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Weapons Inspectors Gain Access to Douma, Syria; Trump Slams Report His Lawyer Cohen Could Flip; World Reacts to North Korea's Suspension of Nuclear Testing; At Least 10 People Killed in Clashes over Nicaraguan Social Security; Earth Day Highlights Environmental Crisis. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired April 22, 2018 - 03:00   ET




CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Chemical weapons inspectors finally arrived in the Syrian city of Douma but many fear that they may be too late to gather evidence.

Plus U.S. President Donald Trump comes to his attorney's defense.

And family separated for nearly 70 years have a new reason to hope that they could be reunited with their loved ones.

Live from Atlanta, I'm Cyril Vanier. Great to have you with us.


VANIER: It has been two weeks since dozens of people suffocated to death in Douma, Syria, after an alleged chemical weapons attack. International experts sent to Douma had been held up in Damascus for days. But finally they are able to investigate.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons says its fact-finding team collected samples on Saturday. They will be testing for banned substances, such as chlorine and sarin, which the U.S., France and U.K. believe may have been used to bomb Douma.

And remember what triggered all of this -- and we do want to warn you, this next video is going to be disturbing -- activists have released footage of people being hosed down. Other video showed dead children and gravely wounded civilians after the attack.

Meanwhile, Syria and its powerful ally, Russia, denied that there even was a chemical attack. CNN senior international correspondent Sam Kiley is following this. He is in Moscow.

Sam, what's going to happen from now on?

Are the inspectors going to be able to determine whether or not there was a chemical attack?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we understand talking to chemical weapons experts that notwithstanding Western allegations, that they fear that the Russians and/or the Syrians may have somehow sanitized this location.

But weapons experts taking soil samples and samples from all kinds of forensic areas or areas tested forensically should be able to identify whatever attempt has been made to clean the area as what kind of chemical weapons were allegedly used.

Now that may take some time. In the meantime, the Russians are saying through their foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova that they hope and demand that the OPCW will come out with unbiased results.

Now this is an organization that is pretty painstaking, frankly. It can take a lot of time. It was many weeks or can be many weeks before they identify the exact type of toxin, if indeed a toxin was used.

The intelligence agencies of the United Kingdom, France and the United States have already informed their governments that they have a high degree of certainty, which is the highest degree of certainty ever used really by intelligence organizations, that there was the use of chlorine and a nerve agent but not a specific nerve agent that has been named.

I suppose that might be the key piece of information, were it to be confirmed by the OPCW. But the Russians are equally saying that this was all a fake attack organized by the famous White Helmets and funded by the United Kingdom, a country, of course, that Russia is already locked in a controversy over the use of a chemical weapon to poison the Skripal family -- Cyril.

VANIER: Hopefully we can get more certainty from the OPCW when they have had a chance to analyze their findings. Sam, thank you very much for your reporting from Moscow. Thanks.

Judging by Donald Trump's Twitter account, the U.S. president was in a bad mood Saturday morning, pushing back strongly against speculation that his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, could turn on him.

Mr. Trump lashed out against "The New York Times," insulting one of its reporters by name, all because of an article suggesting that Cohen might end up cooperating with investigators, who are currently looking into his business dealings.

"The New York Times" meanwhile is standing by all of its reporting. And that report had also detailed how, for years, Mr. Trump has treated his personal lawyer with contempt. But the president responds that, no, he has always liked him and respected Michael Cohen. CNN's Boris Sanchez has more on this.


BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The president lashing out on Twitter Saturday, attacking, among others, "The New York Times" and one of its reporters, Maggie Haberman. The president taking exception to an article published Friday that indicates that he's had a troubled relationship historically with his personal attorney, Michael Cohen.

The article suggests that Cohen could potentially flip on President Trump, something that searches have told CNN that legal experts have told the --


-- president he should prepare for; that is, if Michael Cohen has any incriminating information about President Trump, that he may comply with investigators in order to get a more lenient sentence.

The president responding --


SANCHEZ: -- to those suggestions via Twitter, saying that he does not believe that Cohen would do that, even going as far as to say that other people in similar situations have made up stories to investigators in order to get lighter sentences.

Now the reporter behind that story, Maggie Haberman, is standing by her reporting. She cites six different sources that indicates that historically President Trump has treated his personal attorney like an animal. Listen to this.


