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Chemical Connection between Syria and North Korea; Questions about Trump Business Dealings and Russia; Nigerian Girls Kidnapped; Rohingya Crisis. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired February 28, 2018 - 00:00   ET



[00:00:10] JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: This is CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles. Ahead this hour --

ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: The chemical connection -- the U.N.'s new claims about ties between North Korea and Syria.

VAUSE: The Russia investigation may be crossing what President Trump once described as a red line with questions about his business dealings with Moscow before the election.

SESAY: And with the monsoon season approaching in Bangladesh, the U.N. warned it cannot keep all the Rohingya refugees safe.

VAUSE: Hello and welcome to our viewers all around the world. I'm John Vause.

SESAY: And I'm Isha Sesay. NEWSROOM L.A. starts right now.

There may be yet another dangerous player in the civil war engulfing Syria, and it's North Korea.

VAUSE: A U.N. Security Council diplomat has told CNN North Korea sent supplies to Syria which could be used to make chemical weapons. And a confidential U.N. report seen by CNN says Pyongyang sent ballistic missile-s experts to Syria last year.

SESAY: Bombs meanwhile continue to rain down on the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta despite a Russian-ordered pause to the shelling. More now from CNN's Sam Kiley.


SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: According to details that are beginning to leak out from the United Nations of a secret report into the relationship between North Korea and Syria, there has been a trade in the sort of equipment that the Syrians can use to produce nerve agents, the sort of nerve agent that killed 1,400 people in east Ghouta a few years back and provoked international outcry and the beginning of international isolation for the Assad regime.

Now this comes at a time when Russia is trying to at least window- dress the look that is being presented by its support to the Damascus regime with the calling of these five-hour humanitarian pauses in the campaign that has been rained down about the citizens of east Ghouta in particular but elsewhere in Syria, too.

Now today was the first day of that five-hour pause. There was no end to the hostilities although there was a decline in the level of violence, notably in the decline in the amount of air attacks. One person though was killed in artillery bombardment coming from the government's side.

The government has claimed though that humanitarian corridors were blocked by rebel shelling using mortars into a location and there were International Committee of the Red Cross supported members of the Syrian Red Cross waiting and standing by on the government side to receive any patients or evacuees that could have come out of East Ghouta. But none did indeed come out.

Now the regime in the past has blocked and delayed even the medical evacuation of people from East Ghouta so the population there, which number some 400,000 are said to be extremely reluctant to move into government-held territory. And indeed the rebels there insist that they are not holding any locals hostage but that they have no choice but to fight on.

Sam Kiley, CNN -- Istanbul.


SESAY: Well, CNN military analyst, retired Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona joins us now from La Quinta, California. Colonel Francona -- always good to see you.

In 2013, Bashar al-Assad, under pressure from the U.S. and international community joined the chemical weapons convention and agreed to destroy his stockpile and yet as we know the reports of chemical attacks continued.

So let me ask you this. How surprised are you to now hear that he may have indeed been getting help from North Korea.

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Not at all. The North Koreans have been supplying the Syrians with a variety of weaponry and technology for at least 30 years. It's been going on almost non-stop.

The North Koreans are very adept at evading sanctions. Syria has been one of their primary clients. If you remember a few years back, they covertly built a nuclear reactor that the Israelis took out several years ago.

SESAY: So I mean one of the things that comes to mind -- I mean bearing in mind it is a long-standing relationship as you point out between North Korea and Syria. But in this more recent incarnation, if you will, I mean the fact is North Korea is under international sanctions over its own nuclear program.

And to hear that they have been shipping supplies to Syria really does lay bare the weaknesses of the international sanctions system.

FRANCONA: Yes, it does. I mean they are able to get this out some way. And you know, everybody is looking at how they're doing this. You know, their ships are still sailing and they can't stop and search every one of them. So it's very easy for the North Koreans to evade these sanctions.

[00:04:52] They're also probably getting help from two other nations and maybe the Chinese, maybe the Russians are turning a blind eye for this because it's in the Russians' interest to have Syria acquire this technology. So it doesn't surprise me at all that we're finding this in Syria.

