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Dozens Killed in Possible Syrian Chemical Attack; ; Lula da Silva Turns Himself In; Trump Tweets EPA Chief Doing "Great Job"; Moscow Greets Diplomatic Row with Ridicule; Hockey Team Mourned; Intel Agencies Talking ahead of U.S.-North Korea Summit; Closure of Boracay Island; "Saturday Night Live". Aired 5-6a ET

Aired April 8, 2018 - 05:00   ET




NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Airstrikes hit the Syrian city of Douma with disturbing reports of a possible chemical gas attack that has killed dozens, including children.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Plus the U.S. president unleashes attacks on the FBI and Department of Justice, both run by people he appointed.

ALLEN (voice-over): Also this hour, secret conversations to discuss where the highly anticipated meeting between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will happen.

HOWELL (voice-over): 5:00 am on the U.S. East Coast and live from CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta. Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. I'm George Howell.

ALLEN (voice-over): And I'm Natalie Allen. NEWSROOM starts right now.


HOWELL: We begin this hour with the disturbing news coming out of Syria, a possible chemical attack being reported by multiple activist groups. The full extent of the deadly impact not yet clear.

What we do understand, volunteer groups say at least 48 people were killed and more than 500 more wounded and there are fears the death toll could continue to rise. The images ahead, we want to warn you, what you'll see is very graphic but it is important to see.

ALLEN: It happened in Eastern Ghouta outside Damascus. Witnesses say helicopters dropped barrel bombs which unleashed toxic gas on the area. The Syrian government denies being behind the attack. They have denied this in the past when there have been reports of chemical attacks.

Again, we warn you, this video is disturbing. HOWELL: Important, though, to spell out the detail of what you'll see. This is the evidence that experts will be examining. Victims of this attack, women, children and men now lifeless on the floor of the underground shelter where many have gone to hide, covered their faces to try to escape the gas.

Some of their faces ghostly white, their eyes frozen in shock. You also see foam on their lips and noses that appear to be the telltale signs of a chemical attack. This is part of the evidence that experts will examine to determine exactly what happened. CNN, though, cannot independently verify the videos taken by anti-government activists and doctors.

ALLEN: Another video shows doctors treating patients in crowded hospitals, many of them children and many of them having trouble breathing. And it's not just children, scores of adults also affected. This man seen here foaming at the mouth and doctors say they have seen other victims apparently paralyzed by what is likely some type of chemical agent.

HOWELL: These people are being washed down in an effort to clear away toxic residue.

ALLEN: We'll examine this more with our Fred Pleitgen in Damascus live for us, one of the few Western correspondents reporting from inside Syria.

And Ben Wedeman is in Beirut for us.

Fred, let's start with you. The numbers are astounding, 48 dead, 500 wounded and there's a report that a Russian general is denying this attack even took place.

What are you hearing about it from there?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you're absolutely right. The Russians are denying it, the Syrian government is denying it as well. The information we have been getting from all sources from both sides of the equation is that the rebel sources, the opposition sources say that all of this appears to have had happened between 8:20 to 8:30 last when they said that there was a helicopter that dropped what they claim was a barrel bomb that then unleashed what they say was a toxic gas that obviously led to the sumps that a lot of these people have trouble breathing.

And they said that many people were killed. Now, of course, very difficult to put a number on the death toll because (INAUDIBLE) such a fluid situation. It seems as though at least dozens were killed.

But again, as you noted as well, that death toll could rise. Also important to always note that we can't independently verify either the videos or any of the numbers that are currently coming out there because we don't have access to the Douma area. It is a rebel enclave that is surrounded by government forces.

Now the government for its part came out with a response very quickly, denying all these allegations. They're currently involved in an offensive to try and win back the Douma area.

Right there's a cease-fire since this morning but that offensive was certainly very much going on for the better part of Friday and Saturday. They say they had no military reason whatsoever to use any kind of gas. They said they were making bid headway yesterday, especially on the outskirts of Douma.

One of the things that the government TV also points out is they say there are still prisoners of war from the government who are being held by rebel forces inside that area. They say all the --


PLEITGEN: -- more of a reason for them not to use gas.