MAGGIE HABERMAN, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Michael Cohen, over the years, has done all kinds of things at the president's urging because the president wanted him to, because he came to intuit what he thought the president would want. It didn't always work out. Sometimes those things were handled in a way that was rather ham-fisted or that came back to bite the president later. The Stormy Daniels case would be one of them.

But Cohen was basically trying to do right by his boss and was seeking his boss' approval. And Trump, time after time, treated him -- you know, Trump is very fond of using the phrase, "like a dog."

He treated Cohen quite poorly over a period of time.


SANCHEZ: Also drawing the president's ire on Saturday, former FBI director James Comey, who has continued his media tour, promoting his new book, "A Higher Loyalty," a book that is disparaging of the president.

Trump on Saturday calling James Comey yet again a leaker who revealed classified information. The president also went further in his attacks on Democrats after news Friday that the DNC had filed a lawsuit that named members of Trump's campaign as well as Russians and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, suggesting that those three conspired to interfere in the 2016 election. The president mocking that lawsuit on Saturday -- Boris Sanchez, CNN, traveling with the president in West Palm Beach, Florida. (END VIDEOTAPE)


VANIER: So let's discuss all of this with my panel. Conservative talk show host Ben Ferguson is with us; Democratic strategist Dave Jacobson is with us.

Thank you both. Let's start with the speculation around Michael Cohen and the possibility that he might turn on the president.

Ben, what does the president and what do his allies have to worry about if Donald Trump's done nothing wrong?

BEN FERGUSON, CONSERVATIVE TALK SHOW HOST: Well, I think you always have to worry if someone wants to give themselves a better deal, if they feel like they're feeling the pressure, if they may say things that are untrue or may give information out that could actually help with extending an investigation, even if nothing's there.

This is -- there's no doubt that this is a concern when your personal attorney is putting the situation on what he may say, whether it is true or not true, you just don't know. And it depends on a lot of different things --


VANIER: Ben, if there's nothing there and if Michael Cohen says something that is not true and that has been an argument of the president, right, that anybody under pressure will talk and will quote-unquote "flip," even if they say things are lies, if there's nothing and if they're lying, then the investigation will uncover that.

FERGUSON: Well, and that's what you hope. The question is how long will it be used against you politically, how long will it last into the next campaign or past the midterms for that matter.

And so I think you would always -- it would be normal to be concerned about this. So let's also be clear, there's been a lot of people that were involved in this investigation and there was no issues with collusion but there were issues in their own personal business side that got them in trouble.

The former campaign chairman of Donald Trump's campaign is a great example of this and, again, I don't think there was anything there for the president to worry about except for the fact you still have an ongoing investigation.


DAVE JACOBSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think largely it's a function of how many years Michael Cohen could potentially face if there are charges that are put forward. He once said that he would take a bullet for the president.

(INAUDIBLE) to one year, that (INAUDIBLE) loyalty (INAUDIBLE).

If it's 18 years or 18 bullets, theoretically, that's a different conversation. Let's not forget: Michael Cohen has a wife. He's got two children; 18+, 20 years is a substantial amount of time. Anybody facing that has to be considered somebody who might to (INAUDIBLE) talk.

The question is what does Michael Cohen know?

Does he know where the bodies are buried?

What kind of goods do federal prosecutors have on Michael Cohen?

What were they able to find when they raided his apartment, his office, his hotel room. Those are all the big unknowns and we're just unclear potentially on that.

Now look, you've got Donald Trump saying that Michael Cohen is loyal but he also said that of Michael Flynn, of other folks who had been charged with Russia probe; Rick Gates.

Paul Manafort obviously has not flipped. He is going to be defending himself in court in July. But the question is, will he flip in the future potentially if Bob Mueller finds something potentially connected to this Michael Cohen investigation.

VANIER: And, Ben, are we at a --


VANIER: -- redline territory now?

Remember when the president had said my personal finances, that would be crossing a redline?

FERGUSON: I think you're very close to redline but I don't know if the president honestly has the political power to fire people at this point because there are so many people that would come down on him and say, how dare you do that? Let this thing play out.

If you have nothing to hide, why did you fire these individuals?

