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CNN NEWSROOM

At Least 70 People Killed In Dhaka Fire; Sources: Mueller Probe Could Wrap Up Next; U.K. To Revoke Citizenship Of ISIS Bride Shamima Begum; Muthana To The Guardian: I Made A Big Mistake; Former Members Can Help Prevent Radicalization; Unprecedented Meeting Amid New Sex Abuse Scandals; Testing NATO Troop Vulnerabilities; March 1 Deadline Looms over China-U.S. Trade Talks; Kim Purging Critics and Enemies from Regime; Actor Who Claimed Attack Now Faces Felony Charge. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired February 21, 2019 - 01:00   ET

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


[01:00:00] JOHN VAUSE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello everyone! Wherever you are around the world, thanks for joining us. I'm John Vause, and you're watching CNN NEWSROOM. Ahead this hour dozens are dead after a fast-moving fire swept through a centuries-old neighborhood of Bangladesh's capital. Many were trapped inside their homes unable to sleep.

Plus, after almost two years, multiple indictments, countless angry presidential tweets, and endless hours of cable news coverage, the Mueller investigation could be just days from coming to a close. But will the report be made public and what will it say about the Trump campaign and Russian collusion?

And the brides of ISIS left stranded and all alone. The young women who married into the terror group now pleading to return home but finding zero sympathy from the countries they left behind.

But first, to Bangladesh and a deadly fire the capital Dhaka which has already claimed at least 70 lives. A fast-moving fire became an inferno as it spread through a historic part of the capital. CNN Nikhil Kumar joins us now from New Delhi, our New Delhi Bureau Chief has more on this story. So Nikhil, what is the very latest we have are on the death toll and possibly the cause of the fire?

NIKHIL KUMAR, CNN NEW DELHI BUREAU CHIEF: So John, the full picture and all the details are still emerging, but what we know so far as you said at least 70 dead, at least 40 people injured in this blaze, this inferno that ripped through the old part of Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital. It began authorities tell us when late Wednesday night a gas cylinder that was stored in a car that was parked in the area, the cylinder exploded setting off this fire. It ripped through the area pretty rapidly taking in a restaurant and up to five buildings.

Two of the buildings were so badly damaged that there's concerns now about whether or not they will remain standing. Now, one of the buildings and this gives us some insight into why it became so big, so fast according to the authorities is that one of the buildings was a perfume warehouse. And inside they'd stored chemicals, plastics, other flammable material. And that sort of fed the fire, it became larger and larger.

The blaze has now been put out but as you say, at least 70 dead, 40 people in hospital. We don't have more information yet on the condition of those injured, but this is latest now. The latest in a series of blazes that have hit industrial areas in and around Dhaka. There was the Rana Plaza building collapse a few years ago before that in 2012, a fire in a textile factory on the outskirts of Dhaka would saw at least 117 people killed.

All those times, questions were asked about building safety, about regulations and whether they've been followed. And no doubt that will come once we know the full extent of the damage here. But right now the focus very much on making sure that more people aren't caught up in this, getting all the bodies out, and treating the injured who were in the hospital. John?

VAUSE: Nikhil, these neighborhoods that we're talking about in Dhaka has been described as being centuries old. The apartment buildings which caught fire, five in all at this stage were so close together there are reports they're actually touching at some point. I guess that explains you know, at least partly why the fire spreads so quickly. And also I guess it's an indication that the death toll we have right now is ultimately going to be much higher.

KUMAR: That's the concern, John. That's the concern. We're still waiting to see what happens with the debt toll. As I say, we don't yet know about the condition of the 40 people that we know about who are being treated for injuries. We don't know what stage they're in and you know what will happen -- what the doctors will tell us later.

So we're in touch with the authorities there. But as you say, this old part of Dhaka is very, very crowded, very dense. Dhaka, in general, is one of the most densely populated capitals in the world, and this part of the city is the most densely packed area in the city. But as I say one of the buildings, because it was a perfume warehouse, because chemicals were stored into it, that compounded this.

In addition to the fact that was already such a densely populated part of town, buildings packed together so closely, the fact that one of the buildings had chemicals stored in it, had plastic stored in it, flammable material, that just fed the fire and made it bigger. So we will wait to find out more from the authorities about the full extent of the damage and as you say, to get a full picture of how many people died as a result of this and how many were injured. John?

VAUSE: And you mentioned the fact there has been a series of fires and Bangladesh has a reputation for not exactly having the toughest standards when it comes to dealing with fire safety and prevention so that is another factor in all of this. Nikhil, thank you for the very latest. We appreciate that.

Well, Donald Trump calls it a witch hunt and a hoax now comes the moment of truth. Next week, Special Counsel Robert Mueller is expected to submit his final report in the Russia investigation. Sources tell CNN Attorney General Bill Barr will submit a summary to Congress. But the American people may never find out what's actually in the report.

Other investigations and there's plenty, they'll continue including those into the Trump Organization, the Trump Inaugural Committee and a whole lot more. CNN's Kaitlan Collins asked the president about the Special Counsel's report on Wednesday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[01:05:28] KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Should the Mueller report be released when you're abroad next week?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That'll be totally up to the new Attorney General. He's a tremendous man, a tremendous person who really respects this country and respects the Justice Department. So that'll be totally up to him, the new attorney -- the new attorney general. Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: Michael Genovese is the President of the Global Policy Institute at Loyola Marymount University and we're lucky to have him joining us from Los Angeles. Michael, good to see you.

