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Russia Investigation; Trump Phone Calls; Australian Authorities Report 2 ISIS Terror Plots Uncovered; U.S. Envoy: ISIS Losing but This Is Not the End; Russia Brokers Another "Safe Zone" in Syria; Woman to Serve 15 Months in Jail over Boyfriend's Suicide. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired August 4, 2017 - 02:00   ET




ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): This is CNN NEWSROOOM live from Los Angeles. Ahead this hour: the Russia investigation takes another big step forward (INAUDIBLE) Donald Trump (INAUDIBLE) story (INAUDIBLE) total fabrication.

Three world leaders, two offered phone calls we're learning surprising details about Donald Trump's conversations with the leaders of Australia and Mexico.

Also ahead, an American teenager takes his own life. Now his girlfriend is heading to jail in a precedent-setting case.

Hello and thank you for joining us. I'm Isha Sesay. This is NEWSROOM L.A.


SESAY: We begin with major developments in the U.S. Justice Department's investigation of possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. A source tells CNN special counsel Robert Mueller has issued grand jury subpoenas related to Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with a Russian lawyer last year.

The e-mail setting up that meeting promised damaging information on Hillary Clinton from the Russian government. Mr. Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner and campaign chairman Paul Manafort also attended.

President Trump isn't responding directly to news about the grand jury subpoenas but he is lashing out about the probe in general. At a campaign rally in West Virginia Thursday, Mr. Trump said Democrats are using the Russia story as an excuse for their election loss.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There were no Russians in our campaign. There never were. We didn't win because of Russia. We won because of you. That I can tell you.


SESAY: Meanwhile, CNN has learned Mueller's team is looking closely at financial ties between Russia and Mr. Trump, his family and the Trump Organization. The president has warned that's a red line Mueller shouldn't be allowed to cross. CNN's Pamela Brown has the details.


TRUMP: Does anyone really believe that story?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Russia investigation continues to widen, as federal investigators explore the potential financial ties of President Trump and associates to Russia. Sources tell CNN financial links could offer a more concrete path to any potential prosecution.

For the president, that's going too far. He's warned that delving into his businesses is a, quote, "violation." Trump has maintained there's no collusion and he has no financial ties to Russia.

TRUMP: And I can tell you, speaking for myself, I own nothing in Russia. I have no loans in Russia. I don't have any deals in Russia.

BROWN: Now, one year into this complex probe, the FBI has reviewed financial records related to the Trump Organization, the president himself, as well as his family members and campaign associates.

CNN is told investigators have combed through the list of shell companies and buyers of Trump-branded real estate properties. They have scrutinized the roster of tenants at Trump Tower in Manhattan, reaching back several years. And officials familiar with the investigation tell CNN special counsel Robert Mueller's team has examined the backgrounds of Russian business associates connected to Trump, dating to the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant he hosted in Moscow.

CNN could not determine whether the review has included Trump's tax returns. But even investigative leads that have nothing to do with Russia, but involve Trump associates, are being referred to the special counsel to encourage subjects of the investigation to cooperate.

TRUMP: The entire thing has been a witch hunt.

BROWN: President Trump, keenly aware of the increased financial focus, regularly denounces the investigation.

TRUMP: Russia is fake news. Russia, this is fake news put out by the media.

BROWN: Trump's team seeking to limit Mueller's investigation.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president's point is that he doesn't want the special counsel to move beyond the scope and outside of its mission. And the president's been very clear, as have his accountants and team, that he has no financial dealings with Russia. And so I think we have been extremely clear on that.

BROWN: CNN learned new details about how Mueller is running his special counsel team, more than three dozen attorneys, FBI agents and support staff, experts in investigating fraud and financial crimes, broken into groups focused separately on collusion and obstruction of justice.

There is also focus on targets like Paul Manafort, Trump's former Manafort and General Michael Flynn, his fired national security adviser.


BROWN (voice-over): CNN has learned that investigators became more suspicious of Manafort when they turned up intercepted communications that U.S. intelligence agencies collected among suspected Russian operatives discussing their efforts to work with Manafort to coordinate information that could hurt Hillary Clinton's bid for the White House, according to U.S. officials.

In Flynn's case, the focus is now on his lobbying work for the Turkish government, which he failed to initially disclose, as required by law.

While both men deny any wrongdoing, the approach to the Manafort and Flynn probes may offer a template for how the focus by investigators on possible financial crimes could help gain leverage and cooperation in the investigation.

The president's attorney, Jay Sekulow, said to CNN in a statement, quote, "The president's outside legal counsel has not received any requests for documentation or information about this. Any inquiry from the special counsel that goes beyond the mandate specified in the appointment we would object to."

And for context, investigators don't have to go directly to the president's lawyers to get financial information. Investigators can issue subpoenas to financial institutions and get records from the Treasury Department -- Pamela Brown, CNN, Washington.


SESAY: Joining us here in L.A., senior political analyst and the senior editor for "The Atlantic," Ron Brownstein and criminal defense attorney, Brian Claypool.

