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World Leaders Weigh Syria Response; Trump Considering U-Turn on TPP; Comey Unleashes Character Assault on Trump; Pompeo Confirmation Hearing; Interview with Do Jong-hwan; Putting Cryptocurrency to Song. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired April 13, 2018 - 01:00   ET




ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): You are watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. Ahead this hour, more talk but still no action following the chemical weapons attack in Syria. Donald Trump claims the decision is coming soon.

Plus the U.S. president once called the Trans-Pacific Partnership a disaster. But it looks like he may want to give the trade deal another try.

And the former FBI director slams the man who once fired him, comparing Donald Trump to a mob boss.

Hello, thank you for joining us. I'm Isha Sesay, this is NEWSROOM L.A.


SESAY: The (INAUDIBLE) is warning the West: do not attack Syria. But Western leaders are discussing just that. In Washington, U.S. President Donald Trump met with his military leaders for about 90 minutes Thursday. Afterward, the White House said, no final decision has been made. And Mr. Trump appeared to dial back his earlier rhetoric.


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.


SESAY: In Britain, Prime Minister Theresa May met with her senior ministers agreeing that action needed to be taken. Britain said it is, quote, "highly likely" Syria did indeed use chemical weapons on its own people. French president Emmanuel Macron said there was no doubt Syria was behind the attack.


EMMANUEL MACRON, FRENCH PRESIDENT (through translator): We have proof that last week, chemical weapons were used, at least chlorine, and that they were used by Bashar al-Assad's regime.


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

Fred, thank you for being with us.

What is the view in Syria to the fact that these military strikes promised by the president at the start of the week have not taken place?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I do think there is still grave concern inside Syria, especially inside the Syrian government that these strikes could very well take place. You can see that by sort of, we'll call it a PR offensive, but at least comments that were made by Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, him coming out and saying that he believed that all of this was fabricated, all the allegations of chemical weapons used and also him saying, really, echoing what the Russians have been saying and saying that all of this could destabilize not just Syria but this entire region.

So some very clear warnings that were going on there. At the same time, I think that there are some people on the ground who believe that these strikes might not necessarily be imminent. And the reason for that, Isha, is that you now have these teams from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the OPCW, that are set to begin their work very soon.

We know that a team arrived in Beirut yesterday. Apparently they went straight into Syria. What we are hearing from the OPCW is that they want to start their work on Saturday. Of course, it is quite difficult work they're doing. They're going to try and take samples and they also usually speak to some people who may have been eyewitnesses. So potential victims of this, people who may have witnessed it. And then also doctors around the area just to try to get a full and clear picture of what happened there.

While those experts are working on the ground, the question is, would the U.S. and its allies strike at the times that an investigation is active -- Isha.

SESAY: The question is whatever report that they produce which as we've already discussed will not assign blame or responsibility. That report, nonetheless, how much, how important will that be to what happens next?

And in terms of the messaging that comes out from the Russians, the Syrians and all the other parties involved?

PLEITGEN: I think that report will be immensely important when it comes out. I also think that report is obviously then going to be politicized by all parties that are involved in all this.

You're right; we did talk about the fact that the OPCW will establish the facts, whether or not some sort of chemical agent was used and what sort of chemical agent that might have been. But they're not going to assign blame, not going to stay who they believe did it.

That, of course, leaves of a great deal of space for interpretation, for instance, for the Russians and the Syrian government but then also the U.S. and other sides as well.

But nevertheless, if an independent party says whether or not chemical weapons or weaponized chemicals were used, that is something that is quite important to this case as a whole.

So the mission is very important. One of the reasons why they're being let in is of course because they don't at the end assign blame. But it is also very important for instance for the Syrians. They keep saying how they're cooperating with this international investigation to make sure that these investigators go in there and they're able to do they work without being hindered.

It's going to be very, very interesting to see how easily they can access the site and how, how, how independently they can then work there on the ground -- Isha.

SESAY: The OPCW going in --


SESAY: -- looking for the facts on the ground. As you made the point it's not going to be easy. France already saying that they have proof what played out in Douma.

What more can you tell us about that?

PLEITGEN: Well, it's difficult to say what proof the French say they have. But they have been very forward with all of this. It was President Macron who came out and said the French now have proof that -- or they say they have proof, that chemical weapons were used by the government of Bashar al-Assad.

What the proof is, is difficult to say. But they seem certain about it, as do the Brits, quite frankly. You have Theresa May, who's coming out and saying, they believe that the Assad government was behind it. They believe that weaponized chemicals were used.

It's interesting to see that the statements coming, for instance, from the U.S. Secretary of Defense, seem a lot more cautious about the situation than for instance the statements by the Europeans.

So, you know, if they're so sure about it then perhaps they are gearing up for some sort of strike in the region. But certainly I think that with the OPCW on the ground, with that independent party on the ground, all sides presumably would wait for that investigation to play out before making any next moves.

