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Flynn Asks for Immunity in Exchange for Testimony; China's Xi Jinping to Visit Mar-a-Lago This Week; Senate Judiciary Committee to Vote on Gorsuch Tomorrow; Trump Uses Golf Diplomacy; Trump Tends to Seek Advice from Family; Disappearances in Nation's Capital Spark Outrage; Exploring Mexicans' Devotion to Saint Death. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired April 2, 2017 - 20:00   ET

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


[20:00:02] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: It is 8:00 Eastern, 5:00 out West, I'm Ana Cabrera, in New York and you're live in the CNN NEWSROOM. Thanks for being with us.

President Trump is turning up the heat as he prepares for his first face-to-face meeting with China's leader. The president telling the "Financial Times" today, "Well, if China is not going to solve North Korea, we will."

Now Trump will host the Chinese president at his Mar-a-Lago resort this week. It comes as the cloud of the Russia investigation continues to hang over the Trump administration. New revelations this weekend show Trump's former national security adviser Michael Flynn failed to initially disclose thousands of dollars in Russian speaking fees.

Let's talk it over with CNN's Ryan Nobles at the White House and Matt Rivers in Beijing.

Ryan, we'll start with the Russia investigation. Seemed to hit a wall in the House this past week, but now the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee is speaking out. Talked with CNN today. Where does their investigation go now?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, one of the big things that both the House and Senate Intel Committees are trying to weigh is just how valuable Michael Flynn, the former National Security adviser's testimony will be. And of course, the big bombshell at the end of the week was that Flynn said that he is willing to testify if he is granted immunity for that testimony.

He's offered this up to both those committees. He's offered it up to the FBI and the Justice Department, but it seems as though the committees in the Congress are a little skeptical that there will be any real value in Flynn's testimony, at least to the point where they would be willing to take that immunity.

This is what Adam Schiff, that ranking member on the House Intel Committee, had to stay about it this morning on "STATE OF THE UNION."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: We don't want to do anything that will interfere in any case that the Justice Department may decide to bring. We also have to determine whether he really can add value to our investigation, whether we need him to learn information we can't learn from other sources. So it is very early I think even to be considering this.

SEN. MARK WARNER (D), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: We're not ready to consider that. We're not even publicly acknowledging that he's contacted us and if and when we would talk to General Flynn under what other considerations, we'd want to make sure we knew all of the right questions to ask. But we're not anywhere close to making those -- drawing those conclusions yet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOBLES: But yet this investigation moves forward, and of course the president himself tweeting this week that he -- encouraging essentially Michael Flynn to seek immunity as he moves forward in this investigation.

Just another example, Ana, of how this situation with Russia continues to be a cloud over this White House.

CABRERA: All right. Thank you to Ryan Nobles, as we turn to Matt Rivers now in Beijing and discuss the upcoming visit with the president of China coming to the Mar-a-Lago resort there with the president of the U.S. this week. And today President Trump, in short, saying the U.S. will take on North Korea with or without China. Has there been any reaction there yet?

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Nothing official yet, Ana, but when we get some official reaction later on today, which we are expecting here in Beijing, I think you can expect the Chinese to be as consistent as they have been in the past, which is to say they are rock solid in how they approach this issue.

What they have been saying for well over 10 years now is that the only way to solve the ongoing crisis in the Korean Peninsula is through negotiations, whether it's under the kind of framework like the six- party talks that ultimately failed back in the mid 2000s or with a new round of direct negotiations between the United States and the regime in Pyongyang. That according to the Chinese is the only way you can bring some sort of lasting peace and stability and get Pyongyang to stop its weapons development program.

Now of course, on the other side of the equation here you have the Trump administration arguing that it's actually China that should be using its economic leverage over Pyongyang to get the Kim Jong-un regime to stop developing these nuclear weapons. China does have a lot of economic leverage. It's North Korea's only major trading ally on the world stage.

And so I think when both presidents meet for the first time in Mar-a- Lago later on this week, this is certainly going to be very, very high up the agenda, given how tense the situation remains in this part of the world.

CABRERA: Matt Rivers, our thanks to you.

Let's talk more about all of this with former ambassador to South Korea and Iraq, Christopher Hill. He is now the dean of the University of Denver. He was also the lead U.S. negotiator of the six-party talks.

