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U.K. Charges Russian Spies in Nerve Agent Attack; Public Fury in Iraqi Oil Hub; Scallop Wars between England and France Over; Trump Insider Writes Stinging Editorial; Kavanaugh Faces Grilling on Capitol Hill; Strong Quake Latest Disaster to Hit Japan. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired September 6, 2018 - 00:00   ET

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


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NICK WATT, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): You are watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles.

Ahead this hour, another day, another bombshell about life inside the Trump White House. A senior official reportedly called the U.S. president "erratic and ill informed" and claims people within his own administration are working to undermine him.

Plus, Japan rocked by another natural disaster; a powerful earthquake sets off landslides, burying homes.

And Britain charges two Russians with the attempted murder of a former spy and his daughter. But the suspects may never see the inside of a court.

Hello and thanks for joining us. I'm Nick Watt and this is NEWSROOM L.A.

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WATT: Donald Trump on the defensive once again, this time against a blistering commentary in "The New York Times," written by someone the newspaper calls "an administration insider."

The anonymous author says he or she is part of the, quote, "resistance" working from the inside to protect the country from the president.

Mr. Trump responded to the op-ed on Twitter, saying, "Does the so- called senior administration official really exist? Or is it just the failing "New York Times" with another phony source?

If the gutless anonymous person does indeed exist, "The Times" must, for national security purposes, turn him or her over to the government at once."

CNN's Jeff Zeleny picks up our coverage.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): New signs tonight of a war within President Trump's White House. An anonymous op-ed in "The New York Times" written by a senior Trump official offers a blistering look at how people inside the government are trying to protect the nation from the president.

"We believe our first duty is to this country and the president continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic," the person writes.

"That is why many Trump appointees have vowed to do what we can to preserve our democratic institutions, while thwarting Mr. Trump's more misguided impulses until he is out of office."

An extraordinary claim and, tonight, the president is blasting the newspaper.

TRUMP: If the failing "New York Times" has an anonymous editorial -- can you believe it?

Anonymous. Meaning gutless, a gutless editorial. We're doing a great job.

ZELENY (voice-over): Yet it rocked the White House, amplifying and echoing the same overarching theme of a bombshell new book by Bob Woodward.

TRUMP: The book means nothing. It's a work of fiction.

ZELENY: President Trump tonight trying to downplay and discredit Bob Woodward's new book, which offers a portrait of deep dysfunction inside his White House. The president stumbling on one word again and again.

TRUMP: Fiction, fiction.

Fiction.

It is more fiction.

ZELENY: But behind the scenes, CNN has learned he's enraged and on a mission to find out who cooperated with Woodward for his book, "Fear: Trump in the White House."

It's his own West Wing witch hunt, with one official telling CNN, "He wants to know who talked to Woodward."

But now there's another mystery sure to outrage the president, the official who wrote this anonymously in "The Times."

"The dilemma, which he does not fully grasp, is that many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations."

The official, who insists they want Trump to succeed, also writes, "The root of the problem is the president's amorality. Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision-making."

The legendary "Washington Post" journalist of Watergate fame defending his book in five simple words: "I stand by my reporting."

In the president's first public comments about the book, he denied ever ordering or even considering the assassination of the Syrian leader, as Woodward reported.

TRUMP: That was never even contemplated, nor would it be contemplated.

ZELENY: Trump made clear he's trying to discredit Woodward, who he assailed on Twitter as a Dem operative.

TRUMP: If you look back at Woodward's past, he had the same problem with other presidents. He likes to get publicity, sell some books.

ZELENY: But the president once called Woodward great in 2013 after he wrote a book critical of the Obama administration.

Then, he came to Woodward's defense, tweeting, "Only the Obama White House can get away with attacking Bob Woodward."

And "The Post" released a recording of a call between Woodward and the president last month, saying this:

TRUMP: I think you have always been fair, but we will see what happens.

ZELENY: Inside the tense West Wing today, the president made clear he was keeping track of which current and former officials issued denials.

