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CNN NEWSROOM

Trump Dodges Question on Special Counsel Interview; Democrats Hope to Flip Republican Seats; At Least 17 Killed in California Mudslides; Netanyahu Defends Son after Secret Tape Airs; Report: U.S. Lacks Strong Approach To Russian Threat; Houthis Threaten To Block Shipping In Red Sea; Report: Wahlberg Paid More Than Female Co-Star. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired January 11, 2018 - 01:00   ET

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


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JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles.

ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Ahead this hour: Donald Trump once said he's be 100 percent willing to testify in the Russia investigation. On Wednesday, the U.S. president told a different story.

VAUSE (voice-over): Also hope is destroyed. Trees uprooted, electricity cut and roads awash as deadly mudslides sweep across Southern California.

SESAY (voice-over): And the latest battleground in the fight for equal pay, an Oscar-nominated actor received less than 1 percent of what her male costar profited to reshoot a film.

VAUSE (voice-over): There you go.

Hello, everybody. Great to have you with us. I'm John Vause.

SESAY (voice-over): And I'm Isha Sesay. This is NEWSROOM L.A.

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SESAY: U.S. President Donald Trump is insisting once again there was no collusion between his campaign and Russia. In fact, he said it eight times Wednesday in just over a minute and a half.

VAUSE: During a joint news conference with Norway's prime minister, Donald Trump was specifically asked if he was still willing to be interview by the special counsel Robert Mueller.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will see what happens but when they have no collusion and nobody's found any collision at any level, it seems unlikely that you'd even have an interview.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: Body language was interesting there with the --

(CROSSTALK)

SESAY: It is important to note that is a much different answer than the president gave several months ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you be willing to speak under oath to give your version of the --

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: 100 percent.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: Well, for more, Jessica Levinson, a professor of law and governance at Loyola Law School is with us.

So, too, Michael Genovese, president of the Global Policy Institute at Loyola Marymount University.

OK, good to see you guys. Let's just talk about this situation with the president.

So, Jessica, is there perhaps, maybe with the sudden shift in the SI rule, a 100 percent turn up to an interview by Mueller or maybe now we'll see, is there now perhaps this realization for Donald Trump that he is facing a dream team of prosecutors like he has never faced before?

And for a 71-year-old man who is not detail oriented and really has trouble focusing on things, he'd be facing some serious legal jeopardy.

JESSICA LEVINSON, LOYOLA LAW SCHOOL: Well, I think it's that. I think it's the realization that this is continued. I mean I think that he potentially thought that this was a witch hunt. I think his lawyers or somebody was telling him that was going to quickly.

It's not an end anytime soon. So I think it's coming down on him as a reality, which frankly, is not a particularly pleasant one to have the House committee, a Senate committee and this special counsel, who you said is staffed with very high-power attorneys, who have some serious questions for the president.

I would add none of which are about collusion because collusion, of course, deals only with antitrust law. And I would also add no one has said there's absolutely no collusion except for President Trump and his surrogates. VAUSE: And that has now become a Pavlovian response from the president, any mention of Russia, he says there's no collusion. Here is an example.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: There is no collusion. You know why? Because I don't speak to Russians.

What has been shown is no collusion, no collusion. There's been absolutely -- there's been absolutely no collusion. So we're very happy.

There is absolutely no collusion. That has been proven. When you look at the committees, whether it's the Senate or the House, everybody wants -- my worst enemies, they walk out, they say, there is no collusion but we'll continue to look.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: Michael, the only problem with that argument is it's not right.

MICHAEL GENOVESE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And, again, he's trying to frame it so that you're focusing on collusion rather than on obstruction. And that's where he's really going to be in trouble.

But Donald Trump likes to be the hammer. He doesn't like to be the nail and he faces now a prosecutor who is going to be the hammer in a situation he has little control over and remember what happened to Bill Clinton when he testified. That's when they surprised him with the Monica Lewinsky questions. And that led to his lying under oath.

And so the president who's not as glib or as smart as President Clinton faces a really, really difficult uphill battle if Mueller, as you said, and of the dream team go after him --

[01:05:00]

GENOVESE: -- on their turf, not on the presidency.

VAUSE: Yes, there was that famous Clinton line, depends on the definition of is, is. You know, he was splitting legal hairs, that's not in Donald Trump's wheelhouse.

OK, he also keeps repeating this old spin line that the Russia investigation, all of this, is a scam created by the Democrats.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I can only say this, there was absolutely no collusion. Everybody knows it. Every committee -- I've been in office now for 11 months, for 11 months they've had this phony cloud over this administration, over our government, and it has hurt our government. It does hurt our government. It's a Democrat hoax that was brought up as an excuse for losing an

election that, frankly, the Democrats should've won because they have such a tremendous advantage in the electoral college. So it was brought up for that reason.

