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CNN NEWSROOM

Voting Kicks Off in Israeli Elections; Baseball Deal Between U.S. and Cuba Cancelled; Prosecutors: Mar-a-Lago Intruder May Be a Spy; Military Effort, Paid Ransom in U.S. Tourist's Rescue; Cabinet Filled with Acting; Voting Kicks Off In Israeli Elections; Trump: Iran's Revolutionary Guard A Terrorist Group; May To Meet Merkel And Macron, Seeking Another Delay; General Khalifa Haftar And Libyan National Army On Offensive To Take Tripoli From U.N. Recognized Govt.; Three U.S. Troops, One Contractor Killed In Afghanistan; Russian Warships Arrive In The Philippines. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired April 9, 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: Too close to call as polls open in Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seeking a historic fifth term weighed down by corruption allegations making this one of the toughest fights of his political life.

Tit for tat terror designations. Iran labels U.S. forces in the region as terrorists after the Trump Administration designates Iran's elite military force a terror organization. And how far will the U.S. president go in a crackdown on illegal immigration? Sources telling CNN Donald Trump wanted his officials to break the law to secure the southern border his way.

Hello and welcome to viewers joining us from all around the world, I'm John Vause and this is CNN NEWSROOM. Voting has been underway through about an hour now in Israeli elections. Polls show a tight race and candidates have been campaigning up until the last minute. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is looking to win a fifth term, a record, this despite facing corruption probes and some serious competition.

His chief rival Benny Gantz served as military chief of staff. He leads the centrist Blue and White Party. This is Mr. -- Likud has shifted further to the right. One tactic for the Prime Minister has been to play up his close ties to the U.S. president and he received another White House gift on Monday when Donald Trump designated Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization. CNN's Oren Liebermann has more now from Jerusalem.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN JERUSALEM CORRESPONDENT: On the eve of the elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went to one of the central markets here in Jerusalem and told his supporters he was behind. He said he was trailing his rival former chief of staff Benny Gantz' by a few seats and that he needed everyone to come out and vote for him to secure a victory for Netanyahu's Likud Party.

The last round of election polls show quite tight race with Gantz only slightly ahead. But Netanyahu is playing the underdog card late in the race trying to energize his supporters to come out and vote. It works for him in 2015. He was trailing in some of the polls then and he surged into the lead on the final weekend of campaigning.

His last-second promised to annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank, a sharp move to the right as he tries to draw in as many right-wing voters as possible. His rival Gantz called it an irresponsible campaign promise, also pointing out that he's had 13 years of leadership to annex the settlements and hasn't done it.

Gantz held a motorcycle rally over the weekend and was out campaigning in Tel Aviv on Monday. It's a tight race to this point. It has been all along. Everyone here knows election polls are notoriously inaccurate. And because of that they'll keep campaigning until the end. Oren Liebermann, CNN Jerusalem.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: For more now Gil Hoffman Chief Political Correspondent and Analyst for the Jerusalem Post is with us. OK, so Gil, on Monday Prime Minister Netanyahu made this surprise visit to the Western Wall. He also told supporters said this race was so close it might come down to a question of turnouts. This is what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL (through translator): The hour is very late. At the moment we are behind a few seats. Lapid and Gantz are leading. The only way to close the gap and ensure with certainty that Likud will form the next government is to have a big Likud. Bring all the people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: So I guess to motivate the right and the far right, it seems what, he said no line this Prime Minister is not willing to cross, an example being over the weekend with that promise to annex the Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

GIL HOFFMAN, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT AND ANALYST, THE JERUSALEM POST: John, I wouldn't take it too seriously anything that a politician says a couple days before an election in any country. Netanyahu has been our Prime Minister for 13 of the last 23 years. He hasn't annexed anything. I don't expect him to annex anything tomorrow too. In fact, I think that if he wins this election there's going to be a peace process working closely again with the American administration and Israel will be giving up settlements not annex.

VAUSE: OK, explain your logic here because that -- this is the first time I've heard that a Netanyahu win could actually revive a peace process which is all but dead.

HOFFMAN: Yes. That is interesting, but no matter who's going to win this election, there's a window of opportunity here between the formation of the next Israeli government and when the American election gets into high gear September, October. This summer will be the time to have a peace process that will be serious for the first time since September of 2008.

There's been a plan that's been worked on by two people the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and the Crown Prince of America for lack of a better word, Jared Kushner, and it's going to be revealed that it's going to be a regional approach to solving the Middle East conflict and we're going to give it a chance. We'll see how it goes.

[01:05:12] VAUSE: Your optimism is encouraging. Those who know Netanyahu though say he's actually hoping that you know, if he's re- elected, then that could mean some leverage that political success could bring in to stopping these criminal process which is underway, you know, into the corruption and the bribery cases which you know, turn leads to concern that this election though ultimately is about the very survival of Israel's democratic institutions, its traditions, and value.

So how would this scenario play out it? If Bibi is reelected, you know, how could that interfere with these investigations?

HOFFMAN: Well, if Netanyahu is reelected then they will have a strange scenario where during the day the man will be on trial and at night he'll be deciding whether to attack in Syria. It's a very serious scenario that we have had to deal with that will only intensify. There also could be an attempt that Netanyahu denies it to make some kind of law that would help him evade prosecution or there could be a situation where Netanyahu loses because the people of Israel wants a leader who doesn't have these corruption charges hanging over his head. Anything can happen. That's the beauty of democracy.

