Return to Transcripts main page


All 66 People In Iranian Plane Crash Presumed Dead; Teacher Died Saving Students From Gunfire; The Deaths The Kremlin Doesn't Want To Talk About

Aired February 18, 2018 - 10:00   ET


[10:00:13] LYNDA KINKADE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to CONNECT THE WORLD. I'm Lynda Kinkade, live in Atlanta, sitting in for

Becky Anderson. We begin with "BREAKING NEWS".

Scores of people are presumed dead after a passenger plane crashed in a mountainous area of Central Iran. Now, 66 passengers and 6 crew members

were on board the Aseman Airlines plane when it disappeared less than an hour after taking off from Tehran. Now, relatives have gathered at Yasuj

Airport, waiting for information about their loved ones. Well, Senior International Correspondent Sam Kiley joins me from Abu Dhabi. And Sam, 66

people were on board, and it's then, a chopper went to inspect, but couldn't get close enough because of the weather. What was the weather

like when this plane came down?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was as bleak as this story is. It was impossible for the relief aircraft, this

helicopter from the Iranian authorities to get anywhere closed to the site of the crash, which is only 14 miles away from its final destination. And

that is because it is up in the mountainous area, known as the Dena Mountain. That one mountain alone has 40 peaks and 4,000 meters high. And

as a result, the weather this time of year is extremely poor and dangerous, really, for aircraft at those relatively high altitudes to operate. As a

consequence of that, some 20 different ground rescue crews have been sent in, including 12 from the Iranian Red Crescent, they have been unable to

reach the crash site, confirm whether or not there are indeed any survivors.

The assumption earlier on in the day are particularly from the Aseman Aviation Company was that all 66 had perished. They have since retracted

that statement and saying that they expect people to have died, but it has been impossible to get to the crash site to confirm this. This is as is

say a pretty mountainous or highly mountainous area, just short, tragically, of the final destination.

Now, the same pilot is reported to have also been involved in an incident back in 2013 where he successfully landed an aircraft that it got into

mechanical difficulties. There's no suggestion one way or another what may have caused this incident. But, of course, Iran, has been struggling under

the pressure of international sanctions that were applied over many decades to try to strangle off Iran's nuclear weapons program. Those sanctions

have been since over the last few years. Somewhat relaxed, but clearly there are concerns within the aviation industry that there may well be

problems with maintenance.

As I stress that is not yet been associated with this incident, nor indeed is any suggestion of violence of any kind of terrorism attack. Now, the

moment is remains a mystery the one that is -- that will be called comfort indeed to the 66, or the families that have been bereaved in this latest


KINKADE: Yes, cold comfort indeed, Sam Kiley, good to have you with us. Thank you so much for that update. Well, U.S. President Donald Trump

prepare to be doing everything he can to distance himself from the Russians indicted for the alleged election meddling, including linking the Florida

mass school shooting to the Russia investigation.

Now, late Saturday, he tweeted, "Very sad that the FBI missed all the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter, this is not acceptable.

They have spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign, there is no collusion."

That's just one of a flurry of tweets he's made in the last few hours downplaying the Russian investigation. He used them expletive to say that

Moscow must be laughing at us and he also claims that he never denied Russian election meddling or called the overall investigation, a hoax.

Well, the U.S. indictment is a thick document full of rich detail about how Russian nationals allegedly carried out such an elaborate campaign of

disinformation during the 2016 presidential campaign. CNN's Polo Sandoval breaks it down for us.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: These 37 pages allege Russians went a very long way on their attempt to interfere with U.S. democracy.

According to the federal indictment, Russians operating out of this St. Petersburg troll farm, launch a misinformation campaign to wreak havoc on

America's political system.


ROD ROSENSTEIN, UNITED STATES DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: The Russian conspirators want to promote discord in the United States and undermine

public confidence in democracy. We must not allow them to succeed.

