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Court Upholds Impeachment of South Korean President; U.S. Government Bureaucracy Called "Deep State"; Pope Considering Priesthoods for Married Men; Kids Crash Dad's Interview on Live TV. Aired Midnight-12:30a ET

Aired March 11, 2017 - 00:00   ET

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


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CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): (INAUDIBLE) protests in South Korea after the president loses her job.

What's next for the country and the region?

We'll have the latest from Seoul in a moment.

And who knew what and when?

The White House says it wasn't aware Michael Flynn engaged in work that required him to register as a foreign agent, even though the president said he had no idea.

Plus Pope Francis suggests a new way to get more priests, letting married men sign up. But CNN's religion commentator says the move could also cause some resentment.

Hi, everyone, thank you very much for joining us, I'm Cyril Vanier live from Atlanta and your CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.

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VANIER: Chaos erupted in the streets of Seoul, South Korea, on Friday after former President Park Geun-hye was removed from office. At least three people were killed in violent protests. This after the country's constitutional court upheld Park's December impeachment.

Acting president Hwang Kyo-ahn has called for unity and warned North Korea could exploit the situation. The turmoil follows a long-running corruption scandal involving Park. She's now lost her immunity and could face criminal charges.

A snap presidential election is set to be held within 60 days. For more on this, our Will Ripley joins us now live from Seoul.

Will, first of all, when will Park Geun-hye actually leave the presidential residence, the Blue House?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We don't know for sure, Cyril, but we know that right now repair work is happening at President Park's residence in Southern Seoul, in the Gangnam neighborhood. It hasn't really been lived in in several years and you can imagine it

will take a considerable amount of work to move a president from the Blue House to a private residence.

You are talking about things like security. Even though President Park, because of her impeachment, lost all of her other presidential privileges, such as a staff, a driver, her pension, that sort of thing, you can see protesters out here. These are people who support President Park.

You see a lot of older veterans, the marines, the army represented out here and you can hear the patriotic music playing in the background.

There will be another demonstration, those who support the impeachment of the president, just down the street here. And you can expect to see many younger people at that event -- Cyril.

VANIER: Will, tell me a little bit more about that. I mean, the pictures behind you are striking.

Why is the country so divided?

And a word that struck me was when the acting president on Friday appealed for unity and said that the different sides of this political divide saw each other as enemies.

RIPLEY: It really boils down to both sides feel very strong emotions about the impeachment of President Park and about this whole more than 90-day trial. The people out here, remember, President Park's father, who led this country for almost 20 years, and you see images like this out here, of President Park over the years.

She grew up in the Blue House. Her parents were both assassinated. She never married.

Many people out here say she gave her life to public service and that it was loneliness, the fact that she didn't have a companion, that led her to befriend this woman, who now sits in a jail cell and has been accused of abusing her influence with the president.

So that's why you see a lot of these older faces, who remember her father's leadership and the strong economic growth that he brought to this country.

But for the younger people, this corruption scandal really struck a nerve because this is a highly competitive society. And the thought that President Park's friends were receiving millions of dollars that was helping gain an unfair advantage due to their wealth and their power and their influence, that is what caused hundreds of thousands of people to come out here in Seoul over a period of many months.

Sometimes the crowds up to a million people, saying they don't accept this, they don't stand for this.

So that's why public opinion polls show that, even though you see a lot of people out here, this is the minority. About 20 percent has said that they want President Park to stay on, more than 75 percent supported this impeachment.

VANIER: And, Will, can I get you to address also the bigger picture that's going on here, North Korea is increasingly aggressive right now. This is not the best time for Seoul to be experiencing a crisis of leadership.

RIPLEY: Well, and certainly you've seen from Pyongyang, the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, in essence capitalizing on this period of political chaos and uncertainty in South Korea.

I mean, you are talking about just less than 200 kilometers from here, there are missiles that can be aimed right at this city of more than 10 million people. North Korea recently launched four ballistic missiles simultaneously that could overwhelm missile defense.

And yet you have a government here that's more focused on its own internal problems and not on a bigger picture strategy of dealing with North Korea and also dealing, by the way, with significant anger from China as a result of the THAAD missile defense system beginning to arrive in this country.

China has cut off all tour groups from --

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RIPLEY: -- coming into South Korea right now. You should have seen the airport when I arrived here yesterday, far emptier than any other trip I have made into South Korea as a result of China's anger over this missile defense system coming into South Korea.

