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U.S. Intel Officials: No Doubt Russia Behind Election Hacking; Moscow Denies Russia Behind Election Hacking; Search Continues for Istanbul Gunman; Hate Crime Charges for Teens Who Live-Streamed Torture of Special Needs Teen. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired January 6, 2017 - 02:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[02:00:06] MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: This is CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles.

Ahead this hour, U.S. --

(HEADLINES)

HOLMES: Hello, everyone. Thanks for your company. I'm Michael Holmes. NEWSROOM L.A. starts right now.

U.S. intelligence officials say they now know who passed stolen e- mails from Russia to WikiLeaks during the U.S. presidential campaign. And they say they intercepted conversations in which top Russian officials celebrated Donald Trump's victory.

WikiLeaks' founder, Julian Assange, on Tuesday, denied the e-mails came from Moscow.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JULIAN ASSANGE, FOUNDER, WIKILEAKS: Our source is not the Russian government. And it is not a state party.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOLMES: Republican Senator Dan Coates is Donald Trump's choice to be the next director of National Intelligence, but he will not take part in a briefing for Trump on Friday on the election hacking.

The current director had plenty to say about that on Capitol Hill.

Here's Pamela Brown.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAMES CLAPPER, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: -- trade craft that the Russians have long used.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Today, the nation's top spy not mincing words in his defense of the U.S. intelligence assessment that Russia is to blame for the unprecedented hacks during the 2016 election.

CLAPPER: I don't think that we've ever encountered a more aggressive or direct campaign to interfere in our election process than we've seen in this case.

BROWN: And insisting their confidence has only increased.

CLAPPER: We stand actually more resolutely on the strength of that statement that we made on the 7th of October.

BROWN: James Clapper, along with both Democrat and Republican lawmakers, sending a strong message in the wake of Donald Trump's repeated public statements doubting the intelligence.

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL, (D), MISSOURI: Who actually is the benefactor of someone who is about to become commander-in-chief trashing the intelligence community?

CLAPPER: I think there's a difference between skepticism and disparagement.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Putin is up to no good and he better be stopped. And, Mr. President-elect, when you listen to these people, you can be skeptical, but understand they're the best among us and they're trying to protect us.

(CHEERING)

HILLARY CLINTON, (D), FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE & FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you so much.

BROWN: Clapper revealing today a comprehensive report into the Democratic Party hacks will lay out not just what the Russians did but why they did it.

Among the motivations expected in the report, set to be released Monday, an effort to tip the election in Trump's favor.

CLAPPER: There are actually more than one motive. That will be described in the report.

I assure you, I intend to push the envelope as much as I can, on -- particularly on the unclassified version, because I think the public should know as much about this as possible.

BROWN: Clapper told the committee the hacks were only one part of a broader effort by Russia.

CLAPPER: This was a multifaceted campaign. The hacking was only one part of it. And it also entailed classical propaganda, disinformation, fake news.

UNIDENTIFIED SENATOR: Does that continue?

CLAPPER: Yes.

(MUSIC)

BROWN: Intelligence officials say it's clear the man behind it all is Vladimir Putin.

GRAHAM: say you think this was approved at the highest level of government in Russia, generally speaking, is that right?

CLAPPER: That's what we said.

GRAHAM: OK, who is the highest level of government?

CLAPPER: Well, the highest is President Putin.

GRAHAM: Do you think a lot happens in Russia big that he doesn't know about?

CLAPPER: Not very many.

GRAHAM: Yeah, I don't think so either.

CLAPPER: Certainly, none that are politically sensitive in another country.

BROWN (on camera): We have learned the U.S. has identified the so- called go between people the Russian government used to hand over those stolen documents to WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange. That information in that classified comprehensive review that has been presented to President Obama, and will be presented to President-elect Trump.

Pamela Brown, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[02:05:00] HOLMES: And joining me now from Mountain View, California, former director of the National Cyber Security Center, Rod Beckstrom.

I suppose, Rod, the difficult thing in discussing this, we, mere mortals, is we're never going to know exactly what the intelligence community's evidence is because they don't want to give the game away. Is that fair?

