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World Leaders Weigh Syria Response; Comey Unleashes Character Assault on Trump; Ex-Doorman Speaks Out on Trump Rumor; Trump Considering U-Turn on TPP. Aired 0-1a ET

Aired April 13, 2018 - 00:00   ET




ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): This is CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. Ahead this hour: a killer blow, a small strike or perhaps nothing at all. We'll look at the military options the U.S. and its allies are weighing in response to the alleged chemical attack in Syria.

Trade turnaround: Donald Trump once called Trans-Pacific Partnership a disaster.

So why is the U.S. president talking about putting the deal back on the table?

Plus, a porn star, a Playmate, tabloids and hush money and now, a doorman?

A new report fitting the pattern of the people around Donald Trump, paying others to shut up.

Hello, welcome to our viewers around the world. I'm Isha Sesay, NEWSROOM L.A. starts right now.


SESAY: The international community weighing the next moves against Syria. In Britain Prime Minister Theresa May met with her senior ministers Thursday, agreeing that actions need to be taken. Britain said, quote, "It is likely that Syria did indeed use chemical weapons on its own people."

Ms. May also spoke with U.S. President Donald Trump. According to statements from Downing Street, they agreed Syria's actions could not go unchallenged. French president Emmanuel Macron says France has proof Syria was behind the attack and he's in contact with the U.S. president.

For his part, President Trump met again with military leaders and appeared to dial back his earlier rhetoric.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are looking very, very seriously, very closely at the whole situation. And we'll see what happens, folks. We will see what happens. It is too bad that, that, the world puts us in a position like that.

But, you know as I said this morning, we have done a great job with ISIS. We have absolutely decimated ISIS. But, now we have to make some further decisions. So they will be made fairly soon.


SESAY: Well, CNN international correspondent Fred Pleitgen is live in Beirut, Lebanon.

Fred, good to see you. This threat of an imminent strike on Syria appears to have receded somewhat on the part of the U.S.

I'm wondering what the reaction is to this development, where you are in Syria and in the broader region.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Isha, I do think the Syrians, the Syrian government and many people inside Syria believe that a strike could very well happen at some point.

I mean they obviously see this diplomatic wrangling now going on between the various partners; quite frankly also between the U.S. Britain, France and then Russia on the other side. I don't think anybody believes that military action is in any way, shape or form less likely or even off the table.

You saw some of that yesterday with the Syrian president Bashar al- Assad coming out and giving a statement, which is something he would rarely do in a situation like that. He says all of these things are fabricated. And he also said that it would be bad for international stability if there was a strike.

At the same time, of course, you have developments on the ground as the well, Isha, and they are quite important because you have the experts of the OPCW, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, who have, at the very least, arrived here in Lebanon, will make their way to Syria. We are not sure about the timetable. And then want to start working as fast as possible.

The latest that we are getting from the OPCW is they want to be onsite where this alleged chemical attack happened in Douma by Saturday to take samples and do their other work. If we can take anything from past deployments of the OPCW, and I witnessed some of them in Syria in 2013, then what they're going to do is taking samples there.

But they're going to be speaking to people who live around the area. They're going to try to speak to doctors in that area, not only in Douma but, of course, in other places as well.

One of the big issues that they're going to have is, of course, there was a mass displacement from that area after the alleged attack happened because about 24 to maybe 48 hours after it happened that area was then won back by Syrian government forces and the Russians.

So it's going to be quite difficult for them to see what exactly happened there, to gather all the evidence that they want to. But it's certainly something they want to start doing as fast as possible.

Then of course, you have to ask yourself, when those experts are the ground from the OPCW, is it feasible for, the U.S. and allies to then conduct strikes, if they want to, at that point in time?

We are going to have to wait and see. Right now it seems as though everything is still very much up in the air -- Isha.

SESAY: Yes. Fred, for our viewers, let's make clear the mandate of the OPCW, they will not be, they won't be attributing blame will they?

Or responsibility rather?

PLEITGEN: No, they won't. One of the things, yes, you are absolutely right. That's one of the things, one of the -- I wouldn't say criticisms that there's been in the past.


PLEITGEN: But it's sort of a tradeoff in the international community. The OPCW is allowed to access the sites and conduct its work. And it makes it a lot easier when that organization doesn't, then, assign blame at the end of things because it doesn't get them involved in any sort of political debates that potentially will be going on after that.

