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Americans Freed from North Korea; Trump Setting Global Agenda while Allies Look On; Trump Hints at Revoking Journalists' Credentials; Overturned Truck Spills Tons of Chocolate. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired May 10, 2018 - 01:00   ET

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


[01:00] JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: You're watching CNN Newsroom live from Los Angeles.

ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: Ahead this hour, heightened tension in the Middle East after Iran and Israel exchange rocket fire.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Also, three Americans imprisoned in North Korea now in U.S. airspace and will soon touch down at Joint Base Andrews, just outside Washington, and the U.S. President will be there to greet them.

SESAY: Also, a 92 year old is set to become the world's oldest leader after stunning election victory in Malaysia.

VAUSE: It is incredible.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

SESAY: And, I'm Isha Sesay, this is Newsroom L.A.

Well, for the first time ever Israel's military is directly accusing Iran of firing missiles into Israeli controlled territory. It's a sudden escalation of tensions in a tinderbox region.

VAUSE: Israel says Iran's Quds forces fired more than 20 rockets from Syria.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

Targeting military outposts on the Golan Heights. A CNN team on the ground say several rockets were intercepted by Israel's' defense system.

SESAY: Syria said Israel fired back with dozens of missiles, some of which destroyed a radar site.

VAUSE: And it's just got 8:00 a.m. in Jerusalem and Ian Lee joins us now from there live.

(END VIDEOTAPE) So, Ian, the Israelis have made it clear they're tired of the Iranian

assets inside Syria, in what already appears to be the biggest direct military confrontation between Israel and Iran.

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Lasts night's incident sent residents of the Golan scrambling to bomb shelters as the night sky was lit up with the crisscross of fire.

The Israel's iron dome system intercepting some of those rockets, but then Israel retaliating. We're hearing from the Israeli military that dozens of Iranian sites inside of Syria were targeted. Including Iranian intelligence sites, logistical commands, military and logistical site in El-Kiswah, Iranian military base north of Damascus, arms depots, as well as military sites close to the border.

As well as that rocket launcher that fired those rockets, they went after that and then they went after Syrian air defense systems. Now, the Syrian state media saying that a lot of those Israeli missiles were intercepted, but Israel saying that they targeted and took out those air defense systems.

This morning, though, John, Israel is saying that it is business as usual up there in the north, that schools are still open, people can go back into the fields that are close to the border and continue their farming. But, there is this heightened tension after what was a very dramatic night.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: What is also unprecedented about this, Israel warned the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, not to interfere. Stay out of this, they said, or face a harsh response.

LEE: That's right, you know, this came from the Minister of Energy, Yuval Steinitz, he said that if the Syrian government was going to allow Iran to use Syria as a military station point, a military base to attack Israel, he said that not only the regime is at risk, but also the president himself, Bashar al-Assad, would be at risk as well.

You know, Israel says that this is a red line, but you know also we're hearing that the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, he also got involved. You know, Israel and Iran both have good relations with Russia. He urged both sides to ease the tensions.

We do also know that Israel coordinated its military activities with the Russians so there wouldn't be any conflict between Russian forces and Israeli forces.

John.

VAUSE: Okay, Ian.

Ian Lee, live there, from Jerusalem with the very latest. We'll stay with this story for a little longer.

Ari Aramesh joins us now from San Francisco, he's a national security and foreign policy analyst. Ari, thanks for staying up.

The Israelis have carried out military strikes on Iranian targets inside Syria for months now, but until this point the Iranians have been relatively restrained. But not now and the theory is the nuclear agreement effectively being on life support now, is the difference here and Iran has nothing to lose.

I'm not a huge fan of cause and effect arguments, especially in the Middle East, but this time it seems pretty obvious.

ARASH ARAMESH, NATIONAL SECURITY AND FOREIGN POLICY ANALYST: You know, it's also the first time that the Israelis are carrying out an attack and openly taking responsibility for it. Which is sort of a break from their historical position of ambiguity - - was it us? Was it not us? Was it us, or was it not us?

But, there has not yet been a direct engagement between Iranians and the Israelis. Those are the forces of Iran's armed forces, either the Islamic Revolutionary Guards forces that are present in Syria, or Israeli Defense Forces, the IDF. It's always been through proxies, Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and so on, and so forth.

[01:05] What's also interesting is for the Syrian government to try to deescalate the situation. It was the Syrians that came out and said while the rockets that hit the Golan Heights were actually launched by the Syrian military trying to sort of deflect away some of the blame from the Revolutionary Guards that are present in Syria.

But again, Iran had promised in the past to take revenge for Israel's attacks. Several attacks now for the past few months in Syria, but Israel has also made it clear that it will not allow Iran to have operating bases in Syria.

Whether they are air bases or forward infantry bases, or any permanent military bases for which Iran can sort of launch an attack against Israel directly, and that's what Israel is trying to prevent.

VAUSE: Well, before those direct military confrontations, the U.S. National Security Advisor, John Bolton, was asked specifically if the president's decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal would heighten the risk of war, this is his answer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BOLTON, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: I don't think it will bring us closer. I think Iran is bringing us closer to war with its belligerent activity in Iraq and Syria. You know, they've been moving missiles - - the Revolutionary Guards Quds force has been moving missiles into Syria that can hit any target inside Israel.

