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Former FBI Chief Serving as Special Counsel; President Trump Prepares for First Foreign trip; Trump to Address Muslim Leaders in Saudi Arabia; Pope Shines a Light on Huntington's Disease. Aired 12mn- 1a ET
Aired May 19, 2017 - 00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[00:00:10] ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: This is CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. Ahead this hour --
No collusion -- President Trump says he can promise that when it comes to the Russians and himself but what about his staff?
As Trump gets set for his first overseas trip, has he done his homework for the important diplomatic work that lies ahead?
Plus, could a long-standing dispute in the South China Sea soon simmer down? China and the Philippines are getting ready to talk.
Hello. And welcome to our viewers from all around the world. I'm Isha Sesay.
NEWSROOM L.A. starts right now.
Well, Donald Trump flies out of Washington soon for his first overseas trip as president, but he leaves behind an embattled White House fending off the heat of multiple investigations. Now a special counsel has been thrown into the volatile mix.
Former FBI director Robert Mueller will lead the federal probe into the Trump campaign's possible connections with Russia. Facing reporters for the first time since that announcement, the President was adamant that he personally had done nothing wrong.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign. But I can always speak for myself and the Russians -- zero.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Well, CNN's Sara Murray has the latest now from the White House.
TRUMP: Believe me, there's no collusion. Russia is fine. SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: President Trump seething today over
the news that a special counsel will oversee the FBI's Russia investigation, carefully insisting that he did not personally collude with the Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign.
TRUMP: Well, I respect the move, but the entire thing has been a witch hunt. And there is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign. But I can always speak for myself and the Russians, zero.
MURRAY: Many in Washington cheered the news that former FBI director Robert Mueller would serve as special counsel in the investigation into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians. But the President stewed.
TRUMP: I think it divides the country. I think we have a very divided country because of that and many other things.
MURRAY: Trump also sharply denying that he ever asked ousted FBI director James Comey to back off his investigation into retired General Michael Flynn.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you at any time urge former FBI director James Comey in any way, shape or form to close or to back down the investigation into Michael Flynn? And also as you look back --
TRUMP: No, no. Next question.
MURRAY: And the President dismissing the notion that any of his actions could warrant criminal charges or impeachment.
TRUMP: I think it's totally ridiculous. Everybody thinks so.
MURRAY: Trump's defiant tone on Thursday a far cry from the measured statement the President released as soon as a special counsel was announced. On Wednesday night, Trump simply wrote, "As I have stated many times, a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know. There was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity. I look forward to this matter concluding quickly."
But even as he decried the Russia probe as a witch hunt today, Trump appeared eager to turn the focus back to his agenda.
TRUMP: There was no collusion. And everybody, even my enemies have said there is no collusion. So, we want to get back and keep on the track that we're on because the track that we're on is record setting.
MURRAY: The President using his appearance with the Colombian president to tout his upcoming foreign trip.
TRUMP: Tomorrow as you know I'm going to Saudi Arabia, going to Israel, I'm going to Rome, and we have the G-7, we have a lot of great things going on.
MURRAY: And devoting part of his day to the hunt for a new FBI director. As former Senator Joe Lieberman emerges as an early front runner for the job. TRUMP: We are very close to an FBI director -- soon. He is.
MURRAY: And now that a special counsel has been named to oversee the Russia investigation, there is a sense among some of Trump's allies that the President could use a little bit more fire power to defend him. To that end a circle of his advisors huddled in Washington on Thursday to discuss the possibility of having the President hire outside legal counsel.
Sara Murray, CNN -- the White House.
SESAY: Well, another day, a lot to discuss. Joining us to discuss all of it is CNN law enforcement contributor and former FBI supervisor Steve Moore; former Los Angeles councilwoman Wendy Greuel, and CNN political commentator and Trump supporter John Phillips.
Welcome, everyone. Let's get right to it.
[00:04:59] Wendy -- let me start with you. You saw the statement that the White House put out on Wednesday. It was rather circumspect. It was rather measured. You heard Sara Murray reference it there and you saw it on the screen. By Thursday morning --
WENDY GREUEL, FORMER LOS ANGELES COUNCILWOMAN: Didn't take long.
SESAY: -- it didn't take long -- the President was tweeting this. Let's put it up on the screen. The first of two tweets: "This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history." Followed it up with a second tweet, "With all the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign and Obama administration there was never a special counsel appointed."