Gentlemen, welcome. Always a pleasure to have you with us.

Brian, let me start with you by getting you to explain for our viewers quite simply what exactly a grand jury is and how that alters the Mueller's investigation as we previously understood it.

BRIAN CLAYPOOL, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Sure. A grand jury investigation is not a judicial proceeding but what it is that's very profound is it's an investigative tool.

It gives Robert Mueller subpoena power. He can now go out and subpoena, for example, business records, financial records. He can also subpoena witnesses to come to testify before the grand jury. And that is very, very powerful in this investigation because it allows for a fact-finding mission.

The ultimate goal of the grand jury then is to determine whether anybody will be indicted. It's not to determine whether somebody's been -- somebody's committed a crime.

But is there reasonable basis to indict anybody for a crime?

SESAY: Well, Ron, the president didn't address the issue directly. We know he had that campaign rally in West Virginia, in Huntington. But he did address the issue of the Russia probe in general. Take a listen.


TRUMP: They can't beat us at the voting booths so they're trying to the future and the future that you want. They're trying to cheat you out of the leadership you want with a fake story that is demeaning to all of us and, most importantly, demeaning to our country and demeaning to our Constitution.


SESAY: Ron, what do you make of it?

Very interesting --


BROWNSTEIN: -- it really does encapsulate what has been an important political strategy for the president since taking office, which is to try to equate any attacks on him with an attempt to essentially suppress his supporters, right. So the idea being that you're voters who are being overlooked by these coastal elites.

You reasserted yourself and now when they're coming after me, they're really coming after you. There's a parallel, though, here. In the same way that he is saying that Russia did not decide the election, Russia is not the reason, the principle reason at all.

He is in the hole he is in six months into the presidency. I mean, he's looking at the lowest approval ratings we've seen in a president at this point; 33 percent in one poll this week.

SESAY: That's right.

BROWNSTEIN: It is not Russia, it is the way he is comporting himself as president above all. The personal doubts, the questions about temperament and qualifications and judgment. And the more he lashes out at this story, in some ways, the more he reinforces what I believe is the real dynamic that is driving down his numbers --

(CROSSTALK) SESAY: Are you surprised at the tenor, the tone of that, bearing in mind he has a new chief of staff, who, the question for the last couple of days has been, can Kelly rein him in?

BROWNSTEIN: No, I think -- Kelly can create a more professional process in the White House. But I don't think anybody is reining in Donald -- I mean, there is no new Donald Trump, right. This man is over 70 years old. He got elected this way. He is certainly struggling to advance any kind of presidential agenda through Congress in this manner. But there's no sign that he's changing.

SESAY: Brian, this grand jury that's been impaneled by Robert Mueller, there was already a grand jury in place in Virginia in relation to the General Flynn inquiry.

So help us understand why another grand jury -- what does that mean?

What does that tell us?

What does it signal?

CLAYPOOL: Well, just so we're clear for your viewers, too --


CLAYPOOL: -- a federal grand jury has to have at least 16 members to have a quorum. It can go up to 23. But I just wanted to clarify that as well. Now I think a --the reason why there was a separate grand jury for Flynn, I think the big reason, is to avoid any perception of bias or conflict of interest.

Because, if you remember, President Trump was distancing himself greatly from Flynn a few weeks ago. So if you think President Trump's barking loud now, can you imagine if he was involved in the same grand jury investigation with Flynn?

SESAY: So this is all about keeping things separate and clean and above reproach.

CLAYPOOL: Let me just tell you briefly why that's important because Rod Burnstein (sic) -- he's now the de facto attorney general on this case because Sessions had to recuse himself --

BROWNSTEIN: Rosenstein.

CLAYPOOL: -- right --


CLAYPOOL: Now if -- he does have the ability at the direction of President Trump. If President Trump said, I want you to fire Robert Mueller as a special prosecutor, he could for cause. And one of the for cause issues is if it there is a conflict of interest. That's where it fits in and it's a very important --

(CROSSTALK) SESAY: Yes, and it's a very important (INAUDIBLE).

Ron, take a listen to Kellyanne Conway, the president's counselor. She gave some reaction to the news of the grand jury a short time ago. Take a listen.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP COUNSELOR: We know that these types of endeavors end up being fishing expeditions. They're a very broadly cast net and I would remind everybody that in terms of President Trump, he has said that he has no financial dealings with Russia whatsoever.


SESAY: The president has said that but we now know that they are digging into financial records of President Trump, the Trump campaign and his family. Of course, now it leads to the question of crossing off red lines.

Does it raise the stakes of Mueller being fired?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, first of all, you know, my experience has been -- watched a number of these, all the way back to Lawrence Walsh (ph) in the 1980s and Iran-contra. It's hard to watch these criminal investigates from the outside the way we would a legislative battle. I mean, the glass is much more opaque.

I don't think -- we think -- we know less than we think we do I think, at any given point. So exactly what they're learning and exactly where they're going, it's hard to kind of do the play-by-play as we go.