Because one of the things that we have heard now with the many explanations and stories that we have heard about this specific attack, is some were saying it happened. But no one knows who did it. Then some saying nothing happened at all. There's some saying that it happened and the Assad government was behind it.

So the OPCW does not want to get involved in anything like that. All of their work is purely scientific and it's purely to try to come to terms with, first of all, what exactly happened.

Was there an attack with some sort of chemical weapon or a precursor to a chemical weapon?

And then also, what sort of weapon might that have been?

SESAY: Fred Pleitgen, joining us from Beirut, Lebanon, Fred, always appreciate it. Thank you.

Let's bring in CNN military analyst, retired Air Force Lt. Col. Rick Francona and CNN contributor Jill Dougherty, a senior fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center and former CNN Moscow bureau chief.

Welcome to both of you.

Col. Francona, let's start with you. How pleased are you that the rhetoric about strikes from the U.S. president has seemingly been dialed back if you will and we have not seen an attack on Syria in the immediate aftermath of those comments he made on Monday?

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, I think this is a good thing. This now looks like a more deliberate process. We are taking the time to consult our allies. If there is going to be any action, it is going to be in concert with those allies. And I think that just provides a much better international picture for everyone.

It doesn't look like the Americans running off and acting unilaterally again, like we did last year. I think that's a good thing.

I also think it's good that we are also bringing in -- talking to the Russians. Because there may be a way to come up with a diplomatic solution to this. One can always hope.

Like we did, two years ago -- or sorry, in 2013, when there was that agreement with the Syrians, were supposed to get rid of all their chemical weapon. We know that that didn't actually happen. But you know, it's always better to have the options available to you.

SESAY: Col. Francona, appreciate that. Want to go to Jill.

Jill, take a listen to the Russian ambassador to the U.N.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We cannot exclude any possibilities unfortunately because we saw, we saw messages that they're coming from Washington. They were very bellicose. They know we are there. I hope, I wish there was a dialect through proper channels from this to prevent any dangerous, any dangerous developments.


SESAY: Jill, those comments made by the Russian ambassador to U.N., are they part of a broader effort on the part of Moscow to also dial down the rhetoric, dial back the tension of recent days?

How do you read it?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think, you know, they have been pushing, the Russians have been making it very clear in everything that they say that the United States should not do this. So they have been warning off the Americans.

And now, when you hear that there kind of a pullback on the part of President Trump and his administration, at least to think about it and evaluate what is going on, I think the Russians are relieved.

But that doesn't mean they're not reacting. They have moved their ships apparently out of Tartus, the naval base that they have. They're taking other steps in preparation for any type of possible attack.

And I think the one things, when the ambassador talks about the danger of war, that is something that the Russians have done, because, they -- militarily, if you just took military action around the world, conventional military action, the Russians would certainly be not as strong as the United States and NATO conventionally.

But, when it comes to nuclear weapons, they are. They're at parity with the United States. So they tend to sometimes rhetorically escalate things to a warning that, you know, this could lead to nuclear war type of thing.

But, that said, it is a dangerous situation. And I think, at least to this point, they're hoping that, you know, as they, as President Putin said, calm and rational thought will prevail and that they will be able to get some type of agreement at least not to have a direct conflict between the United States and Russia.

SESAY: Rick Francona to you. I want you to listen to the challenge facing the United States and allies, all of which are contemplating action. Listen to Defense Secretary Mattis.



MATTIS: There is a tactical concern, ma'am, that innocent people, we don't add to any civilian deaths and do everything humanly possible to avoid that. We are trying to stop the murder of innocent people.

But on a strategic level, it's how do we keep this from escalating out of control, if you get my drift on that.


SESAY: Col. Francona, that's the question here.

How do you mount a response that is tough and yet doesn't escalate things?

FRANCONA: Well, it's your target selection and how well you execute any kind of planning. You know, if you hit an airfield and you hit the right spots on airfield -- and the cruise missiles that we use, the air launched weapons we would use, virtually everything we use is precision guided now. We can hit specific parts of an airfield, parts of a specific facility. And that lessens the possibility of any civilian casualties.

