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CNN NEWSROOM

Gorsuch: Trump Tweets "Demoralizing"; Trump Slams Nordstrom for Dropping Ivanka Labels; Brexit Authorization Passes House of Commons; Riots in Paris over Alleged Police Rape; U.S. May Designate More Terror Groups; Putin Critic Falls Gravely Ill for Second Time; Fighting Escalates in War-Torn Eastern Ukraine; Ex-NBA Star Arrested After Fight at Knicks Game. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired February 9, 2017 - 00:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[00:00:10] JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: This is CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. Ahead this hour --

ISA SOAREZ, CNN ANCHOR: "Demoralizing" -- Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee reacts to the President's latest attack on judges.

VAUSE: The Trump administration is considering executive action to label Iran's Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization, a move which some are warning could have serious consequences for U.S. troops.

SOARES: Fears of a crackdown, accusations fly after a critic of the Russian president falls gravely ill. His wife speaks to CNN.

Hello and a very warm welcome to our viewers right around the world. I'm Isa Soares in London.

VAUSE: And I'm John Vause. NEWSROOM L.A. starts right now.

U.S. President Donald Trump is taking aim at the judges who will decide the fate of his travel ban. Mr. Trump says even a bad high school student could understand why it's needed.

SOARES: But even the President's Supreme Court judge pick, Judge Neil Gorsuch is pushing back. He is called the comments demoralizing and as well as disheartening. All this as we wait for a decision from the U.S. Appeals Court on whether to reinstate the ban. CNN's Pamela Brown has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAMELA BROWN, CNN U.S. JUSTICE AND SUPREME COURT CORRESPONDENT: Tonight, President Donald Trump for the first time claiming he wanted to delay the implementation of his controversial travel ban.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One of the reasons you probably heard that we did it so quickly -- I would have -- in fact I said, let's give a one-month notice but the law enforcement people said to me, you can't give a notice. If you give a notice you've got to be really tough in one month from now or one week from now. I suggested a month then I said well, what about a week? They said no, you can't do that because then people are going to pour in before the toughness goes in.

BROWN: An admission that could bolster the states' argument that the executive order banning people from majority Muslim seven countries for at least 90 days was hastily done.

But Trump also sounded the alarm that a halt on the ban is already harming national security. Tweeting, quote, "big increase in traffic into our country from certain areas while our people are far more vulnerable".

TRUMP: Believe me. I've learned a lot in the last two weeks. And terrorism is a far greater threat than the people of our country understand.

BROWN: Trump is also trying to pressure the very court that is right now deciding the fate of his ban.

TRUMP: I don't ever want to call a court biased. So I won't call it biased. And we haven't had a decision yet. But courts seem to be so political. If these judges wanted to, in my opinion, help the court in terms of respect for the court, they'd do what they should be doing. I mean it's so sad.

BROWN: And he slammed his own Justice Department attorney who argued his case last night.

TRUMP: I listened to lawyers on both sides last night and they were talking about things that had just nothing to do with it.

BROWN: During Tuesday's court hearing which the President called disgraceful, the three judges fired off questions at the administration's lawyer about the scope of presidential power.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Could the President simply say in the order, we're not going to let any Muslims in?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's not what the order does here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know. I know. But --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The order relies on -- sorry, your honor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Could he do that? Could he do that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's not what the order does.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would anybody be able to challenge that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's not what the order does here.

BROWN: One of the judges also tried to poke holes in the states' argument that the ban discriminates against Muslims.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You infer that desire if in fact the vast majority of Muslims are unaffected.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are statements that we have quoted in our complaint that are shocking evidence of intent to discriminate against Muslims given that we haven't even had any discovery yet to find out what else might have been said in private.

I mean the public statements from the President in his top advisers reflecting that intent are strong evidence that certainly at this pleading stage to allow us to go forward on that claim.

BROWN: The Ninth Circuit court is expected to make a decision this week and the world is watching especially because of its appeal to the Supreme Court and there is a four-four split there whatever the Ninth Circuit court decides will stand at least for the time being.

Pamela Brown, CNN -- Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[00:05:01] VAUSE: Joining me now are Democratic Matthew Littman and Gina Loudon, Trump supporter and host of "America Trends with Gina Loudon". Thanks for coming in guys.

