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Corey Lewandowski Stonewalls Congressional Panel; Trump Hosts Otto Warmbier's Parents at White House. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired September 18, 2019 - 00:00   ET

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


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JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): A do-over vote in Israel leaves Benjamin Netanyahu where he was five months ago, fighting for his political future as the attorney general prepares to indict the prime minister on charges of corruption.

A question of trust. The Trump administration considering military action on Iran, retaliation for an attack on Saudi oil production but so far there's little support in Congress or among U.S. allies.

And battered and bruised in the Bahamas, CNN on the ground with medics going door to door to find and heal a community badly wounded by Hurricane Dorian.

Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us from all around the world, I'm John Vause, you're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

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VAUSE: First official election results are expected anytime now. Those results could mean trouble for Benjamin Netanyahu's future as prime minister. Exit polls show a tight race between the Blue and White centrist party led by Benny Gantz and the right-wing Likud Party, led by Mr. Netanyahu.

Gantz, a former military leader, says he intends to form a broad unity government. But Netanyahu, Israel's longest prime minister, is not giving up, saying the country needs a strong Zionist government. Gantz says he wants to include everyone.

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BENNY GANTZ, LEADER, BLUE AND WHITE PARTY (through translator): Starting tonight, I hope to create a wide unity government that is willing to return Israel its social values.

We are one people, one society. I'm calling on my political opponents, leave everything behind you, let's get together for a better and equal society in our country for the benefit of its citizens.

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VAUSE: Live now to Jerusalem, CNN's Oren Liebermann is there for us.

An early morning, it seems the best indication of where this election stands right now is if you look at the demeanor of the two leaders of the two major parties. Benny Gantz, cautious optimism; Netanyahu on the other hand, when he appeared he seemed subdued, maybe even desperate.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's very much true. When we heard Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speak, it certainly wasn't a concession speech but it also wasn't a victory speech.

It seems he is waiting for the actual results and as they come in it shows this race remains very, very close largely as the exit polls projected. Though we will certainly wait for all the results to come in to this point.

As we heard right there from Benny Gantz, the rival looks to be positioned quite well at this point, he talked about reuniting and uniting all the different factions and all the parties and trying to bring them all together into a unity government that can represent a wide swath of Israel's population and try to move the country forward.

And heal what he sees as the rifts in Israeli society, a very different speech from prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said that what he wants to do was not the right-wing government he talked about for the last few months but now he wants a national Zionist government that doesn't include any of what he calls the anti-Zionist Arab parties.

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BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL: Israel needs a strong and stable and Zionist government, a government that is committed to Israel as a national state for the Jewish people. There won't be and there can't be a government that is being supported by anti- Zionist, Arabic parties.

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LIEBERMANN: There are certainly echoes there of the campaign that Netanyahu and his Likud Party ran, which largely targeted the Arab population, accusing of them of trying to steal the election and commit election fraud and there you heard echoes of that in his speech as he continued on the offensive, certainly no hint that he is ready to concede and no indication yet from the results that he is ready or in any position to declare victory. Meanwhile, how does this all proceed?

Well, the process is not simple at all. First we need official results.

Then the president will meet with all the different parties and see what they recommend and then we get to coalition negotiations and that's where this all fell apart last time. Let's not forget, for Netanyahu, there are ongoing criminal

investigations against him and he has his first preliminary hearing just two weeks away.

VAUSE: It's Israel, it's never simple, it's always complicated, Oren, thank you. We appreciate you being with us.

This do-over general election, as oren mentioned, was the direct result of Netanyahu's failure to form a coalition government after the first election back in April.

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VAUSE: And that is because a former Netanyahu ally turned nemesis, Avigdor Lieberman, refused to give his party's support to a government reliant on the religious parties for political survival.

During the campaign, Netanyahu reportedly struck a deal with the ultra orthodox party, granting him community from prosecution on corruption charges. In return as prime minister, Netanyahu would annex large parts of the West Bank, territory the Palestinians claim for a future state.