That's why we've seen recent Israeli strikes. It's that aggressive militaristic behavior by Iran on the ground in the region that's the real threat.

(END VIDEO CLIP) VAUSE: Okay. So, you have Bolton it's all Iran's fault. We've also heard in the past few hours from Israel's defense minister publically saying that no one wants this confrontation to escalate in an all-out war.

What's stopping this from escalating further? How does this play out in the coming hours? In the coming days?

ARAMESH: Well, for one thing, President Trump pulling out of the Iran deal has emboldened to hardliners in Iran. The hardliners who did not want to negotiate with the United States or the West are now saying look, you know, we've been proven right, the West - - chief amongst them, the U.S. cannot be trusted.

So, on the one hand now, they have the moral upper hand now in politics in Tehran. Secondly, hardliners in both theaters, perhaps, are not big fans of de-escalation. A little military conflict with Israel will definitely embolden the hardliners in Iran to do the following: A. Do away with any dissent in the country, declare emergency law, go ahead and shut down any means of civil disobedience, or any means of political dissent.

Secondly, it will also prove their case that conflict and resistance is the only way to deal with the West, the United States and Israel.

But again, looking at this from a regional perspective, Iran's regional ambitions in Iraq, in Syria, in Bahrain, in Yemen, in Lebanon, they have created and caused much dissatisfaction and much concern amongst U.S. allies. Those are Saudi Arabia, Israel, United Arab Emeritus, and even a little farther west, Egypt.

So, Iran has been on the rise ever since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and its rise has been coupled with much concern, and much anxiety amongst U.S. allies in the region, the U.S. tried to curb some of this rise. Having said that, President Trump's actions recently, pulling out of the nuclear deal and also alienating our own allies, is not really helping the cause here.

VAUSE: Very quickly, because we are almost out of time, you did mention how the Israelis actually took credit for - - for - - for this military action for the first time publically saying, you know, it was them instead of going through a proxy. We also heard from the IDF, which actually Tweeted out - - calling out Iran and blaming the Iranian Quds forces.

While that in itself doesn't seem remarkable, it is unprecedented. It's the first time Israel has attributed an attack to Iran and all of this - - it seems like that everything's out in the open now. It seems to be setting the stage for some kind of wider confrontation.

ARAMESH: It is, and again, look at that regionally. Just a few days ago, in Lebanon, Iran's allies Hezbollah again won parliamentary majority in the Lebanese parliament. The civil war in Syria seems to be all but over and - - and - - and in the interest of Iran's ally Bashar al-Assad, Iran happens to be, again, on the rise. And, with the nuclear deal on its demise, at least from an American perspective, Iran seems to have - - the U.S. seems to even have less leverage to pressure Iran regionally. Again, I really want to know what the White House is thinking at the moment, because people like McMaster, or Tillerson, are gone and the regime change crowd people like John Bolton and Pompeo are now back in key positions.

Is their goal full blown regime change? Or, are we going towards a regime transformation? Or, are we actually going towards engagement? If the goal as is stated in the past by John Bolton and Pompeo, that it's regime change, I don't think they're going to push the Israelis to deescalate. And, as we all know, Iranian hardliners are not interested in de-escalation.

[01:10] So, we'll have to see what happens, but again, we can only hope for cooler heads to prevail.

VAUSE: The atmosphere just doesn't feel like that right now. Same thing with Bolton and Pompeo, and the White House. Just one quick correction about Hezbollah and the elections in Lebanon.

Hezbollah, you know the numbers of (inaudible) is unchanged, but its allies in parliament scored a pretty big win giving it that majority. I've had some Tweets and people call us out for that. So, I just want to make sure that clarification is made, but the sentiment is correct.

Ari, thank you so much, appreciate you being with us.

SESAY: Well, in less than two hours U.S. President Donald Trump is to greet three Americans who have been imprisoned in North Korea, as they arrive at a military base in Maryland. North Korea released the three men to Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, Wednesday.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

Pompeo was on a second trip to Pyongyang to finalize details for President Trump's planned meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong- un. The White House views the men's release as a gesture of good will ahead of the summit.

For more on this, Ivan Watson joins us now from Seoul.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

Ivan, before we get into the question of why and motivation, just start by giving our viewers some back story, some background on - - on - - on the three men, whom will soon be reunited with their loved ones when they land in the U.S.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. Well, they're all U.S. citizens of Korean dissent, who've been detained over the years in North Korea.

Kim Dong Chul, a businessman who was detained in 2015, sentenced to 10 years of hard labor amid accusations of espionage.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

And then, you had Kim Hak-song and Kim Sang Duk, they were both affiliated with the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, and they were picked up within a month of each other, in April and May of 2017.

And, I spoke with the wife of Kim Hak-song, who is an agricultural expert, a Christian missionary.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

I spoke with his wife just says after his detention, it was almost exactly a year ago today, and she was anguished in tears, you know, begging for the release of her husband.

