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300 White Helmets Members Still Trapped in Syria; Japan Heat Wave; Taiwan Says It's Vulnerable to China without U.S.; Comedian Known for Pranking Celebrities and Politicians; Trump Threatens Ex- Officials Security Clearances; Monitoring Group: North Korea Begins Dismantling Key Test Site; Trump Denies Frustration Over N. Korea Negotiations; Four Arrested In U.K. Acid Attack On 3-Year-Old Boy; Anger Grows Over Former Aide Filmed Beating Protester. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired July 24, 2018 - 01:00   ET



[01:00:00] NATALIE ALLEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. Ahead this hour, President Donald Trump voted after his rivals threatening to strip former Intel officials of their security clearances. Critics called the moves undemocratic and un-American. Plus, Mr. Trump is reportedly frustrated with the lack of progress from North Korea but new satellite images may give him some reason to smile about that. And a U.S. lawmaker is fighting to keep his job after making an incredible fool of himself on the television show. you get a little idea there how disgusting it is. That's coming up here, thank you for joining us. I'm Natalie Allen and this is CNN NEWSROOM.

Our top story, a senior Democratic Senator is accusing Donald Trump of building an enemies list singling out some of the most senior national security and intelligence veterans of the past decade who have served this country. The White House says they're making baseless accusations against the President and they could suffer unprecedented consequences. For more on this here's CNN's Kaitlan Collins at the White House.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The White House targeting six former national security officials today who have criticized President Trump announcing that he's weighing stripping them of their security clearances.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Not only is the President looking to take away Brennan's security clearance, he's also looking into the clearances of Comey, Clapper, Hayden, Rice, and McCabe.

COLLINS: Sarah Sanders making the explosive announcement today claiming the former officials have politicized their roles.

SANDERS: Making baseless accusations of improper contact with Russia or being influenced by Russia against the President is extremely inappropriate and the fact that people with security clearances are making these baseless charges provides inappropriate legitimacy to accusations with zero evidence.

COLLINS: Sanders declining to give a firm deadline for when Trump would make his decision and rejecting the idea that it's the President who has politicized these agencies.

SANDERS: The President is not making baseless accusations of improper contact with a foreign government and accusing the President of the United States of treasonous activity when you have the highest level of security clearance, when you're the person that holds the nation's deepest most sacred secrets at your hands and you go out and you make false accusations against the President of the United States. He thinks that is a -- something to be very concerned with.

COLLINS: But it appears as though the White House didn't check to see who actually had a security clearance before making that announcement. Sources tell CNN Comey no longer has a security clearance and McCabe's was deactivated when he was terminated. The announcement coming after a meeting between Trump and Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky who called on Trump to revoke former CIA Director John Brennan's clearance and after he criticized his sit-down with Russian President Vladimir Putin as treasonous. Paul tweeting after the meeting public officials should not use their security clearances to leverage speaking fees or network talking head fees. James Clapper, the former intelligence chief who is being targeted said he doesn't see how this isn't political.

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: It's pretty obvious for what the reason is you know, why we were singled out for this contemplated action is because of you know criticism that we'd expressed about -- and reservations we expressed about the President. If now, when someone applies for security clearance, are they going to add to the Standard Form 86 a pledge of allegiance to President Trump?

COLLINS: Asked if Trump has the authority to strip him of his clearance, Clapper said --

CLAPPER: I just -- legally the President has that broadest. He can suspend or revoke clearances as he sees fit. And if he chooses to do it for political reasons, I think it's a terrible precedent and it's a very sad commentary and is an abuse of the system.

COLLINS: Top officials typically maintain their clearances after they leave their posts in part so they can offer advice and consult with their successors as needed. Michael Flynn, the former National Security Adviser who has pleaded guilty to lying to investigators kept his clearance during the Obama administration despite his political appearances. This as the White House is once again facing questions about whether Trump believes Russia interfered in the election. After days of damage control from the Helsinki summit, Trump tweeted that the investigation is just a big hoax.

SANDERS: We maintain that Russia interferes in the elections. The President, however, very much so and has repeatedly as again have the rest of us that his campaign colluding in that process is a total hoax.

[01:05:09] COLLINS: Included in the President's weekend tweet storm and all caps threat at Iran warning of dire consequences if it threatens the United States again. That message coming just weeks before banking sanctions will be imposed on Iran after Trump withdrew from the Iran deal in May.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, are you concerned about provoking tensions with Iran?


COLLINS: Now, there is no denying that President Trump has long- standing grievances with several of the people included on the White House's list and now his new announcement is raising questions in Washington about whether the President is using his power to punish people who criticize him. Kaitlan Collins, CNN the White House.


ALLEN: Let's talk about all this with Political Analyst Bill Schneider. He joins me now from Los Angeles. Bill, thank you for being with us. What she just said is where I wanted to start. The President of the United States, he does not like criticism, he likes to silence his critics, and do you see this as a way of punishing them?