SESAY: Yes. Fred Pleitgen joining us there from Beirut, Lebanon. Appreciate it. Thank you.

So how would a strike against Syria be carried out?

What would be the likely targets?

Our Michael Holmes takes a closer look.


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is unclear just when and how the strikes against Syria will unfold. But the U.S. and its allies, they have a range of hardware at sea and at airbases throughout the region.

Have a look at the map. The U.S. has two destroyers in the area and submarines probably as well, almost certainly. French warships are in the Eastern Mediterranean. And a British official told CNN, the U.K. is preparing for possible action against Syria. British media reports say submarines have been deployed to the region already.

The U.K. has military jets at its base in Cyprus, French Rafale jets are based in Jordan and in the United Arab Emirates. Of course, the U.S. has the a vast airbase over here in Qatar.

As for possible targets, we can only guess what the allies might be aiming for. But we have a map here that will give you an idea. It shows Syrian air bases marked by these black planes but also the Russian and Iranian positions in Syria, Iranian in yellow, Russian in green.

Now all of the allies, of course, are going to be anxious to avoid Russian casualties and the fallout that would bring, as the U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis said on Thursday, there are plenty of Syrian bases, military and also airfields right across the country.

Western analysts think that perhaps the Dumeir base, and you can see that down here, may have been the one from where the most recent gas attack was launched. But the Syrian military have almost certainly taken measures to protect their planes, perhaps by moving some down to the Damascus international airport or to the Russian base at Manoum (ph).

Now it is more difficult to know about chemical weapons facilities. But analysts say the Center for Scientific Study and Research near Damascus is the main research establishment.

One big unknown is will the Russians activate their powerful S-400 anti-aircraft missile system, which was deployed to protect its Syrian bases?

You can see here, the range, some 400 kilometers. Now, of course, we are working with open source information. The governments involved, well, they will have classified intelligence, of course, on where Syrian has moved its planes and hidden its chemical weapons program. Back to you.


SESAY: Thank you, Michael Holmes for that. Let's bring in CNN military analyst and retired Air Force lieutenant colonel Rick Francona and CNN contributor, Jill Dougherty, a senior fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center and former CNN Moscow bureau chief.

Good to have you with us.

Colonel Francona, to start with you. Going off, the report there by Michael Holmes, laying out, you know Syria's assets and where the U.S., France and U.K., also have their own positionings.

Talk to me about the chances of success in terms of launching a strike that is an effective deterrent to Bashar al-Assad to make sure this kind of thing never happens again, bearing in mind we did see something like this play out just over a year ago.

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: And that didn't work. Obviously that has failed. The Syrians have, for whatever reason, made the calculus that they can get away with this again, if, in fact, they did it. I have to believe that they did this without the consent or probably even the knowledge of the Russians because, militarily, this was probably the most foolish thing they could have done.

They didn't need to use chemical weapons. That Douma enclave was about to fall anyway.


FRANCONA: And they were about to make a deal to have the fighters escape. So using chemical weapons was just the wrong thing to do.

That said, are we going to be able to provide a deterrent to use it again?

That would require a much more involved operation against these Syrian facilities, Syrian airfields, Syrian research facilities although that one that Michael mentioned in Damascus is in a heavily populated civilian area called Bazi. I don't think they will go after that.

But the airfields are really lucrative targets. But it really doesn't change the situation. And I think that's what's causing a lot of problems between the president and his senior military advisers because they're saying, what do we hope to accomplish here?


That's very difficult to do. And no matter what we do, it will not change the situation on the ground. We know how this ends. The -- Bashar al-Assad remains in power and Russians remain the dominant power in the country.

SESAY: Jill, when you take that into consideration, what Rick just said, the Russians know the Americans don't want to be embroiled in a full blown conflict. The president was calling for the withdrawal of U.S. troops just a few days ago. Knowing that, how does that impact the Russians response?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think there are two things. There's the short-term, which is what if the Americans do take action, physically what do they do on the ground, protecting their own people, making sure that their planes and ships are not hit?

And then there's the geopolitical side of it, what do they do?

They were very happy when Donald Trump said that he wanted to get out of Syria. The Russians have been insisting all along that the United States has no legal right to even be there because they were not invited in by the Syrian government as the Russian government was, the Russian forces were.

That's their argument. So again, I think short-term, they want to make sure as much as possible that their own soldiers, people on the ground, are not hit by the Americans. They want to really warn off the Americans from using any force whatsoever and basically, to, you know, butt out and stay out. That's probably not going to happen. Happen.

But this is all again in that context of this relationship. I think there is one point that is very interesting because, you know, Mike Pompeo, who is the head of CIA, going through hearings on Capitol Hill, for becoming the secretary of state.

And in the hearings he mentioned that, as you could (INAUDIBLE), hundreds of Russians were killed by American forces in Syria in February. That's kind of an odd incident back in February, when the forces that the Americans supported were attacked. The Americans came in and retaliated. And there were some Russians killed. But it was never really clear how many. The Russians downplayed it.

