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PM Jacinda Ardern Faces Toughest Challenge Yet; Trump Facing Criticism for Remarks after Mosque Attacks; Fighting Continues as U.S.-Backed Forces Clash with ISIS; Tropical Cyclone Strikes Southern Africa; NZ Prime Minister Speaks On Gun Control After Attacks; New Zealand Mourns 50 Kikked In Terror Attack; Victims' Families Struggling To Find Closure; New Details On Drone Attack Aimed At Venezuelan President; Videos Show Venezuelan Potters Practicing Drone Attack. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired March 18, 2019 - 01:00   ET



[01:00:00] ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Families of the 50 people killed in New Zealand's terror attack prepare to bury their loved ones as the Prime Minister meets with her cabinet and agrees tougher gun laws.

Officials save black box data from the doomed Ethiopian Airlines flight show similarities to last year's deadly Lion Air crash. And CNN talks exclusively with one of the men behind the attempted assassination by drone of the Venezuelan president and claims he discussed the attack with U.S. officials.

Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us from all around the world. I'm Rosemary Church and this is CNN NEWSROOM

New Zealand's Prime Minister says the time for tougher gun control has come Jacinda Ardern just wrapped up a news conference in which he promised the country's cabinet has agreed on those tougher gun laws in principle. The Prime Minister compared their action to the 1996 mass shooting in Australia that prompted tougher gun laws there. Listen.


JACINDA ARDERN, PRIME MINISTER, NEW ZEALAND: I want also acknowledged you know, when Australia found itself tragically in a similar position to what we find ourselves now, they took 12 days to make the decision. We have taken 72 hours. There is -- there's still some detail that needs to be worked through. I want to do that but still move as quickly as we can.


CHURCH: Now, this follows Friday's attacks to two Christchurch mosques that left 50 people dead. Officials have begun the grim task of identifying and releasing the victims' bodies to families, a process that is expected to be finished by Wednesday. Meanwhile, the investigation into the attacks are spread to Australia.

Police there have raided two homes in New South Wales as part of the shooting investigation. CNN affiliate Seven News reports one of the homes is believed to belong to suspect Brenton Tarrant's sister. Tarrant remains in jail at this time. His next court appearance is April 5th. His grandmother gave her reaction to the tragedy to our Australian affiliate Nine News.


MARIE FITZGERALD, GRANDMOTHER OF BRENTON TARRANT: We're all gobsmacked. We don't know what to think. It's -- you know, the media is saying he's planned it for a long time so he's obviously not of sound mind. I don't think.


CHURCH: Prime Minister Ardern and the governor-general of New Zealand signed a public condolence book. The Prime Minister wrote this. On behalf of all New Zealanders, we grieve together. We are one. They are us.

So let's bring in Ivan Watson who joins us from the memorial at the Botanical Gardens in Christchurch. And Ivan, Prime Minister Ardern is sending a clear message of unity and support for diversity which sets her apart from other world leaders. And now in the wake of these attacks, she is tackling gun control head-on.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. She made it very clear at the beginning that this was an act of terror and that there would be new legislation to manage the use of -- and sale of guns in this country. We have yet to hear the specifics about this.

According to the New Zealand police's statistics, they're about one in four guns in this relatively small country of just under five million people. And we are expected to hear more about that in about ten days according to her most recent statements.

The shows of support the kind of profound sorrow that -- and shock that people are sharing here in Christchurch, we still see that here at the botanical gardens where people continue to come and lay flowers. It is not unusual amid the silent procession to see people with tears on their faces.

We've learned more about victims for example. One of the 50 people killed on Friday in the two mosques that were attacked was an imam, a Muslim Imam from Fiji. Also, the government of Pakistan has said that among its nine citizens that were killed on that dark day, three of them will be repatriated, six buried here in New Zealand.

The families are waiting still in anguish for the return of the bodies of their loved ones. A process that has frankly been quite complicated and difficult for the authorities here. They've had to push back the expected time that they could hand over these bodies as they continue to conduct their investigation and the identification of the victims of the most deadly terror attack in modern New Zealand history.

The police commissioner has just been speaking about this saying that he believes that this was the work of one gunman. Let's take a listen to an excerpt of what he just had to say.


