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Trump Accuses Obama of Wiretapping; Trump Spends Many Weekends in Florida; World Famine; "SNL" Imagines Jeff Sessions as Forrest Gump. Aired 4-5a ET
Aired March 5, 2017 - 04:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): President Donald Trump accusing his predecessor, Barack Obama, of wiretapping his phones before the election. A serious allegation but he offers no proof.
Plus: stealing the president's thunder: how the ongoing controversy over attorney Jeff Sessions has Donald Trump seething.
And devastation in Somalia; more than 110 people have died after a severe famine hit and more are in danger of dying. We'll talk about that this hour.
From our headquarters in Atlanta, welcome to our viewers here in the U.S. and around the world. This is CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Natalie Allen.
ALLEN: Our top story, as we mentioned, the Trump White House has yet to provide any evidence to back up explosive allegations the president made against Barack Obama.
In a flurry of tweets early Saturday, Trump accused the Obama administration of tapping his phones last year in Trump Tower. A spokesman for former President Obama dismissed the allegation as "simply false." A former U.S. intelligence official called it "nonsense."
The president apparently blindsided his own staff when he charged, quote, "How low has President Obama gone to tap my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon Watergate. Bad or sick guy!"
Here's more now from CNN's Athena Jones.
ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there. The White House has not provided any evidence to support the president's unsubstantiated allegations. But my colleague, senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny, did speak to a senior administration official in Washington, who said that White House colleagues were surprised by the president's tweet storm. They didn't know about it until it had happened.
Now, it's not uncommon for the president to wake up early and begin tweeting. In this case, he began tweeting at around 6:30 am and it's clear he did not run those tweets by anyone on his communications team.
This official appointed to a story on the conservative website Breitbart News that was circulating in the West Wing. That story followed up on comments from radio talk show host Mark Levin (ph), who claimed that President Obama worked to undermine Trump's presidential campaign and his administration, including through various investigations on Russia and possible ties between Russians and Trump associates.
This official said that that story infuriated the president and so that could be the basis of him taking to Twitter this morning.
Later in the day, just a few hours ago, Trump's social media director and a top adviser, Dan Scavino, tweeted out a link to that very same Breitbart News story, which lends credence to the idea that this could be the basis of those angry tweets.
But it's clear that the White House team was caught flatfooted and they have yet to respond with any sort of evidence backing this up.
But the president's allegations have gotten a lot of attention, not just from Democrats from also from fellow Republicans, South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham was at a town hall this morning and he talked about it. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), S.C.: I don't know if it's true or not, but if it is true, illegally, it would be the biggest political scandal since Watergate. It's my job, as a United States senator, to get to the bottom of this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JONES: So there you heard from Senator Graham, it's his job as a U.S. senator "to get to the bottom of this."
So these allegations raising a lot of questions. This is really only the beginning of those questions. And it's necessary to remind our viewers here that two former senior officials have called the idea that then-candidate Trump's phones were wiretapped, they're said it's just wrong.
One official's called it just nonsense, the other saying this did not happen. It is false, wrong -- back to you.
ALLEN: Well, some Republicans on Capitol Hill are also weighing in on the president's accusatory tweet. Senator Ben Seth (ph) of Nebraska put out a statement that read in part, "We are in the midst of a civilization warping crisis of public trust and the president's allegations today demand a thorough and dispassionate attention of serious patriots."
The president's tweets came amid intense controversy over U.S. attorney general Jeff Sessions and his meetings last year with Russia's ambassador to the U.S. On Thursday, as you probably know, Sessions recused himself from any investigation related to Trump's presidential campaign after his meetings with the ambassador came to light.
Former and current U.S. officials tell CNN the FBI was aware of the meetings because the ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, was under surveillance. Late Saturday, Sessions went to Mr. Trump's Florida resort to meet with his boss. CNN's Jim Acosta explains the president is angry that Sessions' problems upstaged Mr. Trump's address to Congress.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We can tell you that President Trump was very frustrated with senior staff and communications team on Friday morning just before he departed for Mar- a-lago.