Having said that, I think that as the president has repeatedly offered hints, suggestions that he will -- he wants to find a way, I think, to fire Mueller sooner or later.

On the other hand, what you're seeing develop on Capitol Hill is a backlash against that idea, particularly in the Senate. And I think the warnings from Senate Republicans have gotten significantly more significant in the last several days, several weeks.

And suggesting that, in the same way that he's trying to set a red line, they're trying to set a red line and say if you do this, this could be the beginning of the end of your presidency.

So exactly how that plays out, Donald Trump has kind of barreled through a lot of red lines in his short political career. But I think the Senate Republicans, if not necessarily the House yet, are putting down some important markers.

SESAY: To that point, I want us to play some sound from our own Dana Bash speaking to Senator Susan Collins, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee. She gave her reaction to the notion of red lines and then, Brian, I want you to weigh in because there's a question raised here that I need your legal expertise on. Let's roll that sound.


DANA BASH, CNN SR. U.S. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: CNN is reporting that the special counsel, Robert Mueller, is expanding his investigation to include the president's financial dealings.

That may not have anything to do with the campaign in 2016.

Is that appropriate?

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R-MAINE), MEMBER, SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I believe that the special counsel has a very broad mandate and he should follow the leads, wherever they may be.

And, thus, I do not think his investigation should be constrained beyond the mandate that he was given when he was --


BASH: And the president called that a red line.

COLLINS: The president can't set red lines for Bob Mueller.

BASH: Well said.


SESAY: (INAUDIBLE) I have for you. That's a question. Senator Susan Collins, Republican, saying the president can't set red lines with Bob Mueller.

Is she right?

CLAYPOOL: I don't believe she's correct because Robert Mueller has not bee given plenary power in this investigation. What I mean by plenary power, he does not have unfettered power as an attorney general to do whatever he wants to do in this investigation.

There are parameters on the investigation. And the parameters are to look into the Russian meddling probe in the election. Now if I'm in President Trump's camp, I would argue as he is vehemently that once you start crossing into I'm just going to subpoena willy-nilly financial records on my business investigates to try to connect President Trump to Russians, that that's beyond the scope of the investigation.


BROWNSTEIN: But the question of underlying financial obligation or relation, it's obviously relevant to the issue of whether Russia would have felt they had any leverage over him.


BROWNSTEIN: Among other things, the -- who was the progenitor of the meeting in Trump Tower with the lawyer?

It was someone with whom the president was financially involved through the beauty pageant that was held in Moscow. So until we know -- again, it's very hard from the outside to know exactly what they're doing.

I would say, whatever -- and I'm not a lawyer or a prosecutor (INAUDIBLE). Whatever the legal question of the red line, the political question, is very important, too, because as I said, you're starting to see Senate Republicans -- and not only Susan Collins, but someone like Thom Tillis, who is right in the mainstream of the Republican caucus in the Senate, saying -- beginning to work; Lindsey Graham also, beginning to work with Democrats on the question of establishing some level of protection.

I think there would be an enormous uproar if the president says I don't like where this investigation is going, therefore I am firing him. The signals have been muted before. I think they're getting sharper now.


CLAYPOOL: But just to be clear, he can do that.

SESAY: All right.

CLAYPOOL: If it gets too far, he's going to pull the rug out whether you like it or not.

SESAY: We must end it here.

Ron, Brian, thank you. Appreciate it.

Next on NEWSROOM L.A., what really happened in phone calls Donald Trump made to two key allies just days after he took office?

The transcripts are out and they tell quite a story.

Plus firefighters say one Dubai's tallest buildings caught fire for the second time.




SESAY: (INAUDIBLE) operations are underway in Dubai after a spectacular fire in an 84-story residential tower. Flames burned up the side of the building for about two hours, sending flaming debris down to the ground. Firefighters went inside the building to put out the fire.

Its architects may regret naming it the Torch Tower after its second major fire in three years. Thankfully, there have been no reported injuries in either one. In just a few hours, Venezuela's new legislative assembly will take

office. Prosecutors are asking the court to halt the inauguration and the opposition is calling last week's vote unconstitutional. The U.S. says it will not recognize the new assembly, saying the election was rigged from the start.

There are protests planned against and in favor of President Nicolas Maduro on Friday outside the legislative palace.

New details have released about President Trump's private phone conversations with two key U.S. allies. We've heard how contentious those phone calls were in January. Well, one was with the president of Mexico, the other the prime minister of Australia.

Now "The Washington Post" has obtained transcripts of the conversations and the reflection on Mr. Trump is not flattering. CNN's Randi Kaye has all the details.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): His first phone call with the Mexican president after taking office and Donald Trump was already arm-twisting. Transcripts obtained by "The Washington Post" reveal President Trump's goal: to stop Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto from saying publicly that Mexico will not pay for the border wall.

Trump: "We should both say we will work it out."