But I think he's also making reference to the fact that there's virtually no military installation in Syria that doesn't have some sort of Russian presence. When the Russians came there in 2015, they started off, just up in their base area and they were operating from there.

Now they've pretty much moved out and come down to almost a battalion level in the Syrian army. They're everywhere. And we see the Iranian presence as well. So we don't want to be in the position of killing a bunch of Russian troops on a Syrian airfield. Because then that pushes the Russians into some sort of a response.

And, as Jill said, we don't want to escalate this any further. What we don't need is, you know, a U.S.-Russian armed confrontation in the Eastern Mediterranean.

SESAY: Indeed.

Jill, you were listening to our Fred Pleitgen, who brought us the news the OPCW inspectors are currently in Lebanon. They will be making their way to Syria and obviously to get to Douma to do their investigations, to figure out what exactly happened there.

The report that they produce, again, to stress to our viewers, won't assign blame, responsibility, who was responsible, for that suspected chemical attack. But it will lay out the facts as they find them.

How important is that report to what happens next in terms of the decisions made by France and the U.K.?

DOUGHERTY: I think it is important. But, you know, the Russians are very likely to -- if they -- let's say, the OPCW say it was chemical weapons. It doesn't say who did it. And so, the Russians might take a page from what they have done in other cases and I'll mention one in a second, to say, you know, well it wasn't the Syrian government.

So it -- that lack of conclusion, yes, you know, it is chemical weapon of some type perhaps. But they won't say who did it. That leaves a question open.

Note that in the other plot, the subplot that has been going on back in London, with the poisoning of the Skripals, that former spy and daughter, the OPCW did actually find that -- that the -- a chemical weapon of some type, of substance, a toxic substance, was used.

And Russia is accepting that. But they're also in the same breath saying, yes, but they didn't say it was a so-called Novichok. And it doesn't say where it came from. So I think you can probably, you know, expect that there would be the same type of approach on this issue with the OPCW in Syria.

SESAY: Yes. It's probably a report that all parties can use to -- with their own designs, if you will.

Col. Francona, joining us there from Oregon and Jill Dougherty in Seattle, my thanks to both of you.

Newly released excerpts from fired FBI director James Comey's book. They slam President Trump's character. Coming up, specific quotes from the book and the Republicans plan to fight back.

Plus after some of the most powerful people in the U.S. able to silence the news at will. We'll look at the story of a former Trump doorman, a rumor and the alleged hush money that's stirring a wider debate. (MUSIC PLAYING)




SESAY: We're following a lot of big stories right now. First, a waiting game is on as world leaders decide whether to bomb Syria over that suspected chemical attack.

Also another alleged Trump related hush payment has come to light. This one is about a former Trump doorman reportedly paid by the "National Enquirer" to keep quiet about an alleged affair Mr. Trump had with his housekeeper and a rumor he fathered a child with her, an allegation that has never proven and the story that the Enquirer denies.

We're also learning more about those raids on Michael Cohen, the president's personal attorney. A source says Cohen often recorded telephone conversations and it is likely they were scooped up by federal agents.

And, yes, there is more. Newly released excerpts from the fired FBI director James Comey's new book slamming President Trump's character. According to "The Washington Post," Comey describes Mr. Trump as a congenital liar and unethical leader.

And he describes what happened during a private dinner, when the president brought up the most salacious detail from that infamous Russia dossier.

Comey reportedly writes, "He brought up what he called the golden showers thing, adding that it bothered him that even if there was 1 percent chance his wife, Melania, thought it was true, in an apparent play for my sympathy, Trump said that he has a beautiful wife and the whole thing has been very painful for her.

He asked what we could do to lift the cloud -- I'm stumbling just having had to say that phrase.

Joining me now is CNN political commentator and Republican consultant, John Thomas, who was snickering through that.

Also with me, Mo' Kelly, a political commentator and host of "The Mo' Kelly Show."

So John, I guess I should start with you. Not only does James Comey lay out President Trump's irritation with this element of the dossier, Comey also explains how the president repeatedly tried to explain why it couldn't possibly be true.

I just want to give one of the reasons as laid out by Comey in this book, seen by "The Washington Post." He says, I am a germophobe. There's no way I would let people pee on each other around me. (CROSSTALK)

JOHN THOMAS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: He is, actually, he is. He's a germophobe.