Then, of course, you heard his tone in the press conference with the Colombian president, once again talking about this being a witch hunt. What do you make of the way the White House is reacting to the appointment of Robert Mueller?
GREUEL: Well, I think the first measured statement that they made was because the staff probably said this is what you have to do. The tweet came from the President himself, and that seems to be a consistent type of action and activity, which is staff recommend he be calm and presidential and he goes tweeting and saying things that are contradictory. He tries to pivot and deflect and go to something else.
And this is a serious issue. This is a counsel that has been now appointed. And it's one thing that the Democrats and Republicans are not divided on this. They all agree this was a good selection for the special counsel. They think it is a good idea and they are going to move forward on it. They are not divided on that issue.
SESAY: Yes. John -- I mean I guess anyone who's wondering whether the President was going to change his tone when it came to this issue on the Russia probe. They got their answer judging by the tweets and what he had to say in the press conference. How can the President on one hand say, you know, he respects, he welcomes the appointment of a special counsel, then turn around and call it a witch hunt?
JOHN PHILLIPS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I have one tiny criticism of what the President said. I would be far more belligerent than he was because you have another day, we have another outrage de jure and we have no proof of collusion. Although Maxine Waters, the intellectual leader of the Democratic Party came out on MSNBC and said, we know that there is collusion because Putin came up with law corrupt and crooked Hillary. Still waiting on whether or not he came up with the catch phrase "pizza, pizza" from Maxine Waters.
But there is no proof. There's lots of allegations. There's lots of investigation. And we have Mike Burrell, the former head of the CIA who said there's no fire, there's no smoke, but we have a bunch of grown men on TV acting like hysterical drama queens. If I were Trump I would just move right along with my agenda and I would ignore them and I'd turn the TV off.
SESAY: There has been -- Wendy, why don't you respond? You can do it for me.
GREUEL: I mean you look at the last week of the, you know, from the firing of Comey and saying, no, it was -- you know, excuse me, you know, Rosenstein who said, you know, afterwards. It wasn't -- he wasn't the reason for him being fired. Trump said I actually wanted to fire him but went back and forth.
There is Flynn who clearly was being paid by the Turkish government, and then also there was Sally Yates saying he was actually potentially going to be a threat and could have been impacted how they operate.
I mean there are so many stories that you can't just say it was nothing, that it was -- there's nothing out there. Every Republican that has come up and stayed in the last 24 hours has said, this is the right thing to do and Mueller is the right person to do it.
SESAY: And what about that point? The fact that Republicans aren't echoing your statement? They're actually saying, Rob Mueller, it's a great thing to have him on board. Let the facts take us where they will. And then everyone can have faith in the process.
Why would you be belligerent if there is nothing to hide here, you trust the process?
PHILLIPS: This was a fight that I knew we would have because the Democratic establishment opposed Donald Trump when he ran. The Republican establishment opposed Donald Trump when he ran. The media opposed Donald Trump when he ran. The bureaucracy or deep state or whatever you want to call it opposed Donald Trump, and they're leaking information in order to damage him every single day because they can't accept the fact that he beat Hillary Clinton and they're trying to sabotage him and his presidency.
If I were him I'd just build the wall, I'd renegotiate the trade deals. I'd get us out of foreign wars and I'd move right along with the agenda that the American people support.
SESAY: None of this is -- none of this is due to actions taken by the President. I just want to be clear on that. As far as you're concerned, this situation with the administration --
PHILLIPS: There is no collusion.
SESAY: -- I'm not saying collusion. That is yet to be proven. But none of these situations that had given rise to all this smoke, if you will, and leading people to question the campaign -- you're saying there has been nothing done by the President or those in his circle to lead people to have suspicions?
PHILLIPS: I think there is no collusion. I think there is a media and bureaucracy-generated controversy that we are dealing with.
SESAY: Ok. Let's bring in Steve Moore. Steve Moore, the White House clearly blindsided by the appointment of Robert Mueller. The President has been meeting with some of his closest advisors we're told. The discussion is whether or not he should seek outside counsel to be by his side through this special counsel investigation.
I guess the question is do you think this president is going to cooperate with Robert Mueller?
