Return to Transcripts main page


Anger Over Sudden Firing Of 46 Attorneys; Flynn Paid To Represent Turkey During Campaign; Trump Ducks Reporter Questions Again; White House Tries To Unite Republicans On Health Care Bill; Iraqi Civilians Caught in the Crossfire; Adopted Orphan's New Life From China to Missouri. Aired 6-7a ET

Aired March 11, 2017 - 06:00   ET



[06:00:02] CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: You made it to your weekend. We're glad you're here with us. I'm Christi Paul.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Victor Blackwell. Good morning to you. We've got some breaking news we're going to get to out of Germany.

PAUL: Yes, German police are scrambling right now to take care of a possible terror plot in the western city of Essen. Police have shut down a large shopping mall after they learned of an attack possibly that could have been planned for today. We're keeping a close eye on that situation. As we get more information on it, we will certainly bring it to you as it develops, but again, out of Germany this morning, police are on high alert.

BLACKWELL: Back here in the U.S., Vice President Mike Pence hitting the road to pitch the Republicans' plan to overhaul the Affordable Care Act. A crucial sales job of opposition within the party is threatening to derail one of the president's biggest campaign promises.

PAUL: Just a few hours from now, the vice president will speak to business leaders in Louisville, Kentucky. He's appearing with the state's governor, Mike Bevan, a man who isn't fully behind this plan. Ahead, the sticking points and plan to keep the bill on track.

BLACKWELL: A full week and still no evidence to support the president's accusations that President Obama was spying on him in Trump Tower. We're learning the House Intel Committee wants any relevant documents from the Justice Department on wiretapping and they want them by Monday.

PAUL: Also you're fired, anger bubbling after dozens of U.S. attorneys are suddenly told to resign by the Trump administration. So, we want to point out, it's common for new administrations to ask holdovers to step down. Many past presidents have done so. Many prosecutors say they found out from media reports, though, that they had to resign. That's where the problem comes into play. CNN's Jessica Schneider has more on the surprise surge. JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Victor and Christi, those firings coming swiftly and abruptly and the people I've talked with are really flabbergasted that happened so suddenly and without any notice. Attorney General Jeff Sessions asking for the immediate resignations of 46 U.S. attorneys, although two of them have been asked to stay on directly by the president in a phone call Friday night.

But for the rest, this is an immediate dismissal. Now it is typical for presidents to want their own appointees in these positions, but U.S. attorneys, they usually get a bit more notice. In fact, some of these U.S. attorneys found out about fire firings via the media or the Department of Justice press release.

One source saying this could not have been handled any worse. Some are wondering if the president is once again getting his cues from right wing media. Fox News host, Sean Hannity, said on a show Thursday night that President Trump should just clean house, comparing it to what President Bill Clinton did when taking office firing 93 U.S. attorneys in that case. But people are noting that in that case, those federal prosecutors got a lot more notice -- Victor and Christi.

BLACKWELL: All right, thanks so much, Jessica. Let's continue now the conversation with CNN political commentator and Spectrum News political anchor, Errol Louis, and White House correspondent for the "Washington Examiner," Sarah Westwood. Good morning to both of you.

I want to start with what Jessica talked about, this Fox News report, and what appears to be a pattern of what the president watches almost exclusively on Fox News and then what he tweets or does. Let's watch what is this pattern.


BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: The violence in Chicago getting worse, if you can believe it. First 23 days of this year, 42 homicides in the windy city, up 24 percent from last year. An unbelievable 228 people have been shot in Chicago in 23 days.

HORACE COOPER, NATIONAL CENTER FOR PUBLIC POLICY RESEARCH: I don't know another word besides carnage to describe the devastation that's been taking place.

BLACKWELL (voice-over): Roughly an hour later, President Trump tweeted, "If Chicago doesn't fix the horrible carnage going on, 228 shootings in 2017 with 42 killings up 24 percent from 2016, I will send in the feds."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's an absolute surge in both gun violence and rape in Sweden once they began this open door policy.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: You look at what's happening last night in Sweden, Sweden. Who would believe this? Sweden. They took in large numbers. They're having problems like they never thought possible.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: My message tonight is simple, every holdover from the Obama administration, they need to go.