Ambassador Hill, thank you for spending some of your Sunday night with us. Now when President Trump hosted Japan's leader in February at Mar-a-Lago, I think we spoke on that night as North Korea hit the launch on a missile there. How likely is that North Korea might act out again during the Chinese president's visit?

AMB. CHRISTOPHER HILL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO SOUTH KOREA AND IRAQ: You know, it is possible they could do it. I mean they tend to do these things on their own schedule, but certainly there have been expectations and some indications that they may want to do another test, and they -- you know, it could come when they're sitting in Mar- a-Lago talking about what to do about the North Koreans.

[20:05:04] I don't think it's going to help the North Korean cause much, but I think the really interesting thing will be how the Chinese size up Donald Trump and how Donald Trump sizes up the Chinese.

CABRERA: President Trump said today about his upcoming Mar-a-Lago meeting with China's leader, quote, "I have great respect for China. I would not be at all surprised if we did something that would be very dramatic and good for both countries and I hope so." That was a quote from the interview with "The Financial Times."

So, Ambassador, what would a major deal with China potentially look like?

HILL: Well, first of all, a grace note from Donald Trump on China is kind of a good sign. So we'll see if there's been anything teed up. Usually when you pull a rabbit out of a hat in a summit it's because you spent a lot of time stuffing that rabbit down the hat, and so we're not really sure any of that has gone on. But certainly I think there will be some -- some effort to say, look, Chinese, if you can really, really throttle them back on this through sanctions, work on their access to your financial system, work on your trade of raw materials with them and, you know, meanwhile we'll keep the door open to a lot of things.

You know, we're not interested in going right to a military solution here, but we really need some help. It will be that kind of discussion. You know, there's been this kind of desultory thing where the Chinese turn to us and say, come on, Americans, you've got to go talk to these people, and we turn to the Chinese, and say, no, it's you who have to do more. In fact, I mean, what we need to do is both, work together on this problem.

CABRERA: Now President Trump has signaled that he does not plan to press human rights issues during this visit. Why do you think that is? HILL: You know, I think there's a time and a place for that, but I

think there's a broad feeling in the analytical community that North Korea is making progress on its nuclear weapons, and it is kind of the time that that issue really gets front and center in the U.S.-China relationship. Maybe in the entire international list of concerns. So my hope is that they really will focus on North Korea. It doesn't mean that they can't focus on human rights at another time and another place, but I really think North Korea ought to be front and center. This problem is coming down the tracks.

CABRERA: I would also like to get your take on another thing that caught my eye in this "Financial Times" interview. President Trump saying that so far he has no regrets about his style or his agenda, but that governing is harder than he thought.

Ambassador, it kind of seemed like a moment where President Trump was humble. Is that how you see that?

HILL: Well, I think that whole healthcare issue really was kind of -- you know, it was clear to him that this was a lot more difficult than he thought. You just can't tell people what to do. It is hard to scare people. They want you to show how you're really going to do something to them, so they call your bluff all the time. So if you thought healthcare was tough, wait until he gets a load of the North Koreans. I mean these are people who absolutely don't care what anyone else thinks.

And so he's got to solve this because he doesn't want to face the American people in 2020, having had North Korea deliver or announce a deliverable nuclear weapon that could reach the United States.

CABRERA: And when it comes to China, does his style or his erratic nature help him in any way in terms of negotiating with China?

HILL: Well, to be frank, they're not thrilled with Iraq. No one is. But they do like decisive. They do like strong. I mean, don't forget they got along great with Richard Nixon. They tended to get along with American leaders who they perceive as strong and decisive, but they worry about this erratic side. And I think that is why this face-to-face meeting which will go on for -- I mean they're going to have a couple of days down there at Mar-a-Lago, and I hope they'll get to take the measure of each other and perhaps make some progress.

CABRERA: Do you think Kim Jong-un might be worried about how Donald Trump would respond?

HILL: You know, this is a guy who seems to be right out of a "MAD" magazine, "what, me worried?" type of person. On the other hand, he has to be a little concerned because we are getting to the point where we can't be patient anymore. We can't say, oh, this problem is important, but it is not urgent, it's not immediate. It is urgent, it is important, and I think the United States is really going to have to deal with this.