And so now, the country has to focus on holding elections, which are expected to happen by May 9th. That's the last date that they can happen. And then this new government widely believed to be a progressive government that will come into power may take a different approach in dealing with North Korea, perhaps engaging with them more and also perhaps taking a different approach with China, not be so quick to encourage military cooperation in terms of missile defense system with the United States.

But all that happens now is the rush election over the next three months here to get a new leader in place.

VANIER: All right, Will Ripley live from Seoul, South Korea. Thank you very much.

Of course the backdrop there to what Will was saying, in that protest, tells us a lot what is going on in Seoul right now. We'll be crossing to Will during the coming hours for also the added protests going on today. Thanks a lot.

Now to the new controversy surrounding U.S. president Donald Trump's former national security adviser, the White House insists the president did not know that Michael Flynn's firm did work for Turkey that would require Flynn to register as a foreign agent.

Flynn filed those papers just a few days ago. But the White House is acknowledging Mr. Trump's transition team was aware of the potential filing because Flynn contacted an attorney for the transition.

More now from Jeff Zeleny.

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JEFF ZELENY, CNN SR. WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Was President Trump aware his first national security adviser, General Michael Flynn, was registered as a foreign agent to represent the government of Turkey?

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESPERSON: Just so we're clear, you wouldn't -- the -- General Flynn filed with the Department of Justice two days ago.

ZELENY (voice-over): White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Flynn's lobbying business was private and took place before he joined the administration although, at the same time, he was advising the Trump campaign last year.

SPICER: That is not up for the government to determine. There are certain private citizens' activities that you conduct and you seek counsel on or professional advice.

ZELENY (voice-over): Flynn's contract with the government of Turkey ended after the election. Spicer dismissed a series of questions about the lobbying disclosure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The person who is in line to be the national security adviser may need to register as a foreign agent. And that doesn't raise --

SPICER: It's not a question of raise a red flag, John. It's a question of whether or not they gave them the advice that they are supposed to.

ZELENY (voice-over): On day 50 of the Trump presidency, this was the latest distraction at the White House. It has been a full week now since President Trump leveled the explosive accusation that President Obama was spying on him at Trump Tower. But again today, still no evidence.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you all very much. We're going to get to work. Thank you.

ZELENY (voice-over): Asked three times, the president would not say whether he had any proof to back up his unsubstantiated charges. The White House is now trying to keep its focus on health care.

TRUMP: And that's what people want. They want repeal and replace.

ZELENY (voice-over): Yet Washington is consumed by Russia and the widening investigations into any connections between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives.

The congressional probe includes allegations of presidential wiretapping, which no one seems to know about but Mr. Trump. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee,

told CNN's Manu Raju today he has seen no evidence but suggests the question will come up when FBI director James Comey testifies on Capitol Hill later this month.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIF.: He is certainly prepared for the question and I don't see any reason why he can't answer it. He may even welcome the opportunity.

ZELENY (voice-over): The top Republican on the committee, Chairman Devin Nunes, echoed his comments from earlier this week, that he had not seen any proof to back up the president's claims.

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), CALIF.: We want to find that out but at this point I just don't have anything to tell you.

ZELENY: All this talk of Russia from here at the White House to Capitol Hill have consumed and complicated the president's agenda. The White House is desperately trying to get back to health care and other matters. We'll see if President Trump tweets again and disrupts that this weekend -- Jeff Zeleny, CNN, the White House.

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VANIER: Forty-six federal prosecutors lost their jobs on Friday as the U.S. Justice Department asked them to resign by the end of the day. Many of the U.S. attorneys were blindsided by the firings, only learning about it from the media. All of them were political appointees from previous administrations.

Replacing them isn't what is unusual. All new presidents do that. But the process is normally done over many months or sometimes even years, not in one day.

And the sudden firings raise numerous questions, among them is whether the Trump administration believes its agenda is being compromised by career civil servants, this entrenched bureaucracy sometimes referred to as the "deep state." White House press secretary Sean Spicer was asked about this on Friday.

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QUESTION: Does the White House believe there is such a thing as the deep state that is actually working to undermine the president?

SPICER: Well, I think that there is no question, when you have eight years of one party in office, that there are people who stay in --

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SPICER: -- government or affiliated with -- you know, joined and continue to espouse the agenda of the previous administration.

So I don't think it should not come as any surprise that there are people that burrowed into government during eight years of the last administration and, you know, may have believed in that agenda and want to continue to seek it. I don't think that should come as a surprise to anyone.

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VANIER: Julian Zelizer joins us now to discuss all this. He's a historian and professor at Princeton University.

