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Trump Aides in Constant Touch with Russian Officials during Campaign; Trump Aides in Constant Touch with Senior Russian Officials During Campaign; Netanyahu: U.S.-Israel Alliance Will Get Stronger; Kim Jong-un's Half Brother Murdered with Poison. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired February 15, 2017 - 00:00   ET



[00:00:34] MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. I'm Michael Holmes here in Los Angeles where it just turned 9:00 p.m. on Tuesday night.

ISA SOARES, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Isa Soares in London where it is now 5:00 a.m. on Wednesday morning. Thank you very much for joining us.

HOLMES: And we do begin with that breaking news.

New controversy for U.S. President Donald Trump and his campaign advisers' contacts with Russia -- multiple officials telling CNN Trump aides were in near constant contact with top Russian officials throughout the presidential campaign.

Here's Pamela Brown.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: High level advisers close to then presidential nominee Donald Trump were in constant communication during the campaign with Russians known to U.S. intelligence. Multiple current and former intelligence law enforcement and administration officials tell CNN President-Elect and then-President Barack Obama were both briefed on details of these communications between suspected Russian operatives and people associated with the Trump campaign and the Trump business.

Now according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter, both the frequency of the communications and the proximity to Trump of those involved raised a red flag with U.S. intelligence and law enforcement. According to these officials the communications were intercepted during routine intelligence collection targeting Russian officials and other Russian nationals known to U.S. intelligence.

Among several senior Trump advisers regularly communicating with Russian nationals were then-campaign manager Paul Manafort and then- adviser Michael Flynn. Manafort joined the campaign in March and was out in mid-August. Flynn stayed on and resigned as Trump's national security adviser last night. Now officials emphasized that communications between campaign staff and representatives of foreign governments are not unusual. However these communications stood out to investigators due to the frequency and the level of the Trump advisers involved.

Investigators have not reached a judgment on the intent of those conversations but adding to U.S. investigators concerns were intercepted communications between Russian officials before and after the election discussing their belief that they had special access to Trump. Now, it's unclear whether they were exaggerating that claim or not but this all came in a time when the U.S. intelligence community was growing in confidence that Russians were trying to tilt the election in Donald Trump's favor.

This investigation still very much under way and the FBI and the intelligence community.

Pamela Brown, CNN -- Washington.


SOARES: Well, let's get more on this. Joining me now from Seattle, Washington is former CNN Moscow bureau chief, Jill Dougherty.

And Jill -- as we heard there from that Pamela Brown report, Trump advisers we're learning had frequent communication it seems with Russian operatives during the Trump campaign. Having covered Russia for so long, Jill, would this communication be considered at all normal and routine during a campaign?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Because the reports talk about constant or very frequent the level of communication and the frequency of it, it does appear not to be your average communication. That's I think, a red flag.

Now, what it means is unclear and this is where it gets really murky. I mean you can have a benign interpretation perhaps, or more benign which would be, perhaps it was business, you know. Some of the people who are in communication, you know, have business interests or in the case of Paul Manafort, who was the chairman of his campaign for a while, you know, political consultant who had some type of may reason for doing that.

But then, because we don't know exactly what they were talking about, then you can interpret that in different ways. It can be more -- let's say a darker scenario which some are alleging. They're saying that there was -- we're talking about interference in the American election.

So until we really know precisely what those communications were, it's really impossible to say that the frequency, again, I think is not normal, not average.

SOARES: Yes. And whilst we wait to know more about those communications, one thing it does raise -- one question it does raise is what type of relationship does President Trump have with President Putin? Have you ever seen an administration, Jill, so close to Russia?

[00:04:57] DOUGHERTY: No, I haven't. I mean I have to be honest and certainly the comments of President Trump has made, let's say, the moral equivalence comment that he made about a week ago saying, when the person who was leading the discussion said, well Putin is a killer and then Mr. Trump said well, we do a lot of killing, too.

So that type of thing is very rare. You don't find that, you know, at all among somebody who is a candidate, let alone a President of the United States.

There's a lot that very, very different about this presidency. And I think, you know, in the Kremlin, they understand that very well. They're looking at this very carefully. Yes, during the campaign they heard a lot of nice things about, you know, better relations and can't we get along.