VUASE: But do you believe the assessment that you know, Israel's democratic institutions themselves are basically go on the line with his election?

HOFFMAN: No. I know that that's what his political opponents have been saying. That's a nice thing to say to get votes. That will become you know, more like Turkey or other countries in the region, it's not quite that bad.

If the people of Israel decide that they want more Netanyahu, it's because of his experience with all due respect, and they've decided that having a good economy which we do have and a good security situation relatively is more important than whether Netanyahu received cigars or try to get better coverage in the media that the Attorney General has said is bribery, breach of trust, or fraud.

VAUSE: You know, this election has seen you know, a lot of playing up with the relationship between Netanyahu in front. There's a billboard on a Tel Aviv building shows Netanyahu shaking hands with Donald Trump, the Hebrew translation is Netanyahu a different league.

You know, the U.S. President still got many believed was just another pre-election gift designating Iran's revolution guard as a terrorist organization. How helpful have these moves been by the Trump administration with recognizing Jerusalem as the capital, Israel's sovereignty at the Golan Heights or you know, the move with Iran Revolutionary Guard? How that played into Netanyahu's chances at the polls?

HOFFMAN: I know a lot of people who that impacted how they're going to be voting that perhaps would have been voting for one of the satellite parties of Likud to advance any agenda that they have but then said, wait a second, you know, this is Netanyahu has this great relationship with the President United States. He keeps on getting gifts from him. Jerusalem, the Golan, the better treatment that Israel's finally getting at the United Nations now, this Iran Revolutionary Guard thing.

On Monday everybody realized that it was because Netanyahu is the prime minister. There's no doubt that there are people are going to be voting for Netanyahu because he's the most experienced and leader that Israel has unless Jesus or Moses comes back sometime today or because he has this relationship not only with Trump but also with Putin.

And Netanyahu went to Putin last weekend in Moscow and also received a present from him with an Israeli MIA coming back from Syria which is of course controlled very much by Russia these days.

VAUSE: Well, it's interesting Prime Minister Netanyahu tweeted out his thanks to Trump for this decision to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. Read in Hebrew, thank you for responding to another of my important requests which serves the interests of our country's and countries of the region.

But then later in English, that line was gone and replaced with once again you are keeping the world safe from Iran aggression and terrorism. Netanyahu it seems has one message for his audience at home and is it a different one for the U.S. and the rest of the world?

HOFFMAN: I guess he realized that he went too far in what he said in Hebrew that he can't really say to the rest of the world. You know, you don't want to be a sore winner when things are going your way any more than you ought to be a sore loser which Netanyahu was blamed for being when Barack Obama was the President of the United States.

You got to walk a fine line in international diplomacy. And there's no doubt Netanyahu is the expert at doing that. But Benny Gantz, his competition, he went APEC last two weeks ago now and was received very warmly by the American-Jewish community, and he would be given a chance to start out. Everybody needs a chance to start out and perhaps he'd be equally successful.

VAUSE: Do you have any quick prediction?

HOFFMAN: No, absolutely not. That's the beauty of this democracy that anything can happen. And the fact that it -- the race really is neck and neck is what makes it so fun to be a political correspondent.

VAUSE: We'll leave it at that. Gil, thanks so much. Good to see you. More now on Iran's Revolutionary Guard. Donald Trump's declaration on Monday marks the first time the U.S. was ever named part of another government as a foreign terrorist organization. The designation goes into effect next week. More now from CNN's Fred Pleitgen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Some vicious reactions already coming out of Iran after the Trump administration designated the IRGC, Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization. That could have huge repercussions as far as a conflict between Iran and the U.S. in that region is concerned.

Members of the Revolutionary Guard that I've been speaking to in Iran have told me that potentially the Iranians could target U.S. bases in the Middle East region. Of course, there are some places where Iran and the U.S. are in close proximity, for instance in Iraq, for instance in Syria as well. And one of the other things that the Iranians are also doing is they're also trying to make the case that the Trump administration is doing all this to help Benjamin Netanyahu the prime minister who of course faces a pretty tough election on Tuesday.

They say that they believe this is happening a day before this because it's an election gift to Benjamin Netanyahu. That's the case that's being made by Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. He says that this is something that's very dangerous for the United States and could potentially get it into another quagmire in the Middle Eastern region. So the Iranians are already really lashing out at the U.S.

One of the things of course that we have to keep in mind is that the IRGC is a hugely powerful organization in Iran. It's not only the elite wing of Iran's military but it's also heavily involved in the country's economy as well. Fred Pleitgen, CNN Berlin.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Two Brexit now just three days away. Can you believe it? That is of course unless Theresa May can convince the European Union to grant another delay. The British Prime Minister will meet with her German and French counterparts in the coming hours. That's ahead of an emergency E.U. summit on Wednesday.

All 27 member nations will have to agree if Mrs. May is to get another deadline extension to June 30th. Meanwhile, the British government is making sure it is ready for European parliamentary elections, that's at May 23rd just in case they're still part of the E.U. then.