ROD BECKSTROM, FORMER CEO, ICANN & FORMER DIRECTOR, NATIONAL CYBER SECURITY CENTER: Well, that's right. It's up to them to decide what they want to declassify and maintain within the classified realm. There's always that bit of uncertainty, as well as the uncertainty around attribution in general is so difficult. We're going to hear of symptom data here, but it's maybe inferred data, it may be suggested data, such is the fact that Russian leaders were celebrating. That's not proof that Russians did that or that they got the information to WikiLeaks. It may be suggestive, but it's not ironclad proof. So, I think this debate is going to go on for quite some time -- Michael?

HOLMES: Right. On that technical level, I mean, how difficult is it to prove such a thing? Are you always just going to end up with a preponderance of evidence?

BECKSTROM: You know, the Russians are pros here. Very, very high quality trade craft in hacking, as everyone's acknowledged. And you know, you're not dealing with amateurs here. If they were, in fact, the parties that transferred the data to WikiLeaks, I would suspect they did a pretty good job of trying to hide that trail. Unless they wanted to reveal that trail intentionally. So, I think it's going to be difficult. I think it is clearly suggested. I think there's very strong evidence that the Russian governments did have access to the DNC and the DCCC servers. I don't think there's a lot of question about that amongst the experts. That is not proof that data got from them to WikiLeaks because the security levels could have been so low, that many parties could have been in there.

HOLMES: How do you follow such a trail? I mean, it you were going to do it, how difficult is it once you get into the dark web?

BECKSTROM: Sure. It's very difficult, indeed. You're looking for tracking the routing of data in packets. You're looking for DNS records. Records in the computer systems and the network systems where you try to find the traces to connect the dots. And you know, clearly the U.S. government has got some very high-quality resources to do that kind of research. But still, once you're into the dark web and dealing with pros, it is challenging to know for sure and very difficult to be certain. So, I think you hear this in Trump's positioning himself saying it's really difficult to figure out who did an attack in cyber security. He's right. Clearly, he wants to maintain legitimacy of his election. He's going to take that very strong position. And there's others that are concerned the Russians were involved and they're taking a different position. So, the drama came to a new level with this hearing today, which, by the way, most hearings are either hostile or friendly. This one was almost a bipartisan lovefest. It was so well coordinated amongst all the Senators and the parties, all echoing the message, look, we do think it was Russia that hacked into the DNC. None of them answered the question of the linkage between the two. That's leaking out later today. But this was a very strong unified message, not a very conventional hearing for the intelligence community, which is normally very secretive and private about its activities. But I think it shows the level of concern that some of the parties have about what could have taken place here in the election.

HOLMES: Rod, thanks so much.

Russia, meanwhile, denies the government was behind the election hacking.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen with more on that from Moscow.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Russian media and Russian officials closely monitoring the hearings of the Senate Armed Services Committee dealing with the alleged Russian hacking. It seems as though neither the Russian media or officials are happy with what they were hearing. The Sputnik News Agency, which is government owned and government run, put out an article shortly afterwards saying that the meeting was, quote, "a flop," and that no new evidence had been presented. That's the view of that news agency.

But Russian officials chiming in as well. And very quickly, while the hearing was going on, I received a message from the spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin. He said, "We have suggested cooperation on combating cyber threats numerous times. It was rejected. We are sick and tired of those irresponsibly blaming everything on our country. If there is a need for an enemy, why not try someone else."

So, this very much in line with what the Russians have been saying all along, saying their country was not behind it, but there are also always nuances with all this. The Russians not denying that it may have been Russian nationals behind the hacking. But they're saying that it wasn't what they call official Russia. It's the term - that's they use -- that was behind all of this.

Of course, this very much in reference to the fact that the Obama administration and now also members of the U.S. intelligence branches are saying that they believe that the Russian government was, indeed, involved. In fact, some of them saying they believe it goes all the way to the highest levels, all the way up to, potentially, Vladimir Putin.

So, the Russians, for their part, are saying that it wasn't them. They've even called all of these allegations absurd in the past.

Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Moscow.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[02:10:35] HOLMES: While Turkish authorities continue searching for the gunman who shot up an Istanbul nightclub, western Izmir was hit with another attack. Assailants detonating a car bomb near a courthouse during a shoot-out with police. The explosion killed two people and wounded nine others. But officials say the damage could have been much worse if those attackers weren't confronted.

Meanwhile, authorities still searching for the gunman who attacked an Istanbul nightclub on New Year's.

Our Sara Sidner following this story for us in Istanbul -- Sara?

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What's interesting about what was happening in Izmir, just to back up a bit, that is the same city coastal city where there were 20 people the government said that they arrested, they said, that were linked to the attack at the Reina Nightclub, saying they were members or at least somehow connected to ISIS.

What I can tell you now though is we've got a chance to speak with the owner of the nightclub, and one of his business partners who was there that night and narrowly escaped death.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SIDNER (voice-over): Ali Unal (ph) can't sleep or eat because he can't get the images of the dead and dying out of his head.

"I'm feeling terrible. I can't sleep more than two hours a day. It's just like in the perfect storm movie where the guy knows he's going to die and he's only worried about his children," he says.

Unal walks away in tears. He is the business partner and manager of the Istanbul nightclub.

On New Year's Eve, he was right outside as terrorists entered.

This is Ali, falling over a railing as the gunman shoots everyone around him. He survived because the gunman thought he was dead.

Bullet holes and blood still remain days after the attack that left 39 dead and 69 injured here. So do piles of clothes and shoes of the victims.

(on camera): From what we can see, this is the area that seems to have the most bullet holes, and the holes are huge. But surprisingly, there aren't that many considering all the shooting that happened that night. And that is because the terrorist was targeting people one by one by one.

(voice-over): The owner was just up the Bosporus whether he was told his club was under attack.

UNIDENTIFIED NIGHTCLUB OWNER: All my life finish in that time.

SIDNER (on camera): You thought your life was over when you heard this?

UNIDENTIFIED NIGHTCLUB OWNER: Yeah, when I heard that my life is over. I feel like that because all that client, all that people, my son, my daughter. I always did my job like this.

SIDNER (voice-over): He says his legs buckled beneath him as the gunfire and blast, captured on this video, emanated from his club.

(GUNFIRE)

SIDNER: Days later, Mehmet is trying to figure out what he could have done to protect all those people.

(on camera): Was there enough security, do you think?

UNIDENTIFIED NIGHTCLUB OWNER: You know, for our guard, are you talking our guard? We have no gun. That is -- that is a low. If you have place in the concert in summer, you cannot -- they cannot give the license for the gun. But we are living with the terror. They have to change this law. This is stupid.

SIDNER (voice-over): Two of his unarmed guards were shot and killed along with other members of his staff. He says the gunman went about his killing spree with ease and operated like a professional soldier, even blasting bullets into a small gas canister trying to make it explode, but it was empty.

The scene of this once-glamorous club on the Bosporus makes him sick to his stomach now.

UNIDENTIFIED NIGHTCLUB OWNER: I'm not sure if I didn't open, they will be successful. Terrorism going to win. But still, 39 people is on my shoulders. I feel, I don't know what am I going to do.

SIDNER: He says he will leave that decision up to his staff, men and women, some of whom perished, others who saved lives during the worst moment in this club's 16-year history.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[02:15:08] SIDNER: One of the things he says he was really surprised about and disturbed really about is that the next president of the United States tweets about just about anything and he said, in their country, in this nation that has been a secular country, that has been a friend to both East and West, that he said nothing official, nothing on Twitter, and nothing to the cameras after such a terrible attack. He said he hopes that is not a sign of things to come -- Michael?

HOLMES: You know, Sara, it's such a lively part of Istanbul, and it is such a lovely, vibrant city. How are people feeling? Is there reluctance to continue to enjoy that side of Istanbul?

