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CNN NEWSROOM

Ex-North Korean Spymaster Headed to U.S.; Puerto Rico's Death Toll from Maria; New View of Kilauea's Threat; Italy's Political Crisis Rattles Markets; ABC Cancels 'Roseanne' After Star's Racist Tweet; Roseanne Barr Apologizes to Show's Staff; Trump Alleges Probe Will Meddle with Mid-term Elections. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired May 30, 2018 - 01:00   ET

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


[01:00:08] JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: You're watching CNN Newsroom live from Los Angeles.

Ahead this hour, for Donald Trump, it was all about him and his supporters.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

The sitcom "Roseanne," a smash hit for ABC, but now cancelled after the show's star posted a vile, racist Tweet.

Many believe this North Korean official should be in jail for war crimes, instead, he's on his way to the United States hoping to keep the Trump-Kim summit on track.

And, Puerto Rico's official death toll stands at 64 after hurricane Maria, but a new study says what many have suspected all along, the actual number may be more than 70 times higher.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Hello and thanks for joining us, I'm John Vause, this is Newsroom L.A.

We begin with the political and social divide running through the United States and a television network's decision to cancel one of the most popular shows over controversial Tweets from its star, Roseanne Barr.

Americans are asking what is free speech and when does it cross the line?

CNN's Tom Foreman begins our coverage.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: "Muslim brotherhood and 'Planet of the Apes' had a baby, equals VJ", that is the Tweet that sank a TV empire.

Roseanne's racist slam of former Obama aide Valerie Jarrett came in the wee hours and Twitter erupted. Then quickly took it down and Tweeted, "I apologize to Valerie Jarrett and to all Americans. I am truly sorry for making a bad joke about her politics and her looks", but the dame was done.

Co-star, Sarah Gilbert, said the comments were "abhorrent and do not reflect the beliefs of the cast and crew", "this is incredibly sad and difficult". Producer and comedian, Wanda Sykes, "I will not be returning to @RoseanneOnABC."

Other Obama staffers and some viewers called for a boycott and ABC called it quits. Saying the Tweet was "abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values".

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHARACTER FROM ROSEANNE: You can't just stand on the front porch starring at your Muslim neighbors.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: Since its return earlier this year, Roseanne's hit show has engaged explosive topics, immigration, terrorism, religious and racial intolerance, with her character romping as a rabid conservative and supporter of President Trump. He loved it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: Look at Roseanne, I called her yesterday, look at her ratings, look at her ratings. Over 18 million people, and it was about us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: But Roseanne's support for the far right went beyond the studio with a tax on gun control advocates, a particularly nasty comment about the former U.N. Ambassador, Susan Rice, and stab at former President Clinton's daughter.

Calling her Chelsea Soros Clinton suggesting she's married to the son of noted liberal billionaire George Soros. When Chelsea Clinton corrected her, while still complimenting Soros, Roseanne apologized, but then repeated a false claim that Soros was a Nazi. "Were you aware of that? But we all make mistakes, right, Chelsea?"

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Roseanne Barr's Tweets are frequently controversial, but this time really became a wildfire because of just how racist and bizarre the comments were.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: So the network pulled the plug. Chief Executive of Disney, which owns ABC Tweeting, "There was only one thing to do here, and that was the right thing."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: Dealing with the aftermath of all of this may not be so simple, however, and not merely because you're talking abo millions of viewers and millions of dollars. Many conservatives see this as a rare example of a network TV show that talks about some of their core values about society, and with that gone, the pushback may be just as strong as a the outrage that led to this cancellation.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.

VAUSE: Joining me here in Los Angeles, Ron Brownstein, CNN's Senior Political Analyst and author of the "The Power and the Glitter: The Hollywood-Washington Connection". A few year ago.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: A few years ago that one, yes.

VAUSE: We saw the photograph on the jacket.

Rebecca Sun is a senior reporter for The Hollywood Reporter, and Jarrett Hill, is a politics and pop culture journalist.

Thank you, all, for joining us.

Okay. Ron, let's start with you. Two things really stood out to me about the story.

First, you have - - quickly . . .

BROWNSTEIN: Yes.

VAUSE: ABC responding to all this, and the response itself, cancelling the show, firing Roseanne because what the context of this means, for me anyway, these scandals - - normally other scandals that we see around the U.S. President.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes.

VAUSE: Normally, when there is a sort of controversy, the president doesn't give any ground, he doesn't give in, he makes no apologies, no concessions, he digs in. That is sort of the normalization of how these things have played out over the last year and a half. That's why this seemed, to me anyway, so surprising.

BROWNSTEIN: The contrast between ABC's action and response of so much of the political system, particularly the Republicans in Congress to when President Trump has kind of violated and shattered the boundaries is just striking.

[01:05] I mean, you know, from the beginning - - from coming down the escalator and talking about Mexicans as rapists and murderers, to Judge Curiel, to calling NFL players who protested the national anthem sons of b, to saying the other day that maybe they shouldn't be allowed in the country, to describing MS-13 gang members as animals.

He has more overtly appealed to white racial resentment than any national figure in either party since George Wallace. And I think one thing history will say about this era is that this has empowered, I think, people who have always had these feelings - - these anxieties about a changing America, to feel more comfortable openly expressing those views.

The problem they run into is that not all of them are operating in kind of a closed political circle that the president is, and I think Roseanne Barr in dealing with a company that has to deal with its own internal politics, not to mention all of the ways in which it interacts with Blue America. This was just simply too far beyond the pale to accept.

