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Trump Says Bob Woodward's New Book Is A Work of Fiction; Kavanaugh Is Facing An Uphill Battle In His Confirmation Hearing; Kavanaugh Avoids Answering Questions And Claims He Cannot Give Answers to Hypotheticals; U.K. Has Sufficient Evidence to Charge Two Russian Nationals for Novichok Poisoning; Social Media Giants Face Grilling On Capitol Hill; Military Activity Intensifying In Idlib; People Feel Ill On Dubai-NY Flight; Do Reports Of WH Chaos Distract From The Real Issues? Aired 3-4p ET

Aired September 5, 2018 - 15:00   ET


[15:00:00] HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone. Live from CNN London I'm Hala Gorani. Tonight, the White House is trying to

push back against a shocking new book, shedding light on life inside the Trump presidency. We just heard from President Trump in the last few

minutes. We will tell you what he said.

Also, tonight, exclusive new details on a case that soured relations between Russia and the West. The U.K. in particular. Police named the

suspects in the Salisbury poisoning. And they are Russian nationals.

Also, Donald Trump's pick to be a new Supreme Court Judge is getting grilled on Capitol Hill once again today. We will have the latest on that.

President Trump and his allies are trying to discredit journalist Bob Woodward. And the dysfunctional White House he describes in his new book

"Fear". The U.S. president just blasted it as a work of total fiction. Listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a work of fiction. Already General Mattis has come out very, very strongly. And I think you

know General Mattis. He does what he wants to do. He's a very independent guy. He was insulted by the remarks that were attributed to him and he

came out with a very strong statement. I assume you read it I hope you read it last night.

General John Kelly very same thing. He said he is insulted by what they said. He's right here. He's insulted by -- he couldn't believe what they

said. He put out a very, very strong statement. And many others, and many statements are coming out. The book is a work of fiction. If you look

back at Woodward's past he had the same problem with other presidents he likes to get publicity, sell some book. It was put out to interfere in my

opinion with the Kavanaugh hearings which I don't think it has done because so many have come out against it.

Yule joule (ph) is another one. He's very insulted by the book and what was stated in the book. We run -- we do run a strong White House. There

is no question about it. And we are doing things that nobody else has ever been able to do. And our country is stronger now than it has ever been.

And in a very short period of time, $700 billion being spent on the military in the next year, 716. $716 billion. We will actually be far

stronger than we have ever been, and that's what we needed to be.


GORANI: And that's how president Donald Trump in the White House -- he was in the oval office, in fact, hosting the Emir of Kuwait today. He was

asked about Syria, and reports that he had discussed as assassinating the president of Syria. We will get to that in a moment. Obviously, we have

been reporting about this book and its contents for 24 hours or so of the it depicts a crazy town White House in which staffers question Mr. Trump's

intelligence, his integrity, even his fitness to be president at all.

Let's go to the White House where Boris Sanchez has the latest details on the reaction to the book. Clearly the president has -- he said over and

over again in that oval office moment there when he was hosting the Emir of Kuwait that it is a work of total fiction. But this is not Omarosa, a

reality television star. This is Bob Woodward. One of the most respected, celebrated journalists in American history.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Hala. The White House is going to face an uphill battle trying to draw into question the credibility

of Bob Woodward if only because of his legacy. He has long been a Washington, DC. reporter, somebody who covered along with his partner,

Carl Bernstein, the Nixon administration and uncovered the Watergate conspiracy.

He has had consistent tell-all books for about eight presidents now. Even the president has defended him in the past when he wrote a book that wasn't

exactly flattering to the Obama administration. In all, it is not like Omarosa. It is not like who wrote "Fire and Fury" a few months ago and

published that to the chagrin this White House.

We should point out sources have told CNN that the president is now asking loyal aides to dig in for information on who would Woodward's sources are.

Despite the fact that he's dismissing these claims as bogus, he is simultaneously trying the find out who Woodward spoke to, where he got

these quotes. We are also told that the president was pleased specifically with the denials coming from some of the figures currently within his

administration, Department of Defense Secretary James Mattis, Chief of Staff John Kelly, and as you heard there, his chief attorney, Rudy


[15:05:00] But the president is also noticing, according to sources, who is remaining silent. There are a number of former administration officials

that were quoted by Bob Woodward. Notably Staff Secretary Robert Porter as well as a former NSA Director HR McMaster and others, Gary Cohn, the

national economic chair. So, there are a number of people here, a long list of people who have left the White House on less than graceful terms

who the president clearly is upset with. That's why you hear Sarah Sanders repeatedly saying that some of this book, the negative content in it could

be attributed to disgruntled former employees.

GORANI: Is this going to convince people who are likely to believe what's in the book abuse Bob Woodward wrote it, this pushback?

SANCHEZ: It's unclear. As you well know, Trump supporters are a very coalesced base. More often than not the president has fended off

accusations or allegations of wrongdoing or of his unfitness for office by simply dismissing it as fake news. And continuously he has promoted

conspiracy theories. The list goes on and on of the kind of defenses he has had for less than flattering stories.