Obviously we have to really tighten up those alliances with Japan and South Korea. That's number one. But certainly number two is a clear understanding with the Chinese of what we would do, what we wouldn't do, and we need to get a clear sense if the Chinese take this with the seriousness that, frankly, the rest of the civilized world takes it.

CABRERA: This White House has said that North Korea is the greatest international threat to this country. Do you agree?

HILL: I'm there. I mean I think the issues going on in the Middle East really can't be left on their own.

[20:10:05] I mean, there are some issues, you try to leave them on their own and hope they go away. That's not going to go away, so that's tough. But I think in terms of a country that kind of threatens us with nuclear weapons, I think we've got to take it very seriously, and I would put it right up there number one.

I mean, the issue is if North Korea has a provocation against South Korea, they move on South Korea in some way, will the United States be prepared to do what we have to do, which is intervene on South Korea's part, if we're also concerned that North Korea might fire off a missile? Obviously we can retaliate in a way that would finish North Korea. I mean, it would become the proverbial parking lot, but is that good enough after having lost many thousands of Americans? I doubt it. So I think this really needs to be taken with utmost seriousness.

CABRERA: All right. Ambassador Christopher Hill, good to have you on tonight. Thank you.

HILL: Thank you.

CABRERA: Coming up, ahead of a Supreme Court showdown on Capitol Hill, some good news for Republicans. A third Senate Democrat has announced support for Judge Gorsuch, but will the GOP get enough Dems on their team to fend off a filibuster?

I'll have the latest numbers and we will discuss next. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:15:24] CABRERA: A big week ahead for President Trump and his Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch. Tomorrow the Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to vote on whether to send his nomination to the full Senate and a final confirmation vote is expected by Friday. As of today three Democrats are now saying they will vote yes for the president's choice.

Now with the threat of a filibuster and the nuclear option looming, a Gorsuch confirmation still faces some big hurdles. So let's bring in CNN Supreme Court reporter Ariane De Vogue joining us now.

Ariane, how big of a deal is this third Democrat now coming over to the Republican side, saying he will vote for Gorsuch?

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ana, the latest Democratic senator to come out in support of Gorsuch is Joe Donnelly. He's out of Indiana, and his state voted for Trump like the other two Democrats. He is furious that Merrick Garland never got the vote, but he says, look, Neil Gorsuch is qualified.

As things stand now, Gorsuch is going to need 60 votes for confirmation, and already more than 30 Democrats, led by Chuck Schumer, have said they're going to vote to filibuster. Republicans on the other hand say, look, if Democrats do that, if they filibuster then the Republicans will change the rules. That's called the nuclear option, Ana, and that's what we could expect.

CABRERA: And so if that happens, Republicans don't get the 60 votes they need, they go to the nuclear option, change the rules, I mean, does that -- does that open a huge can of worms? Some have said it could signal the end of bipartisanship period.

DE VOGUE: Well, you know, in some way this has been a long time coming. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, she gave a speech I covered a couple of months ago, and she said, you know, when I went through this, I was put through 96-3 and Senator Hatch, a Republican, was my biggest ally, and she said now in this climate he wouldn't touch me with a 10-foot pole.

More and more these confirmation hearings are becoming contentious, and one of the key reasons is as Congress grid locks, right, more of these issues are coming through the court. But what this is going to mean, if there is a nuclear option, is that there are going to be more extremist candidates down the road and people are going to believe that the Supreme Court, the judicial body, is a political body.

And that's something, Ana, that the Supreme Court justices themselves, they really don't like that. That really bothers them.

CABRERA: Ariane, what's your gut telling you? Any chance Judge Gorsuch just doesn't get confirmed?

DE VOGUE: I've got to say right now it sure feels like Chuck Schumer must have his votes lined up, but the end of the day the Republicans feel like, look, if you want to filibuster, we're ready to pull the trigger. The Democrats, they're really going here on principle. There was a school of thought that said, look, why do this now? You're replacing a conservative with a conservative on the bench. Why not wait to trigger this until you get somebody like Anthony Kennedy or the liberal Ruth Bader Ginsburg. But the end of the day, Schumer has made clear the Democrats want to push ahead, Ana, on this now.

CABRERA: They're digging in. Arianne De Vogue, thank you.

DE VOGUE: Thank you.