Joining me now from Los Angeles CNN European Affairs Commentator Dominic Thomas. They're going to be part of these elections. OK, what is amazing though is that Parliament has done what was unthinkable just a month ago. It happened in the wee hours of Monday night. It passed a bill in defiance of the sitting government. Theresa May, what, she's now legally obliged to ask the E.U. for this extension until June 30 right?

DOMINIC THOMAS, CNN EUROPEAN AFFAIRS COMMENTATOR: Right. She is now the government must seek a delay in order to avoid a no deal, but the date is Friday, April 12th. That's the date that right now the legislation pertains to. VAUSE: OK. So does she have any flexibility in this extension date

for example?

THOMAS: Ultimately, no because she needs to go back to Parliament and tabled a motion in which she provides a date and we can assume that that date will be June 30th because she's already written to the E.U. Council President Donald Tusk expecting that date. And that date is considered a short extension. Anything longer than that would have even further infuriated the far-right Brexiteers.

And so she asks for that date of June 30th but the European Union provides a longer date. They can ultimately take the responsibility for that and Theresa May can come back with that option to the U.K.

VAUSE: You know, what is -- this bill though, it was passed by just three sitting days which is like light speed for Parliament. And it was made possible only because lawmakers managed to seize control of the whole Brexit process you know, in that motion with about two week or so ago when they took control of parliamentary business on certain days, right? This is amazing.

THOMAS: Yes. I mean, you remember the sort of all those amendments and the no, no, noes, noes, noes, having it all the time. This was the one motion and that made it through that was not defeated and actually, it's considered a softer motion because Joanna Sherry the Scottish National Party MP had tabled another amendment in which the alternative to the No Deal was actually to revoke article 50. So that did not make it -- make it through.

At the end of the day though, none of this really matters unless the European Union, right, is willing to provide an extension. If not, the U.K. is faced with a No Deal on Friday the 12th or the anything they have left is to revoke Article 50.

VAUSE: Before the E.U. withdrawal act as its own received royal assentation just before midnight Monday, local time, a spokesman for Number Ten issued a statement on those cross-party talks with the Labour opposition. It read, we are committed to finding a way through in order to ensure we could leave the E.U. and deliver on the referendum that will require the parties to work at pace, an understatement, in order to address outstanding issues. And so ministers and their shadow counterparts will be holding talks tomorrow as in Tuesday.

OK, how crucial is it now for those talks to show any kind of life, any progress if Theresa May is to go to the Europeans and beg for this extension? Because on the one hand, there's Brexit bad-cop, for instance, Emmanuel Macron saying, enough is enough. And there's Germany's Angela Merkel, who is pushing for a more flexible approach.

[01:15:12] THOMAS: Well, I think, the first thing that both Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron will say in their individual meetings with Theresa May is, "Why on earth are you hear? Why are you not back in the U.K. and pursuing these discussions with either parliamentarians or with the -- with members of the opposition?" No matter what comes out of this, this will be a very different meeting for the E.U. 27 because whatever agreement they reached, and I do believe they will reach some kind of consensus, this will be the last time. And that needs to be absolutely and unambiguously clear.

But I do think that absolutely key to these discussions now is this precisely what's been going on. The fact that Theresa May has not advanced on these negotiations, confirms the suspicion of the E.U. parliament that she's unable to do this, or that the parliament is unable to support anything.

And I think that the E.U. 27 are going to have to really balance out and measure what it would mean to have a country where you have sitting prime minister discussing with the leader of the opposition, a Brexit, and yet have this country through a long extension participate in the E.U. elections.

It may be that proposing a long extension with Brexit in mind. In other words, with either a no-deal or some kind of negotiated over the option -- over a year period is what the European Union comes out with here.

But no matter what, they are not going to wanting to take the blame for the failure of the U.K. in this discussion.

VAUSE: Just suspend belief and logic for a moment here. Theoretically, is it still possible for Theresa May to strike a deal with Jeremy Corbyn, the opposition leader, sometime before midday on Wednesday? Have enough time to print out 27 copies, put it in a bag, take it to Brussels, have it signed by the E.U. leaders, and Britain could actually have this orderly departure by Friday? Possible?

THOMAS: The very quick answer, John, is no. And the longer answer would be to say, I believe that even if Theresa May at this particular stage and Jeremy Corbyn arrived at a deal, I'm not convinced they could actually get it through Parliament. That's the irony of it all.

The Brexiteers want distance from the European Union. The Labour Party and the opposition want proximity or to remain. And what you have here is a prime minister who has failed three times to get her agreement through going across finally the aisle to the Labour Party into the opposition.

If anything to try and enlist them in the process. But perhaps, for them to also shoulder some of the blame for the failings of this government to push this motion or to get anything and through Parliament.

And I cannot see why the Labour Party would want to support at this juncture, a Tory Brexit. Why when we've got the Brexiteers infuriated right now, and when all along the Labour Party has wanted a general election. I think they are closer to having arrived at that point. And I think they may actually this time around be able to deliver a vote of no-confidence through Parliament with the help of the Brexiteers. That's where I think things are going right now, John. VAUSE: And just very quickly on Wednesday, what -- has the 27 member states have unanimously agreed to granting an extension or just a few majority?

THOMAS: Absolute, it has to be unanimous. And let's not forget, all the way back in 1967, the famous Charles de Gaulle, that not, no.

VAUSE: Yes.

