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Thousands Flee Eastern Ghouta as War Turns 7; Sources: Trump to Replace National Security Adviser; Mueller Subpoena Trump Organization Business Records; U.S. Announces Sanctions on Russia for Election Meddling; North Korean Foreign Minister in Sweden for Talks. Aired 1- 2a ET

Aired March 16, 2018 - 01:30   ET

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


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NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. Ahead this hour: the Trump administration finally gets tough on Russia responding to critics who claim the U.S. has not done anything to stop the attacks on its democracy.

Plus leaving home because their lives may depend on it. More than 10,000 Syrians pour out of the city under siege. We will investigate what's going on.

And a new bridge collapses over a busy highway crushing cars and killing people trapped below in South Florida. We'll have a report from the scene.

It's all ahead here. Thanks for joining us. I'm Natalie Allen live in Atlanta and this is CNN NEWSROOM.

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ALLEN: We begin with another shakeup apparently coming to the White House. CNN has learned President Trump plans to replace national security advisor H.R. McMaster. The exact timing is still in question but multiple sources say Mr. Trump wants someone else in the role by the time he meets with North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.

The move has been rumored for some time. However, press secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted another White House denial late Thursday.

All this follows news as special counsel Robert Mueller has subpoenaed the Trump Organization for business documents, that according to a CNN source, and the Trump administration finally announcing sanctions against Russia for its interference in the 2016 presidential campaign.

For more now, here's CNN's Jeff Zeleny at the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: President Trump said last year Special Counsel Mueller would cross a red line if his investigation looked into Trump family finances unrelated to Russia. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders did not repeat that today.

Does he draw a distinction, do you know, between a red line on family finances separately from family finances or business finances relating to Russia as it pertains to this case?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president believes very strongly there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. We're going to continue to cooperate with the special counsel.

ZELENY (voice-over): The special counsel's subpoena, first reported by "The New York Times" and confirmed by CNN, came as the Trump administration took its toughest stand yet against Russia, imposing sanctions as retaliation for interfering in the 2016 election and accusing Moscow of plotting a nerve gas attack in the U.K.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a very sad situation. It certainly looks like the Russians were behind it. Something that should never, ever happen and we're taking it very seriously, as I think are many others.

ZELENY: Tonight, the one-two punch is part of an effort to punish Russia, which the president has seemed reluctant to do for more than a year.

The five Russian organizations and 19 people sanctioned today by the Treasury Department for malicious cyber-attacks is a near mirror image of the indictments announced last month by the special counsel. All names on this February indictment are included on today's sanction list.

The administration also making a new accusation. Russia tried to hack the U.S. energy grid.

Tonight, Democrats are wondering what took the administration so long and why the president's words are softer than his sanctions.

SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: Why can't the president, himself, call out the bad actions of Russia? And it -- it is an ongoing question.

ZELENY: White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said this when asked if Vladimir Putin was a friend or foe.

SANDERS: I think that's something that Russia is going to have to make that determination. They're going to have to decide whether or not they want to be a good actor or a bad actor.

ZELENY: The United States also joining the U.K., France and Germany in condemning Russia for its apparent role in a nerve gas attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter on British soil.

The four allies saying in a joint statement, "We share the United Kingdom's assessment that there's no plausible alternative explanation and note that Russia's failure to address the legitimate request by the government of the United Kingdom further underlines Russia's responsibility."

Meanwhile, the president admitted fabricating facts in a meeting with another key ally, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. At a private fundraiser Wednesday night in St. Louis, the president blamed Canada for having a trade deficit with the U.S., which isn't true.

In a recording obtained by "The Washington Post" and confirmed to CNN by an attendee, the president said, "He's a good guy, Justin. He said, 'No, no, we have no trade deficit with you. We have none. Donald, please.' 'Wrong, Justin, you do.' I didn't even know. I had no idea. I just said, 'You're wrong.'"

The president doubled down today on Twitter, saying, "We do have a trade deficit with Canada as we do with almost all countries, some of them massive."

But here are the facts. Trump's own Commerce Department says the U.S. ran a nearly $2.8 billion surplus with Canada for 2017.

All this --

[01:05:00]

ZELENY (voice-over): -- as staff turnover in the Trump administration is causing turmoil. Meeting with the Irish prime minister today in the Oval Office, the president downplaying the suggestion a major shakeup is imminent, but change, he said, is good.

TRUMP: There'll always be change and I think you want to see change and I want to also see different ideas.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ALLEN: Let's talk about these developments. With us from Moscow is CNN contributor Jill Dougherty and joining us from Los Angeles, political analyst Peter Matthews.

Good to see you both. Thanks for joining us. Much to talk about.

Peter, though, let's being with developments regarding President Trump's national security adviser, CNN learning that Mr. Trump will release H.R. McMaster from that position, that the president has decided to announce a short time ago that President Trump was releasing Mr. McMaster, this after releasing his secretary of state.