[01:05:17] MIKE BUSH, COMMISSIONER, NEW ZEALAND POLICE: I want to definitely state that we believe that there was only one attacker responsible for this horrendous event. There were two scenes as you know. And again I would like to state that we believe absolutely there was only one attacker responsible.


WATSON: One attacker who is now facing murder charges and probably will face more as the authorities have said. Now, again, this has been a profound moment for residents of Christchurch, residents of New Zealand as well. And I'm joined by a family here. My condolences to all of you. This is the James family. And thank you for taking the time to speak with me.

Let me get the names right. It's Stacie, and Sam, and Becky, and this is Cookie right here, right? Why did you guys decide to come down here today as a family?

STACEY JAMES, RESIDENT, CHRISTCHURCH: We came down here to pay our respects to the people that have lost their lives and just join them with the rest of our community and showing our support and I'm sympathy for the families that have lost people in this attack or have been injured.

WATSON: You guys who were in school on Friday when this happened, so you were probably under lockdown right? What was that like?

SAM JAMES, RESIDENT, CHRISTCHURCH: No one quite knew what was happening at the start and there was a bit of confusion because there was -- some teachers thought that there was someone in the school. And so we were all told that we had to be silent and there was no lights on or anything. We just had to sit under this for a while. And we still weren't allowed to talk.

I think my school was in there for five hours or just over five hours. We weren't allowed to talk or anything. We just had to whisper.

WATSON: In silence for five hours. And I understand the Al Noor mosque is quite close to your house, that you walk cookie by there. Did you ever interact with the people who worshiped there before?

STACEY JAMES: I never had any idea that many people could go in there. From the outside, it doesn't look that huge. So the times I've walked past see with the dog which is most days, I've never really seen anyone coming or going. Obviously, I've not been passed on Friday which is the main day of worship, but I have no idea it held so many people.

WATSON: What do you tell your daughters after something as terrifying as this takes place in your hometown?

STACEY JAMES: Firstly that the offender was caught very quickly by the New Zealand place and we're also thankful and proud of them and that they're OK, they're safe, and they were in one of the safest places they could ever be as in school because our teachers and Cantabria especially are fantastic and they've looked after them really well. And just that it's something that shouldn't have happened but we're OK and we're lucky but these other people aren't. It's just incredibly sad.

WATSON: What did you think taking a look at some of the flowers here, some of the messages here?

BECKY JAMES, RESIDENT, CHRISTCHURCH: Personally, I thought it was touching. And the fact that people have gone out and gotten the flowers is quite nice of them even if their family is all safe and nothing's happened to their family.

WATSON: Some of the people who were victims were children, basically your age. Is there anything you'd like to say to their families and to other kids out there?

SAM JAMES: It's really horrible that they didn't get a chance to learn as much or grow as much as they could have if this hadn't happened. And anyone who's been -- who's been affected by it, I'm really sorry it's happened.

WATSON: And can you tell me -- the government is planning to change the gun laws in this country as a result of that. How do you feel about that? What changes would you like to see made?

STACEY JAMES: I thought we had some of the strictest gun laws in the world and I'm sure we do. I just can't understand myself how he had access to automatic weapons though. I didn't think that they were able to be owned by people in the community. I didn't know that. And I was amazed by the amount of firearms that he had. Any stricter gun control has got to make it a safer place so we'd be all for it definitely.

WATSON: Sadly, I come from the U.S. and we have scenes like this far too often. Flowers, tears, tributes, and innocent people killed after these types of massacres. I imagine you never thought that this could come to a place like New Zealand, right?

STACEY JAMES: Definitely not. I mean, we've seen things happen in Melbourne over the last few years. We hear about things happening overseas a long way away and I never ever thought I'd see anything like this in New Zealand ever, and I hope I never see it again.

WATSON: Girls, anything you'd like to say to Muslims here in New Zealand after this attack?

[01:10:02] SAM JAMES: These -- it shouldn't have happened. It shouldn't have happened anywhere especially in New Zealand. We thought that we were safe but it's the fact that -- it's just horrible. I don't know how -- I don't know how to say it. It's just horrible.