This would be interesting to see what the base responds to, specifically one portion where Bob Woodward alleges the president sort of made fun of

his Attorney General Jeff Sessions calling him mentally retarded and faking a southern accent, calling him a dumb southerner. Again, according to the

Woodward's reporting. The president specifically tweeted about that dismissing it as something said to divide. In the south, Jeff Sessions is

a popular person and that's where the president draws his base.

GORANI: Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee says if he's confirmed he will owe

his loyalty to the U.S. Constitution and not to the president of the United States. Brett Kavanaugh is undergoing some tough grilling on day two of

his confirmation hearings on capitol hill. The grilling coming from Democratic senators. Senators are questioning him on a number of issues

including presidential powers and judicial independence. Kavanaugh was asked flat out if he would have trouble ruling against a president who

appointed him.


BRETT KAVANAUGH, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE NOMINEE: No one is above the law in our constitutional system. Federalist 69 Hamilton makes clear all the ways

the executive branch as designed by the framers of the constitution was different from the monarchy. Under our system of government, the executive

branch is subject to the law, subject to the court system. And that's an important part of Federalist 69. It's an important part of the

constitutional structure.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN, (D), CALIFORNIA: Can a sitting president be required to respond to a subpoena?

KAVANAUGH: That's a hypothetical question about what would be an elaboration or a difference from U.S. V Nixon's precise holding. And I

think going with the Justice Ginsburg principle which is really not the Justice Ginsburg alone principle. It's everyone's principle on the current

Supreme Court. And as a matter of the canons of judicial independence I can't give you an answer on that hypothetical question.

GORANI: So, can't give answers on hypotheticals. And Kavanaugh answered in that way when confronted with hypothetical situations and asked about

hypothetical cases and how he might rule. Because he also side stepped a question about whether a president can pardon himself. But a lot of other

issues are on the table as well from assault weapons to abortion rights. That's one that some activists in the United States are concerned about.

Let's bring in CNN Justice Correspondent, Jessica Schneider with more. What did we learn about Brett Kavanaugh's position, his potential -- how he

might potentially rule on some of these hot topics like abortion rights for instance?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well you heard of the right there, Hala. Brett Kavanaugh refusing to answer hypotheticals. Also,

saying he will stick with precedent. But that's really not satisfying Democrats. This is certain to be a long day on Capitol Hill. We are

already six hours into this. It is a likely to stretch at least six hours more. As you saw there, each senator on the committee, they are grilling

Judge Kavanaugh.

They have been pressing him on a range of issues. But at the forefront has really been Judge Kavanaugh's views on the power of the presidency. Each

time he has been pressed, Kavanaugh has deferred. Democrats have asked him a number of questions like can the president pardon himself? Can the

president pardon others? Should the president comply with a subpoena? And of course, each and every question Judge Kavanaugh said, well, I can't

answer hypotheticals.

Now, to be fair, that is a very common tactic used by judges up for confirmation. They just say they can't deal with any cases that aren't

before them. But of course, it is especially poignant at this moment in time, Hala with the president embroiled in controversy and many of his

former associates facing legal challenges. We just saw two of them plead guilty in recent weeks.

[15:10:00] Kavanaugh here has really refused to budge. He said he will take each and every case as it comes. One thing that's interesting,

though, he did note he has great respect for the 1974 decision U.S. V Nixon. Of course, that required President Nixon to hand over those tapes

and other documents that eventually led to his impeachment and resignation. Really, Hala, what we are seeing from Judge Kavanaugh is really a scholarly

confirmation hearing.

Every time he is peppered with questions he kind of goes back, talks about his long history of legal decisions. He relies on the Constitution. He

cited the Federalist Papers numerous times. Senators seem to be getting a bit antsy on the Democratic side. Really that's what judges in this

situation do. That's what Judge Kavanaugh is doing. They are likely to continue peppering him with these questions and maybe not getting many

questions answered as we continue on here.

GORANI: Let's get perspective from Joey Jackson, CNN legal analyst. If Kavanaugh has said the president is not above the law, how can he justify

not answering a hypothetical such as must the president comply with a subpoena?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Always good to see you, Hala. Listen, this is what nominees customarily do. They never commit to answering what

may in fact be an issue before the court. For good reason. Because then would you be bound by what you said there? If you don't and you pivot,

would you have been lying? And the other thing is would you potentially have to recuse yourself.

He could be grilled until midnight tonight or midnight on Friday, the fact is he is going to stick to the script. He is going to whip out the pocket

Constitution and say this is what I'm bound to, interpretation the Constitution. If you have a legitimate argument and you have the winning

argument, you will be ruled in favor of. If you don't, you will not. So as much as you might press -- and we can talk all afternoon, Hala, in terms

of where he stands on abortion, where he stands on gun rights, where he stands anywhere. He is just not saying.

GORANI: What's the point of a confirmation hearing if you can't get any insight. Here's what he said -- he was asked about abortion rights.

Here's how he answered, Joey.


FEINSTEIN: What would you say your position today is on a woman's right to choose?

KAVANAUGH: As a Judge --

FEINSTEIN: As a Judge.