McMaster just last month dressed down by the president for saying that Russia definitely interfered in the U.S. election and now this.

What do you make of it?

PETER MATTHEWS, CYPRESS COLLEGE: It's unfathomable because McMaster's one of the most solid foreign policy people and experienced that the president had and then he is going to dismiss a man like that after dismissing his secretary of state.

I think it's very untoward in the sense that there is no stability around and people have to know that, when someone works with a president and for the president as a cabinet official or as a high- level official that they can trust that that official says.

So he keeps repeating and sending a third national security adviser now, since within 1.5 years, people -- the other leaders in the world are going to say, who can we trust when they speak?

Are they speaking for the president or not when they speak?

Because he keeps dismissing them. It is very dangerous in terms of how leadership ability of the president and of the United States as a whole.

(CROSSTALK)

ALLEN: Jill, to you in Moscow, there've been wide-ranging reports that Moscow has wanted to shake things up in the United States and cause chaos.

Is this a sign that they are getting what they want?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, maybe directly or indirectly. It looks as if there is a lot going on among the Americans themselves creating this, especially in the White House.

I think you know that the Russians at this point are looking at what is going on at the White House and probably just letting it unfold, letting the circus unfold because they don't have to do too much at this point.

You have a lot of chaos at the White House, especially in terms, what we're just talking about right now, with the NSC. That is the body that the president uses to create and form his ideas about foreign policy.

And if that is becoming dysfunctional, which it appears that it is at least not functioning correctly, that is a real problem.

And then you also have this lack of communication between Russia and the United States and now the U.K., saying also that they are going to be cutting off communication with Russia at senior levels because of these spy poisoning.

This is very bad because there is a definite possibility of misinterpretation when neither side really is talking. There was just a quote that came out that we confirmed with Dmitry Peskov by the way, who's the spokesperson for the president, saying that President Putin is extremely concerned by the destructive and provocative stance of the U.K.

That is obviously an expected response by the Russian president. But I think everybody is extremely concerned on both sides, where we're going with all of this.

ALLEN: Right.

And to her point, Peter, what about the president's revolving door and to the fact that who is he listening to?

Is he just wanting yes men?

MATTHEWS: I think that he wants a lot of yes men and yes women and he's probably listening to the last person he listened to and decides to do what that person says. It is not good to see a president who is not directly driven by his inner ideas as to what should be done in the world in America.

He should have a core value system, which it seems like he is lacking to a large extent, because that is one reason there's such instability. He keeps appointing people and is firing them if they stand up to him and try to advise him properly about what should be done.

He gets rid of them. And this is just not at all stable. There's no stability here at all and it's very dangerous with the international climate like it is today. And I do believe that President Putin was right when he's concerned about this rising animosity and miscalculation that could occur among the three countries about it being Russia and other countries in the West.

There's got to be some tamping down here and it begins with the president acting more -- in a more stable manner and sticking with key advisors that he appoints and who will have the experience that he does not have apparently.

ALLEN: He hasn't showed that stability, certainly, so we'll wait and see what happens there.

The other development, of course, the U.S. special counsel has asked the Trump team to hand over business documents related to Russia.

What could --

[01:10:00]

ALLEN: -- Mr. Mueller be looking for here?

And it has been noted they didn't ask Trump team for documents. They issued a subpoena.

MATTHEWS: Well, he's probably looking at what the deal was in Moscow that the Trump Organization was considering building a tower, a Trump Tower in Moscow. And an email was sent by one of the top people in Moscow who claims to have known President Putin very well, advising President Trump in the e-mail, the Trump Organization to go ahead and build the Trump Tower, that that would actually curry favor and put the United States, at least President Trump, in a better position to win the election.

So this is what has been reported by "The Washington Post," other entities. And Mr. Mueller is looking very carefully into this possible connection between financial dealings in Moscow by the Trump Organization and possible influence over policy and also the absolutely for him to get elected. It's a very, very concerning situation that could arise here with the Trump -- with the Mueller results.

ALLEN: And, Jill, it seems repeatedly, despite Mr. Trump's denials of Russian involvement, that the special counsel continues its hunt down that path and with every step there is a deeper division between these two countries.

Has there ever been a worse time for relations since the Cold War between the U.S. and Russia?

And what does that signify for the world and diplomacy in the world?

DOUGHERTY: On a very serious level, it is -- it is life or death for the planet. Both of these countries, Russia and the United States, can essentially destroy civilization in the world.

And that is not an exaggeration. And even on the nuclear issue, there is no indication that we will move forward, even on these basic things that Russia and the United States have been doing for years, which are arms control agreements. That is one.