And, there was such a rash of these detentions of U.S. citizens, oftentimes plucked from the airport, or quite literally off the plane when they were about to fly out of Pyongyang. The state department in the U.S. issued a travel advisory as recently as January of this year, warning Americans not to travel to Pyongyang - - to North Korea for fear of detention and requiring U.S. citizens to get a special waiver to go there.

So, the release of these three men - - one of the chief concerns was what is their medical condition, because another American detainee, who was released last year - - a university student named Otto Warbier. The American negotiator - - the diplomat who helped negotiate his release and pick him up was shocked to discover that he was essentially catatonic.

That he'd suffered some kind of brain injury while in North Korean detention and died shortly after arrival back in the U.S. We've heard from like Pompeo, escorting these three detainees, saying they appear to be in more healthy condition. They were able to walk on their own upstairs, but they were being examined by doctors.

And, they put out a statement via the state department, thanking the Trump administration and U.S. diplomats for helping in securing their release.

Isha.

SESAY: Ivan, let's get to the why then. Why would North Korea do this ahead of the scheduled talks between President Trump and Kim Jong-un? Clearly, it's a massive boost for President Trump.

I mean, he's got the three Americans home. What does North Korea hope to gain from it?

WATSON: Well, it's not the first time North Korea has released detained Americans to U.S. dignitaries who make the pilgrimage to Pyongyang. That's happened before in years past, however, Mike Pompeo, on his flight over to Pyongyang, he made it clear that this would be a good will gesture, it would be welcomed.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) And, he also said that it would be quite difficult to hold a summit

between the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un and President Trump, the first ever summit between a North Korean leader and a U.S. leader, with these three Americans still in detention and, by doing this, it does give President Trump a win.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

A public relation victory, he's going to be standing on the tarmac waiting for the three Americans to arrive. He's been Tweeting about their release and, quite understandably, celebrating it. And, it helps improve kind of the atmosphere going into the expected summit between these two leaders.

Worth noting, Isha, that the South Korean government has welcomed this. The president's office put out a statement saying, hey, we also urge the North Korea to release South Koreans who have been detained. There are at least six South Koreans who are in detention.

[01:15:10] And, this North Korean practice of grabbing foreign nationals is a major obstacle if it wants to normalize relations with the U.S. and other neighbors here. Japan also, has had a long and very tragic history of North Korean agents grabbing Japanese citizens from Japanese coasts.

And, that's been an issue that the Japanese government has pressed its U.S. and South Korean allies to raise with the North Koreans at every opportunity.

Isha.

SESAY: Interesting. Interesting. We shall see what dividends it yields.

Ivan Watson, joining us there from Seoul, South Korea. Appreciate it, Ivan, thank you.

Phillip Yun is executive director of the Ploughshares Fund, the public foundation working against the spread of nuclear weapons. He was advisor on North Korea to former President Bill Clinton.

Phillip, always good to have you with us.

Let me start by asking you the very same question that I asked Ivan. Why would North Korea do this at this point in time?

Yes, you could say top line, it's a good will gesture, but what do they want in return?

PHILLIP YUN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF PLOUGHSHARES FUND: Well, I think what they want to do is, again - - diplomacy has a momentum of its own and we saw from the very beginning that there was this dramatic announcement about possibly participating with the Olympics earlier this year after a degree of very high tension.

You recall, in December, we were actually thinking - - or we were hearing about a unilateral strike. And then what has happened is that things have progressed faster and faster, and faster, and in certain ways the - - the - - the movement on this has been stunning and so, this is just part of that process where they want to continue this.

I would expect we might see something else. For example, North Korea will actually bring in the press to show that it's closing down its test site in Punggye (ph) and maybe a few other things. So, this the process that goes on.

One of the dangers with respect to the kidnappers is that - - the person earlier talked about the Japanese abductees, is that there may be a backlash to some degree. We don't know how well, or how poorly, these people have been treated and when their stories come out, that may make things a little bit more difficult for us moving forward.

SESAY: Alright. So, to pick up on the point you made, that you don't believe this is the end of I guess North Korean good will gestures. That they may invite foreign powers in to take a look at - - at - - at the installations, if you will.

I guess my question is, even by doing that, as well as by letting these three go, what does that mean for the talks and the president's goal - - the U.S. President's goal of denuclearization?

YUN: Not clear. I think what it is, is that you try to create momentum and a good atmosphere where people feel like their actually putting their best foot forward. Trying to make something work. But, what it comes down to is this meeting - - this summit between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump is all going to be about denuclearization.

And the very issue is that the North Koreans have one definition of denuclearization and the United States probably has another, one has to do with timing. The North Koreans would like to wait - - would like to wait until they see and they can feel like they can actually - - not trust, but can see what the United States is going to do.

And, Donald Trump has said, "We're not going to wait." We want it to be happening very quickly. You know, we have to see if that gap can be bridged. And, there's also a definition of denuclearization whereas the United States says we want North Korea to give up its weapons.

North Korea is going to be talking about the peninsula as a whole. They may be talking about U.S. troops. They may be talking about the U.S. nuclear umbrella to protect Japan and to protect South Korea.

So, those are the issues that are going to matter and all of this is really just for atmospherics.

SESAY: Okay. The fact that Kim Jong-un is just back from meeting with President Xi of China, second visit in a very short space of time. What does that say to you?