SESAY: Well, as you mentioned, the Russians they have described the U.N.'s report as a joke saying with Putin, as you know, he ordered that humanitarian pause, that floundered (ph) on Tuesday. Is that by Russian design.

FRANCONA: Yes, I mean this is very interesting. If you listen to General Votel today speaking to Congress, he said that the Russians are playing arsonist and firefighter at the same time. So while they're talking a good game, they're actually one of the main causes of the problems here.

And for the first time in this civil war, we're beginning to see Russian fighter bombers over the Ghouta. We didn't see that before. It was only the Syrians that were bombing there. Now we're seeing the Russians bring that in.

There's been a shift in the tactics in the east Ghouta campaign. Before we saw the Syrians themselves going after these enclaves and they would always open corridors for people to get out. They would allow the fighters to escape.

We don't see that happening here. I know that they say there are corridors but no one's coming out of them. They're not allowing any medical evacuation and they're not allowing U.N. aid in. So you know, while the Russians are saying they're doing things, they're not. They're the cause of the problem.

SESAY: And the civilians themselves on the ground in Eastern Ghouta, some are being quoted as saying they see these corridors as possibly a means for force displacement. Are they right to be skeptical?

FRANCONA: Well, you know, we saw this in Aleppo as well. And once they were -- once they left Aleppo then they were forcibly removed to other areas. I'm not sure they're ever going to be able to return, they've become displaced persons in their own country. That's what they're afraid of.

The problem is now as these pockets get smaller and fewer, there is less area for them to go. If the Syrians do like they have in the past and broker a deal with the fighters in the Ghouta, they'll allow them to relocate, probably to Idlib.

But we don't see this happening because the Syrians have brought in this elite group called the Tiger Force. And I've been listening to the Tiger Force commander in his public statements and a lot of propaganda from the Syrian government. He said I'm not letting anybody out. And you know, he's become this charismatic leader that carries a lot of sway with Bashar al Assad.

SESAY: It's been described as hell on earth for those 400,000 people living in hell.

Colonel Francona -- appreciate it. Thank you.

VAUSE: Well, Robert Mueller's Russia investigation is reaching beyond the 2016 presidential campaign to Donald Trump's personal business dealings in Russia before he ran for the White House.

Sources tell CNN some witnesses have been questioned about the timing of Trump's decision to run, why his plans for a Trump Tower Moscow fell through and whether the Russians had compromising information on the U.S. President.

Investigators are also following the money trail for the 2013 Miss Universe pageant which was held in Moscow and run by the Trump Organization.

For more we're joined now by CNN political commentators: Democratic strategist Dave Jacobson and Republican consultant John Thomas.

Ok. Let's start with one line of questioning here which is centered on that 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow. This is from our report -- our reporting. "In particular Mueller is looking at meetings Trump had with Russian business people or government officials leading the source to believe the investigators were probing the possibility of 'kompromat' or compromising material on Trump.

Investigators were interested in logistics surrounding Trump's hotel room in Moscow -- who was there, who would have access to it, who was in charge of security, who was moving around with him during the trip."

So John -- Donald Trump and his lawyer made it very clear anything beyond, or anything before he was a presidential candidate, anything before, you know, 2015 -- 2016 is beyond the scope of Mueller's investigation.

But when you look at those questions, and how that might relate to what happened later on in the campaign, why are those questions off limits?

JOHN THOMAS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: This sounds very much like the DNC and Clinton's Russian dossier, right. Whether he was -- what was he doing in his hotel room? Were there prostitutes there? Was he compromised? That's essentially what an element of the dossier was getting into.

It's not surprising that these special investigations have mission creep. I think that's exactly what Trump was afraid of. Look, I don't think there's anything he can do to stop Mueller short of firing. But I am concerned that this creep into Trump's business dealings before -- well before the election are going to push his buttons to such an extent that he'll want to fire Mueller.

VAUSE: Dave.

DAVE JACOBSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean let's not forget it's Rod Rosenstein that's overseeing this investigation. He's a Republican appointed by Republican Donald Trump. And so he's overseeing every element of this investigation.