MICHAEL GENOVESE, PRESIDENT, GLOBAL POLICY INSTITUTE AT LOYOLA MARYMOUNT UNIVERSITY: Good to see you, John.

VAUSE: These days it seems there are so many targets for the President's anger and his outrage so when he's playing nice with someone like Bill Barr, it's very obvious. And Barr, we should note it's on the record before Congress last month on whether the Mueller reports should be made public. This is what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL, UNITED STATES: I am going to make as much information available as I can consistent with the rules and regulations that are part of the special counsel regulations. I don't know what at the end of the day what will be releasable. I don't know what Bob Mueller is writing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: That sounds very official, almost definitive, all at the same time being vague and saying nothing at all. He's got a very wide latitude here.

GENOVESE: Well, the Attorney General is in a non-win position. He knows who his client is, his boss Donald Trump and yet he's made some vague promises. It's going to be critical choices for him. The less he releases, the more suspicion is going to be created. And so do you release everything and just let the chips fall where they may or what's more likely do you go through the process, redact certain things, it will take time but all that time will lead to more suspicions.

And so I think you know, he's in a no-win situation. It might almost be better for him to just release everything to Congress and then let Donald Trump tweet about him the next day.

VAUSE: Yes. My theory on all this, I have very little doubt the report will actually be made public because eventually it will get out there because if it's favorable to the president, then the White House will ensure it's released. If there is evidence of collusion and goes badly for the President, then Mueller will ensure it gets out one way or the other or Congress will make sure it gets out one way or the other.

GENOVESE: Well, you know, any way you slice this, Donald Trump is in trouble. It's a question of how much trouble. Is it big trouble meaning impeachment process, post-presidency indictment, who knows what that could lead to, or is it just political trouble. But there's no good out for the president.

He will claim victory no matter what but I think there are going to be things that are in that report that are at least at the very least embarrassing, many things probably illegal. How close they come to Donald Trump, that's what we have to wait and see.

VAUSE: You know, right now, we have next to no idea of what this report will actually look like. The actual regulation says that the conclusion of a special counsel's work he or she shall provide the Attorney General with a confidential report explaining the prosecution or declination decisions reached by the special counsel.

So you know, from that we can see the report is intended only for the Attorney General, not for Congress, especially not for the public because it's confidential. And as far as the final conclusion on that, you know, on that question -- on that question of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, I want you to listen to the former Director of National Intelligence who has a word of caution.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I think that the hope is that the Mueller investigation will clear the error on this issue once and for all. I'm really not sure a will and the investigation, when completed, could turn out to be quite anticlimactic and not draw a conclusion about that. Again, I don't know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: I do you think it's more likely there could be a lot of disappointed people whenever this report is done be it you know, next week, next month, next year.

GENOVESE: I think so partly because we're really at the end of only one stage in the process. There's so much more yet to come. There's Congress, there are different investigations such as the Southern District of New York. They're looking into the inauguration, the money trail which is the thing that Donald Trump apparently fears the most. They're looking into his foundation. They're looking into the Trump Organization. So this is just a phase in a process, a stage in the process and there's so much more that's going to be revealed, so many more investigations yet to come. So whatever Mr. Mueller releases, if we get to see it, it's only going to be the beginning of a long process.

VAUSE: Yes. And to that point, you've mentioned this that the next stage really is with Congress and what they decide to do about, what are they prepared to do? The issue though is that there has been more than enough evidence already put out there on the public record for the Democrat-controlled House to impeach the president.

You've forced him to stand trial before the Senate, you know, let him answer for the charges of high crimes and misdemeanors. They haven't done that. You know, so what happens next week? Does the Mueller report give them the political cover they need to finally begin impeachment proceedings?

[01:10:22] GENOVESE: Well, you know, as you said, the case against the President's already devastating. I mean, and I know we have to use the caveat for the 479th time he's innocent until proven guilty. But we keep saying that so many times that there's got to be something going on here. Congress, of course, the House would start first because the House would do the impeachment if there is one.

And while the Democrats have been very good about not advertising that what they want is impeachment, we all know that's what they want. They'd love to be able to start that process and really take Donald Trump down. The Senate, of course, would probably not unless it gets really -- unless what we find out is really devastatingly bad for the president. The Senate probably would never get two-thirds to convict.

But the House of Representatives might start the process, and as the process goes on you're going to have the Southern District of New York give its report perhaps. You'll have other indictments come down. You'll have the Trump money trail that's more exposed. So again a long process, even the Mueller report is not the end zone.

VAUSE: Yes. A lot of these guys are in the (INAUDIBLE) to argue the other side. I'm going to get back down to a more innocent time, a time when the president of the United States would blatantly lie and we have no idea just how outrageous the lies were. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you say whether you are aware that anyone who advised your campaign had contacts with Russia during the course of the election?

TRUMP: Well, I told you General Flynn obviously was dealing so that's one person but he was dealing as he should have been.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: During the election?

TRUMP: No. Nobody that I know of. Nobody --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So you're not aware of any contact during the course of the election?