[00:10:03] STEVE MOORE, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, I think the smartest thing he could do is cooperate with Robert Mueller. If he is an innocent man as he claims, and I'm not disputing that -- then cooperate with any investigation that would prove that. I think the smartest thing that has been done, and the thing that helps him the most, given what's out there, is to accept graciously the special prosecutor and say, I'm going to accept his findings. Because imagine he puts an FBI director in, then the FBI comes out and clears him. Who is going to accept that?
This way, when he is cleared, if what he said is true, then the people on both sides can't help but accept the results. And if he's guilty, well then they'll find it.
SESAY: Again, the facts will take us where they will.
Wendy -- the President angrily responded to this issue of the special counsel. As you know, we've been playing the sound. He also said something that has been notable that people are trying to decode.
Take a listen to the President talking at least for his part in all of this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I respect the move, but the entire thing has been a witch hunt. And there is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign, but I can always speak for myself and the Russians, zero.
I think it divides the country. I think we have a very divided country because of that and many other things. So, I can tell you that we want to bring this great country of ours together.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SESAY: "There is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign, but I can always speak for myself and the Russians, zero." Is the President throwing his team under the bus there?
GREUEL: I think if I'm one of his team members, I'm starting to think I need to have a lawyer to protect myself going forward. I think you've heard all day today a lot of people react to that. Dershowitz saying, you know, I've said you've got to lawyer up, all of you, to protect yourselves because this president has historically in the last several months been willing to say, my staff was wrong, they did it incorrectly. I didn't really say that, even though there are literally tapes of him saying it on TV, you know, just the month before.
So I think they should be worried. And this is a time where, as I said earlier, he has to be honest and trustworthy about what he has done, what he has said. And the American people will then be able to decide.
And this, I think, particularly this special prosecutor, this special counsel is going to have the authority to look at all of that and take all of the facts about what's been said.
SESAY: John -- what is your interpretation of what the President said there?
PHILLIPS: There is no collusion, and I guess you can't be 100 percent sure because there could be some rogue employee that's doing something on their own. But I talk to people on all sides of this campaign -- people who hate one another, who love to tattle on one another and you find out what each side is up to.
And the one thing that all of them agree on, and all of them have agreed on from the moment I started talking to them until today, is that there was zero collusion with the Russian government at all. I firmly believe this is a conspiracy theory.
SESAY: The investigation will figure that out. But what was he saying when he said I only speak for myself? Was that a public attempt to distance himself?
PHILLIPS: I mean I guess -- again there could be some rogue employee. If I were him, I would cooperate fully with the investigation because I don't believe there is any collusion at all.
SESAY: Ok. And Steve -- how did you read that? Is this a foreshadowing of how the President will approach the special counsel?
MOORE: I have no idea. But I don't think that it would be wise for him to separate himself in any way, shape or form from any of his campaign staffers, any of his current staffers because one thing that the FBI does -- and by the way, the investigators for the special prosecutor are going to be FBI agents. They are very good at finding people who are down the line a little bit who want to save their career and are willing to rollover on other people. So, if he's innocent cooperate, and if he's guilty he better cooperate. And don't alienate the staffers below you because it will come back to bite you.
SESAY: John -- I want to play some sound also from the press conference in which the President is again, changing his story about why he fired James Comey. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Director Comey was very unpopular with most people. I actually thought when I made that decision -- and I also got a very, very strong recommendation, as you know, from the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Here he is again pinning it on Rosenstein after he said, when that interview with NBC and Lester Holt there, the Russia thing was on his mind, he was already going to do it long before he got the memo. Why the back and forth?
PHILLIPS: Why did I go to Hawaii on vacation?
SESAY: I don't know. You tell me.
PHILLIPS: Was it the sunset? Was it the Mai Tais? Was it the fantastic pool?
It's a variety of reasons. James Comey was circling the drain and was going to go regardless if Donald Trump was elected president or Hillary Clinton was elected president.
[00:15:07] Trump said himself that he had a variety of reasons long ago to support his theory that Comey should be fired. I think it was any number of factors.
SESAY: Ok. Wendy?
GREUEL: I was going to say Rosenstein told the senators today that the decision had already been made by the President of the United States before he wrote the memo. It was, in fact, to just allow him to have some information that he could use. But he'd already made that decision beforehand, so, you can't have it both ways.