SIDNER: There absolutely is. Clubbers on -- we talked to a few people and sort of walked down the street where there are a lot of clubs. They were pretty empty. This, they said, was the worst business they've had in a long time. We are off season. We also noticed that there were fewer people sort of out and about. Normally, all hours of the night, there are businesses open. There are shops open. There are sweet shops open. And while some of them had a few people in them, it really isn't the same as it normally is. There's definitely a fear factor that has happened here.

But as happened in the past, the city will come back. People really love it. If you've ever been here, it is a beautiful, sparkling, wonderful place to visit. The fear is that with all these attacks considering all those in 2016, and now two in 2017, there's a lot of worry that's going to impact tourism, as well -- Michael?

HOLMES: Yeah, indeed, and it is a beautiful city, as you say.

Sara, thanks so much. Sara Sidner there.

Still to come on CNN NEWSROOM, the U.S. president says he's heartbroken. Hear what else he had to say about that violent beating streamed live on Facebook.

Also, the U.S. vice president gives Donald Trump some pointed advice.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOLMES: Welcome back. Four suspects in Chicago now face hate crime and kidnapping charges after that horrific Facebook Live post. They're accused of tying up and beating a special needs teenager, broadcasting it over social media while shouting racial slurs.

The U.S. President Barack Obama calling the posting despicable.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's been heartbreaking. You see what happens in Chicago. These are communities I know and love. And there's so many good people there. And there are people who I know have been personally affected by levels of violence.

What I've done is assign the Justice Department to work with the mayor's office and the police department in Chicago to identify exactly what's going on and what do we need to do to fix it. I don't think there's any one, single, perfect answer but, clearly, we as a community have to come together, and I look forward to being part of that conversation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[02:20:10] HOLMES: Police say the victim was friends with one of the suspects and they were hanging out when a playful fight got nasty. They also say the women were the one who's tied him up. The victim now back at home with his family.

And for more, CNN legal analyst and criminal defense attorney, Joey Jackson, joining me now from New York City.

Always a pleasure to see you, sir.

First of all, do you think the charges that are outlined are enough? Is this as good as law enforcement can bring?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Good to see you, Michael.

It certainly is. The case overall is just beyond disturbing, to say the least. But I think when you look at the charges, first, you look at aggravated kidnapping. That carries up to 30 years in jail. And then, of course, the other charges in terms of the aggravated battery for what they actually did in terms of the torture and that. And, of course, the hate crime. The hate crime, doing it, predicated upon, that is engaging in the act of abducting him and harming him because of either one of two reasons under the statute -- that is, the law -- and that is either that he had the mental impairment or disability. That qualifies as a hate crime if you do something to someone because of that, or do it predicated upon race. So, based upon the nature of the charges, Michael, the seriousness of the charges and the amount of time they carry, I think certainly prosecutors have the charges right.

HOLMES: You're a criminal defense attorney. What might the defense argue in this case? I mean, what defense attorney really wants to take this to trial? Can you see a plea bargain going on?

JACKSON: I think what you'll see is what we, as defense attorneys, call mitigation. Mitigation is attempting to save their client by giving them less. I don't think that this is a case that could be won on the facts. I mean, they're broadcasting a crime for the world to see. What are you going to say to the defense lawyer, my client wasn't there? But I think in terms of mitigation, it doesn't provide an excuse but it provides -- they're going to be arguing that, listen, these are young people. They're 1 years old. One, of course, is 24. But when you're 18, the focus of the law -- you look at the three focuses, punishment, deterrence and rehabilitation. That's what our system is based upon. So, yes, judge, they need to be punished and, yes, people need to be deterred. That is, you don't want others doing this. But you need to focus on rehabilitation. There are redeeming qualities in an 18-year-old that would still have them ready for society, ready to contributor to society. So, I think you'll see arguments like that with respect to potential plea negotiations and discussions, and certainly sentencing, in the event that they're convicted.

HOLMES: I wanted to get your thoughts about Facebook. Is there any liability? I'm wondering whether they could be sued by the victim. This guy was streamed for 25 minutes without the benefit of being blurred, like the mainstream media has been doing. The raw video is on the Internet probably forever. Is there a case for reputational harm being done, slander, ridicule, something like that, that Facebook should be worried about?