TRUMP: Look, look, how many times do I have to answer this question?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you just say yes or no?

TRUMP: Russia is a ruse.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: 2017, I'm like you know, we now know so much. You know, what, 34 people charged, six of them Trump aides and associates pleading guilty. You know, we should note that the Americans have been charged. You know, they haven't been accused of conspiring with Russia, but you know, crimes like lying to the FBI and financial crimes.

Those charges are often the direct result of plea deals, you know. They plead to a lesser crime in return for cooperation. So you know, this has just been exposed so much of the dealings between Trump business, Trump campaign and the Trump administration, and Russia.

GENOVESE: And so many of the lies deal with Russia. So the question is why are you lying about Russia? Why do you need to lie? If everything's on the up-and-up, you don't need to lie. And so I think that's where this story really starts to get juicy that people lie for a reason. Why do you lie about Russia? Because there is a connection. The question is what kind of a connection? Is it Trump money connection? Is it collusion?

I mean, there's enough with the Donald Jr. meeting with the Russians in Trump tower which the president assisted in a false reporting about to really get you suspicious. So there's bit -- there are a lot of connections with Russia. Again, the President probably fears the money connection the most.

VAUSE: Yes. Follow the money. I have Watergate and Trump 2020 I guess. Michael, as always, thanks so much for being with us.

GENOVESE: Thank you, John.

VAUSE: A warning with echoes from the days of the Cold War from Russian President Vladimir Putin. His annual address to parliament he said if the West, the boy's nuclear missiles in Europe, Russia would target the West in particular but he called the decision-making centers not so veiled reference to Washington. It comes after the U.S. pulled out of a long-standing nuclear treaty leading Russia to do the same. Mr. Putin says his country really wants to be friends with the U.S.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through translator): In recent years, U.S. has been leading a policy that we cannot qualify as friendly. Russia is said to be the biggest threat for the U.S. I'll tell you directly, this is not true. Russia wants to have friendly relations with the U.S. Russia doesn't threaten anyone and all of our actions are only a retaliatory defensive nature.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: NATO called Mr. Putin's threat unacceptable. The U.S. State Department described it as Russian propaganda. Time check, just 36 days before the Brexit deadline and the British Prime Minister is still working to find some sort of agreement.

On Wednesday Theresa May met with the E.U. Commission President. Both say they had constructive talks. The Prime Minister says they agreed to find a solution to the Irish border which so far has been a problem without an answer and the main reason why her deal has been rejected by Parliament. The two officials plan to meet again before the end of the month.

The talks come after another dramatic day in Westminster. Three members of the Prime Minister's Conservative Party resigned over what they call the disastrous handling it Brexit and they'll stand as independents. They join a group of eight Labour MPs who also split from their party also over Brexit. Defectors say these moves could mark the start of a reshaping of British politics or maybe not.

Next on CNN NEWSROOM, sometimes you just can't go home again. And that's especially true for a teenage girl who married an ISIS. The British government plans to revoke her citizenship.

[01:15:12] And victims of predator priests, gather at the Vatican ahead of an unprecedented meeting there demanding zero tolerance for abusers and those who protect them.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAUSE: The British government has decided to revoke the citizenship of a teenager who ran away and married into ISIS in 2015. Shamima Begum is living in a Syrian refugee camp and wants to go back to the U.K. with her newborn son. CNN's Nina dos Santos, explains now why Britain is refusing to let her in.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NINA DOS SANTOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Shamima Begum shocked Britain when she skipped school four years ago to travel to Syria. A child who went to a war zone, returned to the public eye a young woman with a child but seemingly no regrets.

SHAMIMA BEGUM, ISIS BRIDE: Even though I was only 15 years old, I could make my own decisions back there. I do have to like mentality to make my own decision that I did leave on my own knowing that it was a risk.

DOS SANTOS: Found in a refugee camp last week by then-heavily pregnant and pleading to come home, Begum's apart lack of remorse appears to have underpinned the U.K.'s decision to strip her of her citizenship.

Since she was discovered she's given birth and granted multiple interviews during which she's add contentious points of view. Here she is seeming to justify the 2017 Manchester Arena attack, which claimed the lives of 22 concertgoers.

BEGUM: Women and children are being killed back in the Islamic State right now. And it's kind of retaliation. Like, their justification was that it was retaliation, so I thought, OK that is a fair justification.

DOS SANTOS: Its words like these that have alarmed the country and its lawmakers.

SAJID JAVID, HOME SECRETARY OF THE UNITED KINGDOM: The House will have also seen the comments of Shamima Begum and that she's made in the media and it will have to draw its own conclusions. Quite simply, if you backed terror, there must be consequences. ALEXANDER CARLILE, CROSSBENCH MEMBER OF THE HOUSE OF LORDS: I think

that there will be a mixed reception to this. But the vast majority I suspect of British people don't particularly want Miss Begum back in this country.

DOS SANTOS: Central to the U.K.'s decision is where the Begum has access to a second citizenship through her mother, from Bangladesh. Meaning, stripping her that British passport would not render her stateless.

However, a family representative told CNN, she did not have a Bangladeshi passport. And had never set foot in that country. Bangladesh, says that Begum's future is a matter for the U.K.