The hard right secular party could control as many as nine seats in the Knesset, an increase on the April vote. And it now seems he is very much the kingmaker. He is calling for a unity government that would include Likud, the Blue and White centrist party as well as his own Yisrael Beiteinu.

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AVIGDOR LIEBERMAN, FORMER ISRAEL DEFENSE MINISTER (through translator): Think again before you arrive at the voting station. Whoever wants to really see a unity government without ultraorthodox, without messianics, without all the radicals should think well about what they do before voting.

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VAUSE: Joining me now from Jerusalem, Amotz Asa-El is a felow at the Hartmann Institute and a senior commentator for the "Jerusalem Post."

So thanks very much for being with us. This all comes down now to Avigdor Lieberman. He has eight or nine seats if the exit polls are correct.

How likely is he keep that promise of government not depedentt upon the support of religion parties to survive, is he likely to hold firm to that?

AMOTZ ASA-EL, "JERUSALEM POST": Yes, he will definitely make the most of what is evidently a big victory for him. He gambled and the gamble worked. And I think he will be in a position to impose a broad government on the political system. The question is only on what conditions and who exactly it will include. VAUSE: We have his demands, basically no religious parties within a coalition, which hold the balance of power, if you like. That brings us to Benny Gantz and his centrist Blue and White Party. He has his conditions and one of them, the big one, he will not join a government with a prime minister facing indictment, clearly a reference to Netanyahu.

So how ironclad is that?

ASA-EL: Politicians will now demanded to be inventive and I think that something here somehow will in upcoming weeks be compromised, either Netanyahu's personal inclusion in this cabinet or the ultra orthodox parties.

But I think at this stage what we can already say about what we're seeing is that the Israeli mainstream voter has made an emphatic statement against Netanyahu's personal conduct. He lost in this election nearly a fifth of his following.

In other words, if we combine the 35 seats he won back in the spring plus the four of another faction that joined him, that was 39. He was down to 32, about 18 percent of the following with which he entered the election and nearly one-fifth of this following has abandoned him.

That's an emphatic statement first of all against his own conduct. Personally and I think beyond that, also against the kind of nationalist populism that is now popular worldwide from the United States to the Philippines.

VAUSE: Netanyahu has been political weakened, to say the least. Given that, what is the chance that the easiest sort of option is for Likud to dump him as leader so that they can go into this unity government?

ASA-EL: That's very true, theoretically. One should bear in mind in this regard that likud has a genetic code in which it does not abandon its leaders even after they fail. It lets them instead to draw their own conclusions, the way for instance Yitzhak Shamir did back when he was defeated by Rabin in '92 or the way Menachem Begin resigned in the course in the wake of the first Lebanon War, neither was deposed by his party.

They both went on their own volition. Netanyahu has an entirely different personal situation than those two predecessors. But I think Likud's inclination will be, if Netanyahu continues to fail to deliver the goods, as far as they're concerned, their inclination will be to have him in some kind of honorable way make way for a successor.

VAUSE: So they've held on through good times and bad. But much of Netanyahu's campaign this time was attacking and questioning the loyalty of Israel's Arab minority population.

But in the exit polls, they show you the Joint List of Arab parties projected to end up with the third most number of seats in the Knesset.

Is that an indication that Netanyahu's strategy backfired?

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ASA-EL: Netanyahu has once again very cynically tried to pander to that part of the electorate, which is that anti-Arab, in terms of his intentions, it has failed. In terms of the Arab united list's delivery, yes, they have risen but not as dramatically as they hope to.

And I think, at the bottom line of what we are seeing is that they will ultimately remain outside of the political game as they have always chosen to do. And I think that even the current circumstances, complex as they are, will in that regard not change.

VAUSE: OK, Amotz, it is a complicated election process and a complicated result, we appreciate you being with us to explain some of it. Thank you.

