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White House Officials Denies Op-Ed; Judge Kavanaugh Grilled by Democrats; Russian Ex-military Official Suspect of Skripals Poisoning; Risky Retake of Idlib. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired September 7, 2018 - 03:00   ET



GEORGE HOWELL, CNN HOST: -- do with an anonymous op-ed bashing the U.S. president, and even the president admits they have no idea of who is to blame.

Ahead of a possible government assault on Idlib the leaders of three major players with stakes in the Syrian conflict, are getting ready to meet and talk. CNN live in Damascus covering the story.

Plus, remembering a legend. A look at the extraordinary life and career of actor Burt Reynolds.

Live from CNN world headquarters in Atlanta, welcome to our viewers around the world. I'm George Howell. The Newsroom starts right now.

Around the world, good day to you.

All of Washington is trying to solve the mystery of the anonymous op- ed writer. And the hunt has stretch across the country to Billings, Montana, that is where the president of the United States spoke at a campaign rally late Thursday. The New York Times essay describes the president as amoral, and as reckless and ineffective. The Times says it came from a senior official within his ministration, the president called it treason. Listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The latest active resistance is the op-ed published in the failing New York Times by an anonymous -- really an anonymous gutless coward, idiot. He was, nobody knows who the hell he is, or she, although they put he, but probably that's a little disguise, it means that she, but for the sake of our national security, the New York Times should publish his name at once.


HOWELL: The president there speaking in Montana, and then this from the Republican Senator Rand Paul, suggesting lie detector test for Trump administration officials to try to find out who wrote that commentary.

Our Jim Acosta has this report.


TRUMP: We are trying to find out who wrote the op-ed?


JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It's become a Washington whodunit, as in the mystery of the senior administration official who anonymously wrote a scathing op-ed in the New York Times, claiming to be part of an internal Trump White House resistance out to stop the president from damaging the nation.

So far, more than a dozen top officials of who's who the vice president and cabinet secretaries all released statements personally or through their offices to say not it.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it's a disgrace, the anonymous editorial published in the New York Times represents a new low in American journalism. And I think the New York Times should be ashamed, and I think whoever wrote this anonymous editorial should also be ashamed as well.


ACOSTA: Even the daughter of U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman said it wasn't her father.

ABBY HUNTSMAN, JON HUNTSMAN'S DAUGHTER: Full disclosure, I mean, my father works for the administration.

WHOOPI GOLDBERG, CO-HOST, ABC: Did you write it?

HUNTSMAN: My dad did not write it.


HUNTSMAN: And my dad did not write it as far as I know.


ACOSTA: A frustrated press secretary, Sarah Sanders tweeted out a statement calling for the speculation of the anonymous to, quote, "stop," as she's lashed out the New York Times posting the papers' phone number. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she thought it was Vice President Pence, and joke it could be a character from the board game Clue.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), CALIFORNIA, MINORITY LEADER: The vice president, that was my first thought, just by process of elimination, we'll come down to the butler.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ACOSTA: Officials inside the administration have been reading the op- ed for clues, the authors suggested there may be more than one resistor in the ranks, writing, "The president's appointees have vowed to do what we can to preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump's more misguided impulses until he's out of office."

And it hasn't gone unnoticed that Pence was denied he wrote the op-ed frequently uses the word lodestar which appears in the piece.


PENCE: Vigilance and resolve will be our lodestar.

Begin be our lodestar.

TRUMP: Anonymous, meaning gutless. A gutless editorial.


ACOSTA: The president is clearly furious over anonymous, once again using the episode to bash the media.


TRUMP: So when you tell me about some anonymous source within the administration, probably who is failing, and probably here for all the wrong reasons, no. And the New York Times is failing, if I weren't here, I believe the New York Times probably wouldn't even exist.


ACOSTA: As for solving the mystery of anonymous, the White House has one big problem, there is a lengthy list of potential suspects.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISOR: When you are saying a senior demonstration official, that could be many people, there are I think there thousands of political appointees, hundreds of folks who would qualify under that title alone.


ACOSTA: One administration official said the White House wanted a coordinated response to the New York Times op-ed but didn't get one, that's because cabinet secretaries throughout the day were releasing their own statements without really coordinating with the White House, is that administration official put it, it didn't seem very organized.

Jim Acosta, CNN, at the presidents rally in Billings, Montana.

HOWELL: Let's talk more about this now with Brian Karem. Brian is a CNN political analyst and executive editor of The Sentinel newspapers joining us in Washington, D.C. Brian, thank you for your time.

[03:05:00] BRIAN KAREM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Thanks, George.

HOWELL: Let's talk about this anonymous op-ed. The president recently tweeted about it. Saying this, "Are the investigative journalists of the New York Times going to investigate themselves? Who is the anonymous letter writer, surely the White House is encouraging the hunt for the anonymous author."