SESAY: Seriously, Comey is pulling back the curtain on this presidency as he lays it out in this book. And it's not a pretty picture.

THOMAS: Yes, he's showering us with details, some could say.

SESAY: Really?

THOMAS: This tell-all reminds me of a disgruntled employee who is selling books.

SESAY: Except he's a former head of the FBI.

THOMAS: Absolutely, who was widely discredited by both Republicans and Democrats, let's not forget. Saying he, that he, I think Chuck Schumer attacked him saying he lost his confidence. Maxine Waters says he needs to be fired. Republicans said he needs to be fired.

Look, haven't read the book. So I can't wait to look at it. And I know how the news media works, that we lock on to salacious details more than we might other substance of the book.

But this guy is clearly ticked off. He thinks he shouldn't have been fired. And he is ready to burn down the president over it.

SESAY: Mo', from what you know and I will read some other quotes...

MO' KELLY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: There have been problems with James Comey as far as how he did his job. And we can make the argument that he should be fired. But I don't think we can make the argument that he has been untruthful.

We can question his decision making in the moment but I'm not so sure he can question his integrity. And just because a former employee may be disgruntled, it doesn't mean that they're lying.

SESAY: Let me read another excerpt. And then you can let rip. This, also from the book, from Comey.

"Flashbacks to my earlier career as a prosecutor against the mob," he's saying this what his engagements with Trump brought to mind.

"Flashbacks to my earlier career as a prosecutor against the mob, the silent circle of assent, the boss --


SESAY: -- "in complete control, the loyalist oaths, the us versus them world view, the lying about all things large and small in service to some code of loyalty that put the organization above morality and above the truth."

I hear what you're saying, that people weren't happy with him. But this is still damning.

THOMAS: Yes it is, certainly it's going to spin the news cycle for at least a week on this. And I read an excerpt where he said he went into Trump Tower trying to brief the president. And all the president and Sean Spicer could talk about was how to spin this. And that was appalling to the FBI director, that perhaps Trump and his team were thinking of political ramifications of this.

Remember what's interesting about the frame of how Comey is telling this story is he's almost telling it as a non-partisan, like he's is above it all, that he's just trying to set the record straight.

I just don't think that's fair. Remember, here's a guy who said that he has never has been an anonymous source to a reporter before but it turns out that he had. He leaked to his friend, a professor, that then leaked a story.

I just -- the thing smacks to me of revenge. I also think an interesting component is that he's so hung up on the president's style of how he behaves in office. That is so abhorrent to him. And it will be interesting to see if he actually talks about the policies that the president has enacted.

SESAY: Well, Mo', James Comey does also say that this is a president who doesn't understand the role of the FBI in America, in American life. I think is it -- does it make it of less value if the book, to John's point, focuses more on the president's behavior and demeanor and carriage in office?

Isn't that part of the whole thing of being president and being presidential?

KELLY: Absolutely. There is style and there is substance. And this is not going to change anyone's minds. If you believe James Comey, you will believe the book. If you don't believe James Comey, you will not believe the book.

But we're grading this on a bell curve in a sense that we're holding Donald Trump to one standard and not applying that same standard to James Comey. There are people who have strained relationships with the truth. And then there are people who are not on speaking terms with the truth, like Donald Trump. And I don't think we can say that about James Comey. He doesn't have a history of habitual lying.

THOMAS: You're right. The unintended consequence I think of this book may have, besides it's a bad news cycle for Trump, is the comparisons to the mob. While James Comey thinks he is portraying this bad picture of Donald Trump, it in a way, feeds into Trump's victim narrative that he is being treated like a member of the mob.


THOMAS: His attorney's office is raided. KELLY: And if there are charges that come out of that, it might then fit the picture.

THOMAS: But they're treating him like they would attack a mobster, some might say unfairly.

KELLY: You mean like paying off people and trying to hide --

THOMAS: Raiding his private attorney's office.

SESAY: You say they're treating him like someone in the mob. I think people would say they're treating him in the way they would treat any one where there is a suspicion that something nefarious has gone on, unproven. But they're investigating that, that under this country, this Constitution, no one is above the law, including the President of the United States.

THOMAS: That's true, but in the aggressive tactics that they use against President Trump are the same ones they use against members of the mob because they want to win at all costs.

