Return to Transcripts main page


First 100 Days; U.S. Investigators Corroborate Russia Dossier; France Terror Plot Appears ISIS-Inspired; South Sudan Conflict Could Turn to Genocide; "Game of Thrones" Star Documents Greenland's Changes. Aired 2-2:30a ET

Aired February 11, 2017 - 02:00   ET




CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): On hold: the White House will not appeal the travel ban decision to the Supreme Court. At least for now.

Also, changing his words. The U.S. national security advisor Michael Flynn now cannot be certain that sanctions were not discussed with the Russian ambassador.

Plus, an ISIS inspired terror plot foiled. French police believe they've prevented an imminent attack.

Hi, everyone, thank you very much for joining us. I'm Cyril Vanier, live from Atlanta and this is CNN NEWSROOM.


VANIER: The Trump White House has opted, at least for now, not to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court after a stunning loss in federal appeals court over its controversial travel ban.

An administration official tells CNN the White House is reviewing all of its options after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to reinstate the president's current directive.

Among Mr. Trump's choices, to pursue the case in the lower courts, to rewrite the current executive order to make it more constitutionally palatable or to start over with a new executive order.

In any event, Mr. Trump made clear he has no intention of backing down.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What are some of the changes that you're looking -- ?


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Very little, just in honor of the decision. We will perhaps do that, we'll see. But on Monday or Tuesday.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tell us about new security measures.

Is that separate from potentially writing a new...

TRUMP: We're going to have very, very strong vetting. I call it extreme vetting. And we're going to have very strong security in our country. We are going to have people come into our country that want to be here for good reason.


VANIER: Rarely has a White House become embroiled in a constitutional battle just weeks into a new presidency. CNN's Pamela Brown has more on how this came about.


TRUMP: I welcome you to the very famous White House.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As the White House tweaks its now halted controversial executive order and considers whether to issue a new one, President Trump, speaking at a joint press conference at the White House, is vowing to not give up the fight.

TRUMP: We'll be doing something very rapidly having to do with additional security for our country. You'll be seeing that sometime next week.

In addition, we will continue to go through the court process and, ultimately, I have no doubt that we'll win that particular case.

BROWN (voice-over): Trump's announcement comes in the wake of a strong rebuke from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals over his travel ban. He tweeted the decision was, quote, "disgraceful," and again sounded the alarm that there is an urgent need for the travel ban to keep the country safe.

TRUMP: While I've been president, which is just for a very short period of time, I've learned tremendous things that you could only learn, frankly, if you were in a certain position, namely president. And there are tremendous threats to our country. We will not allow that to happen.

BROWN (voice-over): But the court said the administration failed to present evidence to back up Trump's national security claim, saying, quote, "The government has pointed to no evidence that any alien from any of the countries named in the order has perpetrated a terrorist attack on the United States."

Those countries listed in the ban: Sudan, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, Libya and Syria.

TRUMP: Big stuff.

BROWN (voice-over): And the court pushed back against the notion that matters of national security should only be left up to the president, saying, quote, "Rather than present evidence to explain the need for the executive order, the government has taken the position that we must not review its decision at all. We disagree."

Now the Trump administration has to figure out what's next.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There does seem to be some chaos in the Trump administration over the way that this order was written and how to go forward here.

BROWN: The president also said in honor of the 9th Circuit Court decision, he will likely wait till next week to respond with any action -- Pamela Brown, CNN, Washington.


VANIER: And support for the U.S. travel ban is coming from an unexpected source. Syrian president Bashar al-Assad says that some refugees are definitely aligned with terrorists. Mr. Assad spoke with Yahoo! News about the controversial U.S. executive order.


BASHAR AL-ASSAD, SYRIAN PRESIDENT: This is American issue and it's related to the sovereignty of the American nation. Every country has the right to put any regulations to enter their country. We can disagree and -- or agree.

But if you ask me, as president, as official in Syria and the Syrian state, my responsibility not to go and to ask any president to allow the Syrians to go there and to have refuge in that country. My responsibility is to restore the stability in order to bring them back to Syria and find refuge in their country.



VANIER: Now CNN has learned new information about the ongoing investigation into allegations raised in a collection of memos. Those memos were created by a former British intelligence agent for political opponents of then-candidate Donald Trump.

Jim Sciutto and Evan Perez are working the story and they spoke to Jake Tapper.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF U.S. SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: For the first time, U.S. investigators say that they have corroborated some of the communications detailed in a 35-page dossier, compiled by a former British intelligence agent. CNN was first to report last month that then-president-elect Donald

Trump and President Barack Obama were briefed on the existence of the memos prior to the inauguration.

Until now, U.S. officials have said that none of the content or allegations have been verified.

But now multiple current and former U.S. law enforcement and intelligence officials tell CNN that intelligence intercepts of foreign nationals confirmed some of the conversations described in the dossier took place between the same individuals on the same days and from the same locations as detailed in the dossier.

We should be clear that CNN has not confirmed the content of the calls or whether any of the content relates to then-candidate Trump.

And none of the newly learned information relates, I should say, to the salacious allegations in the dossier.

The corroboration based on intercepted communications has given U.S. intelligence and law enforcement, quote, "greater confidence in the credibility of some aspects of the dossier," as they continue to actively investigate its contents, these sources say.

Reached for comment this afternoon, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said, quote, "We continue to be disgusted by CNN's fake news reporting.

Spokesmen for the FBI, the Department of Justice, the CIA and the Office of Director of National Intelligence had no comment.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Fake news is what they call any news that they don't like.

Let me go to you, Evan, what is it precisely that investigators have corroborated here?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, the dossier contains 35 pages of claims and allegations. And when U.S. investigators first started to looking into it, they were trying to see whether there was any truth to the allegation that Russians were seeking to compromise President Trump.

Now to start, the investigators looked into -- looked for information they could verify easily to give them a sense of the credibility of the author who was already known, someone they were familiar with, as having credible sources.

The dossier details about a dozen conversations between senior Russian officials and other Russian individuals. So that was one of the starting points.

One thing that the U.S. has is a collection of foreign call intercepts so that they have information to seek to verify some of the alleged conversations described in the dossier. Now sources would not confirm which specific conversations were

intercepted or the content of those discussions due to the classified nature of U.S. intelligence collection programs.

U.S. intelligence officials emphasize that the conversations they have now verified were solely between foreign nationals, including those in or tied to the Russian government, intercepted during routine intelligence gathering.

But some of those individuals involved in the intercepted communications were known to the U.S. intelligence community as, quote, "heavily involved in collecting information damaging to Hillary Clinton and helpful to Donald Trump."

Sources would not confirm which specific conversations were intercepted or the content of those discussions due to the classified nature of those programs.


TAPPER: OK, and, Jim, let's underline this. The sources you two spoke with say there's confirmation of some of the conversations detailed; all the conversations were between foreign individuals. And there's still a ton in these series of memos, in the so-called dossier, that investigators cannot yet verify as true.

SCIUTTO: That's exactly right. We want to be very clear about that.

To begin, as we said, one of the officials we spoke to stressed to CNN that they have not corroborated, quote, "the more salacious things alleged in the dossier."

And I'll remind our viewers that CNN, from the beginning, has not reported any of the salacious allegations included in the dossier. However, when we first reported this story, U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials have said they could not verify any parts of the dossier.

They are now saying they indeed corroborated some of the communications contained in the dossier. None of the officials we spoke to for this story would comment or confirm that they have proof of any alleged conversations or meetings between Russian officials and U.S. citizens, including associates of then-candidate Trump.

Officials who spoke to CNN for this story cautioned they have not reached any final judgment on whether the Russian government has any compromising information about the president.

President Trump and his staff, you may remember, have repeatedly dismissed the entire dossier as, quote, "phony."

TAPPER: Well, first they denied that he had been briefed on it and, of course, he had been briefed on it, the existence of the dossier.

Evan, you reached out to the White House to get a comment. They said the comment that you -- that Jim read -- [02:10:00]

TAPPER: -- earlier, "fake news," blah, blah, blah, but the White House has reached out again?

PEREZ: Right. We did hear again from Sean Spicer. And he called us back to emphasize his displeasure with this story.

He said, quote, "It is about time that CNN focused on the success the president has had, bringing back jobs, protecting the nation and strengthening relationships with Japan and other nations. The president won the election because of his vision and message for the nation."


VANIER: And that was Jim Sciutto and Evan Perez, talking with Jake Tapper. Thanks to all three of them for that report.

Another potential Russia scandal is also rocking the White House. A U.S. official now confirms to CNN that U.S. national security advisor Michael Flynn discussed sanctions with Russia's ambassador to the U.S., this while Barack Obama was still president. CNN's Brian Todd has more.


TRUMP: General Mike Flynn.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He's entrusted with advising President Trump on the nation's most dangerous security threats. But now internal tensions are growing in the White House surrounding retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the president's national security adviser.

A senior White House advisor telling CNN, Vice President Mike Pence is, quote, "trying to get to the bottom of whether Flynn lied to him."

Pence is troubled, CNN is told, by reports that Flynn may have talked about U.S. sanctions against Russia with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. before the inauguration.

Flynn had earlier denied doing that, according to Pence, who repeated that denial on CBS, based on his conversations with Flynn.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What I can confirm, having spoken to him about it, is that that those conversations had nothing whatsoever to do with those sanctions.

TODD (voice-over): The Russians are denying sanctions were discussed. Flynn is now hedging, saying he cannot rule out that he spoke to the Russian ambassador about sanctions. If he did, he could have broken the law, prohibiting unauthorized citizens from negotiating with other governments about a dispute.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Flynn will probably be called on the carpet somewhere. And the Pence people will demand to know what really happened. I can just tell you, this creates real tension inside the White House.

TODD (voice-over): A climate that Flynn is very familiar with. He was pushed out as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014. U.S. officials said it was because of his contentious management style. Flynn now has to work closely with the CIA. Cedric Leighton once worked under Flynn.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: General Flynn looks at the CIA -- because it's a civilian agency, he looks at it with a great deal of suspicion.

TODD (voice-over): While serving as head of U.S. military intelligence in Afghanistan, a Defense Department report shows Flynn shared classified information from another agency without authorization.

Former government officials tell CNN he shared secrets with Pakistan. Flynn said he had permission to share the information. No misconduct was found. He was informally reprimanded but not charged.

Since his firing from the Pentagon intelligence post, senior officers who work with Flynn described him to CNN as "bitter." He's certainly been less filtered about his feelings toward Islam.

GEN. MICHAEL FLYNN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: This is Islamism. And it is a vicious cancer inside the body of 1.7 billion people on this planet. And it has to be excised.

TODD (voice-over): In this tweet a year ago, saying, quote, "Fear of Muslims is rational."

Just a week before the election, another tweet from Flynn, with a link to a completely fabricated story about Hillary Clinton's alleged involvement in sex crimes with minors.

With this pattern of undisciplined behavior, what's Flynn's future in the White House?

GERGEN: If he blatantly lied to the vice president, I think he's going to be in trouble over that. I think there's a very good chance he will -- his tenure will be short.

TODD: Now two top Democrats in Congress are putting heavy pressure on General Flynn. Adam Schiff, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, says if Flynn secretly discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador, he should no longer serve.

And Congressman Eliot Engel, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is calling for Flynn to be fired regardless -- Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


VANIER: And President Trump is hosting Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe in Florida this weekend. The two leaders and their wives had dinner at Mr. Trump's Mar-a-lago resort on Friday.

Also earlier on Friday in Washington, Mr. Trump pledged continued close security and economic ties with Japan. At a news conference, the president said the bond between the U.S. and Japan was deep.

He also stressed the importance of stationing U.S. troops in Japan. His comments are something of a shift from the presidential campaign, when Mr. Trump had said that Japan should be paying for more U.S. protection.

We're going to take a short break. When we come back on CNN NEWSROOM, French police say they have thwarted a terror attack and the suspects may have been inspired by ISIS.

Also: the ongoing violence in South Sudan has created a massive refugee crisis, with officials warning it could get worse. Stay with us.





VANIER: Welcome back.

Police in France say they have thwarted an imminent terror attack. A source says the four suspects who are French nationals appear to have been inspired by ISIS. Our Melissa Bell has more details.


MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was a dawn raid in the Montpelier area at several addresses that allowed authorities to take in these four suspects, among them, a 16-year-old girl.

Now French authorities say that that 16-year old and the other suspects were preparing to carry out an imminent attack. No word yet specifically on the target that was intended.

But our information and our sources tell us that quantities of TATP were found in one of the flats. That is that explosive favored by terrorists because it is relatively easy to assemble. It is the kind of explosive that was used in the November 13th attacks in 2015 here in Paris also in the Zaventem airport attacks in Brussels.

Now sources say that the 16-year-old girl had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State organization just a couple days of ago in a video posted online. No word yet, though, on the precise coordination that may have taken place between the four suspects here in France and anyone involved on the ground in either Syria or Iraq.

French media though are, this evening, reporting that the 16-year old was due to marry one of the other suspects. It is alleged that he was the one who was going to carry out the attack on French soil. She was planning to head to Syria as the widow of the jihad.

French authorities now have 96 hours in which to question these four suspects before being obliged under French law to release them -- Melissa Bell, CNN, Paris.


VANIER: The ongoing conflict in South Sudan has forced more than 1.5 million people to flee the country. U.N. officials warn that the fighting could turn to genocide. Our Farai Sevenzo shows us the difficult challenges some refugees are up against.


FARAI SEVENZO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over) : A simple bridge separates South Sudan's war from neighboring Uganda's peace. This is one of the largest refugee sites in the world. And they keep coming. They're fleeing targeted ethnic killings, forced recruitment of child soldiers, burned villages and rape as a weapon of war.

EDINA TABU (PH), SOUTH SUDAN: In my house, my own house is here.

SEVENZO (voice-over): Edina Tabu (ph) now has a new home in the town of Bidibidi (ph) in Uganda. Three months ago, armed men entered her house in South Sudan, demanding food and much, much more. Hers is a difficult story but she wants to share it.

TABU (PH): He go and ask my father, do you agree to rape your daughter?

Father say no. You leave my daughter because I've losted (sic) five children. You have seen also their grips (ph) are here.

SEVENZO (voice-over): Soldiers killed Edina's (ph) father in front of her. The U.N. is now talking of genocide and the serious concern is that this could turn into another Rwanda, where genocide occurred as the world did nothing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: South Sudan stands on the brink of an all-out ethnic civil war, which, quite frankly, can destabilize the entire region.


SEVENZO (voice-over): Five years ago, the future seemed brighter for Africa's youngest nation after achieving independence. But a power struggle followed by more violence resulted in burned villages and thousands of deaths.

A peace deal broke down in 2016 and the U.S. security resolution failed to impose an arms embargo. Many wonder now if the new U.S. administration will prioritize this war-torn nation.

In the meantime, it is nations like Uganda, who are welcoming refugees from South Sudan, giving them land and the right to work. The gamble of their lives is over. Signs of normality and joy have returned to these refugees. But the old know only too well the fear they have left behind -- Farai Sevenzo, CNN.


VANIER: Coming up after the break, Greenland has become ground zero for global warming. An actor from "Game of Thrones" shows us the changing landscape before it's gone.




VANIER: Welcome back.

And we wanted to update you on a story we first brought you yesterday, the race against time to save dozens of pilot whales stranded on a beach in New Zealand.

More than 400 whales were found stuck on the sand on Friday. More than half of them, 250 of them, have now died. The rescuers were able to get more than 100 of the surviving whales back out to sea. But the majority of those got beached again.

Volunteers have been pouring water on them to try to keep them alive and they plan to get them back to sea at the next high tide. This is the third largest single stranding of whales in New Zealand's history.

And much of Japan is in the grip of a winner storm, with snow piling up, causing travel issues and power outages. Meteorologist Julie Martin joins us now with the latest.



VANIER: All right, Julie Martin at the CNN International Weather Center, staying across those stories, the snow in Japan, the heat wave in Australia, thank you very much, Julie.

Now a star of the hit TV show, "Game of Thrones," is focusing his offscreen efforts on climate change. Jonathan Mann shows us now the actor's mission to document some of the dramatic changes happening now in Greenland.


NIKOLAJ COSTER-WALDAU, ACTOR AND U.N. GOODWILL AMBASSADOR: Greenland, it's like a whole different world. It's like something out of a movie.

JONATHAN MANN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For Danish actor, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Greenland is his family's second home. His wife grew up there. Now the "Game of Thrones" star and newly appointed U.N. goodwill ambassador is partnering with Google to document the countries' changing landscape. Waldau is traveling around Greenland, wearing a high-tech backpack,

called the Trekker, collecting Street View imagery of the country's amazing sights. From the ancient Viking ruins to these stranded icebergs called "beached whales," to its geothermal hot springs.

WALDAU: What I love about Greenland is you turn a corner and you walk a few hundred yards and you're in the middle of nowhere. And I feel small in the best sense of the word.

MANN (voice-over): Waldau hopes his efforts and images will help people understand the drastic changes taking place in Greenland.

WALDAU: If we go and we film with the Trekker a glacier and come back in five years, we'll be able to see that there is less of this ice in five years' time.

MANN (voice-over): And by documenting Greenland's vanishing beauty help people better understand the impact of climate change before it's too late.

WALDAU: Greenland is all untouched in a way. But if we all work together, we can preserve this beautiful wilderness that we have left.

MANN (voice-over): Jonathan Mann, CNN.


VANIER: All right, that does it for us. Thanks for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Cyril Vanier. "MAINSAIL" is next. But first -- that's "MAINSAIL." I'm sorry -- is next. But first, I'll be back with the headlines. Stay with us.