CABRERA: Coming up, President Trump hitting the greens today with Senator Rand Paul. But will his preferred weekend pastime be a good fit for his meeting with his Chinese counterpart this week? We will discuss. You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [20:23:02] CABRERA: It's the thing President Trump likes to do more than anything on the weekends, play golf. Since taking office the president has hit the links 14 times. That makes a golf outing every five and a half days.

Today in Virginia he teed off with Republican Senator Rand Paul, and as is customary on business golf outings the two men talked shop out on the course.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: We had a great day with the president today. We did talk about some healthcare reform. I think the sides are getting closer and closer together, and I remain very optimistic that we will get Obamacare repeal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: Joining me now CNN political contributor and former Philadelphia mayor, Michael Nutter, and CNN political commentator and former chief of staff to Reince Priebus at the RNC, Mike Shields.

Gentlemen, welcome back. Thanks for staying with us.

MICHAEL NUTTER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Thank you, Ana.

CABRERA: Mayor, I think it's safe to say the president won't be inviting the president of China out for a round of golf at Mar-a-Lago this week. And we know the Chinese president is a well-known soccer fan. He has made a policy of actually shutting down golf courses all over China. But they will be meeting at Mar-a-Lago golf or no golf. What will you be watching for in this meeting?

NUTTER: Well, first, Ana, let me first say that typically is the kind of meeting that would actually take place at the real White House, the one in Washington, D.C. You know, the president I think has to get over the fact that he's -- you know, he's not just a hotel-motel owner anymore. He's actually president of the United States of America. And so how we conduct our business I think is very, very important.

You know, the fact of the matter is that President Xi Jinping is very experienced in his work. He holds three different significant positions in China. The ambassador from China is leading the preparations for this particular visit. And so, you know, they have a sense I'm sure of what they want to accomplish, and, unfortunately, at the moment we have no idea what President Trump might try to do other than the rhetoric -- heated rhetoric from the campaign.

[20:25:06] CABRERA: Well, this gave us a clue perhaps or a little sneak peek of their meeting, Mike Shields. President Trump said this today about the Chinese leader's visit.

"I have great respect for China. I would not be at all surprised if we did something that would be very dramatic and good for both countries, and I hope so." Now in that same interview he said he did not need China's help with

North Korea, and if they don't want to help, well, the U.S. will go it alone.

So, Mike, it seems there are a couple of different tones he is taking with China.

MIKE SHIELDS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. First of all I want to talk about Mar-a-Lago, and I want all the viewers to go and Google it. Mar-a-Lago was actually designed as the winter White House. It used to be owned by the federal government and then it was sold off because no one was using it. So it's entirely appropriate at fact for the president not to go to Camp David like a lot of presidents have.

NUTTER: Oh my god.

SHIELDS: But actually to go to what was the winter White House. And the reason for that is because you want to get someone in a setting where you can negotiate. Just like work that's done on the golf course today with a senator who had previously opposed the president on his -- on Obamacare. President Trump went into Louisville and did a rally that was sort of targeted towards Rand Paul. Now they're out on the golf course doing business together.

NUTTER: Wonderful.

SHIELDS: And look, I think the establishment in Washington, the media and Democrats don't understand how this president operates and that's exactly how he wants it. He's going to say I'm moving past Obamacare, and now maybe we're going to work on Obamacare. He is negotiating, he's trying to work out a deal, and he's going to say things to China to send signals to them, and then he's going to send other signals to them, just sometimes to get them off of edge, sometimes to push a policy.

In the end, the president is trying to put himself in a very, very good negotiating position and that is exactly what he ran on. He ran on being a negotiator who is going to get America better deals than they've gotten before. And so as the process, the sausage making is happening, it might be confusing to cover it, but behind the scenes he is putting himself in a great position of leverage with all of these countries.

NUTTER: He did a great deal on that Republican healthcare plan. That was just fantastic. That was the --

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: Well, you see he is still negotiating it.

NUTTER: Fine tuned machine? Yes.

SHIELDS: He is still negotiating.

NUTTER: Playing golf. SHIELDS: Instead of the bill being written in Nancy Pelosi's office

and shoved down our throats without us knowing what's in it, he is actually negotiating and going through with legislatures trying to work out a new deal.