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, of course, it is. And intimidating others who might think of criticizing this President, he's very sensitive to that sort of thing and he's very upset about two things really. One is that the Intelligence Community has really raised questions about Russian intervention in the election which acknowledges did happen there was meddling and that they're partly responsible for electing him as president. That throws a legitimacy question over his election. And second of all, his fitness for office. James Clapper, John Brennan, they've questioned whether he's fit for office. So there you have to ask once these people have left their public jobs, do they lose their political rights, are they unable to express any kind of political opinion, that's a real question about what their political rights are.

ALLEN: And is this somewhat yet a danger, another slap at the First Amendment by this president?

SCHNEIDER: Well, that's clearly -- that's pretty far but it does seem to silence dissent. Now he used an excuse that they have vote -- they have security clearances and therefore they're not supposed to offer any kind of dissent against the president that they really didn't work for and didn't appoint them. They worked for either President Bush or President Obama. I don't think these officials lose their political rights as Americans after they leave office simply because they have had a security clearance and still have a security clearance.

ALLEN: We know that the President is notoriously thin-skinned. He's seen though to be blindsided by the overwhelming negative reaction to the meeting in Helsinki where he strangely cozied up to Vladimir Putin. First, why do you think he surprised that top leaders would criticize his aligning more with our adversary than with his own country?

SCHNEIDER: Well, he's sensitive to all criticism. He's very thin- skinned and he doesn't really like to tolerate any kind of criticism at all because he regards it as a threat to his legitimacy as president. That's been true for just about everything he does. Anytime anyone criticizes this president, he becomes -- the critic becomes virtually an enemy of the state and Trump treats him that way. He wants only people who told you to him and who praise him. That's a real feeling in this president, I will say that. I have the political right to say that and so do his critics but he won't tolerate it.

ALLEN: And many people find the fact that he has an obvious desire to ally with Vladimir Putin mystifying some allege that Russia may have something on him business-wise or is it just that he wants his cloud of Russian interference in the election to go away because it is a constant threat to his legitimacy perhaps as president, what are your thoughts to that?

SCHNEIDER: We really don't know. It could be either. And some of these people whose security clearances are being threatened, they have said that the Russians must have something on this president and there's a widespread suspicion in the country that they do have something. We don't know what it is, I work -- there's some investigation about what it is in various dossiers, whose legitimacy has been questioned but we do -- really don't know if or what the Russians have on him. But that's the logical question so a lot of people who wonder why is he so sensitive to his relationship with Putin and why does he treat Putin very differently from other world leaders when Putin -- when Russia clearly is at least an antagonist to the United States and someone who could threaten the United States.

ALLEN: We appreciate your insight, Bill Schneider for us, thank you Bill.


ALLEN: We are following what could be an indication of North Korea's commitment to denuclearization. A monitoring group says these satellite images show Pyongyang has started to dismantle some parts of a key missile test site in the country's Northwest. It comes at a crucial time in ongoing nuclear negotiations as our Barbara Starr tells us.


[01:10:12] BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: President Trump denying he is worried about the effort to get North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons. Tweeting a rocket has not been launched by North Korea in nine months, likewise no nuclear test. Japan is happy, all of Asia is happy, but the fake news is saying without ever asking me always anonymous sources that I am angry because it is not going fast enough. Wrong, very happy. But a U.S. official tells CNN that President Trump has expressed frustration in private that North Korea is moving too slowly. North Korea is now demanding a formal peace treaty to end the Korean War and relief from sanctions.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is making clear sanctions relief comes after denuclearization. He was already stiffed by Kim a no-show in the most recent Pyongyang meeting and with his own reputation on the line traveling to the U.N. to ramp up pressure on the Kim regime.

MIKE POMPEO, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF STATE: We need to see Chairman Kim do what he promised the world he would do, very fancy but it's the truth.

STARR: The President now learning what is tough commanders in the region already know.

GEN. VINCENT BROOKS, COMMANDER, U.S. FORCES KOREA: Our expectations have to be tempered properly. Diplomacy is a process that takes time.

STARR: The Commander of U.S. forces in Korea calling for both sides to find a way to trust each other but warning there is a long way to go even after these alleged tunnel entrances were blown up at an underground test site.

BROOKS: Their production capability is still intact. These types of things tell us that there are still steps that must be taken on the road to denuclearization which Chairman Kim Jong-un has said he will do.

STARR: U.S. intelligence is watching several missile test sites. Satellite imagery has shown recent renovations and activity but intelligence agencies are not ready to say any of it is part of denuclearization. New commercial satellite images also show dismantling activity at a North Korean satellite launching station according to an analysis published by 38 North, a monitoring group that keeps watch on North Korea.

The next big test may come on July 27th. That is Korean Armistice Day. The U.S. expects that North Korea will mark the occasion by beginning the return of remains of what it says are American soldiers who were killed in the war. Barbara Starr, CNN the Pentagon.