Julian, you heard Sean Spicer there saying essentially that over the course of two Obama presidencies a body of civil servants that are leaning in his favor, sort of organically develops and that they can hinder the work of the next administration, in this case, the Trump administration.

What do you think about that?

JULIAN ZELIZER, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: It's not a surprising statement. The discussion of a deep state is something that is very common actually in conservative circles, especially in the right-wing media. It's a term really to connote the entrenched power of liberals and Democrats in the bureaucracy.

And it's also something we have heard in other terminology in years past. Richard Nixon used to always worry about the liberals who were buried in the bureaucracy and who were not going to allow him to do what he wanted to do. So this is very much part of the Republican/conservative imagination.

VANIER: Well, OK, so imagination you say.

For our international viewers, how much truth is there to that?

ZELIZER: Well, there is truth to it. I think what it refers to is the fact that you have civil servants certainly in all of the agencies who are there over the course of a career. They're not just there because of Obama. Some have been there much longer. And they are committed to the programs that they run.

And if someone is trying to tamper with them or undermine them, they might push back. We have seen this both -- Republicans and Democratic presidents have faced this before. So there is some truth to that.

And the intelligence agencies are also another form of ongoing bureaucratic power, where, if you mess with them, there could be some pushback. So I think it's not totally untrue that there are parts of government that outlast any president and sometimes won't be happy with the agenda of a new administration.

VANIER: Forty-six federal attorneys were fired -- or told to resign, I should say -- on Friday. And they were told that they had to hand in their resignations on the same day.

Is this a case of the Trump administration fighting the deep state?

ZELIZER: Well, no, this is something other presidents do. I think what -- Bill Clinton did this also in a very quick moment of his presidency. Often it's more staggered than what we're seeing today. What makes it different is just President Trump's ongoing battle with

all government institutions. It's so severe and it's so aggressive that, when you have this happen, this kind of a firing, it feels to many people that there is something more to it, that this is actually an attack on institutions rather than part of the normal process, where presidents cleanse government of appointees from former presidents.

VANIER: All right. Another interesting thing that arose on Friday, the latest jobs report; 235,000 jobs created in the month of February. That's the first full month of the Trump administration; unemployment now down to 4.7 percent, the lowest it's been in a long time. Wages are up as well.

I'd like you to listen to Sean Spicer again, the White House press secretary, what he had to say about this.

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SPICER: I talked to the president prior to this, and he said to quote him very clearly, "They may have been phony in the past but it's very real now."

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VANIER: So the job numbers were phony during the Trump campaign but they're real now. He is actually laughing about this.

This is not serious, is it?

ZELIZER: Well, you know, it's kind of tongue in cheek presidency and press secretary, meaning they sometimes openly joke about things that they used to say and they dismissed all these numbers all the time when good numbers came out from the Obama administration.

And now there with a chuckle, he's saying, well, believe these numbers because we're telling them to you.

And I think that's part of the theater that we see from this administration. Some people will say, look, there's no credibility.

So when these numbers come out, how should the Trump administration benefit from them?

But the Trump administration doesn't really care and they kind of just move forward to the current moment and forget about what they had said before about this kind of data.

VANIER: All right, Julian Zelizer, thank you very much for your time. Thanks a lot.

ZELIZER: Thank you.

VANIER: Legal challenges to President Trump's revised travel ban are mounting. A federal lawsuit has been filed by the U.S. State of California. It already supported Washington State's initial lawsuit that led to a national halt --

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VANIER: -- against the first executive order. Minnesota, Hawaii and Ohio are also challenging the revised ban. Meanwhile, a federal judge in Seattle has declined to rule on the new version of the ban pending additional court filings. The new Trump order bars new visas for people from six predominantly Muslim countries. It also temporarily shuts down the U.S. refugee program.

We're going to take a very short break. When we come back, Pope Francis may be shifting its stance on one of the church's oldest practices, marriage and priesthood. We'll tell you why.

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VANIER: Pope Francis is studying a possibly significant shift in how the Roman Catholic Church deals with marriage and the priesthood. He is suggesting that he's open to allowing married Catholic men to become priests.

Most priests are required to be celibate but historically Protestant priests who convert can remain married and give the Catholic sacraments. Pope Francis told a German newspaper the shortage of priests is a, quote, "enormous problem" for the church.

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VANIER: Father Edward Beck joins us now. He's our CNN religion commentator. He is a Roman Catholic priest himself. So of course we're interested in having your views on this.

What's strikes me is it seems -- it doesn't seem; the pope is presenting this as a matter of necessity rather than a fundamental ideological change.

