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Trump Fires National Security Adviser Amid Russia Revelations; A Portray of Black Gay Life in "Moonlight"; Failing the First Peoples. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired February 14, 2017 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:17] PAULA NEWTON, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, White House headache. Donald Trump fires his national security adviser amid reports he held talks

with Russia on sanctions and then try to cover it up.

Former top security official Elliot Abrams on the fallout from Flynn's departure.

Plus, a tragic portrayal of love, lost and self-discovery. American director Barry Jenkins on seeing reflections of his own life with his

Oscar-nominated movie "Moonlight."


BARRY JENKINS, DIRECTOR, MOONLIGHT: I basically am this kid, you know, from this background and from this world. And for a long time, people from

the world of our characters couldn't grow up to a full to harness the tools of filmmaking to tell their stories.


NEWTON: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Paula Newton sitting in for Christiane Amanpour.

24 days, that's all it took for President Donald Trump to fire the first senior official in his White House. The embattled national security

adviser General Michael Flynn. He misled colleagues including Vice President Mike Pence, claiming he did not discuss American sanctions on

Russia with that country's ambassador before he took office.

But that was not true. He did discuss sanctions which Russia hopes Trump will now lift. That was revealed routine U.S. wire taps. Quote, in the

resignation letter, he says, "I inadvertently brief the vice president- elect and other with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian ambassador," as he wrote in that letter.

Now it was an issue of trust, not legality, says the White House, but the U.S. Justice Department was so concern that they told the White House last

month that it believe Flynn was vulnerable to Russian blackmail.

President Trump, for his part, believes the problem was not Flynn's conversations or lying to the vice president, but the fact that the press

found out about it. Quote, "The real story here is why are there so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington. Will these leaks be happening as I

deal on North Korea, etc."

Democrats are not standing by, blasting Republicans for their relative silence and calling for a complete investigation.


ELIJAH CUMMINGS, U.S. DEMOCRATIC CONGRESSMAN: And I know he's now resigned, but he's not going to get off that easy. We need some answers to

all other questions. But the obvious questions are, what did the president know and when did he know it?


NEWTON: Joining me now from New York is Elliot Abrams, former deputy and national security adviser who serve Presidents Reagan and George W. Bush,

and was plodded as a possible deputy secretary of state under Donald Trump before he was nix he believes by Trump strategist Steve Bannon for his

criticism of Donald Trump during the campaign.


NEWTON: Elliot Abrams, welcome to the program.


NEWTON: The White House is being very categorical saying this was not an issue of legality. They had the White House Council look into this. This

was an issue of trust. They no longer trusted General Flynn.

What do you make of all this?

ABRAMS: I think it's a jigsaw puzzle and the pieces don't fit together. I mean, if General Flynn mentioned sanctions but didn't do anything wrong as

we are now hearing, then why did he say he never mentioned it.

I mean, General Flynn is an Intel officer. He's been doing this for 30 years. He's got to know that there are transcripts of these conversations.

So why does he say I didn't mentioned sanctions to the vice president. It just, it doesn't make sense to me which is why I think there will have to

be some more investigating until the pieces do fit together.

And why did it take a month for all of this to develop after the inauguration. It just doesn't -- it doesn't make sense to me.

NEWTON: Does this logically lead you to question what Donald Trump knew about these conversations ahead of time. They are saying that they knew.

The White House Council looked into it. There was nothing illegal about it.

ABRAMS: Yes. I mean, one of the questions that arises is when Sally Yates, the acting attorney general, told the White House Council, what did

he do? Did he immediately tell the president or the chief-of-staff, or did he tell General Flynn, or what happen to that information? Why did it take

this long?

If the vice president found out about it a month ago, did he? Don't know. He would have been very angry the day he found out. I went out there

because I was told sanctions weren't mentioned. They were mentioned. And why didn't General Flynn say to the vice president, well, look, sanctions

came up. So you need to say something like it was one of many subjects mentioned, rather than saying it never came up. It never came up, which

was not true.

So I just want -- I just -- I don't see how this all fits together again. And I imagine that is because we don't know all the facts.

NEWTON: You are inside the Trump White House very recently. As we said, you have that interview with Donald Trump. You said it lasted about an

hour long with Secretary Tillerson there.

When you are being interviewed for this job, what bothered you about General Flynn? The controversy was already out there.

ABRAMS: Well, I was not really bother by that controversy. I was concerned about there being two, if you will, two NSCs in the White House.

There's the real NSC and there's this so called strategic initiatives group that has been developed. It's also doing foreign policy. And my advice to

the next national security adviser, whoever it is, would be before you say yes, make sure the president gets you the only National Security Council,

the only national security team. There's going to be one in the White House. So I think that's a problem.