ALLEN: Let's discuss all of this with CNN National Security Analyst Gayle Tzemach Lemmon. She's also a Senior Fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations and joins us from Los Angeles. Thanks so much, Gayle, for being with us to talk about this. First, I want to get your reaction to the news that North Korea appears to be dismantling a test site and how should the U.S. respond to that?

GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, you know, this has always been the point of the administration which is give it time. We don't know what the result of the Singapore conversations are going to turn out to have been and this is what they've been looking for. And I think the question is you know how much of this is a first step and toward what? There's no question that the sanctions have pinched economically and the fact there's reports out this week that North Korea has seen its economy shrink by the most in two decades so there's that whole push to keep sanctions on and to really keep the bite in them I think really has made a difference in the economy there.

ALLEN: Right. At the same time, we've seen both Kim Jong-un and President Trump as Barbara pointed out in her story, they're expressing their frustrations at the pace of change. What were the expectations after the Singapore meeting as far as step by step?

LEMMON: Well, this also depends on with whom you spoke and when, right? I mean there was a lot of discussion about what this was going to lead to and really the White House and the administration took pace to say you know, we're not saying that this is going to lead to A, B, and C tomorrow right? That there was a step-by-step progression toward more discussion and toward warmer dialog or more dialogue. And I do think that there was a whole lot of discussion, a lot of scrutiny in the United States about what the next step would be but without a lot of clarity in terms of the next steps. And I know the remains has also been a very big question but really we've all been waiting to see what does this lead to when and what does that lead to afterward. And I think the big questions we haven't really tackled are China and Russia and how serious they are about continuing to keep pressure on North Korea.

[01:14:56] ALLEN: A very good point there. So we know that Kim Jong- un has made some odd comments you know, the President is -- of the United States is frustrated.

We just heard the U.S. military leader in the region there in saying, we must be patient, we must trust each other. How can the United States foster that as it walks very precariously watching the steps that North Korea is taking?

LEMMON: Yes, and I think trust has always been the central question, right? Because it's also important to the United States relationship with its allies in South Korea and within the region, right?

In the regional umbrella that the United States has always provided, including to Japan. In fact, there's an editorial I was just reading from Japan Times, talking about how this is not the time to ease pressure on North Korea.

And so, I think you really do hear a lot of folks from the region who are watching very closely say, wait -- you know, step by step, don't get too far, see what's happening with China, see what's happening with Russia, see how seriously the sanctions are being taken and what kind of bite they're having.

And then decide how much you would ease back. And I do think there is this process of step by step that -- you know, in this very fast-paced world, we're not quite used to exercising patience but that's what it requires.

ALLEN: Absolutely, us is a very small step but in the right direction for sure. Let's talk Iran now. We have seen both President Trump and President Rouhani of Iran, using threatening language, talking about the mother of all wars. Nothing people want to hear leaders talking about, that's terrifying to think about. Well, now that the Trump administration has dismantled the Iran nuclear deal, what do they want from Iran?

LEMMON: There is a lot of concern and it's not just the United States about growing. In fact, there is a whole block of nations beginning with Saudi Arabia in the region who are concerned about Iran. And so, you see that relationship Saudi Arabia-Iran -- I'm sorry Israel.

The United States really talking about how to counter a growing Iranian power in the region. And so, you do really see now what comes next this discussion about what happens with Iran? What is the United States relationship with Iran and Iran's policy going forward?

And Secretary Pompeo with some very harsh words toward the regime yesterday.

ALLEN: Right, and the president had expressed that he hoped after ending the Iran nuclear deal that Iran would want to come to the table, and talk, and make a deal. Iran certainly is showing every signal that they're not playing that way.

So, begs the question, what should the approach be from the United States to stay away from talk of war and should President Trump let Rouhani get under his skin so quickly, or is that the right response by the president?

LEMMON: Well, I mean, here is the thing, the hunt for a deal in Iran was always going to be an elusive one, right? I mean, they had the deal that if you talk to the ditch, you could have gotten those parties around the table to even Europe is struggling to keep this Iran deal alive without the United States. And I don't think that's a surprise to anyone.

And the question now is for U.S. policymakers and for some in the Middle East, there is concern about how do you check Iranian power, right? And you see a lot of discussion including inside Syria.

Discussion about would U.S. presence in Syria be seen as a check to further Iranian expansion? And that I think is what their aim is, right? Is to check further Iranian expansion. The question, then, is how do you actually achieve that?

And the rhetoric is one where -- you know, it's very hard to imagine that, that is going to be more likely to lead the Iranian regime to the table. But it's also the case that I do think that those tough language is not surprising to either side. The correlations are hardly cordial.

ALLEN: Well, Iran, North Korea, two stories complicated to analyze that we really appreciate your insights and your expertise. Thank you so much for helping us out, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon.

LEMMON: I'm glad, thank you.

ALLEN: Thank you. We'll have you on again, of course. A warning from officials in Greece to put lives before property, and this is the reason right here. A deadly inferno rages near Athens will have more about that as we push on here.