VAUSE: There has been a lot of praise for ABC, like this Tweet from actress, Minnie Driver.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

"So proud of ABC network for having the ethical compunction to cancel Roseanne despite the shows huge numbers. We too make a show about a middle class family, come and watch us instead #speechless @Speechless_ABC".

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Okay. Rebecca, apart from the shameless plug, I'm just wondering how difficult was the decision by ABC because, obviously, there was the ratings and cash factor this show brought in, but on the other side, there were potential boycotts, there was the bad press, there was alienating a good chunk of America.

REBECCA SUN, SENIOR REPORTER, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: I think the immediacy of this decision indicates that it was perhaps less difficult than we thought. You know, it was stunning and I would say probably unprecedented. You know, in the industry, it's hard to imagine any move of this caliber having happened because Roseanne wasn't just a show, it was the number one show you know on TV right now.

Yes, they may have - - they probably would have faced a short-term advertiser boycott, but you're also looking at - - this is the beginning of the summer and so, you know, by the time September- October rolls around, there will have been at least 15 new controversies a day.

VAUSE: Right.

SUN: And so, it was really stunning that they made this, I don't believe it was a business move.

VAUSE: So, they could have defended this, if they wanted?

JARRETT HILL, POLITICS AND POP CULTURE JOURNALIST: There's reporting that I've heard that they actually made the decision hours before the announcement. The announcement came 11 hours after the Tweet, but made they had made the decision hours prior to that. And, you know took some time and called Valerie Jarrett, and said hey, we've heard that this happened to you and we wanted to talk to you about before announce it to the world. So, it was a very swift decision.

BROWNSTEIN: Your point though, your point is actually indicative of really a broader phenomenon that's happening. I think it pre-dates Trump - - it is accelerating under Trump, which is that everything in almost every action, every kind of phenomena in this society is being filtered through the Red-Blue divide.

If they didn't cancel it, they might have been boycotted. If they do cancel it, they get backlash.

(CROSSTALK)

Just think about what happened when Delta, you know, flew a months ago, when they flew some of the student activists to the anti-gun demonstration - - the gun control demonstration in D.C., and the legislature in Georgia, acting on behalf of the of the NRA revoked a tax credit.

(CROSSTALK)

Or - - or - - or, the bathroom bills.

VAUSE: Yes.

BROWNSTEIN: You know, the role of companies - - essentially everything, almost every action in this society is being filtered through this, and the divide is just systematically spreading through even what people watch on TV.

SUN: True. I do think, though, it would be a mistake to politicize this, even though that is what would happen - - what is happening. Because you did see - - I mean, I think even Bill O'Reilly Tweeted and said you know, "Roseanne's comments were horrible".

(CROSSTALK)

I mean, that's pretty - - you know, you know you're in the dog house when it's that . . .

VAUSE: You're in trouble when Fox is calling you a racist.

SUN: Conservatism is not necessarily the same thing as racism, which is what Roseanne's Tweet was.

VAUSE: Well, the Roseanne reboot was all part of this strategy by ABC called heartland programming. It all came together the morning after the 2016 election, and there was a decision to go out and target viewers who voted for Donald Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

Here's how Roseanne described her show. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIMMY KIMMEL, COMEDIAN, TELEVISION HOST: Roseanne Connor is a supporter on the show.

ROSEANNE BARR, ACTRESS: Well, she voted for the president.

KIMMEL: She voted for the president?

BARR: Yep, she did.

KIMMEL: That's part of the dynamic with you and your family on that show.

BARR: Yes, and in real life, it's like everybody's family is pissed off at each other for one thing or the other.

KIMMEL: Is your family mad at you?

BARR: Well, you know, we had pro-Hillary's and pro-Trump, and there was a lot of fighting.

KIMMEL: You're a very liberal - - socially liberal person in general?

BARR: I'm the same, you all moved.

KIMMEL: We did?

BARR: You all went so (bleep) far out, you lost everything.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: Jarrett, I wonder if there is you know a real tragedy or downside to all of this, it's the fact that this television show had the potential to have that conversation, which this country really needs.

HILL: Yes. Well, I think it's a part that we have to think about is the writers removed this show, included Wanda Sykes and Whitney Cummings. It wasn't just a conservative writer's room. It did have the opportunity to maybe have conversation in a way that 'Blackish' can, right?

[01:10] There's a privilege that comes along with being a white woman having this conversation with your white family, that 'Blackish' is not going to be able to reach certain people. As good as the show is, no matter how good the writing is.

VAUSE: Because, Rebecca, you know in this country these television shows can actually move the needle on social issues and can bring people together.

SUN: Absolutely. In the same way that you saw shows like 'Blackish' have been able to do, which is really normalize the experience of a diverse family. And I think that 'Roseanne' in positing itself as a white working class could really help other viewers to feel empathy for you know the heartland family.

But, I think the messenger herself was quite flawed and that was (inaudible).

BROWNSTEIN: The analogy in some ways is the last time we had a president who talked about the silent majority that 'Roseanne' tried to be an 'All in the Family' for the 21st Century, which was about kind of expressing that generational conflict. Which this show also you know displayed.

I am struck - - there were focus groups done recently in Macomb County, Michigan, which is kind of the prototypical blue collar Regan Democrat County, outside of Detroit. And people talked about in this - - I've never seen before in covering politics for 30 years, they talked about the divisions in their family over this election and - - and - - and how deep the incomprehension is on each side.