And so clearly there's got to be some time to the 2016 election otherwise, he'd shut this thing down, right. And so it begs the question of --

THOMAS: Well, not -- not necessarily. He's gone after Paul Manafort for things he did, you know, years and years and years ago. So it's not necessarily -- he's just going down that rat hole to see if there is a there, there.

[00:09:58] VAUSE: But John -- let's just remind that, you know, Mueller was appointed by Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, a Republican and --

JACOBSON: Mueller's a Republican as well --

VAUSE: And Mueller -- exactly. But you know, Mueller was given this brief (ph) to investigate any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.

Admittedly it is very broad but that's what Rosenstein told Mueller to do. And that's what it appears that he's doing right now.

THOMAS: He thinks it's challenging because Trump won so they're saying look, they're looking for Russian collusion. They've done nothing, at least that we know of to date. The investigation has been going on and on and on and there's been nothing.

At some point you have to draw the line and I think Trump's worried if you go back to 2013, are they going to go back to 2000? Are they going to go back to --

VAUSE: If he's done nothing wrong --

THOMAS: Well, because you might get nailed for process crime. That has nothing to do with Russia collusion. Ask Rick Gates, ask Paul Manafort.

VAUSE: They're still crimes.

THOMAS: Right. But it has nothing to do with Russia collusion and I think that's Trump's point is that if you're trying to get to the bottom of Russia collusion, this is not the way to do it.

JACOBSON: Well, we don't know that necessarily but if you look at the big picture here, we've seen a tremendous swing in public opinion. "USA Today" and Suffolk University are out with a brand new poll that shows that 58 percent of the American people trust Bob Mueller, 57 percent don't trust Donald Trump on this issue.

And I think that is really, really stunning because it's a dramatic shift from what we've seen recently. And I think most of that is emblematic of the fact that independent voters now seem to trust Bob Mueller perhaps more than they were previously.

VAUSE: Ok. Let's move on from Russia because the Washington post is reporting that officials from at least four countries -- China, Israel, Mexico and the UAE privately discussed ways to meet with White House advisor and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner taking advantage not just of his lack of experience when it comes to foreign policy but also his own personal financial problems, in particular a huge debt which his own company is carrying on a Manhattan office tower, $1.2 billion. This is the part of the first report.

Officials in the White House were concerned that Kushner was naive and being tricked in conversations foreign officials, some of whom said they wanted to deal only with Kushner directly and not more experienced personnel, said on former White House official.

Dave -- there was such a concern here that it was raised by H.R. McMaster, the national security advisor. He raises it in the intelligence briefings, the daily intelligence briefings. So you know, Kushner and his security clearance and who he's talking to and how he operates, it's now been elevated to this point where it's raised by the national security advisor.

JACOBSON: Precisely and that's probably why, or at least it could potentially be one element of why Jared Kushner hasn't been able to pass, throughout the entire course of his time in the White House, a standard FBI background check, right.

That, at the end of the day is a massive glaring issue. And that's why it was recently demoted. That's why he got that security clearance ticked down. And I think it's going to have a massive impact in terms of his ability to do the scope of work that he's been working on, whether it's the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks or dealing with and being a liaison to Mexico.

I mean this is going to have a massive body blow in terms of the portfolio and the day to day work that he does in the West Wing.

VAUSE: Well Kushner was once described as the secretary for everything, broker for the Middle Eastern peace, adviser on relationships with Mexico, Canada and China, overseeing the office of American innovation, and hold the entire government bureaucracy, trying to end the problem with drug addiction.

And what that downgraded clearance suggests security which essentially is about the same as an office worker.


VAUSE: It's pretty low-level stuff. So, you know, it's debatable, John, if Kushner was even capable and performing in that job before this happened. How is he likely to perform now? THOMAS: I don't know -- I don't think he can. It's a blatant conflict of interest. They say that General Kelly made that call unilaterally but I guarantee if he wouldn't have made that call, even if he had authority to make that call, without consulting the President.


THOMAS: So this is something that the President who sticks very closely by family was willing to go along with because the conflict of interest was so glaring.