[10:04:50] SANDOVAL: Examples of the alleged misinformation campaign include allegations of voter fraud by the Democratic Party, and the

purchase of advertisements to further promote the allegations on Facebook. The pages were even designed to look like they were run by real Americans

and focused on issues in American life, race relations, immigration, and, of course, then-candidate Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

Facebook estimates close to 126 million Americans may have been exposed to this and other propaganda. Federal investigators say, the group behind it

is the internet research agency linked to the Kremlin. Russia has denied any involvement in the U.S. elections, at the Security Conference,

Saturday, Russia's foreign minister again, dismissed those claims.

SERGEY LAVROV, MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS, RUSSIA (through translator): I have no response. Until we see the facts, everything else is just blather.

SANDOVAL: Then, there are the rallies. In May 2016, a small group of anti-Islamic protesters gathered outside a Muslim community center in

Houston, Texas. A situation grew tense with a counter rally.

AMERICAN CROWD: Donald Trump must have to go.

SANDOVAL: The very month of the election both pro and anti-Trump demonstration were held in New York. U.S. prosecutors say both events were

organized by the same troll group half a world away in St. Petersburg. Russians traveled to the U.S. on a fact-finding mission in 2014, say,

prosecutors, it would be the foundation of a massive operation brought to light in recent months, and described in detail in these 37 pages. Polo

Sandoval, CNN, New York.


KINKADE: Well, let's talk all about -- all of this with CNN political analyst and historian Julian Zelizer, joins me now live from New York.

Good to have you with us, Julian.


KINKADE: I'm well, thank you. Now, I want to start with the president, how he tried to link this school shooting with the Russia investigation.

He couldn't help himself rather than addressing the deaths at that school, and how to reduce gun death, he made the situation about himself, saying

essentially that the FBI was too focused on the Russian investigation instead of trying to follow up on tips to track down this gunman before the

shooting took place.

It is interesting to note that the FBI director on Tuesday before this shooting happened seemed to feel the need stand up for the bureau. Let's

just take a quick listen to what he had to say.


CHRISTOPHER WRAY, DIRECTOR, FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION: There are 37,000 people in the FBI who do unbelievable things all around the world

and although you would never know it from watching the news, we actually have more than two investigations. And most of them to a lot, to keep

American safe.


KINKADE: Julian, why does the President feel the need to continue to undermine them?

ZELIZER: Well, I think it's pretty clear and transparent what his political intentions are. He is trying to discredit this investigation

that has loomed over his administration since the very beginning of his presidency. And so, by taking on Robert Mueller, by taking on the FBI, and

even by taking on intelligence agencies, concerning Russian intervention in the election. Even if he doesn't fire anyone, he is trying to create doubt

in the minds of the American public that there is any there, there with what everyone has been charging. And he's doing it now in the aftermath of

this indictment that really lays out of pre-specific case about what the Russians attempted to do in 2016.

KINKADE: Yes, it was a very thorough 37-page document but the president cannot seem to let this go. A short time ago, he sent out this tweet,

saying that, "I never said, Russia did not meddle in the election, I said, it may be Russia, or China, or another country or group, or it may be a 400

pound genius sitting in a bed, playing with his computer. Now, the Russian hoax was that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, it never did."

And so, let's just remember what he spent the last two years saying.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't think anybody knows it was Russia that broke into the DNC.

How many times we have to answer this question?


TRUMP: Russia is a Rus'.

This Russia or thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story.

The entire thing is been a witch hunt.

The Russia story is a total fabrication.

Russia did not help me, OK? I call it the Russian hoax.

They made up the whole Russia hoax. That was a Democrat hoax.

It's a Democrat hoax.


KINKADE: And Julian, do you think the president forgets that all these comments are on public record?

ZELIZER: I think he doesn't care. I think he operates in a world where he believes that he can say whatever he wants, and though be enough people to

report it the way he wants, and the conservative media and that his supporters ultimately will listen to the last thing he said, that's how he

operates. So, I don't think he really cares about the public record. He is not engaged in a debate about facts and rational discussion.