KAVANAUGH: As a Judge, it is an important precedent of the Supreme Court, by it I mean Roe V. Wade and Planned Parenthood versus Casey. It has been

reaffirmed many times. Casey is precedent on precedent, which itself is an important factor to remember. And I understand the significance of the

issue, the jurisprudential issue and I understand the significance as best I can. I always try, and I do hear of the real-world affects of that

decision as I try to do of all the decisions of my court and of the Supreme Court.


GORANI: Joey, what does that tell you?

JACKSON: Nothing.

GORANI: Roe v. Wade is precedent. Then there was another case that was precedent on precedent. He says he respects judicial precedence.

JACKSON: It tells me nothing. Let me tell you why. Judge Neil Gorsuch sat before nomination hearings. You will recall he was recently nominated

to the court and said similarly he respects precedent. We should remind viewers that precedent is everything. Overstating it a little but so, so,

so significant in law because there is a principle called stare decisis that means it has been decided. Judges are bounds by precedent.

Judge Gorsuch said precedent is important, I recognize how precedent is precedent. What did he do? He sat on the court and overturned a 40-year

precedent related to labor unions called the Janus decision. If we had taken him at his word that precedent is precedent he would have upheld the

right for people to decide that they could pay union dues. He did not. And so simply saying what he says is something we all say as lawyers.

Precedent is important. But he is not telling you how he will rule.

[15:15:00] GORANI: He is not bound by it. He has written in the past that presidents

shouldn't -- he believes it's distracting to criminally investigate sitting presidents. Presidents I should say, not precedents. I mean, this would

usually be kind of a throwaway comment but not for the Trump administration and the Trump presidency, embroiled in this Mueller probe that's been going

on for months and months. What did that tell you?

JACKSON: I thought the answer was very probative to where he stands. He said listen I wrote a law review article. It's not my position as relates

to the constitution. I just wrote a law review article and I am not going to answer the question moving forward as to what I would do. I am not

going to answer the question as to whether the president can pardon himself. All of these questions are side stepped. What we are left with

is an intelligent man who has a distinguished career, a distinguished background, a beautiful family, but on the question of whether will you be

on issues that effect everyone? It's really a mystery.

You have nine members on the Supreme Court. Five of them -- he would be the fifth who are highly conservative. It could affect abortion,

immigration, gun control. So, this is a major moment in our history. For him not to commit to answering these questions, you know, it certainly is

problematic to say the least. Although there is precedent for that as it relates to other nominees who have appeared before the committee.

GORANI: Joey Jackson as always, appreciate having you on the program.

Still to come tonight, caught on camera, named as suspects, and facing enough evidence to be charged. British authorities unveil remarkable new

details about the men thought to be behind an attack that is testing relations between London and Moscow.

Also, Brett Kavanaugh wasn't the only person grilled by lawmakers today. Social media executives were summoned as well. Big tech might be in for

more headaches coming up.


GORANI: Our next story is not so much the spy who came in from the cold. But the spy story coming into the cold light of day. Step by step, image

by remarkable image. Chilling new details are emerge being a nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter right here in Britain. The

U.K. now says it has the evidence to charge two Russian nationals. Saying they were almost certainly acting on orders from on high. Phil Black has

more from Salisbury.


[15:20:00] PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Two Russian men arrive at London's airport on March 2nd. Their mission, assassination.

Investigators tracked down their movements over several days using security video. That night they stayed in this east London hotel. The following

day, March 3rd, they made a suspected reconnaissance run to Salisbury, traveling by train and returning to London to sleep at the same hotel.

Sunday, March 4th. They traveled to Salisbury again. Police believe soon after this image was captured they sprayed the nerve agent Novichok on the

front door of Sergei Skripal's home. That afternoon he and his daughter collapsed on a bench in the town center, critically ill.

UNIDENTIFIED POLICEMAN: We are releasing these photographs of them.

BLACK: By that time police say the suspects had already travelled back to London to board a flight out of Heathrow airport. At that point they

thought it was a success. But they were wrong. The targets Sergie and Yulia survived.

Police officer, Detective Sargent Nick Bailey was also poisoned. He is recovering.

A local woman Dawn Sturgis lost her life because of a plot that had nothing to do with her. Months later, the 44-year-old mother of three and her

partner found what they thought was a small bottle of fancy perfume. She sprayed it on her wrists. She collapsed that day. A week later, she died.

Her husband also felt ill but survived. Police say the bottle and its packages were clever things used to smuggle and deploy the same nerve agent

used against the Skripals.

UNIDENTIFIED POLICEMAN: We don't believe the couple were targeted but became victims as a result of the recklessness in which the nerve agent was

disposed of.

BLACK: They were traveling on real passports using the names Alexander Petrov and Rusland Boshirov. Britain's Prime Minister says a body of

intelligence shows these men are members of Russia's military intelligence agency the GIU.

THERESA MAY, PRIME MINISTER, U.K.: It is a highly disciplined organization with a well-established chain of command. This was not a rogue operation.

It was it was almost certainly approved outside the GIU at a senior level of the Russian state.