Look, I've never been a fan of having nepotism in the White House. It just didn't seem to make a lot of sense to me.


THOMAS: But the fact that there's been focus on this I think is a healthy thing. I think Kelly's made the right call. And now that he's been demoted, Dave's 100 percent right, he can't do his job.

VAUSE: Right.

Well, as far as his future's concerned, here's White House press secretary Sarah Sanders.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He's a valued member of the team and he will continue to do the important work that he's been doing since he started in the administration.


THOMAS: Yes. And the interns are important too.

VAUSE: Exactly. Dave -- is that one week or two weeks before Jared (INAUDIBLE) --

JACOBSON: Well, it was and his communications officer earlier today reported, according to Axios, leaving. I mean -- I think this is an effort by Kelly to push him out of the White House. And it's sort of that drip, drip, drip and a baby step perhaps but I think in a couple of weeks, I wouldn't be surprised if Jared actually did leave.

VAUSE: Ok. Let's finish off with the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson. First there was the whistleblower who told CNN that she was pressured to exceed the legal $5,000 limit to redecorate Carson's office.


[00:15:00] HELEN FOSTER, FORMER HUD OFFICIAL: -- one-on-one meeting with my boss who was the acting secretary at the time and he told me again that $5,000 wasn't enough and that specifically $5,000 is not enough to buy a decent chair. (END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: She said it wouldn't buy a chair but $31,000 apparently buys a very nice dining table and it comes under the heading of office supplies. So it doesn't go under redecoration. According to "The New York Times" Carson didn't know the table had been purchased but does not believe the cost was too steep and does not intend to return, said Raffi Williams, a HUD spokesman.

In general, the secretary does want to be fiscally prudent as possible with the taxpayers' money, he added.

John -- this comes as programs at the Department of Housing that help the elderly, the poor, you know, the homeless are said to be cut by the White House budget. So should Ben Carson, a man who once posed in a painting with the Son of God -- what would Jesus do or say?

THOMAS: You know, lawmakers get nailed for this kind of stuff all the time, lavish expenditures on their office. I think it's a bipartisan problem. I'm glad he was exposed and I think it's pretty simple. He either cuts the check himself or he needs to step down. I really think it's that simple.

Elected officials or appointed officials should not be living lavishly on the taxpayers' dime. It's just that simple.

VAUSE: Good point to end it.

John and Dave -- thanks so much.

JACOBSON: Thank you.

SESAY: Now, the Nigerian government has released the names of the 110 missing schoolgirls who were kidnapped more than a week ago. They're all between 11 and 19 years old. And their names were verified by a screening committee of school and government officials.

David McKenzie has more now from Nigeria.


DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Harrowing stories are now emerging on this awful situation in Nigerian where more than 100 young girls and young women were taken by what is believed to be Boko Haram militants around a week ago.

In the village of Dapchi, they stormed in the evening hours the school. At first there was confusion whether the girls had escaped, whether they were there to abduct them at all. But now it turns out the government says they have been abducted and it's eerily familiar to the nightmare Nigeria lived through four years ago in Chibok. A hundred of those girls are still missing.

We spoke to one young girl, 13-year-old Hasana. She said that the militants were beckoning to her. They were in military uniforms. Told her to come, that she'd be safe but she ran away, her 11-year-old sister in her hand. She hurt her ankle and the sister went away and they don't know where she is.

Now her parents are anguished. They want action and they're wondering why this could all happen yet again.

David McKenzie in Kanu, Nigeria.


SESAY: Well on Thursday, CNN's Nima Elbagir catches up with a young man named Victory who tried unsuccessfully to reach Europe last year. He's now back home in Nigeria.


VICTORY: -- no food, no water, nothing.

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The last time we saw Victory, he was lying on the floor of a Libyan detention center, just rescued from slavery begging to be sent back home.

Now he is back in Nigeria but has he found his happy ending?

How do you feel coming back here?

VICTORY: A lot of people lost their lives over there. I am happy that I didn't lose my life. I'm back home now so I can also take another step so I'm happy.