According to one source that I spoke to, quote, "nobody has seen him that upset," end quote, the feeling being inside the Oval Office -- and we had a camera there that was rolling, where you can see officials having a heated conversation with one another -- the feeling inside the Oval Office, according to sources we are talking to, is that the communication team, the press team of the White House had allowed the news of Jeff Sessions recusing himself from the Trump campaign and Russian investigation had sort of overtaken the narrative of the week.
They were feeling very enthusiastic after the president's performance at that speech to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday.
And from what we are hearing from sources, the president was very upset that Sessions had even recused himself from the case. That was something, according to one source, that the president thought was hasty and overkill. He was hot. He was exasperated over this because he felt that basically they were just giving their adversaries up on Capitol Hill more ammunition by having Jeff Sessions recuse himself.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ALLEN: Let's talk about all this with Scott Lucas, he is a professor of international politics at the University of Birmingham in England.
Scott, thanks again for joining us. This has been yet another charged week for President Trump. And now he is sending out a charge about the former president, that the former president carried out a crime.
What do you make of this? SCOTT LUCAS, UNIVERSITY OF BIRMINGHAM: Well, It is like President Trump was angry by about a fire started in part by his own people and he decided to respond by pouring gasoline on it.
The allegations about Obama wiretapping Trump Tower, which are inaccurate on numerous levels, even if there's a court order that allows such sort of things, have merely extended the story.
Instead of Trump returning attention to that presidential speech, that really important statement that I am a leader, I'm calm, I'm stable, we are now back to the impression that many have, that this is an unpredictable man who is just saddled with the baggage of these Russia links and that this is not going to go away.
ALLEN: Right, yes. You make a good point because he was frustrated with his communications team, that they didn't protect the Oval Office from the Sessions story, you know, taking the stage away from him.
Here he is, giving that speech that was so well received by Americans. And then he turns around and pulls a fast one on his communications team. And as you say, now this story, this charge against the former president, will likely dominate for some time because it is such a serious charge.
Does this remind you of the Donald Trump that, you know, went on his birther rampage and stayed on it for years, never proving that Obama wasn't born in the United States but loving staying on it?
LUCAS: Well, Trump will always be Trump. I mean, whatever you think of his presidential qualities, he is hot-headed. He likes the attention on himself but he likes that he's right and doesn't like criticism.
What is different now is that this is not Trump the candidate or Trump the businessman. This is Trump the chief executive. And Americans have an expectation from their commander in chief, that he exudes calm, that he exudes an ability to take in information and to think before responding.
And Trump simply just undermined that yesterday, not only with the tweets but as Jim Acosta pointed out, by snapping back at his staff because the wider story of this is that the Russia-linked story is part of an idea that there's chaos and uncertainty in the White House and, indeed, a division within camps, that you have some people like Steve Bannon, the chief strategist who wants this very aggressive policy, and others who are just trying to hold it all together, like chief of staff Reince Priebus.
It'll be interesting to see on the Sunday morning shows today which of those camps tries to get the upper hand in the battle for communications.
ALLEN: Right. We'll certainly be watching for that. And we had the camera there on the Oval Office when you see Steve Bannon looking upset and pointing his finger and talking. And there's Jared Kushner and there's Ivanka Trump, that is Trump's main team right there. And so it seems like the pressure might be on Ivanka Trump or whoever
it was during the campaign that would bring him back down and keep him focused and get him to try to be presidential and to keep his calm.
But they are up against some tough work, because Donald Trump does what Donald Trump wants to do when it hits him.
LUCAS: Well, you had a counter on him to see how long he would go on Twitter before he insulted someone. And he made it up to about four- and-a-half days, which has to be a record for Trump which probably indicates that some people in the White House either told him to stay off social media or actually were trying to block him on getting on social media.
But then he went down to Florida this weekend. Now when Trump is down in Florida at Mar-a-lago, he's isolated from some of his advisers. He's sitting there fuming about what's happening.
And that's why you get what happened yesterday. And as I said, it's good to talk about the tweets and this wiretapping effort. But I think we need to have the wider picture here.