BLACK: Police have not revealed the suspected motive behind any of this in Russia has denied any involvement. But the GIU is also the Russian

intelligence agency Sergei Skripal officially worked for while he was spying for Britain. Coincidence? Or proof Russia spies never forget or

forgive a traitor?


GORANI: Whoever is responsible, Phil Black joins me now from Salisbury. They actually put it in a perfume bottle knowing full well somebody could

find of it. Phil Black is in Salisbury. Matthew Chance has reaction from Moscow. Phil, what are U.K. authorities doing now to try to apprehend

these two individuals?

BLACK: The truth is, Hala, they don't know where they are. They have issued a domestic arrest warrant. They are seeking an EU arrest warrant as

well. It would limit their ability to travel freely in the EU because if they are identified there they could be picked up and then brought to the

U.K.. They can't be extradited from Russia directly because Russia makes the point and it makes this frequently that the Russian constitution

forbids the extradition of Russian citizens to third party countries.

It's simply not an option. At the moment, though, we don't know for certain that the U.K. authorities actually know precisely who these real

people are. They have given names but they are likely to be aliases. We don't know the they know the true identities of these people but at the

moment the options for getting these people back here to face justice are limited.

GORANI: They have given the names Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov. They could be fake names. I don't think anybody will be getting a prize

for guessing Russian reaction here?

BLACK: No. And time again the Russians have been confronted with allegations of all sorts of misdeeds around the world, including this

Skripal poisoning. And they have always categorically denied it. You are exactly right. They denied this again, having any knowledge of these

individuals saying the photographs and the names that have been circulated by the British authorities in association with this poisoning mean nothing

to us. They are saying we don't even know who these people are. So, they seem to be adopting a strategy not just of denying that Russia had anything

to do with the poisoning, but also saying they don't know who these individuals are at all, rather than representing them as any other kind of

explanation for why they might be there.

[15:25:00] The British authorities provided a high degree of detail to back up their investigation as we saw in the report there. That in itself

undermines the Russian consistent pleas of innocence, Hala.

GORANI: They were -- whoever did this, these suspects, are alleged to have been so reckless that I understand that some Novichok traces were found in

the budget hotel where they stayed potentially putting at risk dozens more people?

BLACK: Hala, they did. They found trace elements there. They say not enough to be a risk to other people who stayed in the room or other members

of the public. But what the authorities here say it shows is that, yes, these two were the guys who were carrying this stuff around and applied it

on the door of the house behind me here where Sergei Skripal lives. The British authorities are not saying why they know or believe they are

members of Russian military intelligence. They do believe that the evidence they have pieced to the on the ground here in the U.K. is

compelling. They have tracked their movements very closely. It's not just that security video as you mentioned.

They tested for Novichok in that hotel room and they found trace elements there as well. It shows that they carried it to that room. And they

believe they are also the people who carried it here. Crucially what they are worried about also is what they can't be sure of is whether that

perfume bottle was the last of it. They don't know if that was the bottle used to apply it here at the Skripal's house or if more has been discarded

here in this area and is still an ongoing threat to the community.

GORANI: Thank you. This case is throwing Russia's military agency, the GIU into new focus. CNN's National Security Analyst, Samantha Vinograd is

in Washington. What do you make of the allegations here against these two suspects, the fact that U.K. authorities have CCTV footage. They have the

names at least on the passports and the two suspects used to leave the country?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It really shows that Vladimir Putin wasn't trying that hard to fly under the radar. Everything

these two GRU agents did was really hiding in plain sight. A, what terrifies me is just how easy it was to transport this Novichok from Russia

to the U.K.. It was obviously quite easy for them to get on to airports, I think it was Aeroflot to enter the U.K., and to put it in just a small

object and carry it around. So that really tells me that deterrence and deterring another attack, another CW attack is just as important as

defending against it and trying to find out how we might be able to get to those two GRU agents.

GORANI: Right, but if they traveled on aliases with fake names and documents it is virtually impossible really to opry hens these individuals.

How do you prove a case here?

VINOGRAD: The case has been proven not just by what Theresa May unveiled today. The United States for example, we issued sanction earlier in august

because we found without a doubt that Russia was responsible for these attacks. Almost two dozen countries expelled Russian diplomats when the

attacks firsthand because of the convincing evidence that Russia was behind the attacks.

It's been obvious from the get-go that Russia was responsible. Yes, these two men we think we know what their aliases were, where these two GRU

agents are, we don't know, but there are a heck of a lot more of them. We have to caution Vladimir Putin such that he didn't think he can move

chemical weapons around the world so easily and get back for example, at a man who he views as betraying his country.

GORANI: There are those who say why were Vladimir Putin or anyone high up in the Kremlin want the do this? Why is this in the best interest of

Russia? This double agent for years his location was known. Why act now? That it doesn't make sense. It is self defeating. What is your reply to


VINOGRAD: I think the Russians would like to propagate that narrative. The Russian response has been so obvious today. They are obviously denying

it and say again, why would we do this now, it's years later? Why would we go to great lengths? That's the kind of misinformation campaign that we

should expect the Russians to propagate. I would be a fool if I said I knew what went through Putin's head. I think it's very obvious he has long

memory and certainly wants to dissuade any other Russian agents from turning against him, working with foreign intelligence services, and

betraying his country.