Some argue Britain has a duty of care. Begum they say is brainwashed and likely to be suffering from mental illness, after her time with ISIS, and following the death of her first two children when they were months old.

[01:20:18] EMILY WINTERBOTTOM, SENIOR RESEARCH FELLOW, NATIONAL SECURITY AND RESILIENCE PROGRAMME, RUSI: When she left, she was 15, so she was a minor. Obviously, she isn't anymore, she's now 19. And the experiences that she's had to overseas will need to be looked at.

DOS SANTOS: Less clear and more urgent is the fate of Begum's son. Born at the weekend while his mother was still a British citizen. Begum has the right to appeal against the decision to remove her citizenship.

On Twitter, her lawyer said, her family was disappointed and would consider mounting a legal challenge to the move. Nina dos Santos, CNN, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: And another ISIS bride, hoping to return home. In this case, to the U.S. State of Alabama has been told and frantically know and that came directly from the White House. President Trump tweeting, "I have instructed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and he fully agrees not to allow Hoda Muthana back into the country." But it's not entirely clear if Muthana holds U.S. citizenship in the first place. Hoda family spokesman claims, she was born in Bergen County, New Jersey in 1994. And tweeted a photo of what he said was a copy of her birth certificate.

The U.S. State Department told CNN, "Hoda Muthana was not born a U.S. citizen and she has never been a U.S. citizen. Miss Muthana's citizenship has not been revoked because she was never a U.S. citizen.

Almost everyone born in the U.S. are accorded a so-called a birthright citizenship. But the children of foreign diplomats are among the few exceptions. Muthana's father had served as a diplomat for Yemen but claims to have resigned from his post months before his daughter Hoda was born.

The family is planning a legal challenge over her citizenship status and all this is just another complicating factor in an already difficult and complex situation.

For more, Randy Blazak, chairman of the Oregon Coalition Against Hate Crimes and an expert in extremist -- extremism, I should say, joins us now from Portland. Randy, thank you for being with us.

RANDY BLAZAK, CHAIRMAN, OREGON COALITION AGAINST HATE CRIMES: Yes, my pleasure.

VAUSE: I want you to listen to how the British prime minister explained to Parliament the reasons why Shamima Begum in her citizenship was revoked.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THERESA MAY, PRIME MINISTER OF THE UNITED KINGDOM: But the overall point my honorable friend makes is absolutely right, which is how important it is for this government and this country to make very clear that we will take action against those who are involved in terrorism.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: Stripping citizenship for those who join ISIS has a significant level of support not just at the U.K., in Australia. Other countries, as well, is very popular with a lot of Trump voters in the U.S. that's why we saw the tweet. Initially, it was intended specifically to target those who fought on the front lines.

If it applies to all of those -- you know, involved in terrorism, that gives thing up in a very broad net here. And ones not about these women who become ISIS brides is this the type of sanction which is appropriate.

BLAZAK: Yes, and what we know now is that of those who go overseas with ISIS, 20 percent are female, usually very young female, and where you think young females. And leaving for reasons that aren't really going to be responsive to this type of sanction. I mean, the idea is to create a deterrent. You don't want to go to this fight abroad because you are to lose your citizenship. And that assumes people are thinking rationally, and we're talking about mostly teenagers here, we're caught in the web of online recruitment from these groups.

And so, the notion of losing the citizenship as a deterrence really doesn't have a lot of effect on the particular population that's targeted for recruitment by ISIS.

VAUSE: OK. I want you to listen to a part of an interview that Muthana gave to The Guardian newspaper. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HODA MUTHANA, ISIS BRIDE: I don't know. I thought I was doing things correctly for, for the sake of God. And when I came here and I saw everything with my own eyes, I realized that I made a big mistake. And I know I've ruined my future and my son's future, and I deeply, deeply regret it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: Is that so the typical progression first comes that motivation wanting to do something maybe better an atrocity, or an injustice? They get there, they join ISIS. Eventually, there is this realization of reality and then, regret?

BLAZAK: Yes, there's almost as (INAUDIBLE) of the fight in Syria that there is this war against Islam. And you know, some pretty horrific images of kids being bombed in Aleppo come across the Internet.

Through some very well done and well edited YouTube videos. And it creates a very simplistic world view that there is this sort of good versus evil fight. And the way to fight for good is to come overseas and join the cause. And then, of course, once they get there, it's not all roses and they're often promised a kind of lifestyle that's almost lavish and appealing to teenage girls in some of these cases that they live in a big mansion and they'll have a wonderful husband, and they'll be sort of a supporter of the caliphate.

But when they get there, of course, it's a very harsh reality. Including the fact that many of these women are sex trafficked as soon as they get there and are married off repeatedly, and are forced to follow their children as a way of keeping them trapped there.

So very quickly, that romantic vision that they have that drew them there in the first place is turned upside down and they're stuck in this nightmare reality.

[01:25:16] VAUSE: Yes. It's the British teenager Shamima Begum, she's been this sort of outspoken defender of ISIS. And for a time, Muthana, the woman who wants to go back to Alabama, she was, as well, especially on social media.

Again, I want you to listen to what is -- you know, a part of a report from CNN's Brian Todd.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Muthana's first two husbands, she says were killed in combat. After one of them died according to one group that monitors terrorists. Muthana started tweeting calls for violence against westerners.