Also coming up, as British police investigate an acid attack on a toddler, we'll show you the lasting impact that such a vicious crime can have. Much ahead here, please stay with us.


[01:22:09] ALLEN: Deadly fires are taking a toll near Athens, Greece. More than 20 people have been killed and more than 100 injured as wildfires continued to rage, Monday. And there are three main fronts that along with intense winds that's complicated things for firefighters as you can imagine.

The government has urged those in harm's way to protect lives before property. Spain and Cyprus has offered help, and Greece is also calling on E.U. members for assistance. We certainly hope they get it.

Well, four men are now under arrest in connection with a suspected acid attack on a 3-year-old boy in the English City of Worcester. He suffered serious burns to his face and on arm. But police still don't know why he was attacked.

Britain saw a 74 percent rise in acid attacks last year. Our Erin McLaughlin looks at the lasting damage these attacks have.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Even till now, OK not missed up higher.

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: In 2016, Musa Miah's life changed forever when he was attacked with acid.

MUSA MIAH, ACID ATTACK VICTIM: While it was burnt completely, so they had to use a skin graft from here, to put my eyelid. And for my face, they had to graft from my head.

MCLAUGHLIN: A year into his treatment, CNN sat down with Musa. You counted how a cocktail of acid was thrown in his face, he was just trying to stop a fight.

MIAH: This is the feeling like I can't describe, so bad. The pain of it is really, really bad. It feels that your face is just melting.

MCLAUGHLIN: The growing problem in the last three years, the number of acid attacks in the United Kingdom has tripled. The attackers mainly, teenage boys and men are using chemicals to carry out a range of crimes. Moped robberies, gang violence, revenge, and even just random attacks.

The chemicals are easy to find, cheap to buy corrosive substances like ammonia and bleach that are in many household cleaning products and sold in corner shops. But while the materials to create the acid or cheap, the aftermath is costly.

A study released this month estimates acid attacks cost Britain, $18 million a year. The government is moving to tighten laws. If passed, new legislation would make it a crime to carry a corrosive substance in a public place without good cause.

Musa's offenders received six and nine years respectively. But he says, no punishment compares to his life sentence of disfigurement.

MIAH: I used to get people staring at me. It's like -- it's like they're looking at a monster or something. This is something really bad, it will change someone's life. You don't feel the same.

MCLAUGHLIN: Erin McLaughlin, CNN, London.


[01:25:03] ALLEN: Such cruelty hard to imagine. French President Emmanuel Macron was facing the biggest scandal of his young presidency. One of his former security advisors is now under a formal investigation after being caught on video beating up a protester while posing as a police officer.

President Macron has refused to answer questions about the incident but his interior minister was on the hot seat on Monday, as our Melissa Bell reports from Paris.


MELISSA BELL, CNN PARIS CORRESPONDENT: The cameras were ready for the arrival of France's interior minister amid calls for his resignation. Gerard Collomb was to be grilled by MPs over a scandal involving one of Emmanuel Macron's aides. Collomb's defense that it had not been for him to act.

GERARD COLLOMB, MINISTER OF THE INTERIOR OF FRANCE (through translator): I was informed about the video in the afternoon the next day by my chief of staff. Who told me he had already spoken to the police commissioner and the president's chief of staff. The problem was dealt with at the appropriate level.

BELL: The video in question is this one, shot on May 1st during police clashes with demonstrators in Paris. By the very next day, the Elysee, the police, and the interior ministry were made aware of it, because the man delivering the beating while wearing both a police helmet and an armband is a civilian, identified as Alexandre Benalla.

A presidential aide who was a senior security adviser of Emmanuel Macron. At first, he was merely suspended and only sacked Friday just days after the video was picked up by the French press.

Benalla says he'd been invited to observe the demonstrations alongside France's riot police. He's now been placed under formal investigation as have four others. And as the row has grown, so too have questions about how the scandal might affect President Macron. ALEXIS POULIN, POLITICAL ANALYST: The brand-Macron is damaged forever. It will be very long before it gets to the mad, the same storytelling, the same energy saying, "Oh, you have to trust me." Well, start by telling the truth is all that we ask.

BELL: Which is why all eyes were very much on France's Parliament on Monday. Where MPs heard not only from the interior minister who said this was a matter for the presidency, Paris's top policeman did the same.

To me, it was established that the Benalla case was being handled by the hierarchical authority he answered to, and that is exactly what happened. Mr. Benalla was summoned by the Elysee chief of staff and sanctioned.

BELL: But the sacking of Mr. Benalla seems to have raised more questions than it answered with growing calls for the president himself now to address the matter publicly. Melissa Bell, CNN, Paris.


ALLEN: They risk their lives to save others. Now, they're in fear for their own faith. Hundreds of members of the White Helmets volunteer rescue group are trapped in Syria after others were evacuated to safety. We'll have more about that coming up here the next half hour of CNN NEWSROOM


[01:30:21] ALLEN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Atlanta. I'm Natalie Allen. Thanks for joining us.