GORANI: And I mean you talk about avoiding future similar attacks. But if you can carry around chemical -- you know, a noxious chemical agent like

Novichok, on a plane, carry it around, put it in officer fume bottles and do all of that, I mean it just seems incredibly difficult to try to prevent

these attacks in the future if someone is determined to contrary them out?

VINOGRAD: It does. That's why we have to change the calculus and impose costs on Vladimir Putin so that the costs outweigh any benefits. Novichok

can be a gas or liquid, a fine powder and it is highly toxic. What does Putin care about? His economy. The last sanctions led the ruble to fall

to a two-year low for example. Are other countries going to look at taking similar action sufficient that Putin thinks if I do this again, break

international law again, it's going to hit me where it hurts.

GORANI: Samantha Vinograd, thank you for joining us from Washington.

Still to come tonight, a busy day on Capitol Hill as social media executives are summoned. Big tech might be in for more headaches. That's

coming up. And that is Brett Kavanaugh. And that is Cheryl Sandberg. You have everyone up there talking to lawmakers. We'll be right back.


[15:35:14] GORANI: U.S. senators have summoned three of the biggest names in tech hoping to find out how those companies plan to stop foreign

influence in U.S. elections. Twitter sent its CEO, Jack Dorsey, and Facebook relied on COO, Sheryl Sandberg. Google, however, didn't show up.

Twitter's stock fell five percent earlier today, while Dorsey spoke to the Senate Intelligence Committee admitting that his company hadn't done enough

to detect fake users.

Dorsey is also being grilled by the House, Energy and Congress Committee answering questions about accusations of political bias against Republicans

on his platform.

Samuel Burke is here with the very latest.

So, let's talk about what so -- what did senators want to get -- want to get out of these hearings with these two big tech leaders?

SAMUEL BURKE, CNN BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's interesting because there was a much more conciliatory tone on both sides

from the politicians and from the executives this time around. And it sounds like these politicians actually knew something about technology.

Remember last time the Facebook stock soared because it sounded like Congress didn't know anything about technology. So investors thought, how

can they regulate it if they don't understand it?

I want to just put up on the screen some of the main takeaways that the politicians and us, the journalists got. As Sheryl Sandberg and Jack

Dorsey were testifying. They've hired moderators to look through this content. This hearing was mainly about foreign interference. Developing

artificial intelligence tools to help identify and eradicate that content and working closer with the authorities.

But Sheryl Sandberg said straight up, we were too slow to spot this content. We were too slow to react and that's our fault. And I think

they've learned that striking this type of conciliatory tone will get them further in Washington than having a defensive tone.

GORANI: But they then -- why did Twitter's stock lose ground?

BURKE: Well, as if we put them up on the screen and look at both those stocks together, you see they both went down but Twitter's much more.

Sheryl Sandberg has a wealth of experience. You see, Facebook's stock down, but Twitter down almost double what Facebook was.

Sheryl Sandberg doesn't just have business and tech experience. She was the chief of staff to Larry Summers in the treasury during the Clinton

years. So she knows Washington, D.C. And she same incredibly poised. But let's just take a look at a soundbite from her. And you can really see her

confidence in front of the committee.


SHERYL SANDBERG, COO, FACEBOOK: Everyone here today knows that this is an arms race and that means we need to be ever more vigilant. As Chairman

Burr has noted nothing less than the integrity of our democratic institutions, processes and ideals is at stake.


BURKE: And pointing out just how serious this problem is.

Jack Dorsey, on the other hand said, I'm a shy guy. He talked about some of the fundamental problems that still need to be changed on his platform.

And he started out by saying, "Actually, I want to read something I prepared on my phone and I'm going to tweet it out at the same time." And

he literally, while testifying before Congress, tweeted out the message. I received it on my phone. So he has a different way of communicating.

[15:35:16] He's an incredibly smart guy and I think he's very honest. When I interviewed him, I found him to be very earnest. He just has a different

way of communicating. So I think that maybe made investors a little bit shaky, especially compared to Sheryl Sandberg, who actually at some points,

was helping him a bit talking about how they're sharing information. It almost felt like big sister, little brother up there on Capitol Hill today.

GORANI: And also on Google.

BURKE: And they were very upset with Google. I mean, that over and over and there were some things that they lauded Google for but were very

frustrated with Google. But their stock was only down about two percent. So it's interesting that --

GORANI: There's a lesson in that.

BURKE: Yes, exactly.

GORANI: Don't show up.

BURKE: Don't show up and be conciliatory to talk to them and your stock will go down, at least if you're Twitter.

GORANI: OK. Thank you, Samuel Burke.

Now, big mystery here because U.S. officials are trying to figure out just what caused passengers on boards an Emirates plane to become sick. It was

a Dubai to New York flight and it was quarantined at JFK airport. A number of passengers and crew were taken to the hospital for treatment. They

reportedly showed signs of fever and were coughing throughout the flight. Mark Morales has more. He's at JFK airport. What's the status of the

plane now, Mark?