FATHER EDWARD BECK, CNN RELIGION COMMENTATOR: Yes, he says there's such a priest shortage and it almost makes it sound like we are being forced into it now.

I think some would hope that we would be choosing it because it might be the right thing do to do finally. You know, Cyril, after the first thousand years of the church, priests could be married.

And then when they started to give property to their children, it was a sociopolitical issue and then it changed. And then of course we spiritualized celibacy. But it was really nothing to say that priests couldn't be married from the beginning.

The disciples were married, the apostles. And so what the pope has said is it's a discipline. It's not dogma. It can change. So now he is saying with the shortage, especially in remote areas,

he's thinking about perhaps married priests. Now of course, it has to be you're married already and then you can become a priest.

If you are already a priest and single you can't get married and stay a priest. So again there's a kind of a little bit of a double standard, which some priests don't appreciate what they're hearing right now. But we have to see how it evolves.

VANIER: So why is there so much resistance to this if, as you say, for the first millennium of the church, this was actually allowed?

BECK: Well, I think it's a few things. Roman Catholicism right now is the only celibate clergy that's required to be celibate. And it kind of gives Roman Catholics a little bit of distinction and I think the people in the pews actually like it. They like that we can't marry, that they see it as a --

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BECK: -- sacrifice. They see us being more available 24/7 for them. We're not worrying about a wife and children. And so they've gotten used to it, they've gotten used to service on demand.

And so they think, well, if he is married with kids, maybe not as available.

Who is going to support the wife and the kids?

And yet, of course, Protestant traditions, Eastern Rite Catholics have done it and other clergy have done it. So of course it's possible but I think it's a matter of bringing people along to seeing the possibilities and getting used to that kind of a change.

VANIER: If there is such a need for extra clergy, what does that tell us about vocations and the dwindling number of people who are willing to become priests?

BECK: Yes, vocations are certainly on the downslide and that is pretty universal. A little up in Asia and Africa, where the church is growing. But certainly Western Europe has been decimated; the United States, decimated.

And so what it says is that, for whatever reason, that approach toward being a clergy, being a priest, is no longer kind of appealing to people. You know, in modern society, celibacy is not making as much sense to people. And they're saying, well, why can't you be married and have children and still minister?

And we have lay ministers, who are actively involved in ministry and we can see that it works. You may know we have Protestant priests, who have come from other traditions with their wives and kids, converted to Roman Catholicism and they now function as Roman Catholic priests.

So you see, it sets up a bit of resentment if you are in a parish with a guy who is married with their kids, functioning as a Roman Catholic priest and you, because you weren't married, are a Roman Catholic priest and can't get married, you say, well, hey, this guy is married. It can work.

What about me?

And so you see it's an evolving conversation that needs to happen and is happening and Pope Francis is pushing the conversation further down the road.

VANIER: Father Beck, thank you so much for your insights, thanks.

BECK: You're welcome, thank you.

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VANIER: Still to come on CNN NEWSROOM, when a serious news interview gets some instant perspective. The unplanned moment that played out on live TV, when we return.

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VANIER: Madagascar took a beating from a powerful cyclone on Tuesday and it may take the island nation a while to recover. Meteorologist Karen Maginnis has been following this for us; she has the latest -- Karen.

KAREN MAGINNIS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, Cyril, ever since it did slam onshore, that was during the late morning hours on Tuesday. It has really taken its toll across this island nation, producing significant rainfall, some mudslides and landslides. Initially, there were reports of as many as five fatalities.

Now that number has jumped, according to Reuters, to 38, with tens of thousands of people displaced.

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VANIER: Now to the moment that played out live on TV that has people around the world laughing.

Professor Robert Kelly was being interviewed live by the BBC when he received a surprise visit from his children. And obviously it's a moment that any parent can relate to, especially if you work from home.

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ROBERT KELLY, PROFESSOR: Scandals happen all the time.

The question is how do democracies respond to those scandals.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And what will it mean for the wider region?

I think one of your children has just walked in, I mean, shifting sands in the region.

Do you think relations with the North may change?

KELLY: I would be surprised if they do.

Pardon me. My apologies.

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KELLY: Scandals happen all the time, the question is how do democracies respond to those scandals.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And what will it mean for the wider region?

I think one of your children has just walked in, I mean, shifting sands in the region.

Do you think relations with the --

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VANIER: And so many people -- so many of the people we interview actually really go out of their way and make an effort to set up a Skype shot and answer our questions and it's not always easy. There is a life going on behind that door. So thank you very much to all of them for making that effort.

Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Cyril Vanier. I'll be back with the headlines in just a moment.