Matt -- presidents have criticized judges before especially when they disagreed on matters of law. But has there ever been a time when a president would question the motives of a judge especially before a ruling has been handed down?

MATTHEW LITTMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: There is a lot about this administration already that is unprecedented. Going after the judges I don't think benefits Trump at all especially when they're about to make this decision.

I think what is really fascinating to people who are watching this administration for this first couple weeks is it just doesn't seem very competent. There is a lot of focus on, obviously, this Muslim ban which Trump said he would do and he's now trying to do. There is also a lot of focus on how poorly it was rolled out, how other cabinet members and other parts of the administration knew nothing about it. They could have waited weeks or months before they did this.

What I want to know from the Trump administration is they promised economic growth. They promised that they were going to repeal and replace Obamacare. They're now spending all of their time in court defending this. I don't think this is what Donald Trump was elected to do.

VAUSE: Gina, as a Trump supporter, do you have any concerns that the President is stepping on the separation of powers. If this was, you know, President, Hillary Clinton calling out judges would you be outraged?

GINA LOUDON, TV HOST AND TRUMP SUPPORTER: I think the thing that we have to recognize is that Middle America has been frustrated with a runaway judiciary for a long, long time. Once again those on the left are making the same mistake they made throughout the campaign which is thinking that because I live in L.A. or I live in New York that I understand what people in Middle America are thinking.

And I don't think we do but I do think the President does. The President understands that Middle America really has a problem with unelected people serving long, long terms, you know, having no one to be accountable to, just running away.

And this criticism doesn't just come from the right, by the way. You know, many on the left have criticized activist judges as well. So again, I think that the majority of the American people agree with what's going on here with the President on this issue. And those of us who talk about it a lot might be surrounded by people who think otherwise and I understand that.

VAUSE: Ok. Well, you know, the President's nominee to the Supreme Court described the President's attacks on the judiciary as demoralizing and disheartening. He made those comments to Democrat Senator Richard Blumenthal who urged him to make a public statement.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: He was noncommittal and that's one reason I remain deeply concerned about this nomination. This President's attacks on the judiciary goes to the core, absolutely to a foundational principle of our constitutional system. And this judge needs to show that he is willing to stand up to the President and stop his bullying.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: Gina, do you think Neil Gorsuch is obligated in any way to speak up, to show that he will actually stand up to the President?

LOUDON: Well, I think if indeed this meeting did happen the way it has been reported to have happened, which I'm not sure there's confirmation of that from Gorsuch so far. But I think if that did happen I think it does demonstrate the precise independence that many in the Trump administration were saying that they believe this nominee had anyway.

And so I don't see any particular reason why we should think that any nominee would be lock step with any particular president. We have seen nominees up and down throughout history disagree with the person that nominated them. So this doesn't come as a very big surprise for those of us who paid attention to history before.

LITTMAN: Well let me --

VAUSE: Matt?

LITTMAN: -- let me just say this, that the Trump administration had confirmed that what the senator reported in this meeting was actually true.

I think the problem here is that Donald Trump -- we have three branches of government. Donald Trump is obviously trying to bully one of those branches of government. I don't think that that is going to go too well.

This isn't about activist judges at all. These are people who are hearing a case. This is about Donald Trump trying to bully people, which is what he's been trying to do in every aspect of his administration so far. He tried to do it to Nordstrom's today. So it's no surprise that he's trying to do it to the judiciary system as well.

VAUSE: Well, since you mentioned Nordstrom's let's take look at exactly what happened. Donald Trump was lashing out after the retail chain dropped his daughter's clothing line.

He put out a tweet, "My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by Nordstrom. She's a great person, always pushing me to do the right thing. Terrible."

White House spokesman Sean Spicer says this is just what any dad would do. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think this is less about his family business and an attack on his daughter. And for someone to take out their concern with his policies on a family member of his is not acceptable. And the President has every right as a father to stand up for them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: You know, the chief ethics officer for the Obama administration floated the idea of maybe a lawsuit. Matt, most believe this is not exactly a legal violation but do you see that it may come with a lot of problems here?