TRUMP: General Mattis has come out very, very strongly. He was insulted by the remarks that were attributed to him.

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ZELENY: In the book, Woodward writes Mattis said that the president had the understanding of a fifth or sixth grader during a discussion about North Korea. Mattis denied that account.

TRUMP: General John Kelly, the same exact thing. He saw it. He was insulted by what they said. He couldn't believe what they said.

ZELENY: And Kelly is portrayed describing the president as "unhinged" and "an idiot." He, too, denied it.

Yet there was notable silence from other former officials; White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, chief economic adviser Gary Cohn and staff secretary Rob Porter, all of whom were depicted in the book, trying to protect the nation from the president.

TRUMP: And "The New York Times" is failing. ZELENY: While the president also rails against it, he also cares deeply what's inside his old hometown newspaper. In Friday's edition, it will be this blistering assessment of his presidency from someone who works from him.

"From the White House to executive branch departments and agencies, senior officials will privately admit their daily disbelief at the commander in chief's comments and actions. Most are working to insulate their operations from his whims."

It is an extraordinary back-to-back blistering assessment of the president from someone inside his own government. Sarah Sanders saying this person should do the right thing and resign. She called the writer "a coward" -- Jeff Zeleny, CNN, the White House.

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WATT: I am joined now by Michael Genovese, the president of the Global Policy Institute at Loyola Marymount University, and Austin Dove, a criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor.

Guys, I want to concentrate on this op-ed in "The New York Times." I want to start by reading you a couple of quotes I felt stood out.

The first is that the president apparently "acts in a manner detrimental to the health of our republic."

Next up we have "The root of the problem is the president's amorality."

Then we have, "In public and in private President Trump shows a preference for autocrats and dictators such as President Vladimir Putin."

And finally, "President Trump's impulses are generally anti- democratic."

So we have this administration insider, claiming that the president of the land of the free and the home of the brave has anti-democratic impulses.

MICHAEL GENOVESE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it is a devastating smackdown of the president, not by the deep state that he's always criticizing but by someone he himself has chosen. This was an insider account. That's what makes it so devastating.

At the end of one of his tweets, he says turn over this person for treason or whatever. We don't do that in America. That's not done.

But the president is so obsessed with this, as you can understand, because of the one-two punch of the Woodward book, "Fear," and this. Put them together and it presents a devastating picture of a president who is dangerous to his own people if he's unleashed.

WATT: What's interesting is yesterday they fought back on the Woodward book. They had the various people who were quoted, come out and say, "I never said that."

Today, unless I'm missing something, I haven't seen the administration actually attacking the content of this op-ed but just the person who wrote it.

GENOVESE: That's because they are desperate to find out who it is and make an example of them, to punish them publicly, to humiliate them publicly, to basically say to everyone else, this is the fate that you will face if you turn on us.

WATT: And you mentioned this briefly.

But I want to pick this up with you, Austin.

The president tweeted tonight all caps, with a question mark at the end, "TREASON?"

AUSTIN DOVE, ATTORNEY: Yes. It is a far cry from treason really. If you think about it, at the commencement of employment in a federal capacity, when you take a job at the federal government, you take an oath to defend the Constitution.

And these same individuals have -- many of them spent their careers in public ,service working for the federal government, working for state governments, giving up all the sacrifices we all make for our job but then some.

And they believe in something fundamental. So this is where he's -- someone's -- they've reached a breaking point and they said, look, I can't do this anymore. To speak out about it at tremendous personal risk is really commensurate with --

(CROSSTALK)

DOVE: -- not treason, not treason. Fireable for sure because remember this is the -- you're an employee for the federal government. You work at the pleasure of the president.

But in the meantime, what he's done now is said there is enough of -- I want there to -- people to know that there are still people who are going to hold forth and not yield to the pressure.

This is a mutiny around the president, mutiny of loyalty, people being indicted left and right, falling like flies. So I think this kind of really emphasizes and underscores what is already happening.

