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Trump Anticipates a Good Meeting with Kim Jong-un; Tensions Between Syria and Iran after U.S. Exits Iran Deal; White House Aide Joked About Dying McCain; Google Assistant Can Make Calls For You; Hussein's In-Laws Refused Option To Pardon Her; Teen Sentence To Die For Killing Husband. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired May 11, 2018 - 03:00   ET



CYRIL VANIER, ANCHOR, CNN: Calling for calm after rocket fire between Israel and Iran, world leaders are urging restraint.

Plus this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In Singapore, I'll be meeting with Kim Jong-un to pursue a future of peace and security for the world. For the whole world.



NATALIE ALLEN, ANCHOR, CNN: Donald trump says he has high hopes for his meeting with North Korea, but he's ready to walk away without a deal.

VANIER: Also, new details of payments to Mr. Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen accused of trying to sell access to the president.

Well, hello, hello, everyone. Welcome to CNN Newsroom. I'm Cyril Vanier.

ALLEN: I'm Natalie Allen. Thank you for joining us.

Our top story is from the Middle East. Israel has retaliated for an attack on its troops by targeting what it says was Iran's military infrastructure inside Syria.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the air strikes were appropriate.

VANIER: In his words, Iran crossed a red line with Wednesday's missile attack on Israeli forces in the Golan Heights. Israel warns that any further aggression will be met with overwhelming force. ALLEN: The region remains tense, but relatively quiet right now. Amid

international calls for calm Russia, the U.K., and the European Union have all urged restraint.

CNN correspondents are tracking the latest developments across the region. Ian Lee is in Jerusalem, Matthew Chance in Moscow, and we begin with Ben Wedeman is in Beirut. Ben, this is a serious escalation in the Middle East. The question is, why now, and where could it lead?

BEN WEDEMAN, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: I think this is an escalation that's been building up really since the beginning of the year. Back in February when Israel shot down what it said was an armed drone that entered Israeli airspace. The Israelis shot down that drone then targeted Iranian positions or facilities inside Syria. An Israeli F-16 was shot down by Syrian air defenses, and it's been escalating ever since.

But certainly the American decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal really did give a green light to Israel to begin to actively or aggressively pursue Iranian targets in Syria. It was less than an hour after Trump, President Trump made that announcement that the Israelis started to strike targets inside Syria.

Now, it's significant that more than 24 hours after this supposed Iranian missile strike on targets in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, the Israelis have yet to actually come forth with any piece of a missile to prove that Iran was behind it.

The Iranians until now have been rather coy on whether they were behind this missile attack or not. And certainly the only missiles we've seen was a stray surface-to-air missile that landed here in Lebanon. So there are still many questions about what happened.

Now at the moment, it does appear that things are coming down a bit. The Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani speaking to his French counterpart did express a desire for a de-escalation in the area. Apparently the Russians, I'm sure my friend Matthew will tell us more, are trying to also calm the situation down.

The Russians significantly are the only ones who are talking with all the parties involved. The United States, of course, has no relations with Syria, isn't talking with the Iranians. So in a sense, they're sitting on the sidelines. Natalie?

ALLEN: Right. And all this comes as it looks, you know, like Assad has got the upper hand on the Syrian war. So is that why perhaps Iran went looking somewhere else?

WEDEMAN: Well, definitely we've seen that the armed opposition to the Assad regime has lost an incredible ground. They have pockets -- one pocket left outside of Damascus. They control some territory in the province of Daraa in the south and of course in Idlib in the northwest of the country.

[03:05:04] Now, Iran invested a lot in terms of manpower and resources to bolster the regime of Bashar al-Assad. And clearly, they're not about to give up on him at this point. Because let's keep in mind, Iran, under the Islamic republic has been a very close ally of the Syrian government, going back to the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran. So that is not going to change.

But clearly they have other interests in terms of maintaining a presence in Syria. And clearly the Israelis object to that. Natalie.

ALLEN: Ben Wedeman, as always, thanks so much.