WATSON: OK. Well, my condolences to you and thank you for taking the time to speak with us and cookie for being so well-behaved. So that is Sam -- Stacey, Sam, and Becky James, as well as little Cookie there, just giving you a sense of the still the profound shock that people are feeling here in the wake of this attack. And this is a discussion that people are having all over this country.

As a local newspaper here put it on its front page over the weekend, innocence lost in this country of New Zealand in the wake of this deadly terror attack. Rosemary, back to you at CNN Center.

CHURCH: Yes. Exactly right, Ivan. It was the last bastion of peace and innocence and it has been shattered as a result of this. Many thanks to you, Ivan. And in his hate-filled manifesto, shooting suspect Brenton Tarrant in town acknowledges his attitudes changed after traveling the world.

Now investigators want to know what exactly he learned during those travels. Arwa Damon has the details.


ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Brenton Tarrant was quite well traveled especially in the years leading up to his despicable massacre in Christchurch. He had gone to Egypt, Greece, made several trips to different Balkan countries. He also went to Bulgaria, came here to Turkey on one occasion for up to 43 days, and also went to Pakistan in October of 2018 where the owner of one of the hotels describes him as being just a normal tourist.

What investigators in these different countries are now going to be trying to determine is whether or not these trips were part of perhaps a normal curiosity to travel the world or if already at the time there was a more ominous intent. He did display a level of interest in the history but especially the decline of the Ottoman Empire.

And in his hate-filled manifesto, he says that it was during his travels especially to Europe back in 2017 where he says his perspective began to change following the attack that took place in Stockholm where a man who claimed affiliation to ISIS plowed a truck into a street filled with shoppers.

There has continued to be widespread condemnation of this attack. Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan blaming specifically on the Islamophobia calling on all countries but especially Western countries to do their part. But at the same time, Turkey's president seems to already be politicizing this horrific attack.

At political rallies over the weekend, the president aired clips from the attacker's videos that had images of the victims blurred but showed the attack being carried out none the less.

Now, it is worth noting that Turkey itself has very strict laws when it comes to broadcasting the aftermath of terrorist attacks that do take place on its own soil. This is presumably going to cause more fallout in tensions between Turkey, New Zealand, and perhaps other countries as well just days after the world is still reeling from this horrific massacre. Arwa Damon CNN Istanbul.


CHURCH: And we turn now to another story we're following very closely. The Ethiopian Airlines crash that killed 157 people has revealed similarities to October's Lion Air crash based on early analysis of the black boxes. Ethiopia's Transport Minister says investigators have recovered all relevant data but still have more evidence to analyze and will release a preliminary report within a month.

Some experts suspect the crash was caused by a sensor transmitting incorrect data forcing the plane's nose down. Boeing which builds these 737 max eights involved in both crashes released a new statement saying this. "Boeing continues to support the investigation and is working with the authorities to evaluate new information as it becomes available. Safety is our highest priority as we design, build, and support our airplanes."

Now, you will recall Boeing 737 Max 8 has been grounded across the globe out of an abundance of caution. And now according to a report in The Wall Street Journal, the U.S. Transportation Department Inspector General's Office is investigating why the Federal Aviation Administration allowed this fleet to fly as long as it did.

[01:15:00] The report says the Inspector General's Office is focusing on a safety system implicated in the Lion Air crash according to a government official. Requests for comment by CNN have not been returned. But the FAA says, "The aircraft certification processes are well established and have consistently produced safe aircraft designs. The 737 MAX certification program followed the FAA standard certification process.

Well, meantime, more troubling news for the victims, relatives, and loved ones. Ethiopia's transport minister says it could take up to six months to identify the victims from the plane crash. She says DNA samples are being collected from relatives to help identify the remains.

And it's likely that some of the remains may never be identified due to the intensity of that crash. Here's Farai Sevenzo with more on the heartbreaking recovery efforts.

[01:15:54] FARAI SEVENZO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: When grief struck, Flight 302 out of Addis Ababa last Sunday, none of the families had any idea of the pulverizing effects of the impact when that plane crashed at the moment a week on from that tragedy.