But it has been determined that there is no collusion and by virtually everybody.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: And again, Jessica, this is a defense based on provably incorrect fact.

LEVINSON: It is and I think that it is important to remember that if anything is harming the U.S. government it's a president who tries to take down every pillar of our government. And he's done this from the beginning. We've heard about the so-called judges. That is deeply harmful to what -- the judiciary only works because we respect the written word. We respect the rule of law.

Once we start saying so-called judges, then the rule of law goes out the window. The same goes for the justice system that is now investigating President Trump. So we've seen this as a very concerted campaign, where he has tried to undermine Robert Mueller.

And let's be honest, Robert Mueller is no one's liberal activist. And I know that we have tried to discredit the people who've worked as the special counsel. We're talking about career Department of Justice attorneys, who have dedicated their lives to public service.

So I think this campaign of trying to undermine Mueller is deeply dispiriting and I think the end game that many people are worried about is, if it does turn out that there is an indictment for obstruction of justice, it simply won't be respected because President Trump has spent so much time, again, trying to say this is just -- this is a witch hunt.

VAUSE: And Michael, we touched on this, the president keeps talking about no collusion. But the obstruction of justice is -- he's on really shaky ground with that, isn't he?

GENOVESE: In a sense he's already admitted that when he said, I fired Comey to stop the Russia investigation. And so I think that's the ground where that and the question of money and the Russians that Mueller is going to have the strongest case, he's not going to -- Mueller is not going to talk about collusion. Trump's going to talk about collusion.

Mueller's going to -- if he talks -- about obstruction and the money issue, about very separate things. But Trump is willing to sacrifice everything for Trump. It's all about him and I think you're absolutely right, that undermining every other institution, if you have to tear down all of them to keep him, Trump, standing, he'll do it because it's all about Donald.

VAUSE: There is this theory out there that the special prosecutor is more focused on the obstruction case because that's the strong case, maybe not the collusion case. But we heard that Mueller's fired another legal shot. He specializes in cyber crimes, suggesting that seems to indicate that this collusion investigation is still very much alive.

LEVINSON: And again, collusion is kind of an umbrella term. So what Robert Mueller is looking at is, is there a specific provision of the Constitution or a statutory provision that has been violated?

I would say one word of caution with respect to obstruction of justice. You need to show a corrupt intent. And that actually is quite a high bar, particularly for a president who may not have known exactly what he was doing or why he was doing it or not have known that it was, in fact, corrupt.

But I think that this new expert is really interesting because it leads into an area a number of people have been talking about, which is there may be some kind of computer and banking fraud act issues.

And so the -- every time we see someone new brought in, it gives us -- it's not just tea leaves. It's basically a roadmap to where the -- where the investigation is going.

VAUSE: Well, if the special prosecutor believes the president should be indicted, well, then ultimately it will be up to Congress to vote on the articles of impeachment and the president came one step closer to impeachment on Wednesday with the long-time Republican congressman, Darrell Issa, announcing plans to retire.

He is among 30 Republican lawmakers not seeking reelection at this year's midterms in November. And that wave of departures is boosting hopes among Democrats of retaking the House. We'll get Jessica and Michael to stay with us.

But for now, here's details on this story from Miguel Marquez.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The protests, like clockwork; every week for a year now, at the offices of four Orange County Republican members of Congress, protests and anger over the Trump administration already hitting their target.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is the first time I've ever come out to protest. And I'm going it because I'm so upset.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Democrats in this once deeply conservative country, angry at President Trump, going after members of Congress in the midterm elections --

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MARQUEZ (voice-over): -- less than 10 months away.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I believe that the tide is changing, the demographics are changing. I think that things are a lot different. People like me don't live in Orange County 50 years ago. So, yes, I think we've had enough.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Democrats must flip 24 seats to win control of the U.S. House of Representatives; nationwide 23 Republicans are in districts won by Hillary Clinton. Seven of those districts are in California and four right here in Orange County.

MARQUEZ: Do they really have a shot at those four seats?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, absolutely not but I love that they think that they do.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Republicans here say all the protests on the Left will only drive turnout on the Right. But who will they vote for? Two Orange County Republicans, Darrell Issa and Ed Royce, now join some 30 other GOP House members not seeking reelection.

Democrats here, pressing their advantage; 2 dozen groups on the Left working in unison to flip all four Orange County seats from red to blue.

MARQUEZ: Are you finding in Trump areas support?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, it's funny because there are a lot of Democrats in there. They just typically don't show up to the polls

MARQUEZ: And what is the level of engagement now?

Are you finding people who are --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They are on fire.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Democrats say they need to turn out 15 percent more of their voters next November to offset the advantage of GOP incumbents. Republicans say good luck.

