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Iranian Charged in Alleged Plot to Kill John Bolton; Taiwan Calls China's Reunification Plans "Wishful Thinking"; Satellite Images Show Heavy Damage at Crimea Air Base; Ukraine Taking Advantage of Western-Provided Weapons; North Korea Declares Victory Over COVID. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired August 11, 2022 - 04:30   ET



MAX FOSTER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Max Foster. If you are just joining us, let's me bring you up-to-date with our top stories this hour.

The "Wall Street Journal" is reporting an inside tip led the FBI to search Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago residence. CNN can't confirm this report, but a former Trump official tells us it was most likely a tip from someone close to the former president.

Meanwhile Trump invoked his Fifth Amendment right in a separate investigation in New York, he declined to answer hundreds of questions from the New York Attorney General Letitia James who is looking into his organization's finances.

Now to details of an alleged assassination plot targeting two members of the Trump administration. The U.S. Justice Department announced charges against Iranian national Shahram Poursafi for allegedly trying to hire a hitman to kill former Trump national security advisor John Bolton. Officials say it was likely in retaliation for the U.S. airstrike in 2020 that killed Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard.

Now prosecutors say Poursafi tried to pay $300,000 for someone to kill Bolton and $1 million for a quote, second job. Sources say former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was the second target. Bolton said that he'd been aware of the threat from Iran.


JOHN BOLTON, FORMER TRUMP NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: As the FBI warnings to me grew more severs as time went on -- and the FBI was doing this pursuant to their process called duty to warn when they learn of a foreign threat against an American -- eventually by the late fall of 2021, I asked if it's this serious, perhaps the Secret Service should be involved. And ultimately President Biden made that decision and I appreciate it obviously.

(END VIDEO CLIP) FOSTER: CNN's Fred Pleitgen joins us now from Moscow. We're just learning about the details about this now, aren't we. But what more do we understand about the plot?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well apparently according to the Justice Department it was a fairly elaborate plot. And they said that it was something that was not in the stages of just being sort of thought up, that it was already actioned essentially trying to be taken.

They said that Shahram Poursafi was in the process of contacting someone who was actually an informant of the U.S. authorities. Offered around $300,000 for the assassination of John Bolton and apparently wanted to do so in the parking garage of the place where John Bolton lives. Sent some photos of the address where John Bolton was also asked the source who was actually then apparently feeding all that information about more information about what John Bolton usually does. And apparently also said that there could be a follow-on plot, offered $1 million for that.

And the U.S. now understands that that was the former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who was apparently the target of that plot.

What we have now though, Max, is we also have reactions coming from the Iranians, the Iranian side. This is the spokesman for Iran's foreign ministry calling all of this a fairytale, saying that the United States is dreaming all of this up. And also warning against any actions being taken against Iranian citizens -- obviously speaking about Poursafi but also against the Iranian state.

However, we do have to point out that the Iranians have never made a secret out of the fact that they want continued retaliation for the assassination of Qasem Soleimani. They of course, shot several rockets and a U.S. base at the time in 2020. I happen to be in Iran as that was taking place. But they also said that their retaliation would be long term. Now, we of course have more from John Bolton who was on CNN last night. I want to listen to some more of what he said.


BOLTON: It tells you what the regime is, it tells you about its character. It wouldn't surprise me. I think that there are a substantial number of people who are vulnerable to these Iranian efforts and unfortunately, I'm afraid we may learn of more.


If this doesn't show anything about Iran's willingness to try and intimidate its adversaries, I don't know what else to say. I think that we ought to put the kibosh on these negotiations and deal with the growing threat that Iran poses and not try to appease them.


PLEITGEN: And of course, Max, the U.S. does say that there are continued efforts at heightened security for current and former U.S. officials, that the U.S. believes could be under threat from Iranian plot specifically in retaliation to the assassination of Qasem Soleimani.

But all this also comes at an extremely important time as the U.S. and other members of the JCPOA, the Iran nuclear agreement and of course, Iran themselves try to revive that agreement which apparently is in the final stages. So certainly, this comes at a very interesting time.

FOSTER: Absolutely, Fred, thank you.

Now to Taiwan mocking China's latest push for, quote, peaceful reunification describing it as a wishful thinking. Beijing's calls for a one country, two systems policy for Taiwan -- similar to the one used in Hong Kong. Also not going down well in the self-ruled island.

Now China published its intentions on Wednesday in its so-called white paper in which it refused to rule out a use of force. The Chinese military finally did end its aggressive actions around the island and Taiwan wrapped up round two of its own military exercises a little while ago.

Let's bring in CNN's Blake Essig who is live in Taipei. And it was interesting reading this white paper because it does show the long term plan that China has for the island.

