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North Korea Lashes Out at New U.S. Sanctions; Explosion Near Pub in Japan Injuries Dozens; U.K. Prime Minister to Argue against a

December 18, 2018

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<Head: North Korea Lashes Out at New U.S. Sanctions; Explosion Near

Pub in Japan Injuries Dozens; U.K. Prime Minister to Argue against a

Second Brexit Referendum; Trump Lashes Out at Cohen, Calls Him a

“Rat”; Saudi Slam U.S. Senate For Vote On Khashoggi Murder; CNN Goes

Inside Tunnel Running From Lebanon To Israel; Christian Pastor Wang Yi

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[00:00:00]

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CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): North Korea is furious over new U.S. sanctions. Pyongyang says they could put an end to denuclearization efforts.

British prime minister Theresa May does not wants a second referendum on Brexit and in a few hours will make her case to lawmakers.

“Over my dead body.” Rudy Giuliani’s answer when asked if the president might grant an interview to the special counsel.

Live from the CNN Center here in Atlanta, it’s great to have you with us. I am Cyril Vanier.

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VANIER: So North Korea is lashing out at the U.S. over new sanctions introduced last week. Pyongyang says the sanctions could block the path to denuclearization and warned the two sides could return to, quote, “exchanges of fire.”

The U.S. sanctions were placed on three North Korean officials for alleged human rights abuses. Will Ripley is in Hong Kong.

Will, it’s always hard know what is a serious breakdown in this rapport between the U.S. and North Korea and what is just posturing, so help us out.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, these sanctions really aren’t that big of a deal in terms of the practical implications. Yes, the three officials who are named here are very close to Kim Jong-un. In fact, I have seen them standing on stage with Kim Jong-un at events in North Korea when I traveled there.

So you’re talking about the minister of state security, the head of the organization guidance department and the director of the department of propaganda and agitation. This was a symbolic gesture on the part of the U.S. government to bring up the human right issue, which has been on the back burner with denuclearization at the forefront.

And frankly, if the Treasury really wanted to enrage North Korea, they could sanction Kim Jong-un or a member of his family, like his sister, Kim Yo Jong. Nonetheless, obviously North Korea is responding back, saying they are outraged and shocked.

From the North Korean perspective, they’ve really been surprised here. They thought that if things went well with President Trump in Singapore back in June, which they did, that sanctions relief would come very quickly. And that has not happened.

And the North Koreans are growing increasingly frustrated; and yet you notice, in every single piece of propaganda, every news release, every article, they never criticize President Trump because they are still holding out hope, Cyril, that there will be a summit with President Trump and Kim Jong-un that will end in a deal more favorable to the North Koreans.

VANIER: And President Trump himself has also been very complementary toward the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.

So where are we now right now on the global efforts to denuclearize North Korea?

RIPLEY: They still have their nuclear arsenal, they have their full capability, probably have manufactured more nuclear weapons over the last several months or at least have continued to upgrade their missile facilities.

And the reason why is that there is no written agreement telling them to do otherwise. And, frankly, if this time is about confidence building, I would say that the North Koreans’ confidence in the United States and vice versa is dropping, not going up at this point.

And that has do with the fact that the U.S. wants North Korea to start to take tangible steps, be transparent about how many weapons they have, the facilities where they are housed, their missile bases.

The North Koreans say why would we be transparent if the U.S. is not willing to budge on sanctions relief, on easing some of the economic pressure, as a reward for the pretty small steps that have been taken thus far, the destruction of the nuclear test site, which arguably they didn’t really need anymore?

And the promise of dismantling a key missile launch site, also the status of that is not clear, and international inspectors have not been allowed in as promised.

Also, Kim Jong-un made a commitment earlier this year, when he had a summit in Pyongyang with the South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, that he would try to visit Seoul, South Korea, as soon as possible and President Moon said he expected it to happen before the end of the year. There’s a lot of chatter about it possibly happening this week. But a source told me the chances of that are next to zero. One, they are having a hard time sorting out logistics but also the North Koreans are not keen on moving too quickly with these negotiations, especially because it’s unclear what’s going on with the United States.

So if there is no summit in Seoul this month, that could potentially impact plans for a summit in January or February with Kim Jong-un and President Trump.

VANIER: All right, Will Ripley reporting live from Hong Kong on this, we’ll want to talk to you again next hour. Thank you.