MARQUEZ: Democrats are so confident that they can win seats in Orange County that the DCCC that is running the campaigns, they've already hired permanent staff for the county and they say by Election Day they expect to have at least a dozen staffers and several offices, all focused solely on Orange County -- Miguel Marquez, CNN, in California.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: So, Michael, this many retirements on one side of politics usually indicates a wave of support for the other side of the politics because, for the Democrats also, they're running candidates in seats that never had candidates before.

So if they take back the House, the lower house, then the next two years -- because that's realistic right now -- so the next two years for Donald Trump will be very different than the first two years.

GENOVESE: Right and the House impeaches and if the House goes Democratic, the chances of that happening increase dramatically. But you have to remember, this is not your father's Republican Party. This is now Donald Trump's Republican Party. And a lot of mainstream Republicans and even very conservative ones have felt that it's been a circus all year.

And it's not a place for grown-ups to occupy anymore and consequently, I think they're just fed up and they're saying I'd rather leave than have to go to through this circus and defend President Trump.

Some of them are leaving, I think, one step ahead of the electoral hangman's noose. But as you can see even Orange County, which was so solidly Republican, the rise of immigrants in the -- in the district and I think the anti-Trump sentiment that it's drawing, especially in California, it spells real trouble for the Republicans in this state and maybe even nationwide.

VAUSE: And Jessica, just to bring this back to the Mueller Russia investigation, is the special counsel facing some kind of time deadline here in terms of releasing his findings in the investigation?

Because if he releases the investigation findings after the midterm elections and he recommends indicting the president after the midterms, Democrats are going to be outraged.

If he releases those findings after the midterms and recommends not indicting the president, then Republicans will be outraged.

So it's a tricky play for Mueller in some ways.

LEVINSON: I would say it is except it shouldn't be and my hope is that it actually isn't. So what you've said is absolutely true. So half of the country is going to hate him either way. But if there is an indictment and if there is an indictment then I think half of the country will still hate him.

But he needs to, as a special prosecutor, who is very experienced, he needs to take the investigation where the evidence is going. And there is no time limit on that. And my sense is that they're working as expeditiously as they can.

And so I think that, like any other prosecutor's office or like any other judge who's trying to put out a decision, you really just have to take this step by step and not kind of focus on what happened -- I mean, it's impossible to do this, of course, but not focus on what's happening in terms of the midterms.

VAUSE: Michael, because James Comey, the former FBI director, got into all sorts of trouble when he had that news conference announcing the case against Hillary Clinton, explaining why it had been dropped, and there are allegations that he got political. And that's something which Mueller clearly wants to avoid.

GENOVESE: This is more in cases like this and I think for Mueller, he's going to just plod his way through. He's -- I think he's not going to be too susceptible to the fanfare and all the rigmarole. I think he's going to say let's do the job; when it's time, we'll take the steps and not worry about, is it November, is it December? I think he's not tone deaf to that but I think he's blocking it out

very well and I think he needs to block that out if he's going to be credible.

VAUSE: OK. Interesting times ahead. And of course the midterms about 10 months away. They came around -- well, they're coming around very, very quickly. So a lot to cover in the next couple of weeks. (INAUDIBLE) Jessica, Michael, good to see you both. Thank you.

GENOVESE: Thank you.

[01:15:00]

SESAY: But for now, there's a break. Next on NEWSROOM L.A., Israel's prime minister defends his reputation and his oldest son caught on tape talking about prostitutes and his father's business dealings.

VAUSE: Also ahead, a river of mud sweeping through neighborhoods in Southern California. We'll have the very latest in just a moment.

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VAUSE: Seventeen people are now confirmed dead, including children after mudslides swept through Southern California.

SESAY: At least 17 more people are unaccounted for, including a couple in their 80s, all of this after heavy rain sent a mountain of mud careening into the neighborhoods below. Our Paul Vercammen has all the details.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The wall of mud came in the middle of the night.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just obliterated this little neighborhood, to turn the houses into matchsticks, blew them off their foundation and threw them up against trees.

VERCAMMEN (voice-over): Survivors became heroes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We heard a little baby crying (INAUDIBLE). (INAUDIBLE) got down (INAUDIBLE) the little thing. (INAUDIBLE). We got it out, got the mud out of its mouth. I hope that it's OK. They took it right to the hospital. But it was just a baby four feet down in the mud in the middle of nowhere, under the rocks. (INAUDIBLE). (INAUDIBLE).

VERCAMMEN (voice-over): There were many more in need out there, like the family of his house, surrounded by mud water; the youngest survivor, a newborn baby. All five in the family rescued; others still searching for their loved ones. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're just going to go down to the creek and see what we can find.

VERCAMMEN (voice-over): This man's mother was swept away while clinging to the back door of her home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE). She was in the voluntary evacuation.