The phone call took place on January 27th, just two days after President Trump signed an executive order to build the wall, though funding is still an issue. Trump appearing to try to script the Mexican president.

Pena Nieto: "My position has been and will continue to be very firm, saying that Mexico cannot pay for that wall."

A frustrated Trump: "But you cannot say that to the press. The press is going to go with that and I cannot live with that."

Earlier in the call, Trump issued an ultimatum of sorts.

"If you're going to say that Mexico is not going to pay for the wall, then I do not want to meet with you guys anymore."

Trump also suggesting this could backfire on him.

"This is the least important thing that we are talking about but, politically, this might be the most important."

Trump and the Mexican president also discussed the problem with gangs and drugs. That's when Trump insulted the people of New Hampshire, referring to his win there in the primaries.

"I won New Hampshire because New Hampshire is a drug-infested den coming from southern border." KAYE: Still, before it was over, President Trump changed his tune

after they both agreed to stop talking about the wall and who will pay for it, Trump telling the Mexican president that he'll make him so popular that his people will for a constitutional amendment so he can run again.

In Mexico presidents are limited to single six-year term.

KAYE (voice-over): in another call that same week with Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, one of our closest allies, Trump lost his patience. Their conversation went south after Turnbull asked Trump to consider taking as many as 2,000 refugees that had tried to Australia by boat.

The Obama administration had originally cut a deal to do so.

Trump's response, "Boy, that will make us look awfully bad. Here I am, calling for a ban where I am not letting anybody in and we take 2,000 people. The United States has become like a dumping ground."

Turnbull quickly tried to explain, "Every individual is subject to your vetting."

Again, like with Mexico, Trump appeared worried about how it all would make him look.

Trump: "This is going to kill me. I am the world's greatest person that does not want to let people into the country. It makes me look so bad and I have only been here a week."

KAYE: Trump suggested the refugees could become a Boston bomber. He also called the whole agreement a, quote, "stupid deal," and after finally agreeing to vet the refugees, he said the deal makes him look like "a dope."

KAYE (voice-over): Later in the call, the transcript showed Trump said, "I will be seen as a weak and ineffective leader in my first week by these people. This is a killer."

Finally, before abruptly ending the call, Trump hurled one more insult Australia's way.

"I have had it. I have been making these calls all day and this is the most unpleasant call all day. Putin was a pleasant call. This is ridiculous." -- Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.


SESAY: Well, Prime Minister Turnbull on Friday downplayed the leaked conversation, saying he enjoys a, quote, "warm relationship" with President Trump.

With us to share his insights is once again CNN senior political analyst, Ron Brownstein.

Ron, thanks for sticking around. What stands out for you from these leaks?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, what really struck me about this. I went back to the thinking of last fall, when -- after President Trump was elected in November and December, a lot of the commentary was, well, there was the campaign Trump but now he is going to be domesticated, particularly the foreign policy establishment.

Remember a "Saturday Night Live" sketch with Kate McKinnon as Kellyanne Conway, you know, Donald Trump is throwing away all of the campaign promises, particularly on foreign policy.

Well, guess what?

He was very aggressively pushing a lot of the ideas that he ran on. And, in essence -- above all, in the tone, a much more confrontational posture with these foreign leaders.

And I think your reaction to this, to these tapes, will be largely on whether you think it is productive to have this, A, kind of the America first perspective but also the more belligerent kind of personal style or whether you believe both of those things are ultimately making it harder for America to get what it wants in the world.

And the other thing I was -- I think he did show, particularly with Pena Nieto, a little more understanding of the political problems another leader would face. There was kind of the hectoring tone overall in these calls. But they were not completely obtuse.

Some of the passages with Pena Nieto on the wall that have drawn the most attention today in essence, he's kind of acknowledging that the president of Mexico can -- when he says I --


BROWNSTEIN: -- cannot pay for this wall. And he's trying to figure out a way that they both can move forward beyond this.

SESAY: What about those who say it points to political cynicism, when he was on the campaign trail and even recently in the G20, he was still saying he's going to pay for this wall, it's almost like a double speak. It's just red meat to the base.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, I thought it was more complicated than that because what he was saying here was, as I recall from the transcript, was I wanted to make you pay for this through higher tariffs. You have this big trade surplus with us. And I'm going to hit you with tariffs to make you pay for it.

But then he was talked out of that idea, at least temporarily, by his son-in-law and the Mexican foreign minister --


BROWNSTEIN: -- meeting. And so they were trying -- he wants Mexico to pay for this --

SESAY: -- Does this burnish --


SESAY: -- but does it burnish his image as this negotiator, which is what the campaign --


BROWNSTEIN: -- especially the Australian call. There isn't a lot of effective negotiation in there. That's kind of like two alphas butting heads. And we saw in the congressional battle over the health care bill, he wasn't really able to structure a deal.

He didn't understand the details enough to structure a deal. The Australian call is more like him just kind of going, boy, this makes me look stupid and kind of very broad and I think not really having the nuance to try to find a way through it.