MARK MORALES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the plane was cleared not -- earlier this afternoon. The passengers were allowed to leave. They only

took 11 of them to a local hospital for treatment. That included seven crew members. Other passengers that were on the plane were allowed to go

through customs and clear out.

We've been here, we've been talking to passengers. They've been giving us their experience. They heard a lot of coughing. They experienced a lot of

this on line, just waiting to board the plane and on the actual flight itself. Take a listen.

LARRY COBEN, PASSENGER ON QUARANTINED EMIRATES FLIGHT: Outside, there were a series of ambulances and police cars, probably a dozen police cars and

half a dozen ambulances and we were told to remain in our seats, which we did for quite some time. Then someone from the CDC came on board and asked

us to fill out some forms. And basically, you know, where we're going to be for the next couple of weeks in case we show any symptoms or they

discover anything.

MORALES: Now, there haven't been any official word as to what caused the illnesses, but the symptoms that they're being treated for at the local

hospital include headache, sore throat, fever, cough. And as far as we know, they're still there at the moment.

GORANI: All right, Mark Morales, thanks very much.

Still to come tonight, military moves kick into high gear ahead of an expected offensive against Syria's last major rebel stronghold. The very

latest, next.


[15:40:05] GORANI: Well, military activity is picking up as the threat of a government offensive looms over Syria's Idlib province. Russia is now

confirming that it conducted Tuesday's air strikes there. Activists say the strikes killed five children and injured 12 civilians.

Meanwhile, rebels say they blew up a key bridge Wednesday cutting the path to regime forces. And Turkey sent more reinforcements to its border with


Tuesday's strikes came just a few hours after President Trump tried the draw the line on Idlib. He told Syria and its allies not to go ahead with

the offensive, saying it could cost hundreds of thousands of lives. And then Nikki Haley, his U.N. ambassador said, essentially go ahead with an

offensive just as long as you don't use chemical weapons. So many interpreted that as pretty much a green light.

Our Senior International Correspondent, Fred Pleitgen, joins us from Damascus with more. What's the expectation with the Idlib offensive, Fred?

What are you hearing where you are?

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean really, Hala, when you speak to people here in Syria, I speak to government

officials, we also speak to regular Syrians, there are a lot of people here in Syria who believe that that offensive is going to start. And they

believe that offensive could start very, very soon. It's no secret here to many Syrians that Idlib is now surrounded, not just by a lot of Syrian

government troops, but it seems as though by some of the most elite of the Syrian government troops.

A lot of those forces that were also involved in a lot of other big operations here in the Syrian conflict. Like for instance the offensive in

Aleppo, like for instance the recent one in southern Syria in places like Golan and Daraa so these are battle-hardened forces. They are now

apparently dug in and they would be ready to go at any time.

And you can certainly listen to Syrian officials and also some of the backers as well, like for instance the Iranians and the Russians, all of

them seem unfazed by any of the talk that's coming out of the White House or that might be coming from Nikki Hayley as well. They say that they

believe that Idlib is what they call a hotbed of terrorism, obviously with a lot of hardline Islamist groups that are situated in that area and they

believe that this is something that needs to move forward.

There were even some were saying who believe -- they believe that this is something that should move forward very quickly. So certainly, if you

listen to the folks here on the ground, they believe this operation will happen and they believe that it could happen fairly soon, Hala.

GORANI: Great. They describe it, obviously, as a terrorist hotbed and there are hardline Islamist fighters there. No one is denying that. They

number in the tens of thousands. There are also three million civilians, many of whom reject both the regime and these terrorist groups that are

caught in the middle. What happens to them?

PLEITGEN: Well, that's essentially -- right now, Hala, that's very much in the hands of the three dominating outside powers here in this conflict.

The Russians, the Iranians, and of course the Turks as well. We know that there's a very high level meeting that's going to be happening on September

the 7th where essentially the leaders of these countries are going to hash out how they intend to move forward, is there going to be this offensive?

Is there some other way to do this?

The Russians are saying there's a humanitarian corridor that they've set up for people to be able to get out of Idlib province. But of course, as you

point out, that means that they would be going into Syrian government-held territory. Of course a lot of people would be afraid to do that.

The big question is, can these people be given enough guarantees for them to actually willingly be wanting to come back to this side? It certainly

seem something that these (INAUDIBLE) might not be able to sort out at that meeting, but it is something that could very well be on the table. But

that seems to be the plan of the Syrian government and also of its backers to say, look, the humanitarian corridors are out there, take them or leave

them. There is a chance for people to get out.

Of course the Russians also have negotiations going on. They have apparently been negotiating with some of the villages in Idlib province

telling them, look, if you flip sides, if you get some of these rebels out of your villages, we will spare you now. Well, make sure that Syrian

government forces don't enter those villages until the Idlib offensive is done. Is that good enough? For many of those in Idlib, big question mark.

GORANI: Also, unclear how civilians will politely ask armed rebels, some of them very hardened to politely leave their village. I'm not sure

exactly how that would work.

Fred Pleitgen, thanks very much for joining us from Damascus. Appreciate it.