VANIER: All right. Let's bring in the Israeli perspective here. Ian Lee is in Jerusalem, he can tell us about that. Ian, after raising very real concerns of a possible war in the region, Israel now seems to be in a holding pattern. So what was this about for Israel? Was this just about sending a message in the end?

IAN LEE, INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: You know, one thing, Cyril, before all this happened, we were hearing from Israeli officials, as well as Americans, that they were monitoring Iranian movements inside of Syria.

Now the Americans didn't give any evidence of that, but they could have possibly have been what they say is this rocket by Iran into the Golan. You know, Israel's has been watching the neighboring civil war in Syria for quite some time.

And as Ben pointed out, they've struck inside Syria a number of times, and they've been collecting data and collecting information, target banks. Where are the Iranians, where are they positioned. And essentially, when we had yesterday -- or the other day's incident that gave the Israelis that green light to go after every sort of target that they see as a threat to go after Iran trying to dig itself, establish a presence inside of Syria.

And Israel has said that that for them is the red line. They do not want to run to establish -- they have a big, permanent establishment inside of Syria.

And we heard from the Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman who said they hit almost every Iranian site inside of Syria. They hit quite a number all over, going after logistics, going after arms depots, as well as observation points really trying to cripple the Iranian presence inside of Syria.

Now it's likely that the Iranians are going to rebuild that presence. It's unlikely that the Israelis stop them from continuing their presence there. Again, Ben pointed out, for them it's important to have a presence inside Syria, as well as supporting the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

But the Israelis are going to continue to monitor it, monitor where the Iranians are moving, and if something like this were to happen again, I don't think we should be surprise that we would see again a strong response from Israel.

VANIER: OK, it's good to know. Strong insights there. Ian Lee, reporting live from Jerusalem. Thank you. ALLEN: And Iran has been strangely quiet about the explosive events

for the past couple of days until now.

VANIER: Now that country's foreign ministry has now issued a statement condemning the Israeli strikes. It reads as follows. "The Zionist regime multiple strikes on the Syrian soil and the blatant violation of the country's sovereignty especially in recent days was a clear act of aggression and a potent example of the crisis seeking lie oriented and domineering nature of this regime which wouldn't like to see stability, security, and tranquility in the region."

Now just a word to our viewers of context, it's very interesting that Iran has not officially acknowledged whether or not it had indeed fired rockets into Israel, which is, according to Israel, what triggered this volley back and forth of missiles across the border.

ALLEN: Of course the big player in the region is Russia. They have a big stake in Syria.

For more about that we go to CNN's Matthew Chance, he is in Moscow. So we've now heard from Iran. Any response from Russia on what's happened, Matthew?

MATTHEW CHANCE, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Yes, Russia's been out there from the outset, calling for restraint, expressing its alarm, and saying there should be diplomacy and a political solution to this confrontation between Iran and Israel.

It's in a unique position, as I think we've been referring to, because it's got pretty good relations both with Israel and with Iran. The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was here in Moscow just a couple days ago. He was a guest of honor at the annual victory day parade to commemorate the victory over Nazi Germany in the Second World War.

After that you had quite intensive talks it seems, with Vladimir Putin, although the Russian president, although the Kremlin won't be drawn whether the Israel plan to strike an Iranian targets was discussed during their actual meeting.

[03:10:08] And also, of course, you know, Russia has very close relations with Iran as well and other groups on the ground in Syria. They're fighting side by side with the Iranians to support the regime of Bashar al-Assad. They got a close nuclear relationship in the sense that they're building nuclear reactors in Iran, the Russians are and a strong commercial relationship as well.

And so, as I say, Russia is very well place to acts a go-between, between these various parties, and indeed, that's what the Russian foreign ministry says is happening. It says that Russia is speaking to all sides in this conflict to try and bring it to an end or at least to ease the tensions. So Russia is emerging in this kind of mediator role.