And then you have -- I would call it really a very emotional approach to this as opposed to a rational, very sober analysis of what should be done. If the United States believes these things, which they are now coming out with reports and the Treasury sanctions, et cetera, and Mueller investigation, if that is what they are contending, then there has to be some type of very sober conversation with Russia.

But what is happening right now, because of that lack of structural communication, really realistic structural communication, it is one thing lobbed over by a tweet or, I would have to say the Russians are making a lot of very snarky comments, very dismissive, laughing at what the United States and especially the U.K. is saying right now.

So I think it -- realistically, it should go to a very serious and concrete discussion of where we are heading because this could easily spin out of control.

ALLEN: Peter, want you to follow up on that comment by Jill.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I would like to. In fact, I'd like to cite Barbara Tuchman, the great American historian, who said that World War I began out of miscalculation and misunderstanding.

And this could -- we're going back into history now and it is going to happen again, especially with conditions as they are. And I think that you're absolutely correct to say that we say we have to get -- to become sober, settle things down and have institutional communication and build those institutions back up again in the communications realm between Russia and the United States.

And miscalculation is a very dangerous situation that can actually occur once again, as it did in World War I and other wars that have started that way also. And it is not good that, at this point the country's at the worst, at the lowest level right now of relationship. And any little thing could cause it to spin out of control completely.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: -- President Trump to really get this thing going once again with Russia.

ALLEN: Well, and it may be a while because there is some reports that this investigation could continue on for several more months by the special counsel.

Jill, I want to talk to you about both the U.S. along with Britain, France and Germany, you alluded to it, have denounced Russia for its alleged role in the nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in Great Britain and his daughter.

How will Russia respond?

You mentioned so far they have not had much to say about this.

DOUGHERTY: Well, we know that they are going to retaliate in terms of kicking out British diplomats. That's kind of given; we're just waiting for the announcement, so that will happen. They've essentially said they would do that.

But I think what the concern here in Moscow is a lot of these -- the things that the U.K. is going to do, which haven't been specifically defined yet and a lot of them have to do with financial issues.

You know, Russia has -- Russian oligarchs and pretty well-off Russians have a lot of financial interest as we all know in London. And so if the U.K. begins to squeeze that and make things more --

[01:15:00]

DOUGHERTY: -- transparent, even change laws, have something like the United States has, which is the Magnitsky Act, punishing and sanctioning people whom they accuse of human rights violations, things like that, it could make it very uncomfortable for Russia because they won't be able to use London as their base of operations or the place that they send their kids to school, et cetera.

So but because it has not really been defined I think Moscow is now waiting to see specifically what will happen. But easy would be the predictable; kicking people out diplomatically, PNG people. That is one thing.

But I think it goes far -- it could go far beyond that.

ALLEN: Yes.

And, Peter, is that the way they should go?

Should they continue to squeeze Russia on this?

Is that the right way to approach this or is there something else? MATTHEWS: I think there has to be a balance because if you go too far in that direction, there is a danger that this could spin out of control and there will be a reaction from Russia against Britain.

And then Britain against Russia and the United States will take sides. And it will be very much, very difficult to settle the situation down once again.

And as Jill mentioned, these are the two worlds, still very -- most armed countries with the most number of nuclear weapons. And you have got to find the way back to arms control and to continue the negotiations, especially with the SDI being taken out of commission by President Bush and now Russia having a weapon they claim can actually penetrate our defenses.

This is escalating way too much. We should be deescalating, especially in the nuclear area. And these kinds of events like the -- what happened Britain and the reactions that become extreme can cause a real problem in even the nuclear negotiation out of control, which we have to absolutely have right now. So --

ALLEN: When and how, when and how would -- will it de-escalate?

We will talk with you again about that. Thank you so much, Jill Dougherty in Moscow, Peter Matthews in Los Angeles. We thank you.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Natalie.

ALLEN: Next here, a mass exodus in Syria as the war reaches a grim milestone. We'll talk with our guests about that.

Plus new signs that the U.S. president and North Korean leader may be one step closer to holding talks.

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ALLEN: The Syrian civil war reached a grim milestone as residents fled Eastern Ghouta Thursday. State media report more than 10,000 people escaped the area, this as the conflict reached its seventh anniversary.

Eastern Ghouta has been hammered for weeks by a Syrian government assault, constant bombings. Both rebels and government forces accuse the other side of using civilians as human shields.

The mass exodus from Eastern Ghouta may be one of the largest since the war began. To discuss what has to be done to protect this huge group of people, I'm joined live from Beirut, Lebanon, by Paul Donohoe. He is a senior media officer --

[01:20:00]

ALLEN: -- at the International Rescue Committee.

Paul, thanks so much for talking with us.

It is difficult to fathom what the civilians of Syria have been through but we have this photograph, which is another painful illustration.