VERCAMMEN: What made the mudslides so horrendous, the steepness of the terrain. Look up there, the Thomas fire burns on about Montecito. It goes from 3,000 feet to sea level in just several miles. So the water came off those ashy hillsides. It just poured right through here.

You had a high velocity, as they call it, and you can look right over here and you'll see where the waters, just a little bit more than a mile from the ocean, took a house right off its foundation.

Other houses swallowed by mud or destroyed by fire. Highway 101, the main freeway connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco, in a moment, was turned into a river of mud and boulders.

In all, hundreds of homes destroyed or damaged in a natural disaster covering 19,000 acres. And tonight, many families grieve while others simply hope that their loved ones will find their way home -- Paul Vercammen, CNN, Montecito, California.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SESAY: Our hearts and prayers go out to everyone affected by this.

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VAUSE: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is defending his oldest son caught up in a scandal involving allegations of government corruption and prostitution. It all began when a television station aired a conversation between Yair Netanyahu (ph) and two of his friends. The prime minister's son was recorded making some very controversial statements, which he now says were a joke.

Oren Liebermann has details from Jerusalem.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Yair Netanyahu, a 26-year-old son of the Israeli prime minister, once again in the spotlight. This time for a secret recording of a conversation in 2015 outside of a strip club, aired on Israel's Channel 2 news.

Yair Netanyahu was with two of his friends plus a driver and a bodyguard. The conversation taking place about the same time as the prime minister was finalizing a controversial gas deal, labeled as corrupt by critics.

One of those friends is the son of a gas tycoon unit.

Yair Netanyahu says, "My father did a good deal for you, brother. You have to be good to me."

He then says, "My father sorted your father out, $20 billion, and you're crying over 400 shekels?

Four hundred shekels is about $100. Yair Netanyahu claims it was, quote, "for the whore."

The conversation continuous.

He says, "Speaking of whores, what's open at this hour?"

Yair is the eldest son of the Israeli prime minister. He issued this apology.

"In a nighttime conversation under the influence of alcohol, I said nasty things about women and other things that shouldn't have been said. These things don't represent the person I am, the values I was educated on and what I believe. The things that I said were in the realm of a bad joke. I was never interested in the gas protocols and had no idea of any of the details."

The prime minister followed with his own apology and denied any connection between himself and the gas tycoon.

"I have no connection to Kobi Mainon (ph). I think I met him maybe once in my life about 10 years ago. No connection to him and I don't know anything about the connection of Yair to his son."

The Prime Minister is a suspect himself in two separate criminal investigations which involve accusations of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, saying there will be nothing because there is nothing.

[01:25:00]

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): But it's the perception that may be the most damaging here to the Netanyahu family. In addition to the graft investigation involving the prime minister, Yair himself has battled an image of being the spoiled son of the prime minister.

Toward the end of the recording, one of Yair Netanyahu's friends says, "This conversation better not get out. God help us. God. If this gets out, God, it'll be hell." -- Oren Liebermann, CNN, Jerusalem.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SESAY: A quick break and then a new report says the U.S. has to do something now to stop Russia from meddling in upcoming elections.

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

VAUSE: And out of practice.

I'm John Vause. We'll check the headlines this hour:

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JOHN VAUSE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: But it does go deep into Vladimir Putin's past to explain why he is likely to continue to try and interfere with elections not just in the United States but also across Europe. So what does it say?

ROBERT ENGLISH, DIRECTOR, USC SCHOOL OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS: He's got an intelligence past, his career began with the KGB, to foreign intelligence service. So that would orient him towards an adversarial view of the West and also incline him towards intelligence methods including subversive clandestine methods to engage in this political struggle, this apocryphal struggle he sees with the West.

And we see some of the results in that, right, with what happened in 2016 elections and what this report highlights directed against West European countries and political parties.

VAUSE: And what worked before, I guess the theory is it will work again unless someone does something.

ENGLISH: I'm of two minds about this, on the one hand, it's important to analyze, to study, to push back and whether we need greater security for our electoral systems in different United States jurisdictions, whether we need to identify where social media is being manipulated, all of that is important.

On the other hand, Putin is not 10-feet tall, and what concerns me as a Europeanist, not just a Russian specialist, I'm just back from another trip to Europe, I'm in Italy, I lecture in Belgium, I've got friends, contacts in the U.K., all over, is that when we focus on the Russian threat alone, we are really focusing on five percent, who knows, maybe even less of what's at root with the surge of the far right of nationalist, populist movement of the division that threatens the E.U.

The other 95 percent is economic, it's refugees, it's a whole set of domestic problems that if we focus too much on the tiny part, we miss the more important causes.

VAUSE: If -- yes, it's a simple solution I guess to a complex problem which is not a solution at all.