Japanese authorities are investigating the cause of a massive explosion near a pub in Sapporo. At least 42 people were injured, one of them critically. The blast Sunday night was so powerful, it shattered windows across the street.

A fire that followed also caused the building to collapse. Witnesses said that they smelled gas after the explosion but a gas leak has not been confirmed --

[00:05:00]

VANIER: -- at this stage.

Saudi Arabia is lashing out at the U.S. Senate for its vote on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Lawmakers on Thursday left no doubt as to what they think. They are holding Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman entirely responsible for the journalist’s murder.

It’s a rare rebuke of president Donald Trump, who has steered clear of blaming the crown prince. And there was a second rebuke, a majority also voted to halt U.S. military support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Just hours ago, the Saudi foreign ministry shot back at all of this.

The statement says it rejects the Senate’s position and what it calls interference in internal affairs.

CNN national security analyst Samantha Vinograd. She worked on national security in the Obama White House for four years.

Sam, what surprises me in the Saudi foreign minister’s statement is the word “interference;” they reject any interference in their internal affairs. But the American senators are taking a position on the murder of a “Washington Post” journalist who was a resident of the United States.

They also took a position on their country’s involvement, the U.S. involvement in the war in Yemen. I don’t see how this is interference.

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, it’s certainly not interference for the U.S. Congress to try to hold a murderer accountable for a crime that was committed against an American resident.

And by the way, a crime that was committed outside of the territorial borders of Saudi Arabia. Jamal Khashoggi’s murder was conducted within the Saudi consulate in Turkey.

But I think we have to read this statement as intended perhaps, for a U.S. audience of one. This statement is intended to speak directly to President Trump and not to really get to the concerns that have been raised by the U.S. Senate, by talking about interference.

And later in the statement, by talking about Saudi Arabia’s role in the region, the kingdom is obviously trying to message to President Trump that they remain his ally and that the U.S. Congress is up to no good.

VANIER: Here is what the wider audience thinks of the U.S.′ response to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. We asked them, CNN, a few days ago whether they thought the U.S. response had been too tough, just about right or not tough enough: 58 percent of the public believes that the U.S. has not been tough enough on Saudi Arabia over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

And the U.S. senators unanimously hold the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, responsible for this.

How much pressure is this going to put, does this put on Trump ultimately?

VINOGRAD: It’s interesting because the poll numbers don’t actually reflect where the U.S. Senate is. Where there is strong bipartisan consensus to do more against Saudi Arabia. There is more of a divide in the U.S. House of Representatives.

However, I don’t think that these polling numbers or the congressional outlook on what do with Saudi Arabia will really put pressure on President Trump. He’s already said that he will do whatever it takes to maintain the status quo with the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

And I don’t think he feels pressure to change course because, while a resolution passed in the U.S. Senate, there is almost no chance it will pass in the House of Representatives, which could mean that things just remain how they are.

VANIER: So this is how it ends then?

Saudi Arabia has already paid any price it’s going to pay for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi?

VINOGRAD: The only place where it could be different is when it comes to U.S. arms sales. The Senate has to approve those arms sales and they could hold them up if they so choose.

Otherwise, I think that the president really has very wide latitude to continue what he’s doing with the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, because it is unlikely that there will be any change of posture that is approved by the House and the Senate. VANIER: Samantha Vinograd, thank you very much for joining us.

VINOGRAD: Thanks, Cyril.

VANIER: A second referendum on Britain’s exit from the European Union now looks increasingly like a possibility. And prime minister Theresa May is prepared to argue against it.

She will speak to the House of Commons later on Monday and she is expected to say another vote would, quote, “break faith” with the British people and would further divide the U.K.

Guess who is in favor of a second referendum?

Former prime minister Tony Blair. Ms. May has been in a very public spat with Mr. Blair, accusing him of undermining her negotiations.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY BLAIR, FORMER BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: So what seemed a few months ago unlikely is now, I would say, above a 50 percent likelihood. We will go back to the people.

Ultimately this could even make sense to the prime minister, who could perfectly legitimately say I did my best. My deal was rejected by Parliament and you, the people, must give direction because Parliament cannot.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VANIER: So CNN’s European affairs commentator Dominic Thomas joins us.

Dominic, your thoughts on the Theresa May versus Tony Blair spat?