(CROSSTALK)

NUTTER: This bill was written by the Republicans and rejected by the Republicans. We didn't do anything.

CABRERA: Now here's what -- here's what the president had done.

SHIELDS: That's true. That is very true. You did not do anything. That's exactly true. You didn't do anything to help make Obamacare better. We will agree on that.

CABRERA: Gentlemen.

NUTTER: No, we got it to implode on your own.

CABRERA: Gentlemen, here's what the president has done this week alone. Let me put up a list here of some of the things that we have been watching this week. Maybe didn't make the big headlines, but Attorney General Jeff Sessions threatened to defund sanctuary cities. Some of President Obama's climate change policies were undone. Chris Christie was chosen to lead the fight on opioid abuse. That meeting with the president of China was announced and the president signed some executive orders targeting trade abuse.

So, Mayor, my question to you is Trump supporters point to these items and they say, look, he is actually doing a lot.

NUTTER: Well, I mean, he is showing up for work. I mean, you know, wherever that might be. I mean, you don't get a lot of credit for that. The big things, you know, we just talked about healthcare and that debacle. The travel ban, not going too well. We're on round two. That's not going anywhere. Not much talk about the wall anymore. That even Republicans don't want to pay for.

So, I mean, look, there will be day-to-day activity. You know, Mr. Trump likes a lot of action. He thinks that that is, you know, reflective of getting something done. It's not. So he is still learning how to govern. That would be a new thing for him.

CABRERA: Meantime, Mike, we have the president tweeting this morning that we should all be talking about surveillance and leaks. I mean how effective are those tweets? Shouldn't he be calling more attention to some of the accomplishments? Why is he focusing so much on that other issue?

SHIELDS: Well, look, I think first of all thanks for putting that up on the screen. I think it is very fair to point out how many things this president has already gotten done in the first 65 days of his administration.

CABRERA: But why isn't the president pointing those things out himself? Instead he is talking about surveillance and leaks.

SHIELDS: Yes, because he's also pushing back on what the media and Washington, D.C. is obsessed with, which is that they're trying to pin some sort of phony Russia story on him even though while tons of people seem to be looking for evidence, there actually is no evidence of anything having occurred, and in the meantime ignoring what we now know has been happening, which is that people were unmasked completely irrelevant to the Russian investigation.

CABRERA: We don't know that.

SHIELDS: And possibly --

CABRERA: We don't know that.

SHIELDS: Possibly for --

NUTTER: You don't know that.

SHIELDS: Possibly for political purposes involving the last administration.

NUTTER: It's fake news.

SHIELDS: So I think he's trying to point people to something that -- look, I think what the president understands is he's not getting fair coverage and the way for him to shoot past that is to tweet out to the American people directly what is going on. I just read "The Washington Post" sort of newsletter. There was 15 stories in it. Neither of them political. Zero positive stories about any of the stuff that you just put on the screen and nine negative stories.

[20:30:06] So, of course the president is going to tweet himself exactly what we should be focused on. You know, thanks for putting it up again. Exactly what we should be focused on as opposed to necessarily going through, say, "The Washington Post." And I think that's entirely appropriate for him.

NUTTER: Well, Mike, why don't you read the "L.A. Times" which will say that -- in clear times the president should stop lying, he should have respect for established organizations, and he should actually learn how to govern? I don't care about the golf. He can play golf. He can play checkers, he can play badminton for all I care. What he needs to do is focus on what the American really care about, which is governing, real news and leadership.

CABRERA: Michael Nutter and Mike Shields, thank you both for joining us. We are out of time tonight.

SHIELDS: Thank you, Ana.

CABRERA: We'll have you back another weekend.

NUTTER: Thanks, Ana.

CABRERA: The White House is chock full of millionaires, that's a fact. But as precious few officials in top spots with government experience. So will President Trump regret that in a crisis? And who will he look to for advice? We talk to President Obama's right-hand man for his take on this White House.

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:35:18] CABRERA: When you're facing a major crisis, who do you turn to? A spouse? A parent? Most of us have someone who is our go- to adviser. President Trump has dozens of high-paid counselors, but when he is facing his first real crisis, who will he ask for advice?