ENGLISH: Exactly.

VAUSE: One of the big headlines out of this report is about the U.S. president, he's called out for failing to act, it's what it said, it's about the "Growing intensity of Russian government interference operations, President Trump is largely ignored this stretch of democracy in the United States and Europe. The Trump Administration has also proposed cuts to assistance across areas of good government, anti-corruption, and independent media efforts."

Does that statement come with an asterisk given the report is only by Democrats, not one Republican was willing to sign their name to it?

ENGLISH: That's really this reporting, isn't it, because support for democracy promotion, support for independent media, for rule of law, good governance across the board has always been a bipartisan matter in the United States.

And we've seen what happened, a lot of Congressional reps who were willing to criticize Donald Trump and call him out for various misdeeds and lack of qualification in the campaign have not fallen in line for understandable political reasons, understandable but short- sighted and venal.

And foreign policy used to end the partisanship at the water's edge and foreign policy. We have some basic principles we agreed on and it's really discouraging that that seems to have been lost.

VAUSE: The prime minister in Norway was in Washington on Wednesday, he talked about Russian hacking during a news conference with President Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERNA SOLBERG, PRIME MINISTER OF NORWAY: I guess it's fair to say that it has infected also in Europe, I think all European countries have, who have had elections this year has been looking will there be any type of tampering others.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: OK. So -- well the Europeans are aware the Russian assets, we had this report which says, "The U.S. has no coherent, comprehensive, and coordinated approach to the Kremlin's malign influence operations either abroad or at home."

And from your assessment from being over in Europe and talking to people over there, if the U.S. is not on board with this, are the Europeans capable to have the ability to counter this threat on their own without support from the U.S.?

ENGLISH: Yes, they do. I have no doubt. And we've seen whether it is defense of electoral integrity, whether they're measures to ensure that the public media, cable television, radio have balance, whether they're measures as we've seen in Nordic countries like Finland to actually teach in the schools critical thinking and critical analysis of the media, skills for citizenship in this modern world of cyber warfare.

They're capable, they're ahead of us. We should be learning from them. The lesson here is they're not standing still and waiting for our leadership and it's good that they're moving ahead, but it's depressing that we don't lead anymore.

VAUSE: Yes. There's one last point here, there's a recommendation for social media ties like Facebook and Twitter basically to be held accountable for being this gateway if you like to the disinformation which is coming from Russia and others.

Could they be held accountable and if they can be held accountable, how would they be held accountable?

ENGLISH: I don't know that they can. At least in this country with our tradition of free press when even corporations have rights to free speech, their individuals, all of that.

[01:35:14]

Yes, it seems at first blush like a good initiative to fight back, to restrict, to analyze and even prevent what is clearly propaganda especially from a hostile, foreign power. But there's no clear line between that and commercial propaganda or domestic American political movements or parties that bend the truth, that engage in fake news to put out false stories.

So it becomes extraordinary difficult in American legal terms to draw that line. That's what we've been grappling with and I don't know where we can do it.

VAUSE: Right. Naming and shaming have to do, huh?

ENGLISH: For the time being.

VAUSE: Robert, thank you. Good to -- good conversation, thank you for being with us.

ENGLISH: Thank you.

VAUSE: Thank you.

ISHA SESAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Well in Germany, social democrats and Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives deciding whether to move to formal talks on establishing a new government. Both parties lost support in September's election but to Atika Shubert's reports, Chancellor Merkel is not on her way out just yet.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ATIKA SHUBERT, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Angela Merkel is arguably the most powerful woman in the world. For the last 12 years, she has led Germany, one of the world's strongest economies.

She was reelected in September and according to a recent poll by public broadcaster ARD, 65 percent say she have been a good leader. So, why are now some in Germany riding her political obituary? There is even a German hashtag for it, "Merkel Demerung" or "Twilight for Merkel," so what happened? Well, Merkel's defining moment came in 2015, that's when she allowed in as many as a million refugees into Germany.

Now, outside the country, she was hailed as a humanitarian hero, becoming "Times" person of the year. Inside the country though, public support soared at first then plummeted. Many wondered whether the country was really capable of absorbing so many newcomers.

In 2017, voters let Merkel know they were not happy. Her party, the Christian Democrats still came out on top but they lost nearly 10 percent of their previous vote. In fact, more than a million of the party's voters joined millions of others who went to the alternative for Germany and upstart far-right anti-immigration party, that was a stinging rebuke to Merkel's refugee policy.

Merkel went to be seen as the country's inevitable leader, to a struggling politician desperately trying to cobble together a coalition to keep power. So, is Merkel on her way out? Not just yet.

Now Merkel is still the only party leader with a mandate to form a coalition government. Now, she failed on her first attempt, she's inside this building now for a second attempt. If she fails, then Germany could need to hold snap elections. And, of course, that would mean another referendum on her faltering leadership but even if she succeeds, this could be her last time in office.