ASA-EL: Thank you.

VAUSE: A Pentagon official says the U.S. has images backing up the assessment that Saturday's attack on Saudi oil sites came from inside Iran. CNN has not seen the classified images but they reportedly include evidence of the weapons used in the attack.

Iran denies responsibility but its Houthi allies in Yemen say they are responsible. Sources tell CNN that the Pentagon has been ordered to plan potential responses but the White House is waiting for the kingdom's leader to decide on their own response before Washington makes a move.

The U.S. vice president made it clear, using the same language as his boss, that military action is an option.

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MICHAEL PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We don't want war with anybody. But the United States is prepared. We are locked and loaded. And we are ready to defend our interests and our allies in the region.

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VAUSE: David Sanger is with us from Washington, a CNN political and national security analyst, as well as a national security correspondent for "The New York Times ."

David, thanks for being with us.

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Great to be with you, John.

VAUSE: The vice president, talking locked and loaded, just like the boss said.

When it comes to Congress as well as U.S. allies and the American public, how much credibility does this administration have on the question of war, given this daily diet of lies and fabrications we've had over the last almost three years?

SANGER: I think this may be the moment when the president ends up paying the price for some of those tweets and exaggerations and outright untruths and so forth. He has three big challenges here.

One is to convince the public that Iran was behind this if, in fact, he believes it. Only Secretary Pompeo has said so.

Second, it's to try to make a case for common action, which the Saudis have already indicated that they want to do and I'm not sure the world is ready to go risk some sort of conflict in the Middle East for an attack, that while devastating the oil production, did not kill anyone.

Then I think the third big challenge for the president right now is to convince everyone that he actually has a bigger plan. The Europeans believe that he ended up provoking the Iranians into this kind of confrontation by leaving the 2015 Iran deal.

So I think that's the big challenge for him right now.

VAUSE: On that last point, assuming this attack was carried out by Tehran, what would happen if the Trump administration had stayed part of the nuclear treaty and not applied those really tough, crushing economic sanctions?

And when the British ambassador left Washington, one of his communications was that Donald Trump ripped up the nuclear treaty because it was Obama's signature foreign policy achievement.

SANGER: I think there's some proof to that. It was a statement by Kim Darroch that was leaked out in the British press and Mr. darroch ended up resigning. There is a sense in the White House that if it came out of the Obama era it had to be a bad deal and the president has been renegotiating NAFTA, turned it into something that was not a whole lot different or better.

We don't know in this case -- he ripped up the paris climate accord and we don't know in this case whether he's going to get anything out of the Iranians that would be any better than was President Obama had.

In fact, there's an argument to be made that the Iranians, now that they're breaking out of the agreement, may decide that in fact, something works. In othe words, they wil say that they are not constrained by any restrictions. You've already seen that begin to happen.

But the oter side of that is that Iran's behavior in funding terrorism and so forth was already pretty bad after the 2015 deal was signed. And so the Trump administration officials say it is ridiculous to blame President Trump for leaving the deal.

VAUSE: As always, there's a tweet for everything.

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VAUSE: Back in 2014, Donald Trump tweeted, "Saudi Arabia should fight their own wars, which they won't, or pay us an absolute fortune to protect them and their great wealth - $ trillion."

Now as president, he has said at least publicly the U.S. should go to war because the Saudis are a big client for high-tech American weapons.

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TRUMP: That was an attack on Saudi Arabia and it wasn't an attack on us. But we would certainly help them. They've been a great ally. They spend $400 billion in our country over the last number of eyars, $400 billion . That's 1 million and a half jobs and they're not ones, like some countries, where they want terms. They want terms and conditions, they want to say can we borrow the money at 0 percent for the next 40000 years, no. No, Saudi Arabia pays cash.

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VAUSE: Regardless of what the budget is, I always thought that arms sales were considered a benefit to the Saudis and it seems the president is redefining the terms of the relationship.