BLACKWELL: And then this firing of 46, Errol, to you, is this as clear as it seems?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, most likely it is, in fact, we should be clear, Victor, that what's different about this presidency and this president, is that he lets you know via Twitter and leaves us sort of a trail of bread crumbs that makes it pretty clear that he's watching certain shows and taking their ideas word for word and turning them into policy.

[06:05:11]But that's not much of an extension. We just haven't seen President Obama tweeting his thoughts out before they are even fully formed or before he's had a chance to do policy research or even factual research on the things that he's putting out there.

Presidents do look at the news. That's why we're all in this business. We're all part of the big conversation, and the president is not isolated from that. In this case, it's sort of unmediated in the sense that the president sees something at one time.

And he's tweeting out within minutes without checking with anybody about whether the facts are true or the policy is coherent or consistent or wise. And that's what makes this president very different.

BLACKWELL: Sarah, the ranking Democrat of the Senate Judiciary, Senator Dianne Feinstein, sent out a statement saying that she was assured by both the vice president and the White House counsel that this transition would be orderly to preserve continuity. She said clearly that is not the case in that statement. Does it have a potential impact on continuity and after the announcement of recusal from the AG, what this could mean?

SARAH WESTWOOD, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "WASHINGTON EXAMINER": Well, this seems like one of the situations where President Trump does something that's more or less customary for a U.S. president. But because it's Trump that's the one that's doing it, it's characterizes somehow as more nefarious than previous administrations.

Like you mentioned, this is something that presidents have done for decades. They've stop sought the resignations of U.S. attorneys so they could select their own. And U.S. attorney with basic understanding of history would have known that this day was coming soon.

There's a reason that Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked for only for the resignations of 46 U.S. attorneys instead of more than twice that number. It's because many U.S. attorneys had already stepped down from their jobs and moved on to other things. This is just normal turnover, and I think that some of the anger bubbling up about it is coming from perhaps a partisan place.

BLACKWELL: Normal turnover, but some who looked to the Bush administration, Clinton administration, the Reagan administration, said it happened over the series of weeks, month, and some case up to a year transitioning of those attorneys general.

Let's move to the issue of Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser, and the recognition, acknowledgement from the White House that they knew or at least informed that he was lobbying for a group or working for a group that actually had the interest of Turkey and now registered as a foreign agent.

When we heard from Sean Spicer yesterday, Errol, he didn't get specifically to the issue of judgment there. What are we hearing from the White House, from the White House allies, not about the legal element, but the judgment in keeping on Michael Flynn after that acknowledgement?

LOUIS: Well, they're not so subtly, Victor, trying to push the question back on to Michael Flynn and saying, look, we're not in charge of the transition and we're not in charge of the disclosure by nominees, it's up for them to figure out how to get right with the law and how to make clear how any potential problems might be for them.

That's sort of the opposite of vetting, actually. When people were criticizing the Trump transition team for rushing things through for not properly vetting nominees, this is a prime example of it. There's a certain amount of embarrassment that comes from it minding out that Michael Flynn is the most more problematic than they ever first realized.

But that is the nature of this transition. They still haven't filled many of the positions that the Trump administration wants to see filled. They're trying to blame everybody, blame the nominees, the Democrats, blame everybody, except that they've had a position that's been less than stellar to vet or properly sort of prepare all of the candidates.

BLACKWELL: Is there evidence, Sarah, any indication thus far that Flynn's views and his employment with this lobbying group actually influenced the policy of the administration as it relates to Turkey?

WESTWOOD: Well, Flynn was in the administration for such a short period of time that it's not likely that he had a profound impact on policy. Errol's right. The Trump administration is just trying to fill basic high-level jobs at this point.

They're not even to the point in their administration where they're starting to roll out complex policies when it comes to issues like Turkey. But it's troubling that the administration couldn't answer basic questions about why the recommendation that was given to Flynn that he should register as a foreign agent wasn't raised to a higher level within the transition.