And now we have Pompeo saying hundreds. Now they were not apparently full-fledged soldiers; they were probably mercenaries. But it shows that, Russia can be careful and really respond when something bad happens. It can also temper its response in other ways. So we have to see, first of all, what Donald Trump does.

SESAY: Rick I want you to listen to Defense Secretary Mattis, who lays out the U.S. position when it comes to being in Syria, talking about it being about ISIS. Take a listen to what he said.


GEN. JAMES MATTIS, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: There's 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're 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: Yes. That wasn't the sound bite I wanted. But he does speak to my broader point. They don't want to see this situation escalate. The broader situation, the broader concerns for the U.S. really is about defeating ISIS. What comes out of this moment, Col. Francona, is the fact that the U.S. has no Syria strategy.

FRANCONA: Yes, that's -- we know the strategy, what it isn't. It's not to overthrow Bashar al-Assad. We have had that change over the years. And General Votel, the commander of Central Command, said that in his congressional testimony.

He said, I am here to defeat ISIS. I am not here to overthrow Bashar al-Assad. So I think what we are trying to do is stick on -- stay on message, stay on mission without getting involved. And anytime you start lobbing cruise --


FRANCONA: -- missiles into an area that you don't control -- and these airfields are under Syrian control but there are Russians there.

And anytime you've got the Russians and the Americans in close proximity, and you start using weapons, there's always the possibility that something is going to go wrong and is going to escalate. This is just something we don't need.

SESAY: Jill, take a listen to the Russian ambassador to the United Nations as he talks about, you know, the risks here.


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, your take on the rhetoric coming out of Russia in recent days, the strikes, the possible strikes have not taken place. But still, the threat and the consequences are real.

DOUGHERTY: Oh, absolutely. I mean just the fact of what's going on, it's really true. I think the Russians and many other people are quite concerned exactly as we just heard by our other guest that this is potentially a very dangerous situation with many different forces. The Kurds, the Syrians, the Iranians, et cetera, so it's very dangerous.

Then also, the Russians I think, really want to raise the stakes in the possibility of what could happen.

War between the United States and Russia would be almost unthinkable if we actually went to war. Because it could very easily turn nuclear. And that is what Russia has been talking about. There are polls right now and indications that many Russian people are quite concerned about real war breaking out between the United States and Russia.

So I think, on many levels, the Russians are pulling out the stops with whatever they can to warn the United States off of this. Don't forget, this is really their war. The Americans are fighting but, essentially, this is the place that Russia has made its stand. It went in there in a very, you know, all most like a PR sense, showing that they were going in, showing the new weapons that they had, showing the troops who were working very well and fighting ISIS, et cetera.

And it's a big ad for Russia and its fighting ability and its ability to project power, far away from Russia. So they do not want that to be ruined or that image destroyed by anything like this.

SESAY: Rick Francona, what are your concerns when we look at the unintended consequences of all of this? You heard Jill talking about the Russians implicitly, quietly, hinting at the possibility of a nuclear dimension to all of this in the worst-case scenario.

What is your view on unintended consequences?

FRANCONA: Anytime you start having these operations there's all kinds of things that you cannot foresee. I tell you, if the Russians decide they're going to counter any U.S.- British- French operation, then you've got the possibility of a confrontation between -- and it'll be at a lower level. But you are going to talk about the Russians shooting down either aircraft or missiles and maybe engaging a vessel in the Eastern Mediterranean. That just leads to these confrontations that we don't want.

The Russians -- really, Jill hit this on it -- the Russian don't want to upset the apple cart here because they're getting what they want. It's been a long time before the Russians had any real military presence in the Middle East. And now they're gaining it again.

Putin's played this very well. He's got those two bases, 49-year leases. And he's working on base access in Libya, Egypt, throughout the area.

So this is his chance to reassert Russia into the Middle East as a key player. He doesn't want to upset that, which is why I go back to saying why would the Syrians do this?

It had to be without Russian knowledge.

SESAY: Fascinating insights. My thanks to you both. Colonel Francona and our own Jill Dougherty. Thank you so much.

Quick break here. President Trump considers reversing a decision he made just days into his term. Just ahead, why the U.S. might rejoin the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.

Plus, should the U.S. consider a first strike against North Korea. We'll tell you what President Trump nominee for secretary of state had to say when we return.





SESAY: Hello, everyone.

In a sharp reversal, the U.S. president Donald Trump says the U.S. might reenter a multinational trade deal. Mr. Trump withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership just days after taking office.

But at a meeting on Thursday he directed top advisers to take a fresh look at the trade agreement. CNN producer Anna Stewart joins me now from Tokyo.

And, Anna, the big question is why, oh, why is the president kidding this turnaround?

ANNA STEWART, CNN PRODUCER: It may feel like quite the surprise. He spent his whole presidential campaign railing against TPP, saying that it was raping the country. He took the U.S. out of it in his very first week in office. And now we have this.