WATT: OK, a mutiny; people falling like flies. I just want to play you John Kerry, who, of course, former secretary of state, former presidential candidate, a Democrat, who may have an axe to grind, may have a dog in this fight. But let's just listen to what he said to Anderson Cooper a couple of hours ago.

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JOHN KERRY (D), FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: We have a presidency which is off the rails. We have a president -- [00:10:00]

KELLY: -- who is not capable of doing the job, who clearly has these temper tantrums, doesn't know enough to be making many of the decisions he makes. This is a genuine constitutional crisis.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WATT: A genuine constitutional crisis, Michael?

GENOVESE: I think we're walking on that path. I don't think we're there yet. I think it is more of a political and personal crisis because you have got a president who is -- well, his own people are taking papers off of his desk so he won't sign them, saying it is for the good of the country.

And so --

(CROSSTALK)

WATT: -- isn't that a constitutional crisis when the president's own staff are not letting him govern?

I mean, whether you think he's doing a good job or not, that, to me, is a bad situation.

GENOVESE: Oh, it is a terrible situation for both the president and for the people around him.

The question is, when will it become a constitutional crisis?

That's when you take it to Congress or to the courts and then you have that clash. So I think right now it is the political crisis that's working within the White House. Congress is not getting involved at all.

The Republicans are basically enablers of the president. And a lot of people says, well, you know, in Watergate, there was bipartisan objection to Richard Nixon. But that bipartisanship only came at the 11th hour.

So it is still very early for the Republicans, who, right now, are enablers of the president. As long as they can get away with being enablers, they will. So that will not lead to --

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GENOVESE: -- a constitutional crisis.

WATT: One thing that did strike me in this, they claim -- this person, whoever wrote this, claims that there were whispers of the 25th Amendment, which is when the cabinet can basically vote to get rid of the president.

This person claims they didn't do that to avoid a constitutional crisis. To me this almost reads like a justification for the 25th Amendment. They are basically saying, yes, the president is off the reservation. He's nuts.

But the rest of us, we're unsung heroes. We're keeping the ship afloat. So if we invoke the 25th and we get rid of the president, we can still serve and Mike Pence can still become vice president (sic).

Is that what we're looking at here?

DOVE: I think that's pretty much what we're looking at. They have essentially -- it is really kind of equivalent to the way the president operates. He operates from a place of publicity, putting things out there. And most of the staff have to sort of stay in lockstep and not say anything at all.

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WATT: This is the stuff following him?

DOVE: Yes. This is an answer to that, the constant barrage of tweeting, the publicity, the comments we hear all the time. This is the answer to that, to say in "The New York Times" --

(CROSSTALK)

WATT: Coming the day after the Woodward book, were they in cahoots somehow?

DOVE: Well, I think this person was following the news as well. He saw the Woodward book and he said, this may be a time to make a big play as well because there is enough now out there to know that -- Woodward is an incredibly, you know, venerated journalist. He's been around for a long time. It's hard to say he's going to start lying at this time in his career.

WATT: These are two big hits in two days, the president, the White House scrambling.

We're doing to come back in a second to talk Kavanaugh because, today, there were more fireworks and pointed questions at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, as President Trump's pick to be the next Supreme Court justice faced a grilling on Capitol Hill.

And our own Phil Mattingly has more on that.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRETT KAVANAUGH, U.S. SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: No one is above the law in our constitutional system.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On day two of President Trump's Supreme Court nominee's confirmation hearings, the president himself taking center stage. Brett Kavanaugh citing precedence from past nominees, declining to weigh in, first, on whether presidents must comply with subpoenas.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIF.: Can a sitting president be required to respond to a subpoena? KAVANAUGH: So that's a hypothetical question about what would be an elaboration or a difference for U.S. v. Nixon's precise holding.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): And again on presidential pardons.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: President Trump claims he has an absolute right to pardon himself.

Does he?