I do believe that this has gone way outside the scope of what this was supposed to initially be about, which was the simple issue of collusion. Let's be clear. No one is --


VANIER: -- hey, we're not talking about the Russia investigation anymore. This is not the special counsel, Bob Mueller, investigating Michael Cohen. This is the U.S. attorney for Manhattan.

FERGUSON: Right but we also know that this came through the Russian investigation and what we've had --

VANIER: Sure, but the content -- (CROSSTALK)

FERGUSON: -- let me finish this point that I'm trying to make here, which is this, everyone that's been charged a crime has not been with the issue of collusion. Everybody is been telling their personal lives, their business lives and if I'm the President of the United States of America, what I would be feeling like right now is that this clearly has been weaponize to attack me because I won and my family and the people closest to me, including my personal attorney.

And that's where I would be very frustrated if I was the president because this has nothing to do with collusion. This has everything to do with people coming after you because they don't like the fact that you won an election.

And if I was the president, I would be furious over the fact that I'm having to deal with this after I won a free and fair election.

VANIER: Well, to your point of legal proceedings being weaponized, the Democratic National Committee is suing the Trump campaign plus Russia plus WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange over what they say is an elaborate plan to release Democratic emails and throw the presidential election to Donald Trump.

Dave, there is no new proof in this lawsuit, the DNC admits as much.

Do you see that going anywhere?

JACOBSON: Besides that there is no new information that came forward in this lawsuit. Democrat have tried this once, tried it with Richard Nixon the election campaign when they first put forward the lawsuit.

Of course, people rolled their eyes but it ultimately led to the resignation of a president. So this has happened before and Democrats have been successful.

Look, I think the challenge here is that --

VANIER: Donald Trump says they're sore losers.

FERGUSON: I would agree.


VANIER: I thought you might, Ben.

FERGUSON: It's embarrass, though.

JACOBSON: Look, Democrats have the higher road at this, have the higher -- they're on the higher ground at this point. You've got Bob Mueller, who's a Republican, leading the Russia probe. You've got Rod Rosenstein, a Republican, appointed by Donald Trump and confirmed by a Republican Senate, spearheading this effort, overseeing the Bob Mueller investigation.

It's Republicans investigating a Republican president and presidential campaign.

The fact the Democrats are politicizing this issue and injecting Democrats versus Republicans as part of the narrative, I think it's ill timed, like I said previously.

Now from a narrative perspective, if the Russian probe wasn't making headlines every single day and if the midterm was approaching, Democrats wanted the Russia probe to be part of the dialogue and the national conversation going into the upcoming elections, that would make sense.

The challenge is you have the Russia probe and the Russia investigation as part of the national dialogue every single day. So I think potentially what the Democratic National Committee should have done was waited for Bob Mueller to come to some conclusion, let more (INAUDIBLE) roll out and then potentially after the midterm or at least closer to them but not right now, while this lawsuit forward.

VANIER: Gentleman, thank you both for joining us on the show. Pleasure speaking to you.

FERGUSON: Thanks for having us.


VANIER: North and South Korea are just days from a historic summit. Coming up next, could that meeting eventually lead to reunions of families separated since the Korean War?

And also this:


CHARLES, PRINCE OF WALES: Your Majesty, Mummy --


VANIER (voice-over): Prince Charles and some of the biggest names in music helped Queen Elizabeth celebrate her 92nd birthday. Stay with us.






VANIER: And welcome back.

North and South Korea are less than a week away from a historic summit. As a goodwill gesture, the North says it will no longer test nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. Paula Hancocks joins us from Seoul.

Paula, for many South Koreans, whose families were torn apart by the Korean War, all of this is more than just geopolitics, it is deeply, deeply personal.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Cyril. There were millions of families that were torn apart by the war that found themselves on the opposite side of the of the border as it was drawn up in.

And certainly those are among some of the people that will be watching this summit very closely. Now I went to see one man who hasn't seen his family in almost 70 years and asked him what he thought about what was happening.


HANCOCKS (voice-over): Kwon Moon-kook was just 19 when the Korean War broke out in 1950. He deserted the North Korean military, hating the ideology, and walked 14 days to get home, hiding in his mother's attic.

He then joined the U.N. forces led by the United States.

"I thought it would be a matter of days," he said, "for our forces to take over the North. I told my parents I'd be back in a week and ran away in the middle of the night."