YUN: Well, I think what's happening is that Kim Jong-un is basically hedging his bets. What's going on here is we know - - and I think the Chinese realize that the North Koreans feel like they're way too dependent on China and they would like to get out from under the finger, or under the thumb, of China.

So, in certain ways they are playing off the United States and China off of each other, and there's a conversation going here as to maybe Kim Jong-un is saying, what will you give me? And, can you up what I'm receiving from the other party?

There's another conversation here where, perhaps, there is some coordination going on between North Korea and China, and possibly to some degree, people are talking about this respect to South Korea. Because, ultimately, South Korea, Japan and China do not want a unilateral strike or any kind of conflict on the Korean peninsula.

That seems to be an overriding interest on their part and they're not sure about Donald Trump.

SESAY: Phillip, last question to you. Obviously, this is coming very swiftly on the heels of President Trump pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal.

[01:20] Do you feel that the pressure is on this administration now to get a better deal with Kim Jong-un, than the deal that they trashed with Iran?

YUN: Yes. I think that's certainly the case. I think what has happened is that the - - the - - the Iran deal was actually working, and that's the tragedy of it all, and what you saw was - - and I believe it's partially something like anything but Obama syndrome here.

But, what happened is that Donald Trump very distinctly drew a connection between his decision to withdraw from the Iran deal and North Korea. He basically is saying I mean what I say.

So, this is his attempt in a very subtle way to give pressure to the North Koreans saying, you know, "I'm going to do what I say I'm going to do. So, you better pay attention." On the other hand, the North Koreans - - why would they agree to something long-term, when they feel like they're not going to - - any agreement is not really worth it.

Especially when the other side is complying and Donald Trump decides to just walk away. So, that's the conundrum here, not sure how the North Koreans are going to take it.

SESAY: Which brings us back full circle and brings us back to the point of what is this move - - the release of these three Americans, what is it worth in the big scheme of things? As you made the point, it is all just atmospheric.

Phillip Yun, thank you.

(CROSSTALK)

And, they're home - - they're on their way home to be reunited with their loved ones, that is very important and not to be understated.

Phillip, thank you.

VAUSE: Well, still to come here, Donald Trump has taken his chaos presidency global, upending traditional foreign policy, causing concern worldwide.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

But, could this dangerous gamble payoff in political gains come the mid-term elections in the U.S.?

SESAY: Plus, a 92 year old former prime minister has done the unthinkable in Malaysia. Coming out of retirement to defeat the very party he led for more than two decades. Stunning, we'll explain.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAUSE: Well, Malaysia's long-time prime minister has suffered a stunning election loss to the man who was once his mentor. Former Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, came out of retirement leading a coalition of opposition parties against the ruling party.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

That's the same party he one led.

SESAY: At 92, Mahathir will now become the world's oldest leader. The outgoing Prime Minister, Najib Razak, has been embroiled for a long time now in a financial scandal.

VAUSE: Okay.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

We turn now to the fast approaching British royal wedding less than two weeks away.

[01:25] And, you're off to London.

SESAY: I'm off to London.

VAUSE: Okay. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are spending time ahead of their big day appearing together at public events across the U.K.

SESAY: And, not surprisingly, they're attracting large and enthusiastic crowds.

As our own, Nick Glass reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRINCE HARRY: Felt like I fell in love with Meghan so incredibly quickly - - was sort of confirmation to me that all the stars were aligned, everything was just perfect.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NICK GLASS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Apart of the talk of romance, they've been showing us how they feel in person. Harry just dancing around, Meghan smiling away, like a good tag-team happily working the line.

Unusually for a royal couple, both publically very tactile, as was a certain Princess Diana, Meghan likes to hug. This 10 year old was singled out in Birmingham, she wants to be an actress one day, just like Meghan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARTHUR EDWARDS, PHOTOGRAPHER, THE SUN NEWSPAPER: It reminded me of Diana, actually, in those early days with Diana. I remember that tour of Wales, the weather was like this. Pouring with rain, but she threw herself into it and I see the same with this young lady.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: This is my hand and Prince Harry with his tongue out at me.

(LAUGHTER)

I think it's a pretty cool photo.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GLASS: The Harry and Meghan roadshow around Britain has clearly been a lot of fun. Infectiously so. Harry buoyant, lots of thumbs up and waves. Meghan had fans before, but nothing - - absolutely nothing quite prepares you for serious royal wedding fever.

Acutely camera aware and camera friendly, she's become the first choice cover girl for British celebrity magazines week after week. And if he didn't before, Harry is learning to love dogs. Meghan has brought over her beagle mix, as well as her photogenic smile.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I've got some lovely photos of them, as well, and their charming, absolutely charming.

MEGHAN MARKLE, PRINCE HARRY'S FIANCE: Hi, nice to meet you. Thank you so much.

PRINCE HARRY: Where are you from?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I'm from London.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GLASS: There was a rare intimacy here. The spontaneity. A royal couple happy to banter.