JACKSON: Not at all. If you think about it, Facebook certainly is a third party here. They didn't aid in any way, didn't abet, didn't assist. What they did was provide the medium for it to be broadcast to everyone else. So, in the event that Facebook starts being held accountable for everything some criminal does, you won't see Facebook, because they'll go out of business. They can't possibly accept responsibility for all the improper inappropriate and unlawful acts that people engage in throughout the country and throughout the world. So, I wouldn't look to see any liability anytime soon or Facebook.

There may be a discussion down the road for that in terms of what liability they should have and will laws be passed in the future holding them accountable. But at this point, I don't see any liability whatsoever, Michael, as it relates to Facebook.

HOLMES: Do you think -- I mean, in the broader picture, do you think -- everybody's shocked about this as they should be. I mean it really is just defies description in a way. Do you think this behavior at least in some areas has always been around, not exactly like this incident, but things like it, but now with social media, Facebook Live, snapchat, a video camera in everyone's hand, we just see more of it?

JACKSON: It's a great point. I think I would be naive, and we all would, to suggest this never happened before and, you know what, all of a sudden, society has run amok and there's no humanity anymore. Certainly, though, be that as it may, there's a problem. And there's a big problem here. And I think that what can we do as a society to show our young people that this isn't right. What can we do to set a better example, to set better standards, to let them know, not only is it right, but you can't do this and then think it's glorified by laughing about it. So, yes, Michael, I think it has been around. But moving forward, we have to think about a response just to capture the imagination, the attention and the education of our young people so that they don't engage in behavior like this, you know, to the harm and detriment of this poor child who was just you know tortured for everybody in the world to see. It's shameful.

[02:25:10] HOLMES: Yeah. I couldn't agree more. It's just staggering to think that people could do this and think it's funny, to think it's OK. It's a real societal issue, you're right.

Joey, always good to see you. Joey Jackson.

JACKSON: Thank you so much, Michael. Be well.

HOLMES: You, too.

Well, when skiers say they caught some air, they mean they jumped and they soared. They do not usually mean this. A boy's backpack got tangled in a chair lift at the Sundance Resort in Utah, and as you can see, left him dangling. Ski patrollers put a cushion below him in case he fell. They're praising him, actually, for staying calm throughout. Probably enjoyed it. Eventually, rescuers climbed a ladder, pulled him back up to his seat. It's the second time a skier's backpack has gotten snagged in a chair lift at this resort this month. Hmm. Work to be done.

The outgoing U.S. vice president has some rather blunt advice for President-elect Donald Trump. Joe Biden was being interviewed on PBS when he was asked about Trump's barrage of tweets.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Grow up, Donald. Grow up. Time to be an adult. You're president. You got to do something. Show us what you have. You're going to propose legislation. We're going to get to debate it. Let the public decide. Let them vote in Congress. Let's see what happens.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOLMES: So far, Trump has not reacted to Biden's comments.

Time for a quick break now.

"State of America" with Kate Bolduan is up next for our viewers in Asia.

And next here on NEWSROOM L.A., an inside look at Russia's hacking abilities from the people who know how that system works.

Also, it's called the City of Lights, but recently, the lights of Paris knocked out by smog. Now the city is reacting to record air pollution. That's also coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[02:30:16] MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I'm Michael Holmes.

Now the headlines for you.

(HEADLINES)

HOLMES: Meanwhile, top U.S. intelligence officials testified Thursday they have no doubt Russia tried to interfere in the U.S. presidential election.

Well, how can the U.S. be so sure that Russia was behind the cyberattacks? Officials admit they have no single smoking gun, but they do know this, Moscow has fully integrated hacking into its arsenal of weapons and is not afraid to use it.

CNN's Brian Todd explains.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A stark warning from U.S. intelligence officials, Vladimir Putin's hackers remain very aggressive and will continue to target America. They'll probe for intelligence in cyber space to give Russia's military the advantage. U.S. officials telling CNN Russian hackers are working relentlessly around the clock trying to breach America's cyber defenses.