THOMAS: He didn't want the U.K. to even join this organization. So it's got to be unanimous.

VAUSE: Are always Macron, seems to be filling the shoes of quite happily, it seems. Poking the eye of the British.

Dom, good to see you. I'm sure we'll see you tomorrow. Thank you.

THOMAS: Yes. Thanks, John.

VAUSE: Still to come. The U.N. condemns what it calls a serious violation on humanitarian law as rebels in Libya intensify their fight to take down the recognized government in Tripoli.

Also ahead, a Russian show of force to the Philippines. What does this actually mean for the United States and China? That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[01:21:35] VAUSE: The fierce fighting over Libya's capital is intensifying after an air strike by (INAUDIBLE) military on Tripoli's only functioning airport. U.N. condemned the attack on the airport, calling it a serious violation of humanitarian law.

There's a map here, the area in red shows terribly controlled by the rebel forces, the U.N. recognized government controls the parts in yellow. As CNN's Nick Paton Walsh explains the recent attacks on Tripoli, a part of the surprise offensive by a renegade general.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This reported strike on Mitiga International Airport, the key air traffic hub for Libya does I think take the pressure on the capital city, Tripoli, to a new level here.

We've seen for days now the forces of General Khalifa Haftar, the predominant strongman of the east of the country moving around back key city. Edging towards the southern suburbs that had been perhaps, thoughts this was a show of military strength designed last Friday to perhaps pressure the peace talks going on being spearheaded by the U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. But it seems to be less likely since he departed the country on Friday and the peace talks appear to have gone nowhere.

The fear being really the General Haftar could begin to send his forces slowly into this urban environment. Where there are many different competing militias often pressuring each other frankly for control, and it is the main seat of the U.N. recognized government of Fayiz Al-Sarraaj. Frankly the struggle to get control of the country since its inception, the number of years ago.

Now, many Libyans have lived through chaos since 2011's departure of Colonel Gaddafi his bloody end. And that revolution was supposed to herald a new kind of way of life there, said it collapsed into these different fiefdom feuding warlords.

General Khalifa Haftar appears to have a lot of regional support, perhaps from the Emiratis, perhaps from Egypt, perhaps even more overtly some say from Russia, and even France, possibly, silence in the background.

Is this emboldening him to make these stark military moves? He seems to have the equipment, he seems to have the momentum at the moment. The question is does he had the stomach to enter Tripoli main? And what will happen to those many Libyans living inside that capital city who've endured so much hardship over at the past years, and may see that worsen yet, still. Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, London.

VAUSE: Three U.S. service members and a contractor have been killed in a bombing in Afghanistan. It happened Monday near Bagram Air Base one of America's largest military facilities in country.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which targeted a U.S. military convoy. Three other service members were wounded.

Russian Navy destroyers and a tanker have docked in the Philippines was being called a goodwill visit, but could be part of the power play by the Kremlin. Because it comes as near a squares off with China in a territorial dispute. It could also be a shot across the bow of the U.S. a key Philippine ally. CNN's Brian Todd has more now reporting from Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: These ships are a menacing reminder of Vladimir Putin's military ambition. A show of force in a region already in the center of tense relations between the U.S. and its enemies. The three Russian Navy ships are now docked in the Philippines, including two high tech anti-submarine destroyers.

CAPT. BILL HAMBLET (RET.), FORMER UNITED STATES NAVAL ATTACHE TO RUSSIA: I think Putin is looking to give the United States something to worry about.

TODD: It's the second time this year that Russian warships have docked in the Philippines. And for America, it symbolizes a worrisome shift in alliances in that region. For decades, the Philippines was a key U.S. military ally in Asia. America kept one of its largest overseas naval bases there.

But recently, analysts say, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has started to pivot away from the U.S. toward a closer alliance with Putin. Even though his Navy is conducting large-scale joint military exercises with American forces right now.

Meantime, the Russian president, experts say, is having only moderate success in expanding his Navy. But he has improved one capability which threatens American forces.

[01:25:32] HAMBLET: They've been building new ballistic missile submarines, and they have also been building nuclear-powered fast attack submarines.

HEATHER CONLEY, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: We are seeing young cruise missiles coming from vessels in the Caspian Sea. They're testing a lot of hypersonic cruise missiles, a lot of them. Again, submarine-based.

TODD: Putin is jumping right into the middle of a region now fraught with military tension. China has laid claim to several islands in the South China Sea. Has even built some islands from scratch and placed military installations on them.

The U.S. has tried to curb China's aggression there, and Duterte whose Navy occupies one island in that chain recently threatened a suicide mission against Chinese forces which were spotted near that island.

Experts say, Putin is eager to exploit these tensions for his own gain. And eager to drive a wedge between the U.S. and its ally.

CONLEY: His arrival in the Philippines with these three Navy vessels is to remind the United States that Russia is a global power. Can he separate the Philippines from the United States in any way? Can he be a disrupter?

TODD: How can America counter this effort by Vladimir Putin to divide it from its allies in Asia? Experts say the U.S. has to stay its course in the region, keep holding joint military exercises with its allies. Keep engaging diplomatically with countries like the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia. Make them realize that America is the friend they want to have in the region and not Vladimir Putin. Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Well, still to come. President Trump in his own way cleaning House with two senior officials forced out of the U.S. Homeland Security Department.