They seem to be sticking with the message of a transition lawyer was informed, and he didn't feel the need to bring it any higher, not even to senior staff, let alone Trump himself, who might have benefitted from knowing that his national security adviser had ties that could potentially be problematic if his policy discussions intersected with areas where he had been compensated.

[06:10:13]BLACKWELL: All right, we'll continue to have this conversation throughout the morning. The fallout continuing after this registration as a foreign agent. Sarah Westwood, Errol Louis, thanks so much.

LOUIS: Thank you.

PAUL: All righty. A looming deadline for the Trump administration after claims of political espionage. Top lawmakers on Capitol Hill demanding proof from the White House that President Obama wiretapped President Trump during the campaign.

BLACKWELL: Plus the split within the Republican Party threatening to derail the health care replacement. Can President Trump unite the party and deliver on his campaign promise?

PAUL: And Iraq forces there say they're gaining ground in Mosul. They're chasing ISIS fighters out of the nation's second largest city. CNN's Ben Wedeman takes us inside the urban combat zone here and shows victory there is not easily defined.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is what the Iraqi military says is a liberated area, but there's gunfire nearby and not a civilian to be found.




BLACKWELL: It's 15 minutes after the hour now. Congress is demanding answers from the president. The House Intelligence Committee wants proof by Monday that support President Trump's campaign that President Obama wiretapped him during the campaign.

PAUL: It's an accusation the intelligence community calls baseless. Former CIA operative, Bob Baer, spoke to CNN about this investigation after learning that the president hasn't spoken to the FBI director all week.


ROBERT BAER, FORMER CIA OPERATIVE: It's quite amazing, all he has to do, he should have done it before the tweet is call up the Department of Justice or the FBI and said was there a FISA on me. Is there any reason to believe there was an illegal tap? It would have been one phone call, one minute at the most.

I think he just drew that -- we know we keep talking about this as distraction, but it's knowledge that he could obtain and no one's going to hide it from him. So, the chances of someone actually tapping Trump's phone at Trump center is zero. Frankly. It's not possible.


PAUL: All right, Errol Louis and Sarah Westwood back with us here. Errol, so, on Monday, Monday comes, Monday goes. What if there's no evidence that's illustrated? What happens? What's the consequence?

LOUIS: I think we have to then just add it to the list of things that Donald Trump has said in the past for which there's no factual basis and that he's never walked away from. You know, I mean, this goes back years. This goes back to birtherism. This goes back to what he said he saw on 9/11.

This goes back to a lot of kind of crazy flames that come from the president and it's a little bit embarrassing that the whole government has to shift in motion and try and clean up behind it and pretend that it's real. But the reality is, if as you say, there's not a bit of evidence to it, we're kind of in the position of saying, well, there he goes again.

PAUL: OK, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said the FBI director needs to publicly denounce Trump's wiretap claims. And I want to read you her quote here. She told reporters, "Theoretically, do I think a director of the FBI who knows for a fact that something is mythology but misleading to the American people, and he should set the report straight, yes, I do think he should have say that publicly."

Does the fact that Comey has not spoken publicly about this indicates the fact or the possibility, Sarah, that the FBI may have found something?

WESTWOOD: Well, the FBI does not knock down stories for the purpose of setting the record straight, and that has frustrated both Republicans and Democrats within the span of a past month. I mean, recall the week of CPAC, there were reports that the White House inquired as to whether the FBI could knock down what agents had privately described as way overblown stories about the state of the investigation into Trump campaign associates contacts with Russia.

Now, we have Nancy Pelosi calling on the FBI director to knock down a story that she doesn't like. But at the end of the day, the FBI in a very nonpartisan way has of policy and it's very strict of not commenting on details of potentially pending investigations.

PAUL: All right, I want to talk to you about President Trump and what seems to be avoiding these questions. Let's take a look at what happened earlier this week.


PRESIDENT TRUMP: Thank you all very much. We're going to get to work. Thank you.