The other thing that's very striking is, you know, people disagree. I mean, tensions grow. Remember that Don Rumsfeld and Colin Powell didn't

get along. George Schultz, Caspar Weinberger didn't get along.

These things develop in the course of four or eight years. It's very striking for this kind of tension to develop, frankly, in four weeks. I'm

concerned also about the loyalty question if I can put it that way. You have to be loyal president. That's critical for the White House staff.

But you've also got to be loyal to each other.

You know, everybody is working 14 hours a day. You can't just be knifing each other. And the president has got to insist that people treat each

other well. Many of the leaks that we see don't come, I think, from you know, low-level career people. They come from pretty high up and the

president already able to enforce discipline and stop that.

NEWTON: I'm guessing you might be kind of relieved given the description you just gave that you're not part of this administration right now.

ABRAMS: No. You know, a lot of friends have said that to me. I -- look, you know, we have one country, we have one president at a time. And I

think if you have an opportunity to serve, you should take it and see if you could help make things better.

Secretary Tillerson, you know, offered me this position and I was anxious to help him succeed as secretary of state. So I think people really

should. But as I said, I think, the national -- the new national security adviser should really demand that there's one National Security Council

only. And that only he or she and the NSC staff can speak about foreign policy to the press. Because right now you have this other group that's

also speaking to the press. That is not the order.

NEWTON: But even more than the PR mission here and what's said to the press, I really want to get your account to this. You know, you were in

this deputy position for many years. We're not going to go through what happened in the Iran-Contra Affair, but you made some mistakes for which

you were sanctioned and put guilty to withholding evidence.

Having said that, what bothers you because if it bothers you at all, do you think it was realistic that General Flynn had to talk to the Russians about

these sanctions and not, in fact, it's what the White House. It's the fact that he lied about it that was the problem.

I mean, how much -- how realistic is it for these transition governments to be talking to these people. And I want to point -- one other thing, you

already pointed out, I want you to address it again.

Did General Flynn not know that he'd be recorded? These conversations with the Russian ambassador would be recorded.

ABRAMS: He had to. I mean, he really had to. I mean, he was not born yesterday. You know, he didn't come in from business or something. He

came in from three years as an Intel officer. Admittedly not mostly in Washington, but then he was the head of DIA. So he's part of this little

community. It's very surprising if he did not know that those conversations would be in the hands of the FBI.

NEWTON: And in terms of his position that look Sean Spicer is trying to make it, look, he had to talk to these governments. This was routine.


ABRAMS: I agree with that, you know.


NEWTON: Was it routine? You do?

ABRAMS: Look, we have a 10-week transition, right? From Election Day to inauguration day. You cannot expect that the people on the new president's

team starting with president and vice president whom we know and then the national security adviser when he or she is name are never going to talk to

foreign governments.

Foreign governments are desperate to talk to them. They don't want everything to be a mystery on January 20th. So I think that it is normal

to talk to them.

I think there's got to be a lot of liaison with the president who is leaving. And, obviously, the president, the president-elect needs to know.

I think it's unrealistic to say do not talk to any foreigners in this ten week period. We've got to have a transition that reassures, at least

allied governments about what's coming.

So, again, I think, this just doesn't work. If you try to fit all this together, we end up where you are, which is, but why did you do that and

why did he say this. So there's more information we need.

NEWTON: And getting really to the fact that this, we're dealing with national security here. I mean, most recently, North Korea. They were

dealing on the weekend with this missile attack.

How much does it worry you that these are distractions? I mean, if you ask me that whole issue about what kind of a rocket this was and what kind of a

threat it actually pose to national security came out rather late.

Do you think they are, for lack of a better term, a sleep at the switch at the White House right now when it comes to those key national security


ABRAMS: I wouldn't say asleep at the switch. I'd say, first, they are distracted, clearly. If you're at the NSC now, you're thinking about who's

going to be the next boss. You're not thinking about, you know, your work today.

And also, you know, the great departments, the Defense Department, State Department are empty of presidential appointees, you know. Mattis is the

only presidential appointee in that building. Tillerson, the only presidential appointee of state. There is no deputies. There is no

undersecretaries. There is no assistant secretaries. And they haven't been name. It's not as if the Senate is slowing down the confirmation.

So, you know, you've got to get these great bureaucracies moving to start formulating and implementing policy. We're a month in. It's very slow.

NEWTON: Very slow, indeed. And that can be quite worrying for many.

Elliott Abrams, appreciate you being on the program.

ABRAMS: Thank you.


NEWTON: And we were taking about the subject of North Korea and we are following a major story coming out of Malaysia.

Police there are investigating what they call the sudden death of Kim Jong nam. Now he's the half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Now

the eldest son of Kim Jong-Il reportedly fell ill at the Kuala Lumpur airport. He was thought to be in his 40s. Kim Jong-nam has a very

intriguing history as part of the Kim family.