And I think that's what, you know, the public is frustrated, is that they don't know which side is which. Who is telling the truth?
And when you're president of the United States, your credibility is critically important. And when you're ready to go tomorrow on your first, you know, foreign visit, first trip for that eight to ten days, the credibility of the President means a lot when you're meeting with those foreign leaders.
PHILLIPS: If Hillary was elected, would you want Comey to be fired?
GREUEL: No, I didn't think Comey should be fired if Hillary --
PHILLIPS: Well, many of Hillary supporters believed that he should be fired including Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer.
SESAY: It doesn't matter. I mean I think you can -- you know, and this is the point that you can have wanted Comey to have been fired because of the way he handled the Hillary Clinton situation and still have questions about how it went down now. I don't think those two are diametrically --
PHILLIPS: James Comey had the life-span of an ice cube in August.
SESAY: We are moving on to Steve Moore.
Steve Moore -- I want to bring up some reporting in the "New York Times" right now where this piece is basically detailing the discomfort James Comey felt at his interaction, shall we say, with the administration.
And this is reporting that is backed up by our own Pamela Brown who actually on Wednesday broke the story that Comey had concerns, so much so were his concerns about his interactions with the President that he would rehearse with aides what he would say before going into meetings.
Let me read some of the "New York Times" piece to you. It says "President Trump called the FBI director James B. Comey weeks after he took office and asked him when federal authorities were going to put out word that Mr. Trump was not personally under investigation, according to two people briefed on the call." It goes on to say in this piece, "Mr. Comey has spoken privately of his concerns that the contacts from Mr. Trump and his aides were inappropriate and how he felt compelled to resist them.
First of all -- your reaction to that, the fact that the President did call him weeks after taking office. And put that in context for the normal procedures of interaction between a president and an FBI boss.
MOORE: Well, there's really not normal procedures. I mean, it changes with every president. If you look at Louie Freeh's book, he turned in his FBI or his White House badge so that he would have proof of signing in and signing out of the White House so that he could prove when he was there and when he wasn't there.
Mueller had a much better relationship, but Comey obviously didn't. And the things that were being said obviously concerned Comey and while they may not rise to a criminal charge, they were certainly beyond what you would expect with interaction with the FBI.
I mean, the average agent is scared to put a political candidate sign on their lawn for fear of being branded as a political statement. So, it's very, very much in the FBI's nature, and Comey's nature in particular, to be very cautious. And I'm sure he -- I'm sure he documented everything like you've never seen before. SESAY: Yes. And Wendy -- to that point that Steve was making, that
Comey might well have documented, we know he did, in fact, that there are memos that's been reported. CNN has spoken to sources who said Comey made these contemporaneous notes.
This could all come down to a case of he said/he said.
GREUEL: Well, I think again when you kind of start connecting the dots and you're going to be interviewing and we'll see -- you know, they're subpoenaing Michael Flynn to see -- coming into the senate and others. I mean, you're going to start to see a pattern, I believe.
And that's why having a special counsel is going to allow them to be able to connect those dots where today people are kind of concerned about where it might be. But I think it's very clear that there's a lot of things that have been -- statements have been made publicly that actually will help in that investigation.
SESAY: John -- what do you make of the "New York Times" reporting that echoes our Pamela Brown's reporting?
PHILLIPS: I want to read the memo. It's not classified. There's no reason why we can't do it. I also want to know why there are discrepancies between what is allegedly in this memo and what Comey said when he was testifying before the senate and what Andrew McCabe the acting director --
SESAY: There's all -- there's these question, Wendy.
GREUEL: Yes. No, again, that's the special counsel. That's why you want to have someone who's going to come in and look at all of that in a way that is not tainted by being someone who had a relationship with the Russian government or someone who is appointed by the President of the United States.
[00:20:08] This is somebody who is coming in who is well respected by both sides of the aisle.
SESAY: 20 seconds.
PHILLIPS: If the memo exists, he perjured himself. I want to know which one is true. Either the memo doesn't exist or, you know, let's square up with what he said when Marco Rubio asked him if White House or if entities ever tried to interfere with the investigation.
SESAY: Yes. Those are legitimate questions -- ones that I'm sure we'll get answers to in the days ahead. And you guys will be back. Round two -- second hour. Thank you so much.
PHILLIPS: Thank you.