This is an administration which is to be expected to present sweeping legislation, to repeal ObamaCare, to bring in its economic legislation within the next few weeks. And all of that is just up in the air.
We have no clue if we're going to get anything coherent from this administration because this Russia story is sucking all the oxygen out of whatever they are trying to achieve.
ALLEN: Well, we're going to talk about that next. And we thank you for your comments, Scott Lucas. Thank you.
LUCAS: Thank you.
ALLEN: As Scott mentioned, the Trump administration's Russia problem just won't quit. There's no proof any laws were broken by Team Trump's contact with members of the Kremlin. But suspicions won't go away. CNN's Tom Foreman likes the puzzle and he's been putting together the strands of this ongoing story.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Russia is a ruse.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Different players but the same playbook?
SERGEY LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): This all looks like a witch-hunt.
FOREMAN: The Russian government is sounding a lot like the White House in denying any improper ties between the two.
TRUMP: We are fighting the fake news.
MARIA ZAKHAROVA, DIRECTOR OF THE INFORMATION AND PRESS DEPARTMENT OF THE MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION: Stop spreading lie and false news.
FOREMAN: Yet skepticism, especially among the president's foes, persists.
TRUMP: I would get along with Putin. I've dealt with Russia.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think you'd get along with Putin?
TRUMP: I think I'd get along with him fine. I think it'd be absolutely fine.
FOREMAN: Ever since candidate Trump incited interest by speaking favorably of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the web of suspicion has widened.
Paul Manafort, Trump's one-time campaign chairman, worked for years with the pro-Russian President of Ukraine. Manafort is being scrutinized by investigators for his contact with Russians known to U.S. intelligence during the campaign. President Trump's assessment just weeks ago ...
TRUMP: And he said that he has absolutely nothing to do and never has with Russia.
FOREMAN: Carter Page lived in Moscow, did business with Russian energy firms and Trump said page was on his foreign policy team. Although, not anymore.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Carter Page is an individual who the president- elect does not know and was put on notice months ago by the campaign.
FOREMAN: National Security Adviser Michael Flynn resigned after less than a month when it was found he misled the administration about his talks with the Russians.
We now know the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, also attended a meeting with Flynn and the Russians just before the new year. And now, it's been revealed that Jeff Sessions, the nation's top cop, also had contacts with the Russians. He could have been the one to decide whether to charge anyone in connection with Russian hacking of the presidential election.
JEFF SESSIONS, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY GENERAL: Therefore I have recused myself in the matters that deal with the Trump campaign.
FOREMAN: And there is this, assertions by U.S. intelligence that Russian cyber-attacks on Democratic Party computers were aimed at influencing the outcome of the November vote. Put it all together and that's why suspicions keep growing no matter how the White House dismisses them. It is important to note there's currently no proof any laws were broken or any influence peddled by anyone tied to the Trump team.
Yet the question remains, was any kind of deal ever asked for or offered in all those meetings with the Russians? -- Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.
ALLEN: The president is bringing back a revamped travel ban. The White House could sign a new executive order as soon as Monday, banning travel to the U.S. from certain Middle Eastern and African nations.
The Trump administration is also temporarily suspending fast processing of H-1B work visas, that's a popular pathway for highly skilled foreigners to work in the United States. The visas typically take up to six months to be approved but companies could pay to have them expedited. Starting next month, the fast-track options will be stopped, possibly for up to six months.
Mexico is doing everything it can to protect its people in the U.S. from deportation. Saturday the Mexican secretary of foreign affairs opened legal aid centers at 50 consulates and embassies in the U.S. Mexico says the centers are to help migrants who need legal advice or guidance.
President Enrique Pena Nieto called for the centers after the president put in place tougher deportation procedures.
ALLEN (voice-over): Civilians are fleeing the Iraqi city of Mosul as the battle against ISIS rages on. It's adding to the misery of a suspected chemical attack. Our Ben Wedeman is there on the story for us. That's next.
Plus, Camp David hasn't seen many presidential visits during the past decade.