This is a more emotional, instantaneous belief made approach to American politics. And I think the record is quite clear and not only has he said

different things, but he's really going to great lengths to deny that Russia conducted this operation where he really should move forward and

just admit this happened, which with so many now, officials have confirmed, and then, offer a response. So it doesn't happen again in 2018 and 20, but

that's not what he chooses to do.

[10:10:34] KINKADE: And if somebody isn't -- his national security adviser says, the evidence that Russia manipulated the presidential election is

beyond doubt. Let's just take a quick listen to what he says


H.R. MCMASTER, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR, UNITED STATES: As you can see with the FBI indictment, the evidence is now really incontrovertible and

available in the public domain.


KINKADE: Yet despite that, President Trump, slapped him down on Twitter, saying, General McMaster forgot to say that the results were not impacted.

As surely, it is clear that Russia succeeded in disrupting the political process, as surely, the President cannot say with any certainty that the

outcome was unaffected.

ZELIZER: No, he can't, and that's unknown at this point, and the national security adviser's words were probably carefully chosen. I don't think he

forgot anything, and here you have a moment where he is at odds with the President of the United States. The President has a louder bully puppet

and he has a bigger Twitter account. And so, in the end, his message comes -- has comes across. But just because the President says something, it

doesn't mean it's true, and this is something we just don't know at this point, and that's why we have these investigations.

KINKADE: And that's why those investigations are continuing. Julian Zelizer, always great to get your perspective and opinion. Thank you.

ZELIZER: Thank you.

KINKADE: Well, as we heard, the American President is trying to link the special counsel's Russia investigation with the deadly high school shooting

in Florida. Now, 17 people were killed last Wednesday when a gunman opened fire with a military-style rifle. Well, now, surviving students are

demanding tougher gun laws. They've rallied alongside hundreds of supporters on Saturday. Speakers rallied against those blaming the

shooting on mental illness and they vehemently condemned lawmakers taking donations from the National Rifle Association.


EMMA GONZALEZ, JUNIOR STUDENT, MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL: Since he was in middle school, it was no surprise to anyone who knew him to hear

that he was the shooter. Those talking about how we should have not ostracized him, you didn't know this kid! OK, we did. We know that they

are claiming that there are mental health issues, and I am not a psychologist, but we need to pay attention to the fact that this isn't just

a mental health issue. He wouldn't have harmed there as many students with a knife! To every politician who is taking donations from the NRA, shame

on you.

The people in the government who were voted into power are lying to us. And us kids, seem to be the only ones who notice and our parents to call

BS. Companies trying to make caricatures of the teenagers nowadays, saying that all we are is self of involved and trend-obsessed and they hush us

into submission when our message doesn't reach the ears of the nation, we are prepared to call BS. Politicians, politicians who sit in their gilded

House and Senate seats funded by the NRA telling us nothing could have been done to prevent this, we call BS.

KINKADE: Gonzalez, there, such a powerful, powerful speech, we're learning more about the victims of that horrific school shooting and the bravery in

the face of evil. One of the 17 people killed is a geography teacher, Scott Beigel. Many of the students say he died a hero saving others from

gunfire by hiding them in a classroom.

KELSEY FRIEND, JUNIOR STUDENT, MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL: Mr. Beigel was my hero, and he still will be forever be my hero. I will never

forget the action that he took for me and for fellow student in the classroom. And if his family is watching this, please know that your son

or your brother was an amazing person, and I am alive today because of him.


[10:14:40] KINKADE: Withdraw in CNN, we're going to have a special CNN town hall with students, parents, and others impacted by the Florida school

shooting. It's called Stand Up, the Students of Stoneman Douglas Demand Action. It'll air on Thursday at 2:00 in the morning, London time, that

6:00 a.m. in Abu Dhabi, 9:00 at night on Wednesday in New York.

Well, still to come, the air strikes being kept off air in Russia. Moscow keeps quiet about the reported death of dozens of Russians apparently

killed by U.S. air strikes. The widest silence? CNN investigate in just a moment.