But all of this a very, very murky situation at the moment with us trying to get to the bottom of it and certainly we are going to stay on top and see what the developments bring, especially this morning as negotiations are going on again. We're also getting new information about what happened in Douma there last -- Natalie.

ALLEN: All right, Fred, stand by.

Let's go to Ben Wedeman. He is in Beirut for us.

And this denial by the Russians and the government in Damascus, Ben, it's what we've heard before when there have been reports of a chemical attack.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The Syrian government and their Russian backers have consistently denied that they ever used chemical weapons.

Now according to some accounts since the outbreak of the Syrian uprising in 2011, there have been more than 200 separate chemical incidents in this war. The biggest one, of course, was on the 21st of August 2013, also in the area of Ghouta, outside of Damascus, which reportedly left more than a thousand people dead after the use, it's believed, of sarin gas.

Now that incident did lead to the intervention of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons under an agreement between the Russians and the Syrian government and the United States which led to, it was thought, the elimination of Syria's arsenal of chemical weapons.

But despite that, since then we have had a series of reported incidents, the most significant one since then was on the 4th of April 2017 in the town of Khan Shaykhun south of Aleppo, which repeatedly left more than 170 people dead. Of course that did result in an airstrike -- or rather a cruise missile strike by the United States on a Syrian base outside of Homs.

But we don't know what sort of response the United States is going to give now. The State Department did put out a statement, saying that this incident requires an immediate international response. But so, far no indications from Washington if they are going to, like they did last year, actually take military action -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Yes. Thank you, Ben.

Let's go back to Fred and talk about that.

Has there been any mention of possible military action and what Damascus would do if that were to happen?

PLEITGEN: No. There hasn't been any talk about it whatsoever. People here are somewhat speculating. There are some folks on Syrian state TV, who are wondering whether or not there will be some sort of reaction or what exactly the United States plans to do.

At the same time you have to keep in mind that the Syrian government is involved also in that situation there in Douma right now. This is the battle that's been going on for the past couple of days. But on the whole, the battle for Eastern Damascus has been going on for well over a month, with the government making much gains, territorial gains in that area, winning back one district after another.

And if you look at this area, Douma, it really is the last opposition holdout on the eastern outskirts of Damascus. There were negotiations for that place going on for the better part of last week, where especially the Russians were speaking to the rebel groups inside, trying to get them to leave the area.

Those apparently broke down on Friday which then led to the resumption of airstrikes. And we did see a lot of airstrikes and artillery strikes yesterday. On the other hand, we also did see the rebels fire back into the government-held parts of Damascus with both mortars and rockets as well.

Certainly that was a lot of fighting that was going on. But that's the main thing right now for the government is they are involved in that situation in Douma, trying to bring that to an end at the same time wondering exactly what the response and if there will be response from the U.S. and from other international players -- Natalie.

ALLEN: All right, we'll continue to follow it, of course. We thank you Fred Pleitgen I Damascus, Ben Wedeman in Beirut, thank you both.

HOWELL: As Ben was saying, the U.S. State Department says it has seen what is called disturbing reports of the attack and it is continually assessing the situation.

ALLEN: Here's the statement.

"These reports, if confirmed, are horrifying and demand an immediate response the international community. The Assad regime and its backers must be held accountable and any further attacks prevented immediately.

"Russia with its unwavering support for the regime ultimately bears responsibility for these brutal attacks targeting of countless civilians and suffocation of Syria's most vulnerable communities with chemical weapons." HOWELL: Let's bring in retired Air Force Lt. Col. Rick Francona, a CNN military analyst.

Mr. Francona also a former U.S. military attache in Syria.

Thank you so much for being with us. These images, to say the least, disturbing. From what --


HOWELL: -- you've seen so far, what is your initial reaction?

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I'm surprised that the Syrians would do this. They had the area surrounded. This is the last remaining stronghold in Eastern Ghouta. They have been pounding it mercilessly from the air for days now, artillery, rockets and airpower. It's just surprising they would resort to the use of chemical weapons when they know that the West is really, really not willing to countenance that.