ALLEN: But isn't there a power struggle of sorts going on between Iran and Russia? CHANCE: In Syria, I mean, it's been characterized like that to some

extent. You know, we have to remember that fighting together to support Bashar al-Assad, so they have that shared interest. But that interest doesn't go far enough to, for instance, urge the Russians to protect Iranian resources when they're attacked by Israel.

Russia could have intervened when Israel struck at these Iranian targets. It's got a very sophisticated surface-to-air-missile system, perhaps the most sophisticated in the world that's employed on the ground in Syria and it could have deployed it to intercept the missiles and to intercept the Israeli warplanes that carried out these strikes.

But it chose not to, perhaps that was at the urging of Benjamin Netanyahu when he was in Moscow the day before as I mentioned.

But also, maybe you're right, perhaps they wanted to see Iran's strength on the ground in Syria significantly diminished. And if, you know, what we hear from Israel is true, then it certainly has been.

ALLEN: Matthew Chance for us, live in Moscow. Matthew, thank you.

VANIER: And staying with this topic, earlier I spoke with CNN military analyst Rick Francona and I asked him if either side, either Israel or Iran actually have an interest in escalating this conflict right now.


RICK FRANCONA, MILITARY ANALYST, CNN: If you look at what's going on in Syria, with the Israelis on one side, the Iranians on the other, the Russians are in the middle of this. And when this is -- when all is said and done, the Russians want to emerge as the key power brokers in the area.

And if you got the Iranians and the Israelis going at it, that really upsets the balance of the Russians would like to strike there. The Russians would like to have, you know, sort of a colonial relationship with the Syrians that they had years ago. And the Iranians are a rival to that. So the power struggle was going to be between Moscow and Tehran. And they want to keep the Israelis out of this.

VANIER: Israel says it's destroyed almost all of Iran's military capabilities in Syria. That's the claim. Is that claim believable? And if so, does that mean that Israel has essentially won this mini conflict with Iran in Syria?

FRANCONA: Well, they certainly done a lot of damage to it. I can't say they've actually destroyed everything, but they hit almost all the targets that they were aware of. You know, the Iranians have spent a lot of time putting infrastructure into Syria. They're using Syrian bases, they're using a lot of the Syrian facilities and they also have a lot of Russians on those bases.

So everybody's mixed in there. So for the Israelis to go after these targets, they have to be very, very precise, and it looks like they were.

If you look at what targets were struck, they were almost exclusively the Iranian facilities. The only Syrian targets that were struck, were Syrian air defenses that engage the Israelis. And I believe if you look at the time line of what happened, Netanyahu was in Moscow two hours before this skirmish happened. I'm sure he told the Russians, this is not about you, this is not about the Syrians. This is about the Iranians.

The Russians sat this out. So, you know -- and Matthew is very correct in his assessment there, that, you know, the Russians are the ones that can talk to everybody.

VANIER: What's to stop Israel from destroying effectively Iran's military capabilities in Syria?

FRANCONA: Well, they don't want to ratchet up a war they don't need to fight. If they can keep the Iranians from continuing this escalation, then their problem is basically solved. But the problem for the Israelis is not just what's going in Syria. They have to look at what's going on to the west in Lebanon.

You know, if we remember, Hezbollah was created by the Iranians after the Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon in 1982. So they've been the primary sponsors and the suppliers and supporters of the Hezbollah since then.

And every year we see more and more missiles, and more lethal missiles being moved to Lebanon. So the Israelis are very concerned about another war with Hezbollah in Lebanon.

[03:14:56] The 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah did not go well for the Israelis. You know, eventually they were able to achieve their objectives, but it was very, very difficult. Hezbollah has increased its capabilities several times greater. So another war would not be Israel's interest. So they're very concerned about not letting this get out of control.

VANIER: But also they are sending message and drawing a line in the sand of what they will and won't tolerate.

CNN military analyst, Rick Francona, thank you very much for joining us today. Thank you.

FRANCONA: Sure thing, sir.