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Max, look I mean, that's been the long term plan from Beijing towards Taiwan for a very long time, decades. So, it doesn't seem like a whole lot is new as far as these white papers are concerned. But the dispute between China and Taiwan really does continue to play out after two weeks of increased military tensions around the Taiwan Strait.

The Chinese state council issued this new white paper concerning what is called the Taiwan question. In it China reiterates its proposal for that one country two systems model for unification and as you said is similar to what is being used in Hong Kong.

Now while the paper essentially says that China won't rule out using force against Taiwan, it does emphasize that the priority is to achieve peaceful reunification. Of course, Taiwan once again rejected Beijing's proposal calling it a crude, clumsy, arrogant and full of wishful thinking. In response the government basically said that the 23 million people of Taiwan will decide its fate and that they will not accept what an authoritarian regime envisions for them.

Here is Taiwan's representative to the United States. She recently spoke with CNN's Dana Bash about China's position on the self- governing island.


BI-KHIM HSIAO, TAIWAN'S REPRESENTATIVE TO U.S.: I think China's behavior is reflective of a typical abuser in society claiming ownership of Taiwan and trying to intimidate us from making friends. And they're also trying to threaten friends from visiting us. We can't let this become a regular pattern and the people of Taiwan deserve to -- as we are a force for good in the region, we feel that we deserve to live the kind of life that we've fought hard to build in a free and open society.


ESSIG: Well, Beijing's latest version of the white paper was released on the same day that it was announced that China's most recent military drills held here in Taiwan over the past roughly six days were completed -- Max.

FOSTER: OK, Blake in Taipei, thank you.

Now, Russia claims explosions at a key air base in Crimea weren't a setback, but satellite images tell a different story. What we're learning about the blasts next.

And later, Kobe Bryant's widow gets her day in court. The trial over the photos from the late basketball star's helicopter crash has started in Los Angeles. We'll have the latest.



FOSTER: The recent explosions of a Russian air base in Crimea may have caused much more damage than Moscow has claimed. New satellite images show at least seven aircraft destroyed despite Russia saying that none had been damaged. Four blast craters can be seen as well as burn marks and scarred vegetation. This video shows three explosions sending black mushroom clouds into the sky on Tuesday. We still don't know what caused the blasts.

Meanwhile Ukrainian officials say the Dnipropetrovsk region in central Ukraine has endured a night of shelling and casualties. One district was reportedly hit with 120 rockets. Ukraine is also striking back. The Ukrainian military says it carried out air strikes on several Russian targets in the south including in in the occupied city of Kherson. CNN's Nic Robertson joins us now from Kramatorsk, Ukraine. A lot of this being seen as progress for the Ukrainians.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Certainly, what happened in Crimea at the air base there would definitely be significant for the Ukrainians because the Russians have operated there up until now as if they are beyond the reach of Ukrainian forces. Ukrainians are not saying what happened there. The Russians accounted that it was ammunition exploding -- doesn't seem to fit the images. The new video shows two explosions that are quite close to each other.

So, it certainly, that puts the Ukrainians, if you will, in a stronger position. They almost undoubtedly are from all the video evidence we see and satellite imagery responsible for what happened at that airfield, precisely how we still don't know. So that's definitely a stronger position for the Ukrainians.

But the reality is that Russia is continuing to hit not far from here. There's a town called Bakhmut. Now seven civilians were killed there yesterday from Russian strikes. And Russian continues to roll ever so slowly forward into that quite significant and large town.

This city here of Kramatorsk was hit overnight by some of the S-300 Russian surface to air missiles that are now used target to ground targets. Explosions can be heard here There is a constant level of activity all along the hundreds of miles of frontlines here.

We went yesterday to see an artillery unit using some Polish donated (INAUDIBLE).



ROBERTSON (voice over): Suddenly, action camouflage off, Ukrainian troops rushing their new NATO compatible artillery out of cover. The Polish Crabs, a 40 ton beast of battle.

This day targeting Russian positions almost 30 kilometers, 18 miles away. They shoot and scoot.

ROBERTSON: That whole operation took about two to three minutes, they calculate. They've got about eight minutes to get back under the tree line here to be safe from any return fire.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): There's a lot these troops like about their new kit, safety high on the list.

It's so much better than we had before. Gun Commander Vasli (ph) says its mobile, we're out of danger fast.

ROBERTSON: So, this is your command vehicle?

VASLI, GUN COMMANDER: Yes. It's our, my command vehicle.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Artem runs the whole battery.

ROBERTSON: So, you can see the whole battlefield here?


ROBERTSON (voice-over): It's all high tech.

ROBERTSON: So, where there's a cross here, this is the target?

ARTEM: Yes, this target, we should already started.

ROBERTSON: You already shot at this target.


ROBERTSON (voice-over): A former math teacher. He had two weeks training on the Crabs.

ARTEM: To learn it, it's very -- I would say it's -- ROBERTSON: User friendly.