Although there have been no reaction from the West toward the Syrian use of chlorine. What we're seeing today may go beyond chlorine. If that's the case, we'll have to see what the West is willing to do about it.

HOWELL: All right. Some context here. It was just a year and a day ago that the U.S. president ordered a missile strike against a Syrian airbase in response to an earlier chemical weapons attack.

Fast forward to just last week the president said, it's time to get out of Syria.

Does what happened today force a change in course and possibly another response?

FRANCONA: I don't think there's going to be a response unless there's actual use of nerve agents. It is surprising to me that we have not seen any reaction to the almost continuous use of chlorine gas by the Syrian regime. They do it almost every other week. And there's been no reaction.

However, if they used nerve gas that seems to be the red line for the United States. As for withdrawing from Syria, I think this is a big mistake to even talk about it because we have not completed the mission. The mission is to defeat ISIS. We have to do that completely and make sure that there's no resurrection of ISIS as we're seeing in Iraq.

We can't leave now. If we do that, we risk repeating what we did in 2011, when we left Iraq and we saw what happened with the growth of ISIS after that.

HOWELL: We have seen a mix in messaging from Washington to say the least. The U.S. ambassador to the U.N. made a statement on Syria just a few days before all of this happened. Listen to this statement.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: It's a sad fact, just a few years ago a single chemical weapons attack would have united us in shock and anger. It would have been enough for us to take immediate action.

Now we have a regime that uses chemical weapons practically every other week. Our lack of action has consequences. When we let one regime off the hook, others take notice.


ALLEN: Just a few days ago the president speaking to his base, saying it's time to get out of Syria. So with the mixed messages from the United States and the firm support that Syria has in Russia, is the Syrian government emboldened?

FRANCONA: Absolutely. And the more we send these mixed messages, the more emboldened the Syrians become and they know that they won't suffer militarily or diplomatically. The Russians are going to protect them in the United Nations.

Every time there's serious consequences being contemplated by the Security Council, the Russians just exercise their veto. So the Syrians know that they have protection there and they will do whatever they need to do to eliminate this last pocket of resistance just east of Damascus.

Then they will turn their sights on Idlib province, where all of the rebels who have been allowed to leave under these deals that the Syrian government has made, they are all concentrated there. That will be the final push. I'm afraid, George, that will be an absolute bloodbath when that happens.

HOWELL: All right, if there evidence that becomes positive proof here, and action is taken, what action could be taken?

Is it diplomatically?

Is it military action?

And given the frosty relations between Russia and the United States, how does all of that play into it?

FRANCONA: Well, the only thing really we can do is militarily action because diplomatically we can't do as long as the Russians run block for Syrians in the Security Council.

So if the United States Senate is going to do something, it's going to have to send a message to the Syrian regime, we've done it once and it didn't really cause that much of a rift with the Russians.

Of course, we did coordinate with the Russians to say that we are going to take some sort of action. We could do that again. But honestly, George, I don't see it happening. I just don't see the stomach in Washington right now to expand what we are doing, especially when we are talking about leaving.

HOWELL: It is a mixed message for sure. We'll of course have to see what happens next. But what we do know from these images that many civilians died a terrible death and we'll obviously see what the response is.

Col. Francona, thank you for your time.

ALLEN: Again, 48 reported dead and some 500 wounded from this. We'll continue to follow it.

A once prominent leader in South America is now in jail. Former Brazilian president Luis Lula da Silva is in police custody after defying an order for his surrender.


ALLEN: He turned himself in Saturday just over a 12-year sentence for corruption.

Protesters celebrated his arrest outside of the federal police building, where he is being held.

HOWELL: But earlier supporters tried to block his car as he left the union headquarters, where he had been avoiding arrest. Lula was considered a front-runner in the coming election in October. He promised his followers, this will not be the end of the his political career.


LUIZ INACIO LULA DA SILVA, FORMER BRAZILIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): I told the comrades that if it depends on my will, I would not go. But I will go. I'm going because they're going to say tomorrow that Lula is out of the way, that Lula is hidden.