Families from Kenya were lost, 32 people. Have been traveling to Addis Ababa in the hope of some kind of closure. But, of course, that was not to be. Because those who are looking for the remains of their loved ones did not find them. It would take -- the authorities has say, up to six months for DNA tests to be done on what it is that they can find. In addition to that, there was several people who were offered soil in the absence of their loved one's bodies, and others who flatly refused to take anything and preferred to mourn in absentia and to find their closure in that way.

At the moment, several families were flown over from Kenya in different parts of this country to Addis Ababa, have all been slowly returning home. But, of course, this doesn't quite close. Their enormous grief. What do you do when the body of your loved one cannot be found?

Now, the Kenyans are starting to realize of what had happened last Sunday needs some other way to close. Farai Sevenzo, CNN, Nairobi.

CHURCH: And we'll be back in just a moment.


[01:19:38] PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN INTERNATIONAL METEOROLOGIST: (INAUDIBLE) quiet pattern across portions of North America, we'll take this at this point with the last few days of winter upon us. High pressure large and in charge across areas of the Midwest, milder temperatures in store. A few showers possible off the eastern seaboard but that is about it here.

When you take a look at what is expected to fall over the next three days as light as rainfall gets here across places such as Kansas City back around Albuquerque, New Mexico, parts of Northern California, and that is about it.

San Francisco, up to 21 degrees, sunny skies for your Monday. Vancouver even enjoying plenty of sunshine into the middle teens there. Chicago at six, and that's an area we're going to watch carefully because over the next seven days, this cold air here lifts almost in its entirety and milder air begins to come in exactly in time for the spring equinox that would be on Wednesday.

And look at New York City. Eight. Eventually, up to 18 degrees come the first weekend of spring. The timing could not be any better and our friends in Chicago have dealt a tremendous cold in parts of this winter and they climb out of it just like that into the middle teens.

And even Atlanta, Georgia, introduces the 20s back into the forecast exactly in time for the first weekend of the season. So, very nice perspective across that region. But notice into the Gulf we are watching a few showers, a few thunderstorms working their way towards areas of South Florida as we shift the attention towards the South.

Havana cloudy skies, Nassau into the Bahamas upper 20s, and a few showers possible there. And we thank you farther towards the south, Manaus highs around 32 degrees.

CHURCH: The dangerous and volatile standoff between Venezuela's sitting president, Nicolas Maduro and the president of the National Assembly Juan Guaido, nearly didn't happen. And that is because Mr. Maduro was targeted in a drone attack in August. Videos provided to CNN apparently show the attack was carried out by commercial devices that were bought online and prepared over weeks by army defectors.

One of the organizers claims he met with U.S. officials after the attack. But the U.S. has declined to comment on that. The plot ultimately failed but it could have killed dozens of civilians. Nick Paton Walsh has this exclusive report from neighboring Colombia.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They thought it was fireworks first, but it was a drone bomb. A brazen assassination attempt against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The first bid, to kill a world leader with commercial drone technology bought online. It could have killed everyone on the stage, or dozens of civilians nearby if it missed.

The crowd scattered and Venezuelans began to wonder, what really happened? Was it a fake? Even now, the opposition leader Juan Guaido told CNN, he condemned the attack and thinks Maduro staged it to get sympathy.

"It ends up making them look like victims," he says. "I think this was something internal done by the government." And said, "definitely no such options are not good."

CNN has tracked down one of the apparent organizers of the attack who supplied these videos seen here for the first time to prove his role in what he claims was a genuine assassination attempt.

Why did you plot to kill Nicolas Maduro? It's a peaceful protest movement. Why did you think an assassination plot was necessary?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We have tried every peaceful and democratic way to bring an end to this tyranny that dresses itself as democracy. We have friends who are in custody, tortured. This was a hard decision.

WALSH: Were you not worried about potentially killing innocent people flying a drone with that much explosive straight at the crowd?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was the risk we had to take. We care about that. As the Venezuelan people are always the ones feeling the consequences.

WALSH: The drones they say were purchased online in the United States and brought over six months ago to this rented farmhouse somewhere in Colombia. We aren't showing you the details of how they say they made the bomb here, but they blew one up in a test. And in the remote countryside, they practice the tricky bit.

Flying the drones high enough to not be seen and then down at a steep and fast enough angle to hit their target, a garden tent here. They even try it at night, in case that's when their chance to strike comes.