This is Ahmad Hamdan, who social media campaign, #IAmStillAlive. He has now been killed in Syria. He was a resident at Eastern Ghouta. The U.N., of course, tried to stop this bombardment. But it has continued and now people are running for their lives.

Is that the solution at this point?

PAUL DONOHOE, INTERNATIONAL RESCUE COMMITTEE: Well, no, the only solution is that the cease-fire that was agreed by the U.N. Security Council is enacted. The bombardment that we've seen kill over 1,000 people for the past month to stop and for aid convoys to enter so that those who desperately need food and aid get the help they so desperately and urgently require.

For those that have decided to flee, it's going to be a very worrying time for them. They're going to face real trepidation about what waits for them on the other side. But they do know that if they stay, that they're likely to only face more death and destruction.

And many of these people would have spent the last month sheltering for their lives in basements. And this could be the first time they'd even have the opportunity to venture out of their homes.

ALLEN: And who is assuring that they will reach a safe place and be cared for?

DONOHOE: So they've been told that they will receive support when they are able to leave Eastern Ghouta. The one thing we would be looking for is for independent observers to now be involved, to make sure that civilians are protected throughout.

What I think we do need to consider, the safety of those that remain inside Eastern Ghouta, so the reports are 10,000 to 20,000 have left. But that still leaves nearly 400,000 remaining inside Eastern Ghouta.

And for them, the past month has been hell on Earth. People are told the International Rescue Committee that they don't know if they're going to live one minute from the next.

And the only thing that's going to keep them safe is for an end to the bombardment.

ALLEN: Yes; as we talk, I want to bring up more pictures from the #IAmStillAlive, just to show children, all kinds of people, trying to get out to social media that they are still alive. We don't know if they are.

You mentioned the United Nations. They tried and they failed over and over again. Do you have any hope in that area?

DONOHOE: Well, we can only hope that the power that can have influence on the sides involved in the war continue to do what they can to have these agreed U.N. cease-fires enacted.

What we all see, though, is the reality that the bombs continue, that more than 1,000 died, 4,000 injured in the past month and that people are just in a desperate situation. There were a few aid convoys that managed to enter some of the besieged area over the last week. But they're only reaching a fraction.

And so people have been struggling for four years now, living under siege, not getting the food they require and not getting the health care that they desperately need. So there are more than 1,000 who needed urgent medical evacuation.

And a number, I mean, 25 hospitals and clinics were hit during the past month, including two supported by International Rescue Committee. And so the number of people who may have died simply because they were unable to get health care because the hospitals had been put out of action, just shows how desperate a situation this is.

ALLEN: Is this the final front for the Syrian regime, backed by Russia?

Does it end here?

And what does the fall of this enclave signify?

DONOHOE: Well, there are millions of people who still live in areas that are controlled by the government of Syria. But this is obviously a very dramatic moment. The 40,000 people who've been living under siege in Eastern Ghouta, that's just on the outskirts of Damascus.

But there are still millions of people who are living in Idlib and in the south in Daraa. And all these people are in very difficult situations. They find them -- so many of them have been displaced by the war, sometimes many times.

And aid agencies have been trying to reach as many as the time and help those who live, many them in informal (INAUDIBLE) settlements, not necessarily getting the clean water than they need or having the access to jobs that they require in order to get on with their lives and pay for those vital things.

So the situation -- I mean, as you said, this is the seventh anniversary of the war in Syria. Hundreds of thousands have died, even many more been --

[01:25:00]

DONOHOE: -- injured and half the population of Syria fled their homes.

What we are seeing, though, in Eastern Ghouta right now is a real change on the dynamic on the ground. And we are fearful in all -- in international aid organizations, we should be fearful right now for the safety of civilians that, in a moment like this, we don't see civilians caught in the crossfire as we see forces advance.

ALLEN: Every time there's another atrocity, we think, the world thinks, how can there be any more?

And there is another and another and we're seeing that now. We thank you so much, Paul Donahoe, with the International Rescue Committee. Thanks.

Well, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad may have unleashed his war machine against his own people seven years on now. But years ago he was a practicing eye doctor in London. Nic Robertson look at how he went from being a family man to ruling over the rubble of his own country.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice-over): President Bashar al-Assad has all the traits of an old-school dictator. He is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Syrians.

But it's not how he sees himself.

BASHAR AL-ASSAD, SYRIAN PRESIDENT: My enemy is terrorism. The instability in Syria. This is our enemy. It's not about people. It's not about persons. The whole -- it's not about me staying or leaving. It's about the country being safe or not.

ROBERTSON: To his loyal followers, Assad is a bulwark against a threat of radical Islamist terror. Before the war, many in the West thought he was a bulwark against instability sweeping the region. He trained and practiced as an eye doctor in London. Was thought to be more sophisticated than his brutal father, Hafez, whom he replaced 18 years ago.