ALLEN: Well, President Trump has high hopes for his upcoming summit with the North Korean leader.


TRUMP: We're going to set the table. We're going to make a great deal for the world, for North Korea, for South Korea, for Japan, and for China. (CROWD CHEERING)


ALLEN: We'll go live to the region for more on this historic summit that's coming up next month.

VANIER: And later, pitching access to the president. New legal and ethical questions swirling around Donald Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen. Stay with us.



TRUMP: In Singapore, I'll be meeting with Kim Jong-un to pursue a future of peace and security for the world, for the whole world.



ALLEN: President Trump there speaking with supporters in Indiana about his historic summit upcoming with North Korea's leader, that's June 12th.

VANIER: Mr. Trump says he's hopeful an agreement can be reached and view the release of three Americans from North Korea on Wednesday as a positive sign.

ALLEN: For more now Ivan Watson joins us from Seoul with more on the upcoming talks. It seems both countries are making nice in advance of the summit. The question is, what will happen when they sit across from one another.

IVAN WATSON, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Yes, I mean, the speed of this kind of diplomatic opening is so striking, Natalie, to have gone from just a matter of months ago, where you had both the North Korean and U.S. governments hurling insults and threats towards each other, to now we just heard President Trump pretty much heaping compliments on Kim Jong-un, saying that he treated the three Americans who were held, some of them for months, one of them for several years, that there was excellent treatment. And that it was very honorable that they were release about a month ahead of this scheduled summit.

[03:20:03] So it's a pretty striking change in tone, one that's been welcomed by many governments here in the region. Certainly the South Koreans who are keen -- the South Korean government is keen on seeing relations improve with Pyongyang.

The Japanese government has welcomed the upcoming summit as well, and has stressed that it wants to work closely with the Trump administration to achieve this goal of denuclearization of North Korea's nuclear arsenal.

And of course, the Singaporeans who put out their own statement, welcoming the fact that they'll be hosting this potentially very historic meeting, the first ever between a U.S. president and a North Korean leader. Natalie?

ALLEN: We talk about other countries that want to support the summit. What about the role of South Korea? They're certainly the ones that opened the door to North Korea? Will they be anywhere involved during the meeting itself?

WATSON: Well, the South Koreans made it pretty clear that they would have liked for the summit to have been held along the Demilitarized Zone in Panmunjom in that compound the so-called peace village where South Korean President Moon Jae-in met with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un just about two weeks ago with those memorable images of the two leaders shaking hands across the demarcation line.

And from what we heard from officials within the Trump administration is that there was some debate over whether or not to do that. And in the end, it was the argument that Singapore was a more neutral location. And that it could have been perceived as perhaps weakness on the part of the Trump administration to do this along the Demilitarized Zone in effectively the backyard, quite literally, of North Korea.

So, South Korea didn't get the prestige of hosting this, but I believe the South Korean government is delighted by the fact that the Trump administration has come along with Moon Jae-in's administration in trying to engage with the North Korean government rather than hurling threats and sending military assets here to the region.

I might add that we have military exercises that are scheduled to have begun today between the U.S. and South Korea, the annual exercises. And they have been played down this year, as part of this diplomatic opening with Pyongyang.

ALLEN: All right. Ivan Watson for us in Seoul. Thank you, Ivan.

VANIER: We now have a much better understanding of the circumstances that led to last year's deadly ambush of U.S. troops in Niger. The Pentagon says there were multiple failures.

ALLEN: That is the finding of its months' long investigation.

CNN's Barbara Starr has details on how Special forces led team was overrun by ISIS-linked militant.

BARBARA STARR, PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT, CNN: The U.S. soldiers ambushed by SISI were in trouble right from the beginning. The team decided to go after a top ISIS operative but they didn't have permission to do that.


SEN. TIM KAINE, (D), VIRGINIA: I believe that the troops who were sadly killed in Niger in October of 2017, were engaged in a mission that they were not authorized by law to participate in.