Later, they say they dismantled the device to sneak it into Venezuela. Their videos show it being reassembled and then ready hours before the attack.

A presentation days after the attack by Venezuela's interior minister, confirms part of the attacker's story, including the path of the drones which both detonated prematurely. The cell signal blockers that protects Maduro from attack had been switched off, the organizer said. But suddenly came back on forting the attack.

The U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton, the morning afterthought it might have been faked.

JOHN BOLTON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR OF THE UNITED STATES: A pretext set up by the Maduro regime itself to something else.

WALSH: But U.S. officials briefed on the intelligence have since concluded the attack was a genuine attempt gone wrong. And separately, the organizer said, he met with several U.S. officials three times after the attack.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: After, they set up three meetings which I imagine were to collect information to study the case. But it didn't go past that.

WALSH: And that they offer to help you try something like this again? Or were these meetings just about them finding out more about you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think, both. They wanted to get information and then, we asked for things in return. They took notes on this, and we asked if they would be able to help. Then, they simply left with their notes. And they never appeared again.

[01:25:11] WALSH: CNN could not find proof these alleged meetings happened. A State Department spokesperson would not comment on the claim, but to say, "Our policy is to support a peaceful transition in Venezuela."

Venezuelan officials said the plot which shook their capital was assisted by Colombia and the U.S. which both have denied. It unveiled a blend of lethality and ingenuity using technology that's terrifyingly simple to get.

Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, Bogota, Colombia.


CHURCH: Well, the fallout from Donald Trump's remarks on white nationalism continues. The White House is defending the president's comments. But critics say he should have done more to condemn the ideology. We're back with that in just a moment.


CHURCH: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Rosemary Church, want to check the headlines for you this hour. Similarities between the deadly Ethiopian Airlines crash and October's Lion Air crash have been found, based on early analysis of the black boxes. Ethiopia's transport minister, says they have recovered all relevant data. Some experts suspect the crash was caused by a sensor transmitting incorrect data forcing the plane's nose down.

[01:29:46] ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: It's official. U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is running for president. The Democrat from New York is one of six women and six senators to enter the already crowded field of challengers who hope to defeat Donald Trump in 2020.

Gillibrand declared her candidacy with a video titled "Brave Wins".

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says her government will soon announce details on a new gun restriction proposal. She held a news conference Monday after meeting with her cabinet to discuss gun policy.

Meanwhile the memorials are growing in Christchurch as mourners gather to honor the 50 people killed in Friday's mosque shootings.

Well, Jacinda Ardern has come a long way in a relatively short time as prime minister and is now confronting the challenges facing New Zealand head on.

CNN's Kristie Lu Stout reports.


KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Jacinda Ardern burst onto the international political scene in 2017, becoming New Zealand's youngest prime minister in 150 years. She emerged as a symbol for progressive politics, pushing the envelope time and again. Thirty-seven at the time, she became only the second leader in the world to give birth while in office.

Ardern now faces her toughest challenge, the worst massacre in the island nation's modern history. At least 50 people killed and 50 wounded in a terror attack at two different mosques in Christchurch.

JACINDA ARDERN, PRIME MINISTER OF NEW ZEALAND: What I can say is that it is clear that this is one of New Zealand darkest days.

STOUT: On the day of the attack Ardern was quick to tell the country that New Zealand will never become the center for harboring hatred.

ARDERN: For those of you watching at home today and questioning how this happened here, we New Zealand, we were not a target because we are a safe harbor for those who hate, we were not chosen for this act of violence because we condone racism, because we are an enclave for extremism. We were chosen for the very fact that we are none of these things.

STOUT: She made the promise to change the nations gun laws in the aftermath of this horrific attack.

ARDERN: I can tell you one thing right now our gun laws will change. There have been attempts to change our laws in 2005, 2012, and after an inquiry in 2017. Now is the time for change.

STOUT: After speaking to the nation the Prime Minister joined mourners in Wellington to console families in grief. She later laid a wreath at a mosque.

Ardern flew to Christchurch on Saturday to meet with the victims -- families and Muslim leaders looking sorrowful, wearing a black dress and head scarf out of respect, Ardern showed full support to the Muslim community in Christchurch.