Kwon said he wouldn't have left if he had known he would never see his parents or two brothers again. He's heard nothing in almost 70 years. He doesn't know if any of them are still alive.

One of millions of families destroyed by the Korean War, one of thousands of North Koreans that settled here in Abai (ph) village on the east coast near the DMZ so they could move back home easily when the time came. But it never did.

Kwon married in South Korea and has four children and nine grandchildren but still misses his North Korean family every day. He checks Google Earth once a week to see satellite images of his hometown near Wonsan in the north, the closest he can get to seeing it again.

HANCOCKS: Ah, so there. That's where you used to --


"No, this is my school," he says. "My mother and father live there."

Some see the Olympic sporting diplomacy between North and South Korea as a positive development. But Kwon says he's not happy to see a joint Korean team. He says they're wearing masks and he doesn't think it will change his situation.

He has not applied to be part of official family reunions between North and South, fearing any family still alive would be punished for his military desertion a lifetime ago.

"I was almost 20 when I left home," he says. "I'm now almost 90. There's no joy of life for me. I'm waiting to die.

"I don't know why," he says. "The older I become, the more I miss my brothers."


HANCOCKS: Very few previous South Korean leaders understand this issue quite as well as the South Korean president, Moon Jae-in. He himself accompanied his mother to one of the family reunions, meeting an aunt he had never met before.

So he certainly understands it more, being the son of North Korean refugees. But it is one of the many things that is really in the back of many people's minds when it comes to this summit because it is not just politics. It is not just about peace, although, of course, that is vitally important.

It is about the human aspect and whether or not people can see their loved ones again.

VANIER: Yes, Paula, thank you so much for that reporting. It is really heartbreaking when you hear things like that and you just have to keep your fingers crossed, that those families will be able to be reunited again, thank you.

Saudi forces shot down a toy drone that flew too close to palaces in the capital of Riyadh on Saturday.


VANIER (voice-over): Now you can hear the gunfire there. This is a video posted on social media. The government said that there was no major security breach. But officials are nonetheless investigating; security has been tightened around the palaces recently as reforms --


VANIER: -- by the crown prince risk angering religious hardliners and Iran-backed Houthi rebels, who are in a long-running conflict with Saudi Arabia and also tried recently to target Riyadh with drones.

There are reports that Nicaragua's president may be ready to consider changing a controversial social security overhaul. This comes after days of large-scale demonstrations where at least 10 people were killed and that includes a journalist covering the protests.

The unpopular legislation would require workers to contribute more money but it would actually lower pensions. Rafael Romo has the latest on this.


RAFAEL ROMO, CNN SR. LATIN AFFAIRS EDITOR (voice-over): After three days of violence, the streets of Managua, Nicaragua's capital, are littered with debris, demonstrators burning tires and throwing rocks. In response, police in full riot gear shooting rubber bullets.

The clashes have left at least 10 dead and more than 100 injured. This man, whose son died in the protest, says, riot police shot real bullets during a march. His son, he says, was not a protester but a passer-by, going home from work.

Police have declined to comment. Among the injured are both protesters and government forces, including this policewoman, who officials say was hit in the leg by an explosive.

A government plan to reform Nicaragua's Social Security system sparked the protests. But the owner of a news channel who says his station was censored by the government after refusing an order to stop covering the protests, says there are several other underlying factors.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking Spanish).

ROMO (voice-over): He says people are also protesting corruption, the government's abuse of power, lack of civil liberties, including freedom of expression, and inflation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking Spanish).

ROMO (voice-over): This business leader called on the government to stop what he called acts of repression, adding that Nicaraguans don't want to go back to its civil war days.

Daniel Ortega, the Sandinista leader who ruled Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990 and then again since 2007, was re-elected to a third term in 2016 in an election, opponents said, was rigged, which Ortega denies.

After three days of silence, only interrupted by Nicaraguan first lady Rosario Murillo...


ROMO (voice-over): -- who called protesters "bloodthirsty vampires," Ortega reappeared.


ROMO (voice-over): The president said, "Protesters can march and disagree with the government all they want. But God will not forgive them," he emphasized, "for conspiring to incite violence" -- Rafael Romo, CNN.