No, I'm not hiding. I'm going to go there and see their faces so they know I'm not afraid, so they know that I'm not going to run and so they know I'm going to prove my innocence. They need to know that.


HOWELL: Lula on stage there before he turned himself into prison.

Now to Germany. Authorities there trying to determine why a man rammed a van into a crowd of people, killing two people and wounding 20 others.

ALLEN: Police say the suspect, a German citizen, then shot and killed himself. According to local media reports, he was known to have psychological issues. CNN has not independently confirmed that.

HOWELL: A state minister says it does not appear that the man had any links to radical Islam but authorities are looking into his background as they hunt for more clues into what motivated this attack.

Let's go live to Germany. CNN's Erin McLaughlin following the investigation.

Erin, what more do you know about the suspect?

What are you hearing from investigators?

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, George. His motivation at this point remains a mystery. Authorities say they do not know why he carried out this attack. They did not publicly name him though they have identified him as a 48-year-old German national. They say they are still working to build a profile as to who he was and why he did this.

They say he had no jihadist links, no known jihadist and German media reports as you say that he had a history of mental illness so authorities have yet to publicly confirm that information.

The areas of focus for the investigation being the van that he used to carry out this attack. He plowed it into a restaurant at 3:30 pm yesterday, broad daylight on a warm sunny day. As you can see behind me, they have largely cleared the area, though the area immediately around the restaurant remains cordoned off.

And the vehicle has been removed. That vehicle a source of concern initially. They saw some wires hanging out of the vehicle. There was a concern that it could have been rigged with explosive device but once they searched the vehicle, they have found no such devices, though they did find firecrackers as well as a broken weapon in addition to the gun that he used to kill himself.

The other area of focus for the investigation is, of course, the apartment, which we understand is not far away from here. Once they searched that apartment, they say they found more firecrackers as well as a broken AK-47. So authorities at this point still trying to piece together why exactly he carried out this attack.

HOWELL: OK. A lot of questions still for sure. Erin McLaughlin, on the story, thanks for the reporting, Erin.

ALLEN: We are going to go inside the Trump White House in just a moment, the man credited with bringing order may be losing his influence with the president.

HOWELL: Plus the head of the Environmental Protection Agency under fire from multiple fronts. But the president still stands by him. Stay with us.





HOWELL: In New York City, a fire at Trump Tower on Saturday left one person dead. The fire department says at least six firefighters were also injured in that fire. The fires was contained to the 50th floor.

ALLEN: The U.S. president has a penthouse in the tower and it is the headquarters of the Trump Organization. The president and his family weren't in the building during the fire but he did tweet about it. He praised the efforts of firefighters and said Trump Tower was a, quote, "well-built building."

HOWELL: The president is complaining about the U.S. Justice Department and the FBI. Keep in mind, these are headed by people he appointed.

ALLEN: This time he is accusing them of dragging their feet on a congressional inquiry into several issues, including the FBI's investigation into Hillary Clinton's e-mail server when she was secretary of state.

HOWELL: Mr. Trump apparently was upset. The agencies missed the Friday deadline to submit documents to a House committee. He accused them of stalling and suggested that they has something to hide.

ALLEN: Also there are more indications that White House chief of staff John Kelly may be losing his influence in the West Wing. "The Washington Post" now reports he was so frustrated over the firing of David Shulkin at the Veterans Administration, he told colleagues, I'm out of here, guys. But there is some confusion about whether he meant he was leaving early for the day or he was really out of there. We don't know.

HOWELL: Yes, that's important to point out.

The embattled EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, still seems to have the president's support, at least for now. On Saturday, Mr. Trump defended Pruitt in a tweet, saying, the EPA chief was doing a great job.

ALLEN: Scott Lucas is a professor of international politics at the University of Birmingham in England and we often call upon him for his analysis and thoughts.

Hi, Scott. Thanks for joining us.


ALLEN: Let's begin with the EPA chief Scott Pruitt and let's bring up the issues that many people are pointing to as far as his egregious spending.