SESAY: We hit pause right here and take a very quick brake.
Coming up, Beijing accused of tightening its regional control and top Chinese leaders hold a crucial meeting with a new ally. And the President of the Philippines is cracking down on tobacco use in his country. Up next -- the huge consequences for those who disobey this new order.
SESAY: Hello, everyone.
China and the Philippines are gearing up to discuss one of the most disputed regions in the world. Top level diplomats will hold their first high level meeting about the South China See in a few hours.
China and the Philippines are key players in a messy territorial fight over the region. The relations between the two have been warming up.
Let's get the very latest from our own David McKenzie now. He joins me now live in Beijing. David, it appears we are witnessing something of a reversal when it comes to the relationship between the Philippines and China.
DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right -- Isha.
It is a reversal. And just recently, all the talk around the South China Sea really was about confrontation. But now it seems to be about cooperation and the question is, is China's power unstoppable?
MCKENZIE: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte touring a Chinese war ship. The optics are clear -- the two countries are growing closer.
It is a dramatic turn around. In 2016 the Philippines won the court of arbitration case against the Chinese over disputed islands in the South China Sea, infuriating Beijing.
The ambassador of the Philippines to China told me that Duterte shelved that ruling in part because the U.S. didn't have their back.
CHITO SANTA ROMANA, PHILIPPINE AMBASSADOR TO CHINA: And that's why the President kept asking the U.S. Ambassador, are you with us or not? And he did not get a clear answer.
The strategic logic is very simple. Don't put your eggs in one basket.
MCKENZIE: A military alliance compels the U.S. to defend the Philippines if attacked. In a statement, the U.S. State Department told CNN that the alliance is, quote, "ironclad". "Our dependability and reliability as an ally has been established over decades."
But in the South China Sea, China has succeeded in turning disputed sand banks into islands then military installations.
[00:24:59] JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: That genie is out of the bottle. The islands that they have created, the development that they have put down, the roots that they're planting there in the South China Sea are forever.
MCKENZIE: And China's military keeps getting stronger.
Chinese President Xi Jinping is personally overseeing a modernizing air force and navy, recently launching its first home grown aircraft carrier.
President Trump seems reluctant to push the South China Sea issue as he depends on China to help pressure North Korea to stop its nuclear program. So, analysts say China is freer to expand its hard and soft power in the region with Duterte welcoming billions in Chinese investment after the military shift.
A cynic might say that the Philippines has sold out sovereignty on the South China Sea to get investments from China.
SANTA ROMANA: Well, this is the misunderstanding. We are trying to get investments from China, but not at the price of our sovereignty.
MARKS: They have been a worldwide global influence economically for the longest time. They are now creating a proportional military capability to exercise that element of power in a way that is -- can be perceived and should be perceived as a threat.
MCKENZIE: It seems that in Asia, the might of China's military and the lure of its money is hard to counter.
MCKENZIE: Just this week, Isha, there was at least a $17 million grant given by the Chinese to the Philippines. That's on the back of that billions of dollars of investment.
And the moves to get the Philippines and China closer by both countries is making some other countries in Southeast Asia nervous because ultimately if the United States under President Trump only focuses on North Korea, it could mean China really has won the great game of Asia and will continue to consolidate its power -- Isha?
SESAY: Something to watch very closely. David McKenzie, joining us there from Beijing -- thank you.
Well, staying with the Philippines now, the President is known for brutal antidrug war that has left thousands of people dead. Now he's banning another drug-related activity -- public smoking.
Rodrigo Duterte's executive order sets a maximum four-month jail sentence for violators and a $100 fine. Mr. Duterte once smoked heavily. He quit after he was diagnosed with a rare disease. More than a quarter of Filipinos smoke, according to World Health Organization report for 2015.
Well, President Trump is getting out of the office. His trip abroad could be the reset the White House needs or it could worsen problems it already has. We'll discuss next.
[00:30:00] ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I'm Isha Sesay. The headlines this hour.
Donald Trump flatly denies any collusion between his campaign and Russian officials during the 2016 election. But then the president qualified the statement saying he could only speak for himself and not for others on his team. Mr. Trump made the remark on the eve of his first overseas trip as president.
Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was among the first to vote in the country's presidential election which just got underway. The moderate president Hassan Rouhani is seeking a second term. His chief opponent is Ebrahim Raisi, a hard line conservative cleric.