In one tweet, saying, "Go on drive-bys and spill all of their blood, or rent a big truck and drive all over them."

SEAMUS HUGHES, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY PROGRAM ON EXTREMISM: Hoda was right in the mix for English language propagandist. She was a well-known commodity.

TODD: Muthana now says she wishes she could take those tweets back.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: So, you know that the U.K. teenager, Begum, she hasn't shown any remorse at this point. The -- in the U.S. case, the woman wants to go to Alabama. She has. So how important is it that you get to that point where they had this regret that they realize that -- you know, what they've done -- you know, is wrong and they want to make up for it.

And how is that important when it comes to sort of deprogramming these women knowing that they really are ready to -- you know, rejoin -- you know, in society.

BLAZAK: We both know that there's a natural process of deradicalization. And part of that deradicalization includes returning to a social support network including family and your community. And understanding how the world works in less simplistic ways. There's a lot of complexity in the conflict in the Middle East. And there is this sort of disengagement.

And the thing that we miss out here is we kind of try to push these young women away is what we know now is. But one of the best weapons we have against radicalization are former members of the Islamic movement. Former people from the battlefield or have been kind of caught up in the cause.

When they come out, they become some of the best weapons to prevent radicalization within their communities. And so, we risk missing the opportunity by preventing them from entering the country or becoming citizens to utilize their skills and their knowledge.

And I think that woman from Alabama is a perfect example of how we can have someone who's been there to talk to other people about the stark realities if they don't get in these ISIS recruitment videos. What it's really like to be there in Syria. And that's incredibly valuable. And I think we miss out if we don't take advantage of these women as resources.

VAUSE: OK. So that's one sort of part of you know, what's in it for the U.S. or what's in it for the U.K. Where -- you know, to bring these women back. I'm (INAUDIBLE) a former member of al Qaeda, now a British spy.

He spoke to CNN's Christiane Amanpour in another take on what is actually can be gained for bringing these woman back. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AIMEN DEAN, FORMER MEMBER, AL-QAEDA-TURNED BRITISH SPY: If Shamima wants the U.K. as a government, and as a country, as people. To take a risk for her, she must take a risk for the U.K. She need to open up. She need to provide the intelligence services with everything that happened.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: I'm just wondering, how much this woman actually know? Are they able to provide -- you know, significant intelligence on ISIS? As they seem to be sitting you a pretty high bar for who's allowed back and who's potentially not allowed backing.

BLAZAK: Right, right. I mean they're not close to the center of the leadership. They would never be allowed to be that close. But they do have ideas about field operations and recruitment techniques because they are the generation that's now being brought in. So, they can speak to that aspect. And that is some valuable intelligence.

And so, you know, it's so -- it's worth tapping into their knowledge as well as their experience to have a real meaningful way of confronting the problem of recruitment from abroad that is bringing young people to the Middle East.

VAUSE: But as an example of someone who's been there and come back and regrets it, that seems far more powerful of into intelligence they can bring to the table. Randy, were out of time but thank you.

BLAZAK: Thanks.

VAUSE: Next up on CNN NEWSROOM. Just how vulnerable are NATO troops to online scam from adversaries like Russia? The answer to that is, very. Details after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[01:31:41] JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

I'm John Vause with the headlines this hour.

At least 70 people have died after a fire raced through a historic part of Bangladesh's capital Dhaka. Crews spent hours battling the blaze in a historic neighborhood which is believed to have started when a fuel cylinder in a car exploded.

After almost two years and nearly 200 criminal counts, Robert Mueller's Russia investigation appears to be wrapping up. Sources tell CNN Attorney General Bill Barr will make the announcement as soon as next week. It's still not clear if any of the report will actually be made public.

In the coming hours, the Pope and the church hierarchy will talk openly about the issues they have been notoriously reluctant to even acknowledge. Questions like how many priests have sexually abused children? How many church officials have been involved in coverups.

For the next four days, the Vatican is hoping for what it calls reflection and discussion with survivors. But on Wednesday one group of abuse survivor were angry Pope never attended a meeting they had with senior church officials even though Francis was never scheduled to attend.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PETER SAUNDERS, SEX ABUSE SURVIVOR: And it would seem that the Pope once again is giving the two fingers to survivors and to child protection everywhere which I think is an absolute disgrace.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: For more on this, let's go to Los Angeles and CNN's religion commentator Father Edward Beck. Father Beck -- it's good to see you. It has been such a long time.

FATHER EDWARD BECK, CNN RELIGION COMMENTATOR: Yes, you too -- John. Miss you here.

VAUSE: Yes. Thank you very much. I miss being there.

We talked about this summit, you know, midway through last year when it was first announced. And since then it seems that there's been a sort of rising expectation that this would mark some turning point in the church. It will be a defining moment for Pope Francis. But instead what we've been seeing now from the Vatican is an attempt, you know, to try to manage expectations, to put it kindly.

BECK: Well John -- let's just remind our viewers of the enormity of what we're talking about. So we have 1.2 billion Catholics. You have 450,000 priests -- we're talking about globally now. You have over 5,000 bishops.

So you're talking about this universal church in every country and you're trying to gather this meeting of three days of the leaders of those bishop conference to come together with some kind of a resolution, some kind of policy and yet the enormity of it and the cultural distinctions.