ARDERN: This is not New Zealand. The only part of the incident and actions that we have seen in the past 24 -- 36 hours that is New Zealand, is the support that you are seeing now. But nothing that led up to it is who we or as we have seen (INAUDIBLE). This act of terror was brought to our shores and rained down upon us here.

STOUT: While perhaps this nightmare will never be over for dozens of families who lost oved ones, Prime Minister Ardern's promise to make changes to gun laws is perhaps one thing that would give a mourning nation some degree of hope.

Kristie Lu Stout, CNN -- Christchurch, New Zealand


CHURCH: Now meanwhile, the White House is defending U.S. President Donald Trump over his remarks following the attacks in New Zealand. On Friday he downplayed the global threat of white nationalists suggesting the racist group is too small to be dangerous.

Mr. Trump has since turned to Twitter to attack his critics.

Meantime Senator Elizabeth Warren compared white nationalism to ISIS and al Qaeda.


SENATOR Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's going to take acknowledging what a terrible problem white nationalism is and how it is a threat to the safety and security of the United States in the same way that ISIS and al Qaeda terrorism pose a threat to U.S., so does the rise of white nationalism.

And leadership starts at the top. It is important to call it out and then to use the Justice Department to fight back hard against it.


CHURCH: CNN's Boris Sanchez has more now from the White House


BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Critics of the President charge that the White House has not had a strong response to the attack we saw last week in New Zealand. Some saying that the New Zealand should use the energy that he uses to attack Democrats and the press and others on Twitter to attack white supremacists.

The President last year made a remark that suggested he did not believe that white supremacy and white supremacist groups were on the rise around the world. Something refuted by evidence.

[01:35:04] The acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney laughed left at a question in a frustrated way about whether the President would come out more vociferously against white supremacy. Listen to what he said.


MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: The President's absolutely briefed on all of these threats -- both domestic and international. But I want to push back against this idea that every time something bad happens everywhere around the world, folks who don't like Donald Trump seem to blame it on Donald Trump.

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS HOST: To the degree that there is an issue with white supremacists, white nationalists, anti-Muslim bigotry in this country -- and there is an issue with that -- why not deliver a speech condemning it?

MULVANEY: You have seen the President stand up for religious liberty, individual liberty. This President is not a white supremacists. I'm not sure how many times we have to say that.


SANCHEZ: The White House pushed back saying that President Trump has condemned intolerance of all kinds thoroughly. The President also making news this weekend for his attacks on Twitter, and late Senator John McCain. President Trump still upset over a vote that McCain cast in the Senate in 2017 against a slight repeal of Obama care -- lean repeal of Obamacare.

President Trump going after McCain saying that it is a stain on his legacy. McCain's daughter, Meghan McCain, shot back at President Trump in a stinging rebuke. She writes quote, "No one will ever love you the way they love my father. I wish I had been given more Saturday's with him. Maybe spend yours with your family instead of on Twitter obsessing over mine."

The spat between these two prominent Republicans still something that President Trump holds as a grudge. Remember that back in 2016 when he launched his campaign for the presidency and got criticism from McCain, President Trump criticized the Arizona Senator saying that he was not a war hero after he had been captured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

Boris Sanchez, CNN -- at the White House.


CHURCH: And CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein joins me now to talk more about all of this. Good to see you -- Ron. RON BROWNSTEIN CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Good evening.

CHURCH: Well of course the world has been watching very closely the way New Zealand's Prime Minister has responded to the shootings in Christchurch, calling for unity, supporting diversity in her country in stark contrast to the U.S. President Trump's words and actions.

And now in the wake of this heinous crime, Mr. Trump downplays the global threat posed by white nationalists. What is your response to that? Why do you think it is that he can't condemn their ideology?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, YOU KNOW, first of all it's very consistent with his rhetorical strategies and patterns. Right from the beginning -- I mean if we go back to March 2016 on CNN, the interview with Jack Tapper, right before a group of southern states voting in the primaries Republican presidential nominee, he would not condemn David duke, who was the former head of the Ku Klux Klan, a neo-Nazi.

And of course, in Charlottesville, he talked about very find people on both sides. I think for the President it is not that there is a large group of his supporters that are white nationalists but his supporters array along the continuum. Most of his voters are from the elements of American society that are most uneasy with demographic change.

