that it made its way into this particular speech because of what we saw in the U.S. last week, John, where President Trump signed the Taiwan Travel Act which has not made the Chinese government happy. That would allow more U.S. officials to make official visits to Taiwan. China is not happy about that. And Xi Jinping clearly trying to send a message there to the United States.

VAUSE: Yes. You know, the NPC is always such an interesting moment of tea leaf reading and who's close to who and who's out and who's in, and what means what, when because the Chinese is so big on ceremony and tradition. But what we're also seeing out of this NPC is what the new China could look like under Xi. He's getting a whole lot of new powers because the National People's Congress essentially has given him, what, power over the court, power to arrest and power to detain.

RIVERS: Yes. So, in addition to the elimination of Presidential term limits which is the one that -- the headline that grabbed all the attention and it is a very big deal that Xi can essentially stay on as President for as long as he wants. The other thing that we saw happen is some serious structural changes to the Chinese bureaucracy, including the creation of these so-called super agency that is tasked with weeding out more corrupt officials. That's been a hallmark of Xi Jinping's first term in office, but really, we've seen that institutionalized and what critics say is that human rights won't be respected, that this particular agency can operate outside of the scope of the justice ministry here, outside of the scope of law, and will not respect human rights.

And it's also a very convenient way, critics say, to purge Xi Jinping's political enemies of which he has some. This is not a monolithic party. So when you take that into consideration, that's the way that Xi is wielding this newfound power. We've talked about that he's got all these new power. Well, then, the question becomes how does he use it and seeing these structural changes, we're getting a glimpse into how he's really going to govern China in the years ahead.

VAUSE: Yes. In the early days, interesting to say the least. Good to see you, Matt, thank you.

Well, a pair of bunny books hopping to the top of the best seller list, just ahead. The two very different stories of Marlon Bundo.


VAUSE: A big size of relief all across Australia after a week at sea afloat and adrift Daphne the duck is back home in Perth. The strong winds blew the supersized inflatable (INAUDIBLE) in Perth at a local swim club last week. There were a record number of sightings because it's really big. There was a reward for Daphne's safe return. She was found by a couple of (INAUDIBLE). This is Daphne, who was found drifting about 30 kilometers away. And these fishermen actually towed her back. Swimming competition officials say, now, keep a close eye on the big, yellow ducky (INAUDIBLE) next year. That's good advice.

A pair of buddies are battling to be the bestselling children's book on, but there's much more to this match up than meets the eye. Here's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Forget Trump versus Mueller, this battle pits bunny book against gay bunny book.

MARLON BUNDO: Hello, my name is Marlon Bundo.

MOOS: The Vice Presidential pet Mike Pence's daughter got him five years ago.

CHARLOTTE PENCE, DAUGHTER OF MIKE PENCE: Marlon's from craigslist --

MOOS: Seller said make me an offer.

[01:55:01] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to make him an offer he can't refuse.

MOOS: So, the name Marlon Bundo stuck. Now, Charlotte Pence has penned a children's book about him, illustrated by her mom. Karen Pence says she doesn't do faces so don't expect to her husband's. There might before the Pence's book came out, John Oliver's show published its own version.

JOHN OLIVER, COMEDIAN AND HOST: All story is about Marlon Bundo falling in love with another boy rabbit because our Marlon Bundo is gay.

MOOS: And it did get Mike Pence's positions on gay rights, Marlon falls for Wesley.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We will get married and hop together forever.

MOOS: Gay romance in one version, the Vice President reading the bible holding Marlon on the other. In the gay audio books, Marlon is voiced by actor Jim Parsons.

JIM PARSONS, ACTOR: So, Wesley and I got married.

MOOS: Parsons as himself married to a man.

Marlon Bundo has been promoting his book by pretending to read. Nosing around the dust jacket, checking out a newspaper article. The publisher of the Pence's book sounded hopping mad. "It's unfortunate that anyone would feel the need to ridicule an educational children's book and turn it into something controversial and partisan." Though, author, Charlotte Pence seemed unfazed, the only thing better than one bunny book for charity is two. Marlon himself has other priorities.

KAREN PENCE, SECOND LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: Marlon does like to go up to the Vice Presidents beat and he'll chew on his socks.

MOOS: But in the gay version, Marlon and Wesley bypassed the socks in pursuit of each other. Jeanne Moos, CNN --

WESLEY: We have to get some sleep, Marlon. Tomorrow, we leave on our bunnymoon.

MOOS: New York.


VAUSE: And it's all for charity. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles, I'm John Vause. Please join us on Twitter @cnnnewsroomla. There, you'll find highlights and clips from our show, but don't go there yet because I will be back with more news after a short break.


[01:59:57] VAUSE: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angles. Ahead this hour, lawmakers in Europe and the U.S. are considering tighter oversight on social media after revelations the personal data of 50 million Facebook users may have been misused.

Plus, U.S. President Donald Trump steps up his attacks against the man leading the Russia investigation.