I mean for example, say you're in a country like Saudi Arabia or Yemen where Christians are a minority. And a priest is accused of sexual abuse. So we have the ruling in the United States, it's turned over to the civil authorities.

Well, if the bishop in Saudi Arabia does that or Yemen, the sentence is death. Death penalty to that priest. So it's just a small example of the cultural differences. So to try to have a universal policy that governs all of this in every country that is the same, it is a really, really difficult task right now.

VAUSE: I just want to -- if you, you know, look at that meeting that we talked about in -- in the introduction. You know, these survivors, they were never planned -- it was never on the schedule of meeting with Pope Francis but they're mad that he didn't show up.

There was this expectation that Pope Francis would be there even if he's not meant to be there. That somehow he will fix everything. If he really truly wanted he would do it. And that's the expectation that so many people have.

[01:35:04] BECK: And it is a high expectation, John -- and I think somewhat unrealistic. We know that Pope Francis has met with abuse survivors wherever he's gone in these various countries recently. We know he is going to meet with them and they're going to be part of the prayer services in the meetings over the next three days.

So it's not like he won't be seeing and talking to survivors. It was just this initial meeting that the planning committee wanted to start by meeting with survivors to hear them and that they would be attentive to these concerns in the meeting.

It was never planned, as you said, for Pope Francis to be there. So I think the expectation was rather unrealistic. But I understand the pain. You want to hear from the lead person that they hear you and they're going to act.

And I think Pope Francis does hear it but perhaps they just felt like they wanted that personal interaction.

VAUSE: Yes. And it's entirely understandable. But you can, you know see it from -- I can definitely see this from both sides. They want him there when he was never meant to be there. People get disappointed because it doesn't turn out how they expect.

You know, the "Washington Post" though is reporting what it calls a divisive undercurrent during this gathering and it has to do with the issue of gay priests. Here's part of their reporting.

"No abuse and sexuality had been found to have no correlation according to widely accepted research, they have become intertwined on the ideological battlefield of the church and Catholics of all stripes have descended on Rome this week with some arguing that Pope Francis is overlooking homosexuality in diagnosing the root reason for abuse."

So there is Pope Francis and his allies on one side who see the issue of sexual abuse through the lens of corruption and clergy who believe they are somehow above everyone else and superior to all. And then you have the more hardline traditionalists who believe homosexuality is the root cause for the abuse.

Who wins this battle? And how will we know?

BECK: Well, certainly social science says that there's no correlation between homosexuality and sexual abuse. We know that most sexual abuse occurs in families. It is often heterosexual in abuse.

And yet with priests it seems to have been most of the occasions what with male, teen males but most say because that was the availability and perhaps the priest happened to be gay but that sex abuse is about power. It is about the abuse of power.

It is the issues you talked about, clericalism and the abuse ones stature. And so no social science that I have read, no psychologist says that there's a link between homosexuality and sexual abuse.

So I think it's a red herring. And you're right. I mean especially those on the right in the church are trying to say well if we got rid of gay priests -- well, I don't think that's the answer at all because heterosexual priests, heterosexual men, heterosexual teachers, we've seen people in Hollywood. They abuse too.

Abuse is about power. And certainly pedophilia is an illness. , a psychological illness. It has nothing to do with orientation.

VAUSE: Very quickly, almost out of time. But if the Pope doesn't move the church at least in the direction towards some serious reform is he in danger of being remembered for the style over substance. The Pontiff who said all the right things, knew the power of an image but ultimately his time as Pope lacks significant achievement?

BECK: Yes. I think this will be seen as a failure of this papacy if there's not real strong direction and action taken as a result.

Now, again, I think this three-day meeting can't do all of that. But it needs to set a direction, it needs to say to those bishops gathered, you now need to go back to your dioceses and you need to implement -- remember, there are countries right now -- Brazil, the biggest country, Catholic country still does not have policies in place. How can that be?

Well, they say it is not a Latin-American problem. We don't have it in the same way you do. Well guess what, those stories are still coming out. So this Pope has to say you do have it, you have to deal with it, and you have to deal with it expeditiously.

VAUSE: Yes. It is his biggest challenge. And we wait and see how he manages to come to terms with all of it. But, you know, at least he's doing something which no Pope has done before and that is a start.

Father Beck -- thank you.

BECK: Right. Good seeing you -- John.

VAUSE: A U.S. Coast Guard officer is accused of plotting a mass killing. According to court documents Christopher Paul Hassen was a white supremacist with extremist right-wing views.

He had a massive stockpile of weapons and had a hit list of potential including Democratic politicians and journalists including some who work at CNN. Computer records show Hassen had studied the belief and tactics of Norwegian domestic terrorist Anders Brevik who killed 71 people in 2011.

Among the challenges for NATO troops add social media accounts, disinformation, false allegations, an attempt to intimidate and not just from adversarial countries but it was all part of an experiment to determine NATO vulnerabilities.

CNN's Tom Foreman has details.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

[01:40:00] TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Crew (ph)positions and strength, their names, their friends and phone numbers. New reports suggest all were easily accessed through common social media apps during an unidentified NATO military exercise.

What's more, researchers wanted to know if troops could be tricked into leaving their positions, not fulfilling duties and some were lured into undesirable behavior.