SANGER: What struck me about that statement is that it almost makes it sound like the United States should be a mercenary force to anyone who buys U.S. arms and whatever you think of the arms programs, whether you think they're a good effort or not, they are supposed to be designed to help a country defend themselves.

What was striking about what happened this weekend, no matter who launched the attack is that the Saudi air defenses were so weak they never saw this coming. And it appeared to have come from areas where they weren't looking.

But the bigger question is, how does a president decide to commit American forces?

It would be hard to explain that you're going to put American lives at risk and those American service men and women because a country like Saudi Arabia spends a lot of money here.

VAUSE: The point of the failure of those defense systems was not lost on the Russian president Vladimir Putin, who, earlier this week, made a sales pitch to the Saudis.

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VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through translator): We are ready to provide respective assistance to Saudi Arabia to protect their country and their people and it would be enough for the political leadership of Saudi Arabia to make a wise government decision as the leaders of Iran did in their time by purchasing S-300 and as Turkish president Erdogan did by purchasing the latest S-400 Triumph air defense system from Russia. They will be able to secure any facilities in Saudi Arabia.

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VAUSE: Hassan Hassan, a contributor to "The Atlantic" made this point, "Amazing -- in a summer with two of Saudi Arabia's arch rivals in the region, Putin says Riyadh should buy Russia air defense to protect its infrastructure against any attacks. All while the Iranian foreign minister and president are giggling."

And they were laughing. They're lauhging at the Saudi crown prince and at the U.S. president. SANGER: What I found remarkable about the Putin statement is that it's almost like an Amazon ad. You are advertising your air defense systems and then you have two good reviews, one from the Turks and one from the Iranians.

So this may work for Putin. What he is seeking to do is use his own arms sales to fracture the alliances in the West. So he's sold to Turkey, a NATO ally. Now he is arguing for sales to Saudi Arabia. I do not think it will work.

But it is interesting that you are seeing the Russians be so aggressive in doing this. And using their arms sales for such political purposes, just as President Trump has in those statements that you heard before.

VAUSE: David, we'll leave it there. Thank you so much, good to see you.

SANGER: Thank you, John, great to be with you.

VAUSE: Hurricane Humberto is strengthening. Now Bermuda could be in its path. The very latest on the storm up ahead.

Also bringing hope and medical help to the Bahamas, a community in need of both after Hurricane Dorian.

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VAUSE: Hurricane Humberto is gaining strength as it heads towards bermuda. Now a major hurricane with sustained winds of 185 kilometers per hour.

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VAUSE: Two weeks after Dorian hit the Bahamas, they are just starting to recover. So many in the hardest hit areas have yet to receive medical care. CNN's Rosa Flores is on the ground with medical teams making house calls amid the devastation.

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ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Two weeks after Hurricane Dorian ravaged the Bahamas, a U.S. team of medical professionals went door to door in communities around Freeport.

TIM LEYENDECKER, VOLUNTEER MEDICAL TEAM LEADER: We are a U.S. rescue team.

Are you OK?

FLORES (voice-over): Tim Leyendecker, a U.S. Coast Guard auxiliary officer who specializes in search and rescue operations, is leading this volunteer mission.

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LEYENDECKER: Initially it was major injuries and hurt people. Now it is just like they are living in no air conditioning, it's hot; they have no fluids.

FLORES (voice-over): His deputy is Dr. Patricia Harding. Word of mouth spreads quickly that doctors are making house calls on foot. This 81-year-old man was the first patient tended to. He complained of backache and a rash infection.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It hurts?

Your body hurts?

FLORES: So we cannot ask too many questions. We have to keep moving for safety reasons. Tim has made it very clear to us that we have to stay very close to him.

FLORES (voice-over): Then Dr. Harding is asked to check a pregnant woman inside a home.

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DR. PATRICIA HARDING, LEYENDECKER'S DEPUTY: It's OK.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's OK, honey. You're going to be fine.