What do you make of the effort to find the writer versus the alarm bells being rang by this writer?

KAREM: Well, as I've said before I'm more worried about who is in charge of the White House, then who wrote the letter, because that letter really spells out a very troubling and very terrifying situation inside a White House where there are people who are conspiring against the president, I didn't elect those people, you didn't elect those people and even if you have a gripe with the president, he is the guy in charge.

So, I want to know why this was written, not who, I want to know who is in charge, but I don't care who wrote it, I want to know why. And I think when I look at the letter, there are really only three ways to get rid of a president.

You can vote him out, you can impeach them, or you can use the 25th amendment, and this letter is telling us, we know there's not votes for impeachment, he doesn't come up for reelection for another two and a half years, so you're left with 25th amendment and this letter spells out that they do not have the votes for the 26th amendment.

So perhaps what they're trying to do is to bolster support for a 25th amendment move, and letting people know they have some cover in doing it. And that's kind of frightening too. This is an unconstitutional way to get rid of an unfit president.

HOWELL: You mentioned the 25th amendment, the president is speaking to his supporters, and speaking about that issue raised in this anonymous letter of the 25th amendment and possible impeachment. Let's listen.


TRUMP: What you're going to have is you have a country that's going to turn into a third world country, because if the opposite party becomes president, every time before it even starts, before you've even found whether or not he or she is going to do a great job, they will say we want to impeach him, and you will impeach him, it's so ridiculous.


LEMON: Brian, obviously that's not quite the way impeachment works.


HOWELL: But all this talk of impeachment, it does seems to be getting under the presidents skin? KAREM: Well, in a third world common is kind of frightening, if it's

turn into a third world it's under his watch, we have been, and are, still remain a very strong nation, and I maintain that we have more in common than we have different.

And I think that the president preys on fear, and plays towards dismissiveness and plays towards dysfunction, and I have a lot more hope for this country than he does, and this talk of impeachment is all brought about by him shooting himself in the foot.

If things that he's done, it isn't, you know, he calls it a witch hunt, well you know, the Mueller investigation has investigated and indicted and got convictions, many of them, so if it's a witch hunt, he's found a lot of witches.

And you know, and there are some witches that are melting. But the bottom line with this president, if he is talking about impeachment, it's because he has suffered self-inflicted wounds from day one.

From the first day in office, when he had Sean Spicer walk into that briefing room, take a look at the television screen, and tell us that he had the largest audience ever for an inauguration, and our eyes were lying.

How many times as he told us don't believe what your eyes tell you, only believe me. It's a very dysfunctional president. And I've never -- look, I've covered every president since Reagan, I've never seen anything this chaotic, it's frightening.

HOWELL: You know, finally here, I want to show our viewers the number of White House officials that have come out with denials.

Take a look at this long list putting forward statements. What do you make of the president reading and reviewing the statements from officials, and even weighing the loyalty of what people are saying and how they say I didn't do it, boss.

KAREM: At the end of the day, some of them are probably telling the truth, but truly at the end of the day, I spoke with sources right after this letter came out, and there are a lot of them who said, listen, I didn't write the letter, but there are some things in that letter that I have said and I believe in.

So, at the end of the day, I think it's going to be like "Murder on the Orient Express," they can deny doing it because they all did it. I think there is going to be more than one person that was involved in it, perhaps penned by one person, but it obviously has the sentiments of many people in it.

HOWELL: Brian Karem joining us in Washington, D.C. with perspective, thank you.

KAREM: Thank you.

HOWELL: And the controversy over the anonymous op-ed isn't surprising across Europe.

Our Clarissa Ward has that report from London.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Certainly that op-ed making ripples on the side of the Atlantic as well, some of the headlines today calling it explosive, calling it frightening. But one word the media did not use to describe this is shocking.

[03:09:58] And certainly, there is a sense here particularly in Europe that people are growing more and more used to dealing with and experiencing what they see as being as a dysfunctional White House.

I spoke to one well-placed source here in the U.K. who said doesn't tell us anything we don't already know? I.e., that sensible Republicans are trying to manage an erratic presedent.

Now, just because people may not shocked that doesn't mean that they're not concerned, and we're seeing more evidence of that today, with a poll that has come out of Germany from an insurer called RMV.

In this poll, 69 percent of respondents said that they were gravely worried about Trump's policies. Sixty nine percent of respondents. Just to compare, 59 percent of respondents said that they were worried about terrorism.

So while people may no longer be shocked, they are certainly concerned.

Clarissa Ward, CNN, London.