I though in the Mexico call there was a little more of a nuance, trying to understand, OK, yes, I don't want this one issue to define the whole relationship. I can't give it up. You can't seem to be rolled over by me. What can we do?

SESAY: In terms of that Australia call, there's also the notable line -- this has been an awful call. My call with President Putin was way more pleasant. Which have people, again, in light of everything that's going on with the Russia story, asking questions.

BROWNSTEIN: And everything about the Putin-Trump relationship is difficult to understand. And even his signing statement, Congress made as strong a statement as they could as part of this general movement that we're seeing, of Republicans led by Senate Republicans, trying to fence him in somewhat on the issues related to Russia, the possibility ,as we said, of establishing a judicial review of any attempt to dismiss the special counsel.

But I think that this does -- it's in that long list of activities that leave you kind of scratching your head a little bit, saying what is it that he sees in Putin that is so different from what pretty much everyone else in the Western world at this point sees?

SESAY: And generally speaking, taken as a whole the transcripts of these two calls, at a time when President Trump's credibility or his approval rating stands at 33 percent, according to that recent Quinnipiac, does that further harm that?

Does it further undercut his credibility?

BROWNSTEIN: I don't think tremendously, maybe a little -- as I said, I think Trump -- why are his numbers are so low?

His numbers are so low for two reasons. One is the way he has comported himself as president, has reaffirmed the doubts of people who weren't sure that he was personally up for the job by temperament or qualification.

I think the other reason he's so low is because the health care bill laid such an egg and was so negatively received. You see the groups that were most aversely affected, his numbers (INAUDIBLE). To the people who voted for Donald Trump to be the brusque, even belligerent advocate of America first, they heard on these transcripts exactly what they wanted.

For people who think that is a path toward isolation for the U.S. and less influence, all of their doubts are reaffirmed.

SESAY: Always good to speak to you. Thank you.

Next on NEWSROOM L.A., Australia says the suspects in a failed airline bombing were planning another attack. What we know about the alleged plot to use poison gas -- ahead.


[02:31:11] ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles. I'm Isha Sesay.

The headlines this hour.


SESAY: A senior ISIS commander supplied bomb parts in a foiled attack on a passenger plane in Australia. That's according to Australian police. They say the parts were sent through international air cargo and turned into a fully functioning improvised explosive device. Two men have been charged in the alleged plot. The men, in fact, has been charged with a second terror plot as well.

Anna Coren is tracking this story and joins me now with more from Sydney.

Anna, tell us more about what we're learning about these two alleged plots and basically how they were foiled.

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they were foiled due to an intelligence tip off last Wednesday. That is what we heard from the police briefing this morning. Otherwise, perhaps, there could have been a catastrophe at hand.

As you say, two men have been charged, a 32-year-old and a 49-year-old Sidney man. One other man is being detained and can be held under current terror laws until Sunday. But those two men obviously charged with terrorism-related offenses.

Those two plots, one involving an IED that was to be checked in as part of luggage on a flight. At the very last minute, the 49-year-old man had a change of heart and aborted the mission. Now, obviously, he was receiving instructions from ISIS. We know that ISIS had sent the components via air cargo to Australia. And they were then put together here, this military grade explosives. That second plot, Isha, was a chemical dispersion device made of hydrogen sulfide, very deadly, very dangerous. The target not being the aviation industry but rather a crowded space like public transport.

But as I say, if these attacks had had not been foiled, it could have been a catastrophe.

Let's listen to what Australian federal deputy police commissioner, Michael Phelan, had to say.


MICHAEL PHELAN, AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL DEPUTY POLICE COMMISSIONER: A couple of points I'd like to make is that the threat from terrorism is real. We have been saying for a long time that it is not only low capability lone actors that we have to worry about. We also have to worry about sophisticated plots. This is one of the most sophisticated plots that has ever been attempted on Australian soil.


COREN: As I say, a very sophisticated plot, the most sophisticated plot that Australia has ever seen. And I think questions here that are being asked are how were those components of the highly, I should say, these military explosives, high-grade military explosive, allowed to travel via air cargo into Australia without being detect. Obviously, authorities now looking into that -- Isha?

SESAY: There surely has to be, whether these two men, these two suspects were previously known to intelligence authorities, security officials before last week's tip off.

[02:34:59] COREN: Yes, we don't know that information. What we do know, however, is there are at least a thousand Australians who are persons of interest here as far as terrorism goes. But as far as these men are concerned, we don't know if they were under surveillance. Certainly, after the tip off last week, they were then under surveillance.

But there's been a bit of criticism between that first and the second plot and intelligence only learning about it as of last Wednesday. That first plot, Isha, was meant to take place three weeks ago. So intelligence agencies, security agencies really none the wiser until there was that tip off last Wednesday. That's when security was raised. Those men were then being monitored. Then on Saturday, those raids conducted on five properties. Four men were arrested. One was released. Two were charged and one still detained and being interrogated by police -- Isha?