But it was a sham. When faced with peaceful protest, he called in the tanks. Assad had never expected to lead Syria. His tougher older brother, Bassel, who had been groomed to be president died in a car crash in 1994. Once the civil war got under way, Assad's family, in particular his younger brother, Maher, a feared military commander, stiffened his resolve for a long, bloody fight.

Iran and their Lebanese proxies added their punch, backing Assad's forces with weapons and troops. Then, Russia, detecting a lack of Western will, flew to Assad's rescue with massive air power, turning a tide of battlefield losses to strategic gains. While hospitals were crushed and civilians starved and pulverized under their brutal bombing, areas under Assad's control escaped the worst ravages of the war. Compare the center of the capital, Damascus, Assad's official home, with Eastern Ghouta less than 10 miles away.

In his rare appearances, Assad, occasionally accompanied by his wife, appears unruffled by the mayhem they are spawning and in even rarer interviews, he sounds as callous as he is blind to the facts under his knows. This, in 2011.

ASSAD: The only thing that you could be afraid of as president to lose the support of your people. That's the only thing that you can be afraid of.

ROBERTSON: And this, six years, hundreds of thousands of deaths later.

ASSAD: The suffering of the Syrian people, the humanitarian interaction between me and every city and my family who died, who only died. This is the only thing that could deprive me from sleep from time to time. But not the Western statements and not the threat of the support of the terrorists.

ROBERTSON: Despite unanimous U.N. agreement to transition Assad out of power, peace talks in Geneva are failing to unseat him because he is winning the war. His big backers, Iran and Russia, have too much to lose to let him go. Assad may bridle at the moniker dictator, but no other world leader now in power has so much of his countrymen's blood on his hands -- Nic Robertson, CNN, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ALLEN: Top diplomats from North and South Korea are preparing for what could be a momentous summit between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un. We will have more details straight ahead.

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ALLEN: And Welcome back. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Natalie Allen, here are our top stories this hour.

CNN has learned President Donald Trump plans to replace National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. The exact time and still in question but multiple sources say Mr. Trump wants someone else in the role by the time he meets with North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un that's expected or in the works for May.

Meantime, Special Counsel Robert Mueller is focusing part of its Russia investigation on President Trump's business empire. A source tell CNN that Mueller has subpoena the Trump organization for business document. "The New York Times" says some of those documents are related to Russia.

The administration has announced new sanctions on Russia for its attempts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election. Included in those sanctions are individuals indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller last month.

North Korea and the U.S. maybe a step closer to holding talks. North Korean state media says its country's foreign minister met with his Swedish counterpart on Thursday in Sweden and will resume talks in the coming hours. Their meeting has fueled speculation. They are discussing a possible summit between the U.S president and the North Korean leader. Sweden has long represented U.S. interest in North Korea and could end up hosting the meeting.

Also laying some groundwork, South Korea's foreign minister, she's in Washington for a three-day visit with leaders including members of the U.S. House and Mr. Trump's daughter Ivanka.

In an exclusive interview, a former U.S. diplomat with extensive knowledge about North Korea says Pyongyang is probably surprised by how quickly President Trump agreed to a meeting with Kim Jong-un. For more about this, here's CNN's Elise Labott.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOSEPH YUN, FORMER U.S. ENVOY ON NORTH Korea POLICY: Right now, the most important thing is to reduce tensions.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: America's former top diplomat on North Korea says well he didn't expect it, he doesn't think there is anything wrong with President Trump sitting down with Kim Jong-un.

YUN: I would have loved to bring the deal forward and this is a great outcome.

LABOTT: Jo Yun said he's not surprised Trump agreed to the meeting but says National Security Adviser H.r. McMaster pushed a different strategy.

So why has it taken a whole year for this invite to come?

YUN: Yes. I think that's a good question. I think one reason is really we could never get all of the administration together on our side. And on their side, let's not forget Elise, they have been relentless in testing missiles, nuclear devices, so this is not easy. It's a complicated problem but I know we're getting a great start if we start off with the summit.

LABOTT: When you say that you couldn't get all the administration on the same side, do you mean that some are more favoring military action?

YUN: Well, I think there was obviously voices within the administration and it is natural to have different voices who are more aggressive and those who wanted more of a diplomatic solution.

[01:35:22]

LABOTT: Like the National Security Adviser who had advocated a bloody nose so to speak? Yes.

YUN: Well -- I mean, it's really in an administration. You're going to have different views. But I think time has now come really to speak with one single unified voice and that voice has to be that of the president.

LABOTT: Yun who has decades of experience working on North Korea dismissed critics who worry by meeting with Kim Jong-un, Trump will only give Kim what he wants, legitimacy on the world stage.

YUN: I don't think there is anything wrong in acknowledging that he's a leader of North Korea who has nuclear weapons.