HOWELL: Clarissa, thank you. The fate of millions of Syrians now could be hanging in the balance. The leaders of Russia, Iran, and Turkey are set to meet in Tehran in the coming hours, their focus are likely Syrian government's assault on rebel-held Idlib.

Following the story our Fred Pleitgen is live in the Syrian capital of Damascus. Fred, what is the sense coming out of this meeting, any hope that this could be averted?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly it seems, George, the party is Russia, Iran, and Turkey are still very much trying to avert some sort of large-scale offensive from happening or at least some sort of escalation. But you do hear especially from the Syrian side, that certainly they are already locked and loaded to go.

We have heard that the area around Idlib has been surrounded by Syrian government forces, by some very elite forces that are veterans of a lot of the big battles that happened here in Aleppo, and that it could kick off anytime soon.

If you hear the statements from the Russians, and from the Iranians from the Syrian side as well, George, it really seems as though they're unfazed by any sort of warnings coming out of Washington, D.C.

At the same time, if you look the situation here in Damascus, and many other parts of Syria as well, you do see that the Syrian government is already moving on to what it believes will be the next phase of all of this, which of course will involve a lot of reconstruction. And they are trying to get against some of the odds.

International investment here into this country, they've just started their first -- or their second international trade fair since the conflict began, but certainly the biggest one since the conflict began. We were at the opening last night and here's what we saw.


PLEITGEN: Even as airstrikes indicate an offensive on the last major rebel-held may be imminent, the Syrian government is inviting international businesses back to the country. Putting on its largest trade fair since the Civil War started. The organizers say representatives from almost 50 countries are attending.

BISHR RIYAD AL-YAZIGI, SYRIAN TOURISM MINISTER. I think it will be attractive for all people around the world to see Syria, to see the real Syria.

PLEITGEN: Many of the companies showing off their products comes from nations supporting the Assad government, like Russia, China, and Iran.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are going to have a long-term cooperation, this country and the businessmen in Syria. Now it's a good opportunity to us.

PLEITGEN: The Syrian army, backed by Russia and Iran, has been making massive territorial gains, cornering the rebels in Idlib province in the north on the brink of defeat.

The Syrian government is trying to send a clear message with this trade fair, the war is coming to an end, its forces are winning, and they are getting ready to move into a new phase of this conflict.

That new phase is reconstruction of the many destroyed towns and cities in the country. But with Bashar al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies accused of war crimes, which they deny, many western countries and companies are reluctant to get involved. From Syrian officials, defiance.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Things are going ahead, and we are very optimistic, we want international companies to come and invest in this country, it's safe and secure.

PLEITGEN: While the Damascus trade fair is a bright spot for Syria's government, there seems no doubt that the road to reconstruction will be long and difficult for this war-torn country.


PLEITGEN: And certainly its re-construction is already shaking up in some places. I was in the town of Homs in central Syria just a couple of weeks ago and there is some reconstruction going on, but of course it's something that's moving very slow because of the lack of funds because of course the political issues that are still at play there.

And then you have this big offensive in the province towards, and it is of course, looming and at least on many people's minds, of course not just in that part of Syria, but here in the Syrian capital as well, George.

HOWELL: CNN senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen, covering the story from Damascus, Syria. Fred, thank you.

The U.S. secretary of defense is in Afghanistan for an unannounced visit.

[03:14:57] General James Mattis landed there a few hours ago, he is scheduled to hold a town hall with U.S. troops to attend a memorial service there to meet with senior Afghan leaders. He's also to talk strategy with his new top commander in Afghanistan, they will face this grim reality though.

Two thousand eighteen is turning out to be the deadliest year for civilians in Afghanistan since the U.N. began keeping back in 2009.

Still ahead here on newsroom, verbal fireworks at the U.N. Security Council, as the United States blames Russia for the poisoning of a former Russian spy living in Britain.

Plus, Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court look secure even after Senate Democrats put him through the radar. We'll explain. What happen when his final day of testimony as Newsroom roles on.


HOWELL: Welcome back. The United States, Canada, and France and Germany say they are confident that Britain has correctly identified the suspects of a nerve agent attack in the city of Salisbury last March.

The U.S. says these two men that you see here are officers in Russia's military intelligence, they've been charged in abstentia (Ph) with smuggling the poison Novichok from Russia with the intention of assassinating former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal. But at the U.N. Security Council on Thursday, Russia again denied any knowledge of that attack.

Here's CNN Richard Roth.

RICHARD ROTH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The Novichok murder and attempted murder cases spilled out into the historic Security Council chamber with another big power verbal shootout between the United Kingdom and Russia.

Britain said Russia was behind the attacks, and it won't cooperate in the investigation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) KAREN PIERCE, U.K. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: This is a broader issue then the serious matter of use of chemical weapons on the streets of Salisbury, this actually goes to the heart of the international system, it goes to the heart of the rules-based order.