SESAY: Anna Coren, with the very latest from Sydney. Anna, thank you.

Now ISIS is hemorrhaging territory as coalition forces beat back the terror group in both Syria and Iraq. But even those victories can't finish off a group like ISIS. Our Michelle Kosinski spoke to one of the U.S. State Department's top

leaders, who is working to win both the battle and the war.



MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: U.S.- backed forces battle ISIS block by block in Syria. But the area the terror group now controls is quickly shrinking.


KOSINKI: At its peak in 2015, ISIS controlled around 35,000 square miles in Syria and Iraq, nearly the size of California. The latest map obtained by CNN shows they've now lost almost 80 percent of it and nearly one-third of that entire lose has happened in the last six months.

BRETT MCGURK, SPECIAL PRESIDENTIAL ENVOY, GLOBAL COALITION TO COUNTER ISIS, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT: Well, it has accelerated. President Trump, a very significant decision he made was to delegate really tactical authority to decisionmakers on the ground. So the decision- making cycle has been rapidly shortened and we've been able to really act with dispatch to really surprise ISIS.

KOSINSKI: Special envoy to the coalition against ISIS, Brett McGurk, began his role on the frontlines of coordinating the effort under President Obama.


KOSINSKI: He says bold operations now can be put together and executed in a matter of days.


KOSINSKI: A big change from Obama's highly deliberative approach.

(on camera): How much of a difference would you say it's made?

MCGURK: All I can say is this operation now is moving with effectiveness and efficiency that I've never seen.

KOSINSKI: So is it safe to say this is really the end stage of ISIS?

MCGURK: So I would never say end stage.

KOSINSKI: Why would you not want to say this is the end of ISIS?

MCGURK: Again, these terrorist groups, they can remain in cellular networks and insurgent networks. But what we want to do, the overall campaign plan is to make sure these cells can be handled by local actors on the ground as they are rapidly, rapidly shrinking movement. And that for those who made it to Syria, as I mentioned, they're not going to make it out. KOSINSKI: International attacks or lone-wolf attacks, do you think

that they're still planning?

MCGURK: At Raqqa, they're now fighting for their own survival, so they're definitely not planning anything in Raqqa, other than how to hold on to the next city block that they're about to lose.


KOSINSKI (voice-over): ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, last year, McGurk though was probably dead. Now the assumption is he' still alive in deep hiding, likely outside Raqqa.


KOSINSKI: But they see no connection anymore between him and ISIS units on the ground.

MCGURK: But they'll continue on. It's an adaptive enemy.

KOSINSKI: How much of ISIS is left? He says, today, roughly 12,000 fighters, down from a high of around 30,000. The coalition has about 50,000 in Syria alone. The flow of foreign fighters in and out is down 90 percent.

KOSINSKI (on camera): Are they still coming?

MCGURK: They're really not. And what's interesting is that ISIS's own propaganda now, they used to say everybody come to Syria. Now they're saying - you know, telling people not to come.

KOSINSKI: Where is the place to go now?

MCGURK: Well, Libya was the place. Now, it's unhospitable to them. Some of them are trying to get to the Philippines.

KOSINSKI: How many fighters do you think have gotten out total and are now back in their home countries or elsewhere?

MCGURK: From 2014 until now, it's probably in the low thousands.

KOSINSKI: How big a risk are those fighters today?

MCGURK: A significant risk.

KOSINSKI: Do you think any of them are in the United States?

MCGURK: Returning fighters from Syria, no.

KOSINSKI (voice-over): Michelle Kosinski, CNN, the State Department.



SESAY: Well, let go now to our own Fred Pleitgen who is in Damascus. Fred, the U.S. has often accused the Syrian army and Russia of not fighting ISIS. Has that now changed.

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly, it does seem to be changing somewhat. You're absolutely right. In the past, what the U.S. has said is that they believe the Russian and the Syrian military have been focusing more on what the U.S. calls moderate rebels in Syria and less on ISIS. But now what's been going on, especially after that past meeting between the U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the past G-20 is Russia has started setting up what they call safe zones in Syria where the fighting has ended in some places. And that's allowed the Syrian army, Isha, to move more of its forces to join in the fight against ISIS. It's interesting because it's created a new second front line in the fight against ISIS as well. ISIS still has considerable territory in Syria, not just in Raqqa, but especially south of Raqqa in an area called Deir ez-Zor. Right now, what you have going on is you have those pro-U.S. forces, like the Syrian Democratic Force, in the fight against Raqqa, but you also have the Syrian military and the Russians pounding ISIS in the front line, trying to move towards Deir en-Zor, which is a much bigger town than Raqqa. So certainly, the Syrian forces have joined in much more than they have before in the fight against ISIS. The Russians also making a big, big push as well. But that doesn't mean the two sides are, in any way, working together, the U.S. and Russia, but it does seem as though the push against ISIS is a lot more concerted than it was before -- Isha?

[02:41:15] SESAY: So all that being said, what are the regime's goals at this stage?