VAUSE: There are families - - you know, relatives who've not spoken to each other, friends who have drifted apart over politics, which is incredible.

What was also interesting over at Fox News, we usually say that you know they criticized Roseann Barr, but they also came at least as an attempt to defend her. You know, talking about the right to free speech, listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS FAULKNER, FOX NEWS HOST: I don't understand it to be anything but free speech. Like, she's saying and it is extremely offensive, but it is just that.

NOELLE NIKPOUR, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: She does have a very wicked, twisted sense of humor. Everybody knows her to be a little raunchy, a little rough. So, you know, while I do agree you know it is freedom of speech, she should take in consideration that she has lit a fuse and she knows what she's doing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: It is interesting that over at Fox Roseanne Barr gets freedom of speech, but over at the NFL you know the people at the Fox News channel do not want to give that same right to football players.

HILL: You totally mind melded me, because I'm thinking like where were these people when Jamele Hill was being attacked for her comments at ESPN? Where were these people that when we were looking at Colin Kaepernick and taking a knee with the NFL?

Like, all of these people - - we're like where was the justice for those people? Like, we care about free speech when it's someone that's conservative and saying something - - and we agree with this person, but that wasn't the conversation around Colin Kaepernick, they co-opted (ph) what he was doing, right? And completely made it about a different message.

So, I mean I see that and I think to myself, really? Okay.

VAUSE: Ron, this gets to the divide once again.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. Football, television, ESPN, everything is being filtered through this divide. You know, did companies take a stand for or against the bathroom bills in North Carolina and Indiana, in Georgia?

It's very hard for any institution to, I think at this point, have comparable credibility across the Red-Blue divide in our society and the last time I think that was equally true in America was with the sectional divide in the 1850's. Which was about no institution was equally credible across both sides of that divide, and we are living through some kind of modern version of that.

The only question is what is the modern version of the 1860's look like?

SUN: It's also important to note that Roseanne does have free speech. She's free to Tweet whatever she wants.

VAUSE: But, that doesn't mean she gets to . . .

SUN: And ABC has the rights to do whatever they want with her show.

VAUSE: The other argument being put forward by many on the right - - at least some on the right, is this sort of what about-ism on Twitter. Some have pointed out a skit that Bill Maher did a few years ago comparing Donald Trump to an orangutan. Here's the Tweet.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

So, I assume that HBO's going to fire Bill Maher now. Always have double standards in the media industry.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: This is a completely moronic argument and beyond stupid.

SUN: This is a strong man (ph) because there is a context to comparing Black people to apes. You know, when you're talking about Donald Trump, there is no history of comparing White people to you know, dehumanizing them in that way. So, that's a fully disingenuous argument, it's not the same thing.

VAUSE: Okay. And again, this is a television show which could . . .

BROWNSTEIN: No one should fall on their sword defending Bill Maher.

(LAUGHTER)

SUN: Seriously, I don't want to make it sound like I'm defending him.

VAUSE: Fair enough. Although, there is context that is important.

I was going to say this is a TV which could not have existed without a Trump presidency. Just listen to you know some of the first and only season of the rebooted 'Roseanne'.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROSEANNE: Thank you for making America great again.

JACKIE: How could you have voted for him Roseanne?

ROSEANNE: He talked about jobs, Jackie. He said he'd shape things up. I mean this might come as a complete shock to you, but we almost lost our house the way things are going.

JACKIE: Have you looked at the news because now things are worse.

ROSEANNE: Not on the real news.

JACKIE: Oh, please!

ROSEANNE: First, let's say grace. Jackie, would you like to take a knee?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: So, Jarrett, clearly the president's responsible for some of the lines. How much responsibility does he bear for the Tweet?

[01:15] HILL: Well, we talked about this earlier, like I can't help but think about the campaign slogan of 'make America great again', right? We're having these conversations about this offensive language that is so archaic right now.

Like, we haven't had these kinds of conversations about the way that people feel comfortable talking about Black people, the way that people feel comfortable talking about immigrants and all these kind of things, in a long time. but, when you say make America great again, I know for myself, as a black man, as a gay man, I'd see again and I'm like, 'Well, what are we going back to?'

That is really a question that we have to continue to ask ourselves when we look at all of these different policies. From abortion to immigration, to the way that the president is talking about black and brown people. Where are we going back to? And I think this is a demonstration of that.

VAUSE: How powerful is it to hear the president's words sort of turned around and put on a television show like that?

SUN: Well, it amplifies it, you know and it sort of legitimizes and normalizes it. And that's why, especially family comedies, that specific genre is so powerful in terms of really getting very personal and in turning you know whatever Trump is saying into something that's a normal, acceptable, every day, household go -to.

BROWNSTEIN: And - - and - - and in fact, that's a second order effect because in many ways that's what Trump is doing in the first place. A large part of his power, I think, is by expressing the kinds of things he has said, which are so far beyond the boundaries of what we've seen from political leaders, I think really, since Wallace in the 1960's.

There are millions of voters out there who have had these feelings, who have been pushed back by their family, by their friends, by their community, who feel empowered to - - and that's why there are political strategists who think Trump is his own deliverable.

He may never build the wall, he may never deport 11 million undocumented immigrants, but as long as he is validating the way that you feel, you still feel that you're' getting something out of this presidency.

VAUSE: We are almost out of time.