(CROSSTALK) As a successful TV actress, Meghan Markle was a U.N. advocate for

women's rights.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARKLE: Women need a seat at the table. They need an invitation to be seated there and in some cases, where this isn't available, well you know what? Then they need to create their own table.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GLASS: Now, she's marrying into the British royal family, the carefully political institution, but that evidentially hasn't inhibited her. She has a new platform as one of the so-called Fab Four, William, Kate, Harry and Meghan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARKLE: I think right now in the climate that we're seeing with so many campaigns, I mean, Me Too and Times Up, there is no better time than to really continue to shine a light on women feeling empowered.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GLASS: These have been a frenetic few months for Meghan Markle. Baptism, acceptance into the Church of England and a little wedding to plan at Windsor Castle. And along the way, she's been getting to know us and we've been getting to know her.

Nick Glass, CNN, on the road with Harry and Meghan.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SESAY: Just a little wedding to plan, with hundreds of guests.

We'll be there in London to bring you all the details from the big day.

Alright, let's turn back to Malaysia, where the country's long-time prime minister has suffered a stunning election loss.

Journalist Mark Walls, joins us from Kuala Lumpur. He's the former Asia director for CNN digital.

Mark, good to have you with us.

How on earth did this happen? How do you account for this stunning defeat of Najib Razak?

MARK WALLS, FORMER ASIA DIRECTOR FOR CNN DIGITAL: It was a shock to the entire country. Even though Mahathir and his (inaudible) said that they were very confident of a victory.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

Most of the country assumed that the measures that Najib had taken to ensure victory, would see him past the finish line. After all, Najib had gone on this massive (inaudible) exercise.

He had promised millions and millions of dollars in terms of hand outs and goodies to the people of Malaysia. He had threatened them with the agitate (ph) bill and despite all of that, Mahathir and his coalition came through in the end and not just beat Najib, but really handed them the direction.

SESAY: Well, it is a stunning defeat. We shall see in the days ahead what this 92 year old means for Malaysia's future.

Mark, we've got to leave it there, but appreciate it,Thank you.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Mahathir Mohamad, the man that Paul Keating, the Australian prime minister, once described as recalcitrant -- sent every Australian to a dictionary to find out what it meant.

Ok. After the break, three Americans will soon arrive home after being imprisoned North Korea. But what about the Americans still being held by Tehran? What's their future now that the U.S. has withdrawn from the Iran nuclear deal?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

VAUSE: And I'm John Vause.

We'll check the headlines this hour.

Israel's military is directly accusing Iran of firing missiles into Israeli-controlled territory. Israel believes more than 20 rockets targeting army outposts on the Golan Heights were fired by the Quds Force. Syria says Israel responded with dozens of missiles destroying a radar site.

Malaysia's ruling party has been dealt a historic upset in parliamentary elections. Outgoing Prime Minister Najib Razak, who has been engulfed in a scandal conceded defeat just a short time ago. 92- year-old former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad came out of retirement for the stunning win and will now become the world's oldest leader.

VAUSE: Three Americans held captive until just a few hours ago in North Korea are about an hour away from arriving at a military base near Washington. President Trump will be there to greet them. North Korean state media says Kim Jong-un released the men at the request of President Trump.

And CNN's senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny is live at Joint Base Andrews. He joins us now. Jeff -- this is a major television moment, waiting for the three Americans in the middle of night. The U.S. President -- and if there's anyone who knows the power of an image it's Donald Trump.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No question about that -- John. Very unusual for a U.S. president or any president to arrive in, you know, the middle of the evening basically, in the overnight hours. But the President clearly wants to mark this as a major milestone which indeed it is towards setting up that historic summit with Kim Jong-un.

Of course, this was one of the hurdles -- one of many hurdles that he had hoped would be resolved and worked through. And of course his secretary of State will be flying back here with those three Americans actually on separate airplanes. But they'll be landing somewhere in the next couple hours or so.

The President will be leaving the White House -- at least he's scheduled to in the next half an hour or so. So he will be here on hand, likely have a private meeting with them. But it is certainly symbolic, as you can see the giant flag behind me -- John.

[01:35:01] Certainly it's otherwise a quiet evening here, a crisp evening -- early morning hours I should say -- in Washington. But the Vice President also will be on hand as well, the first lady and the second lady here. So this is clearly a moment the President wants to mark and wants to count as progress toward that historic summit.

Of course it does not guarantee success of any metric at the summit should it happen likely next month, potentially in Singapore. But certainly today is a sign that American officials at least believe that North Korea is more serious than ever before in bringing a resolution to their nuclear program here. It raises the stakes for the President but his appearance here in the next hour or so certainly marks a big moment in this -- John.

VAUSE: Regardless of what happens from this point on this is a good thing.

Jeff -- thank you. Jeff Zeleny, live for us there at Joint Base Andrews.

ZELENY: Sure.

VAUSE: Wendy Greuel is a former Los Angeles City councilwoman; Lanhee Chen is a research fellow at the Cuba Institute and former public policy director for Mitt Romney. And they are with us now. Thank you both.

Ok. Lanhee -- first to you. This, of course, is a welcome homecoming for these three Americans. But what about the six Americans, maybe more, being held by Iran. It seems their prospects for release are now pretty bleak now that Donald Trump has withdrawn the United States from the Iran nuclear deal.