Well, the U.S.-led coalition in Syria bombed a pro-regime military convoy it says was advancing a military base on the Syrian-Jordanian border. The Pentagon says two U.S. aircraft were dispatched as a show of force to get the troops to turn around.
Surrounded by controversy in Washington, President Trump is getting set for his first trip abroad. He has got a very busy itinerary with a forecast of world leaders. It all starts in Riyadh, where he'll meet with the Saudi king and crowned prince along with the Gulf Cooperation Council.
Then it is on to Israel and the West Bank for talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. After that, Europe for a meeting with Pope Francis and summits with G7 and NATO. Mr. Trump's staff are hoping this talk can serve as something of a reset. But his problems at home could very well follow him overseas. Even still, Trump is ever the optimist.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tomorrow, as you know, I'm going to Saudi Arabia. I'm going to Israel. I'm going to Rome. And we have the G7. We have a lot of great things going on. So, I hate to see anything that divides. I'm fine with whatever people want to do, but we have to get back to running this country really, really well. We've made tremendous progress in the last 100 some odd days. Tremendous progress.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SESAY: Well, Salam Al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council joins me now.
Salam, thank you so much for joining us.
SALAM AL-MARAYATI, PRESIDENT, MUSLIM PUBLIC AFFAIRS COUNCIL: Thank you. SESAY: So, the president kicks this all off with his trip to Saudi Arabia. This is a president, as you and I have discussed in the past, has made comments that have troubled many Muslims here in the United States and around the world. This is a trip that is fraught with pit falls.
Take a listen to former secretary of state Madeleine Albright.
Listen to what she had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Every presidential trip is complicated. You have to have some deliverables. It is an action forcing mechanism for the government.
And what keeps me up at night is that, in fact, this president is not well enough prepared to deal with the myriad issues that are out there, which are very complicated. I've never seen a world as complicated. There is an awful lot happening and we have a president who doesn't seem to do his homework.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SESAY: Do you share similar concerns about the president heading to Saudi Arabia and engaging with Muslim leaders?
AL-MARAYATI: Well, I think it's very clear that this president knows very little about Islam, yet he's going to go give a lecture to Muslim leaders about Islam and about tolerance and respect and yet he's the one who said Islam hates us. So it's going to be very awkward for him to be preaching reconciliation and peace and tolerance when he himself has made very disparaging comments about this religion.
And more importantly, he's talking about going to the Middle East and to the Vatican and to Israel to visit the three Abrahamic religions. We have the three Abrahamic religions here in the United States. If he really wants to talk about peace and reconciliation, he should be meeting with Muslims, Jews and Christians in the United States. And if he wants to talk about reform, the place for Islamic reform is America, not the Middle East.
The Middle East as the former Secretary Madeleine Albright said is still dealing with autocratic rule, religious extremism, lack of central governance, rise of militancy. And this president, I'm pretty sure, is not ready to deal with these set of issues.
SESAY: One of the challenges, especially as we talk about the speech that the president is going to give, is whether he can walk the line and not conflate Islam with terrorism. I mean, that's going to be the challenge for him.
AL-MARAYATI: The problem is that the people who have really been backing this president are those who believe in the clash of civilizations. They believe that there is a war between Islam and the West. This Islam versus the West paradigm is the biggest lie, unfortunately, but it's the lie that keeps on giving. It's what keeps these wars going on.
[00:35:00] SESAY: Will there be push back from Muslim leaders?
AL-MARAYATI: They are going to be polite.
First of all, I don't think there is going to be an exchange with all the Muslim leaders, only those from the Gulf. And the Gulf is actually where a lot of these problems start from. Religious extremism, authoritarian rule, suppression of any groups that leads to a rise of militancy, because Islam is not really practiced freely in those -- in that part of the world. I am more free practicing Islam in America than I am in the Gulf or in the Middle East for that matter.
SESAY: And the question is also going to be one of who is he speaking to truly when he's up there on that stage. Would it be -- is it a speech for domestic consumption back here that continues along the lines that he has -- the lines he's uttered that has given him a great amount of support with his base? Or is it truly about striking a new tone when it comes to Trump and Islam?
AL-MARAYATI: Well, he's going to try to strike a new tone, but he runs the risk of being very condescending and preachy to this group. And in the Middle East, you always have to understand there are three audiences. There is the government, there is the people and there are the religious groups.