Now the China-U.S. trade tariff spat has certainly got a factor to play here. Not only do we have market turmoil but President Trump is under a lot of political pressure, particularly from farm state Republicans. TPP, as a big trading bloc deal, would certainly help many of those farmers.

And also, it would help put pressure on China. One trade expert I spoke to earlier today said maybe this is the Trump administration waking up to the fact that a bilateral pressure approach won't do the job with China.

Now TPP has not ever been just about lower trade barriers and easing trade between counties. It has always been about providing good competition for China and limiting its economic clout.

So that is probably one of the big reasons why we are looking at reentering TPP talks. But the second thing is why now?

Actually President Trump tweeted in the last hour or two hours ago. And it is interesting what he said. Let's bring up that.

He said, "I would only join if the deal was substantially better than the deal offered to President Obama. We already have bilateral trade deals with six out of the 11 nations."

But here's where it gets interesting. He says, "We're working hard to make a deal with the biggest of those nations, Japan. It has hit the U.S. hard on trade for years."

Now President Trump is due to meet Japan's prime minister Shinzo Abe next week in the U.S. and trade was already going to be a big topic at this discussion.

Now Trump has been pushing for bilateral trade deals as an alternative to TPP. Japan has shunned that idea of a bilateral deal ever since it began. So this would be very interesting. Perhaps they're going to discuss getting back to TPP with Japan next week -- Isha.

SESAY: Perhaps, perhaps. But here is the question, they want in but at what cost?

What are they going to want to add or change?

And what will the other 11, who at the end of the day, he did dump a couple of months ago, what are they going to want in return?

STEWART: Quite substantially better negotiation terms.

What does that really mean?

And this is 11th hour. Isha, the deal has been signed for these 11 members. They're in the process of ratifying it. Imagine joining a club and being, well, I want to change the rules --


STEWART: -- it doesn't really happen.

However, the U.S. is in a really strong position. Without --


STEWART: -- the U.S. this bloc represents 14 percent of global GDP. With the U.S. it represents 40 percent.

So it's a much, much more powerful trading bloc.

But what will Trump really want?

Perhaps he doesn't fully know himself. But it's likely to be things that really protect the U.S. economy, America first, same old rhetoric. If you look at the NAFTA negotiations, it might give you a clue. There was a lot of focus on cars, protecting American cars in trade negotiations, making sure that any car that had a lower tariff or no tariff applied to it would have a certain percentage, a minimum percentage of components made in North America.

So you know, that is the sort of thing we are likely to see in any reopening of the talks.

SESAY: I think also what you are suggesting it that it is not going to be a cake walk. It's going to take a lot of negotiating to get this off the ground once again.

Anna Stewart, joining us from Tokyo, appreciate it, Anna. Thank yo so much.

Well, as tensions between Washington and Beijing rise over trade, China is highlighting its military might in the South China Sea: 48 naval vessels, 76 fighter jets, 10,000 personnel and President Xi Jinping oversaw all of it. Matt Rivers has more.


MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, China has just concluded some of its largest military drills that we have seen in recent years and these drills are particularly interesting given where they happen. In some of the most contested waters in the world. That of course, being the South China Sea. These drills culminated in a naval parade on Thursday. That was overseen by Chinese President Xi Jinping, who was on hand.

At least 10,000 personnel according to the country's defense ministry that took part in this drills, it involves 48 naval vessels, 76 fighter jets. And basically, what Xi Jinping was saying while he was down there, was that, he wants China's navy to evolve into what he called a world class force to modernize. One of the ways that they're trying to do that, of course, is by increasing the number, of aircraft carriers that the country has.

The country only aircraft carrier, the Liaoning did take part in these military drill, it took part in that military parade. And there was a display, a J-15 fighter jets as well. Some of China's most advanced technology in terms of aircraft in the military as it stand right now.

But why is all of this happening? This is a way according to analysts that we have spoken to for China to show off its military might. For China to say that, that our navy is strong and we are here to stay. And one of the most territorially disputed waterways in the world. China of course, claims most of the South China Sea as its own territory. Other countries have territorial disputes with that. They claim sovereign territory in the South China Sea for themselves. And all of this has put China at odds with the United States who claimed that there should be freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. They don't recognize China's territorial claims.

You see in the United States, show off its own military hardware. Several U.S. aircraft carriers have been in the South China Sea over the past several months. We went aboard on one of them, just about a month ago. One U.S. aircraft carrier made a port call off the coast of Vietnam near Da Nang.

That was clearly a message to China and so by China holding there drills, the size of the drills, were they, where they took place. That is clearly China trying to send a message to other countries that its military is strong. And that for now it is not going anywhere -- Matt Rivers, CNN, in Southern China.


SESAY: Well, a quick break here and then, a bombshell new book is about to hit. Fired FBI director James Comey has some choice words for President Trump. What he is saying and the Republican plan to fight back.


[01:31:13] SESAY: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles.