HARDING: We will find a way to do an ultrasound so we can make sure that the baby is OK.

FLORES (voice-over): Patricia Miller breaks down, the 20-year old says she is worried that the hustle and bustle of riding buses to evacuate and the stresses of the hurricane have hurt her baby.

Our cameras stay outside the door as Dr. Harding tries to find a heartbeat.

Those sounds you hear, they are coming from the portable machine Dr. Harding is using to find the heartbeat. While it is difficult to pick up the fetal heart tones, Dr. Harding, whose specialty is obstetrics, says she believes Miller is about five months pregnant.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Meanwhile, take your vitamins, drink lots of fluids.

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FLORES (voice-over): Supplies are limited so it's packed in the back of the car. Resourcefulness is a must. See how the team used a nail on the side of a house to hang an IV bag. After a day of consultation on roadsides...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you show us what they gave you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, this is (INAUDIBLE).

FLORES (voice-over): In homes and front porches, the response from Bahamians, who thought the world was beginning to forget about their devastating new reality, to the U.S. medical team was the same -- Rosa Flores, CNN, Freeport, Bahamas.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're important. Yes. They are.

FLORES (voice-over): Rosa Flores, CNN, Freeport, Bahamas.

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VAUSE: Still to come a chaotic day of testimony on Capitol Hill. On one side, Democrats considering impeachment, on the other, Corey Lewandowski, a Trump loyalist and urging him on, Republican lawmakers.

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VAUSE: Welcome back everybody. Thank you for staying with us. I'm John Vause with the headlines this hour.

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JOHN VAUSE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Former military leader Benny Gantz could become Israel's next prime minister. Exit polls show his Blue and White Party, with a slight lead in voting for the Knesset. The Likud Party, led by the current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is still in a close second.

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Sources tell CNN the Pentagon has been ordered to plan potential responses to the Saudi oil field attack, but they say the White House is waiting for the leaders of Saudi to decide on their own response before the U.S. moves.

Houthi rebels in Yemen say they're responsible for Saturday's attack. Iran is denying any responsibility.

At least 28 people are dead after two suicide attacks in Afghanistan. In Parwan, at least 26 died when a bomber targeted an election rally. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was set to speak, but officials say he was not hurt. The Taliban claiming responsibility. Hours later, an attacker blew himself up near the U.S. embassy in Kabul, killing 22 people.

There were the eyerolls, the dismissing shaking of his head, the mocking of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and to top it off, he questioned the patriotism of Democrat lawmakers. The pugilistic Corey Lewandowski, the onetime Trump campaign manager, stonewalled his way through the first impeachment-related hearing in Congress.

Here's Sara Murray.

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SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump's former campaign manager stonewalling the House Judiciary Committee as its first official impeachment hearing turned into a spectacle.

REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): Mr. Lewandowski, is it correct that, as reported in the Mueller report on June 19, 2017, you met alone in the Oval Office with the president.

COREY LEWANDOWSKI, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: I said is there a book and page number you can reference me to, please? I don't have a copy of the report in front of me.

MURRAY: Corey Lewandowski never worked for the Trump administration, but that didn't stop the White House from instructing Lewandowski to limit his testimony to what was covered in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report.

LEWANDOWSKI: Congressman, the White House has directed I not disclose the substance of any discussions with the president and his advisors to protect executive branch confidentiality. And I recognize this is not my privilege, but I am respecting the White House's decision.

MURRAY: The White House blocked other former White House aides Rob Porter and Rick Dearborn from testifying at all.

NADLER: I think we should call this what it is, an absolute cover-up by the White House.

MURRAY: After slamming the investigation and his opening statement --

LEWANDOWSKI: As for actual collusion or conspiracy, there was none. What there has been, however, is harassment of this president from the day he won the election.