We and our allies will want to think about how we push back on this sort of Russian activity, which is not only malign, it's also reckless, it's reckless to the individuals who get caught up in Russian machinations, and it's reckless for the international system.


ROTH: The Russian ambassador said Moscow did offer to cooperate and was rejected by the United Kingdom. The Russian diplomat denounced the conclusions of the British investigation which blame two Russian operatives.


[02:20:04] VASILY NEBENZYA, RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS (through translator): The number of inconsistencies and unresolved issues in connection with the new British so-called, quote, unquote, "evidence" is off the charts.


ROTH: U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley praised the United Kingdom for teaching a master class on how to prevent the spread of chemical weapons. Hailey strongly criticized for its role in the affair.


NIKKI HALEY, UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: It now falls on us to do our part, rather than accept responsibility for its actions, the Russian government has offered only denials and counter accusations, anything to deflect attention and distract from its guilt.


ROTH: The U.K. said it was important to bring to the word the latest on its investigation to prevent, quote, "similar behavior by Russian agents." The Russian ambassador told reporters that Moscow is conducting its own probe, the British ambassador said dealing with Russia is like calling an arsonist to put out a fire.

Richard Roth, CNN, United Nations.

HOWELL: Richard, thank you.

The front-running candidate for president of Brazil was attack, on Thursday. I want to show you this video of what happened, it can be very hard to watch, but this is the exact moment when Jair Bolsonaro was stabbed in a crowd at a campaign event.

The right-wing candidate then went to hospital for emergency surgery. His son tweeted a photo of his father at the hospital saying that he is, quote, "stronger than ever," and ready to be president of Brazil.

Supporters held a vigil late Thursday night in Sao Paulo. Police are investigating the attack. One person there has been arrested. So, the question who is Jair Bolsonaro and who would attack him?

Here is CNN's Michael Holmes.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Cocky controversial Jair Bolsonaro is taking Brazilian politics by storm. The 63-year-old has become one of the leading candidates ahead of the upcoming presidential election, even while running for the small social liberal party, focusing his message on tackling corruption and violence, the pro-gun enthusiast is not afraid to speak his mind.


JAIR BOLSONARO, BRAZILIAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (through translator): You don't diminish violence with flowers, let me be clear. Weapons don't generate war, and flowers don't guarantee peace.


HOLMES: A member of the Brazilian Congress since 1991, and known for his sometimes racist, misogynistic, homophobic and even undemocratic views. Bolsonaro has cast himself as a political outsider.

Offensive for most, it is his outspoken nature that has many saying he is Brazil's version of Donald Trump. His fire brand attitude attracting millions who believe he can shake up Brazil's corruption mad political class, drain the swamp, if you like.


BOLSONARO (through translator): The most important thing that we can do here is to show people that we will put Brazil first.


HOLMES: The populist candidate has focused most of his campaign effort on social media, targeting the many struggling and disenfranchise Brazilians who have lost faith in the country's political class as they endured one of the worst economic crisis in decades.

With embattled former President Lulu da Silva barred from running on corruption charges, Bolsonaro's approach has seen him topped most polls ahead of this election, and that many say could lead him all the way to the presidency.

Michael Holmes, CNN, Atlanta.

HOWELL: Michael, thank you.

Now to the U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, he ended his third and final day of Senate testimony. On Thursday he came out of the grueling experience a bit bruised but apparently unscathed despite the determined efforts of the Democrats.

CNN's Jessica Schneider has more.



SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY: Mr. Chairman, bring the charges. Mr. Chairman--


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, a possible presidential contender in 2020, claiming he was going to expose documents marked committee confidential.


BOOKER: I'm going to release the e-mail about racial profiling, and I understand that the penalty comes with potential ousting from the Senate, this is about the closest that I probably ever have in my life to I am Spartacus moment.


SCHNEIDER: But Republicans have called the move a political stunt, saying the documents in question have been cleared for release hours before the hearing calling out those across the aisle.


SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: Running for president is no excuse for violating the rules of the Senate or of the confidentiality of the documents that we are privy to.


SCHNEIDER: One of the newly released confidential documents disclosed by Democrats this 2003 e-mail from Brett Kavanaugh when he was working in the George W. Bush White House. "I am not sure that all legal scholars refer to Roe as the settled law of the land of the Supreme Court level since court can always overrule its president."

[03:20:02] Kavanaugh downplay the e-mail exchange and try to clarify.


BRETT KAVANAUGH, U.S. APPEALS COURT JUDGE: I think it was overstating something about legal scholars, and I'm concerned with accuracy and I thought that was not quite accurate description of legal of all legal scholars, because it referred to all.