(END VIDEO CLIP) PAUL: Errol, you said that Monday will just come and go, and we'll just rack it up to, if nothing is offered up, we'll just chock it up to another question about some of the claims that he's made, but at some point, doesn't this have to be genuinely addressed?

LOUIS: One would hope, Christi, but the reality is, look, President Trump has any number of financial conflicts. He's got any number of brewing sort of troubling questions around this issue of contacts between his senior staff and his financial organization, and Russian oligarchs and Russian financiers and political figures.

Any number of serious questions that are out there, this in some ways is just kind of one more of them. So, I don't doubt that he really doesn't want to answer any of these questions. I'm not at all surprised by it. I don't know if there's sort of a come to Jesus moment, a day of reckoning, a point at which a critical mass of people will say, Mr. President, you've got to stop.

[06:20:05]His staff hasn't stop him. Congress, congressional leaders won't stop him. The press is doing its best. The public is will have to weigh in and be the deciding voice about whether we want a president who goes around saying things that aren't true.

PAUL: OK, Republican Congressman Mike Kelly took this farther and talked about the Obama administration, or actually what President Obama may be doing right now. Let's listen here to what he said.


REPRESENTATIVE MIKE KELLY (R), PENNSYLVANIA: He's only there for one purpose and one purpose only, and that is to run a shadow government to totally upset the agenda.


PAUL: He's accusing President Obama staying in D.C. to run a shadow government to disrupt President Trump's policies. Sarah, is there any truth to that? Is there any indication of what President Obama's next steps may be while he's in Washington?

WESTWOOD: You know, what we know is that President Obama is going to potentially work with Eric Holder to work on some issues related to redistricting in the states. And blaming of one predecessor, that's a common tactic of presidents, we saw President Obama do that to President Bush. But it seems like Trump has taken that to an entirely new level.

He's not just blaming Obama for the ambiguous problems that the country is facing that are going to be tough for him to tackle. But from the day-to-day stumbles that his White House has, he seems to find a way to link that back to Obama, that's really popular with supporters.

Most of which had a particular hatred of the Obama era policies. But certainly, it's going to get harder and harder to make that argument credibly as time goes on and as Obama gets further and further from office.

PAUL: All righty, Errol Louis, Sarah Westwood, so appreciate your voice in this conversation, thank you.

BLACKWELL: This claim of a shadow government gets to this buzz phrase that we're hearing now, deep state addressed by Sean Spicer at the White House yesterday and we'll expand that conversation throughout the morning.

President Trump campaigned on a promise to repeal and replace Obamacare. But in a split in his own party, he's threatening to derail his plans. We're going inside his attempt to unite the GOP.

PAUL: Also, the FBI investigating an odd computer link between a Russian bank and the Trump Organization during the presidential campaign. There's more details on that, next.



PAUL: It's always good to see you on a Saturday morning. Welcome back. I'm Christi Paul.

BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell. Good morning to you. There is anger and shock at the Justice Department after 46 U.S. attorneys were abruptly asked to resign.

PAUL: Now, it's common for new administrators to ask holdovers to step down. That's nothing new. But many prosecutors say they just had no warning from Attorney General Jeff Sessions about this, and rather, found out through media reports that they had to resign.

One law enforcement official tells CNN, quote, "This could not have been handled any worse." All of this as Vice President Mike Pence hits the road to pitch the Republicans plan to overhaul the Affordable Care Act.

The vice president's trip is meant to sell the GOP's new health care plan to the public, but the White House is really struggling to get some members of its own party on board for it.

BLACKWELL: And there is this major shift, an olive branch, potentially to those conservatives. Sources tell CNN the White House is now considering compromises on Medicaid to win over skeptical Republicans. The question is will it be enough to get the bill passed?

CNN congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly, has reaction from Capitol Hill.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Behind the scenes, House GOP leaders now running headlong into the White House on their health care proposal. PRESIDENT TRUMP: That's what people want, they want repeal and replace.