Let's get a closer look at what's happening inside Idlib province. Ismail Alabdullah is the spokesperson for the Syrian Civil Defense, a volunteer

rescue group also known as the White Helmets. He is in northern Idlib.

Mr. Alabdullah, what is the situation now in the province after some reported air strikes yesterday?

ISMAIL ALABDULLAH, SPOKESPERSON, WHITE HELMETS: Air strikes yesterday killed 13 people, including five kids and three women in different villages

of the west countryside of Idlib and (INAUDIBLE) and many villages. After the air strikes at night yesterday, there were mortars falling on the same


[15:45:03] Today, the air strikes stopped. We haven't counted any air strikes -- any air strikes in Idlib province. Bombed Idlib brought across

and this time after crowded with three million civilians. And there is no another Idlib to go. And that situation will be more, more difficult for

the people to live, more difficult to the civilians to survive in this time.

There is no another Idlib. If that forces and the (INAUDIBLE) start bombing and killing the civilians, there will be big mess, because that's

what we've heard about.

GORANI: Mr. Alabdullah, just to sum up, you're saying there's no other Idlib to go. In other words that this is the last refuge for civilians who

fled from other parts of Syria. Though there was no bombing today, the concern for you is there will be more bombing in the coming days.

Is there enough hospital, you know, equipment and doctors to respond to increase air strikes now in Idlib?

ALABDULLAH: If air strikes will increase in the future, of course, we can't respond to all the bombing. The hospitals will not receive all the

wounded people and the injured people, because the bombing will cause many victims and many injured people.

Now, we have the equipment. We can respond. We can save the people. The hospitals can receive the injured people. But if the offensive will be as

-- have been in Eastern Ghouta and Aleppo City, I was in Aleppo City and it was like hellish bombing. Hellish days. If that will happen again in

Idlib city and all of the province, there's no -- we will not be able to respond to all the bombing and all cause.

GORANI: And lastly, when you say there is nowhere else to go, there is really -- in the whole country, this is the last section of the country

that is controlled by rebel groups. And there are all the civilians there who have come from other parts of Syria. If they have nowhere to go, what

happens to them?

ALABDULLAH: That's the question. Ninety percent of the people who are living in the Idlib province are displaced people. They came from south,

they came from Homs, they came from Aleppo, Eastern -- East Aleppo. Now, they are all trapped in this area and there is no place to go. Maybe their

destiny to be killed. With that blood chemical attacks as what happened in Eastern Ghouta in 2013. Maybe will be killed by barrel bombs, bombs,

cluster bombs, bunker buster bombs.

We don't know yet. We will see. We will wait. As all the civilians, three million are now scared, afraid about every single bombing or any news

of starting the offensive on the ground.

GORANI: Ismail Alabdullah, the spokesperson for the White Helmets, joining us live from Idlib province. Thank you very much for your time this


Coming up, it's been described as crazy town. But is all the focus on Donald Trump and his chaotic White House distracting from the real issues

that affect everyone? We'll discuss after this.


[15:50:28] GORANI: Many people who dislike Donald Trump will see the claims in Bob Woodward's book "Fear" as yet more proof that the president

is just simply unfit to serve in the role he holds.

But if you take away the chaos depicted in books like Woodward's, many big concerns remain, like, how the administration, as a whole, is handling the

real day to day issues on both the domestic and international fronts?

For those who criticize the president and believe the problems stem from him, and possibly him alone as an individual, are they missing the point?

Let's discuss this with assistant professor of global politics at the University College London, Brian Klaas. Thanks for being with us.

You on your Twitter account are very, very critical of the president. You get thousands and thousands of retweets and favorites. But if you look at

the wider picture, ideologically speaking, all the people around him are very much aligned with President Trump, they just don't do and say the

thing that cause outrage in the same way the president does.

BRIAN KLAAS, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF GLOBAL POLITICS, UNIVERSITY COLLEGE LONDON: That's right. So there is a Venn diagram that exists between

traditional Republican values and Donald Trump. And in the middle of that is something like health care policy and tax policy. So I would expect

that if there were a change of leadership in the White House, if Trump were to lose power, those things would continue.

But there's a lot of very much -- not overlap in areas like trade and international security that are very different where, for example, NAFTA

and NATO. Pence would be different on these. He believes in multilateral trade, he believes in multilateral alliances and security agreements.

And also, I think this is the most important point, is that Trump is different because he's a threat to norms and institutions. The way that he

lashes out at the press, at political institutions that are the pillars of American --

GORANI: Isn't that a reflection of ideologically of the people closest to him? I mean, if you -- think about it. John Kelly, long before he was

chief of staff was in favor of things like child separation. I mean, you had others, for instance, Mike Pence and his stance on certain issues

deemed homophobic. Jeff Sessions as well on certain issues, ideologically aligned with the president certainly domestically, right?

KLAAS: Yes. On a lot of issues, they are, in terms of policy. The difference is how aggressively they do these things. You would not have a

Vice President Pence who would be regularly tweeting about how the press is the enemy of the people or --

GORANI: Is it just the tweeting then? Is it just how aggressive? Is it just because he's considered unfit in his behavior?