I'm Isha Sesay.

The headlines this hour.

The White House says no decision has been made on when or if the U.S. will strike Syria after they allegedly used chemical weapons on its own people last week. Britain and France are in close contact with the U.S. Syria's president is warning the West against an attack.

Well, U.S. President Donald Trump may reverse his stance on a multinational trade agreement. He withdrew the U.S. from the Trans- Pacific Partnership last year. But on Thursday he suggested a revised agreement recently approved by the remaining countries may actually be a better deal for America.

The FBI has posted a $20 million reward for the newest fugitive on its most wanted list. A man who's being called a Mexican godfather of drug trafficking. Rafael Caro-Quintero is wanted in connection with the murder and torture of a U.S. drug enforcement agent in 1985. The $20 million reward is one of the highest ever offered.

Well, fired FBI director James Comey has a lot to say. And we are getting some early revelations from his new book which comes out next week.

In one excerpt reported in the "Washington Post", Comey describes President Trump as congenital liar and an unethical leader to boot all driven by personal ego. And he describes what happened during a private dinner when the President brought up the most salacious detail from that infamous Russia dossier.

Our Randy Kaye has more.


RANDY KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: According to the "Washington Post" in his new book, James Comey says Donald Trump brought up the intelligence dossier compiled a while back by a former British intelligence officer. That dossier alleged that Russians had a so- called "pee tape" of prostitutes that Trump had paid to urinate on each other and his bed in a Russian hotel suite.

Comey reportedly writes in the book that Trump wanted Comey to investigate the allegations. Comey reportedly writes he brought up what he called "the golden showers thing" adding that "It bothered him that there was even a 1 percent chance his wife Melania thought it was true."

The paper says Comey goes on to write "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." The former FBI director reportedly writes that Trump had offered varying explanations in a phone call as to why there was no such tape. "I am a germaphobe. There's no way I would let people pee on each other around me. No way."

So meanwhile, Comey does not mince words in the book writing that when he met Trump at a pre-inauguration intelligence briefing the 6'3" president-elect looked shorter than he did on television. "His face appeared slightly orange," Comey reportedly writes with bright white half-moons under his eyes where I assumed he placed small tanning goggles and impressively quaffed bright-blond hair which upon close inspection looked to be all his."

"The Post" says Comey also observed the President's hands, writing, "As he extended his hand I made a mental note to check its size. It was smaller than mine but did not seem unusually so."

The "Washington Post" says Comey describes how Trump runs the White House like this. Writing "The President built a cocoon of alternative reality that he was busily wrapping around all of us." "The Post" says Comey describes Trump as a congenital liar, an unethical leader devoid of human emotion and driven by personal ego.

According to the paper, Comey likens his interactions with the President to "flashbacks to my earlier career as a prosecutor against the mob. The silent circle of assent, the boss in complete control, the loyalty oath, the us versus them world view, the lying about all things large and small".

The result "The Post" says, Comey writes is, "The forest fire that is the Trump presidency."

And back to that dossier, here is how that went down. Comey and James Clapper reportedly briefed President Obama about it first then according to the book. Obama asked who planned to tell Donald Trump. Well, Clapper reportedly said Comey would.

[01:35:04] According to the paper, Comey writes in the book that "Obama turned his head to his left and looked directly at me. He raised and lowered both of his eyebrows with emphasis and then looked away." Comey reportedly wrote that he thought Obama's quote, "Groucho Marx eyebrow raise was both subtle humor and an expression of concern. It was almost as if he was saying good luck with that."

This is a 304 page tell all so this is really just scratching the surface. Back to you.


SESAY: Our thanks to Randy Kaye for that.

And joining me now is Mo Kelly a political commentator and host of "The Mo Kelly Show"; also, CNN political commentator and Republican consultant, John Thomas.

Mo -- to you first. I mean as told by the "Washington Post" that has an advance copy of this book by James Comey, you heard there some of the excerpts read by Randy Kaye. He talks about Trump's hand, the color of his skin. And he calls him a congenital liar, who would lie about things big or small.

This is Comey going to war with President Trump.

MO KELLY, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I would take it one step further. It's almost like he was in an interrogation room trying to goad a witness into saying something. I know that there is going to be -- we all know there is going to be a response from Donald Trump. He is not going to allow the personal attacks, the personal remarks to go unresponded to. So it will be interesting to see how the President responds via Twitter and elsewhere.

But, we don't know what is in the other 301 pages. But we know that this was personal. And this was very direct in its approach to elicit a response from the President.

SESAY: John -- what did you make of what we heard so far? I mean clearly, on the part of James Comey, who likens the President to a mob boss and basically says he's got this circle of assent and he kind of weaves his own cocoon of reality.

I mean clearly he is trying to assert a line here about this President. And, it is a rebuttal of sorts, if you will, to all the President has said about him.

JOHN THOMAS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. I'm sure every disgruntled employee that's been fired what they thing is unfairly would love to do a similar tell-all. And so insulting the looks of their boss and how they operate their organization.