MATTINGLY: As top committee chairs met with President Trump's sources telling CNN, White House officials including the president himself are amenable to conservative requests to change a crucial component of the bill.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: It provide states with flexibility over how Medicaid dollars are spent giving power from Washington and back to local government.

MATTINGLY: But trimming some say Obamacare's Medicaid expansion to 2017 from 2020 is a move House Republican leaders at least for now have no plans on making.

REPRESENTATIVE KEVIN MCCARTHY (R), MAJORITY LEADER: I think right now it would be very difficult to do.

MATTINGLY: And despite Trump's openness to the idea, GOP leaders making a not so subtle point. You knew what was in the bill. You knew the strategy, and you were clearly on board.

(on camera): If you walk into the white house today and the president says this needs to change and this needs to sunset in 2017, and not 2020, how do you respond to that?

REPRESENTATIVE GREG WALDEN (R), OREGON: Well, first of all, I look forward to meeting with the president. We've been in regular contact with his team. We look forward to the president's direct involvement.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): For GOP leaders, what to do about the Medicaid expansion is among the most delicate issues in the bill, 31 states and the nation capital accepted funds from the expansion, which delivered coverage to around 11 million people.

WALDEN: As we repeal Obamacare, we want to make sure that we don't create gaps.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here's the problem with Medicaid.

MATTINGLY: But conservatives have made clear, the expansion has to go as soon as possible.

REPRESENTATIVE RAUL LABRADOR (R), IDAHO: Leadership needs to have a "my way or the highway or take it or leave it" kind of approach and they do that in every single piece of major legislation. I think the president understands that people with different ideas can come together.

MATTINGLY: For now, the White House trying to tread carefully, despite a comment from the president that could be seen of stepping into conspiracy territory again --

PRESIDENT TRUMP: The '17 would be a disaster for Obamacare, that's the year it was meant to explode because Obama won't be here. [06:30:06] SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Right now the date that's in the bill is what the president supports.

MATTINGLY: As House leaders try and make conservatives happy without losing those moderates.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R), MAJORITY LEADER: Not everything that we would like to have in the very first phase could be in the bill. We're going through three different phases.

MATTINGLY: That three-part process will require no shortage of backend work, from unilateral regulation action to future legislation.

MCCARTHY: Sometimes when you have pushback on one side and the other side from a political spectrum, you might have found the sweet spot.

MATTINGLY (on camera): And while GOP leaders clearly feel like they found that sweet spot, that sweet spot at least at the moment doesn't include a lot of the most conservative members of the Republican conference. And they haven't been helped by President Trump in the White House kind of hinting behind the scenes that perhaps they're amenable to changes. The reality is, House leaders, they aren't in fact. House Energy and Commerce chairman Greg Waldman told President Trump behind closed doors, according to a source I spoke to, that changes aren't coming and the White House offering to help or offering to negotiate at this stage in the process is not helping the process at all.

It's an important note here, the White House staff was involved in the drafting. They were involved in laying out the strategy. They knew exactly what was coming. A united front will be necessary when you talked to Republican leadership aides to actually get this across the finished line. That includes the president. And the president might be most helpful in getting those skeptical or downright opposed conservatives eventually on board.

Phil Mattingly, CNN, New York.


BLACKWELL: All right, Phil. Thank you.

And Wednesday night join Wolf Blitzer and Dana Bash for a live town hall with the new Health and Human Services secretary Tom Price. He'll answer questions, maybe question you have about the new GOP health care proposal, Obamacare and what comes next. That's Wednesday night 9:00 Eastern only on CNN.

Meanwhile, there are questions swirling about the significance of a possible link between a Russian bank and the Trump organization.

PAUL: The FBI is investigating a computer server connection between the two. They call it, quote, "odd." This, as we're also learning that the president's transition team was aware that former National Security adviser Michael Flynn was working as a foreign agent while advising President Trump back on the campaign trail. CNN senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen is following

these developments.