LABOTT: Do you think that the president is going to get played by Kim Jong-un in this meeting and agree to things that the U.S. should not?

YUN: I don't think so. Really, not at all.

LABOTT: We know that the president likes to make his own decisions at the spur of the moment. Are you afraid that the North Korean leader will pull him into something that he's not ready for?

YUN: I don't think so. I think the goals are obvious and homework I know, there are ton of homework getting done as we speak.

LABOTT: We're talking about a meeting that the North Koreans have not even acknowledged that they offered. Why have we not heard from them yet?

YUN: I think to be frank with you, I think they were a little bit surprised that Washington, President Trump readily accepted. They thought it will take little time. So they were not completely prepared. So I think they're preparing at the moment --

LABOTT: Scrambling.

YUN: Scrambling, you might say, on how best to respond. And so I think you would see that in coming days something coming out.

LABOTT: You've talked to the North Koreans.

YUN: I've talked to North Korean and I sent a single message to them which was that this was an amazing opportunity for both sides and they need to respond.

LABOTT: But he warned and said if the meeting between Trump and Kim doesn't go well --

YUN: It will increase tensions and we're back to where we were in December and -- or even worse.

LABOTT: As Yun looks back on his time at the State Department, the retired diplomat may not be able to resist a return to the action.

There has to be a little bit of regret, what if the president said, "Jo, I need you to come back for this," would you do it?

YUN: When a president asks you to do something, you really have to give it serious thought. And that's what I would do.

LABOTT: It must be tempting though to be there for this historic --

YUN: Of course, it's tempting. Yes.

LABOTT: State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert said Thursday that Jo Yun wasn't the "second coming of Christ" and that the State Department had many diplomats to tackle diplomacy with North Korea.

Yun said he left his post over the gap between the State Department and the White House pointing to the firing of Rex Tillerson this week and said he predicts a more unified message with Mike Pompeo as the Secretary of State. Elise Labott, CNN Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ALLEN: As we've been reporting, Russia is in the headlines for sanctions and suspected nerve agent attack but when it's not meddling in U.S. elections, it also has elections of its own. The presidential vote is set for Sunday and President Vladimir Putin appears destined for another term. He is still out rallying supporters though. Here's what he told a crowd of young voters on Thursday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): The country will develop together with you. It will be concentrated on the future, it will be successful, it will be a state which we will all be proud of. We are proud of Russia and we'll be proud in the future. We will insure its future and we will do it together. Yes?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ALLEN: The opponent allowed to run against Mr. Putin are also out campaigning. Here's what candidate Ksenia Sobchak said Thursday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KSENIA SOBCHAK, Russian PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (through translator): It is not necessary to create a citizenship organization because if we are against Putin then we're against citizenship. We support a wide coalition of democratic powers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ALLEN: The outcome of the Russian election seems all but certain and many of the Russians who dare criticize Mr. Putin are no longer in Russia. CNN's Matthew Chance met some who are living in the Latvian Capital, Riga.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They called themselves the new Latvians fed up with Putin's Russia and making a fresh start over here. So this is the cafe?

PAVEL: Yes, that's the place. Well, these are the pictures that you see are the actual -- are real grandmothers and grand, grand, grandmothers and --

CHANCE: We caught up with Pavel at his Babushka cafe, a little slice of Moscow told me in the Latvian Capital.

[01:40:21] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I just felt that Latvia is better, it was never any about the politics stuff, it was more about the terms. I didn't feel the pressure, I feel some uncomfortability but the thing is here it's more predictable. The taxes are higher but you know what they are.

CHANCE: And is that one of the big failures do you think of Vladimir Putin in his government, his ruling in Russia that he hasn't been able to deliver people like you security, rule of law, stability?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't say about which one of the failures is the biggest failure. I think that definitely the lack of rule of law, the lack of normal judges that can produce fair decisions is one of the crucial factors.

CHANCE: For decades, Latvia was itself in the tight grip of the Kremlin but now this tiny Baltic State has become something of a haven for thousands of Russians seeking a better life abroad. And as the current Kremlin prepares for presidential elections, that exodus shines the light on some of the problems and some of the flaws in Putin's Russia.

Problems like freedom of speech that the offices of the online newspaper "Meduza" in Riga, an entire staff of Russian journalists is covering from afar the presidential elections taking place at home.

They all resigned their jobs in Moscow and followed their editor-in- chief here after she was fired from a Russian news website in 2014. In what she says was a crackdown ordered by President Putin on the independent press.

GALINA TEMCHANKO, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, MEDUZA: You know, it's -- for me he's stealing my future because I remember 1990s, I remember the smell of freedom, this air of freedom. I remember all this environment of independent journalism of new standards, not soviet of new Russia standard. And then something changed and now we have no future at all.