[00:10:00]

DOMINIC THOMAS, CNN EUROPEAN AFFAIRS COMMENTATOR: Right. We are in the home stretch here, Cyril, and this is really the last opportunity for anybody who wishes to speak better do it right now. What’s interesting is that Tony Blair is not the only former prime minister. In fact, every living former prime minister, from both the Conservatives and the Labour, have been extraordinarily critical both of this process and also in terms of the way they have talked about the urgency of thinking about the implications of this.

And that is really Tony Blair’s point: in this new 21st century geopolitical world, it’s a stronger Europe that’s needed, not a more divided Europe, and that the economic and political implications, both for the U.K. and the E.U. are absolutely tremendous.

And he is determined to try to find a way for the United Kingdom to remain in the European Union.

VANIER: What strikes me is, if you go to the substance of their arguments, the pro second referendums versus the anti-second referendums, they have both invoked democracy. Ms. May would say -- says it would be a denial of democracy to go back to the people because it would amount to not listening to what they said the first time.

And then people like Tony Blair would say, well, no, you have give it back to the people because it’s deadlocked and that is democracy.

THOMAS: Yes. Well, if you take the argument that a vote has taken place and of course there’s tremendous concern that those who voted the first time around and got the result, which was to leave the European Union, are going to be extraordinarily frustrated if this has to go back to another vote.

Let’s not forget that Theresa May is appealing, of course, to the far right fringe of her political party and that the Brexiteers and the United Kingdom Independence Party have made this their whole reason for living, to try and get the U.K. to leave the European Union.

Now when you take it and look at it from the other perspective, I think it’s important to distinguish between a referendum and a general election. We are not talking questions a general election here.

A referendum is a legislative mechanism designed to test the pulse of the people at a particular moment in history. And it’s absolutely clear that in the last 2.5 years, the level of information -- and one could say the education of the British public -- has been such that people are way better informed now than they were then to make an educated decision, let alone the fact that the election was riddled with all sorts of lies, false promises, allegations of interference.

And one could really question whether or not the process itself was fully democratic.

VANIER: All right, Dominic Thomas, joining us from Los Angeles today, thank you so much.

THOMAS: Thank you.

VANIER: President Trump in a furious mood and lashing out on Twitter. What he’s saying now about his former fixer, who is about to spend the next three years in prison.

And the president’s current lawyer was all over the news networks this weekend, talking about his boss. Up next, we’ll hear what he had to say about the possibility of an interview between Trump and the special counsel.

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VANIER: President Trump capping the weekend with a furious Twitter tirade. In a string of tweets Sunday he lashed out to the comedy show, “Saturday Night Live,” and what he called “unfair news coverage.”

He bashed his predecessor, Barack Obama’s, border policy and he railed against the “Russian witch hunt hoax.”

Speaking of the Russia investigation, most Americans say the president is not telling the truth about it by a pretty wide margin, 62-34. That’s according to a new NBC News/“Wall Street Journal” poll.

Meanwhile, Mr. Trump also debuted a new insult for his former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, calling him “a rat.” Cohen faces three years in prison for tax fraud and campaign finance law violations that he says the president ordered. The president denies that.

The president’s current lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, dropped a bombshell of his own, suggesting that talks between Mr. Trump and Cohen about a proposed Trump Tower in Moscow could have continued until shortly before the U.S. presidential election.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, CHIEF ANCHOR, ABC NEWS: Did Donald Trump know that Michael Cohen was pursuing the Trump Tower in Moscow into the summer of 2016?

RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP: According to the answer that he gave, we would have covered all the way up to November of -- covering the November 2016, said he had conversations with him about president hide this. They know and --

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: But earlier they had said those conversations stopped in January 2016.

GIULIANI: I don’t -- I mean, the date -- I mean, until you actually sit down and you look at the questions and you go back and you look at the papers and you look at the -- you’re not going to know what happened. That’s why -- that’s why lawyers, you know, prepare for those answers --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VANIER: And yet the timeline matters. CNN’s Boris Sanchez takes a closer look at Rudy Giuliani’s comments.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Rudy Giuliani, the president’s attorney, in cleanup mode after the president’s former attorney, Michael Cohen, was sentenced to three years in prison on Friday and made some disparaging comments about the president over the weekend.

Giuliani trying to put some distance between Cohen and the White House, suggesting that he could not be believed aiming to discredit him, suggesting for example that those hush money payments made to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, alleging affairs with the president were not campaign contributions.