And they're just the latest high-ranking government officials to leave the Trump administration, a place where job security seems to be in very short supply.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAUSE: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. Great to have you with us. I'm John Vause, with the headlines this hour. Voting is underway in Israeli elections has been for about 90 minutes.

Benjamin Netanyahu seeking to be Israel's longest-serving prime minister by winning a fifth term. His chief rival, former military chief of staff Benny Gantz. Poll show a very tight race, but Mr. Netanyahu may have the best chances of forming a workable coalition.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[01:29:43] JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back everybody. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

Great to have you with us. I'm John Vause with the headlines this hour.

Voting is under way and Israeli elections has been for about 90 minutes. Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking to be Israel's longest service prime minister by winning a fifth term. His chief rival, former military chief of staff Benny Gantz also a very tight race but Mr. Netanyahu may have the best chances of forming a workable coalition.

British Prime Minister Theresa May will meet soon with her German and French counterparts hoping for another Brexit delay at an E.U. summit on Wednesday.

Meanwhile British lawmakers are preparing to take part in European parliamentary elections, just in case the U.K. is still part of the E.U. come May 23rd.

Iran is now designating the U.S. a state-sponsor of terrorism and American troops in the Middle East terrorist groups -- a direct response to the Trump administration announcing it will formally classify Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard as a foreign terrorist organization.

U.S. President Donald Trump shaking up the Department of Homeland Security as his anger over illegal immigration continues to grow. The head of Secret Service announced his resignation on Monday. That departure comes a day after Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was forced to resign.

There was a time when working in the West Wing was a career-making privilege, grueling to be sure, but an opportunity to shape policy, serve the President, and then head to the lucrative world of lobbying, consulting or after dinner speeches. Not these days.

The Trump White House is like a meat grinder where rumors constantly swirl about the fate of senior aides where staff turnover is at an all time high, so do cabinet positions.

And now that Kirstjen Nielsen been fired as secretary of Homeland Security, it's the first time since the Reagan administration that one agency has been led by three different secretaries in three years.

And many of those who are kicked to the curb are finding little joy in life after serving at the pleasure of the President. Rex Tillerson, who was once the head of oil giant ExxonMobil, a job he left to serve as Trump's secretary of state. 405 days later he was fired, never forgiven it seems for calling the President a moron.

Reince Priebus was climbing the political ladder, chairman of the Republican National Committee when he took on the role of White House chief of staff in January 2017. He lasted just over six months, fired by a presidential tweet from Air Force One. Former Goldman Sachs chief operating officer, Gary Cohn, took on the role of director of Trump's National Economic Council. He was in that role a little over a year eventually quitting in a disagreement over tariffs on steel and aluminum.

John Kelly, a decorated war hero, respected general he was first tapped to serve as Secretary of Homeland Security, and then as White House chief of staff to replace Reince Priebus. He survived in that role for a year and a half after calling the President an idiot multiple times and betrayed himself as the only one saving the country from disaster. By the end, he wasn't on speaking terms with his boss.

And then there is Jeff Sessions, the first Republican senator to publicly support Trump as a candidate who was by his side throughout much of the campaign. His reward was attorney general, but then, he followed legal guidelines, recused himself from the Russia investigation, and the President viciously turned on his once loyal supporter, mocking him as Mr. Magoo, and last November demanded his resignation.

For more now on the firing of Kirstjen Nielsen and the unprecedented bloodletting under way within the Department of Homeland Security we're joined by CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein in Los Angeles.

So Ron -- CNN has been told by one official there is a near systematic purge happening at the nation's second largest national security agency.

Historically, purges don't end well for anyone, especially when you consider the Department of Homeland Security, it's responsible for about two dozen agencies and sub-agencies. It's responsible for the immigration system, border control, cyber networks, counter intelligence -- counter-terrorism, I should say -- this list just goes on and on and on.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well look, I mean just think about where we're starting here. Secretary Nielsen who was the cabinet officer who executed, defended, sometimes lied about the family separation policy on the border was effectively dismissed for not being ruthless or hardline enough, which you know, kind of gives you a sense of where this is going.

I mean all of this John, I think, you know, if you look at this in kind of the wide angle, I mean it just underscores the extent to which opposition to demographic change manifests in hard line immigration policies from building the wall through emergency declaration to the family separation to the idea of closing the border is the absolutely -- in the President's mind, is the absolute foundation of his political appeal to his base.

And Republicans who have basically kind of enabled this who despite, some private grumbling, clearly are in for a ride between now and the election because the only constraint will be the limits of the imagination of Stephen Miller, and what the courts can prevent him from doing. VAUSE: You know, one of -- as you mentioned one of Kirstjen Nielsen

spin as secretary of Homeland Security was pushing back on a number of demands from the President, this is according to CNN's reporting.

"In recent weeks Trump has pushed the DHS to reinstate the family separation policy which Nielsen resisted, a source familiar with the discussion says. The President rescinded policy amid scrutiny from the courts."

And then there was the President's push to close at least part of the southern border, again CNN reporting that an Oval Office meeting two weeks ago, one attendee says Trump was ranting and raving saying border security was his issue.