ROBERTSON (voice-over): Poland gave Ukraine 18 of the Crab system and they're buying another 56. Two months in service their accuracy making them popular.

ARTEM: So, very big difference between this new guns and Soviet old guns because it's guns got the new GPS systems.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Each shot a better chance of hitting its target.

ROBERTSON: These troops are really hoping the Crab system can make a difference. So far, this war has been fought mostly by artillery. The Russians massively out gunning the Ukrainians.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): But even with the new guns, there's a problem, ammunition here is tight.

ROBERTSON: Do you have enough shells?

ROBERTSON (voice-over): His answer with a wry smile and chuckle. I'd like to have more rounds to send the occupiers back home.


ROBERTSON (on camera): Some of those troops here said it was very interesting with those troops yesterday. They were telling us that since the U.S. gifted HIMARS systems came into service here, they've noticed the number attacks on them going down. They believe that's because hitting the ammo dumps, Russia's ammo dumps is actually blunting Russia's advance. It might be blunting it, Max, but from what we see here, it is not stopping it. But that's the effort to try and hold the line, keep holding it.

FOSTER: OK, Nic Robertson in Kramatorsk, Ukraine, thank you very much indeed.

Just into CNN, London's Metropolitan Police say they've arrested alleged ISIS jihadist on various terrorism offenses. Aine Leslie Davis was detained Wednesday evening upon his arrival at the England's Luton airport. He is due to appear at a London court in the coming hours. Again, an alleged ISIS jihadist arrested on various terrorism charges due to appear in a London court later today.

Kim Jong-un declares victory over COVID-19 in North Korea. Those close to the leader say he himself wasn't immune from what they are calling a fever, next.



FOSTER: North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un has declared victory for his nation over COVID-19. According to state media -- a claim CNN can't verify -- but it came amid reports that the leader himself deeply suffered from a high fever during the outbreak and now his sister is calling for deadly retaliation against South Korea for spreading the virus north.

CNN's Paula Hancocks is with us from Seoul. Paula, make sense of these messages were getting from the North.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Max, effectively what North Korea is saying is that they have achieved in just 91 days what the rest of the world is still struggling to achieve in more than 2 1/2 years which is eradicating COVID-19. Let listen to exactly what Kim Jong-un said.

KIM JONG-UN, NORTH KOREAN LEADER (through translator): The difficult war against the disease is now over and today we are finally declaring victory.


HANCOCKS: There are many questions from experts as to how or if this is even possible. But the numbers aside and the facts aside, this is a message that Kim Jong-un is giving to his people and is giving to the rest of the world.

He was also seen maskless, shaking hand, congratulating those officials that he said helped him to beat COVID-19.

Now, we also heard from his sister Kim Yo-jong -- also a high official within the system -- and she said that Kim Jong-un himself had suffered from a very high fever. To that we did see images on state run media of emotional members of the elite wiping eyes, crying to hear of his suffering. But also, Kim Yo-jong really playing into a message that they have played into consistently that Kim Jong-un is suffering alongside his people.

Max, you also had strong words for South Korea. Once again blaming the South for introducing the virus into North Korea, claiming that it was the hot air balloons which carry over anti-North Korea propaganda into North Korea that actually started the outbreak in the first place. Saying that there would be deadly retaliation against South Korea if this happens again, and that they would respond by wiping out the South Korean authorities. Now, it's something that South Korea has rejected. They have said that they do not believe this to be the case and they were threatening words from the North -- Max.


FOSTER: Paula in Seoul, thank you.

A jury has been picked and opening statements have been heard in the case of Vanessa Bryant versus the Los Angeles County. The wife of basketball legend Kobe Bryant is suing the county for taking and sharing photos of the helicopter crash that killed her husband and daughter Gianna. Bryant's attorney showed how they were spread informally to dozens of deputies and first responders exploiting the horrific event. Defense lawyers argued they kept the photos from spreading online --something Bryant's lawyer said could still happen. The trial is expected at least two weeks.

The cost of streaming continues to spike. Disney+ has announced a $3 price increase coming this December, the highest in its short history. A new ad supported plan will also be available. It comes amid a great quarter for the mouse adding more than 14 million subscribers and $21 billion in revenue for the company overall. Disney says that the new ad based offering will help cater to the diverse needs of customers and appeal to even more people.

New image of Hollywood actor Johnny Depp show him starring in his first film since the end of his defamation case against ex-wife Amber Heard. Depp is seen donning regal attire, white curly hair and sporting a blindfold. The new role, King Louis XV in the upcoming historical French drama Jeanne Du Barry. It's loosely inspired by the life of Du Barry who was the king's last royal mistress. The film is due out next year.

Thank you for joining me here on CNN. I'm Max Foster in London. "EARLY START" with Christine Romans is next.