Fred, first of all, to the possible computer link, what are you hearing about that this morning?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we've been trying to get in touch with Alfa Bank which is the bank that apparently made these things which are called DNS lookups, which is them trying to get in touch with a server of the Trump enterprise. So far there really hasn't been very much of an explanation. The bank itself has been saying in the past that they believe that some of this could have been triggered by a spam e-mail sent by one of the Trump Enterprises.

They believe it could have been that one of their executives might have stayed at one of the Trump hotels, maybe left his e-mail there, or her e-mail there, and then that the Trump Enterprise might have sent some sort of spam e-mail and that that would have triggered Alfa Bank's cyber defenses.

They've been looking into it. They have said in the past that they don't know exactly where it comes from. They've also stressed that none of their executives or anybody who works as an employee there, had any sort of business dealings with President Trump or with any of President Trump's businesses. And they also say there weren't any financial dealings either.

Now we tried to get in touch with Alfa Bank once again as we went into the weekend. And they said when we reached them that they were aware of CNN's new reporting on this issue. They had seen the reports. They also said they were thinking about putting out a new statement. But in the end, they came back to us, and they said, look, we've talked this over and we have nothing further to add than the fact that they say they've had never anything to do with President Trump and also with any of his businesses either.

PAUL: All right. Let's move on to the second aspect of this. What exactly did the transition team know about Michael Flynn's work with Turkey -- with the Turkish government?

PLEITGEN: Yes. Well, apparently, it was known that he had been working in consulting for the Turkish government as, of course, all of this was going on. Of course, Michael Flynn is someone who is quite close to the Turks. So it seems as though some of that was known beforehand and certainly it is something that was not known to the public. And that's one of the reasons, of course, why all of this is being looked into at this point in time.

And this of course comes on top of the fact that then you have these revelations that apparently he also had those phone calls with the Russian ambassador as well, as it was going into the transition, as he knew that he was going to become the National Security adviser. So certainly all of this of very, very big interest, and all of this, of course, coming out now well after the fact -- Christi.

PAUL: All right. Fred Pleitgen, thank you so much for the update. We appreciate it.

BLACKWELL: Well, some ISIS fighters are now retreating but any sense of normalcy is really slow to return to one Iraqi city.

[06:35:05] You hear the gunfire, you see the rubble. Now the hallmarks of this once thriving city are just what you see on your screen. We'll take you inside Mosul, a city under siege or weeks.


BLACKWELL: You see the peaceful protests here. And this uneasy calm had now returned to Seoul, South Korea where there's a volatile mix of anger for some, jubilation on the parts of others, and greeting this new political era there. The country's president, Park Geun-hye, has not spoken publicly since the constitutional court upheld the voted by lawmakers to impeach her. Her ouster triggered violent protests yesterday and early this morning, a third person died from injuries.

PAUL: Gunfire and explosions are echoing amid the ruins of Iraq's second largest city today.

BLACKWELL: Mosul now looks like a ghost town. Three weeks after Iraqi forces launched their offensive to reclaim the city from ISIS.

[06:40:06] CNN's Ben Wedeman joins us with a glimpse of life inside that battle-scarred city. He's live in the Iraqi city of Irbil.

And Ben, we hear, as we saw in the tease a few moments ago, the gunfire not too far away, but not many people living in that city.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No. In fact we've just learned from the Iraqi officials, Victor, that just in the last 24 hours, 12,000 people -- more than 12,000 people fled the city, bringing the total number who've left since the beginning of the operation three weeks ago to more -- almost 90,000. Yesterday, we went to Mosul to see what it is that they're fleeing.


WEDEMAN (voice-over): This is how you get around west Mosul. You run.

The soldiers here in the southern neighborhood of (INAUDIBLE) are confident of victory.

"The situation here is very good," says Ahmed. "ISIS has run away. There are no problems in this area." His comrade Ali (PH) agrees. "ISIS is finished," he says.

The battle passed through here just a few days ago, leaving massive destruction in its wake. Attack helicopters are busy overhead.

(On camera): This is what the Iraqi military says is a liberated area. But there's gunfire nearby. And not a civilian to be found.

(Voice-over): Just a few blocks away, most of the houses are empty. And many of the few who stayed behind are leaving. There's no running water. Electricity or food.