Reports say he fell out of favor with his father after trying to sneak into Tokyo Disneyland on a forged documents. A globe-trotter who live outside

of North Korea for many years. Kim Jong-nam spoke out publicly against his family's leadership and was notably absent from his father's funeral. Now

a post-mortem investigation is now underway.

Coming up on the program, growing up black, gay and poor. The Oscar- nominated "Moonlight" is a painful portrayal of one boy's journey in the manhood at the height of the U.S. crack epidemic. We speak to its

director. That's next.


NEWTON: Welcome back to the program.

With eight Oscar nominations and one Golden Globe for "Best Picture Drama," "Moonlight" is one of this season's most acclaimed films. Now it's an

intimate portrait of black gay life. It follows one man's journey coming to grips with his sexual identify in one of Miami's poorest neighborhoods

at the height of the crack epidemic in the 1980s.

Now this is a sensitive scene from the film. We think it's important to see it.


UNIDENTIFIED BOY: What's a faggot?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A word use to make gay people feel bad.


[14:15:12] NEWTON: Such a riveting scene and it's based on Tarell McCraney's autobiographical play. The story has now been adapted to the

big screen by Director Berry Jenkins.

Now he grew up incredibly in the same neighborhood as this playwright. They never knew each other, though, growing up.

Barry joins me from London earlier.


NEWTON: Barry Jenkins, welcome to the program. It is a pleasure to interview you especially after viewing this quite intense movie. The fact

that it is critically-acclaimed, that it has gotten so many awards, what surprised you about the reaction to this movie.

JENKINS: You know, I've just been consistently amaze at how, how often no matter where I go, no matter how far away from Miami we screen the film,

people are finding a way to see themselves in the main character.

I think it's all about this journey to sort of figure out who we are. You know, to decide for ourselves what our identity truly is. And I think

until you hit on something about this aspect of poverty, there's a very simple scene early in the film where the main character comes home, this

little boy and he wants to take a hot bath. And so he has to heat water on the stove, which is something that I went through.

And no matter where I go, that scene, I can be as far away as Holland or Germany, anybody who has grown up in any element of poverty, you know, they

can relate to that.

NEWTON: And Barry, you know, there are kids going through what you went through growing up that could see themselves in this movie. I mean, how do

you think this plays in to the larger issues especially given that we're dealing with the drug epidemic that's hitting so many sectors of society.

JENKINS: Yes. You know, I think, unfortunately, you know, these things have been going on for a very long time. You know, I think one of the

beauties of the current moment that we were in right now is because as a filmmakers, visuals story teller is, you know, I basically am this kid.

You know, I'm from this background, I'm from this world.

And for a long time, people from the world of our characters couldn't grow to look forward, to harness the tools of film making to tell their stories.

And I just feel very fortunate, you know, to be able to create visual stories, you know, that can speak to this common experience.

NEWTON: I wanted to take a look at this clip and then we'll talk on the back side.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Baby, where did you go last night?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I'm your mama, ain't it? Why don't you just come home later, boy? You got me worried about you. I guess you're

getting grown. I can't keep enough for two all the time.


NEWTON: You know, this is based on a project that you uncovered from Tarell Alvin McCraney. He is a celebrated playwright, obviously. And yet

explain to people who may not know these two parallel stories. How similar, how shock you are, how similar your two lives are and how similar

your experience with your mothers was.

JENKINS: Yes. You know, both myself and Tarell, we grew up in this housing project, this neighborhood called Liberty City. That just got

depicted in the film. And we literally live a few blocks one another. We went to some of the same schools. And both our moms, unfortunately,

suffered to addiction to cracked cocaine.

And he had just been very open about talking about things in his work and I had not. And so when the piece came to me, you know, I was shocked. And

the question I had was, how does he know the things he knows. And it was because, you have lived them.

And it was this wonderful synchronicity of experience and it really made the adaptation very fluid and organic for me.

NEWTON: And yet, you know, there are people in Liberty City living that life right now. Is there an overall message that can resonate in

communities like that and inner cities all over the United States?

JENKINS: Yes, I think so. You know, this character is a character who is trying to find his voice so to speak. And I think the reason for that is

he feels he's unworthy of love. And I think when his mom, this character Paula comes through the other side of his addiction, she is there to open

this door and to ultimately walk through and to find a way to love himself, to be secure in who he is.

And so I think that the struggle that people who deal with addiction go through, you know, is not a death sentence as I think what the film is

saying to that particular theme, that particular aspect because both Tarell and I have very loving relationships with our mothers now.

You know, Tarell's mom passed away, but they had a very loving relationship near the end of her life.

NEWTON: I really want to talk about the cinematography in this movie. I have to say my stomach really started to hurt immediately and it had to do

with your 360 views. I want to give our viewers a chance just to see what I'm talking about. This exquisite swimming scene. Let's take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Reach to my hand. Relax. I've got you. I promise. I'm not going to let you go. Stay with me. I got you. There you go.