SESAY: Well, grateful for his life but still struggling to survive. More on this story Thursday only here on CNN.

VAUSE: We will take a short break. When we come back, the U.N.'s stark warning to Rohingya refugees -- we cannot protect you. Monsoon season is coming and with that comes the threat of deadly flooding and landslides.

VAUSE: Plus I'll talk to a doctor who just got back from those camps. He's on a mission to help the Rohingya and he was shocked by what he saw there.


SESAY: Hello -- everyone.

A warning from the U.N. for tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees facing a devastating monsoon season, "We can't keep you all safe".

The refugees are living in (INAUDIBLE) overcrowded camps in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. Nearly 700,000 fled Myanmar over the past six months trying to get away from horrific violence. And now, now they're facing yet another horror.

VAUSE: The U.N. warns the refugees' makeshift shelters could be swept away when heavy rain comes and turns the ground to mud; another threat -- landslides and flooding which could block roads into the camps. Aid can't get in and diseases spread quickly.

The World Health Organization says those sicknesses are a huge risk to the entire population there.

SESAY: Well, Dr. Mohammed Qutub Khan (ph) joins us now. He's the U.S. physician whose traveled to Cox's Bazar to help the refugees there. He just got back, what, this Saturday.

DR. MOHAMMED QUTUB KHAN, U.S. PHYSICIAN: Yes, I got back Saturday. It's good. Thank you -- Isha.

SESAY: Welcome. Thank you for joining us.

KHAN: Thank you.

SESAY: You have made the point that you grew up in India. You have seen poverty growing up.

KHAN: Yes.

SESAY: And yet when you got to Cox's Bazar, you were still taken aback. Tell me about what shocked you.

KHAN: Like I said I grew up in India and I've been to neighborhoods, poor neighborhoods or slums as you might say. But just the magnitude and the concentration of the people there and the very dire unhygienic circumstances they were living and thousands and thousands -- hundreds of thousands of people -- all crunched together in a small area --


KHAN: And kids running around and just the whole atmosphere and the expressions that they have and the lost look on their faces and the fear and the sadness built together by their -- the whole surroundings and the garbage (INAUDIBLE) all over and drains (ph) running around. And this was nothing I've seen before.

SESAY: Those looks that you talk about, the haunted looks -- you got to spend time, a little time there. How are they doing? I think it would be an oversimplification if I say they are sad or they are unhappy or they are resilient. I would say there's mixed emotions that I saw in many people.

I got to check with patients in the clinic and then we went into the interior of the camps to see everyone. So I would say some are just -- they still have the look of being terrified or in fear. Some are just sad. They start crying the moment you ask them, ok, what's going on.

Refugees have translators all the time and you ask them and then they start crying. Some kids are dazed out and that's what struck me most. When I said dazed they are like expressionless.

I saw a nine-year-old kid -- I have a seven-year-old son so I could relate to him and it was a nine-year-old -- and he came to us with an ear infection, with some drainage in the ear. We were cleaning it and I asked him about what's going on. So he has the look -- he doesn't smile. He doesn't laugh. He doesn't react to pain. He has just this look.

But he communicates through the translator and he said he walked eight days to get there. His father was killed and they're with his mother and a sister. It was a journey on foot for eight days.

SESAY: Eight whole days.

KHAN: Eight whole days and they -- he said it (INAUDIBLE) on the way and but this guy -- this little boy that I saw, I'll even send you a picture of that, he has this dazed look and very sad and scared at the same time.

SESAY: Yes. You were there on a medical mission.

KHAN: Correct.

SESAY: And as you just mentioned, you were in the clinic and you went into the interior. Medically speaking, what did you encounter?

[00:24:51] KHAN: Right now, I would say since the exodus had started in August, so the immediate trauma or the injuries we were not seeing. Now what we're seeing is infections. And because of the proximity we saw a lot of pulmonary infections --


KHAN: -- kids with bronchitis, bronculitis, skin rashes due to unhygienic conditions, fungal infections in the skin. And obviously the trauma and the stress have led to high-blood pressures.