I think Comey would have a lot more credibility if he actually didn't make those petty attacks on how the President's hair looks and the size of his hands. And --


SESAY: I mean it's a book. He's being descriptive.

THOMAS: Yes. But this is an FBI, he's the straight man. He's supposed to call it like it is rather than, you know, make --

KELLY: But he is the President. And the President is suppose to comport himself in a certain way as well.

THOMAS: Yes. But this is -- the book that he is trying to set the record straight. You don't set the record straight by making all of these salacious personal attacks in the process. I think the challenge also is equating -- and I don't think this was -- the intended consequences of this is that he is equating Trump with being like a mob-like figure. I think part of that is, I read another quote from the book, that when Comey was briefing Trump on, on some issue he was -- Comey was stunned that Trump and Spicer and his team were just sitting about, talking about the optics on how to spin this. Like gasp. You know, how dare President Trump. SESAY: No, no, no, no. Let's be --


SESAY: -- no, no. Let's be very specific. That excerpt talks about Russia. And what he is saying is he was surprised, as told by Comey, I haven't read the book. But he -- from the "Washington Post", read is that he was surprised that they weren't talking about how to stop Russia from interfering again in this country's electoral process. They were talking about spin. That's, that's a very -- definitive point.

THOMAS: Yes, I get that. But to think that a politician would first think about the optics especially when that politician is his own strategist is a little bit naive.

SESAY: And to the point, Mo -- of this book going into the personal. It clearly does that. But also this book, from the excerpts we have seen in the "Washington Post, also there's talk about this President not understanding the role of the FBI in American life. And also really contemplating and laying out his thoughts about what this President means to this country and its, its institutions.

Are those points undercut by the personal remarks that Comey also makes?

KELLY: They may to a certain degree but if you look at the full body and if you look at the full body of James Comey's work versus the full body of work by the President you would have to take James Comey more seriously.

You would have to take his dedication to his ideals more seriously. You have to take his credibility and truthfulness more seriously. And to a reasonable, rational person we know that James Comey lies less than this president.

SESAY: John, I want to talk about those tapes or the concerns of tapes being swept up in the Cohen raid in just a second. But I must ask you about the response to this book which is expected, the RNC getting in on the mix. And apparently next week it is all going to be "lying Comey".

For you, does that feel right to you to have the RNC, the Republican National Committee getting involved in this mudslinging? Because that's what it sounds like it will become?

THOMAS: Yes, it will become a he said/she said. And I don't think really any one is going to be persuaded.

[01:40:02] Republicans that are already thinking that Mueller and that investigation might be more partisan are not going to be persuaded by this Comey book. Just like, you know, if you hate the President, you are going to hang on every word that Comey has to say whether or not it actually is truthful or not.

But I think the RNC's playing an active role which is I think quite frankly what they should do. And they already have a Web site up tonight. It is drawing attention to the fact that leaders on both sides of the aisle from Chuck Schumer to Maxine Waters has said they lost confidence in Comey.

It talks about the fact that -- that Comey, said he never leaked and in fact he did leak. They're trying to paint a full picture because I think the fear that the Republican National Committee has is that, all we're going to talk about are the salacious details and Comey's version of the story and there needs to be the other side of the narrative.

SESAY: Ok. Want to bring up the fact that it emerged, again from the "Washington Post", I believe it was the "Washington Post", that, essentially, then they raided Michael Cohen, the President's personal attorney's home, office and hotel they could have swept up conversations that he had taped.

Apparently Michael Cohen has a thing about taping conversations according to the "Washington Post". And now there are concerns of what could that have been? Especially in the times leading up to -- to the election.

Mo Kelly, as you hear this, tapings, what is, isn't there who, could the President have been on it -- we don't know. How troubling is it to you in terms of the picture it paints what was a Trump campaign and the Trump orbit?

KELLY: Let's also go back to the book in answer to your question. We know that this investigation dates back to July of 2016. There could be something which is corroborated in those tapes which may come out in also the book and also just the revelations of what's on those tapes.

James Comey has the knowledge of being, has the benefit of the knowledge of, certain things which he cannot highlight because it's classified information. Or it is privileged information. But he can allude to it. And it could be confirmed by what is on those tapes.

SESAY: John.

THOMAS: I don't think that's what the President is worried about. I think he is worrying about the volume of his career -- he's what, 70 plus years old. And thinking back of all the conversations that he had that he thought were privileged with his attorney or that his attorney -- problems, business problems, his attorney was engaged in fixing. All of this is going to potentially get dragged through the public domain.

SESAY: No. No. Also let's be clear with our viewers -- they have an independent group that's going to go through all of the stuff and unless it pertains to the actual investigation of what they're actually looking for attorney-client privilege is basically in place.