[01:35:03] Senior administration officials say that Trump then ordered Nielsen and Pompeo, the Secretary of State, to shut down the port of El Paso the next day, Friday March 22nd, at noon. The plan was that in subsequent days, the Trump administration would shut down other ports.

Nielsen told Trump that would be a bad, even dangerous idea. She argued that if you closed all the ports of entry, all you'd be doing is ending legal trade and travel, that migrants will just between ports. According to two people in the room, the President said, "I don't care".

BROWNSTEIN: Yes.

VAUSE: Those two sets of reports are very telling.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. And in that same report, the President reportedly told border patrol agents last week to ignore the law. And to tell asylum seekers who had a legal right to request asylum, that they could not obtain asylum. And that that detailed list that you gave, you know, omits it's already kind of moving back into history, the fact that the President has declared an unprecedented national emergency to try to build his border after Congress explicitly refused to give him the funds to do so.

I mean -- and you know, we can go back a little further. The support of the largest reductions in legal immigration since the 1920s. This is the essence of, you know, the core of what he believes is what knits him to his voters.

I mean ,you know, there were the reports during the family separation crisis that he believed that it was popular with his base, when it was overwhelmingly unpopular with the country overall.

And as I said, I mean I think, you know, Congressional Republicans, there have been some peeps today from Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee about further dismissals at the Department of Homeland Security including people that he is close to. But by and large, Republicans have, you know, registered very little resistance to him explicitly defining the party, the Republican Party as one opposed to demographic immigration and have certainly opposed immigration both legal and illegal. And now they have very little leverage to prevent him from continuing to move in this direction between now and 2020 with unpredictable consequences for them at the ballot box.

VAUSE: -- Republicans had a response. We have heard from Senator Ron Johnson, who is chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, he's a Republican. He released a statement on Twitter. It read in part, "I'm concerned with a growing leadership void within the Department tasked with addressing some of the most significant problems facing the nation.

You know, in the days since 9/11 when Homeland Security is born as a result of the terrorist attacks, there's been very little upheaval it seems at that department. So beyond the political consequences here, what are the security risks for the United States?

BROWNSTEIN: Right. I mean he's treating, you know, basically treating Homeland Security solely as an immigration agency, right. And judging the administration of the Department solely by whether he is getting everything that Stephen Miller can whisper in his ear as the most draconian policies.

But this level of turmoil is unsettling, given the broad range of responsibilities that the Department holds, you know, including on terrorism.

And so, you know, we don't know. I mean it is -- there is an experiment underway across the government, with the unprecedented number of acting officials. We don't have a permanent Defense Secretary for months at a time. We are likely to be in that condition with a Department of Homeland Security Secretary because it is unclear to anyone who will do the kinds of things that Miller and Trump are now demanding can win confirmation, even in the Republican-controlled senate.

So this level of chaos, I mean we've all been patting ourselves on the back in the U.S. about the extent to which our institutions have withstood the unprecedented kind of challenge that Trump presents. But it's not clear they are not groaning at the least, if not cracking under the pressure that he is putting on them.

VAUSE: You know, there's always this impression out there that Nielsen was a victim of her own morality. Here's a part of a statement from the Southern Poverty Law Center.

"The horrific and failed policies implemented during Secretary Nielsen's tenure mark dark days in our nation's history and have emboldened President Trump's increasingly hard right proposals. The President can replace the DHS Secretary as many times as he wants to. However it will not change the unlawful nature of his policies and therefore his ability to implement."

I mean this is the thing. How many secretaries will they go through. How many people unless they will actually stand up to, you know, the President of the United States and say no, this is not how it's done. BROWNSTEIN: Well less and less although it is striking that the, you know, the kind of the career officials at the border, you know, after the President explicitly told agents, ignore the law, said don't ignore the law, if you do so, you are doing it on your own volition, and subject to consequences.

This is a real challenge. I mean there's no question the institutions are being challenged and what we are seeing is limits of the ability of the system to resist this kind of shredding of constitutional norms.

And the key here is that Congress is the institution that has the most leverage to pushback. And the Republicans in the House, certainly before 2018, had utterly no interest in constraining or performing oversight on Trump.

[01:40:00] Senate Republicans again showing very little interest in doing that. And the battle that is brewing on many fronts with the now Democratic-controlled House. It's going to be enormous and heading towards the Supreme Court over and over again because the White House has clearly sent a signal on everything from the Mueller report to security clearances, to the President's taxes, that they're going to stonewall to the maximum possible extent.

So we have a lot of issues heading toward, you know, basically John Roberts deciding how much oversight we are going to have in the U.S. because it's only going to be the House that appears interested in doing so.

VAUSE: Yes. When it comes to immigration policy, especially family separations, someone wrote, you know, the cruelty is the point.

Ron --

BROWNSTEIN: Yes.

VAUSE: -- thanks for being with us.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you -- John.

VAUSE: The Trump White House has intervened to kill a deal between Cuba and Major League Baseball. The administration says the agreement which would have allowed Cuban players to join U.S. teams without giving up their Cuban citizenship is illegal.

The deal was initially negotiated under President Barack Obama and was seen at the time as a big win for international sports diplomacy.

Our man in Havana is Patrick Oppmann.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It would have been a deal that rose above the political differences between Cuba and the United States, allowing Cuban baseball players to go play in the Major Leagues in the U.S. and for the first time, earn million-dollar salaries, and be able to return to Cuba.