To your point, you broader point, Roe v. Wade this is an important precedent of the Supreme Court, it's been reaffirmed many times.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SCHNEIDER: Kavanaugh also faced further questions from an exchange with Senator Kamala Harris, also a possible 2020 candidate last Wednesday night.


SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), CALIFORNIA: Have you discussed Mueller or his investigation with anyone at Kasowitz, Benson and Torres, the law firm founded by Marc Kasowitz, President Trump's personal lawyer?

KAVANAUGH: I need to know the -- I'm not sure I know everyone who works at that law firm.

HARRIS: I don't think you need to. I think you need to know who talked with. Who did you talk to?

KAVANAUGH: I would like to know the person you're thinking of because--

HARRIS: I think you are thinking of someone and you don't want to tell us.


SCHNEIDER: Seemingly blindsided Wednesday, Thursday morning Kavanaugh was resolute.


KAVANAUGH: I haven't had any inappropriate conversations about that investigation with anyone, I have never given anyone any hints, forecast, previews, winks, nothing, about my view as a judge, or how I would rule as a judge on that or anything related to that.


SCHNEIDER: And Kavanaugh made his view clear that whenever the Supreme Court may rule on presidential power, it will be binding.


KAVANAUGH: I've made clear in my writings that a that a court order that requires a president to do something or prohibits a president from doing something, under the constitutional laws of the United States, is the final word, in our system, our separation of powers system.


SCHNEIDER: Judge Kavanaugh also stressed he is not a Republican or a Democratic judge, instead saying he is an independent United States judge and will act the same way if he is named to the Supreme Court.

Jessica Schneider, Capitol Hill.

HOWELL: Jessica, thank you. It is the whodunit that is gripping Washington.

Still ahead, what the White House is ding to find the author of the op-ed about President Trump.

Plus, millions of people at risk ahead of a potential government offensive in Syria, an exclusive look inside Idlib as CNN Newsroom continues.


HOWELL: Welcome back to our viewers around the world, you are watching CNN Newsroom from Atlanta. I'm George Howell with the headlines we're following for you this hour.

[03:30:01] The leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran are set to discuss Syria in the coming hours in Tehran. Turkey's president says he hopes to avoid an offensive against rebel-held Idlib. The White Helmets rescue groups says air and artillery strikes killed at least one person there on Thursday.

Fiery exchanges at the U.N. Security Council, this after Britain accused two Russian military officers in a nerve agent attack on a former double agent which Russia denies. If Envoy says the U.K. reject the help in the investigation.

The U.S. president said the anonymous op-ed blasting his presidency could be called treason. Mr. Trump spoke just a few hours ago at a campaign rally in the U.S state of Montana, the unsigned essay in The New York Times describes a quote, quite resistance inside the White House working to protect the country from the President of the United States. The White House is working overtime to try to figure out who wrote the commentary, some had even suggested lie detector test for senior administration staffers. CNN's Randi Kaye has this report.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senior administration official.

KAYE: had set off a collective game of clue across the country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is it a Trump appointee, in the White House?

KAYE: Calling all amateurs loose.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: they are finding the suspects.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is some good people in the Trump administration like Dan Coats, who is somebody realizes the horror of what happened in Helsinki. And people like General Mattis. So we won't know, I don't know when we will find out who the anonymous is.

KAYE: When or if, one former speechwriter for President Bill Clinton thinks anonymous could be a speechwriter, too.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It reads like a speechwriter. There is a lot of alliteration, starting the same way.

KAYE: Like this, it may be cold comfort in this chaotic era, others are speculating -- it is the president chief of staff.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senior administration official.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That would be high on my list.

KAYE: General John Kelly clearly has a military background, and the buzz word loadstar uses in the op-ed is a military term.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It sounds like a military person to me.

KAYE: Still others are quick to point out loadstar is a word that Vice President Mike Pence likes to use.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Vigilance and resolve will be our loadstar.

We are loadstar.

Vigilance and resolve as our loadstar.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is so obvious to play loadstar.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's possible that someone wrote it, knowing that the word loadstar was a favorite word of Vice President Pence, and wanted to either cast suspicion on the Vice President, or wanted to distract attention from themselves.

KAYE: The guessing game moved into hyper drive, with name such as White House counsel, Don McGann, CIA Director, Gina Haspel, and even George Conway, who is married to Kellyanne Conway, and often trolls Trump on Twitter.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is not clear in just anyway somebody in the White House.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He might be a guy inside the White House, he may be upper- level, lower-level, and maybe he is in the old executive office building.