Uma Hamed (PH), however, staying put. She and her family hid out in their basement for 16 days while the battle raged around them. Their only food was cold porridge made of flour and water.

"The children were afraid," she recalls. "We gave them and the old folks medicine to make them sleep through the whole thing."

She's the exception. Thousands are fleeing the city every day.

"Our house was destroyed," Ivanya (PH) says. "ISIS had forced us out then it was hit by a rocket."

Merriam left her home this morning and now enjoys a cigarette. Forbidden under the rule of ISIS, although she says they weren't above a few sins of their own.

"They took pills. They drank alcohol, they oppressed us," she says. "But what they came to you, they'd say, God says this, Muhammad says that."

Their experiment of being holier than thousand has ended in this.


WEDEMAN: And of course, as you can see from where I am, the weather has turned miserable. Rainy, windy. It's cold, making the life of those fleeing Mosul even more difficult -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: Ben, before you go, we're hearing now from the president of Syria next door, Bashar al-Assad, about the increased number of U.S. forces there. What is he saying?

WEDEMAN: Well, he basically said that these U.S. forces that have been operating for some time in northern Syria, supporting what's known as the Syrian Democratic forces in their fight against ISIS, those numbers have increased dramatically recently.

What Bashar al-Assad says is that as far as the Syrian government is concerned, they consider them invading forces. So it's already a very touchy situation in northern Syria with a variety of players -- Turks, rebels, Iranians, Hezbollah, the Syrian government, the Americans and others. And so for the Syrian government, obviously, they're opposes to the president of the Americans. And the Americans, of course, say they are preparing to support the offensive to liberate Raqqa, the de facto capital of the Islamic State.

BLACKWELL: Logistical nightmare there in Syria. We'll see what -- if there will be any real response to who they consider to be invaders.

Ben Wedeman for us there in Irbil, thanks so much.

PAUL: You've got a busy weekend ahead of you if you're watching college basketball. Well, guess what, Kristina Fitzpatrick, she's right there with you.

Hi, Christina.

KRISTINA FITZPATRICK, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: : That is right, Christi. Good morning. Many have their eye on UNC as a national championship contender but do not tell Duke that.

[06:45:03] More coming up in your "Bleacher Report."


BLACKWELL: Selection Sunday not too far off. And teams are getting ready to dance. Putting those shoes on.

PAUL: Kristina Fitzpatrick has more on this morning's "Bleacher Report." Who are you watching?

FITZPATRICK: Who I am? It's too soon to even put it out there. You could feel the madness already, though. An upset of course is par for the course with these tournament championships going on weekend long. The Duke-UNC rivalry is one to watch, of course. It's one of the best in college basketball. But instead of Tobacco Road, North Carolina, the two teams squared off in New York City.

So ACC semi-finals Duke down by 13 at one point in the second half and rallies back for a 10-point, 93-83 win.

[06:50:08] It will go on to face Notre Dame in the ACC championship Saturday. Northwestern is looking to finally make it to the NCAA tourney. It has never happened in the 78 years the tournament has existed. They defeated Maryland 72-64 to keep the dream alive. As proud northwestern mom, look at it, "Veep" star Julia Louis Dreyfus was there to cheer on her son.

Adam Jones delivered with a walk-off single to win it. His teammates loving it, of course. Team USA will face the powerhouse Dominican Republic team tonight at 6:30.

And finally much maligned former NFL player Johnny Manziel in the news again. He's been working on getting his life back on track. The next step for him, of course, get engaged. Manziel proposed to his girlfriend Bre Tiesi in Paris last night. Manziel tweeted out later on, "Happiness for the first time in a long time." He also SnapChatted a photo of Tiesi, holding flowers under the Eiffel Tower.

So good news for him. And I guess we'll just sit around and wait and see if he will be suiting up for an NFL team come Sunday this fall. And of course the combine is going on as we speak as well. So let's keep an eye on it.

BLACKWELL: Yes. Good to see that he's trying to get his life back on track.