STARR: The military acknowledges the team was short on training organized by commanders did not have armed vehicles or the needed weapons that now commanders promise new teams will have access to.

The Pentagon promised full disclosure, but it still hasn't released the full 6,000-page report and it gave reporters this highly edited digital recreation of how last October 4th this team wound up driving right into an ISIS ambush. They were outgunned, three to one.


THOMAS WALDHAUSER, UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS COMMANDER, U.S. AFRICA COMMAND: Yes, it was a dangerous area, yes, they knew the activities that went on there. But they had never seen anything in this magnitude. It was a total tactical surprise.


STARR: The soldiers get out of their vehicles and start to return fire. But the ISIS fighters move around them rapidly on motorcycles and trucks with mounted heavy machine guns. The Americans are separated on the battlefield amid gunfire and confusion.

There are extraordinary heroic efforts to save each other. Staff sergeants Dustin Wright, Jeremiah Johnson, and Brian Black are overtaken by enemy fire. Black is killed. Johnson and Wright try to stay with him, but gunfire forces them to retreat. Jeremiah Johnson is shot and can't move. Wright stops to try to help him. They are both killed.

Meanwhile, Sergeant La David Johnson keeps fighting and runs over half a mile trying to get to a safe position. His body isn't found for 48 hours.


ROGER CLOUTIER, CHIEF OF STAFF, UNITED STATES SOUTH AFRICA COMMAND: He made his last stand where he fought to the end under dense thorny tree.


STARR: The entire mission poorly planned. Local rescue forces took four hours to arrive.


[03:25:02] CLOUTIER: The Medevac aircraft that eventually withdrew the team arrived approximately five hours and 43 minutes after the initial contact began.


STARR: The brother of Dustin Wright, grieving.


WILL WRIGHT, DUSTIN WRIGHT'S BROTHER: As a brother, I miss him. He's just gone. And it doesn't make a difference that, you know, I know why he was there, or I know what happened. I just miss him.


STARR: But the fundamental facts do not change. U.S. military personnel were sent on a deeply flawed mission and once the ambush began, it was nearly six hours before medical help arrived.

Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.

VANIER: Doctors in the Democratic Republic of Congo are waiting to hear if nine seriously ill people have Ebola. Out of 11 suspected cases, two have so far been confirmed as having the deadly virus.

Now this kills about 50 percent of those who become infected. The new outbreak, the nation's ninth, was announced earlier this week. The World Health Organization says the global risk from Ebola is low.

ALLEN: New questions about President Trump's long-time lawyer selling access to the president. Just ahead here, how it all connects with one of the richest man in Russia.

VANIER: Plus, a tasteless joke from a White House staffer about the ailing Senator John McCain. How the Trump administration is responding to it, next.


VANIER: Welcome back. This is CNN Newsroom. I'm Cyril Vanier.

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

Israel said it struck almost all of Iran's military assets inside Syria after a missile attack targeted Israeli forces in the Golan Heights. The Israeli military blames Iranian troops in Syria for that attack. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warns whenever do this will get hit seven times over.

VANIER: A historic summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is said to take place June 12 in Singapore. The city state was the leading choice among the Trump administration. Mr. Trump is hopeful an agreement can be reached but warns that the talks could prove to be unfruitful.

ALLEN: Malaysia's Mahathir Mohamad is now the oldest prime minister. He was sworn in on Thursday but he's been in office before governing as the country's strongman from 1981 to 2003. He said he'll seek a pardon for imprisoned opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.

AT&T confirms it paid Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen for advice on its planned purchase of CNN's parent company Time Warner. The source says Cohen got $600,000 from AT&T last year.

[03:30:07] VANIER: That is not the only questionable deal struck by Cohen. CNN's Tom Foreman reports on this.


MICHAEL COHEN, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S PERSONAL ATTORNEY: I'll be back and look forward to getting all the information that they're looking for.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Michael Cohen presents himself as an open book with nothing but well known and legitimate ties to Russia. Recent reports, however, are suggesting a more nuanced story of Donald Trump's trusted attorney.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is been tied with Russians and Ukrainians for years.