America's top intelligence official asked a dire question in the Senate about Putin's cyber warriors targeting U.S. allies.

SEN. JACK REED, (D), RHODE ISLAND: These activities are ongoing now in Europe as Europe prepares for elections. Is that a fair assumption?

JAMES CLAPPER, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: It is. They would very much like to drive wedges between us and Western Europe.

TODD: British officials recently said the Kremlin is to blame for a series of cyberattacks, fake news blasts, and other attempts to destabilize the British government. Putin's aides dismiss the claim.

U.S. officials tell us Putin's hackers have been aggressively targeting Ukraine, including one crippling attack on the civilian power grid there.

SEAN KANUCK, FORMER U.S. INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: It interrupted energy grid activities at several companies for hours.

TODD: Putin's army of hackers, working in teams nicknamed by American investigators Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear, are considered among the most proficient in the world.

The cyber security firm CrowdStrike says they're the ones who targeted the U.S. elections and they're tied to Russia's military and intelligence services.

Analysts say they've emboldened Putin.

UNIDENTIFIED ANALYST: Vladimir Putin, at this point, is acting like he won the American presidential election. He feels like the most powerful man in the world.

TODD: Still, Putin and his inner circle are said to be bracing for America's response, issuing new plans to guard against cyberattacks.

U.S. officials told CNN they're looking at that as a possible option.

How could America retaliate?

JASON HEALY, CYBER SECURITY EXPERT, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: The U.S. Cyber Command at Fort Meade has a team looking at what the Russians are doing, not to collect intelligence on it, but to be ready to disrupt it in case the president ever gave the order.

TODD: Sean Kanuck, a former top U.S. intelligence official, who analyzed Russia's hacking operations, says America's cyber warriors could hit back hard.

KANUCK: Reveal details of the perpetrators, ranging from their tools and techniques to the computers and I.P. addresses they're using, to malware signatures, even to their physical identities in certain cases.

TODD (on camera): Or Kanuck says U.S. cyber warriors could hack personal information that would embarrass Putin and his cronies, but he warns the Kremlin may then escalate and target American energy, banking or telecommunications networks.

Brian Todd, CNN Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[02:34:29] HOLMES: Still to come here on the program, we'll take you live to Paris where thick smog has been gripping the French capital. What the government says it's going to do about it. That's coming up.

(CROSSTALK)

HOLMES: Toxic smog has been covering parts of northeastern China, dangerous pollution that is making life miserable in cities like Beijing. Airlines forced to cancel dozens of flights. And earlier this week, 24 cities issued the New Year's first red alerts for pollution.

Now, Paris has also been blanketed with poisonous smog, off and on, over the past few months. Unusual.

For more, CNN's Melissa Bell joins from us Paris.

It's not what you would like to see in such a beautiful city.

MELISSA BELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, not at all, Michael. And any tourist who's might have come through Paris in December will have been struck by this huge cloud that seemed to descend on Paris and stay there for many days in a row.

You mentioned Beijing. It should be pointed out, first of all, that the difference in the levels of pollution is huge. The World Health Organization that measures these things, Michael, reckons that a safe level for what they refer to as particulate matter very fine particles considered very dangerous for human health is about 50 micrograms per cubic meter. Paris, over December, reached over 8, up to 90 several days in a row. This was considered particularly high over a particularly long period. Some of the most polluted cities in the world, you're looking at more like 500 micrograms per cubic meters. The differences are massive. This cloud of matter that descended on the French capital was impressive and extremely worrying to Parisians.

Have a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BELL (voice-over): The City of Light turned an unusual smoggy hue in December. Paris' monuments shrouded in particulate matter, caused by wood fires and car fumes, are the most helpful to people's health, with Parisian doctors reporting a 35 percent rise in children's hospital admissions in the first week of December, the smog has lifted but the outrage it caused.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The peak is in December, was so long and so strong that thousands of people have experienced asthma attacks, breathing problems or cardiovascular problems. The French government -- we have in France a constitution that says that we have the right to breathe clean air. The fact is, we are not breathing clean air.