KHAN: And I think there are a lot of nutritional deficiency that we saw, anemia, pregnant women who are not lactating. I mean they have no food to eat. So how are they going to produce milk for the babies? Nutritional problems have seen (INAUDIBLE) diabetes, quite a few.

SESAY: A lot of chronic conditions developing.

KHAN: Absolutely. Absolutely.

SESAY: Monsoon season is coming.

KHAN: Yes.

SESAY: The U.N. has already made it clear. The U.N. has said we can't keep you all safe.

KHAN: Yes.

SESAY: What are the hazards? What potentially are we looking at here because you've seen the landscape? You've walked the earth.

KHAN: Absolutely. SESAY: What is coming potentially?

KHAN: Absolutely. You know, the area -- it's about 30 kilometers south of Cox's Bazar. Cox's Bazar is a tourist city and this area is called the Bal Kalyan (ph) the Kutupalong Camp.

SESAY: That's right.

KHAN: So now these two camps combine, they represent the largest camp in the world that refugees are. And up until then it was the -- in Kenya there was the Dagos --


KHAN: -- camp. Now it's got more than half a million people just in the camp where we were. And more than six months ago this was just jungles and forest. Now because of the refugees coming in, all the camps are built and they're built on the step-up sort of fashion. And everywhere you see the sea of camps.

So the Bangladeshi government has identified the areas which are prone most to flooding and monsoon. So what they have said, and I think we should applaud the Bangladeshi military and the Bangladeshi government for what they're doing. I mean they are themselves a country that has limited resources.

SESAY: Exactly.

KHAN: So what they have said is the immediate hazard -- the infections and the problems will come later -- the immediate hazard will be being wiped out by the rain. So among the 700,000 to 800,000 refugees who are there, they have identified 100,000 and they would be relocating them to a safer area.


KHAN: That's what we have been told.

SESAY: We only have about 30 seconds left. And I ask people who have been to Cox's Bazar this question a lot. What is it that the world is missing when they casually glance at what is happening to these people? What is it that you think and believe people should know?

KHAN: Well, people should know that at the grassroots level, what we're doing can -- I mean it does make an impact. But more importantly a big change has to come from the international community and that's what the world is missing.

And I think it has to come out from the goodness of our hearts. This is a humanitarian issue. It's not a regional issue. It's not a religious issue. It's a humanitarian issue. And the world has to come up and help the people of -- the Rohingya Muslims who are there and, you know, the powerful countries like ours, United States, you know, we should speak up.

I know the Secretary of State has called it an ethnic cleansing -- SESAY: Yes.

KHAN: More needs to be done to put pressure so that Myanmar can take them back and you've done this (INAUDIBLE).

SESAY: Dr. Khan -- we thank you for your heart. Thanks you for your work. And we appreciate you coming in to tell us about your experience.

Thank you.

KHAN: Thank you -- Isha. Thank you.

SESAY: Well, three Nobel Peace Prize winners who visited the Rohingya refugee camps say Aung San Suu Kyi needs to speak out. Suu Kyi, who's also a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, is Myanmar's civilian leader.

Here's what one of the peace activists said in a message to here.


TAWAKKOL KARMAN, NOBEL PEACE PRIZE WINNER: It's that appeal to our sister, Aung San Suu Kyi, to wake up otherwise she will be portrayed as one of the perpetrators of this crime. She has -- if she couldn't stop all this crime, she has to resign now.


SESAY: Well, support for the Rohingya also being felt around the world, including right here in Los Angeles. Over the weekend, dozens protested at Loyola Marymount University urging the international community to take action, to do more and hold those responsible for the atrocities that are being committed.

VAUSE: Still to come here, cracking down on online sex trafficking. U.S. lawmakers are targeting Web sites promoting prostitution. Details in a moment.



ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I'm Isha Sesay.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): And I'm John Vause. Great to have you with us. The headlines this hour:


SESAY: House lawmakers in the U.S. have overwhelmingly passed a bill which targets sex trafficking online. It would allow victims and prosecutors to sue websites that knowingly promote trafficking and prostitution.

Those sites have been effectively immune from liability for what other people post. One such website,, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, says people who use Backpage to post ads for prostitutes include children being sold by adults.