Do we have that?

LUCAS: Well, you know, you have got the question of up to $3 million which has been spent by Scott Pruitt on both an extensive security detail, 20 people, full-time, often claiming overtime, and then first class travel in many cases.

But there is more beyond that. You also have the issue now that Mr. Pruitt, bypassing the White House, which tried to block him, appointed or authorized extensive pay raises for two close aides that he brought with him from Oklahoma to accompany him.

We have the questionable rental of a condo in Washington for an extremely cheap price, $50/night from the wife of an energy lobbyist. So all of those ethical and financial considerations are mounting up. along with the fact, let us remember, that Scott Pruitt has not been protecting the environment as the EPA head but has been gutting regulations, has been cutting back on staff, has been blocking scientific research, including our climate change, with the result that you have a demoralized agency.

ALLEN: And how in the world is the U.S. president standing behind all of this?


LUCAS: Well, one, because Donald Trump doesn't think through ethical or financial issues necessarily with respect to himself or others. He has people who he just personally likes, and those who he dislikes like H.R McMaster, national security adviser. So he fired him. He --


LUCAS: -- didn't like Rex Tillerson so he fired him.

He likes Scott Pruitt. But there may be a second, more practical reason here and that is some reporters have said that Donald Trump is considering Scott Pruitt to replace Jeff Sessions, the attorney general.

If Trump gets tired of Jeff Sessions or if he gets frustrated with the Russia investigation. Now obviously you can't dismiss Pruitt as the EPA head and then bring him back to replace Jeff Sessions in the near future. So Trump keeps Pruitt around.

ALLEN: It is just continually bizarre, the revolving door in the West Wing and Mr. Trump continues to want people more militaristic, and people that are just going to stand behind him no matter what he says or does.

LUCAS: It would be bizarre in a coherent administration but this one is not coherent. I mean people do come and go in administrations. We know that. We know that there's infighting within administrations.

ALLEN: There's never been anything like this.

LUCAS: Oh no. Absolutely not. We are talking almost half of the personnel that came into the White House in January 2017 are gone. They are gone in part because of ethical and financial issues. One can think of Rob Porter, the senior staff officer who was forced out recently. One can think of Tom Price, the former Health Secretary just as examples. They are in part gone because of rivalries within the administration.

But in many respects they are gone because Donald Trump tries to run this as he did Trump enterprises, as a small business that he controls and at a whim he can get upset with an adviser and say, that's it and those famous words, you're fired.

Not quite often he doesn't do the you're firing himself. Instead through a series of media leaks and through associates he undercuts that person until they go. The question is now whether Scott Pruitt is being protected; as you're talking about this morning, John Kelly, the chief of staff, is being undercut because he may have to go since Trump may be dissatisfied with what he is doing.

ALLEN: Yes, it is something that -- it's crazy that every week when we talk with you there's more of this to talk about, but Scott Lucas, we always appreciate you joining us. Thanks so much.

LUCAS: Thank you.

HOWELL: The bombardment of Syria, ahead we have the latest on an apparent chemical weapons attack.

ALLEN: And the big question, what happens next?

Plus the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in Britain has sparked a diplomatic process. How Moscow's response is inflaming tensions.





HOWELL: Coast to coast across the U.S. and around the world this hour, thank you so much for being with us. I'm George Howell.

ALLEN: And I'm Natalie Allen. Here are our top stories this hour.


HOWELL: The top story we are following this day, the possible chemical weapons attack in Syria. We do want to warn you, some of the images you'll see ahead here are absolutely disturbing.

ALLEN: A number of activist groups say helicopters dropped barrel bombs on the town of Douma, which unleashed toxic gas. At least 48 are reported killed, 500 wounded. Syria says it was not behind the attack.

HOWELL: The details here important to spell out. This is the evidence that experts will look into to determine what happened. What you see the video, victims being washed down to in an effort to clear away any toxic residue. Other scenes show children and adults foaming at the mouth, telltale signs of chemical attacks. Other victims convulsing or appearing paralyzed.