CHANCE: Do you think that future could ever be recaptured? Do you think Russia will change back and become free?

TEMCHANKO: I hope. We have some kind of meme here, Russia will be and Latvia will be (INAUDIBLE)

CHANCE: But for a growing number of Russians moving here, the new Latvians watching closely as their own country prepares to vote. That hope seems distant. Matthew Chance, CNN Riga.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ALLEN: A deadly bridge collapsed in Miami, Florida. The latest on the recovery efforts ahead here. We'll have a report from the team.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[01:45:14] ALLEN: Four people are dead, at least ten others injured after a pedestrian bridge collapsed in Miami, Florida Thursday and we're getting our first look at the moment it fell. The bridge was under construction and several workers were on it when it collapsed on a busy road near Florida International University.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a former U.S. presidential candidate says that cables that suspended the bridge have loosened and were being tightened when it came down. For more, here's Natasha Chen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The horrifying sight of Florida International University, a pedestrian walkway collapsed Thursday afternoon.

ISABELLA CAMACO, STUDENT AT FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY: Cars were completely crushed under. I know that they were able to pull one person out of the car and start performing CPR right on the street.

CHEN: Authorities responded to the scene shortly before 2:00p.m.

MAJOR CHRISTOPHER DELLAPIETRA, FLORIDA HIGHWAY PATROL: We encountered several vehicles that were crushed as a result of this incident. We quickly shifted into a search and rescue mode with my Miami Dade Fire and police.

CHEN: First responders rescued victims trapped under the 950 ton concrete span.

DAVE DOWNEY, FIRE RESUCE CHIEF, MIAMI DADE COUNTY: We're using all of our equipment, we're using our search canines, and we're going to continue to search this pile until we're sure that there's no other survivors.

CHEN: Designed to give FIU students and faculty a safe way to cross the busy intersection, the $14.2 million project has taken years of planning. Last week, local officials touted the bridge as state of the art, highlighting the project's speedy construction technique. The main section of the walkway was swung into place just a few days ago.

JORGE MUNILLA, MCM CONSTRUCTION: It's called the accelerator bridge construction method. This is the largest one ever done in the United States. So this is a first for the United States.

CHEN: The cause of the collapse remained unclear.

GOV. RICK SCOTT, FLORIDA: The most important thing we can do right now is pray for individuals that ended up in the hospital for their full recovery. Pray for the family members that have lost loved ones.

CHEN: In Miami, I'm Natasha Chen reporting.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ALLEN: New surveillance video from the deadly shooting at a high

school in Parkland, Florida is raising questions about what happened outside the school that day and why an armed police officer did not try to stop the shooter. CNN's Rosa Flores has that story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROSA FLORES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This edited surveillance video seen by the public for the first time appears to show the Broward Sheriff Deputy assigned to protect the school standing outside as the mass shooting unfolded inside.

Police record show that at 2:21 gunman Nikloas Cruze enters the building and begin shooting. One minute later, Officer Scott Peterson is seen near an administration building and turns around. At 2:23 while the shooter was killing students and teachers, Peterson appears to move on a golf cart and could be observed standing in between the 700 building and the 800 building, an area that's by the 1,200 building where the shooting took place.

Peterson had said he believed at one point the shots were being fired from outside but dispatch audio from him indicates otherwise.

VOICE OF SCOTT PETERSON, BROWARD DEPUTY SHERIFF: We also heard it's over by inside the 1,200 building.

FLORES: Inside, Cruze continues his rampage firing his weapon more than six minutes, stopping just before Peterson says this.

PETERSON: Broward, do not approach the 1,200 and 1,300 building. Stay at least 500 feet away at this point.

FLORES: Seconds before, the shooter blends in with other students and flees the scene. The Broward Sheriff's Office adding this statement with the videos released, "The video speaks for itself. His actions were enough to warrant an internal affairs investigation after being suspended without pay, Peterson chose to resign and immediately retired rather than face possible termination."

Prior to the disclosure, Broward Sheriff Scott Israel offered a more guttural response.

SHERIFF SCOTT ISRAEL, BROWARD COUNTY, FLORIDA: What I saw was a deputy arrive at the Westside of building 12, take up a position, and he never went in. Devastated, sick to my stomach, there are no words.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stand by right there, do not move.

FLORES: Meanwhile, the release of more material from that day, Coral Springs Police turning over dispatch calls of the moment the shooter was apprehended.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have the suspect, Nikolas Cruze.

FLORES: Rosa Flores, CNN Coral Springs, Florida.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ALLEN: It is no secret that President Trump loves reality TV but some are still surprised when he chooses TV personality to fill White House position. Coming up, a look at ties between TV and the U.S. president.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[01:50:14]

ALLEN: The U.S. president's choice for his next top economic adviser is raising some eyebrows, that's because he picked Larry Kudlow who's not an economist. He's a conservative media analyst.