PLEITGEN: That's a very good question. And at this point in time, the big question is, does the Syrian government and the Russians, do they have the same goals in all of this? It seems the Russians are focusing on trying to get the safe zones organized, trying to get ceasefires between the Syrian military and some of those rebel forces in play, and to concentrate the fight on ISIS. As far as the Syrian government is concerned, they say they still want to defeat the rebels in any of the areas they're in.

It's interesting, because right here in Damascus, you have one of those zones, which is basically an enclave of the opposition on the outskirts of Damascus. They Syrian government has been saying they want to continue fighting there but the Russians have set up one of those safe zones. Certainly, there is some discrepancy between what the two sides seem to be wanting to achieve in the end, but on the battlefield, we do see there's a much bigger push in the fight against ISIS, and certainly, a lot higher morale, from what we've been able to see, in the past hours we've been on the ground on the part of the Syrian army when it comes to fighting against ISIS -- Isha?

SESAY: Fred, you have been to Syria many, times. It was eight months since you were last there. What's changed?

PLEITGEN: It was so interesting, because there is a lot of things that have changed. It really is a difference almost between like night and day. We've been here some of the times when the folks here in Damascus could be -- you know, could fall to the opposition. There were people who were afraid. There were shortages in the city. That has changed a lot. We went into town last night, there was a lot of night life. There were people going out. The city's a lot calmer than it was before. So you do get the impression that a lot of the folks who live here, who have decided to stay here, on the government side of Damascus, they have on the government side, they feel safe at this point in time. They feel things are not going to change here. And they now have the confidence to go out again, to start living again. It's really something we've seen as well. So you do feel there is a pretty high moral here in this part of Damascus, the government-held areas. You feel at this point in time people don't believe President Bashar al Assad is going to be going anywhere, that there's a chance he's going to be leaving power. And it really does show that people are, you know, they're going out. Businesses are starting again. There's a lot more stores open as well. So you do see a very, very large difference between the last time we were here, right around the time Aleppo fell, and now where you can really feel that the government certainly seems to have shored up a lot of the places that it controls -- Isha?

SESAY: Fred, great reporting as always. Our Fred Pleitgen there in Damascus. Fred, thank you. Be safe.

Next on NEWSROOM L.A., in the last moments of her boyfriend's life she encouraged him to kill himself and now she's facing the consequences. A look at this case, next.


[02:46:21] SESAY: Well, a woman has been sentenced to 15 months in prison over the suicide of her boyfriend. Michelle Carter was convicted of involuntary manslaughter earlier this year. The court looked at hundreds of text messages in which she urged 18-year-old Conrad Roy to end his life. Roy poisoned himself in 2014 inhaling carbon monoxide in his pick-up truck. Carter listened over the phone as he suffocated, never contacting the police.

Let's get more on this with criminal offense attorney, Melissa Lewkowicz. She's also co-star on Investigation Discoveries' "Reasonable Doubt."

So good to have you with us. Welcome.



The young woman was facing to 20 years in prison, and she came away with two and a half years. She'll stay out of prison while she appeals. Are you surprised by what the judge handed down?

LEWKOWICZ: I'm surprised by the judge's verdict. I'm surprised by the judge's statement regarding his verdict. I' surprised that the judge came to this conclusion in a case where I think mental illness really was something at issue and needed to be explored. So, Yes, I'm concerned about that. I'll touch on that later.

But with respect to the actual charge and sentence in this case, I think, yes, it appears to be lenient for a case where someone's life was taken. But in this case, we're dealing with a juvenile. She was 17 years old when she committed this offense. So we're dealing with juvenile issues, juvenile issues which should be at play. Unfortunately, she was tried as an adult and she was tried in a bench trial. So she was denied the very right to a jury trial in this case.

SESAY: Didn't she -- what's the legal term? Didn't she give that up, her right to a bench trial, that's my understanding?

LEWKOWICZ: I'm not sure what the defense attorney did in this case, but in this particular case, when you're facing 20 years of state prison, this is something where you want a jury trial. This is something that you should not be denied a jury trial for.

SESAY: Let me read you what the judge said. We have it. Let's put it up on screen. The judge said, "This court must and has balanced between rehabilitation, the promise that rehabilitation would work, and a punishment for the actions that have occurred."

But I also want you to take a listen to the victim's father, Conrad Roy. He spoke on Thursday. Listen to what he said.


UNIDENTIFIED FATHER OF CONRAD ROY: I cannot begin to describe the despair I feel over the loss of my son. Perhaps I can ask you to image the worst emotional pain you have ever experienced and multiply it to an infinite number of times. I am heartbroken. My family is heartbroken. My son was my best friend. Through the height of his depression, I was by his side, trying to build his spirits and to affect his behavior positively, striving to lead him towards the bright future that was before him.


SESAY: Melissa, it's such a painful case. Again, the question comes down to the balance between justice and rehabilitation.