I asked that question to CNN senior political commentator David Axelrod who was, as you know, President Obama's right-hand man for years.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think that history shows he tends to turn to his family members first, and the fact that Ivanka Trump after a very difficult week was added to the staff suggests that he's going to continue in that practice. But I think the most interesting thing about that list that you just gave is that not one of them has served a day in government in their lives. Not one of them knows the White House or knew the White House before they arrived. Not one of them has dealt with Congress before this in an official capacity. And --

CABRERA: Is that a good thing given that the electorate wanted a change?

AXELROD: No, I think it is a terribly bad thing.

CABRERA: Why?

AXELROD: Yes, you're right, the country elected someone to kind of blow up Washington, take a blow torch to the status quo. But, you know, look, Barack Obama ran as an agent of change and he had some experience in government, but he surrounded himself -- I didn't have experience in government, but Rahm Emanuel, the chief of staff, had been in the leadership in Congress and six years in the Clinton White House.

Pete Rouse who was one of his top aides had spent 30 years, including as chief of staff to the majority leader in the -- in the Senate. And throughout the Obama White House there were people who had very, very deep experience. And it was for that reason that he was able to pass a Recovery Act, that he was able to pass the Affordable Care Act, and had one of the most productive first two years of any president since Lyndon Johnson. He would not have been able to do that if he didn't have people around him.

But, ultimately, Ana, it flows from the top.

CABRERA: Now the president has this week on a Twitter tirade of sorts, attacking the Freedom Caucus, the conservative Republican group, after what happened with the healthcare bill. What do you make of President Trump's strategy there? Was that a smart move to go on the offense against a group within his own party?

AXELROD: It is never clear to me what is a strategy and what is an impulse on the part of this president. The fact is a couple of weeks earlier he was -- he could not have been more cozy with the Freedom Caucus. In fact, he altered the healthcare bill that was on the floor of the House to please or to try and please the Freedom Caucus in ways that drove a lot of moderate Republicans away. And then on the day that the bill was pulled from the floor, he only had negative words for Democrats and blamed Democrats for the bill's defeat.

So I think if I'm a member of the Freedom Caucus, I'm getting whiplash listening and watching this president. And you know, I think this goes back to a core issue, which is credibility matters when you're president. No one is going to take your threats seriously and no one is going to take your outreach seriously if they don't think that it will have enduring meaning. And he's going to find it hard to achieve his political goals if he shifts from pillar to -- to post based on his mood of the day. And so I don't know whether it is a strategy or an impulse.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CABRERA: Again, that was David Axelrod. You can check out David's podcast, "THE AXE FILES" at CNN.com. Our thanks to him for the conversation.

Still to come, a mystery that has left communities in Washington, D.C. in shock and fear. Why are girls disappearing and does race have anything to do with how police respond? We will take a closer look at this next.

You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:43:21] CABRERA: Their pictures are posted all over the nation's capitol. The faces of young black and Latino girls missing. There's concern. Rumors in the District of Columbia that these girls are not runaways but victims of human trafficking. Still, it is important to note there is no evidence the missing girls have actually met that fate. But there's also concern district officials aren't doing enough to find out what did happen to them.

D.C. Police have recorded 501 cases of missing children in 2017 alone, and 22 cases were unsolved as of Wednesday.

CNN law enforcement analyst Charles Ramsey spent nearly a decade as a police chief in Washington, D.C. and he is joining me now.

Chief Ramsey, thank you for spending the time to talk about this important issue. I want to talk first about the Congressional Black Caucus now calling for a federal investigation into this. The group sent a letter last week to both Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI director James Comey, and Sessions was also briefed on the missing girls on Friday. Do you agree with these lawmakers that it's reached a point where a federal investigation is warranted?

CHARLES RAMSEY, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, I don't know if a federal investigation is warranted, but certainly we take these matters very seriously. If that would lead to some kind of recommendations on how we can decrease the number of children that wind up missing, then it would be worthwhile. It just depends on the circumstances.

CABRERA: Now D.C. Police tweeted this, saying, "There isn't a spike in missing people in D.C. We're just using social media more to help locate them. Sorry to alarm you."

Here is what we know about these messing cases. Metropolitan Police have seen over 2,000 missing cases, children specifically, a year since 2014. Is this the D.C. Police Department doing enough to make a difference here in this?