And here are our top stories.

The White House says President Trump is considering revoking security clearances for six former national security officials who have been critical of him. They include former CIA director John Brennan, who called the President's comments alongside Vladimir Putin treasonous.

A monitoring group says these satellite images show North Korea has started now to dismantle a key missile test site in the country's northwest. A nuclear expert with the Group 38 North believes this is a significant confidence-building measure of Pyongyang's commitment to denuclearization.

More than 20 people have been killed in fires that continue to rage Monday outside Athens, Greece. Firefighters have had a hard time taming them as they are battling on three fronts and have been hampered by intense winds. Spain and Cyprus are offering assistance and Greece is also asking E.U. members for help.

They risk their lives to save others, but now an estimated 300 members of the White Helmets volunteer rescue group are trapped in Syria and in fear for their lives. More than 400 other rescue workers and their families were able to get to Jordan with Israel's assistance over the weekend. But those left behind say roads were too dangerous to reach the evacuation point.

We get more on the situation from CNN's Jomana Karadsheh.


JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): While more than 400 Syrians, that is, members of the White Helmets and their families, were successfully evacuated over the weekend amidst unprecedented international efforts.

We are being told by other White Helmet volunteers, who remain trapped in southwestern Syria, that 300 people were unable to make it this weekend. They say they were unable to reach the evacuation point because of the security situation, because of military operations in the area and that the regime had set up checkpoints around there.

Of course, the regime has at this point recaptured almost all of that part of the country after they launched that offensive there last month.

So these trapped members of the White Helmets are appealing to the international community to countries that were part of this operation this weekend to save them. They say it is a matter of life and death. But they are told, they were told on Monday by their organization, by the White Helmets, that there will be no other evacuation and that they should take up the regime on its offer.

This is an offer that the Syrian government, once it recaptures areas it has been making to people there who do not want to remain under government control that they can move to Idlib province in the north. That is the last remaining province under opposition control.

But these volunteers say there is no safety in that. They fear what might happen to them if they're caught on the road to Idlib. They say they are living in a constant state of fear right now. That is because for years the Syrian regime has accused them of being terrorists.

Jomana Karadsheh, CNN -- Istanbul.


ALLEN: Japan is suffering from deadly heat. The country's Fire and Disaster Management Agency says 65 people have died and more than 22,000 have been hospitalized during the past two weeks in this record-setting heat wave.

Japanese officials are urging people to find cool spaces and drink plenty of water after the mercury topped a record 41.1 degrees Celsius on Monday. Tokyo's governor says it is like living in a sauna.

Our meteorologist Pedram Javaheri joins us with more on the devastating heat. And there have also been reports, Pedram -- that many people in Japan don't have air conditioning.

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: That's true. Absolutely. You know, that certainly has an impact as well and we know, just because of the long nature of how long this event has played out over the past four weeks or so, the body's defense mechanism begin to break down in this sort of an event.

Of course, when you don't have air conditioning, when the temps don't cool off into the overnight hours -- all of these play a role into making you feel excessively hot. And of course, eventually your body gives. And with temps of such as high as 41.1 in the past 24 hours, the hottest temperature we've ever seen in the country of Japan -- that occurred on Monday there just northwest of town in Kumagaya there of Tokyo. Incredible heat has been in place.

[01:34:58] And in fact, so hot that on Tuesday across the Hanagasa Junko parade there in Kyoto, they actually cancelled the parade because they expected some 300 children to be involved in the parade, some elderly to be involved. They just said it was too dangerous.

And you take a look -- when temps are running 5, 10 -- almost 11 degrees above average in the hottest time of the year -- that is very dangerous. Of course that's not just a one-day thing. It's about a month that we've been dealing with such extensive heat.

And you notice, the trend from today and to tomorrow is a little improving there -- at least from 41 to 37 what it will feel like in Tokyo. In Nagoya, about a degree or so cooler and some spots are going to be negligibly warmer.

And you take a look, the overall trend is of course, the extreme heat that's been in place but notice our models here what they're showing, the heat begins to kind of relieve a little bit going into this weekend.

We get slightly cooler readings going into early next week, potentially come right back up towards seasonal averages. So potentially again, for the first time in one month, we're getting the coolest temperatures, sub-30 temps in Tokyo expected there on Thursday and it stays there again towards the beginning of the weekend before temps want to warm back up into early next week.

So at least a little relief here in sight as we wrap up the month of July -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Yes, any little bit will help in such a terrible, dire situation.

Pedram -- as always, thanks.

JAVAHERI: Thank you.

ALLEN: For decades the U.S. has helped safeguard Taiwan's autonomy, but China have used the island as a core part of its territory and that is complicating relations between the U.S. and China, and between the U.S. and Taiwan.

Case in point -- live fire military drills by the Chinese navy, which have been taking place in the Taiwan strait. CNN's Matt Rivers sat down for an exclusive interview about all of this with Taiwan's foreign minister.


MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): On the one hand Taiwan has dealt with these kinds of military drills for some time now, but on the other, officials here in Taipei tell me that they're viewing these kinds of drills with increased alarm.

Not only because state media in the Mainland are directly saying that these drills are being conducted with straight aim at Taipei, but also because officials say this follows a consistent pattern of behavior recently from Beijing -- one that has seen more aggression towards Taiwan.

Here is some of my interview with the foreign minister of Taiwan.

JOSEPH WU, TAIWAN FOREIGN MINISTER: They say they want to win the hearts and minds of the Taiwanese people. However, what they are doing, military intimidation or diplomatic isolation tactics against Taiwan, what the Chinese government is doing to Taiwan is to create hatred among the Chinese -- among the regular Taiwanese people towards the Chinese government.

And I think this is pushing Taiwan further and further away. And this is the opposite effect of what the Chinese government think what they want to work on Taiwan.

RIVERS: Is there any concern amongst the leadership here in Taiwan that President Trump is not a reliable partner and could change his mind and could decide that he doesn't want to support Taiwan militarily, economically and so forth?

WU: Some people in Taiwan do worry about that aspect of the Trump administration, the decision-making style. However, what we believe and what they told us they believe in is that Taiwan is not tradable. And democracy is it not tradable.

We both believe in the values that we share, that we treasure, and we feel very strongly that the Trump administration as a whole is deeply committed to Taiwan, either in Taiwan's security or its relations with Taiwan.

RIVERS: If the United States continues to increase its support militarily for Taiwan, as you foresee, does that not increase the potential risk of confrontation militarily with China?

WU: No. The opposite is true. What we are concerned about is that the United States does not support Taiwan anymore. And if the security ties between Taiwan and the United States are getting stronger, it's strengthening with the Tais (ph), then that will become a barrier for the Chinese to think about the future of military scenarios against Taiwan.

RIVERS: And that U.S.-Taiwan relationship was a theme throughout our conversation. And that makes sense because if you believe, as many people here do, that this increased aggression that Beijing has shown towards Taiwan is going to continue, then the only real way to counter that is going to be with U.S. support, with increased military support, by continuing the kinds of arms sales that the U.S. has engaged in with Taiwan for decades now. And that is likely to continue.

That's what Taipei is going to try and 1 make sure continues to happen. Not only during the Trump administration but beyond because it doesn't appear that Beijing is going to alter its course any time soon.

Matt Rivers, CNN -- in Taipei, Taiwan.


ALLEN: One of the last truly wild spaces left on our planet is now under threat from oil developers. We'll show you the beauty of this wildlife refuge in Alaska and tell you about the fight over its future next here.


ALLEN: Nine million acres of pristine wilderness in remote northeastern Alaska has been untouchable until now. Drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a very real possibility. As the battle for and against it rages, CNN's Bill Weir shows us what's at stake.


BILL WEIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): This is magnificent. Wow.

Way up at the tip top of Alaska, an airplane can feel like a time machine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You see it there? A bunch of little babies running around.

WEIR (voice over): Because the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge commonly known as ANWR is the kind of pure wilderness most of America paved over long ago.

(on camera): So this is it. We're in the heart of the Arctic Refuge.

Welcome to one of the last truly wild places on earth.

(voice over): The coastal plain brims with life from musk oxen to bears, both grizzly and polar, birds that will migrate to the backyards of all 50 states. But as Florian Schulz (ph) has captured over the years, the most common creature is the caribou. And not just a few but hundreds of thousands, the kind of herd unseen since the plains buffalo were wiped away.

And when Florian is here with his family, he can't help but wonder how long it will last. FLORIAN SCHULZ, FILMMAKER: We need to keep some of these places

untouched. We are changing the world everywhere so fast, but why not leave a few places unspoiled?

WEIR: For almost 60 years, that was the rationale that protected ANWR from this. These are the oil fields of Prudhoe Bay that fill the famous pipeline and power countless lives.

But since there are billions of barrels elsewhere, nature lovers have long argued there is no need to drill here. And for decades that argument held until --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One day a friend of mine who is in the oil business called, is it true that you have ANWR in the bill? I said, I don't know. Who cares? What is that?

He said, well, you know, Reagan tried. Every single president tried. I said you've got to be kidding me. I love it now. And after that we fought like hell to get ANWR. He talked me into it.

WEIR: December's tax cut bill also opened ANWR to drilling, thanks to Alaska's Senator Lisa Murkowski who slipped in the provision, knowing that it would only need 51 instead of 60 votes to pass.

SENATOR LISA MURKOWSKI (R), ALASKA: It is wrong for those outside looking in who have taken a nice trip into an area and said this must be protected.

WEIR: But conservationists point out there is already a huge glut of American oil.

(on camera): And oil companies are laying people off up here, right, because prices are so low?