[00:10:07] LITTMAN: Well, the problems are that his family has been trying to enrich itself while Donald Trump is president. His wife is suing, saying that -- suing somebody who said some bad things about her, saying that she lost the opportunity to make a lot of money basically while Donald Trump is president.

Donald Trump is mad because this may have hurt Ivanka's ability to make a lot of money while he is president. At the same time he's trying to enrich his family, he's got his buddies on Wall Street -- I mean they called this administration already Wall Street South.

He's got his buddies on Wall Street who are so thrilled as he repeals all these Dodd-Frank and consumer protection regulations. These are his friends on Wall Street. He says they can't get loans.

So he's trying to enrich his family. He's trying to enrich his buddies. Where is the 4 percent economic growth that he promised? Where are the jobs for the people in Michigan that he promised? I think his focus is in the wrong place. VAUSE: Gina -- even Ari Fleisher, who was the spokesman for the Bush

administration, tweeted this. "This is something a father would say. It's not the type of thing a president of the United States should say." Do you agree that the President did cross a line here?

LOUDON: You don't revoke your father card or your free speech card, ironically when you take the office of president. But I will say, that I do think that, you know, he is going to be out there being Donald Trump and the people who voted for him knew that he was going to be out there being Donald Trump.

Here's the thing. He doesn't need money. Ivanka doesn't need money. Let's not kid ourselves that they are trying to enrich themselves.

It's good to hear though those on the left who were completely unconcerned about the money and the lifestyle that Chelsea Clinton was gaining through the Clinton Foundation finally concerned about people profiting off public office.

You know, you have to remember that the Clintons in their own words were completely broke when she was there. And so, how it is they came to be billionaires with her being secretary of State is a question that I'm really glad people are starting to ask.

And going back to Matthew's question about the things that President Trump could be doing, I think it's pretty impressive the things that he did before he was even elected in terms of bringing jobs to America and just today Intel committed $7 billion in new jobs. That is 3,000 new high-tech jobs here in America. That's going to pay crazy dividends.

(CROSSTALK)

LOUDON: And so I think that he has --

LITTMAN: Let me just say this, Gina, as somebody who worked in the tech business for a while. A company doesn't make a decision in two months to do something like Intel is doing today. That is something that they have been planning which I know first hand for a long, long time -- years. Number one.

Number two --

LOUDON: Well that's -- that's exactly what he said.

LITTMAN: Excuse me for one second -- Gina.

Barack Obama when he was president, we created 15 million jobs. I am glad that there are 3,000 new jobs in Arizona. And I think that's terrific. I would like to see Donald Trump get up to those numbers that Barack Obama had.

VAUSE: Ok. And with that we'll call it time. Gina Loudon and Matt Littman -- appreciate you both being with us.

LITTMAN: Thank you. VAUSE: See you next time.

LOUDON: Thanks.

SOARES: Now, Britain's Brexit minister is calling Wednesday's House of Commons vote historic. The bill authorizing the beginning of Britain's exit from the European Union passed easily in Parliament's lower house after seven hours -- believe it or not -- of debate on amendments, basically changes.

Nic Robertson reports on what comes next.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, it's taken about two weeks almost going through the House of Commons to get to this point -- the first reading, second reading, third reading, the vote, all the amendments. No amendments were passed.

Perhaps the one that got most scrutiny and most interest was the call for parliamentary oversight. On this one the government seems to have potentially dodged a bullet by saying yes, parliament can get a vote at the end of negotiations with the European Union before the final handshake in Brussels.

However, it was later revealed that the government's position on that was parliament can vote against the agreement that the government is able to get but the alternative is not going back to continue negotiations. The alternative is nothing. So it seems unlikely anyone will do that. That caused some disappointment along the way. But when it came, this vote, very much as expected.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The ayes to the right, 494. The nos to the left, 122. The ayes have it. The ayes have it.

ROBERTSON: Almost a moment of merriment there where the deputy speaker almost calls it wrong. But 494 to 122. This, the government getting what it wants handily, timely, in the way that it expected it as well.

And now it goes to the House of Lords. In the House of Lords they'll do the same thing -- first reading, second reading, third reading, a vote. If they pass it with no amendments then it can be become -- this bill can become law.

However, if -- and it's not really expected but if there are amendments in the House of Lords, it comes back to the House of Commons again. They vote on it again. They can make other changes as well on top of that. It could ping-pong around for a while.