[20:45:08] RAMSEY: Yes, I think so. There's only so much you can do. You have to remember, these are some alarming numbers but most children are returned home safely within a relatively short period of time after they're -- after they're reported missing. Sometimes it is the result of a custody battle. But there are occasions when kids are abducted and obviously we take these matters very seriously. In some cases an Amber alert is put out in order to get the public involved in helping us locate these children, but the number of children that are missing is something that we're always very, very concerned about.

CABRERA: So that number, 2,000-ish a year does not alarm you?

RAMSEY: Well, sure, it alarms me. If you've got people who have children that are missing, but that doesn't mean that all those children are still missing. Oftentimes a kid will be on his way home from school, wind up going to a neighbor's house and not call home, and you wind up finding the child within a relatively short period of time.

CABRERA: Some of the concern that we're hearing from activists and from these lawmakers and the Congressional Black Caucus is that it seems that there are an abnormal number of minority children who are still missing. And when we talked with the Center for Missing and Exploited Children they back that up, saying about 57 percent are people of color who are missing. Why do you think that is?

RAMSEY: I don't know why that is, but it is a disproportionate number of minority children that wind up being reported as missing. Again, there's a smaller percentage that are never found, but it is something that's baffling. And if there's something, some research or something that could be done to find out exactly why that is that would be helpful.

CABRERA: Let me read this statement from the D.C. police chief. It says, "There is always a concern of human trafficking, but we have no evidence for this."

With the number of missing girls being reported in D.C., is there something authorities could do to help calm nerves?

RAMSEY: Well, I think what they're doing now, using social media to try to get a handle on what's going on, maybe somebody has seen the youngster and can report that and then the police can locate her and bring her back to her parents -- or him, whichever the case may be. But you do all you can to try to locate these kids.

Now some are runaways and they don't want to be found, but there are some cases, unfortunately, where kids are abducted, human trafficking is a huge issue that really flies under the radar across the country to a large extent. So we have to be aware and very vigilant to make sure that our kids don't get caught up in something like that.

CABRERA: It sounds like the use of social media could be really useful. As you say, it does draw more attention to the issue. Maybe that's a good thing.

RAMSEY: Well, it is a good thing. And again, any time you start using a new tool and you raise awareness, people get the impression that somehow it has gotten far worse than it was before. It is bad any time you have one child that's missing. But I wouldn't say that it is any worse now than it was a year or two ago, but it is a good thing that the public is now focused on this because it is a problem.

CABRERA: Any advice to parents watching tonight?

RAMSEY: Talk to your kids. Make sure that they know to check in if they're not going to go straight home, and if something does happen pay attention to what is going on. Run, scream, fight, do whatever you have to do if it's a case of abduction, but they do need to talk to their kids. Don't be afraid to talk to them about something like this. And if they are missing or get lost, go to the nearest police officer. Go into a business, let some adult know that they're having a problem.

CABRERA: Former Washington, D.C. police chief Charles Ramsey, thanks for joining us tonight.

RAMSEY: Thank you.

CABRERA: We're back in a moment. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

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[20:53:14] CABRERA: On tonight's all new episode of CNN's "BELIEVER," Reza Aslan goes to Mexico to explore a growing devotion to the Saint of Death. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REZA ASLANT, HOST, CNN'S "BELIEVER": Dona Queta has become one of the most unlikely of religious crusaders. It all started when her son gave her a Santa Muerte statue that was too big for her tiny house. So she put it outside on the sidewalk.

At the time Santa Muerte devotion was a secret and private affair. People were amazed at Dona Queta brazenly public act of devotion. They took their cue from her. They started bringing out their own Santa Muerte statues displaying them publicly. They began flocking to Dona Queta's house in solidarity with her.

Next thing you knew, this small house in the middle of a tough neighborhood became a kind of Mecca for Santa Muerte devotees all across Mexico.

(On camera): So many people come here from all over Mexico with their offerings, their prayers, and I notice that they all have something very specific that they are asking for. Whether it's love or a job or protection. When you pray to Santa Muerte, is there something specific that you ask for?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: The host of "BELIEVER," Reza Aslan is joining me now.

Reza, why are so many people drawn to Santa Muerte?

ASLAN: Well, for a great many Mexican, they feel as though the state has abandoned them. That the police do not protect.