The documentary film, "I Am Jane Doe," chronicles the battle mothers are waging against Backpage.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Backpage is the Walmart of human trafficking. It's an incredibly profitable business.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): We will never be the family we were before she was sold on that website.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We need someone to give us a fighting chance.


SESAY: Rebecca Bender is a survivor of sex trafficking. She's also a speaker, author and advocate in the ongoing movement to stop modern- day slavery. Rebecca joins us now from Grants Pass, Oregon.

Rebecca, thank you for being with us.

REBECCA BENDER, SEX TRAFFICKING SURVIVOR: Thank you so much for having me.

SESAY: It would seem pretty obvious to most people that those who (INAUDIBLE) publish content which enables a crime (INAUDIBLE) committed should be held accountable.

Help us understand why this has been such a bitter and lengthy fight.

BENDER: Yes, so many nonprofits have come together and rallied behind the scenes to fight the amendment to the Communications Decency Act, which specifically in Section 230 is what allows online websites to not be held liable for third-party postings.

The CDA Section 230 was written in 1996 and there hasn't been an amendment since.

SESAY: There hasn't been an amendment since and I think people are wondering why it has been so hard to get it amended, to have it amended. Talk to me about the opposition to efforts to change Section 230.

BENDER: It's a really tricky bill because it -- we don't want anyone to be held liable for something that one person writes online. You don't want to be held liable for something someone puts on your blog. I don't want to be held liable for something someone puts on my blog.

So it does protect, in a sense, freedom of speech and it protects us from being held liable. But when your intent is to create a website for illegal purposes and specifically to allow the harm of children -- [00:35:00]

BENDER: -- now that starts to cross a line that we believe should be looked at and amended.

SESAY: So how are you feeling after seeing the House pass the online sex trafficking bill?

How are you feeling today?

BENDER: I'm feeling so great. This is one step closer to being able to amend the CDA, to help get websites like Backpage and others that sell children and young, vulnerable adults.

It helps -- it's one more step to get them down. And I know a lot of us in the anti-trafficking movement are celebrating today and so many have been a part of helping this bill pass in the House.

SESAY: Backpage, which has been at the center of this, even though they're not the only website that is posting such terrific ads, I know that Congress launched an investigation into the site.

Can you tell us a little bit more about how they operate and what has been turned up about the people behind Backpage and how the -- how they are doing all of this?

BENDER: Some of the things that came out during Senate's investigation were that the head people of Backpage were actually requiring employees to strip words like "missing child" or terms that pedophiles look for when looking for children online.

When the employees of Backpage were finding those words in ads, they were not given directives to remove the ads and notify FBI, which is what a lot of websites do. Backpage was specifically removing those terms and reposting the ad for the trafficker anyway.

It was shocking to see the outcome of the investigation.

SESAY: Can you tell us how you ended up being trafficked?

What can you tell us about your experiences?

BENDER: I was a normal, all-American girl who still had some vulnerabilities, as all teenagers do. And I went off to go to college, graduated a year early and got pregnant and became a teen mom, trying to put myself through school until I met a man who pretended to take an interest in me as a boyfriend.

He dated me and groomed me, got to know me and my daughter for six months before he invited us to move in with him. I thought maybe the tables had finally turned and it turned out he was really just a con artist and a trafficker. And he already had other -- another victim in Las Vegas, where he eventually took me and sold me.

SESAY: What has the road back been like for you, Rebecca? BENDER: You know, December of 2017 I celebrate 10 years being able to run and escape from my trafficker. It's been a hard journey, especially the first year but I'm so grateful for where I'm at today that I want other survivors to know that there is hope, that you can overcome your past.

It doesn't have to determine your future and I'm grateful that all of the -- unfortunately the bad things that I learned during my time in this underground world I'm getting to use for good today and I'm helping train law enforcement and FBI and helping with other nonprofits to pass laws like the seston fossa (ph) bill today.

SESAY: "I am Jane Doe," the film directed by Mary Mazzio, is an incredible film. It's a film that really takes you to the heart of (INAUDIBLE) in the heart of darkness and the terrible people exploiting children and the system.