So, very quickly, Valerie Jarrett, the senior aide in the Obama administration who was the target of the racist Tweet, she took the high road when talking about the conversation. This is what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VALERIE JARRETT, FORMER AIDE FOR PRESIDENT OBAMA: First of all, I think we have to turn it into a teaching moment. I'm fine, I'm worried about all the people out there who don't have a circle of friends and followers who come right to their defense. The person who's walking down a street, minding their own business, and they see somebody cling to their purse or walk across the street, or every black parent I know who has a boy, who has to sit down and have a conversation, 'the talk' as we call it. And, as you say, those ordinary examples of racism that happen every single day.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: She's out of your league, Roseanne. But, Rebecca, I want to finish with you. If this is a teachable moment, is the lesson learned by the television networks? You know, minimize the exposure and the danger of social media for all of your stars.

SUN: I mean, I don't know, that's a hard lesson for them to learn as we've seen, but you know I think that this really shows that it's probably just not worth the trouble. You knew what you were getting into, this is a classic case of the frog and the scorpion, right?

Roseanne was a scorpion from the very beginning, you knew at some point she was going to do something this egregious.

VAUSE: But, Jarrett, do you think that they will learn? Will they change the way they operate now - - the networks?

HILL: I think this is a gamble that's always going to exist. Like, as a personality on CNN, you can't just say anything on Twitter.

VAUSE: I know. I wish I could.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER) BROWNSTEIN: I don't think it was a teachable moment. I think she's wrong. I think the direction that the politics is heading is in the opposite direction where the voters who support Trump are willing to accept this as part of the package that they are getting.

And, if there is a pushback against it, it will come from what I believe is still the majority of Americans who find this unacceptable. Mobilizing to express their displeasure, rather than hoping that a large number of the voters who otherwise support Trump are going to say, "Well, he's going too far on race. I'm walking away".

VAUSE: Circle the wagons and muscle up.

Ron and Jarrett, and also Rebecca, again, thank you.

Okay. Well, the U.S. President has offered up a new accusation. Oh gosh, this one without proof, as well.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

Next here on Newsroom L.A., how he's stirring up his supporters with the latest attack on the Russia investigation.

Also ahead, Italy's political crisis is rattling financial markets, but are those fears justified. More on that when we come back.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[01:22:12] VAUSE: The U.S. President, Donald Trump, has ramped up his attack on the Russia investigation by alleging the Mueller team will meddle in the mid-term elections to try and help Democrats. He offered no evidence, though, to back that up.

He's called the investigation rigged and a witch hunt, and most recently he claimed that a FBI source, was actually a spy planted within his presidential campaign by the Obama administration for political purposes. At a campaign rally on Tuesday night, he did what he does all the time, he played to his base.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: So, how do you like the fact they had people infiltrating our campaign? Can you imagine? Can you imagine? Can you imagine people infiltrating our campaign? Is there anybody in this big beautiful arena right now that's infiltrating our campaign? Will you please raise your hand? That would take courage, huh?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: CNN's Senior Political Analyst, Ron Brownstein, back with us for more.

It's just extraordinary how these theories put forward by the president start with a kernel of truth. There's actually something there and it gets spun into something which is completely and totally unrecognizable. And yet, despite being called out on multiple media outlets and newspapers, and television and cable news, there is still a segment of the population who will believe it.

BROWNSTEIN: And, he has the key, I mean, I don't think any of these arguments have been aimed at persuading kind of the broad public, or even kind of swing voters. They are about mobilizing and consolidating his base, which is who he talks to, and how he governs in both policy as well as rhetoric and argument.

And is ultimately how they believe they will maintain Congress and maintain the White House. It is working to a large extent on that limited goal and it's very similar to the conversation we were having before. I think there are a growing number of first Republican elected officials.

And I think now increasingly Republican voters who are basically saying we are willing to take the open appeals to racial resentment and these kind of systematic attacks on the rule of law, if we get everything else that goes with the package, our judges, our regulatory, our taxes.

VAUSE: Also, from Friday to Tuesday, the president sent out 14 Tweets, all attacking the Russia investigation, essentially all saying the same thing. Here's an example.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

"The fake mainstream media has, from the time I announced I was running for president, run the most highly sophisticated and dishonest disinformation campaign in the history of politics. No matter how well we do, they find fault. But the forgotten men and women won, I'm President."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: You know, the Tweets are filled with factual inaccuracies.

BROWNSTEIN: But, that's very revealing, right? We talked about this before. What the president does, I think effectively, is conflate any attack on him with an attempt to silence his supporters. That's what he is trying to do.

You know, he basically says that there are all of these elites from the media to Hollywood, to the deep state, who are trying to push you back in your corner by going after me and it's part of this again, this effort to try and consolidate his hold on his visits.

And, this is important implications, I think, for 2018 and 2020 because what it says to me is that the hope or the expectation that there would be widespread defection within the usual Republican base, because of the more edgy extremes of Trump's behavior and he did it.

VAUSE: The racism, the bigotry, the . . .

(CROSSTALK) BROWNSTEIN: That is probably not going to happen to the extent that

many people expected, probably even myself a year ago. And what I mean is that if Democrats are going to regain the initiative, they are going to have to mobilize the portions of America who are most uneasy about all of this.

VAUSE: if the law of diminishing returns kicking in here because you know, 14 Tweets. You know, all in caps, exclamation points and this sort of barrage of you know, conspiracy theory and accusations one after the other, after the other. And it just seems to be becoming a part of the noise of the country that doesn't stand put.

And it seems that for the President Trump to get this noticed, it has to become louder and more often, and more extereme. And then you mention, where does this lead us?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, where it leads is towards a - - a - - a - - spisure (ph) that could be really ominous in the country. I mean, because you know the Justice Department ruled and made it legal under Richard Nixon and under Bill Clinton, so they had kind of a vested interest.