Could its days as official retreat be numbered?
ALLEN: The mass exodus out of Mosul has picked up in Iraq. Tens of thousands of civilians fleeing the city's west as the battle against ISIS rages on. Iraq's government says 14,000 people fled on Thursday alone.
Residents who have escaped tell CNN food and supplies are scarce. One family said over the last month, they had only eaten bread and had water. They decided to leave when mortar rounds started hitting their house.
Adding to the misery, a dozen people have been wounded in the Iraqi city of Mosul. The Red Cross suspects a chemical attack is to blame. Our senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman reports but we warn you, going into this story, that some of --
ALLEN: -- the video is hard to watch.
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 11- year-old Yassed lies unconscious in bed. A rocket lit outside his home Wednesday in liberated east Mosul, leaving him with a concussion and symptoms doctors at this hospital in Erbil say point to a chemical attack.
DR. LAWAND MIRAN, DIRECTOR, IRAQ HOSPITAL: Shortness of breath. Second-degree burn.
WEDEMAN: Hospital director Dr. Lawand Miran has no doubt about what happened.
MIRAN: It is a chemical gas.
WEDEMAN: Twelve people including a month-old baby have been treated for exposure to chemical agents in the first such attack by ISIS since the start of the Mosul offensive last October. Wisam Rashid was in his house when a rocket landed outside.
There was a rotten smell, he recalls and there was something like burnt oil. There was gas, no one can breathe in the whole area. We left the house and the civil defense sealed it up.
The U.S. defense department has warned that ISIS has developed a primitive capacity to develop chemical weapons and has used them in Syria and Iraq. The worry is with ISIS desperate and surrounded in western Mosul it won't hesitate to use everything in its arsenal.
The Red Cross is setting up tents in the event there are more chemical attacks. Now, in a statement related to this incident, the Red Cross stressed that the use of chemical weapons is a war crime. Not that that makes any difference to ISIS, indifferent as it is to the suffering of its victims.
ALLEN: For more on this story, Ben now joins me live from Irbil, Iraq.
And, Ben, we all know that you've been a correspondent in the Middle East for decades and have seen and witnessed a lot in your reporting.
But what was it like to see infants struggling after this suspected criminal attack in that facility?
WEDEMAN: Well, you just realize sort of how ISIS, when it comes to the suffering of people, really doesn't care.
I mean, what they did was, they fired this rocket, we believe, from the western part of the city, where they were busy finding Iraqi forces, into the eastern part where it is just civilians. Basically that part of the city was liberated after three months of fighting.
Life is just beginning to get back to normal. Some people are starting to return to the city. And then this happens.
And this really explains sort of what is a vivid portrayal of how ISIS -- its approach to civilians is that what it simply wants to terrorize them. This is classic terrorize them. You kill or injure a few people and you terrorize millions.
Clearly, they don't want to allow the Iraqi government to show that they have accomplished something by driving ISIS out of Eastern Mosul and trying to create the impression that life is going back to normal.
ALLEN: Exactly. And that's how they -- that's how they -- that is their approach, was this horrific, if that is indeed what happened here.
And we saw people leaving there in the rain. And everyone saw that there was likely going to be a refugee crisis from the Mosul story. And we know that the number of people leaving is staggering and perhaps could get even worse.
What are the predictions?
WEDEMAN: Well, the United Nations early on was predicting that, when it comes to Western Mosul, that as many as 250,000 people would flee the fighting out of a population that estimates vary by a maximum of 800,000.
And we have seen the Iraqi government and various international and humanitarian groups are busy setting up refugee camps and whatnot. But the problem is that, when these people first arrived, we were at one of the assembly points where people fleeing Western Mosul go.
And it's pandemonium. For one thing, the Iraqis are very worried that ISIS has put infiltrators among the refugees. People are arriving, many of them, without shoes. They haven't eaten in days. They are traumatized. Some have been injured.
As they flee, they are being fired upon by ISIS with mortars and snipers. So it really is a struggle to take care of these people. And, at the same time, pursue the fight against ISIS -- Natalie.