MURRAY: Lewandowski did acknowledge that President Trump asked him in 2017 to deliver a message to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, asking Sessions to limit the Mueller probe and not investigate the Trump campaign. REP. HANK JOHNSON (D-GA): President Trump was hounding you about when

are you going to deliver that message. Correct?

LEWANDOWSKI: Completely inaccurate, Congressman.

JOHNSON: Well, he asked you about it a few times, didn't he?

LEWANDOWSKI: No, he did not.

JOHNSON: He never asked you whether or not you had delivered that message?

LEWANDOWSKI: Not on multiple occasions, no.

JOHNSON: One occasion, OK? He did mention it on one occasion to you?

LEWANDOWSKI: I don't know if that's in the report, sir, or not.

MURRAY: Lewandowski tried to arrange a meeting with Sessions at Lewandowski's office, rather than the Justice Department.

LEWANDOWSKI: Well, Jeff and I are friends socially, and I wanted to have the opportunity to have a meal with Jeff and relay the conversation, which the president asked me to ask Jeff to consider giving.

MURRAY: The meeting never happened, and Lewandowski never delivered the message, but he claims the president's request was aboveboard.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't think that was illegal to obstruct justice?

LEWANDOWSKI: Congressman, the president has asked me to do nothing illegal.

MURRAY: But the defiant former Trump aid refused to divulge much more.

LEWANDOWSKI: Well, then don't ask me a question is you don't want to hear my answer.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm reclaiming my time. This is a House Judiciary, not a house party.

MURRAY: Lewandowski's behavior got a rise out of Democrats.

JOHNSON: Mr. Lewandowski, you are about like a fish being cleaned with a spoon. It's very hard to get an answer out of you.

MURRAY: While Republicans leapt at the chance to bash the Russia investigation and their Democratic colleagues.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This committee has become the search party for impeachment.

MURRAY: And Lewandowski piled on. LEWANDOWSKI: Well, Congressman, I think they hate this president more

than they love their country.

MURRAY (on camera): Now Corey Lewandowski was one of President Trump's earliest and most loyal aides, and he is known for being a pretty combative guy, so lawmakers shouldn't have been surprised by what they saw on Tuesday, and certainly, President Trump was pleased. He took to Twitter to thank Lewandowski.

Sara Murray, CNN, Washington.

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VAUSE: President Trump is in California for a series of fund-raisers. Before arriving, though, he spoke about the state's chronic problem of homelessness. The president said he was especially concerned that people were sleeping in entryways of prestigious buildings and on nice streets, and that was causing wealthy tenants to leave the country. He's closely working with the housing secretary, he says, to find a solution.

The White House is also working to revoke California's authority to set its own vehicle admission standards. That's because Donald Trump has tried to roll back Obama-era admissions standards and regulations, but California refused to follow, and so, too, did the car makers.

The Environmental Protection Agency made the announcement of the plan on Wednesday.

As for those looking to defeat Donald Trump come 2020, Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren is seeing her poll numbers rise after last week's presidential debate.

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A new NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" survey still has Joe Biden, the former vice president, on top, but Elizabeth Warren is now clearly in second place. Bernie Sanders a distant third, 14 percent.

U.K.'s supreme court is considering whether Boris Johnson acted lawfully by advising the queen to suspend Parliament for five weeks. The court is hearing two rulings, one from England that found the prime minister acted illegally. The other from Scotland, which said he did not. At the heart of the argument, the prime minister used his power to silence M.P.'s ahead of Brexit.

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LORD PANNICK, BARRISTER FOR ANTI-BREXIT CAMPAIGNER: The links of the prorogation is relevant, because the exceptional links of the prorogation in this case is strong evidence that the prime minister's motive was to silence Parliament for that period, because he sees Parliament as an obstacle to the furtherance of his political aims.

(END VIDEO CLIP) VAUSE: Government lawyers, though, argue the issue has no business

before the court, and prime minister's suspend Parliament all the time.

Court proceedings resume in the coming hours and will continue through Thursday.

Well, as the U.S. prime minister tells it, he has an amazing relationship with the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un. But for the parents of Otto Warmbier, the American student who was jailed in North Korea and then sent back to the U.S. all but dead, Trump's loyalty's in the wrong place. We'll have more on their unusual dinner meeting, just ahead.

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VAUSE: Just days after he met with the parents of Otto Warmbier, President Trump is calling his relationship with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, pretty good. Warmbier was a college student held by the North Koreans and died soon after he was released back in 2017.

In the past, his parents have slammed Trump's praise of the North Korean dictator, but that hasn't stopped the president's outreach to Pyongyang. Here's Brian Todd.

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BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): North Korea's dictator now seems open to something he'd previously brushed off, working-level meetings between officials lower-ranking then he and President Trump, meetings that could jump-start nuclear talks. Kim Jong-un's foreign ministry saying it hopes working-level talks will improve relations but also warns, on the contrary, they may add to the hostility towards each other.

FRANK JANNUZI, THE MANSFIELD FOUNDATION: The message they want to get across is that they are not over-eager for these talks, and that it is the Americans who should bring some concessions with respect to sanctions relief and some softening of the demands on the North, in terms of the extent of the denuclearization steps.

3TODD: The North Koreans' latest overture comes just after the parents of American college student Otto Warmbier went to the White House. Warmbier was a prisoner for 17 months in North Korea after being tried for stealing a propaganda poster.

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He went into a coma in North Korean custody and died just a few days after being returned home in 2017.

Despite President Trump's embrace of Warmbier's parents, there's been tension behind them, since Trump said he doesn't hold Kim Jong-un responsible for Otto Warmbier's death.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He felt badly about it.

He tells me that he didn't know about it, and I will take him at his word.

TODD: The Warmbiers were furious, issuing a statement criticizing the president for making excuses for the dictator. Warmbier's mother later calling Trump's diplomacy with Kim a charade.

CINDY WARMBIER, OTTO WARMBIER'S MOTHER: How can you have diplomacy with someone that never tells the truth? He lies, he lies, he lies all for himself.

TODD: CNN has asked the White House, the State Department and the Warmbiers for information on their weekend dinner at the White House. None of them would comment, but the dinner could have served to remind the president of the Kim regime's brutality.

JANNUZI: Human rights issues have fallen completely off the table. The president has praised Kim Jong-un's leadership. He's praised his integrity as a leader, and he's made no mention of either Otto or the broader human rights concerns that the U.S. has.

So -- so this dinner was an opportunity for the parents of Warmbier to r333333emind the president that these issues matter.

TODD: Meanwhile, veteran diplomats are concerned that President Trump has allowed Kim Jong-un to get the upper hand in other ways, especially by not holding the dictator accountable for conducting at least nine short-range missile tests since May.

NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER U.S. UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS: This is letting them get away with too much. One of the first objectives of any negotiation should get -- should be to have them freeze these missile tests. The fact that they're conducting them is really, I think, a defiance of the United States.

TODD (on camera): This comes against the backdrop of a window of opportunity for a nuclear deal which may be starting to close. Experts believe President Trump is getting more eager by the day to reach a nuclear deal with Kim, in parts so that Trump can bolster his own reelection campaign, and that Trump is willing to overlook missile tests, human rights violations and other transgressions by Kim to get that deal.

The dictator, experts say, is all too aware of Trump's eagerness and is trying to play that to his own advantage.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

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VAUSE: Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm John Vause. Stay with us. WORLD SPORT is up next.

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VAUSE: The do-over vote in Israel has Benjamin Netanyahu where he was five months ago: fighting for his political future as the attorney general prepares to indict the prime minister on charges of corruption.

It's a question of trust. The Trump administration is considering military action on Iran, retaliation for an attack on a Saudi oil production. But so far, there is little support in Congress or among U.S. allies.

And battered and bruised in the Bahamas.