It is not the first time Mr. Trump has sought out TV personality to staff some of his administration's most important offices. Our Randi Kaye breaks down the connection between television and the Trump White House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RANDI KAYE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Minutes after his hiring became public, Larry Kudlow shared what the president told him.

LARRY KUDLOW, INCOMING WHITE HOUSE ECONOMIC ADVISER: He said, "You're on air" and he said, "I'm looking at a picture of you" and he said, "Very handsome." So Trumpian.

KAYE: In response to Kudlow's hiring, Radio Host David Rothkopf tweeting, "Only a president who views everything through the lens of TV could think Larry Kudlow was suitable to be national economic adviser because he's not an economist in any sense of the word. He just plays one on television."

But Kudlow's not the only TV personality who see their profile rise in recent days. Former "Fox" Anchor Heather Nauert left broadcasting not even a year ago to work as spokesperson for the State Department.

HEATHER NAUERT, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: Good afternoon everybody.

KAYE: With Rex Tillerson's departure, Nauert was bumped up to the fourth in line at the State Department despite having no experience in diplomatic affairs.

And another "Fox" personality could be joining the administration. Pete Hegseth is currently a "Fox" morning show host but is reportedly being considered to run the sprawling Department of Veteran Affairs that employs just under 400,000 people.

Hegseth has no experience in either healthcare or management but is an Iraq war veteran. President Trump doesn't just hire media types, he consults them too. He's dined recently with "Fox News" personality's Jesse Watters and Geraldo Rivera, reportedly gossiping about politics and TV. Afterward, Watters tweeting a picture of the menu signed by the

president, "To Jesse, you are great." The president once called "Fox News" Host Kimberly Guilfoyle to discuss pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement.

KIMBERLY GUILFOYLE, FOX BUSINESS NEWS HOST: I spoke to him about it and this was something very much so on his mind.

SEAN HANNITY, TV HOST: Take a good long look in the mirror.

KAYE: And it's widely known the president leans on Host Sean Hannity for advice. He not only consulted Hannity on the Iran nuclear deal but Hannity had also reportedly advised the president to release a controversial GOP memo alleging corruption and Anti-Trump bias by FBI officials investigating the Trump campaign. Hannity painted it to be a massive political scandal.

HANNITY: This makes Watergate like stealing a Snickers bar from a drugstore.

KAYE: Presidential advisers in the age of Trump. Randi Kaye, CNN New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ALLEN: We have news about President Trump's family. His oldest son Donald Trump, Jr. and his wife Vanessa are separating. She apparently filed for divorce. They released a joint statement Thursday saying, "After 12 years of marriage we have decided to go our separate ways. We will always have tremendous respect for each other and our families. We have five beautiful children together and they remain our top priority."

The couple met in 2003 when Donald Trump, Sr. introduced them at a fashion show. Vanessa Trump is said to prefer being out of the public spotlight.

Social media has picked up on the latest example of President Trump saying something so out there, fact checkers have been left scrambling. He's been talking about a bowling ball test. But some are asking if it really exist. This story is right up Jeanne Moos's alley.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

[01:55:14]

JEANNE MOOS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Most people use bowling balls to bowl but we've also seen folks drop them on ax blades on to iPhones, into water buckets, and then there's a certain president who used bowling balls to highlight unfair trade practices against American cars imported to Japan.

It's called the bowling ball test, President Trump said in a recording "The Washington Post" obtained, "That's where they take a bowling ball from 20 feet up in the air and they drop it on the hood of the car and if the hood dents, then the car doesn't qualify. It's horrible the way we're treated, it's horrible." Which led a reporter at the White House briefing the wonder --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where did he get this from?

MOOS: Twitter had some suggestions, it's called "Bull Trump" those are crap fact toys he just makes up." "Or maybe he saw this old Nissan commercial featuring bowling balls run them up." Someone else joked, "I found the bowling ball test as performed by noted Japanese Kingpin David Letterman having a guest drop them off the roof."

While the internet is having a ball, maybe we should spare President Trump some of the ridicule. Talk about a strike. There is actual video of a safety test performed in Japan involving a weight that looks like a bowling ball. Some countries have higher standards to protect pedestrian's heads when they're struck by vehicles. This test how could design can reduce the impact on pedestrians. But what does the White House say about the president's example?

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Obviously he's joking about this particular test.

MOOS: If that was a joke, it was a gutter ball. One Twitter use chimed in, "That this is the only bowling test I need." Jeanne Moos, CNN New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ALLEN: We'll leave you to ponder that. That's CNN NEWSROOM this hour, I'm Natalie Allen. But the news continues next with George Howell. Please stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: The Russian President Vladimir Putin says the U.K. is being destructive and provocative by kicking out 23 Russian diplomats.