Having been elected for a fourth term, she is already one of Germany's longest-serving leaders. And there is already talk within her own party finding a successor to take over even before her terms is up.

Which is why even though Merkel remains firmly in place as Chancellor, for now, it may soon be the twilight of her political career. Atika Shubert, CNN Berlin.

VAUSE: Next here on NEWSROOM LA, Houthi rebels in Yemen are warning a vital shipping lane in the Red Sea will be closed if the Saudi continues to carry out heavy air assaults.

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VAUSE: Well a cellular coalition battle Houthi rebels in Yemen carried out an intense campaign of airstrikes Wednesday against rebel targets near the capital. Through these claim, a number of cluster bombs fell on their military base west of the city. But the coalition denies any cluster bombs were used.

SESAY: Well the Houthis control Yemen's largest ports and they're now threatening to block shipping lanes in the Red Sea if the airstrike persist. The coalition says it thwarted a Houthi attack over the weekend on a Saudi oil tanker sailing along Yemen's Coast. Well CNN National Security Analyst, Gayle Tzemach-Lemmon joins us now. Gayle, good to have you with us. Since the assassination of former President Saleh back in December, there's clearly been an escalation on the part of the Saudi-led coalition's efforts to gain the upper hand in this conflict. Are they succeeding?

GAYLE TZEMACH-LEMMON, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Stalemate has really become the norm. I mean, there is no political solution right now because the military campaign is very much ongoing.

But neither side has gained an edge really and so what that means for civilians caught in the crossfire, it is just misery upon heartbreak upon tragedy. Either you have cholera, you have lack of healthcare, you have schools that aren't functioning, and you have families that are really struggling to survive as the two sides, the gulf back side and Iranian back side fight it out.

SESAY: Yes. I mean, both sides have been accused of awful actions that have left civilians suffering and really bearing the brunt of this conflict.

But let me ask you this, specifically when it comes to the blockade that we've seen, the blockade that was imposed by Saudi Arabia is somewhat towards the end of last year but still with the limitation on commercial supplies entering the county. Are we seeing Saudi Arabia use food as a weapon of war here?

TZEMACH-LEMMON: But this what exactly what the United States and others that put out in the statement saying, "We'd like to see this reopened."

There are reports that some supplies are getting in but -- and clearly, this part in the north is absolutely critical to getting supplies to -- both needed to getting through another supplies and really what you see is people's lives that become the (INAUDIBLE)

SESAY: And so, when we hear the Houthis continue to basically express their determination to fight on and they seem undeterred and as you laid out, the countless problems that face the civilian population, the cholera, water sewage-impacted, food prices that are just astronomical if you can afford, it will get food. How much support do the Houthi still have amongst the Yemeni public?

TZEMACH-LEMMON: Well this is really a hearty gauge, I mean there are a lot of reports saying this, "Listen, neither sides has -- there is sympathy but neither side is really gaining the population as people really tried to simply survive and endure."

I mean, you have hospitals that don't have medical supplies, you have houses that have long since have water, you have parents who have been forced to take their children out of school because they simply cannot feed them without it.

And so, the question of really sympathy, I think the exhaustion is actually the rule rather than sympathy and when you see -- look ahead at either fearing what's coming from the sky, they're fearing siege on the ground, and there is -- it is not clear that either side can gain an upper hand. What is certain is what civilians are feeling in the meantime.

SESAY: We talk about the fact that stalemate if you will and the arena of conflict, now we hear the Houthis saying they will look to block navigation of shipping lanes in the Red Sea if the coalition continues its advancement.

Talk to us about the implications here if they were to go down that route. I mean, implications that would potentially also affect oil prices, correct?

TZEMACH-LEMMON: Yes. I mean, it's hard to see how this really happens but stay tuned, right? What you are certain off if this trick is this threat gets carried out is really escalation and more devastation, right, because this is already a war in which regional powers are very much playing the role as the Iranian back side, on one side and the gulf back side and the other and yet now we wait to see what happens if this becomes even more of a regional conflict and there's that, certainly, when you talk about shipping lanes, there are a whole lot of other folks who would then get involved.

[01:45:20]

SESAY: Yes, no doubt. Gale, in visit to Sana'a this week, the U.N. envoy to Yemen met with a top Houthi leader who reportedly told the U.N. official that essentially the Houthis don't care about the U.N. role in solving the crisis in the country anymore. If that is indeed true, who else is there to take the lead in getting both sides back to the negotiating table?