Keep in mind that what some of the charges that Michael Cohen pled guilty to in the Southern District of New York were related to were those hush money payments, campaign finance violations, that he made to those women.

Further, Giuliani suggested the only way to believe Cohen’s claims are to take his word for it. That’s simply not the case. The Southern District of New York has presented corroborating evidence to suggest that Michael Cohen is telling the truth.

We also know that AMI, the company that owns the “National Enquirer,” which helped to bury those negative stories about the president, has corroborated what Cohen has said as well. So there’s what Rudy Giuliani is saying and then there’s what’s actually happened in court.

One thing that’s clear is that we haven’t possibly heard the last from Michael Cohen. Representative Elijah Cummings, the incoming chairman of the House Oversight Committee, told Jake Tapper over the weekend on “STATE OF THE UNION,” that he would like to see Michael Cohen testify before Congress yet again. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MD.: I’m hoping that Mr. Cohen will come before the Congress where he can tell the --

[00:20:00]

CUMMINGS: -- American public exactly what he has been saying to Mueller and others without interfering with the Mueller investigation. I think the American people just voted for transparency and integrity in our hearings.

They want to hear from him. And I certainly would like to see him come in the months of January to -- before the Congress and so the people’s representatives will have an opportunity to ask him questions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

sanction The other question that’s out there, following reporting from CNN last week, that Robert Mueller was still interested in securing an interview with President Trump and having him answer questions in person, despite those written answers to questions from the special counsel that were submitted last month, is whether the president would actually sit down for an interview.

Rudy Giuliani was asked about that on Sunday and he sort of joked about it. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Is the special counsel -- does he want to interview the president?

GIULIANI: Yes, good luck. Good luck. After what they did to Flynn, the way they trapped him into perjury and no sentence for him, 14 days for Papadopoulos. I did better on traffic violations than they did with Papadopoulos.

WALLACE: So, when you say, good luck, you’re saying no way, no interview?

(CROSSTALK)

GIULIANI: They are a joke. They’re a joke over my dead body, but you know, I could be dead.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: In a separate interview, Giuliani struck a bit more of a serious tone, saying that he wouldn’t comment on that CNN reporting; though he did say that there is an agreement out there between the president’s attorneys and the special counsel that allows for more time and discussion over whether the president will answer more questions that may come from the special counsel -- Boris Sanchez, CNN, at the White House.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VANIER: CNN senior political analyst and senior editor of “The Atlantic,” Ron Brownstein, joins me.

Ron, Rudy Giuliani says that Trump may have had discussions about building a Trump Tower in Moscow right through to November 2016, the month that he was elected.

Did he just create more problems for Trump?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure. Absolutely, as he has on several occasions. You know, Cyril, I am just struck by the list of things that we know now, the impact they might have had if we knew them then.

Certainly during the campaign the president’s argument, his assertion constantly was he does no business in Russia, I have no business in Russia. I think if the American people knew that he was negotiating a deal with the Russians, right up almost literally until the day of the election, that might have had an impact on the thinking of some people.

In the same way that, if they knew that Michael Cohen was arranging hush money payments to two women who claimed affairs with him, that might have had some impact.

In the same way that, if they knew the meeting at Trump Tower had taken place with the Russians. It’s just extraordinary the amount of peeling of the onion that has happened since the election.

And I had we are nowhere near done peeling back what we will learn about this story.

VANIER: And for most of this presidency, Donald Trump says he’s been the victim of a witch hunt, referring to the Russia investigation. On Sunday he tweeted 10 times and, in my count, eight of those tweets are in support of his narrative, that he is being targeted by a witch hunt.

So he’s still pushing this very hard. But look at this new poll number. This is from NBC/ Wall Street.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWNSTEIN: Yes.

VANIER: And 62 percent of people say that Trump has not been truthful when it comes to the Russia investigation.

Does that mean that the president’s counter narrative, the whole witch hunt story, is just not convincing people anymore?

He’s failed on that count?

BROWNSTEIN: I don’t think it was ever designed to persuade the public. It’s always been about just provided, in essence, a talking point to consolidate and energize his base in the same way that his policy agenda is aimed overwhelmingly at his core supporters.