KAYE: The 538 Nate Silver, who makes a living making predictions, zeroed in on the words anti-trade in the op-ed, tweeting that it made him wonder if it is somebody in treasury, or at least highly concerned with economic policy. Whoever anonymous is, it is a whodunit tailor- made for TV.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am surprised by how good a writer (inaudible) is, I mean --


KAYE: Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEO) HOWELL: let us now bring in Norm Eisen, Eisen is a former White House

Ethiczar and the author of a new book "The last palace." Joining as from Washington D.C. A pleasure to have you on the show. Let's start by talking about this anonymous op-ed essay, from the New York Times, first from the perspective of the person who penned it, only described as a senior administration official. The question has been raised, is this person a hero, a coward or a genius and the way he or she is getting the message out, and what is the burden on the person to eventually to step up, to come forward publicly?

AMB. NORM EISEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: George, thanks for having me, I think the person is a hero, because the anonymous op-ed describes an effort within the Trump administration to blunt the worst impulses of the President, the most unconstitutional, illegal, impulses of the President, ones that are contrary to our American values, and instead to keep the government functioning in our domestic and foreign relations.

[03:35:00] So because anonymous and many others, according to the op- ed and the new Bob Woodward book, many others like anonymous are engaged in these kinds of activities, it is helping blunt, smooth down the worst rough edges of Trump, So, I think anonymous is a hero. I do think when Trump is evicted from the White House, and that day will come, then anonymous ought to exhibit the same courage and stepping forward and taking his or her punishment, if any.

HOWELL: There is also an ethical quandary that The New York Times may find itself in. The president recently tweeted to that effect, saying this are the investigative journalists of The New York Times going to investigate themselves? Who is the anonymous letter writer? Surely the White House is encouraging the hunt for this anonymous author, journalists are obviously looking to as well, and now that it is out there, what are the implications for The New York Times?

EISEN: Well, of all the sacred freedoms that we protect in the United States, the ones that make us the United States, the idea of America that has led the rest of the world to admire and emulate us, for so many years, the most sacred of those ideas is freedom of the press. So I think as long as The New York Times has done an adequate job of due diligence, and George, I write for them often, and I can tell you, that those editors, even with my name on a piece, scrutinize every word and punctuation mark. In their editorials. So, I think they have done their diligence, they know the identity of the individual, and as long as that is the case, The New York Times will be fine. I think the Trump administration that maybe in trouble, because I think they are is coming very close in attacking anonymous, in attacking the New York Times, they are coming very close to violating our constitutional first amendment protection of freedom of the press.

HOWELL: OK. The anonymous letter spoke of a two track presidency, and we are also seeing similar examples that from Bob Woodward's' new book Fear, of aides stealing paper of Mr. Trump's desk, trying to ward off potentially consequential orders are being carried out.

From your perspective, given the way this administration operates, are their actions dependable? Or what is the preferable path in your view? What is a proper route in your view?

EISEN: Well, I do believe that desperate times call for desperate measures. And George, it is an example to me of a modern instance of civil disobedience, of course we think of civil disobedient, the civil rights movement when there was an unjust law, people saying they are not going to follow those unjust laws, in the last palace, at my book, I talk about a century of this, through the five people who lived in my ambassador house before I was there, each of them had to confront this moment at some point in a Democrats crisis, do I follow the law what it tells me to do the wrong thing, and following Donald Trump would lead you to do the wrong thing.

So this is an example when, for example reportedly, Gary Cohn, stole rate a letter from -- remove the letter from the desk, the desk of the President, so he would cancel one of our most important trade agreements, I believe that was the right thing, I think these are complicated questions, but people are trying to keep our country on track. The best they can, that is a good thing.

HOWELL: Norm Eisen, joining us in Washington, thank you for your perspective.

EISEN: Thanks George, nice to be with you.

Friday, in Iraq, and before daybreak is already violence to report off. In Bagdad three mortal shells landed in the Greene zone, the Iraqi military says they landed in an empty lot, no one was hurt, the first such attack there in several years to tell you about.

In southern Iraq, violent protests are getting bigger there, on Thursday, hundreds of people filled the streets of Basra, the right groups said nine protesters have died in clashes with security force there. People angry there about high unemployment, about electricity cuts and contaminated drinking water. We want to recap the story that we have been following in Syria, the civil war there, leaders of Iran, Russia and Turkey is set to meet in Tehran in the coming hours, their agenda a likely government offense in Idlib. Turkey says it hopes to stop the assault, but it could be in vain, the early stages of the campaign may in fact be underway. Look at this video, here showing bombing near Idlib southern border on Thursday, the white helmets rescue groups say that air and artillery strikes killed at least one person, 14 more reportedly killed on Tuesday.