KINKADE: All over the past year, and indeed this past hour, the Trump administration's relationship with Russia has faced scrutiny and

speculation. And now another remarkable development, but the Kremlin virtually silent on the reported death of dozens of Russian contractors

killed by U.S. air strikes in Syria. So, what's going on? Frederik Pleitgen went to look for answers.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Images you won't find on Russian State media. A grieving mother, her son, Ruslan

Gavrilova, killed in Syria working for a private security company during an ill-fated attack on American backed forces. Online network, current time,

visited her at her home.


FAINA GAVRILOVA, MOTHER OF KILLED CONTRACTOR (through translator): Are they not people? They obviously went to fight to help, even if it's for

the money, it's because of poverty, it's because there are no jobs.

PLEITGEN: CNN has identified several of the Russians killed on the night of February 7th. They were employed by a Russian security company called

Wagner and were part of a force trying to take a gas field held by U.S. backed fighters and American troops in Eastern Syria.

U.S. warplanes, helicopters, and artillery killed more than 100 of the attackers before the rest fled.

Sources we've been speaking to, say many Russians, probably a dozen were either killed or badly wounded. One source who visited a military

hospitals, says many of the Wagner contractors who survived had what he called horrendous wounds, and he called all of it a massacre. But just why

the attack took place at all comes down to oil and money.

According to the U.S. treasury, Wagner is led by Dmitry Utkin, seen here meeting President Vladimir Putin. Utkin is under U.S. sanctions because of

Wagner's activities in Ukraine. He has a long association with the Russian Oligarch called Yevgeny Prigozhin, which close to the Kremlin.

U.S. investigators believe, Prigozhin's corporation also financed the so- called troll factory that was involved in meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Another of Pregozhin's many companies is called

Evro Polis. It has an office in Damascus and a deal with the Assad regime.

According to a contract, examined by CNN, Evro Polis gets a quarter of revenues from oil and gas fields that are recaptured on behalf of the

Syrian government. Wagner does the fighting, Evro Polis, it's the oil.

Ruslan Leviev, an activist whose group monitors the Russian role in Syria, says the Pregozhin's empire is extensive.

[10:20:36] RUSLAN LEVIEV, CONFLICT INTELLIGENCE TEAM (through translator): The group of companies controlled by Pregozhin, includes many known to U.S.

structures. One of the most famous projects is the troll factory that specialized in propaganda and informational war. It's the Wagner private

military company which was initially formed by his personal security guards. Dmitry Utkin, the head of Wagner group used to work in Yevgeny

Pregozhin's security service.

PLEITGEN: Last year, Pregozhin denied being linked to Wagner, his company saying, quote, "We do not have any information about this organization."

CNN's efforts to reach Pregozhin and Wagner were unsuccessful. For its part, the Russian government is also reluctant to talk about last week's

incident. Which is of no comfort to the families of these and other men killed in the Syrian desert. Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Moscow.


KINKADE: As Fred mentioned, the Russian government is extremely reluctant to talk about that incident, telling -- the Kremlin telling CNN, quote, "We

have no new information about this and we have said everything we wanted to say on the matter.

Well, from Russia to another crucial Syrian ally, Iran, the country has been thrown into a fierce focus by Israel's prime minister. At a major

Security Conference Germany, Benjamin Netanyahu, said Iran want's to dominate the world "through aggression and terror". He was referring to

quotes allegedly from the head of Iran's revolutionary guard. He also said, Tehran is developing ballistic missiles, and the U.S. and Europe

could be at risk.

Well, Nic Robertson joins us now with the latest from that conference in Munich. And Nic, Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu has said that Iran is

the greatest threat in the world. Just help us to understand the broader context of his fear and that threat.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, A part of the context of the Security Conference here is a concern about Syria. Lot of

different player here, all involved in Syria, all here. I spoke to U.S. secretary-general at the beginning of the conference, and he said that

Israel's recent engagement, the flying of fighter jets into Syria to strike Iranian and Syrian targets there was the -- was the concerned. He feared

that, that might spark further escalation.