FITZPATRICK: Absolutely.

BLACKWELL: Yes. Wish him well.

PAUL: Absolutely. Thank you so much, Kristina. Good to have you here.

BLACKWELL: So all he wanted was a family. Two years later, CNN catches up with the young boy from China who -- is now adapting, I should say, to his new name and new life here in America.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Is he popular with the other kids?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Absolutely. They all are giving him high fives all the time. He fits right in. Especially at recess.




[06:55:57] BLACKWELL: Well, two years ago, we brought you the story of an American couple attempting to raise money to adopt JiaJia, a boy with disabilities from China. Well, hours after our story aired the family -- the Wilson family raised $30,000 they needed to bring their new son home.

PAUL: And today, JiaJia, who now goes by the name Jason, lives in Grain Valley, Missouri.

CNN's Will Ripley caught up with his family.


RIPLEY (voice-over): The most popular student at recess in Grain Valley, Missouri, doesn't jump the highest or run the fastest.

Jason Wilson can't jump or run. He can make people feel inspired.

I met Jason two summers ago at this orphanage in China. Back then he went by JiaJia. He was like a big brother to all the other orphans. He was desperate for a family of his own. Brian and Jeri Wilson have been trying for months to raise $30,000 in adoption fees.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was amazing.

RIPLEY: They reached their goal in eight hours when we told their story on CNN. I was with the Wilsons when they traveled to China to take their son home.

(On camera): A little nervous.

(Voice-over): One year later I'm in Missouri for the first time since his adoption.

(On camera): Hello. Hi, Jason.

(Voice-over): He chose his new name because he says it's so cool.

(On camera): You're so big.

(Voice-over): Jason is 10 now growing up almost as quickly as he's learning. Reading and writing is a challenge.

J. WILSON: Dog called German Shepherd.

RIPLEY: But he is quickly catching up.

(On camera): Is he popular with the other kids?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Absolutely. They all are giving him high fives all the time and he fits right in, especially at recess.

J. WILSON: Oh, my gosh.

RIPLEY: Jason has become a star at Sni-A-bar Elementary. Teachers say his personality is magnetic.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's just the way that he approaches his life and he doesn't see it as a life with challenges.

RIPLEY (on camera): What's your favorite sport to play?

J. WILSON: Football.


J. WILSON: Because it's cool.

RIPLEY (voice-over): Jason's learning music, singing in school concerts, in the cafeteria.

J. WILSON: Hi. I haven't seen you in a long time.

RIPLEY: He always has plenty of friends to sit and sing with.

You'd never know Jason grew up more than 6,000 miles away. He chooses not to speak Chinese anymore.

ADRIANA DEMONBRUN, ENGLISH LANGUAGE TEACHER: He never wants to talk about China. He never wants people to know he's Chinese.

RIPLEY: Jason's English teacher says he does love talking about his family.

DEMONBRUN: It's everything to him. He talks about his sisters all the time. He talks about dad and they play football.

RIPLEY: Despite Jason's success, the Wilson's have struggled in the last year.

BRIAN WILSON, JASON WILSON'S FATHER: We have more of an issue than what we thought.

RIPLEY: An expensive construction snag stopped work on their new accessible house and there's family turmoil including serious health problems with Jason's grandparents. The Wilsons thought they were saving him, but Jason also saved them.

JERI WILSON, JASON WILSON'S MOTHER: We can get through this. You know, we can have this struggle and get through this.

RIPLEY: Doctors told the Wilsons Jason will probably never walk, the result of botched spina-bifida surgery in China.

So they raised the money to buy him a stander allowing greater mobility than ever before. He's also been reunited with his best friend Jeremiah from the orphanage, adopted by another family in their church. Each day brings new challenges and new victories.

(On camera): What's different now?

J. WILSON: Having love I think.

RIPLEY: Having love?

J. WILSON: Catch it.

RIPLEY (voice-over): After a childhood spent waiting and hoping, Jason finally has the one thing he always dreamed about, a family.

Will Ripley, CNN, Grain Valley, Missouri.