[03:40:08] Idlib is Syria's last Jordan rebel stronghold, and home to around 3 million civilians. The U.S. and other allies are warning the government not to use chemical weapons, but many there in Idlib say it's not enough. CNN's Ben Wedeman has more in this exclusive report.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Daubing on more yellow to complete the look, artist (inaudible) painting a likeness of U.S. President Donald Trump. On the collapse roof of a bombed out house in the village (inaudible) in Syria's Idlib province.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (TRANSLATOR): I drew him, giving Bashar al Assad and the regime green light to hit us with any weapons, except chemical ones, he says.

WEDEMAN: Officials in the U.S. administration, including President Trump, have warned of severe consequences if the Syrian military uses chemical weapons in the offensive to retake this last province still under opposition control. In the capital, also called Idlib, the scenes captured in this exclusive video obtain by CNN, certainly don't convey the sense of a population preparing for the final battle.

Nearly half of the provinces current population of over 3 million fled or were bused in by the Syrian government under safe passage agreements from other parts of the country restored to Damascus's control. Including tens of thousands of jihadist fighters, among them many members of what is known as (inaudible) until recently, an affiliate of Al Qaeda.

(Inaudible) Idlib city will start, businesses down, but not too bad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (TRANSLATOR): Some people are worried and afraid, he concedes, some are thinking of fleeing, as for me.

WEDEMAN: Yusuf like the artist, doesn't have much faith in President Trump's warnings.

Now he is talking and talking and talking, but I don't think you can stop it, he says, regarding the long anticipated offensive.

Greengrocer (inaudible) has plenty of vegetables and food on offer on this agriculture province, once considered by many Syrians to be a backwater, he admits he is concerned.

Yes, they are going to strike us, they should get our women and children out, he says.

This pharmacist, (inaudible) is doing what she usually does, dispensing medicine with lots of advice. She is confident that Syria, Russia, Turkey and the U.S. will somehow reach an agreement to avoid a bloody military operation, but she is also pondering other options if diplomacy fails.

Once we have lost hope that we will be able to stay, we will escape to Turkey or Europe, she says. Most people will take to the sea to get to Europe.

At least here, at least for now, this is the calm before the storm. Ben Wedeman, CNN.


HOWELL: Still ahead, Hollywood says goodbye to a star, when we return, the life and legacy of actor Burt Reynolds.

And is there a hidden camera and that public bathroom in South Korea, women are standing up to criminals who use this devices film unsuspecting victims.

[03:45:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK) HOWELL: Tributes continue to come in for Hollywood star Burt

Reynolds. Reynolds pass away Thursday of cardiac arrest, Burt Reynolds was 82 years old, he started many film and TV roles, during a 60 year career, including Smokey and the bandit, deliverance, and evening shade. Our Stephanie Elam, looks back at his extraordinary life and career.


STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Burt Reynolds was one of the top box office draws in the 70s and 80s, but the big screen was not where he set out to be, no, the handsome, charismatic Michigan born actor wanted to be a football star. Reynolds attended Florida State University on a football scholarship, but an injury derailed his athletic career and put him on the path to Hollywood stardom. At first, Reynolds landed roles on television, including shows like gun smoke, and flipper, but it was the 1972 film, deliverance, that was his breakthrough role.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who has the ability to survive?

ELAM: He also became a sex symbol and posed nude in Cosmopolitan magazine. He capitalized on the success on the 19724 sports drama, the longest yard. By 1977, the actor who was known for his signature mustache was riding high with the success of Smokey and the bandit, alongside Sally Field. The film became a successful franchise for Reynolds, so did the movie Cannonball run in 1981.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your professionals.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is our day off.

ELAM: He kept these labs coming as the sheriff in the best little war house in Texas, co-starring (inaudible) although his film career slowdown by the late 80's, Reynolds found success on television in the 1990 series, Evening shade. It ran for four seasons and earned him an Emmy and the Golden Globe.

While his TV career was on a high, his personal life unraveled, he ended his five year marriage to actress Lani Anderson in 1993, and was involved in a messy custody battle over their adopted sons, Quentin. By 1996, Reynolds filed for bankruptcy.

But things began to look up for the actor when he landed Paul Thomas Anderson's film, Boogey Nights. The role led to his first Oscar nomination, though he didn't win, he received critical acclaim in the Hockey film, Mystery Alaska in 1999. Throughout the 2000s, he kept busy with a number of TV and film roles, like the dukes of hazard, and a career that took him the football field to becoming one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, the legendary actor will be remembered for decades of iconic roles in film and television. Still too many, Burt Reynolds will always be the bandit.


HOWELL: Burt Reynolds again passed away at the age of 82 years old. South Korea is cracking down on what some call the ultimate invasion

of privacy, we are talking about spy cameras hidden in places that would shock you. Our Paula Hancock has this report.