TZEMACH-LEMMON: Well, that's the question, right? I mean, there have been regional powers and certainly, there have been lots of conversations going on. But, you know, if neither side can get to an end of the conflict, the real end goal is a political settlement, right? That is how this conflict is going to end. But how do you get there, right? There is still a sense that, you know, Yemen is not Syria, it's not that bad or that intractable a conflict, but it doesn't seem to have any end in sight nor sides that are exhausted yet from the fighting.

SESAY: Which is remarkable with 3 million people displaced, and at least 10,000 dead, and a conflict that's, you know, been longer than three years.

TZEMACH-LEMMON: And it's (INAUDIBLE)

SESAY: Yes. Absolutely. Absolutely. Over 100 kids dying a day. Gale, we always appreciate it. Thank you for the insight. Gayle Tzemach-Lemmon joining us there from San Diego. Thank you.

TZEMACH-LEMMON: Great to join you.

VAUSE: OK. A short break here. When we come back, two A-list movie stars but one is worth 1500 times more than the other. Take a guess who got the bigger pay packet. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SESAY: Well, in France, (INAUDIBLE) and dozens of women writers, artists, and academics have sparked a furious backlash after they denounced the Me Too campaign as a witch hunt against men. They signed an open letter published in the newspaper Lamont warning of a new (INAUDIBLE) and denouncing what they said was a hatred of men and sexuality.

VAUSE: Well, the response from about 30 feminists was scathing labeling (INAUDIBLE) and the other apologists for rape and defenders of pedophiles. They also published these remarks: Sexual violence is not intensified flirting. One means treating the other as your equal, respecting their desires, whatever they may be. The others treating them as an object that you're disposable, rather, paying no attention to their own desires or their consent.

SESAY: Well said. While the Me Too Movement is getting a lot of attention in France, a major pay gap with top movie stars is the talk of Hollywood. USA Today reporting that actor Mark Wahlberg was paid $1.5 million to reshoot scenes in the movie, "All The Money In The World," while his co-star, Michelle Williams, was paid less than $1,000. Doing the math, that's less than one-tenth of one percent.

[01:50:00]

VAUSE: And to many, this is another egregious example of disparity based on gender. CNN has reached out to the reps from the film production company for comment. Still waiting to hear. Joining me now, Rebecca Sun, Senior Reporter with the Hollywood Reporter and CNN's Legal Analyst Areva Martin. Good to see you, guys. OK. Rebecca, the timing here is beyond sardonic, just days after Hollywood was all about righting the wrongs of gender inequality with stirring rousing speeches at the Golden Globes, we find out Mark Wahlberg got paid 1500 times more than Michelle Williams. Reshooting 22 scenes, and bizarrely because Kevin Spacey was taken out of the movie because of accusations of sexual harassment and was replaced with Christopher Plummer. And they both had the same agent, these two guys.

REBECCA SUN, SENIOR REPORTER, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: Yes, they were at the same agency. It's just the perfect storm of irony. You know, it couldn't have come at a worse time, you know, optics-wise for them. You know, it's --

VAUSE: Timing's everything.

SUN: It really is. I mean, it's a tricky situation because this is reshoots. It's not that their total salary or their total pay for the film was this egregious, you know? But, you know, what we were told when they were coming back for reshoots is Ridley Scott said, you know, nobody's doing this, you know, for pay, everybody's coming back for free. Ridley Scott said, you know, the director, I'm coming back for free, and Michelle Williams is coming back for free. He just never mentioned Mark Wahlberg. And we also just assumed that he was doing it too. VAUSE: It's funny because we got the quote here from the USA Today interview. And he did, this is Ridley Scott, the whole reshoot was in normal terms was expensive but not as expensive as you think because all of them, everyone did it for nothing. USA Today: Really? Scott: No, I wouldn't get paid. I refused to get paid. You didn't pay the actors more to do it? No, they all came in free. Christopher had to get paid, because Christopher (INAUDIBLE) but Michelle, no, me, no, I wouldn't do that to the group. The crew, of course, did get paid? And then, you know, So, of course, the crew get paid. So, Areva, clearly, you know, someone got paid. It was Mark Wahlberg.

AREVA MARTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, a lot of money.

VAUSE: A lot of money. Legally, though, I was looking through this. It seems like the only recourse here for Williams is if she can prove that maybe she was induced or encouraged to work for free under some kind of false representation and she can void the contract and maybe make a claim, but there's nothing, right?

MARTIN: Yes. No, I don't think that's the recourse here. The question is can she go back and renegotiate? If she was told that everybody was coming back for free and that wasn't -- you know, dishonest.

VAUSE: Well, clearly, it wasn't the case here.

MARTIN: And it wasn't accurate. And she was misled in some way, I would think the company would want to make the situation right. But I think, for me, what's so important about this story is it shows that this Me Too Movement is not just about sexual harassment and sexual abuse. It really is about the imbalance of power. It's about this equity -- you know, imbalance that we see in terms of pay and compensation for women, not just in the entertainment business but across so many industries.