But apparently now that deal is dead. The Trump administration said that by allowing the Cuban government to keep any of the Cuban players' earnings that that would have allowed the Cuba government to continue exploiting these players, and now they will no longer see this deal with Major League Baseball and the Cuban government to proceed.

It is a huge setback both for the major league, some of the best players today playing in American baseball are Cuban. And for the Cuban government, while which needed this cash infusion, certainly Cuban baseball which has been suffering from defections over the last few years and hoping that this would be a way to hold on to some of their best players.

They had just, within recent days like the 34 players who they said were cleared to go play in the U.S. Now that is not going to happen because the Trump administration says they're taking a very different approach than President Obama did, when he opened up the way for this deal to happen. And saying that if Cuban players want to come and play in the U.S., they have to do that on their own. They cannot come under the auspices of the Cuban government.

Critics though of this decision by the Trump administration say this is only going to allow Cuba traffickers, Cuban smugglers to continue to make money off Cuban players, because as it stands now, Cuban players need to go to a third country, and all too often, they are smuggled into a third country, and then brought in to the U.S. by unsavory criminal gangs, who end up keeping a large portion of the salary.

The Cuban government, Cuban Baseball Federation have criticized the Trump administration for backing out of this deal. But the Trump administration is saying that even though this was a sport that unites Cuba and the U.S. that they simply will not allow this deal to move forward.

Patrick Oppmann, CNN -- Havana.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Still to come here, new details about the woman accused of trying to con her way into Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort and why prosecutors believe she is a Chinese spy.

Also ahead, new details on how a kidnapped American tourist in Uganda was rescued after being abducted from a tourist park and held for five days.

[01:43:29] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAUSE: The Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has publicly named 16 Saudis for their roles in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, banning them and their families from entering the United States. Khashoggi wrote columns for the "Washington Post" which were, among other things critical of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Saudi officials eventually admitted he was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey last October but they had always insisted the Crown Prince had no involvement.

Prosecutors say the mysterious woman who allegedly breached security at Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort last month was carrying malware, detection devices, and thousands of dollars in cash. She appeared before a federal judge on Monday.

CNN's Kaylee Hartung was there.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: New details emerging tonight in the case of Chinese national Yujing Zhang, who allegedly gained unauthorized access to Mar-a-Lago before getting arrested by Secret Service agents.

Prosecutors revealing that investigators are probing where she is a Chinese spy who was trying to infiltrate the President's resort, after uncovering a trove of electronic devices in her possession.

Found in Zhang's hotel room at the upscale Colony Hotel in Palm Beach: one cellphone, one signal detector, nine USB drives, five sim cards, and several credit cards in her name. As well $7,500 dollars and $100 bills -- a total of more than $8,000 in cash including Chinese currency.

This in addition to what Zhang was caught with when she was arrested at Mar-a-Lago after staff realized her story didn't matchup -- four cell phones, a laptop, a hard drive, and a thumb-drive containing malware.

A Secret Service agent taking the stand saying the malware on the thumb drive began installing itself on an agent's computer when he initiated a preliminary examination. Prosecutors say that Zhang has repeatedly lied to investigators.

When Zhang arrived at Mar-a-Lago, she told the Secret Service agents she was there to go to the pool. But prosecutors say she arrived in a long gray dress without a bathing suit. A Mar-a-Lago staff member recognized she had the same last name as a member of the club, and believed here to be a relative so she was granted entry.

The defense nothing Zhang is one of three names in China that 275 million people have. Her story then changed when pressed by Mar-a- Lago staff, showing them this flyer on her cellphone, for an event she said she was there to attend. The flyer presented in court today, the same as an invitation, posted on a business Web site of Cindy Yang, a Florida spa owner who was allegedly selling access to Trump events at Mar-a-Lago.

Zhang's attorney say she wired $20,000 to someone she believed to be organizing the event, in order to come to the United States and visit Mar-a-Lago. But according to the defense, the event was canceled without her knowledge. Zhang is charged with two federal crimes: making false statements to federal authorities, and a misdemeanor offense of entering a restricted area without authorization.

Her attorneys fighting hard to dispute the trespassing charge saying the only thing that Zhang did was give a very common Chinese name to gain access to Mar-a-Lago.

The State Department has revoked her visa. A federal prosecutor outlining their case as to why Zhang is a flight risk, saying she lies to everyone she encounters and has absolutely zero ties to the United States.

This was a pre-trial detention hearing, but no determination was made in that matter because the defense asked for a one week extension. They told the judge they had spoken with relations of Zhang's in China who they say could help her through this process.

That process will resume next Monday right here in the federal courthouse and federal prosecutors say they will have an indictment against Zhang by then.

In West Palm Beach -- Kaylee Hartung, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: We're learning more about the complicated rescue operations to free an American tourist and her tour guide. They were both kidnapped by armed men in Uganda.

As Robyn Kriel reports, it involves a coordinated military response as well as a paid ransom.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBYN KRIEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was supposed to be a once in a lifetime, dream African safari, scouting gorillas and Uganda's famous tree climbing lions.

[01:49:55] But on April 2nd, armed men entered into Uganda's idyllic Queen Elizabeth National Park and abducted Kimberly Endicott and her guide Jean-Paul Meringue. Four others in the group were later released.