[01:44:59] NICOLE WHITTINGTON-EVANS, THE WILDERNESS SOCIETY: Oil companies have been laying people off and, you know, for the first time in the last five years I was seeing more oil company workers leaving the state of Alaska and going to places like North Dakota --

WEIR: Yes.

WHITTINGTON-EVANS: -- than coming into the state.

WEIR (voice over): But much like Trump's efforts to revive dying coal mines, the rush to drill here seems driven more by politics than economics.

(on camera): Former speaker of the house Tom Delay once said if we can drill in ANWR, it will break the back of the environmental lobby.

DAN RITZMAN, SIERRA CLUB: Well, they haven't drilled in ANWR yet. We know that the arctic regions are heating twice as fast as any other part of the world and it just makes zero sense to come here and look for more oil that is just going exacerbate that problem.

WEIR (voice over): And among those posed is the Gwich'in Nation, the northern most tribe of Native Americans.

(on camera): How many people live here?


WEIR: Wow.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think about 150 people live on the floor in my apartment building.

WEIR: Their numbers may be tiny but they are definitely not outsiders.

GEMMILL: Archeological evidence shows we've been here over 25,000 years.

WEIR: And the only reason they survived is caribou. Back in the day they would trap the animals in these handmade corrals. These days they use guns and snowmobiles but still need the animals to survive in one of the most expensive neighborhoods in America.

Groceries at the Midnight Sun can cost twice as much as a Whole Foods in Manhattan. Gasoline up here runs $10 a gallon, but still, given the choice between oil money and caribou, there is no debate.

(on camera): These folks will stick with the one animal that has kept them alive for thousands of years. And they cannot imagine drills and trucks and pipelines across what they call the sacred place where life begins.

GEMMILL: Look what happened to the Plains Indians and the buffalo. That's not going to happen to my people. We're not going to allow that to happen again.

WEIR (voice over): To the Gwich'in, they are a Native American David against a Goliath of oil companies, Republican lawmakers and the Inupiaq, the coastal tribe of native Alaskans eager to drill and cash in.

EDWARD ROXFORD (ph): Now that the U.S. is saying we can finally do this, now we have the other side, the environmentalists saying we can't do this. What's wrong with this picture?

WEIR: As the government rushes towards development, community meetings lay bare the fight -- tribe versus tribe, neighbor against neighbor.

ADRIENNE TITUS: We have thousands of gallons discovered in places that have already seen disruption but restraint is what we lack. When did we all become owners of the land? It is our own land.

WEIR: Bill Weir, CNN -- Kaktovik, Alaska.


ALLEN: And we'll continue to follow the developments in that story. Our thanks to Bill Weir for those beautiful pictures.

Next here on CNN NEWSROOM -- Sacha Baron Cohen strikes again. This time the comedian got a U.S. lawmaker to shout racial slurs, even drop his pants; and the fallout has been fierce. That's coming up here.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So drop the gun.



ALLEN: A U.S. lawmaker is caught on camera making racial slurs, imitating an Asian accent, even pulling his pants down in an episode colleagues have called embarrassing and disgraceful.

[01:50:00] He's now facing calls to resign, but the lawmaker says he was set up, the latest victim of comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, the ultimate prankster.

Here is CNN's Tom Foreman.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have three seconds to attack the tension (ph). Go.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Screaming a racial slur, mocking Chinese tourists.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Red dragon. Oh, Beijing?

FOREMAN: Dropping his pants.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're a homosexual -- you drop that gun right now. U.S.A.

FOREMAN: Georgia state lawmaker Jason Spencer did all that and more as he talked with a supposed Israeli anti-terrorism expert. The governor called it "appalling" and "offensive"; the state house speaker, "reprehensible" and called for Spencer's resignation.

But he says he was "tricked by deceptive and fraudulent behavior by a company that exploited my state of mind" -- his fear of terrorism, because that expert was really comedian Sacha Baron Cohen of "Borat" fame --


FOREMAN: -- who is shooting an episode for his new TV show, "Who is America". And Spencer is not the only one who has been taken in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are his stunts exposing truth or just pushing an already polarized country farther apart? Many of the victims have been speaking out. So far they include Sarah Palin, Dick Cheney, Ted Koppel.

FOREMAN: With some saying they never knew the true purpose or person behind their interviews.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He gets people to stay stupid things because he lies to them.

FOREMAN: Sarah Palin, whose episode has not aired yet, says she was lured by the promise of an interview about veterans. Quote, "I join the long list of American public personalities who have fallen victim to Cohen's evil, exploitive, sick humor."

Defending her, James O'Keefe, the conservative activist who has used hidden cameras and deceptively edited videos to embarrass liberals. He tweeted at his past critics, "To those who praise Cohen's posing as a disabled vet to sting Palin, you can go straight to hell."

But there is a difference.

BRIAN LOWRY, CNN MEDIA CRITIC: This is situation where people are saying and doing really outlandish things while they know there is a camera on them. And I think that ratchets up the heat on them significantly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just remember to point Puppy Pistol's mouth right at the middle of the bad man.