So, Syria is very much been on the agenda here along with many, many other issues, that's the background. But what the Israeli prime minister was

doing here was really perhaps one of the loudest and strongest and clearest voices, saying that what Iran is trying to do in Syria or is essentially to

build the bridge as he described it from Tehran on one side in the east, all the way to Beirut and Lebanon in the west, that he said, Iran wants to

develop air bases, naval bases, military bases inside Syria. And this is not -- and this is not in Israel's interests, and therefore, he said that

would be a red line.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, PRIME MINISTER, ISRAEL: Israel will not allow Iran's regime to put a noose of terror around our neck. We will act without

hesitation to defend ourselves. And we will act if necessary not just against Iran's proxies that are attacking us, but against Iran itself.


ROBERTSON: That gives you a flavor of some of the sort of exchanges that have -- that have happened here, and they have been very strong. And I

think, that's what why everyone here is concerned about what happens next in Syria.

KINKADE: And, Nic, Netanyahu also directly challenged Iran's foreign minister who is attending that conference. How did Iran respond?

ROBERTSON: Well, Javad Zarif spoke after Netanyahu, and he said that he wasn't going to -- he wasn't going to comment on what Netanyahu had said

for those accusations about Iran because he said that they were a cartoonish in character.

However, Zarif was pressed on a key issue that has come up here at this conferee, and that is the question of the United States and President Trump

talking very loudly about ending the JCPOA, the nuclear deal with Iran and he was asked about that, on what Iran would do about it if that deal was

ended. This is how he responded to that question.


MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF, FOREIGN AFFAIRS MINISTER, IRAN: That if Iran's interests are not secured, Iran will respond, will respond seriously and I

believe it would be a response that mean people will be sorry for taking the erroneous actions they did. We will not be the first ones to violate

an agreement for which all of us tried, in spite of Netanyahu's attempts to achieve. We achieved it in spite of him, we implemented in spite of him

and the world will maintain that agreement in spite of his delusional attempts.


[10:25:26] ROBERTSON: Well, former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, was here. And during one of the panel discussion, he talked about the need,

particularly on the case of Syria, for real and artful diplomacy. And I think that's the takeaway for a lot of people here who attended the

conference, that what they've heard during the conference highlights that need for diplomacy at this time.

KINKADE: Yes, certainly does. All right, Nic Robertson, staying across all that's going on at that conference. Thanks so much for joining us.

Well, another issue that was brought up at that conference there in Munich was, of course, the war in Yemen. And we will take a detailed look at that

country in "DEADLOCKED: YEMEN'S CIVIL WAR". You can rejoin on Nic Robertson, for that in just about five minutes from now.

Well, I'm Lynda Kinkade. That was CONNECT THE WORLD. Going to take a quick break now and then, we'll give you a wrap of the "WORLD HEADLINES",

stay with us.


KINKADE: Hello, I'm Lynda Kinkade, and this is "CNN NEWS NOW". At least 20 rescue teams have been deployed to the area where a passenger plane

crashed in Central Iran. The plane has 66 people on board and went down less than an hour after takeoff from Tehran. The airline says all

passengers and crew members are presumed dead.

U.S. President Donald Trump is reacting to indictments against Russian nationals, the U.S. election interference in a series of tweets. In one

(INAUDIBLE) tweet he declares that Moscow must be laughing at the U.S. for the ongoing Russian probes.

Survivors of Wednesday's school shooting in Florida are demanding changes to U.S. gun laws. They've held emotional rallies, on Saturday alongside

hundreds of supporters. Many chanted, "shame on you", condemning the National Rifle Association. Politicians who take their NRA donations, as


Well, two Palestinian teenagers in Gaza have been killed in an Israeli air strike. But according to the Palestinian minister of health and a

Palestinian youth agency, the Israel says they carried out a large-scale attack after an explosive device detonated along the Gaza border, wounding

four Israeli soldiers. Well, that is your "CNN NEWS NOW". I'm Lynda Kinkade. We'll take you inside "YEMEN'S CIVIL WAR" next.