VANIER: Meanwhile, back in the U.S., more than 1,000 mourners paid their respects to former U.S. first lady Barbara Bush at her funeral in Houston, Texas. Former Presidents Obama and Clinton were there on Saturday, along with their wives, and current first lady Melania Trump. Several speakers honored Ms. Bush, calling her tough but loving,

compassionate and funny. After the service, eight of her grandsons carried her coffin. Her son, President George W. Bush, was right behind them, pushing her husband and his dad, President George H.W. Bush, in a wheelchair.

Ms. Bush was buried at her husband's presidential library, next to her daughter Robin, who died when she was just 3.

Now Sunday, today is the day we celebrate the planet that we all call home. Each year Earth Day shines a light on environmental problems. And this year focuses on a big one: plastic pollution. It is a global problem and it is much, much more than just not recycling a water bottle, for instance.

Environmentalists say enough plastic is thrown away each year to circle the Earth four times. Here are a couple of numbers just to understand the size of this: 50 percent of this plastic is used only once before being thrown away and it can take anywhere from 500 -1,000 years for plastic to decompose.

Nodding his head next to me is our meteorologist, Ivan Cabrera.

A thousand years to decompose

IVAN CABRERA, AMS METEOROLOGIST: A thousand years and in some cases even longer. You know what we need to make water bottles, plastic ones, oil. It is a mess. And you had the professor from a Columbia University, Jeffrey Sachs, fantastic points.

I think he wrapped it up when he said we're in a mess and that is exactly what we're in. So let us talk about it and show you what's going on here as far as the plastics ocean. That's a highlight. We have so many of them but this is the one for this year and it is a big problem.

First the numbers and then we'll get into why the plastics not only impact our oceans but eventually us directly as well. So 8 million metric tons, that's how much we dump into the oceans, pieces of plastic, we're dealing with 5 trillion. So it would be 8 million --


CABRERA: -- we add annually goes into the pot, which is already at 5 trillion presently in the oceans in the form of pieces of plastic of all shapes and sizes here.

Of course that plastic will kill upwards of 1 million birds as well and even marine mammals are impacted as well, into the hundreds of thousands.

So plastics do degrade, they do not just stay the way they are, the way you throw them out, for thousands of years. They do degrade but the problem is they degrade to the point where become microscopic. They do not disappear. They do not go away. They are still there. And what happens is once they become that small, that's when the

marine animals start ingesting them, including fish. And so the fish eat the plastic, we eat the fish. You can see where that is not a good thing.

So let us talk about the ocean currents because they play a big role in where this garbage patch that we talk about here we have one in the Eastern Pacific, one in the Western Pacific.

By the way, if you are taking a cruise and you are going -- you can go through this thing and not notice it is there. The particulates, the plastics, the garbage, it is all very widely dispersed.

So the boundaries actually change because of the sea waves and undercurrents as well and so kind of hard to really pinpoint so we can't take a boat out there and just scoop it up.

But it does kind of converge across the North Pacific. That is where the currents are weaker so everything just floats and stays in one place and it is very difficult to get rid of as a result of what is in the plastic.

So it's going to be -- we can do individual things, right. But I think at the end of the day, our governments and our corporations have to take a huge role to be able to really make an impact on reducing the plastics that we find in the ocean at this point into the trillions.

VANIER: That was also something that Jeffrey Sachs touched on when we spoke to him. Ivan Cabrera from the CNN Weather Center, always appreciate having you on. Thank you very much.

CABRERA: Of course.

VANIER: Britain's Queen Elizabeth received a standing ovation and a salute from her son, Prince Charles, during a concert for her 92nd birthday.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hip, hip, hip...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hip, hip, hip...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hip, hip, hip...

VANIER (voice-over): Boy, he knows how to party.

The musical celebration at Royal Albert Hall was broadcast live across the U.K. on Saturday.

(MUSIC PLAYING) VANIER (voice-over): Among the performers, you saw them there, Sting, rapper Shaggy, Kylie Minogue, Prince William, Prince Harry and his fiancee, Meghan Markle, were there. The queen's husband Prince Philip, however, was not because he is still recovering from hip replacement surgery.

Prince William's wife, Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, was also a no-show. She is due to give birth any day now. We'll expect to hear more about the royals on CNN when that happens.

Thank you very much for watching CNN NEWSROOM. As ever, I will be back with the headlines just minutes from now. Stay with us.