KAVANAUGH: That's a hypothetical question that I can't begin to answer in this context as a sitting judge and as a nominee.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Some Democrats attacking Kavanaugh's credibility, questioning whether he knew if he had received strategy information stolen from Senate Democrats in 2003...

LEAHY: I am concerned because there is evidence that (INAUDIBLE) provided you with materials that were stolen from me. And that would contradict your prior testimony.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), S.C.: Did you ever knowingly participate in stealing anything from Senator Leahy or any other senator?

KAVANAUGH: No.

GRAHAM: Did you ever know that you were dealing with anything that was stolen property?

KAVANAUGH: No.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): -- and if he was truthful when he testified in 2006 about his Bush administration's detention policies.

KAVANAUGH: I was not read into that program. I told the truth --

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KAVANAUGH: -- about that.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Also facing questions on his views, settled law on abortion rights, with Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey...

KAVANAUGH: As a general proposition, I understand the important of the precedent set forth in Roe v. Wade.

MATTINGLY: -- an issue Democrats drilled down on repeatedly.

FEINSTEIN: I don't want to go back to those death tolls in this country. And I truly believe that women should be able to control their own reproductive systems within, obviously, some concern for a viable fetus.

KAVANAUGH: I don't live in a bubble. I understand. I live in the real world. I understand the importance of the issue. MATTINGLY (voice-over): Phil Mattingly, CNN, Capitol Hill.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WATT: And Michael and Austin are still with us.

Austin, I'm going to start with you. I mean, hours and hours of these hearings, a lot of sound and fury, signifying very little. He's going to be approved.

DOVE: For certain. He'll be approved. This is more of the process and posturing. It's almost like you could pick a top and spin it and say, no matter what way it comes up, by the lack of bipartisanship, in other words, the partisan nature of these hearings, one side going to give him softballs and let him wiggle off and the other side will try to grill him and he'll wiggle off of that, too.

So there's really now --

(CROSSTALK)

WATT: Is that normal in situation like this?

(CROSSTALK)

DOVE: He's citing the Ginsburg rule. He's basically saying I can say that anything I can't preview what a decision might be because that way that makes it -- that's unlawful or unbecoming for a sitting judge and a judge that's a candidate for -- or a potential candidate for this position to give it up.

So he's going to hold, you know, firm on that. He's not going to let --

WATT: But then as soon as he gets on that bench, we'll find out.

DOVE: The horse will be out of the gate. We'll see a whole lot of things that will probably be consistent with, remember, he's got a very long record in front of him. He's not going to change. We know who his heroes were in law. He's going to be very much toward those positions that he's shown before in writing.

In fact, some of them even more to the Right -- further to the Right than what other people on the bench are now.

WATT: Now two particular issues I want to get to. The first is President Trump. We keep on talking about the president because it is so often about the president.

Kavanaugh today would not be drawn on whether a president can pardon himself or whether the president would have to vow to a subpoena requesting him to testify in front of Mueller. He wouldn't give an answer on that.

What do you think his position might be? DOVE: I think his position would be probably in line with what the Trump administration to find very expedient. Really, though, it is a very difficult question to say, can a president pardon himself.

I think if you take the totality of what the constitutional interpretation is, you'd probably say the president cannot and should not be able to pardon himself because it is only after a very deliberative process that you would arrive there in the first place.

But whether -- if it would go up to -- if it were to make it to the Supreme Court and they were to analyze it, I think they would use a lot of parts of the way these decisions are made are to take pieces of precedent and say, we're not talking about the whole overall -- they'll use a technicality or some other end run around it. They won't speak to that issue that -- it'll make it so they don't have to.

WATT: And, Michael, quickly, briefly, at the end, politically, the biggest deal is going to be abortion, Roe v. Wade.

GENOVESE: That's right. And that's why the conservatives were so willing to come on board with Donald Trump to begin with. They want that overturned. That's their litmus test. It's the be-all and end- all for a lot of conservatives who otherwise would not have supported Trump.