ALLEN: Well, we thank you, Ben Wedeman, reporting from the region there for us in Irbil. Thank you, Ben. ISIS is also stepping up attacks against Christians in the North Sinai region of Egypt. Many are fleeing --
ALLEN: -- their homes as well to safer areas of that country. As Ian Lee reports, some of them say the government there isn't doing enough to stop the attacks by ISIS.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking foreign language)
IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): "Are you Christian?"
The last three words Nabila Halim's (ph) son ever heard. Then a gunshot.
Halim ran to her dying son, recalling how ISISIS militants threw her into the street, killed her husband, looted her home before setting it ablaze.
Halim is one of dozens of Christian families fleeing North Sinai to Ismailiya (ph) on the shores of the Suez Canal. She says her son, Methet (ph), knew the danger but refused to leave.
"If the terrorists kill me, I will have the honor to die a martyr and be with Jesus," she recalls him saying.
ISIS claimed the responsibility for the deaths of seven Christians in North Sinai since the end of January, some in broad daylight.
In a recent video, the terror group issued a threat saying it's obligatory to target Egypt's Christians and ruin their lives. ISIS militants battled Egypt's military for control of the coastal desert region. The army claims the upper hand, despite this latest exodus. ISIS attacks in Egypt aren't confined to the Sinai.
In December, a bomb at a church in Cairo killed at least 25 people, including many children. ISIS also claimed responsibility.
"The government is failing to protect Christians," says Magdi (ph). He's the latest arrival from North Sinai. He requests that we conceal his identity. He has family left behind.
"We are told to either convert to Islam or pay a tax. We refused. So ISIS now tries to kill us," Magdi (ph) tells me. A familiar ISIS threat and a stark choice for Christians living in the North Sinai -- Ian Lee, CNN, in Ismailiya, Egypt.
ALLEN: Team Trump's Russia connection isn't over. Next we take you live to Moscow for the Russian view -- with our Matthew Chance. [04:30:00]
NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Welcome back to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM, live from Atlanta. I'm Natalie Allen here with the top stories.
ALLEN: Returning now to the top story, a spokesman for former U.S. President Barack Obama is responding to wiretapping allegations from the Trump White House. President Donald Trump has accused his predecessor of tapping his phone during the late stages of the election campaign last year.
Mr. Trump offered no proof and also claimed, quote, "How low has President Obama gone to tap my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon Watergate. Bad or sick guy!"
A spokesman for Mr. Obama flatly dismissed the allegations saying, quote, "A cardinal rule of the Obama administration was that no White House official ever interfered with any independent investigation led by the Department of Justice.
"As part of that practice, neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen. Any suggestion otherwise is simply false."
As we mentioned, the Trump tweets on Saturday came amid the controversy over U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Sessions' meetings last year with Russia's ambassador to the U.S. Let's get the beef (ph) from Moscow from CNN's Matthew Chance.
Hi, there, to you, Matthew. And we have learned that Trump is furious at the Sessions recusal from the Russia hacking investigation. It's overshadowing his well-received speech before Congress.
Does Russia share that frustration?
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think it does. I mean, Donald Trump has called this a witch hunt in terms of the investigations into the connections between him and his team and the Kremlin. It's a phrase that has been adopted by the Russian foreign ministry as well.
Certainly Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, ahs called it a witch hunt exactly the same. So there were similarities in language being adopted by both the Trump administration and the Kremlin.
But behind that language, yes, there's a lot of frustration and a lot of anger, I think, in Russia, that the administration that they believe was going to be a pro-Russian administration, one that was going to, with Donald Trump at its head, look again at recognizing Crimea as being part of Russia, for instance, or do a deal over its international terrorism, particularly in Syria, or criticize NATO, which is what the Russians do.
And it's not materializing. And that is because there's this poisonous atmosphere in American politics at the moment when it comes to the Russian issue.
And it is kind of politically impossible for Donald Trump to carry through on his election pledges to build a better relationship with the Kremlin. And so any idea that existed a few months ago, that this would be a new era in relations between Washington and Moscow, has basically vanished, at least from the Moscow perspective.