ALLEN: This comes as fighting in the area has continued. Our reporter in Damascus, Fred Pleitgen, said there were heavy airstrikes all day Saturday. The U.S. says the situation demands an immediate response by the international community and says Russia, with its unwavering support for the regime, ultimately bears responsibility for what has happened.

HOWELL: Let's talk more about this now with Fawaz Gerges ,a professor of international relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Also the author of "Making the Arab World," joining us from Beirut, Lebanon.

Fawaz, thank you for being with us. First of all, this attack certainly gruesome but it is important to point out this is far from the first time that chemical weapons have been unleashed on civilians there.

FAWAZ GERGES, DIR. MIDDLE EAST CENTER, LONDON SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS: Yes. Absolutely, multiple attacks. Nerve gas, chlorine gas 2013. The first attack 2017, 2018 and now another attack. The reality is -- I mean it seems to me the situation in Syria is spiraling out of control. The Syrian people continue to be killed in the thousands.

The reality is that the Assad regime is winning militarily. He has the support of Russia and Iran. The rebels are beaten and beaten very badly. The U.S. is nowhere to be seen, despite all the statements about the Syrian people, the international community does not really seem to be interested, to be engaged in the Syrian conflict.

So the war goes on and the killing goes on and the Syrian people are paying a very heavy price, in particular in blood, with children and women and elderly people.

HOWELL: You paint the picture there, the details matching up with a lot of what we have seen from video, from reports --


HOWELL: -- from on the ground reporting of what's happening in Syria with one failed cease-fire after another. And the world essentially turning a blind eye to what happens in Syria's borders.

Does this, what we saw on this occasion, does it in any way change the dynamic in your view?

GERGES: You know, George, for your own viewers, we don't have credible evidence yet about whether chemical weapons have been used and who used the chemical weapons.

We need to -- even though we have reports by medical groups and by activists inside Douma, Douma is the last rebel stronghold in Eastern Ghouta. In rationality terms, George, it does not make sense.

Why would the Syrian regime use chemical weapons at this particular stage?

Eastern Ghouta has almost fallen to the regime. Douma is the only city. In fact, operationally it has -- strategically it has fallen. But remember, when I say in rationality terms, irrationality is as important as rationality in international relations. We teach our students because you have a history, a pattern of chemical weapons.

I am -- I was a bit surprised by the U.S. statement. The U.S. statement says that if evidence emerges that chemical weapons have been used by the Syrian regime in Douma, it demands an international response, international as opposed to an American response.

I would not dismiss the fact that the Trump administration might carry out an attack in the next few hours or days. If evidence emerged that the civilian regime used chemical weapons and also interestingly Russia just came out and said that the Syrian regime did not use chemical weapons in Douma.

What you have in Syria, you asked me, what's next. What really has emerged in Syria is that now it's part of a cold war between Russia and the United States. And Russia is using Syria as a very powerful card to basically counter balance the Western basically criticism of its action, not just in Syria but worldwide as well.

HOWELL: Fawaz Gerges, thank you for your time and perspective today.

ALLEN: Russia's ambassador to the U.K. wants to meet with British foreign secretary Boris Johnson to discuss the investigation into the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter on British soil.

HOWELL: The incident has sharply worsened relations between Russia and the U.K. Nic Robertson reports for us Russia's seemingly mocking response to the diplomatic row isn't easing the situation, either.


SERGEY LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): This is an obvious story which reflects the hopelessness of the current British government.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Everything has been brought into the public sphere, turned into another campaign and the next phase of this Russophobic hysteria.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice-over): Russia's response to mounting international pressure is to fight fact with invective and innuendo.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): This is not a matter of facts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is high unlikely that the British authorities already had this nerve agent in their chemical laboratory.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Each international squeeze, be it sanctions or diplomatic expulsions, is met with almost ridiculous.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We have told our British colleagues that you're playing with fire and you'll be sorry. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This case is so complicated we need to know, let's say some wisdom from the person like Poirot (ph) to investigate the matter.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Even news Sergei Skripal's pets died, two guinea pigs and a cat, parodied on Russian TV.