He's going to be talking to the government. Most of these government leaders are secular, but they deal with their religious groups. And unless you understand the terrain of that region --
SESAY: Does he?
AL-MARAYATI: I don't think so. You're going to fall into a lot of traps. And we'll see, but then again, you know, the bar is very low for him. He might surprise us and say a few good things. But I think we're all very anxious about this speech that he's going to make to these leaders because it's far from actually dealing with the issues that I mentioned that are driving these problems of terrorism.
If and unless the United States deals with the Syrian conflict, then the refugee crisis is going to grow. More militancy, and of course, the Palestinian issue. This is what every Muslim around the world is concerned with, is with the Palestinian issue.
SESAY: We shall see how he gets on in Saudi Arabia. We'd love to get you back to discuss that in the aftermath.
SESAY: Salma al-Marayati, thank you.
AL-MARAYATI: Thank you. SESAY: Quick break here. Still to come, furious protests has hit the street of Caracas again. Venezuela in crisis, and demonstrators say they won't back down.
And it's a devastating and misunderstood disorder, but now the Pope has a message for people living with Huntington's Disease. That's just ahead.
SESAY: Hello, everyone. More violent protests in Venezuela as opposition groups face-off with President Nicolas Maduro and his supporters. The National Guard held tear gas and used water canons against anti-government protesters in Caracas on Thursday.
The country is struggling with a deep economic crisis and the opposition are accusing Mr. Maduro of creating a dictatorship. They want him to step down.
Well, the Trump White House says it will intervene against bad actors if things don't improve in Venezuela soon. A senior official didn't provide specifics, but emphasized the U.S. would not tolerate the chaos. Mr. Trump put the situation in bleak terms.
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[00:40:13] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But it's been unbelievably poorly run for a long period of time, and hopefully that will change and they can use those assets for the good, and to take care of their people, because right now, what's happening is really a disgrace to humanity.
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SESAY: Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin told Venezuelan President Maduro to resolve the crisis within the law, but he didn't make any threats to step in.
Staying in South America now, where rare and incurable disorder is more prevalent than anywhere on earth. Huntington's Disease causes cells in the brain to breakdown affecting motor skills and cognitive ability. But perhaps most tragically those who suffer from it often face stigma and abandonment. Now the Pope himself has come forward with a powerful message to those affected, hide no more.
And as Delia Gallagher reports, it was a message he delivered firsthand in Vatican City.
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DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN VATICAN CORRESPONDENT: 15-year-old Brenda is a lucky girl today. She has traveled all the way from Buenos Aires for this kiss from the Pope. Brenda is at the Vatican today because she suffers from Huntington's, a degenerative brain disorder that experts estimate affects close to a million people worldwide. Often running in families. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
POPE FRANCIS (through translator): In many cases, the sick and their families have experienced the tragedy of shame, isolation and abandonment. Today, however, we are here because we want to say to ourselves and all the world, hidden no more.
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GALLAGHER: Pope Francis becoming the first pontiff to recognize Huntington's Disease.
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POPE FRANCIS (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): When none of you ever feel you are alone, when none of you feel you are a burden, may never feel you need to run away.
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GALLAGHER: She's here with hundreds of other Huntington's patients and their families, many of them traveling all the way from South America where the gene was first discovered and where the disease, experts say, is up to 1,000 times more common than in the rest of the world.
But Brenda's days have not always been so happy. Abandoned by her mother, most of her life was spent caring for her father who also had Huntington's. He died just a few months ago.
Brenda now lives with her aunt Norma in the barrios of Buenos Aires.
(on-camera): There is no known cure for Huntington's Disease. And those who have it say these symptoms -- involuntary body movement and impaired brain function create social stigma and discrimination. They hope that this meeting with the Pope will help others become more aware of the disease and help them not to have to hide it any more.
(voice-over): If meeting the pope was not enough, Brenda had one last surprise in store, a serenade from her favorite South American pop star, Axel. Music and prayers for Brenda and thousands like her for a future of hope and healing.
Delia Gallagher, CNN, Vatican City.
SESAY: Well, thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I'm Isha Sesay. "World Sport" is up next, and I'll be back with another busy hour of news from all around the world. You are watching CNN.