THOMAS: Well, you're right. Today and what they're looking for. But if they think there is some new thing of a bad business deal might have been shady or other payments to other women from 20 years ago. All of a sudden, you know, the Justice Department or whoever leaks this information and now we spend the next couple of news cycles rehashing something to the President. It's so frustrating because this was supposed to be about Russian collusion initially and now we are potentially litigating his entire life.


KELLY: Wait a minute -- you're talking about unfair -- the same man who goes on Twitter daily and calls people criminals or liars and so forth without any sort of due process. He has no problem impugning the --

THOMAS: Yes. But he's not breaking into their attorney's offices and raiding their private files.

SESAY: Not only -- well, let's be also clear. Yes, they had a warrant so they didn't break in. It wasn't under the cover of darkness. They had a judge who had to sign off on that because he is an attorney and had to meet an extremely high threshold as we're told by legal minds before they could get that warrant.

Not only that, attorney-client privilege is not maintained if there is a belief or suspicion that there was some criminality involved.

THOMAS: Right.

SESAY: So there's just so many elements of this. And let's not forget, the actual mandate by Rosenstein said clearly not just the collusion, suspicion, investigation of collusion or interference on the part of the Russians but also anything else that may come up.

THOMAS: -- which is the problem.

SESAY: It was in the mandate.

THOMAS: No. That's the problem because the President is going wait, so something that happened 20 years ago, payments that I might have made to a woman 20 years ago. Now we are going to litigate this in the public domain?

KELLY: No, no, no. But the crimes that we are talking about could be more contemporary in nature. Look the crimes of the payment had could be with FEC violations. It could be wire fraud, it could bank fraud. It may not be 20 years ago. It may be 20 week ago for all we know.

THOMAS: And there could also be in these tapes that might leak or conversations that he had with his attorney about, you know, his marriage. His kids', you know, mental development challenges. I don't know what it is.

SESAY: It is Justice Department -- I doubt they'll leak those things if it's not pertinent to the actual investigation --

THOMAS: Comey leaked. Comey is a leaker.

KELLY: Comey is not a part of the Justice Department. We're talking about people that this President appointed. Christopher Wray.

THOMAS: There are plenty of people like Peter Strzok and others --

SESAY: We're about to -- you're about to (INAUDIBLE)

KELLY: We're going down a rabbit hole.

[01:45:00] THOMAS: No, there are plenty of people that -- But I'm saying there are plenty of people that have axes to grind with the President and they do leak. Even Alan Dershowitz on Anderson Cooper just an hour ago said that the Justice Department leaks all the time. This is nothing new.

SESAY: We could go down the rabbit hole but I won't. Because you know why -- because we're going to be talking about this for days. So you will be back.

KELLY: Maybe -- unless something happens tomorrow.

SESAY: Yes. I'll be off.

Mo Kelly, Dominic Thomas -- appreciate it. Thank you.

SESAY: All right. Next on NEWSROOM L.A. President Trump's nominee for secretary of state was grilled about the Russia investigation. What he revealed about his meeting with special counsel Robert Mueller when we return.


SESAY: Well, Mike Pompeo is not only President Trump's nominee for secretary of state, but he met with those conducting the Russia collusion probe. As CNN Elise Labott reports he faced tough question about that during his confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill.


MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE NOMINEE: Senator, I am not going to speak to that.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: At his confirmation hearing to become Donald Trump's top diplomat CIA Director Mike Pompeo repeatedly dodged efforts by Democrats to be pinned down on the President's handling of the Russia investigation.

POMPEO: I am going to not speak about any of the three investigations that I have been a participant in. I came here today to talk about my qualifications to be the secretary of state.

LABOTT: Pompeo confirmed he has met with special counsel Robert Mueller whose office is investigating potential ties between Russia and the Trump campaign but wouldn't say what he told Mueller.

POMPEO: I cooperated.

LABOTT: But as concern grows that President Trump will fire Mueller or his boss Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to stop the probe Pompeo said he would stick by the President.

SENATOR CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: If that were the case and if that happened would you resign your post a secretary of state in order to demonstrate that we are a nation of laws not of men?

POMPEO: My instincts tell me no. My instincts tell me that my obligation to continue to serve as America's senior diplomat will be more important at increased times of political domestic turmoil.

LABOTT: And he punted on a report about a March 2017 meeting in which the President asked Pompeo and Dan Coats, director of National Intelligence to get then FBI director James Comey to back off his investigation into national security adviser Michael Flynn.

POMPEO: I will tell you this, the article suggestion that he asked me to do anything that was improper is false.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did he ask you to do anything as it relates to that investigation?

POMPEO: Senator, I don't recall. I don't recall what he asked me that day precisely. But, I have to tell you, I'm with the President an awful lot. He has never asked me to do anything that I considered remotely improper.

LABOTT: On North Korea, Pompeo who was leading preparations for a summit between President Trump and Kim Jon-un walked back comments he made last year suggesting he supported regime change in North Korea.

POMPEO: Senator -- I have never advocated for regime change.

LABOTT: And he said a first strike on North Korea was on the table.