But, twice in this rule that a sitting president cannot be criminally indicted. Robert Mueller, if he finds cause, may want to challenge that someday. Most people think it's more likely he will ultimately take whatever he finds and present it to Congress.

And if in fact Republican in Congress reinforce by a shift among Republican voters basically saying we don't care. We don't view this as egregious as credible as you do. Then, you know what does that do to the social divisions that we're already facing.

VAUSE: That's the real constitutional crisis. Sort of, with that in mind, The New York Times has reported in the past few hours about a previously unreported confrontation between the president and his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

"The president objected to his decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. Mr. Trump, who had told aides that he needed a loyalist overseeing the inquiry berated Mr. Sessions and told him he should reverse his decision, an unusual and potentially inappropriate request."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

Times adds that Mueller is looking into that confrontation along with others, but you know, to your point, this seems to be another indication of how Donald Trump does not see himself as part of the system and in many ways as president, he sees himself as above the law.

BROWNSTEIN: He's barreled through all of the traditional restraints on the arbitrary exercise of presidential power, particularly as it related to law enforcement and this - - it is really on these questions of obstruction of justice, where the kind of the clues are hiding in plain sight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

The behavior that we already know, including what The New York Times reported today. It is entirely plausible that two-thirds, three- quarters of Democrats in the House might view that ultimately as cause for impeachment.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

Firing James Comey, pressuring Jeff Sessions, pressuring the head of national intelligence and the CIA at various points. All of this behavior that we already know, we don't necessarily have to wait for anything that we don't see. I think it's pretty clear that Republicans are going to say this may be inappropriate, but it does not rise to the level of sanction.

So, where does - - you know the end of this could be even more explosive than anything we've seen so far.

VAUSE: Which gets us to the mid-term elections and the likelihood that the Democrats will retake the House of Representatives.

BROWNSTEIN: Possibility, yes.

VAUSE: Well, depending on which day, it does seem likely, or increasingly likely, but the Senate remains out of reach and that gets to the entire process of impeachment.

BROWNSTEIN: Donald Trump is not going to be removed from office. There are not going to be 67 votes at any point.

(CROSSTALK)

And, it's not clear the Democrats are going to win the House. I mean, I think that's still - - they still would be favored more than not, but I think it goes to this point, everything that Trump is doing, from a messaging standpoint, from the conspiracy theories, from the cultural offensive that he has had on maybe they don't belong in the country with NFL players.

To the policies of separating migrants at the border, all of that is having the effect of consolidating the traditional Republican coalition. Republicans have seen improvement in the, quote, "generic ballot" on measure for 2018.

Primarily by consolidating those Republican voters and more of those Republican voters saying they're likely to turn out. And what all of this says to me, as I said, is that Democrats who have been hoping for a big fissure, you know, one of those icebergs that cav (ph) off into the ocean in the Republican coalition.

They may be disappointed in that and if they are going to take back the House, if they are going to defend the Senate, much less beat Trump in 2020, they are going to have to mobilize better turnout than they usually get among the portions of the electorate that are most uneasy, minorities, especially young people and these college educated white women.

[01:30]

VAUSE: Yes. And we're just a few months away from what will be a very decisive midterm election --

BROWNSTEIN: It will.

VAUSE: -- the likes we have not seen, I guess, in this country ever. Ron -- it's fantastic. It's been a while. Thank you very much.

BROWNSTEIN: Thanks for having me.

VAUSE: Well, still to come here will the U.S. address North Korean's human rights violations during that summit with Pyongyang; we'll ask one expert to weigh in on the possibility then the disappointment if it does not happen.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAUSE: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I'm John Vause.

We'll check the headlines this hour.

U.S. television network ABC has canceled the popular show "Roseanne" after racist tweets from its star. Roseanne Barr has apologized for comparing a former White House senior adviser to an ape. The network called the comments abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with its values.

U.S. President Donald Trump now claims the special counsel's Russia investigation will meddle in the midterm elections to try and help Democrats. He offered no proof to back up the allegation. His attorney has admitted the attacks are intended to sway public opinion against impeachment.

The U.S. is calling for an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting over the latest attacks on Israel by Palestinian militants. Israel said it's carried out dozens of air strikes on Hamas, an Islamic jihad target, in response to a barrage of rockets and mortars fired from the Gaza Strip. The militants are blaming Israel, though, for starting the violence.

A former North Korean spymaster known as Kim Jong-un's right-hand man is on his way to the U.S. He plans to meet with the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to salvage the Singapore summit with Donald Trump.

But as CNN's Brian Todd reports, he brings a controversial past.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Setting foot in the United States, a notorious enforcer for Kim Jong-un, a man believed to have overseen North Korea's only direct assault on American soil -- the 2014 cyber attack on Sony Pictures. Kim Yong Chol who's meeting this week in New York with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a guy who arguably should be indicted as a war criminal.

TODD: Kim Yong Chol has a political title now -- vice chairman of North Korea's Worker's Party Central Committee.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sort of like Michael Corleone moving out of the family to become more respectable.

[01:34:57] TODD: A man who analysts say still has a top intelligence portfolio with considerable South Korean blood on his hands. A former bodyguard to the Kim's father and grandfather, Kim Yong Chol once headed the Reconnaissance General Bureau, North Korea's most dangerous intelligence arm.