[00:15:00] But no one expecting this -- Theresa May, the British government on course it seems right now to be able to trigger Article 50, triggering the Brexit talks by the government's self imposed deadline of the end of March.

Nic Robertson, CNN -- London. (END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: And we'll take a short break.

When we come back, anger boils over in Paris streets, protests turn to riots after a man's alleged rape at the hands of police.

SOARES: Plus, the Trump administration is weighing whether to label two powerful groups in the Islamic world as terrorists. We'll tell you who they are -- next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SOARES: For several straight nights now hundreds of Parisians have rioted in the city suburbs protesting against an alleged brutal sexual assault by police. Rioters have been setting fire to cars, you can see there, as well as garbage bins; upset about what happened to a 22- year-old black man known only by the name of Theo.

President Francois Hollande visited Theo in his hospital room, as you can see there, on Tuesday. The victim claims he was sodomized with a baton by several police officers last week. Authorities arrested dozens of people after the riots.

The officers involved in the incident have been charged. One faces a rape charge. Three others have been charged with assault.

VAUSE: Iran has fired a defensive surface-to-air missile. A U.S. official says it was not covered by a U.N. ban on nuclear-capable ballistic missiles but was likely connected to the ten-day celebration of its 1979 revolution.

This launch comes less than a week after the U.S. imposed new sanctions on Tehran for a ballistic missile test launch last month.

And the White House could take further action against Tehran. It is considering labeling Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard as well as the Muslim Brotherhood a foreign terrorist organization. But any move to do that is on hold while as the U.S. weighs potential risks.

Elise Labott has details.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: In a bold move against the oldest and one of the most powerful Islamic groups in the Middle East, the White House is debating officially labeling the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization.

SPICER: There is no one that can question the President's commitment to fully attacking and addressing the threat that we face by radical Islamic terrorism.

LABOTT: A social and political group that calls for a society based on Islamic law, the Muslim Brotherhood is best known for their 2011 election victory in a democratic election in Egypt after the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak. A year later the Brotherhood's President Mohamed Morsi was ousted in a military coup.

TRUMP: Egypt was turned over to the radical Muslim Brotherhood forcing the military to retake control.

[00:20:06] LABOTT: On the campaign trail, Donald Trump labeled the brotherhood a faction of radical Islam, trying to bring Sharia law to the U.S.

TRUMP: We must also screen out any who have hostile attitudes toward our country or its principles; or who believe that Sharia law should supplant American law.

LABOTT: Steve Bannon, one of Trump's top political advisers, now on the Security Council once ran Breitbart News whose stories rang alarm bells about the group.

Critics fear the Trump White House may be attempting a further crackdown on other Muslim groups, mosques and charities in the U.S. in the wake of his controversial travel ban for citizens of seven Muslim majority countries.

DR. SHADI HAMID, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: This desire that we see from many in Trump's inner circle to wage war against not just extremist groups like ISIS but also Islamist groups of any kind whether or not they are violent or whether or not they participate in the political process.

LABOTT: The Brotherhood officially rejects the use of violence yet some of its offshoots have been linked to terror attacks in the past like the Palestinian group, Hamas. U.S. Allies like Egypt and the UAE have banned the group and want Trump to take action.

But with branches throughout the Middle East, career diplomats warn targeting the Brotherhood could alienate key U.S. allies. Members are politicians in Jordan, Tunisia, Morocco and Kuwait. Turkey's Islamic President Erdogan is also a strong supporter.

HAMID: It would undermine American national security. It would undermine our relationships potentially with our allies in the Arab world.

LABOTT: The White House has more support for labeling Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guards Corps a terrorist resist organization as part of a new effort to ramp up pressure on the regime.

GEN. MIKE FLYNN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: As of today, we are officially putting Iran on notice.

LABOTT: Trump has already slapped sanctions on groups linked to the Revolutionary Guard for last week's ballistic missile test. But the executive order targeting the Guard is now on hold after the State Department and Pentagon warned going after the Guard could complicate the U.S. fight against ISIS in Iraq since the IRGC helps arm and train Iraqi Shiite militias in the fight against ISIS.