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is a spy cam patrol looking for hidden cameras intending to film people in restroom cubicles. It is part of a disturbing trend of illicit filming in South Korea, Seoul city says it will checks every one of its 20,000 public bathrooms daily, one victim we will call Chei, was filmed in her owned apartment on the 22nd floor. Police came to her door one night, showing naked footage of her that a man had filmed through the window.

[03:50:04] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am scared to be at home, because that is what happened, I was filmed in my own place, so I don't want to be here, but also I'm scared to leave the apartment, even though it is broad daylight.

HANCOCKS: He say the man who filmed her was taken in for questioning and released the same night. Chei was told a search warrant for his apartment took a week to be approved.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nobody knows who he is, and I have to spend time, like to speak out, because I want to speak out, but, you know, like my life is consumed after this incident, and I didn't do anything wrong.

HANCOCKS: This lawmaker is pushing through a bill in parliament to strengthen punishment and change attitudes.

When an illegal video spreads, he says, it robs a person, it ruins their life, even though it is a grave crime, the law and punishment has not been strict.

The law currently states a five year maximum sentence for illegal filming, but only 5 percent of those charge since 2011, serve any time in prison, he wants a minimum sentence of 2 years. This issue has sparked the largest women's rallies in South Korean history, tens of thousands had come into the streets, and under slogans like my life is not your porn.

Women that hide their identity for fear of retribution, unapologetic in their anger. They ban on all males at their rallies though has spark criticism.

The police response has commanded scrutiny, this poster portraying the criminal as mischievous, and goofy, is clearly a failure. It was soon taken down. The bit piece video using reconstruction of what spy cams are use, is more serious, highlighting that women here have killed themselves of becoming victims of illegal filming. 1300 spy cam cases in 2011, jumped to more than 6000 last year, and those are just the ones that were reported. Paula Hancock, CNN, Seoul.

(END VIDEO) HOWELL: Still ahead. A reunion to tell you about in Thailand of

joyful reunion, but a strange reenactment featuring those boys rescued from a flooded cave earlier this year, we will explain. You're watching CNN Newsroom.


HOWELL: Welcome back to the Newsroom. I'm George Howell. The young tile and football team that captured the world's attention have reunited with the divers who rescued them from that flooded cave, it is the first time that many in these two groups have met in person. CNN's Ivan Watson has this report for us.


IVAN WATSON, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: The Thai government through a celebration for the 12 youth football players, from the Wild Boars soccer team and their coach as well as for some of their rescuers. They were brought in nearly two months after that remarkable rescue from the cave system on the border of Thailand to the Thai capital, for many of those boys, it was first time ever set foot in Bangkok and they were greeted by the Thailand Prime Minister himself, some of the rescuers were there on hands. Some of the remarkable team from around the world who helped to come together for what was at time a deadly operation, where one Thailand seal diver lost his life, and one of them spoke to CNN.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't do these things expecting them to happen, we do this because we want to help people and not for the recognition, all of this is not why we do the rescue operations, we just do it from the heart.

[03:55:05] WATSON: The boys have largely been kept up arm's-length by Thai authorities from journalists, but this was an opportunity for basically photographs of them. And they were rather unusual moment, the boys were asked to walk through a simulated cave tunnel to perhaps reenact some of their harrowing ordeal, for some three weeks underground. In some press conference with journalists, some of the boys said that they would like to grow up to become professional football players, they were happy to be back at school, now one boy said he would like to grow up to be a seal diver. Clearly inspired by the heroic work that was done by some of the seal diver's to pull them out, but this was clearly an effort to celebrate also the combined effort that many people in Thailand, were transfix by the rescue effort, and the escape, something that drew attention from around the world, that was clearly being celebrated, in fact the Thai government called this evening, quote, united as one. Ivan Watson, CNN, Hong Kong.


HOWELL: Ivan, thank you. Starbucks likes to think it pours a pretty bold cup of coffee, but even this next move might even give that chain of jitters, it is taking on the very heart of the cappuccino loving world, by opening its first location in Italy's specifically Milan. The small espresso bar here actually inspired Starbucks' development. Starbucks say it won't sell sugary American-style Frappuccino, but rather premium small batch coffees, tailored to local taste. People there have mix reviews about the newcomer.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I hear them speaking about this American chain that is set to come here, let's see if he can cut itself some space in the market, I think it will be able to.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am happy because I have traveled a lot around the world, to New York, etcetera. And Starbucks is useful, I must say. Probably (inaudible) like Starbucks but in Italy, classic coffee always wins.


HOWELL: Well, the Seattle favorite be a hit in Italy. We will see. Thank you so much for being with us. I'm George Howell at the CNN center in Atlanta. The news continues with my colleague Bianca Nobilo, live in London, you are watching CNN, the world's news leader.