I think Mo''s right, if you like James Comey and you like what he has to say, you're going to agree with him. If you like President Trump and you think he is getting screwed, you're going to disagree with Comey. And this mob narrative will do nothing but reinforce the Republicans' view that Mueller and the guys are unfairly treating Donald Trump.

SESAY: But this is the day it came out that Donald Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, his fixer, as he has been widely described, had been recording conversations while serving the president.

And they were looking for communications when they raided his office, his hotel and his home. And now, Trump allies are concerned about what could have been on the recordings.

I mean, Mo', what is the picture being built here now?

KELLY: Well, if anything, it goes back to when James Comey was praying that there were tapes. We may actually get some tapes which may confirm this mob narrative unproven. But, what we don't know, as I say last night, is what we don't know.

The only thing is we can say -- and the book is very finite in nature. What may be unearthed, allegations are not what Donald Trump seems to be almost exponential in nature.

There's more and more we don't know that he has to defend against, saying nothing of what is going on in Syria, North Korea, and so forth. So I wonder whether this president is going to be able to emotionally weather this moment beyond the week-long news cycle.


THOMAS: I cannot imagine what President Trump is going through right now because he is looking at his entire life. Not his presidency, but his entire life being flipped upside down and anything he has said or has done, that could come back and whether it's illegal or not it might not optically be a conversation that he wants --


THOMAS: -- to have. And he is looking at that, playing out, publicly for all to see. He wouldn't want that as a private citizen, never mind president. I think he is feeling that he is more than ever that he's unfairly being treated -- he's being treated unfairly. And I think there is an element of truth to that.

SESAY: Well, as you talk about the uncovering, the digging that continues to go on, we also learned on the same Thursday of this doorman who alleges that he was paid by the parent company of the "National Enquirer" to basically hush up about a story involving the president and his housekeeper and a child being born. CNN has not confirmed this. The "National Enquirer" denies it. Ronan Farrow broke the story. Take a listen to what he said.


RONAN FARROW, "THE NEW YORKER": Throughout reporting of all of these stories, sources have said over and over again, including sources close to AMI, we are concerned about the national security implications because we have seen how this company uses dirt it has on other celebrities to influence them.

And that now may be playing out in their eyes with the president.


SESAY: I also want to read the statement from the doorman in question. He put out this statement.

He says, "I was instructed not to criticize President Trump's former housekeeper due to a prior relationship she had with President Trump which produced a child."

He is standing by the statement.

Again, I know that, you know you have said that, that, you know, the comparisons to the mob are unflattering, unfair and add to the president's sense of victimhood. But these stories surely again do him no favors and lead to more questions being asked about what kind of operation is being run in that Trump orbit of stories being quashed, money being paid, a pattern.

THOMAS: Yes, that's possible. I wouldn't be surprised if in fact those kinds of things happened. I don't know about the child accusation. I know Arnold Schwarzenegger had a problem with that. But I don't know that we don't know anything.

It could have been, quite frankly, there could be a pattern of extortion that people see Donald Trump a billionaire, that may have dirt, that try to extort Donald Trump and this is how they deal with extortion. They pay people off. It may be that side of things, too. We just don't know.


KELLY: We do know that he cheats on his wife. We do know that.

OK, after denials, he did cheat on his wife with Stormy and also Karen McDougal.

Can we acknowledge that?

THOMAS: Yes, of course.

KELLY: And we can acknowledge that after 50 years of being a playboy billionaire, there are probably some untoward things in his background which, now that he is trying to, on some level, disassociate himself with or prevent that from coming to the surface, how he might have gone about it in terms of payments or any other behavior is the issue here. And what we may find out --


THOMAS: Why is that?

But beside the potential, you know, election in kind contributions --

SESAY: But that's important.

THOMAS: Yes. Yes.


THOMAS: Well, the fine is actually quite minimal related to it --


THOMAS: -- it happens actually all the time.


THOMAS: No, it does happen all the time. But the issue at hand is, OK, you are going to go back in his whole career about these are how he handles these incidents. You're going to relitigate all the affairs he's had and all the women, how is that relevant to what we are doing in 2018?

KELLY: It isn't. But he made it relevant by making the payment in the days before the election.

THOMAS: For one woman. That's right.