And officials say the executive orders regarding both the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran's Revolutionary Guard are being delayed even further because of those concerns voiced by career officials. And they say it is a positive sign that the White House is now considering the expertise of career officials after failing to consult the State Department and Defense Department during the roll out of the President's immigration policy.

Elise Labott, CNN -- the State Department.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SOARES: Let's get more on this. CNN intelligence and security analyst Robert Baer joins us now from Los Angeles. Bob -- very good to see you.

As we heard there, some of these groups linked to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard are already under sanctions by the U.S. so many are seeing this could be potentially symbolic. Nevertheless, it could have destabilizing effects in the region, could it not?

ROBERT BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: Exactly. And what we have to look at is the Islamic Revolutionary Guard in Iran is a state within a state. They control a lot of the policy. They control the Iraqi militias. There's not much you can do about them.

And you just simply look at the map, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps essentially controls the governments in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq and the militias that are fighting alongside of us. And there is only so much pressure this White House can put on the Iranians on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

You can add a couple of sanctions here but it's purely symbolic. Dislodging them, bringing them down in Iran is impossible short of a full-out war.

SOARES: What we have seen, Bob, I think it's best to say in the last 18 days of this presidency is that the relationship between the U.S. and Iran has clearly deteriorated, at least the war of words have escalated.

I want to just bring our viewers' attention to some of the tweets we have seen. First from President Trump -- he says "Iran is playing with fire. They don't appreciate how kind President Obama was to them. Not me," he writes.

But then we've also heard from Iran, from the Ayatollah there Khamenei. He said "We appreciate Trump because he largely did the job for us in revealing the true face of America." He goes on to say in another tweet -- if we can bring it up. "Now Trump with actions like handcuffing a five-year-old kid shows what the truth of U.S. is and what American human rights means."

This obviously the related as you can see #MuslimBan. How much, Bob, has the travel ban and the sanctions enacted by the Trump administration contributed to this deterioration of the relationship?

BAER: It's contributed a lot. I mean, because, remember the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps reports to Khamenei, the supreme leader. And he appoints the commanders and the generals and the rest of it. So an attack on the IRGC is an attack on Khamenei.

[00:25:09] And don't forget that this administration and, in particular, the National Security Advisor Flynn, Mattis and the President, of course, and Bannon are very much against Iran. Mattis hates Iran because when he was in Iraq the Iranians were supplying EFPs, these shape devices that were killing American soldiers. And Flynn even went to the point of saying that the Iranians were behind the attack in Benghazi which killed our ambassador. There is no evidence of it.

But the Iranians right now are very worried. And they intend to resist the United States. And even in Iran now, people are worried about a war with the Iranians. And what we're really worried about is an escalation in the Gulf that we could accidentally turn this into a full-on war.

SOARES: Absolutely. But you were talking there of the anti-Iran mood, Bob, that is emerging in Washington. And surely, I would guess that sanctioning the Iranian Revolutionary Guard could potentially backfire. Won't this just further empower hardliners in Iran and feed in fact into the more extremist narrative in the region?

BAER: Oh, I think absolutely. I think that a lot of people in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps are old school. They remember Lebanon. They were involved in blowing up the Marines. They believe that this regime has made too many concessions to Washington and that ultimately they're going to have to fight the United States in order to maintain their independence. This is a hard core group of people.

Last time I was in Iran they were very unfriendly to Americans even in a period where there was a matter of detente.

SOARES: Yes.

BAER: And this could change very quickly. They think the American government is unpredictable and anything could happen and they are prepared to fight back.

SOARES: Yes, of course. And it could also obviously undercut the more moderate leaders such as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani who is up for reelection in May.

But where, Bob, where does this leave the deterioration of relations -- the nuclear deal? Because we know on the campaign trail President Trump had repeatedly promised to tear it up while the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has suggested a full review of it? So where does that you think leads things?

BAER: Well, there is just complete inconsistency -- what Trump says and what his cabinet does. The nuclear agreement isn't a bad one. It's prevented the Iranians from enriching uranium and making a bomb. And there aren't full on inspections and there's nothing to replace it. And the Iranians are not going to renegotiate it. You know, it's a question of who really -- who's in control in the White House? If it's Bannon and Flynn, we're more likely to do something that's going to cause a conflict.