BELL: And this just a little over a year after the French government vowed to lead the way at the COP 21 climate talks in Paris.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

BELL: The trouble, say campaigners, is pollution is all too often dealt with locally.

(CROSSTALK)

BELL: In Paris, the man in charge of public health, Bernard Joinier (ph), is also a doctor. He is determined to help lower pollution through changes like the move to electrical cars, but also by closing roads like this one, pedestrianized since July. Action, he says, is urgent with pollution contributing to 48,000 deaths every year in France.

BERNARD JOINIER (ph), FRENCH HEAD OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Developing public transportation is very important, in fact. And turning our car to clean car is important, as well. But it's time. It needs a sort of (INAUDIBLE).

[02:40:08] BELL: But campaigners say authorities should be doing more and faster.

Sebastian is helping a group of several hundred ordinary citizens bring a legal case against the French government itself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The mere fact that air pollution concentrations are higher than the safe levels of air pollution is the responsibility of the French government. That's why we're helping people to sue the government.

BELL: The facts might be hard to collect for those planning to sue. Every day, this balloon measures Paris' levels of particulate matter per liter of air.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know exactly how many particulate matter you count.

BELL (on camera): And these very small ones are the dangerous ones because these get into the blood.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Exactly. The biggest ones stay in your nose, medium stay in your lungs, but the smallest one go into your blood. This is why you have more heart attack when you have bad air quality issue with the pollution.

BELL (voice-over): These readings after December's well-publicized rise will be all the more closely watched by Parisians over coming months.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BELL: So you see, Michael, there is a real desire, real determination here in Paris on the part of the local authorities at the helm of the city to fix this problem and to get Paris breathing again. And once and for all. But it is, of course, for now, those very public readings that allow people to see that thing are not quite as they should be. Authorities cite cities who have moved several steps on like Tokyo and Vancouver, who achieved the levels of cleanliness that Paris desires.

But once again, Paris is by no means amongst the most polluted cities in the world. There are cities in China and India that have levels that are 25 or 30 times worse in terms of that particulate matter.

HOLMES: We'll also come back to Melissa.

And I think you're lucky to be there.

Melissa Bell, thanks so much.

Worrying few days for the tourists, the Eiffel Tower disappearing like that.

Here's a sight to warm the heart of drought-stricken California. There's a lot of snow in the mountains. The annual snowpack actually accounts for about a third of the fresh water that California uses when it melts, of course. In recent years, the snowfall has been far below normal. But this is just a small piece of a larger picture. The state is experiencing one of its wettest periods in years. And that raises hopes the six-year drought might be coming to an end. Meteorologist Derek Van Dam joining us now with more.

Could the news be that good?

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: OK, we know that they want the rain and they're going to get it. They have been getting it too, Michael. But with rain comes the threat of flooding. In fact, they're calling this the greatest flood threat in ten years. You see the shading of green from northern California right through central and southern California? That is a flash flood watch in effect beak from Saturday through Monday because we're in a lull now but there is more precipitation on the way. I say precipitation because it's going to be a mixture of rain and snow. It's all thanks to what is called atmospheric river of moisture that you can trail all the way back to Hawaii. That's where it's originating from, picking that up pacific moisture and dumping it in the form of rain and snow across the drought stricken state of California. This is good news for the ski resorts, too. By the way, I'm a snow boarder myself. I like to see these figures. The snowpack in the entire state of California is 103 percent above average. Good news because the melted snow accounts for 30 percent of California's water as that melts and fills up the reservoirs during the summer. Check how this is eroding the drought across the state. We're talking about last January in 2016 at 97 percent of the country or the state actually was at a moderate drought and now as we head into January 2017, we've eroded that by 30 percent. Things are getting better. This is how much rain we have if the future. Another 10 machines plus going forward -- Michael?

HOLMES: Yeah, I tried snowboarding once, Derek, and realized it's not like surfing. It was a short-lived experiment.

Great to see you. They're telling me to move on. We'll chat later. I'll see you back in Atlanta.

Thanks for watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I'm Michael Holmes.

"World Sport" is up next.

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