Stay still.


NEWTON: I mean, it's gorgeous to watch, but it's also a bit unnerving. I mean, what was your thinking?

JENKINS: Yes. You know, the movie is meant to be rooted in the consciousness of our main character. So if you see photos from that scene,

his head is half in, half out of the water. And so we want the audience to be half in, half out of the water.

You know, if I tell I'm going to make a movie about a poor, black boy growing up in the project with the mom addicted to drugs, you assume the

movie looks and sounds a certain way.

What I love about the clip you just showed is I think it defies the expectations of what the form of a story like looks like, because in this

film, we wanted to free ourselves from those conventions and really have the audience walk a mile in our main character shoes.

NEWTON: I've talk to you a lot and you've talk a lot about the universality of this story, but I really don't want to ignore what is the

specific reality of somebody who is both black and gay.

How do you think this movie finally speaks to a lot of those issues?

JENKINS: You know, I think the playwright, Tarell McCraney, you know, it comes (INAUDIBLE) with him. You know, I think his life is inherently

(INAUDIBLE). You know, he's a black, gay, male artist. And I think all those things were very present in the themes, in the atmosphere and the

tone of the piece. You know, I'm actually a straight man, but I've always consider myself an ally for LGBTQ causes.

And so I think I wanted to find a way to take my craft, you know, this visual story telling and put them into act of empathy. You know, to help

tell Tarell's story in a way that -- people hit me up on Twitter all the time and go I never thought I would see myself reflected on screen. And I

love that I was able to take Tarell's voice and reflect his life and these people, or growing up just like he did.

NEWTON: You've gotten a lot acclaim, Oscar nominations just (INAUDIBLE)




NEWTON: There you go. I mean, I read that you said the Oscars and awards are about results. And I'm about the process oriented, that kind of

person. What do you think now?

JENKINS: I feel the same way. You know, whether we win all eight of our nominations or lose all eight, it's not going to fundamentally change what

the film is. And so I tried to live in the feeling of making the piece, which I was very proud of.

The more nominations we did, the further Tarell's voice is carried. And so in that sense, the result is quite positive. But I don't want to have my

relationship to the work affect it by winning or losing any of these awards.

NEWTON: And, finally, when you are talking to someone like me and they've got all these questions and they've interpreted the movie in a certain way

after seeing it, what are we missing? Is there something in this film that you kind of wish we pull out, tease out a little bit more.

JENKINS: I do think that these very simply gestures that are exchange between the men and this film and quite often they are not sexual, you

know. It's just a human nurturing that I think doesn't get depicted as often enough.

I've never seen a black man cook for another black man on screen. I can't remember any instance of that. Or seeing a black man cradle a young black

boy in the ocean, teaching him how to swim. I think the sensitivity of those very concrete gestures is something that maybe isn't being talk about

as much as the larger, social issues at play in the film, but that's fine, you know.

Hopefully, people will continue to seek the film out. You know, years and years on, on their phones, in their laptops and things like that. Some of

these small gestures will rise to surface.

NEWTON: Barry Jenkins, the movie is riveting but I also thank you for just an incredible back story that you've now brought to this movie.

Barry Jenkins, thanks for being on the program.

JENKINS: Thanks for having me.


NEWTON: A lot of people will be rooting for them at the Oscars.

Now being poor and disadvantage, that sadly all too familiar plight of indigenous people right around the world. That's especially true in

Australia, where even the government admits it's failing to improve the lives of aboriginal people there. We take a look -- next.


[14:25:05] NEWTON: Finally tonight, imagine a world where the first peoples of a nation come second.

The indigenous people of the U.S., Canada and Australia, that's not hard to imagine at all. Native Americans in the U.S. are fighting against the

construction of two major oil pipelines. They argue both the Key Stone and the Dakota Access Pipelines will destroy sacred land. After months of

protest, one stroke of a pen by President Trump advanced the approval of both projects.

North of the border, Canada's Prime Minister is trying to reset the government's relationship with indigenous people, but a top level report

card on his effort so far says Justin Trudeau still has a long way to go.

Short falls on Australia to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull admitting the government was failing to meet almost every target it had set out to

improve the lives of indigenous Australians. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders made up just three percent of Australia's population but fall

significantly behind in life expectancy and other social and economic indicators. The prime minister says more has to be done.


MALCOLM TURNBULL, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: We must travel this road together with open hearts and a determination to ensure that our first

Australians and all Australians will be able here more than anywhere to be their best and realize their dreams.


NEWTON: Long road ahead there. And that's it for our program tonight. Remember, you can listen to our podcast, see us online and

follow me on Twitter @PaulaNewtonCNN. Thanks for watching and goodbye from New York.