I think with Tillerson, he's much more moderate and if the policy is given to him we might be ok.

SOARES: Bob Baer -- always great to get your insight. Thanks very much. Very good to see you this morning.

BAER: Thank you.

VAUSE: Well, still to come here, an outspoken critic of the Kremlin is suddenly struck down by a mysterious illness. He is now clinging to life in a Moscow hospital.

Also a guilty verdict for Russia's most prominent opposition leader. Ahead -- how this will affect his political aspirations.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[00:32:00] VAUSE: Thanks for staying with us, everybody. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM, I'm John Vause live in Los Angeles.

SOARES: And I'm Isa Soares live in London. Let me bring you up-to- date with the main news headlines we're following for you this hour.

Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch is criticizing Donald Trump's attack on the U.S. judiciary. The president called the appeal of his travel ban disgraceful and said even a bad high school student would make the right decision. Gorsuch told the U.S. Senate the comments are disheartening as well as demoralizing.

VAUSE: Jeff Sessions has been confirmed as the new U.S. attorney general. The former Alabama senator was the subject of a lengthy fight between Democrats and Republicans. He was one of President Trump's earliest supporters and closest advisers during the campaign.

SOARES: The bill authorizing Britain's exit from the European Union now moves the House of Lords for a vote. The House of Commons voted in favor after a seven-hour debate. Prime Minister Theresa May wants to trigger the Brexit by the end of March.

Doctors still don't know exactly why a well-known critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin became gravely ill while visiting Moscow. It's not the first time it's happen to him either, but this time he is given little chance of surviving.

We get the latest now from CNN's Ivan Watson in Moscow.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on-camera): The family and friends of a prominent critic of the Kremlin are calling foul play after he fell mysteriously sick.

This is a man who recently was called a hero by a senior Republican lawmaker on the floor of the U.S. Senate.

(voice-over): In a hospital in Moscow, an outspoken critic of the Kremlin fights for his life. Vladimir Kara-Murza wife, Evgenia, says her husband fell sick with seven and mysterious organ failure last week.

(on-camera): What is your husband's official diagnosis right now?

EVGENIA KARE-MURZA, WIFE OF KREMLIN CRITIC: An acute intoxication by an unidentified substance.

WATSON: What do you think that means?

E. KARE-MURZA: Poisoning.

WATSON (voice-over): CNN cannot independently confirm this claim. But powerful supporters in Washington are speaking out, because this is the second time in just two years Kara-Murza has suddenly gotten sick.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Many suspect he was poisoned to intimidate him or worse. That's why last week's news signalled another shadowy strike against a brilliant voice who has defied the tyranny of Putin's Russia.

WATSON: Pure non-sense says the Kremlin spokesman denying any links between the government and Kara-Murza's illness.

CNN's Matthew Chance spoke with Kara-Murza last year. The 35-year-old walking with a cane due to severe nerve damage from his first illness which he blamed on the government.

VLADIMIR KARA-MURZA, KREMLIN'S CRITIC: It's a dangerous vocation to oppose Mr. Putin's regime. It's dangerous vocation to be in the opposition in Russia today, but again these are the risks we know and these are the risks we accept.

WATSON: At that time, the Chechen strongman and close ally of the Kremlin Ramzan Kadyrov published this video on his Instagram account showing Kara-Murza in the crosshairs of a sniper rifle.

[00:35:00] Kara-Murza could have stayed at his adopted home in the U.S. state of Virginia where he has lived for years with his wife and three children. But he came back to Russia last month to promote a documentary about the assassination of his friend Boris Nemtsov, an opposition leader who was shot dead in the shadow of the Kremlin in 2015.

(on-camera): Were you worried about your husband on this visit to Russia?

E. KARA-MURZA: I was terrified. Not only on this visit, every time he leaves the house to go on one of his trips, I'm terrified.

WATSON (voice-over): Evgenia says the doctors are giving her husband a 5 percent chance of survival. E. KARA MURZA: The Russian government and President Putin are responsible for what happened to my husband two years ago and now one way or another the climate in our country is such that opposition figures can be intimidated, threatened, thrown in jail, shot and poisoned.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WATSON: Evgenia Kara-Murza says her husband awoke from a medically- induced coma this week, but he is still far too weak and ill to speak. Now he says that after his first alleged poisoning in 2015 that he requested a criminal investigation into his case and then says that nothing truly came of that. This time, his wife has sent samples to laboratories in France and in Israel to try to get to the bottom of why he has gotten, again, so mysteriously sick.