WATT: Guys, thank you very much as always.

Moving on now to another natural disaster that has struck Japan. This time a strong earthquake, injuring dozens and causing widespread damage. We will have a live report from the region when we return.

And Kim Jong-un tells the South Korea that he is committed to getting rid of nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula but he wants something back from the United States.

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WATT: For a country that's already dealt with deadly floods, typhoons, heat waves and landslides this year, Japan cannot catch a break. Yet another natural disaster has struck. This one a 6.7 magnitude earthquake on the northern island of Hokkaido. At least two people have been killed and a number of homes buried by landslides. CNN's Alexandra Field joins us now from Hong Kong.

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Nick, this was in fact a powerful quake that rocked people in the middle of the night. They felt it last for 30 seconds. There have been a number of aftershocks. More aftershocks expected to continue until next week.

The quake has triggered landslides but no tsunami warning. There are more concerns about unstable buildings and potential building collapses. You have 20,000 emergency responders on the ground now, trying to deal with this crisis in the northern part of Japan.

That would include police officers, firefighters and the self-defense forces. They are looking to locate some 20 people who are still unaccounted for. They're using about 50 helicopters in the search and rescue process here.

Adding on top of all that, you have 3 million people in the dark with the electricity supply cut off. We understand that electricity has been cut off to a nuclear power plant. That plant is being run by generators, which are used to keep the spent fuel rods cool. They're saying no irregularities have been detected there. This is a plant that has not been in operation since after 2011, when Japan experienced a major earthquake, followed by a tsunami that triggered a nuclear crisis.

Japan has faced a very tough summer. This hit the northern part of Japan; it does come on the heels of a typhoon that slammed into the western part of Japan, just days ago. That the most powerful typhoon to make landfall in Japan in some 25 years. A lot of rescue efforts still underway in Japan this morning.

WATT: Thank you very much, Alexandra.

Now moving to North Korea, where leader Kim Jong-un apparently has unwavering trust for President Trump and wants to achieve denuclearization while Mr. Trump is still in office.

That news coming from South Korea's director of national security, who met with Mr. Kim on Wednesday in Pyongyang. And the two sides apparently also just agreed on a date for a third summit between the countries' leaders. Our Paula Hancocks joins us now from Seoul with more details.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Nick, we have that date now for the third inter-Korean summit, from the 18th to the 20th of September. This is when the South Korean president will be traveling to Pyongyang to meet once again with Kim Jong-un the North Korean leader.

We did hear from the national security chief. He actually met Kim Jong-un --

[00:25:00]

HANCOCKS: -- yesterday, on Wednesday, when he went for that one-day meeting to try to lay the groundwork for this summit.

He had some interesting things to say about how that meeting went. He said, as you pointed out there, that Kim Jong-un said he has unwavering trust for the President of the United States, even though he acknowledged there had been some difficulties.

He also pointed out that he was committed once again to denuclearization and he would take more active steps towards denuclearization as long as the United States had matching measures.

Now that's obviously the key, the fact that Kim Jong-un wants the United States to be moving in tandem with what North Korea is doing.

They said that, for example, the declaration of the end of the Korean War that ended in 1953 with an armistice, this is something that both North and South Korea really want.

Kim Jong-un mentioned that it wouldn't affect the U.S.-South Korean alliance or the 28,500 U.S. troops stationed on the Korean Peninsula. This is something that the U.S. appears to be dragging its feet on, though.

We've heard from Washington time and time again they want to see denuclearization before they start showing concessions and before they start lifting sanctions, for example.

So that shows the sticking point once again that Kim Jong-un wants these issues to be dealt with in tandem. He said he made advanced steps, destroying the nuclear test site at Punggye-ri, also shutting down an engine test site. He said these are goodwill gestures and he wants to see the same from the United States.

WATT: Paula in Seoul, thank you very much.

And next on NEWSROOM L.A., British authorities say they know who tried to kill a former Russian spy and even have the suspects on surveillance video.