LANHEE CHEN, RESEARCH FELLOW, CUBA INSTITUTE: Well, this is a very tricky situation indeed -- John; obviously a lot to celebrate tonight with these three Americans returning home from North Korea.

The dynamics around the Iran deal obviously much more complicated. And we'll have to see what happens there. Obviously if the United States continues on its path of pulling out of this Iran nuclear deal which President Trump signaled the U.S. was going to do, not only does it disable our ability to communicate directly with the Iranians but obviously will make it very difficult to discuss the fate of those Americans still in Iran going forward.

So tonight's a big night for the President, obviously. But going forward many more land mines remain.

VAUSE: Lanhee -- thank you. Because obviously, you know, the fear for the three Americans -- this removes one area of friction between Pyongyang and Washington. And this all comes ahead of the Trump and Kim summit.

And all of this, as we know, is being clearly welcomed by Donald Trump. This is what he said earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To me, it's very exciting because it represents something. It represents something very important to this country. People never thought a thing like this could happen and it can.

People never thought you were going to be have a situation where we're having serious and positive communications with North Korea, and we are. What happen, who knows? We have a chance at something really great for the world.

VAUSE: You know, Wendy -- I don't know who these people but you know, American have been freed before during periods of optimism. There have been negotiations before with the North Koreans during period of optimism. You know, Donald Trump just did not reinvent the wheel here.

WENDY GREUEL, FORMER LOS ANGELES COUNCILWOMAN: Well, absolutely. And I think look, as we all said today it's going to be a great day when those three prisoners return to the U.S. on that plane flight.

I think we can't forget that they were prisoners before; that this was North Korea. But it is an opportunity to ensure that going forward in the conversations in the summit that there's something that comes out of that, something that is real.

I think unfortunately him pulling out of the deal with Iran has really put that back. It's bleak for those that are there in a situation where there really isn't much conversation and when the President pulled out of that Iran deal, he didn't have a Plan B specific reason for the things he was going to go forward and do and so I think everyone is scratching their heads and the world is watching and saying can we trust the United States of America and can we trust this President.

VAUSE: The "Washington Post" is reporting how the U.S. President has been upending foreign policy in the last few months, and also has this theory about why. "By making brash and risky moves on the world stage from shredding the Iran nuclear deal to negotiating nuclear disarmament with the North Koreans, imposing tariffs on Chinese imports Trump has a chance to change the way voters evaluate his presidency.

For Trump each bold stroke is like a spritz of Febreeze on his narrative of domestic scandal, momentarily masking the expanding Russia probe of special counsel Robert Mueller or the federal criminal investigation into his long-time attorney and fixer Michael Cohen."

Lanhee -- it seems an incredibly dangerous play to try and use an issue like North Korea for political ends especially when you consider the potential consequences here for national security.

CHEN: Well look, I think all of these things we're seeing are the fulfillment of various kinds of campaign promises that Donald Trump made during the 2016 campaign. And whether you like it or not, this is the philosophy of this White House; that they're going to try and follow through in these ways.

[01:39:55] Now obviously these are controversial things that they're doing. But for Republican voters, in particular when they evaluate the President they would much rather -- the White House would much rather voters evaluate the President based on North Korea and Iran and what's happening in China than on Stormy Daniels and some of the other domestic controversies. So obviously this is a play by the President to focus attention on foreign policy.

If he's able to get these things, if he's able to negotiate a lasting peace with North Korea that includes denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, if he's able to move things forward in terms of having a deal with Iran that people perceive, at least on the Republican side of the aisle a being better, and if he's able to negotiate some rapprochement with China as well as a positive outcome on trade, I think a lot of them are going to say look, job well done.

So we'll see what happens going forward. But obviously they'd much rather talk about this than about the domestic scandals.

VAUSE: And in many ways, you know, if you tune into conservative talk radio in the United States on Wednesday, this was a day for celebration. Here's the McDaddy of them all -- Rush Limbaugh.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, CONSERVATIVE TALK RADIO HOST: We actually have pulled out of this deal. And it's big. And I tell you folks, I feel proud. This was a pure, clean break and the application of strong sanctions.

So where are we with the Obama legacy? The Paris climate deal -- dead, done, we're out. The Iran nuclear deal -- part of the Obama legacy, dead, done, we're out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: So Wendy if Obama did it that's enough for many on the right to undo (ph) it, it seems.

GREUEL: Well, I think that's to me disappointing and frightening that their whole, you know, view of accomplishment is just anything opposite of Obama and bringing it down. And I think when you look at the Iran deal, over 60 percent of polls have showed people wanted the Iran deal to stay in place. That they wanted it to be improved? Absolutely.

But I think this President is looking at ways in which as he goes forward as was said earlier to take away from the seriousness of the kinds of domestic issues that he's facing and the Mueller investigation is moving ahead and he is doing an excellent job at focusing in specifically on looking at that Russia connection.

VAUSE: Yes. And we're in a situation now where these new sanctions are about to hit Iran. That brings up the issue of secondary sanctions on any European or other company doing business with the Iranians. The U.S. ambassador to Berlin tweeted this out a few hours ago. "As Donald Trump said, U.S. sanctions will target critical sectors of Iran's economy. German companies doing business in Iran should wind down operations immediately." Those are words for the Europeans that they're preparing new laws to try and stop the American sanctions from impacting European companies. That's by Politico's reporting.