ALLEN: And it's one month into this presidency. All right, Matthew Chance for us there, live from Moscow. Thank you, Matthew.
Official U.S. presidential retreat Camp David seems to be falling out of favor after decades of hosting vacations, peace talks and summits. The getaway that FDR once called Shangri-La has been largely snubbed by recent presidents.
CNN national correspondent Suzanne Malveaux looks at Camp David's storied past and questionable future.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: The presidential retreat, Camp David, is located inside a protected federal park. It is so private it does not appear --
MALVEAUX: -- on a map. And at the same time, taxpayers are also footing the bill to operate Camp David, the secluded presidential retreat less than 70 miles from the White House, set aside for presidential downtime and diplomacy, even dormant it costs an estimated $8 million a year to run.
Trump has expressed little interest in using the cheaper alternative, describing the retreat to reporters as very rustic, saying, "It's nice, you'd like it. You know how long you'd like it? For about 30 minutes."
ANITA MCBRIDE, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO LAURA BUSH: It doesn't fit everybody. President Obama, you know, he's a city guy. This is a remote location. I don't think initially President Clinton was crazy about it, either, but then came to really love it.
Remember, Jimmy Carter almost thought about getting rid of it and, thankfully, he didn't.
MALVEAUX: Famously, Carter brokered the historic 1978 peace accord between Egypt and Israel at Camp David.
Anita McBride, who worked in both Bush White Houses, says, for them, it was a sanctuary.
MCBRIDGE: Still, the only presidential family that spent 12 Christmases at Camp David.
MALVEAUX: The private secure location also enables some world leaders to grow close as Bush revealed what he discovered after hosting British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: We both use Colgate toothpaste.
TONY BLAIR, FORMER BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: They're going to wonder how you know that, George.
MALVEAUX: President Franklin D. Roosevelt called it Shangri-La. His doctor believed the cooler mountain air helped Roosevelt's sinuses.
President Reagan visited a record 150-plus times, often to ride his horse.
President Clinton famously failed to get a peace deal after sequestering the Israeli and Palestinian leaders there for two weeks.
And President Obama hosted African and G8 leaders at a summit early in his presidency but rarely returned, spending most weekends at the White House.
Whether Trump continues to use Mar-a-Lago as his so-called Winter White House, Camp David remains open because not only is it a retreat, it's a military installation, doubling as a bunker to assure continuity of government in times of crisis, as was the case on 9/11 -- Suzanne Malveaux, CNN, Washington.
ALLEN: China's National People's Congress has opened in Beijing. Coming up here, we'll go live to the Chinese capital ahead to hear about what is expected.
Plus, "Saturday Night Live's" latest swipe at the Trump administration. This time the show pokes fun at Attorney General Jeff Sessions. We'll have a snippet for you.
ALLEN: Somalia's leaders say their country needs food and water and fast and that more than 100 people have died from hunger in just 48 hours. A famine from years of drought is threatening millions of people in the country, UNICEF warning that at least 185,000 children are expected to suffer life-threatening malnutrition this year.
Susannah Price is chief of communications for UNICEF Somalia. She joins us from Kenya's capital, Nairobi. Susannah, thank you so much for joining us. And those numbers give us
a sense of this unfolding disaster, that it could be major. Tell us what you know.
SUSANNAH PRICE, UNICEF SOMALIA: That's right. We can't confirm at the moment the Somali government's figures but what we can tell you is we are seeing increasing numbers of children at very severe risk; as you mentioned, 185,000 children severely completely malnourished. They're at nine times as likely to die as normal nourished children.
And we see that figure could well go up by 50 percent or even double during this year. So I think the point is the action is needed now. We're in a pre-famine situation. We need to act before the prime minister declares to save these children. We can save a lot of lives if we scale up.
And UNICEF is massively scaling up its operations in several areas in health, with water, with malnutrition.
And as you mentioned, in the last famine in 2011, we saw a quarter of a million people who died. Half of those were children. And we do not want to see a repeat of that again.