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WATT: You are watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I'm Nick Watt and these are the headlines.

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WATT: The Russian embassy, in London, immediately dismissed the charges as "politicized public accusations." CNN's Phil Black explains this intriguing tale and the latest twist.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Two Russian men arrived at London's Gatwick Airport on March 2nd, their mission, according to Britain police, assassination. Investigators track 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 travelled to Salisbury, again.

Police believed soon after this image was captured, they sprayed the nerve agent, Novichok, on the front door of Sergei Skripal's home. That afternoon, Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, collapsed on a bench in the town center, critically ill.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're releasing these photographs --

BLACK: By that time, police say, the suspects had already travelled back to London, to board a Moscow-bound flight from Heathrow Airport. At that point, it's likely they felt the operation was a cleanly executed success.

But if so, they were wrong. The targets, Sergei and Yulia, survived. Police officer, Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, was also poisoned. He's recovering. But local woman, Dawn Sturgess, lost her life because of a plot that had nothing to do with her.

Months later, at the end of June, the 44-year-old mother of three, and her partner, Charlie Rowley, found what they thought was a small bottle of fancy perfume. Dawn sprayed it on her wrists. She collapsed that day. A week later, she died. Charlie Rowley also felt ill, but survived.

Police say the bottle and its packaging were clever things, used to smuggle and deploy the same nerve agent used against the Skripals.

NEIL BASU, ASSISTANT COMMISSIONER, COUNTER TERRORISM POLICE: We do not believe Dawn and Charlie were deliberately targeted, but became victims of the results of the recklessness, in which such a toxic nerve agent was disposed of.

BLACK: Police say the suspects were traveling on real Russian passports using the suspected aliases, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov. Britain's prime minister says a body of intelligence shows these men are members of Russia's military intelligence agency, the GRU.

THERESA MAY, PRIME MINISTER OF BRITAIN: The GRU It is a highly disciplined organization with a well-established chain of command. So this was not a rogue operation. It was almost certainly also approved outside the GRU, at a senior level of the Russian state.

BLACK: Police have not revealed the suspected motive behind any of this. And Russia has denied any involvement. But the GRU is also the Russian intelligence agency, Sergei Skripal, officially worked for, while he was spying for Britain, coincidence or proof? Russia's spies never forget or forgive a traitor.

Phil Black, CNN, Salisbury.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WATT: I am joined now from Telluride, Colorado by Bob Baer, who is a CNN Intelligence and Security Analyst and a former CIA operative. Bob, the alleged targets, the supposed victims survived and the assassins have been identified, doesn't sound like a great assassination attempt.

ROBERT BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: No. I mean, the GRU are sloppy. I talked to some ex-KGB guys today, who said they call them the boots, because they are so inept. They got caught in Qatar, assassinating a Chechen in 2004. Two of them were arrested. They left phone records. And clearly, these two assassins, whatever their true names are, in Britain, left records everywhere.

I mean, if you go into a town like Salisbury, a professional will find out where the cameras are and find a way to avoid them. They apparently did not make those preparations or didn't know how. At the end of the day, it was sloppy.

WATT: And Theresa May, the British prime minister, said today that this was ordered at a senior level of the Russian state. How senior?

BAER: I would say, Putin. You simply don't do this in Russia. There are no rogue elements in the Russian army that would carry this out, so we're talking about Putin. He authorized this, took the risk. Whether he looked at the details of the operation, we don't know. We'll never know. But he clearly -- that was in the Kremlin, that decision was made.

[00:35:01] WATT: And you say, took the risk. I mean, why take the risk? Why try and kill this former double agent on British soil? I mean, the political ramifications are obvious. Why take the risk?

BAER: It's a message. It's an internal message. We can get you anywhere at any time. You can run to Britain, you can run to the United States. We'll come get you. Using this nerve agent, Novichok, was a dead giveaway. They didn't care.