LEWKOWICZ: This is a terrible tragedy where nobody wins. And, yes, it does come down to that balance. I think this judge, what he's trying to do in sentencing to 30 months and only holding her to 15, was holding 15 months over her head on a probationary kind of feel, to make sure that she's good, that she does everything she needs to do.

Now why isn't she actually going in until the appeal? This is a question that we should all be asking. And this is a question that I think should be asked to the judge, who, I think, in this case, may be, unsure about his verdict. This is a verdict that is very controversial.

[02:50:07] SESAY: And talk to me about that. Because people say this is precedent-setting, finding here guilty. That it has implications for cyberbullying. When bullying becomes homicide. It changes the definition of manslaughter. Talk to me about that.

LEWKOWICZ: Absolutely. This does change things. This could have major -- this could be setting a major precedent. So this a huge case in those ways. Why? Because we're dealing with things that there very relevant. This is all very relevant. These kids are all on text messaging. They're all on social media. And these are all just pretty little words floating on their virtual screens. They are not conscious about how their words effect people. They're not conscious of the magnitude of what they say and how that could happen, how this could happen.

SESAY: It's desensitizing. It happened with text messaging and the way we communicate. To your point, kids don't get it. It's just words and they're hidden behind a screen. This kind of changes the game.

Melissa, I'm so sorry. We must leave it there because it's a great conversation. Do come back. Let's pick it up next time.

LEWKOWICZ: Thank you.

SESAY: Appreciate.

LEWKOWICZ: Thank you.

SESAY: Next on NEWSROOM L.A., we've been using bleeps and blanks when quoting Anthony Scaramucci's profanity laced conversations. Now we get to hear from the man himself. That's ahead.



SESAY: Brazilian football star, Neymar, officially heading to the city of love. French club Saint Germain has already shown him $263 million worth of love. And that's just the transfer payment to get him from Barcelona, which more than doubled the previous record. All told, he could earn more than $500 million over the life of this deal. Neymar has already had immense success on the star-studded Barcelona squad, but many analysts say this is about one thing, striking out on his own to try and prove himself as the best player in the world. That is a lot of cash.

Well, we finally get to hear from Anthony Scaramucci in that infamous phone call. The "New Yorker" has released excerpts of the former White House communication chief's profanity laced conversation with "New Yorker" reporter, Ryan Lizza.

Jeanne Moos reports on the voice of the Mooch.


[02:55:00] JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL CORERSPONDENT (voice-over): It's enough to make a news anchor draw a blank.

UNIDENTIFIED NEWS ANCHOR: I'm not just going to keep saying blanking, blanking.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Some of it is very dirty.

UIDENTIFIED NEWS CORRESPONDENT: With language more fit for the outside than the White House.

MOOS: Finally, Anthony "the Mooch" Scaramucci delivers his own zing, even using his own nickname.


MOOS: Lordy, the tapes.

Excerpts of the Mooch's conversation with the "New Yorker's" Ryan Lizza have been released.

(on camera): For days, we've been subjected to people repeating these quotes with the expletives replaced by something, a blank.

COOPER: Reince is a blanking paranoid schizophrenic.

MOOS (voice-over): Or a bleep.

UNIDENTIFIED NEWS CORRESPONDENT: We'll see if I can (BLEEP) these people the way I (BLEEP) Scaramucci.

MOOS: Or a rooster.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I not trying to suck my own (CROWING).

MOOS: Now we know how Scaramucci himself sounded.

SCARAMUCCI (voice-over): I'm not Steve Bannon. I'm not trying to suck my own (BLEEP).

MOOS: Tweeted one listener, "Scaramucci sounds shockingly calm in this call. The transcript made it seem like he's gone completely off the rails."

Even the reporter who taped the words --

LIZZA: Let me read this one.


MOOS: Hesitated to repeat them.

RYAN: I'm not trying to blank my own expletive.

MOOS: And at least one anchor pair double-teamed a quote.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Let me leak the blanking thing -- CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Flipping.

CAMEROTA: -- and see if I can blank --

CUOMO: Check.

CAMEROTA: -- these people they way I blanked --

CUOMO: Check.

CAMEROTA: -- Scaramucci

MOOS: Here's how the Mooch himself delivered it.

SCARAMUCCI: Let me leak (BLEEP) thing and see if can (BLEEP) these people the (BLEEP) the way I (BLEEP) Scaramucci for six months.

MOOS: Last night loved it.

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, THE LATE SHOW: I'm not trying to suck my own (BLEEP).


MOOS: While anchors euphemized.

RACHELL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, MADDOW: Performs an anatomically difficult but apparently not impossible act upon himself.

MOOS: The Mooch sure was firing blanks.

JOY BEHAR, CO-HOST, THE VIEW: I'm not trying to blank my own blank. Hello.


MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN --


MOOS: -- News York.


SESAY: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles. I'm Isha Sesay.

The news continues on CNN right after this.


[03:00:00] GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Subpoenas have been issued. A new grand jury has been impaneled. The investigation into possible links between Russia and the Trump campaign takes a significant step forward.