They're most likely to say that Muslims are more violent than other religions and are kind of put out by cultural and demographic change. And he refuses to draw a line on that continuum and say anything on this side of the line is dangerous and it is consistent and I think it is very deliberate.

CHURCH: Why would the President of the united states claim that white supremacist pose no global threat because they're too small a group to be dangerous. On what does he base that assessment and how risky is just such a suggestion. Who is he afraid of upsetting?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, you know, first of all two different questions there, there is no question that violence from white supremacist groups has been a growing and persistent problem, the Pittsburgh shooting and many other synagogue shootings and many other examples, Charleston church shootings as well.

The Department of Homeland Security has made it very clear this is a threat. But the President will not name it as a threat and to the contrary continues to use language like describing immigrants as an invasion or as invaders that echo the language of some of these groups and individuals and gives them I think the sense that they are making progress in terms of mainstreaming their views.

And Again I think that -- the President's coalition is centered on the groups that are the most uneasy about the way this society is changing.

Two thirds of voters who approve of President Trump say that Muslims are more violent than people and other religions. And that doesn't mean that all of those voters are radicalized or white supremacists. But again, he does not want to draw a clear line. [01:39:56] He wants -- I think he wants that energy and more

importantly he does not want to signal disapproval of the kind of fundamental skepticism about the way that society is changing because that is at the core of his message. That's why the wall, the border wall is so important because it is a symbol of standing up against all of the ways that many of his voters feel they are being threatened by new realities in America.

CHURCH: Right. And Ron -- Mr. Trump has also lashed out at the late Senator John McCain on Twitter. And not even McCain's good friend Senator Lindsey Graham has called out the President. Why are Republican too scared to stand up to this president. When he crosses a line -- attacking a man who is no longer with us.

BROWNSTEIN: Right. And by the way, worth noting, kind of closing the circle here. The feud between Trump and McCain began when Trump came on his very first speeches of the campaign, as a candidate in Arizona and McCain criticize him for his divisive and racially inflammatory language.

And that is what kind of upset all of this . I think above all in motion. I know the first it's Donald Trump talking about the silent majority back in the summer of 2015.

Look, I think that for Donald Trump this is only partially about McCain at this point. I think one reason he does this is precisely because he knows that Republicans will be afraid to confront him on him. It's a way of reasserting his dominance over them that they will even offend one of their former colleagues, who as you correctly point out Lindsey Graham today had -- who really would not be that national figure that he is without John McCain. He was his second in command or is kind of protegee for many, many years. And today he put out a remarkable statement defending McCain but in no way even acknowledging the criticism came from the President or saying it was wrong.

And in some ways some people, you know, have noted here in the U.S. that that was less than saying nothing at all because it underscores Trump's point of how reluctant Republicans are who oppose him.

He is someone who is operating with a very high approval rating within -- you know, among the Republican voters but these Republicans 80 percent of whom, Rosemary as you know, voted to support his emergency declaration last week when they all would have voted to oppose it under Democratic president.

They are making the calculated bet which is, you know, after the 2018 election with so many previously Republican leaning white collar suburban voters went the other way and voted for Democrats. They are getting the parties future on a candidate who is intensely polarizing particularly to the growing segments of the electorate.

ALLEN: Yes, very much so. Ron Brownstein -- thank you. We always appreciate your analysis on these matters.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you. CHURCH: And still to come, a top Pentagon denies a report that the U.S. military plans to keep up to 1,000 troops in Syria once the war over ISIS -- ISIS's last enclave in.


CHURCH: An intense battle is still raging over the so-called Islamic state's last enclave in Eastern Syria. After weeks of fighting U.S.- backed Syrian Democratic Forces, using airstrikes and other means to push ISIS out. It's clear by the amount of damage to the area that the war is almost over, but some ISIS fighters are still hanging on.

Meantime, a top (INAUDIBLE) official is denying a "Wall Street Journal Report" that the U.S. Military is developing plans to keep up to 1,000 troops in Syria once the fighting ends.

Joint chiefs chairman, General Joseph Dunford says the report is factually incorrect, and there has been no change to President Trump's plan to draw down forces to a quote, residual presents.