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: The real life threat here, of course, first and foremost is the ability of opposing forces to be able to actually physically attack where they see people on a cell phone or on social media. That's the most imminent threat.

FOREMAN: How does the experiment work? Scouring news sources and official military web pages. The researchers targeted units involved in the NATOA exercise and through Facebook and Instagram accounts they identified individuals. Then through impersonation -- pretending to be a friendly group or real person, honey pot pages promising romantic or erotic contacts, fake closed groups and more.

The researchers entice the troops to shar information about their exact locations, their plans and objective. Researches collected posted photos of equipment and tapped into personal data, too.

Sure some social companies have stepped up their privacy measures and Facebook quickly shut down some of the tricks the researchers tried.

MARK ZUCKERBERG, CEO, FACEBOOK: You can turn off the data related to ads. You can choose not to share any content or control exactly who sees it.

FOREMAN: But the report notes massive amounts of meta data can be shared involuntarily by anyone carrying a smartphone. Troops likes, dislikes, activities, even fitness routines like running, stuff U.S. military researchers have long noted could put their entire family at risk by making them potential targets and would be advantageous to adversaries who were looking to kidnap or exploit U.S. military personnel.

It is not all just theory. Analysts say in Ukraine Russia used social media to track and influence opposing troop movements. In Iraq ISIS reportedly used it to monitor American troops. HALL: You've got young soldiers who are used to being online all the

time. You're giving up a wealth of tactical and strategic information.

FOREMAN (on camera) : Military forces around the world including in the U.S. have considered banning cell phones precisely because of this danger. So far, here the advantage of the troops being in touch with each other and family and friends have outweighed the risk but no doubt this report will reignite the debate.

Tom Foreman, CNN -- Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Next on CNN NEWSROOM.

Just days ahead of a second U.S.-North Korea summit. Kim Jong-un cleans house and by that we mean a ruthless purge of senior officials.

[01:42:45] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAUSE: Just a week now before the U.S. and China have to reach a deal before their trade war escalates. Two days of high level talks are set to begin a few hours from now in Washington. If they cannot reach an agreement by March 1st, U.S. tariffs on billions of dollars of Chinese products are set to jump to 25 percent.

CNN's Will Ripley following all of this very close, minute by minute from Hong Kong.

Ok. They say they're close to a deal, last week they weren't, they're far apart. What is happening now?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we'll find out in the coming hours when, you know, these meetings happen in D.C. You have China's vice premier Liu He. You have his U.S. counterpart, the U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, the U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.

Today and tomorrow they're going to be trying to hammer out, you know, an agreement, something in writing to reach a deal before this March 1st deadline that U.S. trade officials have repeatedly said is nonnegotiable.

I mean look at Lighthizer's own words when he was speaking to CBS in December saying quote, "As far as I'm concerned it is a hard deadline. When I talked to the President of the United States he is not talking about going beyond March.

Except he is talking about that. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I can't tell you exactly about timing, but the date is not a magical date. A lot of things can happen. (END VIDEO CLIP)

RIPLEY: So they had trade talks in Beijing last week. No deal. But they said they made progress on some of these thorny issues. The allegations of currency manipulation that China is deliberately devaluing the yuan to make Chinese goods artificially cheap. China -- they've already agreed to purchase U.S. Products to try to reduce this massive $375 billion trade deficit.

But John -- you know it really centers around the issue of tech. things like forced technology transfer, intellectual property rights, cyber theft. And you know, through all of this, the U.S. government now accusing and filing criminal charges against Huawei, accusing the company of spying, pressuring countries to ban Huawei from their 5G networks, arresting their CFO. It was a very complicated situation.

And sometimes there's optimism, sometimes there's pessimism. And until they actually sign a deal we don't know what is going to happen. That's why stock markets are kind of in a roller coaster as well. Currently up at the moment after President Trump said he might fudge the March 1st deadline just a bit.

VAUSE: Very quickly, any deal ultimately they can agree to what they want in those talks but it's going to be up to Trump and Xi to sign off -- right.

RIPLEY: That's right. And then they also have to talk about enforcement because you know, -- you lived and worked in Beijing. You know sometimes contracts are written and signed and then they're torn up when there's a better contract would come along.

So yes, there's still a lot of questions here about what substantially is going to come out of this. But the U.S. really digging in its heels because they know that of the two, even though the U.S. economy could hurt if this, you know, $200 billion in Chinese goods or tariffs of 25 percent china stands to lose a lot more.

VAUSE: Sometimes it happens. Happens a lot. Will -- good to see you.

There's an old saying in China-- kill the chicken, scare the monkeys -- essentially applies to killing a few senior officials as an example to make the rest fall in line due to fear.

Now it seems Kim Jong-un is doing just that in North Korea, just days before he meets the U.S. President for the second time.

We get more now from CNN's Brian Todd on what could be one of the most bloody purges Pyongyang has seen in years.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Just days ahead of his second summit with President Trump, new indications that North Korea's ruthless 35- year-old dictator is crushing anyone inside his regime who might get in the way of his ambitions as a statesman. A think-tank founded by North Korea defectors says Kim Jong-un has recently exiled, jailed or execute several officials who he suspected had opposed his diplomatic outreach to President Trump.