ALLEN: As you say, UNICEF is scaling up and this is what you do, this is how you operate.
But are there particular challenges in Somalia, which is also a dangerous country, where Al-Shabaab, the terrorist group, is based?
PRICE: That's right. Well, the scale of this drought is extreme. It's in all the different areas. In the last famine, we only had it in the south. Now we are looking at the north as well.
So we have to cover a huge area. There's very little infrastructure; access is limited in some of areas as well. Now we are not seeing particular problems at the moment. And we have always operated in Somalia since the 1970s.
But what we are doing is calling on all actors, all stakeholders and parties to allow us unrestricted access so that we can get to those children who are in need. And we can provide them with life-saving assistance before it's too late.
ALLEN: And there are also reports that tens of thousands of children are now not in school anymore because of their weakened state. And so, obviously, this is a serious, serious famine.
And talk about the conditions.
What more do you know about the conditions in the countries as far as what is behind this, with the drought?
And what are the predictions for the future as far as this drought?
PRICE: That's right. We have 30,000 children who have dropped out of school just in the north this year. Basically, as we mentioned, the drought is countrywide. What we are seeing is that it's very much affecting the children.
Either their parents are moving to try and find food and water. They are moving with them or even the ones that are left behind, they are finding it hard. There is a lack of food and water. But we are also seeing an outbreak --
PRICE: -- of disease. And this is really what causes child deaths in such a situation. It's the combination of the weakened state because of the food and water and also diseases such as cholera, pneumonia, diarrhea, malaria.
So we have very limited water supplies; those water supplies there are becoming infected. They're becoming -- people are there, animals are there, they are getting and becoming diseased. So we're seeing a big outbreak of acute watery diarrhea, which has similar symptoms to cholera, although we cannot confirm it's cholera at the moment.
And we have over 7,500 cases of this acute watery diarrhea. And I myself was down in Baidur (ph) and I saw the hospital, where the wards were full of children, very ill, very weakened, because this leads to loss of fluid.
So it's really this vicious cycle of lack of food, dirty water, disease. And it means that UNICEF and all the other people, all the U.N. agencies and our partners, we have to take a really combined approach.
So it's not just about feeding people, it is about giving them medical care. It's about providing clean water. It's about looking after the kids who are separated from their parents and also making sure schools can remain open and kids can get an education.
ALLEN: Well, we certainly hope that UNICEF Somalia, that your agency does get the support it needs to get in there and help these people. And we thank you for your time. Susannah Price for us, thanks.
Chinese lawmakers are gathering in Beijing for the opening of the country's annual National People's Congress. The meeting comes as China forecasts its lowest economic growth in decades. China's premier said it only aims to expand the economy by around 6.5 percent this year.
For more, I'm joined from Beijing by CNNMoney emerging markets editor, John Defterios.
Hi, there, to you, John, and, yes, a grand ceremony to open the congress but the message, not entirely grand.
JOHN DEFTERIOS, CNN EMERGING MARKETS EDITOR: No, that is a fair way of putting it, Natalie. In fact it's a political gathering like no other. Some 3,000 delegates gathering in the great hall here in Beijing.
But as you suggested in your lead-in, the message was a somber one coming from the premier; 6.5 percent or around that level sounds like a good headline number but it's the slowest rate in 30 years and coming off a 6.7 percent of the slope going downwards.
So the premier was trying to manage expectations, shall we say, in his state of the economy report card. Let's take a listen to him first.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LI KEQIANG, CHINESE PREMIER (through translator): The difficulties we face are not to be underestimated but we must remain confident that they will be overcome. An important reason for stressing the need to maintain stable growth is to ensure employment and improve people's lives.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DEFTERIOS: Now one way, Natalie, to improve their lives is to actually try to double their per capita income. That's the goal of the government here, between 2010 and 2020. So three more years to get that done.
They want to create 11 million jobs in 2017. But these are very tricky times, shall we say. They're trying to restructure the state sector, the big steel and coal companies bring them down but also try to raise incomes at the same time.