He's believed to have masterminded North Korea's 2010 sinking of a South Korean navy ship, which killed 46 sailors.

South Koreans calling for his execution, protested his presence at the Winter Olympics this year, where he stood right behind Ivanka Trump at a closing ceremonies. Early on as Kim Jong-un was consolidating his power, purging and executing several top officials, it was Kim Yong Chol who the young dictator counted on to build North Korea's cyber warriors into an elite hacking team.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Sony hack and then the accompanied threats of 9/11 style attacks on any theater or theatergoer that went to the movie, "The Interview" which ridiculed Kim Jong-un.

TODD: The same year as the Sony hack, then director of U.S. national intelligence James Clapper met with Kim Yong Chol in Pyongyang. Clapper later recalled his counterpart berating him about American aggression.

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: He just got kind of louder and louder, just leaning towards me, pointing his finger at my chest and saying U.S. and South Korean exercises are provocations of war.

TODD: Kim Yong Chol had such swagger but he himself was once purged by Kim Jong-un, according to a South Korean official for his, quote, "overbearing manner". Now back in favor, experts say his trip to the U.S. signifies just how important the planned summit is to Kim Jong- un.

FRANK JANNUZI, THE MANFIELD FOUNDATION: The upside of Kim Yong Chol is that compared with the foreign ministry which basically has no authority and very few insights into the nuclear program, this is a guy who's very close to Kim Jong-un and has the authority of Kim Jong- un to speak on the record to President Trump or to the senior U.S. officials.

TODD: Is there an intelligence risk to the U.S. letting Kim Yong Chol into the country? Analysts say it's likely that U.S. officials will be careful enough not to share sensitive U.S. military or nuclear secrets with him.

But they say the visit does give the perception of legitimizing Kim Yong Chol maybe more than he should be. We asked the White House about those concerns, they haven't responded.

Brian Todd, CNN -- Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: So amid all the talk of nuclear disarmament, there's little attention on Pyongyang's human rights record which remains abysmal and abhorrent.

Phil Robinson joins us now from Seoul. He's the deputy director of Human Rights Watch in the Asia division. Phil -- thanks for joining us.

If there's any chance that North Korea's human rights abuses will actually be raised at next month's summit, first, it has to make its way on to the agenda at Thursday's meeting between Pompeo and Kim Yong Chol. That question was raised in the State Department regular briefing on Tuesday. And this was the answer. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HEATHER NAUERT, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: I'm not saying that it will be. I'm not saying it won't be. We're just not going to get ahead of the Secretary's meetings that start this week.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: In other words, Phil -- no, it will not be on the agenda which does not seem all that surprising.

PHIL ROBINSON, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: Unfortunately, you're correct. And it's a big difference from what we saw six months ago when Donald Trump was addressing the South Korean National Assembly and calling North Korea "hell on earth" and talking about people in Gulags and use of forced labor, and North Korean women having babies aborted, and just every possible horror that, you know, the North Korean human rights record contains.

So, you know, it's a big, big difference right now, you know. No talk about human rights versus what we saw back then, you know. I guess the key issue and what I would say is really that President Trump is, you know, freeing three American citizens does not end the problems of North Korea's human rights.

VAUSE: What is interesting though, is back then, you know, six months ago when the President was talking about human rights, it seems that that was only being done to put pressure on the regime.

There was no sort of real attempt to address what was actually happening inside North Korea, and compared that to what we are hearing now with the President guaranteeing, personally guaranteeing the safety of Kim Jong-un, and you know, calling him honorable, and that kind of stuff.

ROBINSON: Well, the reality is that Kim Jong-un and other top people in the North Korean government are suspects in crimes against humanity as documented by the U.N. Commission of Inquiry, you know, that put out a 280-page report documenting all the atrocities that have been committed over the years by North Korea, you know.

So to sort of push human rights aside, you know, in hoping for a deal, I think is a fundamental problem. I think that ultimately, you know, the human rights issues are connected to the security issues. There's a reason why the North Korean people are so afraid. And they're completely under control of the government.

And the government can divert so many resources to nuclear weapons is because no one dares challenge that government because they know they could face very swift retaliation, having themselves and their entire family sent to, you know, the notorious political prison gulags, the Kwanliso where, you know, it's basically a one-way ticket. People don't come back from there.

[01:39:59] VAUSE: Phil, you know, past U.S. Presidents have, you know, when they dealt with North Korea, they focused on the nuclear threat. You know, human rights have been pushed to one side.

This president, though, this administration there doesn't seem to be any moral qualms about doing that. There's been no hammering. There's been no second thought about it. It just seems to be very easy for this administration, no need to worry about the human rights problems.

ROBINSON: Well, the problem is that this administration is dealing with human rights as a bargaining chip, as a source of leverage to try to get the North Koreans to the table and then they're prepared to toss it away when they get towards the thing that they really want, which is denuclearization, you know, which most people around the world want.

But, you know, then also accolades for President Trump and a possible Nobel Peace Prize, you know, to once again compete with what Barack Obama achieved before him. You know, it's a sad commentary that the human rights issues seem to be a means to an end for this administration; that ultimately human rights have not been taken seriously.

It becomes a talking point rather than a principle of commitment to try to improve the lives of North Koreans and other people suffering human rights abuses around the world.

VAUSE: Yes -- a reflection of American values. Very quickly though, there is this argument that human rights could be a deal breaker for the summit. Leave it to a later date, another time when relations are better and maybe then address it.

Very quickly, we're out of time, what do you think?