Just like going after a former Intel officer, Litvinenko, they used Polonium-210, they didn't care. It was traced back to a reactor. It's Putin's way of saying, I'm in control and don't cross me. He acts more like a mafia leader than he does a head of state.

WATT: And, I mean, what does happen now to British-Russian relations? I mean, do they just carry on?

BAER: Well, it depends on the United States. I mean, Trump, clearly should -- whatever Britain wants to do, we should back them up. But as we know, Trump is ambiguous about Putin. And so, it's going to play out in the days ahead.

But clearly, this is an unprecedented attack, fourth generation nerve agent, on a NATO ally, and, you know, what we do about this is going to depend -- you know, what Putin's going to do in the future. I mean, if he gets away with this, he'll keep doing it.

WATT: And, I mean, the Brits have, you know, released these pictures of the alleged suspects. What's the point? I mean, these men are never going to see the inside of a courtroom.

BAER: No. Just like the guys in Doha and Qatar. Once they were released, they went back. They were supposed to go to jail, they never did. They've gone back to Russia with a hero's welcome, they carried out the mission.

You know, whether their true names come out or not, they probably will, nothing is going to happen to them. You know, the only penalty they're going to pay, is they can't travel outside of Russia.

WATT: Bob Baer, thank you very much for your insights.

Now, moving on to Iraq, angry Iraqis say that they're not getting the government services that they deserve. Ahead, the fiery protests in oil rich plaza.

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WATT: Leaders from Russia, Turkey and Iran will meet in Tehran, Friday, to discuss the ominous situation in Idlib Province, Syria's last rebel stronghold. This Summit, probably, the last hope for avoiding a humanitarian catastrophe.

Syrian state media and an activist group said that air strikes, Wednesday, targeted the western and southern edges of Idlib, and a government defensive to retake the province is believed to be imminent. The U.N. says about three million civilians live in Idlib. And public anger in Iraq's southern oil hub is turning deadly.

[00:40:00] Activists say that Iraqi forces fired tear gas and live ammunition at demonstrators in a third day of protests in Basra. Then, Wedeman reports from the growing fury over apparent government neglect and corruption.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The southern Iraqi city of Basra is in revolt. Its residents fed up with crumbling infrastructure, high unemployment, contaminated drinking water that had sent hundreds to hospital and prolonged electricity cuts in a city that swelters in the summer. The protests also spurred on by anger endemic corruption and official incompetence.

So far this week, security forces have killed at least six protesters, dozens of others, including police, have been injured. The discontent here is even more intense since many of the troops that helped defeat ISIS, came from southern Iraq.

FADHIL QUSAY, PROTESTER (through translator): Is this the way they reward the people of Basra? Demands protester, by attacking with live ammunition?

WEDEMAN: Basra should be one of Iraq's wealthiest cities. It sits atop much of the country's oil wealth. But little of that wealth has been felt by the residents of this, Iraq's third largest city. The caretaker government in Baghdad, already paralyzed, since an inconclusive election more than four months ago, has promised to address Basra's problems.

But so far, only promises have reached the city. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has called for an immediate investigation into the killing of protesters, but he's also blaming the unrest on unnamed troublemakers.

HAIDER AL-ABADI, PRIME MINISTER OF IRAQ (through translator): There are parties that are pouring oil on the fire, who are setting people against the security forces to jeopardize Basra's security, a body told reporters in Baghdad, Tuesday.

Basra's many woes are fuel enough, for this fire. Ben Wedeman, CNN, Beirut.

WATT: And finally, the scallop wars appear to be over. A compromise between French and British fishermen fighting over the shellfish was announced, Wednesday. The dispute came to a head last week off the Normandy coast when French and British boats rammed each other.

The French can fish legally for scallops only seven months a year, and they accused the U.K. of unfair competition because the British boats can harvest the meaty mollusks all year long. The new agreement restricts scallop fishing to certain sized vessels, and apparently, other details will be hammered out on Friday.

Thanks for watching CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles, I'm Nick Watt. "WORLD SPORT" starts after the break.

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