This legislation has been tried before. It worked back in 1996 over the Cuba issue. But Lanhee to you -- this just seems to be the start of those deeper and deeper divisions just getting worse and really taking hold now between the United States and Europe.

CHEN: Well, there is a very definitive break here between the U.S. and its European allies on the question of what to do about Iran. I think the Europeans had both policy equities as well as economic equities in place with respect to Iran and how to carve a pathway forward if you will that would allow for greater engagement with Iran. And that's clearly not where the U.S. is headed. So this is major source of disagreement.

Now, the President did leave some glimmer of hope here that a negotiation could still take place between Europe, the United States and Iran to essentially repair elements of the deal that were problematic.

But I think it's going to be very difficult to get to everything that the President has said he wanted with respect to Iran. So, you know, this fissure is only sure to grow over time and with the U.S. kind of continuing along this pathway of pulling out I would expect to hear complaints from the Europeans rather than resolution.

VAUSE: You know, I think the chances of the Iranians renegotiating this deal with Donald Trump about the same as Mexico paying for the border wall at this point.

Lanhee and Wendy -- thanks to you both. Appreciate it.

GREUEL: Thank you.

CHEN: Thank you.

SESAY: Well next on NEWSROOM L.A. President Trump says negative news about his administration is fake. Now he's suggesting some journalists could lose their White House credentials in retaliation.

[01:44:28] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAUSE: So we've had it wrong all along. When the U.S. President complains about so-called fake news, the assumption has been he felt the story was factually inaccurate or just made up. But in an early morning tweet on Wednesday Donald Trump clarified what he really means.

Here it is. "The fake news is working overtime. Just reported that despite the tremendous success we're having with the economy and all things else, 91 percent of the network news about me is negative [fake]. Why do we work so hard at working with the media when it is corrupt? Take away credentials?" Question mark.

So now we know when President Trump says fake news he means negative news. So with that in mind listen to Donald Trump now but every time he says fake or phony think "bad for me".

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We are fighting the fake news. It's fake, phony, fake. A few days ago I called the fake news the enemy of the people, and they are. They are the enemy of the people.

I read the information outside of that meeting. It's all fake news. It's phony stuff.

I told people specifically be quiet with the fake news media because I don't want them talking too much about it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, did you seek to fire Robert Mueller?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- fire Robert Mueller?

TRUMP: Fake news, folks. Fake news.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What's your message today.

TRUMP: You have to call "New York Times" fake stories.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: Brian Stelter is CNN's senior media correspondent and host of "RELIABLE SOURCES". He's with us now from New York. And a quick shout out to Chris Cillizza for the suggestion of replacing fake with "bad for me".

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

VAUSE: Quite enlightening.

Well, I guess, you know, that's one thing. I think we've kind of known that for a while. But what is more concerning is the last line there in the President's tweet. The threat to pull credentials presumably from White House reporters who file stories which he just doesn't like.

STELTER: And he is talking this way on Twitter, and for the millions of people giving bad ideas to leaders all around the world. I mean the thing about this is it's rhetoric. The President is just venting. He's complaining. He's highly-unlikely to actually act on this idea of revoking credentials.

But he's giving further inspiration to leaders around the world to crack down on the press in those countries. The U.S. press remains free and vibrant but we are seeing curtailment of press freedom in many other countries partly because the President of the United States is giving cover to that.

VAUSE: And also the threat itself, even if it isn't -- an empty threat, if you like -- it does carry countless consequences and it does have an impact.

STELTER: Yes. It absolutely does.

VAUSE: Ok. When the White House press secretary Sarah Sanders was asked about the President's threat she went on the offensive. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The fact that I'm standing here taking questions, the fact that the President took questions from your colleagues just two hours ago demonstrates this White House's commitment to accessibility and to providing information to the American public.

At the same time, the press has a responsibility to put out accurate information. Just yesterday "The New York Times" accused the Secretary of State for being AWOL. AWOL -- when he was flying across the globe to bring three Americans home. That is an outrageous claim.

Just earlier this week the "Washington Post" accused the first lady of not living in the White House. That outrageous claim was then repeated again in this room.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: A responsibility to be honest. Ok, so let's see who's being dishonest.

Ok, here's part of that report in the "Washington Post" that Sanders is referring to.

[01:50:01] "For months a persistent rumor has floated around Washington that Melania doesn't really live in the White House and stays in the house with her parents and Baron near his suburban Washington school. 'It's an urban legend', said the White House social secretary. Melania does spend a lot of time in the White House, according to people who work there."

So Brian -- you know, "The Post" was debunking a rumor -- STELTER: That's right.

VAUSE: -- it wasn't repeating it.

And also, to stay with this because there's also the issue in the "New York Times" and Pompeo -- here's part of that report. "Senior State Department officials were momentarily speechless on Tuesday when asked why Mr. Pompeo did not delay his trip by a day to be in Washington during Mr. Trump's Iran deal announcement. Pompeo left for Pyongyang on Monday night."