Mary (ph) makes the point that some of the issues here in terms of people who don't stand up and be advocates to see like Section 230 struck down, it's because they're hiding behind language like sex trafficking as opposed to saying child rape, that, you know, that there are ways that people are able to distance themselves from what is happening out there in the world and happening to children.

Do you think we need to see a change in the language, how we describe and talk about this crime?

BENDER: Absolutely. I think language is powerful and helps evoke emotion and reaction from viewers and listeners. When we see terms like "child prostitute" versus "an exploited child" or I've even seen titles like "teen hooker," which is appalling, instead of "victim of child exploitation" or "child rape."

We need to start using words that actually, truly evoke what's taking place. When I've worked with law enforcement in cases, we've actually even heard them say when the client was taken on a date.

And unthinkable that law enforcement has stood up and said this isn't coffee and a movie. This is a child being sold for sex here. Let's start calling it what it is.

So we don't need to tiptoe around it. We need to make the public aware of what's happening in our own communities.

SESAY: Rebecca Bender, we thank you for joining us and sharing this (INAUDIBLE) with us, all that you've seen in the fight that you're engage in and congratulations on this first step.

BENDER: Thank you. Thank you so much.

SESAY: Thank you.

VAUSE: And CNN is partnering with young people around the world for a student-led day of action against modern-day slavery. This happens March 14th and in advance of My Freedom Day, we asked actor and U.N. goodwill ambassador -- [00:40:00]

VAUSE: -- Ashley Judd what freedom means to her.


ASHLEY JUDD, ACTOR AND ACTIVIST: Hi, I'm Ashley Judd and I believe that all human beings have inherent dignity and deserve to be free. And freedom means freedom from harm, emotionally, physically, spiritually and mentally.

I am a sex and labor slavery abolitionist. And I believe that all folks everywhere are entitled to their bodily integrity and their sexual economy. And that's why I'm abolitionist.


VAUSE: So what does freedom mean to you?

Share your story using the #MyFreedomDay.

SESAY: We're going to pause here for a very quick break. Family, friends and fans are saying goodbye to Sridevi. Their tributes to the Bollywood star -- just ahead.




VAUSE: Family and friends of Bollywood icon Sridevi are paying their respects at her funeral. The 54-year-old actress accidentally drowned last Saturday in a hotel bathtub during a visit to Dubai for a family wedding.

Police have ruled out foul play. On Tuesday night, Sridevi's body was flown to Mumbai. Hundreds of her fans gathered as an ambulance carried her home.

Reporter Liz Neisloss joins us now live from Mumbai.

So Liz, for many in India, this will be a funeral service for someone who they thought of as a friend or a sister or mother. She was a woman they'd never met but they all felt like they knew her.

LIZ NEISLOSS (PH), JOURNALIST: I think, John, that is fair to say all of those descriptions. Many people feel as though they grew up with this woman. She began making films at the age of 4 and by the end of her life, she had made nearly 300 movies.

These people are waiting in extreme heat. It doesn't matter. They may be waiting for hours here. But they want their chance to see Sridevi. The other thing, John, that broadened her appeal was the fact that she didn't just make films in Hindi; she also performed in four other languages. This made her extremely popular not just in Bollywood but across the entire country. I think many people saw her as an extremely versatile actress. Of course, there are beautiful and talented women in Bollywood. This woman in particular was considered very versatile, very broad range, able to do both comedy and drama.

And so she really had a connection to her fans. One woman, John, told us she slept overnight on the street here in order to be the first in line. She never had the chance to meet Sridevi in person and this, she said, would be the last chance she had to see her face -- John.

VAUSE: Liz, thank you.

And of course the actual funeral taking place in 1.5 hours. A lot more on this story. Thanks, Liz.

SESAY: She meant a lot to a lot of people.

VAUSE: Yes, a true icon --


VAUSE: -- in the real sense of the word.


Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I'm Isha Sesay.

VAUSE: I'm John Vause. Please stay with us. "WORLD SPORT" is next. You're watching CNN.