The reports turned inside out, upside down on the foreign ministry's Spokeswoman's Facebook page, saying both the guinea pigs and the cat were cremated; in other words, they were liquidated.

Facts eviscerated, the truth empties out and replaced with hollow fabrications in often ill-tempered, shrill and at times cynical slights about the pets, Zakharova adds, "Perhaps it's just coincidence but experiments with nerve agents in Porton Down were on guinea pigs."

In a word, snark. The Russian government continues to claim it is the innocent injured party in the Salisbury poisoning.

And it's fighting every which way to maintain that narrative, showing Victoria Skripal on national TV, the poisoned former intelligence agents niece --


ROBERTSON (voice-over): -- and alongside her, Andrei Lugovoi (ph) and Dmitri Kovtun (ph), two of the prime suspects who claim innocence in the last high-profile Russian poisoning in the U.K., the murder of Alexander Litvinenko 12 years ago.

The TV narrative being peddled, that Russia is innocent is intentionally internationally incendiary. But Moscow's snark is more than a slap in the face for London and Washington. It serves to convince Russians the West is trying to run rough shod over their interests.

In other words, keep public perception strictly in line with the Kremlin script.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The U.K. had a record, bad record, of violating international law and misleading the international community.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Absent independent media, the Kremlin is winning that part of their snarkfest handily -- Nic Robertson, CNN, Moscow.


ALLEN: A deadly bus crash is being called a nightmare come true in Canada. You can see the horrific wreckage here. The bus was carrying members of the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey to a playoff game on Friday when it collided with a tractor-trailer. At least 15 people are dead and 14 more injured.

HOWELL: Many survivors remain in the hospital. But this touching photo of some has gone viral. It was captioned, "Bonding and healing."

Another recent photo shows the Broncos in better times. We don't know which of these players were on the bus. The tributes have been pouring in.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) together with the entire National Hockey League are playing this game (INAUDIBLE) names on the back of our jerseys, the Humboldt Broncos.

ALLEN (voice-over): A tribute there from the game and the players there, also the president of the Broncos said they're in shock from the crash but grateful for all the support they're getting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everything about this tragedy is unprecedented and it's overwhelming, including the torrential outpouring of support our organization has received. We are so thankful for the city of Humboldt and its residents and the province of Saskatchewan and its residents and the entire country of Canada for keeping us in their thoughts, prayers and hearts.


HOWELL: Still ahead this hour, North Korea talking directly to the CIA in secret. We'll explain what that's about.





ALLEN: CNN has learned top intelligence officials from the U.S. and North Korea have been holding secret talks.

HOWELL: The focus, picking a location for a possible summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-un. This is according to several Trump administration officials. CNN's Elise Labott has details for us.


ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Several administration officials tell CNN the U.S. and North Korea have been holding secret direct talks to prepare for a summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, a sign that planning for the highly anticipated meeting is progressing.

Now Central Intelligence Agency director Mike Pompeo and a team at the CIA have been working an intelligence channel which has been in place for several years to make preparations for the summit. American and North Korean intelligence officials have spoken several times. They've even met in a third country with a focus on nailing down a location for the talks. North Koreans want to have the meeting in their capital, Pyongyang.

It's unclear whether the White House would be willing to hold the talks there. We also understand Mongolia has been raised as a possible location.

Now we haven't heard publicly from North Korea about Kim Jong-un's invitation to meet with Trump which was conveyed last month by a South Korean enjoy to the White House. Several officials say North Korea has since acknowledged Trump's acceptance and that Pyongyang has even reaffirmed it's willing to discuss the denuclearization issue, something very important to the United States and a condition for talks.

These preparatory talks officials say are giving the U.S. more confidence that the North Koreans are serious and these talks are laying ground work for a meeting between the prime minister and his North Korea counterpart in advance of the summit.

Once a location is agreed upon, officials said that the date will be set and the agenda will be discussed in greater detail. Mike Pompeo's confirmation hearing to become the next secretary of state is this week. If confirmed, he would also assume oversight of diplomatic preparations along with the new national security adviser, John Bolton, who started work this weekend -- Elise Labott, CNN, Washington.