But the midterm election and this poll are both reminders that his base are not the only people listening to this. You know, the fact that 62 percent of the public think that he’s not been truthful about the investigation and that by a double-digit margin, more people say it should continue than end in this poll, with 55 percent of the people polled in this NBC/“Wall Street Journal” survey said the House should be conducting more oversight and investigation.

All of it is an indication to me that this behavior, this attempt to constantly rally the base in the face of facts, contravening presidential norms, talking about someone cooperating with law enforcement calling a rat in terms of, as several have pointed out today, a mafia boss might use, all of this does have a consequence.

it is not only his core supporters that are listening; the entire country is listening and all of it is having an effect. He has an approval rating that is stuck, depending on the poll, somewhere between the low 40 s --

(CROSSTALK)

VANIER: Let’s put it up because we have the new number. Again, this is the NBC/“Wall Street Journal” number. But approval rating here at 43 percent. So let’s just say it’s roughly stable. You can quibble with it a couple percentage points here or there, depending on who’s conducting the poll.

But it’s roughly --

(CROSSTALK)

VANIER: -- so what does that tell us?

If a majority of people think he’s lying about this thing which is extremely important, the Russia investigation, yet his approval rating stays stable?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. Look, you know, unemployment is 4 percent --

[00:25:00]

BROWNSTEIN: -- first of all, and he has an approval rating in the low 40s, that is about 10 or 12 points below where you would expect it to be with unemployment this low.

There’s no other interpretation of that than voters -- there are a share of voters who are satisfied with the economic direction of the country, who are not satisfied with the way that he approaches the presidency.

And the second thing and even the bigger thing, is that, in such a polarized era, presidents operate within a relatively narrow band. But I think the reality of being stuck in the low 40s is meaningful.

When you look at this last election, 90 percent, according to the exit poll, of the people who disapproved of the president’s performance voted Democratic for Congress. That was the highest percentage of people who disapproved of a president and voted for another party in House races since 1982.

That was the headwind that Republicans simply could not overcome, particularly, as you know, in these white color suburban districts, where his approval rating was lower yet. So it’s not a level which leaves him out of the game. He’s still competitive potentially in 2020 with his ability to potentially thread a path through the Rust Belt.

But it’s 43 percent, 44 percent or 40 percent is not where a president wants to be and you would say it is an uphill climb to win reelection if his approval -- he cannot improve his approval from where it is now.

VANIER: Ron Brownstein, thank you so much for your analysis.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.

VANIER: Still to come, CNN goes underground with the Israeli military, uncovering cross-border tunnels that the Israelis fear could be used to attack civilians.

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[00:30:00] VANIER: to the CNN NEWSROOM, I’m Cyril Vanier. We’ve got the headlines this hour.

The Saudi foreign ministry says it rejects the U.S. Senate’s position on the murder of journalist, Jamal Khashoggi. On Thursday, the Senate condemned the Saudi Crown Prince for the killing, it also voted to end military support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

North Korea says new sanctions imposed by the U.S. could block the path to denuclearization. The U.S. Treasury sanctioned three Senior North Korean officials last week, for alleged human rights abuses. Pyongyang warning that the measures could return both sides to “exchanges of fire.”

An explosion near a pub, in the northern Japanese City of Sapporo, has injured at least 42 people, including one, critically. People living nearby said they smelled gas after the explosion, but the cause of the blast is unknown and still under investigation.

A protest against the United Nation’s migration pact turned violent, Sunday, in Brussels. Police say at least 5,000 people marched in a demonstration organized by Flemish right wing parties. Some of those protesters clashed with officers. Police used tear gas and water cannons to disburse the crowds.

It’s been almost two weeks since the Israeli army began Operation Northern Shield, along the border with Lebanon. The army says the aim is to uncover and disable tunnels built by Hezbollah militant group. CNN is the first broadcaster to get permission to bring a camera inside one of the tunnels. Ian Lee has this exclusive report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

IAN LEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There is a secret in this hole. Those responsible prefer you not to know. We dropped a camera down. Passed tens of meters of hard limestone to reveal a sophisticated tunnel, complete with ventilation, lights, it’s large enough for an NBA player to stand in. Israel says it’s the work of Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group with ties to Iran.

It was important for the Israeli military to drill as close to this wall as possible. And that’s because on the other side of the wall, is Lebanon. And what they wanted to show is how Hezbollah’s tunnel began in Lebanon and entered Israel.

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