KLAAS: But the tweeting is a reflection of policy, too. I mean, the administration is proceeding along the tweets as though they are official

presidential statements. So when the president says, as he did three days ago, for example, that it's a shame that Jeff Sessions is prosecuting

Republicans because they're Republicans for corruption charges. That actually has a knock-on effect, the chilling effect where people in the

Department of Justice and in law enforcement are getting orders on Twitter from the president to basically protect his political allies.

GORANI: Do you think things would be different if Mike Pence were president?

KLAAS: I think it'd be different in terms of norms, I think it'd be different in terms of international trade and international security which

are very important, right? These are major issues for the economy and for national security.

GORANI: But what about these very important policy announcements that you say are made on Twitter? We're talking immigration, trade, North Korea,

the fact that Nikki Haley said at the United Nations -- and it barely registered on the radar in the United States, that essentially as long as

Assad doesn't use chemical weapons, you're free to go ahead and carpet-bomb Idlib. We're fine with it.

Is the focus on Trump, the individual and the outrageous behavior he sometimes exhibits, taking away from serious journalistic coverage of


KLAAS: Yes, in a word, yes. And I think that there's also a question about Mike Pence himself in a sense that because Trump was such a circus

act during the campaign itself, he wasn't vetted the same way that a normal vice president would be vetted. Most Americans don't know the things you

are talking about, with his homophobia in the past.

Well, for example in 2000, how he said that smoking doesn't cause cancer in an op-ed. That was never part of the conversation in a way that previous

vice presidential candidates have been vetted because Trump was a show. And so I think it is a distraction in some ways from the policy --

GORANI: Is that a mistake?

KLAAS: No. I think we have to be good enough to be able to do both tracks. It is dangerous that Trump is a reckless impulsive individual who

makes policy by tweet -- it is also dangerous that the policy themselves are not getting enough scrutiny. But we have to rise to this occasion and

be able answer both challenges at the same time. We cannot simply say, let's just -- let's disregard the insanity unfolding on Twitter or let's

just regard these policies that are potentially very dangerous.

GORANI: Would you consider yourself part of the #resistance?

KLAAS: No. I think -- the way I always describe my --

GORANI: Because on Twitter, you are very much --

KLAAS: I'm extremely anti-Trump. And I'm very critical of him. But I say that I am a non-partisan 2015 American because what I am arguing are things

that were uncontroversial two or three years ago. I believe in a free press. I believe that people should not be scapegoated because of the

color of their skin. I believe that religious minorities should be treated with respect. I believe that you should not make policy impulsively, you

should make it based on evidence and reason.

[15:55:22] Those things are now partisan. But that doesn't make me partisan. It simply makes me anti-Trump because he's disrespecting those

basic principles that used to be foundational principles for both parties in the United States.

GORANI: But at the same time, Donald Trump is a natural outcome of many, many years, whether the White House was in democratic or in Republican

hands, right?

KLAAS: He is. And I think one thing that's very clear is that for a lot of people who support Trump, he will never be more guilty in their eyes

than the system he's attacking. And that's one of the reasons why his base is so solid. So there is something that is good about Trump and that he's

producing a wakeup call in politics that people have been ignored for a long time. There are these -- the sort of under the surface anger, there's

also a lot of under the surface racism that he's tapped in to.

But in the end, I think that that positive story is absolutely swamped by all the negative stories in terms of his impulsivity, his recklessness, the

corruption around him, and all these other stories.

GORANI: Let me ask you about Steve Bannon invited and disinvited by the New Yorker. A lot of people, even really Trump opponents said that was a

huge own goal. Because -- OK. You invited him but then when you invite him, don't disinvite him. You're basically telling his base, you know,

we're snowflakes, we can't handle it. It should be a free exchange of ideas and you've turned it into a platform for people who are an echo

chamber for the same liberal ideas.

KLAAS: Yes. So I think this is a question where obviously it was mishandled, to invite and disinvite was a mistake. The question is whether

he should have been invited in the first place and that's a much trickier question.

GORANI: The Economist thinks that he should be.

KLAAS: I think that Steve Bannon, when he was part of the administration, was a legitimate newsmaker. He's no longer part of the White House. We

know that his views are bigoted. And at some point, you have to say, do we want to make that be the platform that we promote to a lot of other people?

He is not a run-of-the-mill conservative. So people trying to say that this is censoring conservative viewpoints are incorrect. His views are

much more incendiary, the mainstream conservatives and he is effectively peddled white nationalism on Breitbart for a very long time and had

headlines -- he printed headlines when he was a publisher of things like, would you rather my child had feminism or cancer? That is not a normal

viewpoint or a normal headline for a conservative publication.

GORANI: He won't be at the New Yorker but he will be at the Economist festival. Thanks very much, Brian Klaas. Always appreciate your time.

Thanks for watching tonight. I'm Hala Gorani. "QUEST MEANS BUSINESS" is next.



[16:00:00] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Pretty meandering day. We were up, we were down, essentially, we're flat. Today is Wednesday, September 5th.

Under oath, Sheryl Sandberg and Jack Dorsey get grilled about foreign influence on Facebook and Twitter.