There is no mention of being AWOL or being missing. And you know, it seems beyond hypocritical for Sanders to stand up there and lecture and berate reporters about being honest when she's being dishonest.

STELTER: I think -- and I mean this genuinely -- I think the press office needs someone like you, needs someone to fact-check all these outrageous claims. Because you're right, Sanders gets up there on an almost daily basis, spreads BS about the press, attacking the press while basically avoiding answering any other kinds of questions.

This idea about Pompeo being AWOL, it was not in "The New York Times". But it was described that way by Fox News. Fox News wrote a story that said "The New York Times" said Pompeo was AWOL. Do you see what I'm saying?

So Fox was alleging that about "The New York Times" and I think that's where Sanders got it from; got that wrong idea from.

VAUSE: Ok. Let's take a look at that headline which is on FoxNews.com. "New York Times" slams AWOL Pompeo then learns he was rescuing Americans. I mean it's just -- obviously it's almost word for word -- ripped from the headlines, if you like.

And then -- so after Sarah Sanders appeared at the White House briefing, there was a tweet from the President later in the day essentially parroting exactly what Sanders had said in the briefing and what was on the Fox News Web site.

So what the problems seems to be here is that this is an administration which relies or over relies on Fox News as pretty much its main and sole source of news. It doesn't bother to read anything else.

STELTER: I think you've perfectly shown how this works. You know, this relationship between the White House and Fox News where it's passing information back and forth, it ends up, you know -- meaning that bad information gets out into the public sphere, a sphere.

That's why I really do think Sanders needs some sort of assistant for fact checking. In fact the President should have that for his tweets, a proof reader and a fact checker to make sure he's not spreading bogus information.

VAUSE: And what is interesting is "Fox & Friends" on Wednesday, for the entire period of the show made no mention of the scandal involving the President's personal attorney Michael Cohen which brings us full circle. Here's "Fox & Friends" at nine minutes past 6:00 Eastern time on Wednesday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But when you look according to the Media Research Center at the coverage the President has gotten during the first three months, four months of this year -- 90 percent, 91 percent of the major broadcast coverage has been negative.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: So there we have it, you know, despite some questions about the credibility of the study, you know, about an hour and a half later came the President's tweet. "This is fake news." You know, this just shows -- and keep in mind, he made no mention of Michael Cohen but there was time to cover therapy goats on university campus, a controversy over new inclusive cheerleading policies at a school in New Jersey, cover the backlash over Disney cancelling a Christian concert.

And Fox News as a network has barely touched the Cohen story and this is where Fox News, according to one study -- 40 percent of Trump supporters, you know get most of their news.

STELTER: We can all use a therapy goat, right -- John?

VAUSE: Right. Yes, absolutely. I need a herd of therapy goats.

STELTER: Well neither do I but I think what we see on Fox is a shelter from the storm. Look, Fox has great journalists but its highly-rated pro-Trump talk shows are the President's shelter from what is a growing storm.

So they are mostly ignoring the Cohen story or really downplaying the Cohen story. It's kind of like earmuffs, right. They put earmuffs on, they prefer -- pretend like it's not going on. Meanwhile Stormy Daniels' lawyer Michael Avenatti who's been at the forefront of all this, he's trying to get on to Hannity's show. He wants to go on Sean Hannity's show and try to tell Fox viewers what's going on. But so far he's been rejected by Hannity.

VAUSE: Yes. You know, information is just so crucial for everyone to know all the facts and when you deny that, you know, you're just heading for trouble. And I think that's essentially one of the biggest problems, you know, this administration is facing.

So Brian -- always good to have you on. Thank you.

STELTER: Thanks.

SESAY: Just ahead on NEWSROOM L.A.

(CROSSTALK)

SESAY: Spilled milk chocolate? VAUSE: Milk chocolate?

SESAY: Yes. Caused traffic from (INAUDIBLE) -- something like that.

VAUSE: They all stopped for a drink. You know where milk chocolate comes from? Chocolate cows.

[01:54:55] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SESAY: This is for all you chocoholics out there. A tractor trailer flipped over in Poland Wednesday, spilling a load of liquid milk chocolate all over the road.

VAUSE: Chocolate.

Linda Kinkade has the details.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LINDA KINKADE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Up close it looks delicious -- liquid milk chocolate, tons of it. But from a bird's eye view -- not so sweet. A tanker truck overturned in western Poland spilling its precious cargo across multiple lanes of highway blocking traffic in both directions for hours.

As it turns out, it's not so easy to clean up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Even oil stains are easier and quicker to remove than smeared chocolate. It's a time consuming task. Layers of chocolate can only be removed from the tarmac with warm pressure water.

KINKADE: Firefighters used streams of hot water. Emergency workers also tried using a bobcat. And on Twitter chocolate lovers offered to bring their spoons to help clean up.

The accident happened early morning; the driver of the truck reportedly suffering a broken arm. No one else was injured.

Linda Kinkade, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SESAY: Very unappealing.

VAUSE: Think cookies.

SESAY: That's disgusting.

VAUSE: Dip cookies into it.

You're 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 all our shows.

We'll be back with more news after this.

VAUSE: Yes, we will.

[01:57:35] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)