ALLEN: A tourist island in the Philippines is shutting down for a massive environment cleanup. We'll take you live to Boracay Island, where business owners fear losing their livelihoods.






HOWELL: A showdown later today in the fourth and final round of golf's first major tournament of the season.

ALLEN: Right here in Georgia, American Patrick reed, he was on fire Saturday, looking for his first major victory, leading by three strokes at Augusta.

He carted a spectacular back nine on Saturday with two eagles.

HOWELL: But four-time major winner Rory McIlroy is charging the bogey free round Saturday. The native Northern Ireland is seeking his first Masters green jacket. The crowds went wild on Saturday when both players chipped in for eagles. ALLEN: Tiger Woods is 18 strokes back, his comeback hopes stalled and of course someone else could come from behind to win the Masters today.

An island in the Philippines known as a tourist hot spot is temporarily closing down because of an environmental disaster.

HOWELL: The government says Boracay Island has become a cesspool with wastewater and sewage draining into the sea.

ALLEN: Our Alexandra Field is live in Boracay Island and a beautiful sunset behind you. But pristine ocean is deceiving.

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It certain looks beautiful and frankly you may be able to see that there are people in the water behind me. That still is permitted for now. But in just a few weeks, there will be a ban on swimming. This island will virtually shut down.

It's the fourth most visited island in the Philippines. Add 2 million tourist visitors in 2017 alone. And yet federal officials are saying they've got to shut the whole thing down. The businesses along this stretch of beach are saying they aren't affected by the environmental problems.

They say this water is clean. But there are big problems on other parts of the island. We've spoken to locals who have pointed out storm drainage pipes which they say aren't letting stormwater into the sea here, they say they have been seeing raw sewage flow into these clear blue waters, not just recently but for years.

They insist that they have been asking local officials for help but they say help has not come until federal authorities stepped in. That said, many business owners that we're talking to here say they have been given little notice of this all-out shutdown at the end of April. They're deeply concerned that it will affect their bottom line in a way they might not be able to come back from.

This island isn't just popular for tourists; it's also a wedding destination. We spoke to a wedding planner who's making last-minute calls, scrambling to help couples make other arrangements. Here's what she had to say.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Of course it's hard for us. It's very hard because emotionally --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- the stress not only for us but, of course, for them. I'm thinking about them. They planned this a year and a half ago. And all of a sudden, the wedding of their dreams can't happen anymore.

(END VIDEO CLIP) FIELD: The government says they can do the clean up quicker than the six-month time line then they will reopen the island. Locals are concerned that the damage is already done, that the reputation of a beautiful place has been sullied all over the world, something they may not be able to come back from.

ALLEN: It's such a shame. It's so beautiful behind you there. Alexandra, thank you for that report.

HOWELL: After weeks away, the U.S. comedy sketch show, "Saturday Night Live," returned and actor Alec Baldwin returned to play the President of the United States, Donald Trump. The show opened to a mock press conference, one reporter raising the topic of sending U.S. troops to the border of Mexico. Take a look.


ALEC BALDWIN, ACTOR, "DONALD TRUMP": We have to keep our borders secure. Mexico is sending caravans full of immigrants toward us. And I've seen these caravans, truck after truck, barreling across the desert. The trucks are covered in metal and spikes. There's a guy strapped in front, just whaling away on a flaming guitar. And there are freaky albino dudes shimmying around skinny little poles.

KATE MCKINNON, COMEDIAN, "THE PRESIDENT OF LITHUANIA": Mr. President, I believe you are describing the movie "Mad Max: Fury Road."


"TRUMP:" That's right. They are some Mad Maxicans. OK.


ALLEN: There's probably going to be a mad President Trump when he sees that sketch. He doesn't like Alec Baldwin.

HOWELL: No, he doesn't.


ALLEN: Thanks for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Natalie Allen.

HOWELL: And I'm George Howell. The news continues here on CNN right after the break.