ROBINSON: Well, I think that ultimately that's not the case, that they're going to be prepared to talk about everything across the board, you know, start with issues of abductions of South Koreans and Japanese. Start with something that, for instance, you know, the government is prepared to talk about. But put human rights on the agenda. Don't push it off the table.

VAUSE: Ok. Phil -- thank you. And I guess, we'll be watching. And we'll see what happens. Appreciate it.

ROBINSON: Thank you. >

VAUSE: Still to come here, officially, 64 people died in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria, but a new study finds the actual number, the real number could be in the thousands.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAUSE: When Maria devastated Puerto Rico eight months ago, it was likely far deadlier than officials have said. A new Harvard study has found at least 4,645 people died in the hurricane and its immediate aftermath. Compare that to the official death toll, 64.

Leyla Santiago has more now from San Juan.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

[01:45:01] LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I actually just asked the government of Puerto Rico about Harvard's study, and they tell me they're not questioning the validity of it.

So let's talk about exactly what it found. According to the researchers working with Harvard, they believe that the death toll related to Maria could be more than 4,600 deaths.

Now this is a survey, it's an extrapolation that they believe could range anywhere from 800 to 8,000 so still nothing exactly definite. But when you look at the official government death toll, that number still stands at 64. It's something that many have questioned, even today, eight months after Hurricane Maria.

When CNN investigated it last year, we found after talking to funeral homes that the number could be nine times what the government was reporting. Since then, the government has commissioned a study. They are working with George Washington University saying they want to get to the bottom of this, but there have been delays in that study.

And the (INAUDIBLE) is important because on June 1st, the hurricane season will begin in Puerto Rico. And as the government tries to prepare for that, they are going into this next hurricane season not knowing exactly how many people died, how or why.

Leyla Santiago, CNN -- San Juan, Puerto Rico.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Volcanic haze from Hawaii's Kilauea Volcano is posing a new threat thousands of kilometers away with hazardous air now detected over Guam.

In the Mariana Islands, residents with respiratory problems are being warned to stay inside. And now we're getting anew and dramatic look at Kilauea's power.

Here's CNN's Scott McLean.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You can see from this vantage point just how much lava Kilauea has pumped down into the ocean -- that is brand new lava created just over the past couple of weeks. And you can see the lava continues to ooze down into the ocean.

Geologists say that the rate has actually slowed over the past couple of days, but it is still coming down at a decent rate where we are.

And you can see these white plumes that are going up. That is something called lava haze or laze. It is a potentially deadly mixture of gases, hydrochloric acid, tiny bits of glass, and of course, the steam that's created as the lava hits the ocean.

And look which direction the wind is going, back on shore, creating potentially more air quality issues for the people in this area. Now because the danger of this laze there are marine restrictions in this area, we have to say about a hundred yards offshore. Other boats have to stay much further than that.

But the real story is actually beyond our vantage point in the Leilani Estates neighborhood and the areas surrounding it where old fissures have reactivated sending new lava into the sky, at some points, shooting 200 feet up into the air and sending lava on to parts of streets that simply have not seen it before.

There have been more than 80 structures destroyed by Kilauea already, about half of those are homes. And the people who live here simply do not know when this will end.

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN -- off the coast of Hawaii.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Now, from our file of (INAUDIBLE) in case anyone was curious, Kilauea is not the best place to roast marshmallows. (INAUDIBLE) Tweeted the U.S. Geological Survey asking "Is it safe to roast marshmallows over the volcanic vents assuming you had a long enough stick, that is? Or will the resulting marshmallows be poisonous.

Here's the response from the U.S. Geological Survey. "We have to say no, that's not safe. Please don't try it. If the vent is emitting a lot of sulfur dioxide or hydrogen sulfide, that would taste bad, and if you add sulfuric acid that is in volcanic fog to sugar you get a pretty spectacular reaction. So don't do it."

Good advice. When we come back, Italy's political crisis is causing financial trouble across Europe and beyond. But are those fears justified? More on that in a moment. >

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[01:49:59] VAUSE: There's no end in sight for Italy's political crisis which is rattling financial markets across Europe, also around the world. The interim prime minister is facing opposition in Rome as he tries to form a transitional government and it appears elections are likely in the coming months.

Delia Gallagher has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A dramatic turn of events on Tuesday evening in Italian politics in what was supposed to be a proforma day when the Prime Minister-designate Carlo Cottarelli handed in his list of ministers for the new interim government to the President of Italy. He did not do that. Instead, the prime minister- designate left the meeting through a backdoor and a stunned media heard from the President's spokesperson that the two would continue their discussions on Wednesday.

This has caused even further political confusion and two possible interpretations of this unexpected turn of events are one, that the list of ministers has some kind of problem which can be resolved on Wednesday, or that the President is considering pushing up election even further than anticipated in July.

Now, tensions have been high in Italy ever since Sunday when President Mattarella refused to approve a proposed government by the two leading parties. And he said he refused to do that because of the nomination of a Euro-skeptic finance minister.

There are protests being planned on Saturday in Rome. Saturday is a national holiday celebrating the foundation of the republic. It is normally a day of unity, but there is little unity in Italy right now. And the markets are jittery because of it.

So elections, whenever they are held become increasingly important to see if there is increased support for populist parties and their Euro- skeptic platforms and indeed, for Italy's economic well being as a whole.