And it's not just men versus women, it's even amongst women. So, when you look at white women versus African-American versus Latino and Asian women, there are huge pay differences. And this story I think is great and I think the timing is good because it gives us an opportunity again to focus on the need to close that gap because there's no reason that Michelle Williams should be paid $1,000 and Mark Wahlberg 1.5 million.

VAUSE: She (INAUDIBLE) just like 80 bucks (INAUDIBLE)

MARTIN: Yes, she got her (INAUDIBLE) she got to eat breakfast.

VAUSE: Yes, exactly. She got (INAUDIBLE) at the services table. I do think that the pay gap is both symbolic and symptomatic of the whole, you know, gender inequality in Hollywood and other industries as you say. But Rebecca, last August Forbes reported that Wahlberg was the highest paid actor in Hollywood, $68 million mostly because of those really amazing movies Transformers. But Williams though, she's still more the artsy indie-type movie star, but she's been nominated four times for an Oscar. Some have argued that because Wahlberg pulls in more money, he's the bigger draw, therefore, he should get more money overall, that he's entitled to that. But this movie that they shot, it wasn't really cars blowing up and turning into robots. This was kind of more of a Williams's film and she was the lead.

SUN: Right. This is an awards season film. And so, this is not transformers. You know, the box office marketability -- I mean, if we were talking about anything, anybody being box office marketable, that was supposed to be Kevin Spacey, and that's why he was cast over Christopher Plummer in the first place actually. And so, you know, in this case, I mean, it's clear, Michelle Williams, not Mark Wahlberg is the one getting awards nominations, you know, at this time. This isn't so much a question of who's more marketable, but in this specific case, it's who asked and who thought that he or she was entitled to get paid to come back for reshoots.

VAUSE: You're right. That's actually the point, isn't it?

SUN: That's the point. Is, you know, Michelle Williams sort of in good faith -- was like you know, this is about more -- this is about standing up to, you know, sexual predation and redoing it and doing it right and that's why Ridley Scott -- and he -- they're not -- she's not the only actor. Timothy Hutton came back --

VAUSE: But I can tell you these are women doing pay negotiations. They sell themselves short, they don't ask for more money.

[01:55:03]

MARTIN: Yes, women often do that, but there's a reason they do that, because they have fewer opportunities. And oftentimes, they don't have the luxury of asking for the big bucks because it may mean not even getting the project altogether. But this is why we need men in the Me Too Movement because some men knew that Mark Wahlberg was getting the 1.5 million and that Michelle was getting $1,000. So, if we're going to ever get to, you know, an equitable situation with pay, you need the men in top, and mostly there are men, saying I'm going to right-size your contract. You offered to come back for free, but we're paying Mark 1.5 million. Now, maybe you're not Mark Wahlberg 1.5 million at that level, but you're clearly worth more than $1,000.

VAUSE: Well, maybe you say, hey, Mark, you're not getting 1.5 million because you made 68 million bucks last year.

MARTIN: Right.

VAUSE: One reason why Wahlberg made $68 million last year according to the Washington Post, "Wahlberg along with his manager, Steven Levinson, and agency WME have a reputation in Hollywood for driving a very tough bargain." So, you know, again, Areva, here's the argument, if someone can just negotiate a better deal, that's not their problem -- this is the argument. If someone else is getting screwed, that's their problem.

MARTIN: No, that's too simplistic of an analysis. Mark Wahlberg and his agent, God bless them, I'm sure they're very talented people. But there are lots of talented people, people of color, women who were equally talented as Mark and his agent, and they can't go in and drive that same bargain. So, we have to talk about implicit bias, we have to talk about discrimination, we have to talk about white male privilege. And all of those things make the difference. And they're going to be the reason that Michelle and women of color are getting so much less in Hollywood and other industries as men. I can go in and demand and demand, and I may be demanding it outside the door whereas a person, non-color, a white person making those same demands is getting what they're asking for.

VAUSE: Rebecca, very quickly, 30 seconds, what will be the upshot of this, what will be the sort of fallout if you like?

SUN: I think that the egregiousness of this ratio even though it was isolated will hopefully cause people -- women to realize, you know what, we need to ask, we need to just say it. And for men, like Areva said, to realize it looks bad, it looks real bad, and we shouldn't do it.

VAUSE: Yes. It looks real bad.

MARTIN: Really bad.

VAUSE: Rebecca and Areva, thanks, good to see you, guys, again. Thank you.

MARTIN: Thanks, John.

VAUSE: And thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I'm John Vause.

SESAY: And I'm Isha Sesay. Be sure to join us on Twitter @cnnnewsroomla for highlights and clips from our shows. We'll be right back with much more news after this.

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[02:00:09]

SESAY: This is CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles.