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Trump Blasts Civil Rights Icon; Dems to Boycott Inauguration; Poland Welcomes U.S. Troops in NATO Buildup; Middle East Peace Conference. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired January 15, 2017 - 03:00   ET




CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): President-Elect Trump versus a civil rights icon. Congressman John Lewis feels the backlash after saying Trump was not a legitimate president.

Leaders from some 70 countries gather in Paris for a peace conference on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We'll have a live report on that.

And it was known as the greatest show on Earth for more than a century but now the Ringling Brothers circus is folding its tent.

Hi, everyone, thank you for joining us. I'm Cyril Vanier in Atlanta. Your CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.


VANIER: With less than a week to go before Inauguration Day, the political climate in the U.S. still very confrontational. U.S. President-Elect Donald Trump is firing back against a civil rights icon, Congressman John Lewis, who, on Friday, said he didn't see Trump as a legitimate president.

Lewis was an ally of Martin Luther King Jr. during the early days of the civil rights movement and is very much a respected figure in American politics. Here's part of what he told NBC.


REP. JOHN LEWIS (D), GA.: I don't see this president-elect as a legitimate president.

CHUCK TODD, NBC HOST: You do not consider him a legitimate president?

Why is that?

LEWIS: I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected. And they have destroyed the candidacy for Hillary Clinton. (END VIDEO CLIP)

VANIER: So after that, Trump fired back, tweeting, "Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart, not to mention crime infested, rather than falsely complaining about the election results. All talk, talk, talk, no action or results. Sad."

Trump later seemed to double down on this criticism.

"Congressman John Lewis should finally focus on the burning and crime infested inner cities of the U.S., I can use all the help I can get," was his latest tweet on that subject.

Now here is what residents of John Lewis' district here in Atlanta, Georgia, had to say about the feud.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To tear down John Lewis is definitely detrimental to his cause. And it is not going to play very well with African Americans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Trump is the president. I got over it when Obama went in. Half the world needs to get over it now that Trump is in.


VANIER: Joining me now is political analyst Ellis Henigan, who joins us from New York, he's the author of several best-selling books.

Ellis, great to have you back on the show. So there was a lot going on this week. Let's start with the feud, this feud between Donald Trump and John Lewis.

What do you make of it?

ELLIS HENICAN, POLITICAL ANALYST: It's not going to end well. John Lewis holds such a position among Democrats, African Americans, a good slice of the American public as this icon of civil rights. One of the few people that you can really say holds some moral authority in the politics of America anymore.

You know, Donald Trump, I understand his -- having his nose out of joint a little bit. But this is one he might have thought twice about taking on.

VANIER: But what about the substance of the argument, John Lewis saying, Donald Trump is not legitimate as a president?

HENICAN: You know it is so fascinating. For weeks now, we have had folks on the Trump side of the debate, saying, hold on a second. You guys keep implying that I'm not a legitimate president, that I don't deserve to be elected.

In fact, very few Democrats have really made that argument. So when it came out of the mouth of John Lewis, I think a lot of people took notice. It does focus attention on this, this back-and-forth that is still unresolved about the role of the Russians in the campaign, what that means, might it have affected the results, what the heck do we do about it now even if it did?

VANIER: And over a dozen Democrats are refusing to attend the Trump inauguration. That number may well go up over the next few days.

Who knows?

What does that tell us?

That and what John Lewis said, what does that tell us about the mindset right now within the Democratic Party?

HENIGAN: Listen, there is a combination of frustration, depression, self-analysis, headshaking, disbelief; I mean, there is just a rush of a whole series of negative emotions at this point.

And a lot of questions, how the heck did this guy get to be the president?

And so I think Democrats don't yet really have a unified response.


VANIER: They're not over it yet, is that what you are saying?

HENIGAN: I think not even close. And these kinds of debates just prolong it.

VANIER: There has been so much news this week. I want to get back to the way the transition is going for Donald Trump. You have been watching Donald Trump lead the transition to power, into the swearing- in ceremony, for the last two months.


VANIER: What has that told you about the kind of president he might be?

HENIGAN: Well, it's certainly is unlike any presidential transition that we have ever had before. And it is so many ways. But let me just focus on a couple. One his personal tone.


All through the campaign process, even after the election, people say, well, he is going to become presidential soon. He is going to stop the angry tweets. He's going to end the ad hominem attacks.

In fact, it doesn't seem like he is intending to end any of that stuff. So the tone has been far more personal and far rougher than we are used to.

So far, the process of appointing cabinet secretaries and others, you know, has gone fairly smoothly. There is still a lot of unresolved moves there. But I wouldn't say that is that so much out of the ordinary.

Really it's a --


VANIER: There hasn't been nearly as much of the pushback as some people had expected against Trump's nominees.

HENIGAN: That's right. But we do have a tradition here of letting the president pick his own people. And I think that is playing out now. There's some interesting dynamics. Some of them have caused such concern that I think others, who, in another administration, might have been controversial, a lot of Democrats are saying, well, the guy is not so bad, not compared to some of the others.

But I think the opposition is focusing around two or three cases.

VANIER: Ellis, real quick. I want to show you numbers. Donald Trump's approval ratings before he takes office, 44 percent, compare those to the approval ratings of previous presidents, just before days before they were sworn in, Barack Obama, 83 percent; George W. Bush, 61 percent; Bill Clinton 68 percent.

What do you make of that?

Is that something that should worry him?

HENIGAN: Well, you know he seems to be able to maneuver around these things. But my goodness, we normally have a period of honeymoon after a new president is elected. I guess maybe we are starting this one right in divorce court and trying to figure out who is going to get custody of the children.

VANIER: Ellis Henigan, in divorce court, all right, thank you very much. Always appreciate having you on the show. Look forward to speaking to you again, thanks.

And Congressman John Lewis has said he will not go to Trump's inauguration on Friday. And a growing number of his colleagues are also staying away. At least 18 House Democrats won't be at the inauguration. A few say that Trump's rebuke of Lewis is what spurred their decision.

On CNN, a Trump supporter faced off with the foreign press secretary for Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign.


BEN: I think it is sad. I think the inauguration is a day when people are supposed to come together, reach across the aisle and, even for a moment, put the country's business ahead of the personal politics. We have seen that throughout history with the smooth transition of power, even after there have been very nasty campaigns. I also think it is unprecedented that a congressman with a stature was

able to come out and say I don't believe Donald Trump is a legitimate president. I cannot imagine the fallout, the backfire that you would have if a Republican would have ever implied that about Barack Obama or Bill Clinton or JFK or anyone else for that matter.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That is exactly what many Republicans did, including the president-elect for years, questioning the legitimacy of the first black president, which, by the way, many saw as racist.

BEN: When did you have John McCain or any other major congressman come out and say in an interview days before the inauguration that they do not see Barack Obama as a legitimate president?


BEN: No, no, no, I want you to tell me who said that because it didn't happen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ben, I'm asking the questions. And the president elect, the president-elect did that to the sitting president for years.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Said he was -- not only did that, said he was Muslim, said he had proof, which we know this proof never manifested because there was no proof here. I could understand why, you know, Ben and some of the other Trump supporters are, you know, just kind of bothered by John Lewis' comments.

But being bothered doesn't necessarily mean he is wrong and doesn't mean that he should be silenced.


VANIER: Some of the Democrats who plan to boycott Trump's inauguration say that they will join protests in Washington or in their home districts instead. Now that's on the domestic politics side.

On the international front now, the president-elect has signaled that he could be willing to lift sanctions on Russia, provided Moscow helps the U.S.

Jill Dougherty has more on Trump's comments and what they mean for bilateral relations.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Just a few days ago, President- Elect Trump was talking about the fact that he felt that Russia was behind the hacking. Now he is saying, perhaps, he might be open to lifting the sanctions on Russia.

So another switch, another change and the problem now is to define what President-Elect --


DOUGHERTY: -- Trump means. He did not say which sanctions he might lift. It could be the sanctions that President Obama imposed just recently because of the hacking.

Or could it be the sanctions that were imposed quite a while ago because of Russia's incursion into Eastern Ukraine and also the annexation of Crimea?

That is not clear. And there are other issues as well. You have the Senate Intelligence Committee saying that it will investigate any intelligence regarding links, possible links, between Russia and political campaigns.

You also have President-Elect Trump saying that his own people would begin some investigations and come up with the results in 90 days. In other words, many bumps in the road before he actually might be able to lift those sanctions.

And, over all of this, looking on from Moscow is Vladimir Putin, the ultimate realist. He knows that even members of the president's own party do not support him. So realism here in Moscow and perhaps more hope in Washington. But nothing guaranteed -- Jill Dougherty, Moscow.


VANIER: And there's also uncertainty about Trump's policies toward NATO. But that's not stopping the military alliance from flexing its muscles toward Russia. Poland officially welcomed some 4,000 U.S. troops on Saturday and that's part of NATO's build-up, aimed at convincing Moscow that the alliance will defend its members against potential aggression.

Russia has bristled at that message, deploying air defense systems to Crimea on Saturday and saying it could send more in the future. CNN's Atika Shubert has more from Poland.



ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): "The Star-Spangled Banner" plays in Poland, welcoming U.S. troops for NATO's operation Atlantic Resolve, the biggest U.S. deployment in Europe for decades.

This is the official welcoming ceremony for those U.S. troops. And Poland's prime minister, Beata Szydlo, is here. She made a point in her speech to say this is an integral part of Poland's national security, that everyone in Poland had a right to feel safe and secure.

And this is exactly what the arrival of U.S. troops here has done. Poland's prime minister spoke to CNN after the ceremony.

She said, "This is very important for Poland and the region. We live in Europe, where there are many external threats; Russian policy is confrontational," she said, "for states bordering Russia, such as Poland, this constitutes a real threat. We are conscious that Poland must strengthen its alliances," she said.

And it is an impressive rollout. Four battalions of 1,000 soldiers each. More than 2,000 pieces of military hardware, including U.S. tanks and armored vehicles, all coming from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 4th Infantry Division out of Ft. Carson, Colorado.

They're here for nine months, deployed not only in Poland, but Romania, Hungary Bulgaria and other NATO allies bordering Russia. It is a show of force to deter Russia from repeating its aggression in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is no more powerful combat formation in the United States Army. And I would say this is a very well trained, well equipped, well led brigade combat team.

This is another sign of the United States' commitment to deterrence and our commitment to not only our Polish allies but those allies in NATO.

SHUBERT (voice-over): U.S. tanks in Poland, the Kremlin says, are, quote, "a real threat to Russian security."

Still, in less than a week, Moscow will have a new administration to face in Washington and make its case for policy changes.

Now Russia may not be happy with this deployment but Polish public opinion, well, that is another matter. Take a look at this. This is just some of the armored vehicles and tanks that have been brought over for this operation here. They have been put on display for the day here in Zagan, Poland, to show the public some of the hardware that is coming across.

It is all part of this effort to show that the NATO alliance remains strong, that Poland, other Eastern European allies, will be collectively defended by this alliance -- Atika Shubert, CNN, Zagan, Poland.


VANIER: France is hosting a peace conference on the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. Why the meeting is controversial -- when we come back.

Plus a tradition that began in 1884 is ending. One of the world's most popular circuses is folding. (MUSIC PLAYING)




VANIER: Welcome back.

The Trump administration could face its first major foreign policy test just days after the inauguration. Turkey and Russia have agreed to invite the U.S. to the next round of Syrian peace talks. They're scheduled just three days after Trump's inauguration and it's unclear if his administration will accept the invitation.

Syria's umbrella opposition group, the High Negotiations Committee, says it supports the talks.

Leaders from some 70 countries are arriving in Paris for a peace conference on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Our Oren Liebermann joins us now from Jerusalem.

Oren, Israelis and Palestinians will not be at the conference. Neither will the incoming Trump administration.

So what's the point of the meeting?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the point is in some way to move the peace process forward after years now of stagnation. The last peace talks broke down in April of 2014 and there hasn't been any serious effort since then. That's what we saw just a few weeks ago with U.N. Security Council resolution and Kerry's speech.

This in some ways is a continuation of that. And it's a specific point that the Israelis and the Palestinians are not invited. The idea is that the rest of the world, or at least some 70 countries, get together and try to figure out reasonable, workable solutions to some of the most difficult problems in the conflict -- borders, refugees, Jerusalem.

And then those are presented to the Israelis and the Palestinians. They're both invited afterwards to a sort of handshaking ceremony or a ceremony to show that they believe and they stand for peace. The Palestinians have said they will not attend. The Israelis have been staunchly opposed since the very beginning.

In fact, it was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu just a few days ago when he met with Norwegian leaders, who said this is a relic of the past that won't hold in the future; he said it's rigged by the Palestinians and the French.

That gives you an idea of what Netanyahu and the Israeli government think about this. We should be hearing, Cyril, in just a little bit from the from the French foreign minister, who will kick off this conference. And then we'll hear at the end of the day what it has accomplished and what it has moved forward, if anything significant.

VANIER: Now some 70-plus countries are meeting.

How much pressure, if any, in fact, does that put on both Israel and the incoming Trump administration?

LIEBERMANN: It depend what comes out of this. If this is just recommendations or guidelines or ideas, it may put no pressure on anybody. The Israeli fear is that what happens at this conference or what is decided at this conference then becomes another U.N. Security Council resolution in the next four days. That's Israel's great fear.

The conference on its own doesn't seem that it will have the power to affect much. It's not the U.N. It's not the E.U. It's not another big organization like that.

But if what is decided here is then taken and put into another U.N. Security Council resolution, even if it is nonbinding, that is significant because there's no going back from that point.

Even if the Trump administration when it takes power in just a few days here completely opposes what is decided here, it likely won't be able to undo that at the U.N.

So even if it sits stagnant for four years, it has at least moved the peace process in some direction or at least the most difficult issues in the peace process, moved them in some direction. VANIER: All right. Oren Liebermann, reporting live from Jerusalem,

thank you very much.

And of course, he is going to monitor that throughout the day. So we'll continue to cross over to him.



VANIER: And among the key issues that divide the two sides is the city of Jerusalem, which both claim as their capital. Our Sara Sidner has more.


SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT SIDNER (voice-over): The tapestry of Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem is changing. More and more the Star of David is being woven into the landscape as Jewish settlers with the help of nonprofit organizations buy or sue their way in to Palestinian homes.

It makes for a volatile situation. We watch as Jewish children walk to and from home, noticing they are never without an armed escort, their families' fear evident in the most mundane of acts. Fear is something they have in common with their Palestinian neighbors.

Zohair al-Rajabi (ph) says his own home surveillance video shows guns used to protect Jewish settlers are sometimes turned on Palestinians. Settlers say they simply respond to attacks by Palestinians.

"They're trying to scare the families with guns so we get to a point where we're convinced to take the money and leave."

Al-Rajabi, an activist and father, says that's what's happening to him and his family.

"In the beginning of 2014," he says, "they started giving us evacuation orders claiming this land was owned by settlers since 1892."

In the legal battle, he says, Jewish settlers cite articles written back when the Ottoman Empire ruled here, saying the land was once Jewish owned. A century later they want it back.

The Rajabi family lives in the Silwan neighborhood, jammed tightly into the hills of East Jerusalem. Silwan lies right outside the gates of the Old City, which surrounds the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Wailing Wall.

But for al-Rajabi, this is simply home. And he's staying put, even after Jewish settlers offered him a blank check to sell it.

SIDNER: Why not take the money and get out of here, run away?

SIDNER (voice-over): "This question makes me laugh; it's not the money, it's about principles. We want our land, our house, our dignity," he says, even though his children dread encounters with settlers who live a few doors down.

"They shot at us and arrested my brother. I was so scared," 7-year- old Darin (ph) said.

Al-Rajabi's son says this encounter also caught on surveillance video shows violence he endured by settlers near his home.

SIDNER: We tried to talk to some of Israeli settlers here in East Jerusalem. None of them would talk to us on camera. However, a young man named Niveh (ph) did speak.

SIDNER (voice-over): I asked him why anyone would choose to live in such a tense situation. He said, for some, it stems from a deep and abiding religious belief that all these land belong to the Jews and they will endure anything to make that so.

But settlements go against international law and are an impediment to a two-state solution where East Jerusalem is the capital of a future Palestinian state.

SIDNER: Do you think you can ever live in peace?

SIDNER (voice-over): "How will I forget how I suffer?

"How will I forget how they beat me?

"We can never live in peace," he says. Here, even the next generation can't imagine a peaceful solution --

Sara Sidner, CNN, Jerusalem.


VANIER: And Meteorologist Allison Chinchar is with us.

Allison, large parts of Europe are still experiencing freezing temperatures.



VANIER: And there's another example of the kind of damage that can be caused by extreme weather. I'm thinking of Peru, where around 200,000 alpacas have died in the south of the country after a cold front and widespread flooding.

The animals starved to death when the grasslands that they graze in froze. Many residents of the region depend on alpacas for their livelihoods and they're requesting assistance from the government.

Local media are also reporting that the region had been hit by drought, which itself has hampered alpaca breeding.

One of the most famous circuses in the world is shutting down. Feld Entertainment, parent company of the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey show, says it is closing its more than 100-year-old circus extravaganza. The latest show will be in May.

CEO Kenneth Feld said ticket sales dropped dramatically when elephants were cut from the show. That move came after years of pressure from animal rights groups and fines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

That's it from us. Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Cyril Vanier. I'm back with headlines in just a moment.