Delia Gallagher, CNN -- Rome.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Still the markets around the world plunged Tuesday and it wasn't just driven by Italy's political problems. The White House caught investors off-guard by announcing tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese goods. That came just days after the U.S. Treasury Secretary said a trade war with China -- that was on hold, maybe not. All right. Now markets in Asia down, Japan's Nikkei dropped more than 300 points; Hong Kong's Hang Seng index down almost 500 points. Meantime the Dow Jones had its worst day in over a month, tumbling almost 400 points.

The global business executive Ryan Patel joins us now with more. It feels oh, so 2011-ish right now. You know, Eurozone crisis, (INAUDIBLE) Italian government, debt contagion crisis. U.S. dollar surged -- it seems to me, it seems like a Pavlovian response to a political crisis in a big Eurozone economy rather than actually being responding to reality right now.

RYAN PATEL, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, yes. I mean, I think right now, you know, we are not in 2011. I think right now 3 percent is kind of where Italy has been now versus 7 percent or 8 percent that it was before. But when you talk about the European Union, you talk about not using the currency that causes some fears.

That causes, you know, we are in 2018 now where anything's possible. And when you start talking about -- well, you're going to exit or you're going to change the currency, and we've seen what happened with Greece, we're seeing what's going on in Spain right now, not good, and Italy being the number three, you know, economy in the Eurozone --

VAUSE: Ok. So here's the deal. So we've got the Spanish prime minister facing a no-confident or a confidence vote on Friday, which obviously uncertainty, not good. You've got this populist party in Italy, doesn't like the euro, you know it's euro-skeptic, but the chances of Italy actually withdrawing from Europe and breaking away and not from the euro pretty minuscule.

PATEL: I have to disagree with that. I don't think that they are going away from that. But I think what's scaring -- what's being scared is the debt that, you know, Italy has right. A majority of 135 percent in debt, they're the number three in the world --

VAUSE: Yes. It's behind Greece --

PATEL: Yes behind Greece, and I think what -- and on top that, you know, what -- what -- I'm losing words because I think what's happening now is like anything's possible. I think that's -- that's what's getting these investors going, well, ok, this is great, but in two months from now --

VAUSE: Where are we going to be?

PATEL: And they are just taking risks -- they're just taking risks off the assets right now and saying I'm going to put it somewhere else.

VAUSE: Ok. But most of that debt is held by Italians anyway. So that's one fact we all have to keep in mind. And that also means that the risk of contagion, which was the big fear back in 2011, this turmoil is spreading to other countries in the euro -- that contagion fear, or that risk rather seems contained. That's not to say that it won't change, but right now, this is my (INAUDIBLE) it's not going anywhere. This is an Italian problem for Italian voters and Italian investors and Italian moms and dads.

And yet there's going to be maybe some tough times ahead for Italy but that doesn't mean that the euro is going to come -- Euro is going to come crashing down.

PATEL: For now, right?

VAUSE: Right.

PATEL: And I think that's where Germany and rest of the European Union -- I mean they've been trying to kind of push, kind of Italy kind of where they want to go.

[01:55:00] Think about this. If -- if Italy does, for example, get out and make the euro a lot weaker, what is that going to do? That's less imports from the U.S. and all of a sudden it has a triple effect.

VAUSE: But one second -- just to pick up though, what has to happen within Italy because we say yes, sure it could change. But what does that change look like?

PATEL: You just said. It's the banks.

VAUSE: Right.

PATEL: You know, when you lose this political uncertainty and any one of those banks get hit a little bit harder than it was supposed to, it's going to get hard really at home really quickly.

And I think that's what will open the flood gates. And that's what -- you know, it's great that it's -- you know, they got a major stake hold of the debt, but that's also the flip side of that is if there's a slip up that the flood gates open.

VAUSE: So you're saying that could precipitate essentially voters in Italy or whatever, you know, saying hey, we've had enough. We want to get back to our own, you know, the lira. We're done with the Eurozone. And then the knock-on effect from that is what everyone sort of is worried about.

PATEL: Right. And that's their strength to that degree. I mean you could argue that the debt is being owned by the European Union banks and those things but it is the Italian banks and I think that's where it is.

VAUSE: The one, you know, you mentioned this too, is that the yield on Italian debt it rose on Tuesday, up to the highest level, 3.1 percent -- highest in four years. Not good, but back in the day in 2011, Berlusconi, bunga-bunga parties, you know, it was 7 percent.

PATEL: Yes.

VAUSE: And we all lived through that. We all survived. PATEL: Yes. So we've got a little bit -- we've got some cushion.

VAUSE: You got the bunga-bunga to go, you have 4 percent, right?

PATEL: Yes. I mean I don't think -- you know, we don't want to overreact. I think the markets obviously saw what they did. I think a lot of it had to do with the yield and the bonds that we just mentioned.

VAUSE: Right.

PATEL: And then all of a sudden you got the Fed rate being in this conversation as overall global. I mean if anything we've learned in 2018, we live in a global economy that we are all interconnected.

(CROSSTALK)

VAUSE: And people, if anything you're right in the last couple of years is that Brexit and Donald Trump -- is that anything it possible, and it will probably happen.

PATEL: Well, we hope that everything gets figured out itself, but, yes, you're right.

VAUSE: Ryan -- thank you so much for weighing in. Appreciate it.

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

Join us on Twitter @CNNNEWSROOMLA. There you get the highlights and clips from the show. Thank you for watching.

I'll head you over to Atlanta and Rosemary after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[01:59:59] ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: With one of its highest ranking officials headed to the United States for talks, will North Korea be willing to put its nukes on the bargaining table? The latest from Seoul in a live report.