FOREMAN: Seth Hettena wrote this "Rolling Stone" story on Cohen's his Russian ties, saying Cohen's uncle Morton Levine owned a New York Club infamous as a Russian mob hang-out. And Cohen had a share of the place too before the election.

Cohen also ran a fleet of New York taxis with a Ukrainian-born partner. When Trump tower went up, there was Cohen urging the family of the Ukrainian born wife to buy condos. In a five year period, he and people connected to him would purchase Trump properties worth $17.3 million, "Rolling Stone" says, money pushed Trump's way by the scrappy graduate from coolie law school in Michigan.

SETH HETTENA, AUTHOR OF "ROLLING STONE": Trump didn't hire him, because he went to Harvard last school and he's a clerked for a Supreme Court justice. Trump hired him I think, because he has these kinds of connections. And to Trump, those are seen as valuable and beneficial.

FOREMAN: Once he was in with Trump, Cohen probably proclaimed his loyalty.

COHEN: If there is an issue that relates to Mr. Trump that is of concern to him, it's of course of concern to me. And I will use my legal skills within which to protect Mr. Trump to the best of my ability.

FOREMAN: But Cohen's connections continue to raise curiosity. Just after Trump took office, Cohen passed on a proposed peace plan for Ukraine favorable to Russian interests. There are new reports of money flowing into Cohen's accounts from a company with ties to Russia. And back in 2015, a Russian-born American real estate mogul e-mailed Cohen about plans to build a Trump tower in Moscow, saying, I will get Putin on this program, and we will get Donald elected. The deal never happened. And today --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You didn't know anybody close to Putin or connected to Putin who was telling you they wanted to help Trump become President of the United States?

COHEN: No, did not.

FOREMAN: Cohen denies doing anything wrong in all this, nothing has been proven against him. The Special Counsel has already looked at many of these connection and indeed there's nothing inherently improper about knowing or dealing with Russians. Still the entirety of Cohen' contacts is undoubtedly part of what drew the attention of investigators to begin with. And they're not done looking yet. Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.


VANIER: New CNN polling show Americans' attitudes may be shifting on the investigation by Special Counsel, Robert Mueller. 31 percent of respondents say they approve of how Donald Trump is handling the probe. 55 percent still disapprove.

ALLEN: When asked about how Mueller is handling the investigation, 44 percent say they approve. 38 percent disapprove, 18 percent say they are not sure.

VANIER: But here' the big shift. Only 17 percent of the Republican say that they approve of the job Mueller is doing. That is down from 29 percent back in March. Independents and Democrats, for the moment fairly consistent.

ALLEN: Leslie Vinjamuri, is an associate professor of international relations it is the last University of London, joins us live via skype. Leslie, thanks for being with us. The poll numbers show Republicans support of the investigation waning, but overall the country still seems to believe President Trump is handling the investigation poorly. What do the numbers tell you?

LESLIE VINJAMURI, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR IN INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AT THE UNIVERSITY OF LONDON: Yes, I think it is interesting right, that there is consignors to be the division, but there is bivalence and I think what Mueller's doing very effectively is to move this investigation along. He is taking a very professional line, very serious line, a very rigorous line, and Trump has responded episodically.

I think the fact that we see Pence saying that Mueller needs to wrap things up. The American public ultimately, of course, will want to know there's been a sense in which this investigation has been read through a partisan lens on the American public. But nonetheless, what we can see in those numbers is that people do, I think, want to see what' going to come out of this instigation, and they want to see the President of the United States of America taking it seriously, because it is an important and it should be an independent and so far is, an independent investigation.

ALLEN: And you're right, no one can rush it. Mueller is taking his time and doing what he thinks best, obviously. We will have a rally Thursday, Mr. Trump touted the upcoming meeting with North Korea and the release of hostages, certainly something he is proud of at the international stage. At the same time this week, he aborts the Iran nuclear deal.