They demanded a ransom of half a million dollars, making threats using the hostages cellphone. Endicott and Meringue were taken across the border to the DRC.

While Uganda is considered safe and secure, DRC is the opposite. Dozens. In that country's Virunga (ph) National Park dozens of violent armed groups kidnap for ransom, and often these sorts of stories don't have a happy ending.

KIMBERLY ENDICOTT, KIDNAP VICTIM: Thank you so much.

KRIEL: But five long days later, Kimberly and JP, as he's known, were rescued by an inter-agency task force, consisting of U.S. and Ugandan officials. A ransom was also paid.

FRED ENANG, UGANDA POLICE SPOKESMAN: There was an implicit threat of the use of force by our allied teams that we had on the ground.

KRIEL: The U.S. Military also provided some support to Ugandan secretary services to aid their search including intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets and liaison officers.

Finally this, an emotional reunion, a disheveled Endicott who, back in America is a skincare specialist in southern California is in torn clothes, barefoot, and scared. Her dream safari shattered, but through the nightmare, a friendship forged.

Robyn Kriel, CNN -- Kampala, Uganda.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Still to come a famous Hollywood actress among those hoping to avoid jail time by pleading guilty in that high-profile college admissions scam.

Also, the latest White House departure brings another acting secretary to the cabinet -- all part of the drama which Donald Trump seems to thrive on.

That's next on CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAUSE: (INAUDIBLE) analysts are turning bearish on Boeing predicting big problems ahead, after the company revealed it's slashing production of the 737 Max. American Airlines canceling a further 5,000 flights over the coming weeks because the 737 Max remains grounded for safety reasons.

Boeing stocks, they've fallen 4 percent. The airplane manufacturer is working on a software fix, trying to get the 737 back in the air -- that's after two deadly crashes in less than six months which left he jet grounded worldwide.

Academy award nominee Felicity Huffman is among the 13 parents pleading guilty for their roles in a U.S. college admission scam. Huffman is accused of paying $15,000 to the mastermind of the scheme so he would alter her oldest daughter's scores on admissions test.

Huffman says she's ashamed of what she did. She has apologized and adds that her daughter didn't know anything about it.

Let's go to Israel now. Benny Gantz -- the man challenging Benjamin Netanyahu for the leadership of Israel for the prime minister's job, now voting in -- I think in Jerusalem, we believe, I think. Or maybe not, but this is the man who was the (INAUDIBLE).

[01:50:03] This man was a former military chief of staff. He is from the centrist Blue and White party, yet another centrist party to try and challenge the conservative Likud Party and Benjamin Netanyahu who has had a lock on Israeli politics for the last 13 years.

Benjamin Netanyahu for his part is hoping for a fifth term. Benny Gantz and those of his centrist coalition which he has built obviously trying to stop that form happening.

Benjamin Netanyahu facing a number of corruption investigations which has ended up making this a very, very tight race, a race much tighter than many had expected when Benjamin Netanyahu actually that called this early election.

He did not have to go the polls now. He could've waited for a number of months before Israelis voted but he decided to take the chance and then more allegations emerged of corruption and bribery, all these other allegations. He's facing indictment. But Benny Gantz is a man who is hoping that he will in fact take enough seats, win enough support, in these parliamentary elections to form a coalition in the Knesset and then win the prime ministership away from Netanyahu.

Now the Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is out, another acting Trump cabinet member is in. Many critics would say they wish Donald Trump would active more presidential, he seems to thrive on all this drama playing out within his administration.

Here's Jeanne Moos.

What do all of these Trump administration officials have in common?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Acting.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's acting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whether they're acting or whether they're not acting.

MOOS: A temporary word has become a permanent fixture in the Trump administration. As a "Washington Post" columnist tweeted, "Number of cabinet members who will now be acting lends new meeting to the term political theater."

Or how about being asked to write a sad story using only three words, acting cabinet official.

Cartoonist Ed Hall drew a line of acting officials, ending in a man acting as President.

There's no bigger fan of acting than the director of this production, he gives the acting rave reviews.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's easier to make moves when they're acting.

My actings are doing really great.

I like acting, because I can move so quickly.

Well, I'm in no hurry, I have Acting. MOOS: In no hurry to have nominees grilled in confirmation hearings,

perhaps. Something in acting doesn't have to endure until nominated for the actual position. And who wants to go through what acting interior secretary David Bernhardt did when a masked swamp creature popped up behind him. I

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've met with many of you in person and by some --

MOOS: -- and stayed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I catch my breath.

MOOS: And stayed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because --

MOOS: And stayed.

Stayed even if only eye remained visible or only its bald head.

MOOS: Until capital police escorted all masked protestors out. It's hard to take promises to drain the swamp with a straight face when confronted by the creature from the Black Lagoon.

No wonder the President enjoys temporary cabinet members, easier to throw them overboard.

TRUMP: But I said I like acting, gives me more flexibility. Do you understand that. I like acting.

MOOS: If he likes acting, maybe he'd consider you know who for his next acting cabinet secretary opening.

Jeanne Moos, CNN -- New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: That was a great movie, "The Creature from the Black Lagoon".

You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm John Vause. Stay with us.

Rosemary Church is up right after this. You're watching CNN.

[01:58:47] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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