Back to you.

VAUSE: And another high-profile Putin critic is facing a five-year suspended sentence after his retrial on embezzlement charges.

A Russian court handed down that sentence to Alexei Navalny, seated there in the white shirt. It disqualifies the opposition leader from running for president in 2018 as he had planned. He says the verdict is, quote, "A cable from the Kremlin that says they consider us too dangerous to let us run in the presidential election."

Navalny is vowing to get the verdict overturned.

In neighboring Eastern Ukraine, angry accusations are flying after the killing of a pro-Russian separatist commander. Mikhail Tolstykh better known as Givi is being portrayed as something of a hero to separatists and in Russian propaganda.

He reportedly died in a bombing at his office. Rebels call it a terror attack. But Ukrainian military says he had enemies within his own ranks.

A Kremlin spokesman says Givi's killing is an attempt to destabilize Eastern Ukraine. The conflict there is flaring again with dozens killed in the past week alone.

SOARES: Well, of course, we'll have much more on the situation inside Eastern Ukraine after a very short break.

Plus, CNN goes inside one battered neighborhood where deadly shellings are a daily threat.

VAUSE: Also a basket brawl at Madison Square Garden with a former NBA player on the stand at Wednesday's New York Knicks game.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAUSE: As we told you before the break, a well-known leader of pro- Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine has in fact been killed. It's all part of the escalating violence across the region and it's taking its toll on the youngest residents. Parents say they are worried about the psychological effects on children.

CNN's Phil Black takes us inside one war-battered neighborhood.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The horrors of war aren't easily swept away. For almost three years the front line in Eastern Ukraine has shifted close to and around Deshta Konishenka's (ph) home. She fled as shelling crept closer. Minutes later, the windows exploded in a shower of broken glass as shrapnel tore through the building.

Her daughter, Delina Yovshikova (ph) shows me what she calls a gift, a fragment of the large explosive projectile that landed just outside. This neighborhood in Avdiivka is scarred by war. Residents know the shells falling here are fired by pro-Russian separatists, the fighters American President Donald Trump recently said may not be taking orders from Moscow. Few here believe that to be true.

Delina (ph) says, "I hope the American people will never experience something like this."

On the same street, we meet the Gleb Yuskov (ph). The 5-year-old beams proudly when he shows us his puppies, but his face darkens when he talks about the war and fear he's lived with for most of his life.

Gleb (ph) says when the shooting gets close, he and his mother hide in a room with no windows. They hold each other and he prays, "Save us, God. Please rescue us."

The war is a constant presence on these streets, one that forces children to stay inside.

Marica (ph) and her brother Denilo (ph) are often kept from school. Their mother Beth Larnan (ph) tells me after the most recent shelling, Marica (ph) is too scared to be left in a room alone.

OLEKSI SAVKEVICH, FATHER: It's like roulette, yes, when the shell can hit your house and it's very dangerous for the psychology of children.

BLACK: Homes are shelled here. Their owners are often too poor to pay for repairs or move somewhere else. So teams of volunteers come to patch up what they can. But there's no one to help with the unseen emotional damage inflicted on people every day by a war which has become an inescapable and defining feature of their lives.

Phil Black, CNN, Avdiivka, Eastern Ukraine.

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SOARES: Now basketball is a contact sport, you know that, but usually not when you are in the stands. Former NBA player Charles Oakley was escorted out of the Knicks-Clippers game Wednesday night in New York. He apparently got into a confrontation with Knick's owner James Dolan. Oakley played for the Knicks from 1988 to 1998 and has been vocal about the team's disappointing season. The 53-year-old faces assault and criminal trespass charges. The Knicks' PR Department released a statement saying they hope he gets some help soon.

And that does it for this hour of CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Isa Soares in London.

VAUSE: I'm John Vause in Los Angeles. "World Sport" is up next and then we'll be back with another hour of news from all around the world. You're watching CNN.

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