FOREMAN: Nonetheless, conservatives clearly feel targeted, even when they resist.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You want me to say on television that I support three and four-year-olds with firearms?

FOREMAN: And even as Cohen skewers progressives, too.

SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: Well, in you put everybody into the 1 percent it wouldn't be the 1 percent.

COHEN: No, it still would be.

SANDERS: No, it wouldn't.

FOREMAN: You might dismiss it all as harmless fun but in this town where people spend small fortunes to have folks manage their political images, alarm bells are ringing.

Tom Foreman, CNN -- Washington.


ALLEN: Well joining me now to talk about it from Los Angeles, politics and pop culture journalist Jarrett Hill. Hi there -- Jarrett. Thanks for being with us.

JARRETT HILL, POLITICS AND POP CULTURE JOURNALIST: Hey, Natalie -- thanks for having me.

ALLEN: I don't know if Sacha Cohen is pop culture or what he is but he is a master at what he does -- duping people and humiliating sometimes (INAUDIBLE) and this time he's really done it, hasn't he?

HILL: He's really done it. I find it interesting the commentary at the end like -- we were coerced into saying these things. We were pushed into saying this. I was tricked into saying this.

And I have to ask you, Natalie, like what are some of the things that could coerce you into saying some of the things that were said or are being done like --

ALLEN: You know, either you have it in here or you don't have it in there -- right.

HILL: Exactly. It's got to be in you for sure.


So this is part of his show now, "Who is America". He loves the publicity probably, despite the fact that he pranked people who say it was a horrible experience. Has he had anything to say about the backlash?

HILL: You know, I mean I think all of this backlash is better for Sacha Baron Cohen than not, right?


HILL: Like this kind of leans on the side of any bad publicity is good publicity at the end of the day. But I mean I'm sure Showtime is not upset about it. I think they know -- they knew what they were signing up for when they brought on Sacha Baron Cohen. And, I mean ultimately we're all talking about it because it's so over the top outrageous.

The real question becomes like, how do you do this for season two? But I think that all of the publicity is good for the show and it's also good for the conversation to a degree.

I'm not sure that this is going to have the impact that progressives or liberals would hope in the long term, but I guess that remains to be seen.

ALLEN: He looks so darn creepy in that disguise, doesn't he?

HILL: Yes.

ALLEN: How does he keep being able to pull these things off?

HILL: I mean I think that's the great question. How does he get -- how does he pull this off? How do they always seem to get people to go with what they're saying?

ALLEN: That's the worst that we're seeing right there. But go ahead. HILL: I mean this is pretty outrageous what we're seeing right now.

But like, again, like what has to be said to you to get you to pull down your pants and then pull down your underwear and like back up, and as some people have been calling it, literally bum rush someone in the worst ways.

[01:55:02] Like, there is not a situation that I could be coerced into doing that, especially knowing that there is a camera and that this is being filmed under the guise of going to other elected official and telling them how to defend themselves against a terrorist.

ALLEN: Yes. Well, despite what you may think of Sacha Cohen, he certainly found his lot in life, hasn't he? I wonder what his family thinks about what he does for a living. Will the leaders that are featured, the former government leaders who got snookered, tricked they say, you know -- and we've talked about this -- they were under duress.

This was false pretense. That the views that they expressed, some outrageous would be different or tempered had this been a legitimate interview. But again, that reasoning may not have merit. We even had some lawmakers talking about arming preschoolers -- that that would be a good idea, the smart preschoolers. Whatever that -- that's crazy.

HILL: Yes. Last week's first episode of the series featured a lawmaker saying that he wanted to arm four-year-olds. And they even had like fake logic and fake data that the lawmakers were more than happy to say on camera, directly to camera as if it were real, not knowing that it was fake.

It's really scary sometimes to see that these are the people who are elected to represent us, to go and make laws on our behalf, to go and speak for us, you know, around the world and they are willing to do and say these things.

I do want to say, though, I think this could have a backfiring effect for progressives and liberals, especially when it comes to, like going to the ballot box. I think the people that are voting for, say, a Jason Spencer, for instance, they are very likely the same people who voted for Donald Trump.

He's a state senator in Georgia, right? A Republican state senator is in Georgia. The people that are voting for Donald Trump are the same people that voted for a candidate that said that he grabbed women by the genitals.

So they're probably not going to be off-put by a Republican senator putting a camera underneath a burqa and taking a picture of a woman's underwear. They're probably not going to be put off by the same person that was saying that there are good people on both sides in Charlottesville when their representative is dropping the n word. So --

ALLEN: Yes, we will see what the ramifications are. We will see what the ratings are for the show. That will be telling as well.

HILL: Absolutely.

ALLEN: Jarrett Hill -- thanks so much for your comments. We appreciate you joining us.

HILL: Thanks for having me -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Thank you all for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Natalie Allen.

The news continues next with my colleague Cyril Vanier.

Please stay with us.