KELLY: But that means that we can also ask the question, I believe in the roach theory, just because you see one, you have to worry about the ones in the walls. And because Karen McDougal, no disrespect to her, and we know that there was a payment made days before the election. It is fair to surmise there might likely be other women that were paid

off in a similar fashion right before the election. We may not be talking about one incident. We may be talking about a pattern, to use your word, of many women, of many incidents, of many issues.

THOMAS: All in 2016.

SESAY: After you brought roaches into it, we are going to end it right here.

KELLY: Oh, so you are worried about roaches after talking about golden showers.

SESAY: I wasn't willingly talking about those. Thank you very much.

Mo' Kelly. This has gone downhill very quickly. Mo' Kelly, John Thomas, thank you, I think.

Quick break here. U.S. allies weigh a possible military response in Syria. What the U.K. and France say about joining a potential U.S. attack -- ahead.

(INAUDIBLE) are demanding answers about their massacred loved ones as they take part in a moving tribute.





SESAY: This is CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I'm Isha Sesay. The headlines this hour.


SESAY: A grim waiting game is still playing out in the skies over Syria. The U.S. is considering how and if it will respond to an alleged chemical attack and it is not alone. France and the U.K. also weigh military options. Donald Trump says an attack on Syria could come very soon or not so soon all. CNN's Nick Paton Walsh has more from Northern Syria.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SR. INTL. CORRESPONDENT: (INAUDIBLE) messaging where Donald Trump's tweets suggesting strikes may not happen soon at all has been something of an outlier. French president Emmanuel Macron being quite blunt that he has proof that chemical weapons or at least chlorine was used.

Secretary Jim Mattis, of Defense of the U.S., saying that he is still looking for evidence but hoping that any action that comes out of this does not escalate matters on the ground. But the U.K. cabinet, too, saying they believe there needs to be a

response for what they say is a chemical attack by the Assad regime. A real sense of the drumbeat gathering here. Another element, too, potentially placing a timetable on all of this.

We are hearing that the U.N.'s chemical weapons inspectors, the OPCW, are due to start work Saturday and potentially arrive in Syria, either now or some point during Friday. It's going to be hard, frankly, for the U.S. or its allies to launch strikes while these investigators are at work inside Syria. That's not good optics.

So they have a small window potentially until they risk doing that. It is hard to know exactly what the Syrian regime has done. In the days' warning they've had since Donald Trump made his intentions potentially clear. They've certainly moved assets away from the obvious targets, perhaps closer to Russian airbases.

But we are into a potentially troubling world here. The U.S. has said openly it feels like, the last time it did this, in April, even though it claimed it took out 17 percent of Syria's air force, that it didn't really inflict enough of a lesson upon Damascus. They may need to do more.

But they're clear they can't do so much that they risk aggravating this already nasty --


WALSH: -- six-year war. It is complicated hours ahead here. And a sense certainly that the messaging from the U.S. and its allies is picking up pace here. And the window for action before the OPCW gets into their investigations on the ground is tight -- Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, in Northern Syria.


SESAY: Well, the loved ones of 10 Rohingya men in Myanmar who were shot or hacked to death in a shocking act of ethnic violence have gathered for a powerful photo. They lined up at a refugee camp in Bangladesh in the same position as their Muslim relatives who were bound together and then murdered by Myanmar military soldiers and (INAUDIBLE) last September.

The men were told they were going to a meeting. Instead, they ended up in a mass grave. Outraged family members are demanding justice.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I really want to get justice from the U.N. The perpetrators should be killed like my husband was. The U.N. have to avenge my husband without fail.


SESAY: Well, two Reuters journalists documenting the atrocity have been jailed since December. Earlier this week a judge again denied them bail. The journalists face up to 14 years behind bars.

Well, he once called the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement "a disaster."

So why is President Trump now signaling he wants the deal back on the table?

We'll discuss -- just ahead.




SESAY: Back when he was running for president, Donald Trump called the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement "a disaster that would kill American jobs."

But following the White House meeting Thursday, he has asked his top economic advisers to take a new look at the deal. A prominent senator at the meeting says things have changed now that the other TPP countries have negotiated an agreement on their own.