But General Done says the U.S. and Turkey have agreed to an initial plan regarding a security arrangement, along the Syrian Turkish border that will be refined in the coming days.

Well, Syrian Democratic forces estimate about 5000 people still remain in the ISIS held territory. The SDF also says about 30,000 of the extremist family members have fled this last ISIS stronghold in Syria.

Our Ben Wedeman has some of their stories, and a look at what is left of the caliphate.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: According to (INAUDIBLE) -- inside the last shell cratered pocket held by the so- called Islamic state. Some scramble for cover, others fire through the barricades. One woman carries in AK-47 assault rifle.

ISIS supporters posted the video, entitled the "Epic of Baghouz -- on social media. It shows the insanity of that state in its dying days.

Three times since early February, the Syrian Democratic forces have launched operations to finally extinguished the caliphate. Night and day, U.S.-led coalition warplanes, artillery and mortar barrages have pounded the encampments. Yet during lulls, people can still be seen strolling through the wreckage. Buildings appear untouched by the bombardment.

This is all that is left of the ones vast, once feared, so-called Islamic state. All that it is it's a sprawling junk yard. A junk yard of wrecked cars and tattered tens, that is the final predictions of a swift and final victory over ISIS.

Last week, as a gun battle raged around us, we got a glimpse of the conditions that ISIS followers lived under. What you can see here is where the tents were. This blackspot was

where a tent was. And all around here, you can see tents, and in every tent they have dug these trenches to try to get cover.

The SDF says there might be as many as 5,000 people, including women and children still inside the encampment.

"As long as they give themselves up, we will not attack," SDF commander Hamzi Kobani tells me. For that reason, it may take some time but not too much.

Nearly 30,000 ISIS family members have left, along with 5,000 ISIS jihadi who have surrendered. The end of the caliphate is near is yet so far.

Ben Wedeman, CNN -- Baghouz eastern Syria.


CHURCH: Well, another extreme weather event has thrown a region into crisis, as tropical storm. Ida wreaks havoc in Southern Africa. We will look at the impact after this short break. Stay with us.



CHURCH: Extreme weather taking a heavy toll in Southern Africa. Reports say more than 150 people have been killed after tropical cyclone Idai ripped through parts of Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi. Dozens more missing. Severe flooding has destroyed homes and damaged infrastructure? The government calls it a serious humanitarian crisis.

And our meteorologist, Pedram Javaheri joins us now from the International Weather Center. Pedram -- what's behind this extreme weather?

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. rosemary -- you know, this storm system at one point was moving only at a pace of about two kilometers per hour, so about half the speed as one could walk past the storm. So that sort of slow progression of it really lead to significant flooding.

And Rosemary mentioned some 150 plus fatalities, about 120 of these fatalities occurring before the system even made landfall. So really speaks to the volume of water that has brought down because of how slow the system is moving. Made landfall dot the very early morning hours of Fridays, 175 kilometer-power winds. The strongest storm to impact this region since 2008 and incredibly still remnants of this system spinning off the coast here. So rainfall really going to be the dominant story in the next couple of days and quite a bit of rainfall still in stores.

[01:55:03] So when you see a system come down impact 1.5 million people, cut off communication across the region and then continue to make landfall -- bring rainfall well after landfall really becomes a concerning story for that part of the world.

And another area we're following is off the east coast of Australia down towards the southeast, significant flooding, about a month's worth of rainfall. It's come down across parts of Sidney and points just to the west,

Look to the North there. There's also another tropical cyclone developing. This is Trevor that's sitting not too far from the cape there in this particular system has everything it takes to move into the gulf of Carpinteria, which by the way, this time of year, plenty warm here to support restrengthening the system.

And notice this, models pick this up, potentially to a category 3 strength, bring it in on these southern tier of the Gulf there some time late this week. Population density across this region is rather minimal compared to areas to the north near (INAUDIBLE) but still a story worth following here with a tremendous wind and rain maker in the next couple of days.

CHURCH: Thanks for keeping such a close eye on that -- Pedram. Appreciate it.


CHURCH: And thank you for joining us. I'm Rosemary Church, another hour of news is up next with our Natalie Allen. You're watching CNN, do stay with us.