[01:50:01] SENATOR EDWARD MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Is there any circumstance under which you would concur with John Bolton that with the exhaustion of economic sanctions from his perspective that a ground invasion of North Korea would be necessary in order to rid that country of its nuclear weapons program?

POMPEO: Yes, I can imagine times when America would need to take a response to move past diplomacy.

LABOTT: As the President considers a strike against Bashar al-Assad in Syria Pompeo said he didn't think the President needed a new authorization from Congress.

POMPEO: For a long time multiple administrations have found that the President has authority to act and take certain actions without first coming to Congress to seek approval.

LABOTT: Pompeo -- a former army captain tried to dispel the notion he was a hawk saying he always prefers diplomacy over war including negotiations to fix the Iran deal. Senators from both parties urged Pompeo if confirmed to try and temper the President's worst instincts. Republican committee chairman Bob Corker saying that while President Trump can be erratic in his diplomacy he can improve with good advisers.

Elise Labott, CNN -- Washington.


SESAY: Well, as President Trump gears up for that proposed summit with North Korea's leader he may be surprised by the man he meets. That's because South Korea's culture minister says Kim Jong-un is nothing like his public persona. He told our Paula Hancocks why he believes Mr. Kim's outreach to the world is sincere.


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was an unlikely sight -- the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un attending a k-pop concert in Pyongyang; by his side, South Korean cultural minister Do Jong-hwan.

HANCOCKS: What sort of things were you and Kim Jong-un talking about during the performance?

DO JONG-HWAN, SOUTH KOREAN CULTURAL MINISTER (through translator): Chairman Kim Jong-un was very interested in the songs, what I knew about the singers, the lights for the stage. He said he hadn't seen that type of light before, asking if we'd bought them from South Korea.

HANCOCKS: Do says Kim Jong-un suggested A joint concert in Seoul in the autumn showing that he wants upcoming summits with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and the U.S. President Donald Trump to be successful.

DO: He was very natural when he was talking about music, culture, sports. Kim Jong-un was completely different from the person you see on the news.

HANCOCKS: Do says he understand critics and cynics of Kim Jong-un's outreach to the world following years of intense missile and nuclear testing but says he also believes that Kim was both sincere and genuine during their two-hour conversation. He hopes the Trump-Kim summit pegged for May or early June could move things forward.

DO: I'm optimistic as both leaders take responsibility. They both have a tendency to make quick decisions with confidence.

HANCOCKS: From meeting Kim Jong-un, do you feel that you can trust him?

DO: I want to trust him. I think this is our chance to reset the destiny of our nation.

HANCOCKS: Following North-South unity at the recent Winter Olympics, Do says Kim Jong-un himself proposed a basketball game between North and South Korea as well as joint teams at other events, moves that do calls a stepping stone to peace.

Paula Hancocks, CNN -- Seoul. (END VIDEOTAPE)

SESAY: Quick break here.

Next on NEWSROOM L.A. meet the only group in the world singing about bitcoin.


[01:55:09] SESAY: Now, this may be a tough story to swallow especially if you are looking forward to that Friday night glass of wine or beer so let me say I'm sorry.

Drinking more than a glass a day of either -- that would be wine or beer -- shaves years off your life. That's the warning from research published in the "Lancet Medical Journal". The study looked at almost 600,000 drinkers around the world. It found that downing more than five glasses of wine or pint of beer in a week could knock two years off your life span and also increased the risk of serious heart disease.

Yikes, now that's downer.

Now, what happens when Girl Power, a Japanese pop band and bitcoin collide? Here is our Anna Stewart.


ANNA STEWART, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There are eight girls in this j-pop band. Bitcoin, etherium and ripples alongside some less well known (INAUDIBLE) like neo and monocoin. Crypto currency is a tricky concept to wrap your head around. These girls, complete with French maid outfits and Mexican wrestling masks are here to decode it.

From mining to some sound investment advice, the front woman is Rara Naruse also known as Bitcoin.

RARA NARUSE, JAPANESE MUSICIAN: There are risks and rewards to investing in crypto currency. And we are using our lyrics to help people understand that.

STEWART: The band's following is on the rise. Their best salaries might not be. They are part paid in, you guessed it, crypto currency bitcoin to be precise which has slumped nearly 50 percent against the dollar in the first three months of the year.

In fact, their funds were frozen by the coin check exchange after it was hacked in January. But it doesn't worry these girls.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'll be excited if I get all my salary in crypto currency.

STEWART: Their optimism is clearly contagious.

This is a block chain. Fetch me a mask. I am ready to join as their ninth member. Anna Stewart, CNN Money -- Tokyo.


SESAY: Is it just me or is that weird? I don't know yet.

You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles.

I'm Isha Sesay.

Be sure to join us on Twitter @CNNNewsroomLA for highlights and clips from our shows.

I'll be back with much more news right after this.


[02:00:10] SESAY: This is CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. Ahead this hour.