SEN. BEN SASSE (R), NEBRASKA: The president is a guy who likes to blue sky a lot and entertain a lot of different ideas. But he, multiple times, reaffirmed the point that TPP, might be easier for us to join now, once the TPP 11 is aligned. And we might be the 12th party to those negotiations as opposed to the long process that it took to get to TPP.

I'm sure there are lots of particulars. And I obviously don't speak for the administration at all on any of that. I'm sure there are lots of particulars that they would want to negotiate. But the president multiple times reaffirmed in general to all of us and looked right at Larry Kudlow and said, "Larry, go get it done."


SESAY: A White House spokesman says President Trump wants to look at the newly negotiated deal to see whether it's an improvement over the original plan. CNN producer Anna Stewart joins me now from Tokyo.

Anna, helps us understand this turnaround on TPP on the part of the U.S. president. There are those who speculate it has something to do with China and the possibility of a looming trade war.

ANNA STEWART, CNN PRODUCER: Yes, well about turn is the right term there because he railed against TPP for the entire presidential campaign. In fact, at one stage, he said TPP was raping the country. And then in his first week, he brought the U.S. out. And ever since then, Isha, he has really been pushing for bilateral --

[00:40:00] STEWART: -- trade deals with countries to push the America first agenda. Now we may have some hints as to why now, why the turnaround from a tweet in the last hour, let's bring that up.

President Trump said he would only join if the deal was substantially better than the one offered to President Obama. They already have bilateral deals with six of 11 nations in TPP. And they're working hard to make a deal with the biggest of those members, Japan, which it says hit the U.S. hard on trade for years.

Now, interestingly, President Trump is meeting with Japan's prime minister Shinzo Abe next week. So maybe this gives us some clue on terms of the timing because, because Japan has long said it will not do a bilateral trade deal with the U.S.

Of course this is about the big fallout between the U.S. and China over these tariffs. Not just huge market turmoil in the last few weeks but lots of political pressure on President Trump, particularly from farm state Republicans actually. TPP would likely be a huge benefit to many of those farmers. Also TPP would help in this Chinese spat.

Now, one expert I spoke to today on trade said that perhaps the administration is finally realizing that bilateral pressure on China isn't going to do the job. And actually, TPP has always been about not just lowering tariffs and making trade easier between countries but also about containing China's economic clout.

SESAY: Very interesting indeed. As you say, the timing and everything else going around the president's statements, the mood music, if you will. I guess the other question in all of this is, what would President Trump be looking at, adding or changing to get back into this TPP club?

STEWART: I mean, that is clearly a huge part of it. Because he keeps going about how, yes, maybe he will look into it but it has to be substantially better.

Well, first of all, the deal has been signed. It's on its way to being ratified. So they're joining very much at the 11th hour. So making big demands could be difficult.

That said, Japan has already come out today and said they would really welcome the U.S. back to the table. And you can probably see why; 11 members without the U.S. represents 14 percent of global GDP. With the U.S., it's 40 percent. It would make it a much more powerful bloc.

But, yes, what exactly does President Trump want from TPP?

Does he know himself?

Maybe we can get some clues from the NAFTA negotiations; in that he was very focused on the auto industry, protecting American cars, making sure that cars that have lower tariffs have a certain percentage that are American made. So we could see more of that sort of thing. But we will, I'm sure,

get more out in the coming days and weeks -- Isha.

SESAY: I'm sure we will. TPP, which is now actually CPTPP, adding more letters.

Anna Stewart, joining us there Tokyo, appreciate it, Anna. Thank you.

Well, at this year's Summit of the Americas, women's issues are front and center. Ivanka Trump is part of the U.S. delegation in Lima, Peru. The White House adviser and daughter of the U.S. president met with Peruvian women at the stock market on Thursday and praised them for their hard work.


IVANKA TRUMP, TRUMP WHITE HOUSE ADVISOR: You are all really such a testament to the great potential when you unleash the full power of women in the economy. And there need to be many more women such as yourselves around the table.

We are committed to doing our part to ensure that happens and working with the private sector and working with other governments off to really focus on this.


SESAY: Meanwhile activists outside the Venezuelan embassy also want some attention. They say women and children are suffering the most, as Venezuela deals with this economic crisis. The political and financial chaos in Venezuela will be a major topic at the summit.

Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I'm Isha Sesay. Stay tuned now for "WORLD SPORT". You are watching CNN.