MICHAEL MADDEN, North Korea LEADERSHIP WATCH: And certainly as we've seen, there's been a couple of examples. North Korean officials have faced the firing squad under the Yale prince of (INAUDIBLE) issued a couple of check-ins to scare the monkeys.

TODD: The information comes in a new report from a group of defectors at the North Korea strategy center. That document obtained by the "Wall Street Journal" indicates that this round of Kim's purges is his deadliest since 2013. That's when he had his own uncle, Jang Soong Tek reportedly executed with an anti-aircraft gun.

The new report says this time around, Kim targeted some members of the North Korean guard command, the unit responsible for his own personal security.

PATRICK CRONIN, THE HUNDSON INSTITUDE: This is about coup prevention. You do not want people around you who might put a bullet in your head if you go down a path that you may embark on. Maybe he realizes there are this is people around him who not tolerate that kind of opening to the west.

TRUMP: Analyst Michael Madden Analyst who consults with U.S. intelligence agencies about North Korean tell CNN, one of the top people believed to have just been purged by Kim is North Korea's vice foreign minister -- Ham Seung-ryol (ph) who analysts believe could have been in prisoned or executed for espionage.

MADDEN: This is somebody that had channels to foreign countries. So if Kim Jong-un and senior North Korean officials are negotiating with the United States or negotiating with China about nuclear weapons, they do not need to have some sort of alternate back channel undermining those negotiations.

TODD: The new report says some officials were targeted by Kim for skimming money from the regime. Experts say this purges could be a signal from Kim to President Trump that the dictator is cleaning house, rooting out corruption from within to show the President he is serious about negotiations.

But they say the President should be wary.

CRONIN: President Trump has to ask himself, can Kim deliver denuclearization? Can he deliver even substantial steps toward denuclearization. Or does he have real opposition inside the party and the military around him.

TODD: But it does not seem that President Trump is heeding those concerns telling reporters that next week's summit with Kim probably won't be their last.

TRUMP: Chairman Kim and I have a very good relationship. I wouldn't be surprised to see something work out. TODD (on camera): But are the president or any members of his team

concerned about the purges by Kim Jong-un? And does the President he intend to talk to Kim about those moves when he meets with him face to face?

We reached out to the White House, the State Dept and U.S. Intelligence about that. None of them would comment on the alleged purges by Kim.

Brian Todd, CNN -- Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: From victim to suspect -- the week he said he was attacked, part of a hate crime. But now officials believe Jussie Smollett made it all up. What could be an empire of lies. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAUSE: The actor who claimed he was a victim of a racist, homophobic attack is now expected to be charged with filing a false police report, a felony.

Jussie Smollett is required to attend the bond hearing on Thursday. The actor from the television show, "Empire" stuck by his story despite the (INAUDIBLE). Late details now from CNN's Randi Kaye.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JUSSIE SMOLLETT, ACTOR: I gave the description as best as I could. You have to understand also that it's Chicago in winter. People can wear ski masks.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Actor Jussie Smollett explaining why he couldn't offer more details about his alleged attackers even though it now appears he may have known who they were all along and maybe even hired them to make it appear he was attacked.

CNN has learned that Chicago investigators are working to obtain Smollett's financial records if Smollett did pay the two men to orchestrate the attack, as law enforcement sources tell CNN, police now believe then the actor's financial records could provide proof of payment.

CNN law enforcement sources say the two men are cooperating fully and records show the men purchased the rope used in the attack at a Chicago hardware store. Neither of the men are still considered suspects.

Through his attorney, Smollett maintains he's still a victim.

(on camera): Still if it turns out that Smollett di make up the story about being attacked, CNN has confirmed it won't be the first time he's lied to law enforcement.

[01:54:55] Back in 2007 when he was pulled over for driving under the influence, he gave police his brother's name. He later pleaded no contest to providing false information to police.

Smollett also pleaded no contest to driving with a blood alcohol over the legal limit and driving without a valid driver's license. He got two years' probation and paid the fine.

All of this raises even more questions for police about this, a threatening letter sent to Smollett last month on the set of "Empire" just days before the alleged attack.

Notice, the envelope includes the word MAGA in place of the return address. Smollett had told police that he's alleged attackers also yelled MAGA at him -- a reference to President Trump's slogan. Make America great again. The message was cut from magazine clippings and including a six-figure drawing.

SMOLLETT: On the letter it had a stick figure hanging from the tree with a gun pointing towards it. With the words that said Smollett Just you will die (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

There was no address but the return address in big red, you know, like taps -- MAGA. Did I make that up, too.

KAYE: Chicago police say it also contained white power which they determined to be aspirin. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service tells CNN, that they are assisting both the FBI and Chicago police with their investigation of the letter. And that the letter is being analyzed at an FBI lab.

And yet, even with all the doubters and the growing questions about this bizarre attack, Jussie Smollett is standing by his story and hoping those he calls his attackers, pay for their crime.

SMOLLETT: I understand how difficult it will be to find them. But we've got to. I still want to believe with everything that is happening that they felt the call of justice.

KAYE: Randi Kaye, CNN -- New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM: I'm John Vause. Please stay with us. A lot more news after a very short break.

([01:57:00] COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. And welcome to our viewers joining us from all around the world.

END