So they are very worried outside of protectionist measures and what's happening in the region right now. And at the same time, trying not to overestimate the growth going forward and try to hold onto 6.5 percent -- back to you.
ALLEN: All right, John Defterios for us there, thank you, John.
Up next, we'll take you to Alaska, where the sled dogs are off and running. The Iditarod race across Alaska underway but the weather is not cooperating. Pedram Javaheri will have for us when we come back.
ALLEN: For the second time in three years, the iconic Iditarod race in Alaska has been moved to a new and snowier location. Our meteorologist, Pedram Javaheri, has that for us.
Hi, there, Pedram.
PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, Natalie, good to see you.
You know, when you're talking about moving to a snowier location in March in Alaska, you know there are some problems in place. That's precisely been the case across parts of Alaska, at least. I want to share with you some video coming from Saturday, where we had
the ceremonial race get underway; this was in Anchorage. Some 72 mushers, 2,000 dogs from around the world brought into Anchorage there. It gets the ceremonial start underway.
But the official start gets going on Monday. And now the race has been displaced about 300 miles northward from where it typically starts in Willow, Alaska, which is just outside of Anchorage. And I want to show you the map here because it will show you what we are dealing with across portions of Alaska and particularly when you work your way across this region.
The ceremonial race, now the official race, I should say, starts in Fairbanks, so well north of where it typically should be. That's about 1,000 miles back to the west. But here's the prospective because when it comes to conditions across parts of Alaska, and of course the lack of snowfall as well as across this region, we know it doesn't really take much snow to get started in Fairbanks. Only six inches is what is needed if the ground is uneven or the terrain is uneven as well.
And then that covers enough to give you stability for both the sled, for the dogs as well. That's not an issue.
But once you work upstream and get into some of the wilderness regions, that's when you have boulders in place. That's when it becomes a little more hazardous. And you need upwards of three feet of snow for this to be an easy go across this region. And some of these areas, Natalie, don't have three feet of snow.
That's the concern, that of course they moved away from the area that has very little snow. But as you work your way farther upstream, the snowfall across this region is going to be little to nonexistent. And that's going to be an issue going into the next nine days.
Typically it takes about nine days for this race to be completed. And every single year it gets a little more interesting with the terrain they have to maneuver around across parts of Alaska -- Natalie.
ALLEN: All right, those precious dogs need to have some hiking mittens on. I saw they had mittens on their feet.
ALLEN: All right, Pedram, thank you.
JAVAHERI: Thanks, Natalie.
ALLEN: We wish snow for Alaska.
Well, "Saturday Night Live" gave us U.S. President Donald Trump a break this weekend and instead took aim at Jeff Sessions. Kate McKinnon stepped in to play the part, turning Sessions into the movie character Forrest Gump.
[04:55:00] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KATE MCKINNON, COMEDIAN, "JEFF SESSIONS": I was on the cover of "The New York Times."
You want to see?
KYLE MOONEY, COMEDIAN, "PASSERBY": It says you may have committed perjury.
"SESSIONS": Yes, I had a bad week. Started out real good. President made a great speech. Folks was thrilled on account of it was real words in a row for a whole hour. We were all as happy as a monkey with a peanut machine. Then I went to bed, I got 800 messages and phone alerts saying I was a sneaky little liar.
"I talked to the Russians.
"SESSIONS": "You know, I met with a fellow to turned out to be a Russian on account of he was the Russian ambassador. His name was Sergey Kislyak. I remember any words with "gay" and "kiss" in it.
But it wasn't the It was just me and Michael Flynn. And J.D. Gordon. So just me, Michael Flynn and J.D. Gordon. And Jared Kushner at Trump Tower.
"So me, Michael Flynn, J.D. Gordon and Jared Kushner at the Trump Tower. And Carter Page. And Paul Manafort. I'm going to have another one of these chocolates."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ALLEN: "SNL" bringing in Forrest Gump. That's pretty ingenious.
Thanks for joining me. Another hour of NEWSROOM with Hannah Vaughan Jones from London coming up right after the break.