[20:55:03] That the Catholic Church has rejected them. And so they are looking for alternative sources to feel protected and safe. To feel as though they have some control over their lives. And Santa Muerte, because she is so transactional, like you saw in that clip, it's all about asking her for very specific things which she will deliver to you.

Santa Muerte has become kind of the go-to idol, the go-to saint for a lot of these people who feel as though they have no other place to turn.

CABRERA: Interesting. And I understand that there are some Catholics who are a part of this devotion, but yet Catholic leaders have condemned this. What is the conflict there?

ASLAN: Well, sure. For the Catholic Church, Santa Muerte equals satanic, demonic worship. I mean, the church very clearly says that Christ came to defeat death. And so the very worship of death is somehow anti-Christ or anti-Christian.

Now many Santa Muerte devotees, maybe as many as five million in Mexico alone, will say that they are Catholics. That they feel Catholic.

CABRERA: Yes.

ASLAN: That they just have an extra saint. Now I would also say that a great many Mexican devotees of Satan Muerte reject the church altogether and say that this is nothing to do with Catholicism. This is actually an ancient Mexican folk religion. But regardless, the church disagrees. For the church, this is all sort of a cult. It's Satan worship. It's rejected in very strong terms. CABRERA: As we saw in the clip, you talked to quite a few people

about their prayers to Santa Muerte and you also mentioned that they are looking to Santa Muerte for protection. But what are they specifically praying for?

ASLAN: Well, for most people when they think of Santa Muerte, they think of criminals and narco traffickers, you know, people on the fringes of society because they are the ones who flock to this devotion, and that's true. But the fact of the matter is, is that over the last 20, 30 years, Santa Muerte devotion has become much more open and much more expanded. And now you have little old ladies, you have police officers, judges, nurses, doctors, state officials.

In a way what's happened is that the argument for Saint Death is that it doesn't play favors. It doesn't matter whether you're rich or poor, it doesn't matter whether your white or black, it doesn't matter whether you're powerful or powerless, death plays no favorites. She comes for everyone. And there's something beautiful and democratic about that kind of devotion.

CABRERA: Yes.

ASLAN: That brings the most unlikely people together. At the end of this episode, you will see an amazing rosary of thousands of Santa Muerte devotees who come together to really pray as one for the kinds of things that they feel that been left behind, you know, for a job or for a protection, or for love or wealth.

CABRERA: Reza Aslan, it's been a fascinating series and you speak with so much passion. You can tell that you've gotten into this and it makes it very exciting to watch. Thank you for joining us.

ASLAN: Thank you, Ana. Appreciate it.

CABRERA: And join Reza in Mexico, meet Santa Muerte. This episode of "BELIEVER" is tonight here on CNN at 10:00 Eastern and Pacific.

OK. Speaking of prayer, basketball fans from Washington State and North Carolina will be praying for a big win tomorrow in the NCAA basketball championship. It's basketball royalty. The UNC Tar Heels looking for a sixth title versus the Gonzaga Bulldogs dreaming of their very first title. It's also a battle between a couple of CNN anchors.

Yes, I remain in first place. Believe it or not. I can't really believe it myself. And this is our CNN anchor bracket. You can see David Briggs is right behind me, but in third place, that's the one we have to watch. Kate Bolduan. Because if Gonzaga wins, I get the bragging rights. If UNC triumphs the inter-office title goes to Kate. May the best team and woman win. Especially if it's Zag. Now -- I can't help myself. Sorry, guys.

On the women's side of the bracket, let's talk about the new national champion. The South Carolina Gamecocks won the national championship by defeating the Mississippi State Bulldogs 67-55 at the women's final four in Dallas. Mississippi State was coming off that historic upset win over the UConn women in the semifinals, but in the end, they came up one win short. The Bulldogs sprinted out to an early lead. South Carolina persevered and took the lead and never looked back. The win gives the South Carolina women's basketball team its first ever national championship. So congratulations.

Stay with CNN. We have a great night of television ahead. Here at 10:00 p.m. Eastern, "BELIEVER" with Reza Aslan, Santa Muerte in Mexico City. But right now it's an all-new episode of "FINDING JESUS." "Faith, Fact, Forgery, The Bones of St. Peter."

I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. Thanks for spending part of your weekend with me. I'll be back next Saturday at 3:00 p.m. Eastern. Have a great week. Go, Zags.

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