But now they realize, there is really no policy yet. And so as we watch the policy develop, the Russians are looking at it -- look at the stronger comments about Crimea. Look at the stronger comments about Ukraine. Look at some more critical comments coming out by this administration about Russia.

So it's beginning to look a little bit different in the way it looked during the campaign. And so Russia, I don't think has any idea that they can predict what Mr. Trump is going to say or do. They're standing back, probably hopeful but I think probably a little bit of concern about where all of this is heading.

SOARES: And I'm guessing it's a bit too early to find out exactly whether Kremlin -- how the Kremlin is going to react to this.

But Jill, what do we know -- more than we know, I should say, about Michael Flynn's connections in Moscow because this is just coming 24 hours or so? Obviously he was forced to step down.

DOUGHERTY: Well, we do know that he had been communicating with Ambassador Kislyak who's the Russian ambassador to the United States. We do know that he appeared, I believe it was last year at a dinner for RT, which is the Russian Television. There are, you know, other comments that he has made.

But there, too, we don't know exactly why he was doing that. I mean we haven't seen that transcript of the communications with Ambassador Kislyak. So was it kind of a general conversation? We believe, according to reports that it was about sanctions. The Russians are saying that it was not.

So there's a lot of murkiness. And until the facts and the actual, let's say communications are released, we won't know. But I can say one thing. And this is such an irony that the President who came in to office saying that he wanted to improve relations, it may ultimately end up to be worst than ever.

And I think that's really ironic because right now you have a lot of knives out in Washington, you know, for the administration. They're worried and they want to have investigations and they want to have hearings. And this is going to keep it roiling and it would be much harder to have some type of same balanced relationship with Russia in that circumstance.

SOARES: Yes, plenty of murkiness and plenty of unknowns, too. Jill Dougherty -- always great to get your perspective. Thanks very much -- Jill. Good to see you.

HOLMES: And joining me here in Los Angeles, Republican pollster Justin Wallin (ph) and political strategist Mac Zilber.

Gentlemen -- thanks for being here.

Justin -- let's start with you. I mean why would you think that campaign officials -- high level campaign officials would be in such regular contact with Russian operatives during the campaign.

JUSTIN WALLIN, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER: Well, it's an interesting thing because what's amazing about this story is just how much we don't know. It could be categorized into two things. What we do know is there seems to be a lot of activity.

So it seems to be more than in previous administrations but then this administration does things differently than others. And the campaign did things differently.

When people are talking about there were five calls made or six calls made, how was that flow? Were they calling back? What we forget is we do have Russia involved.

HOLMES: You're talking about Michael Flynn there. We're talking about during the campaign though. These are guys like Paul Manafort --


HOLMES: -- why would they be in such regular contact? What would be a reason for that?

WALLIN: Well I mean -- it could just simply be that intent to establish some kind of relations or it could be sinister, and I know the President doesn't like to think that the Russians aren't our friends. But the Russians do like to destabilize. They're masters of it and there's no reason why they wouldn't be doing it to both sides.

So again, we know that the calls were made. But we don't know if they were called back. So we don't know how they were prompted. And what we don't know is content. I mean to this day, none of us has seen what actually was said.

HOLMES: Democrats are certainly asking for them. What do you make of the latest allegations.

MACLEN ZILBER, DEMOCRATIC CONSULTANT: Sure. So there's a lot that we don't know but what we do know is stunning and frankly unprecedented. I mean first of all, the cover-up on its own is major. [00:10:06] Hope Hick, the Trump spokeswoman after the campaign, said there was no communication between Trump's campaign and Russia. It was a lie. Sean Spicer, who more recently said the same thing, it was a lie. Michael Flynn said that he didn't talk about sanctions or that he didn't remember if he talked about sanctions with Russia and it was a lie. There must be something pretty serious if there's a cover-up of this size going on.

WALLIN: Or it's something totally minor. I take a very different thing. I don't jump to the conclusion that people are lying necessarily. People may literally -- and I think Flynn especially -- may look at this, this is a man who's done important global things.

HOLMES: Well, clearly he was lying.

WALLIN: Well, he was certainly misinforming. He may have not thought it important enough to speak in detail.


HOLMES: Well, he said they didn't discuss sanctions and he did.

ZILBER: The day of the sanctions, you call the Russian ambassador -- I mean none of us as private citizens think oh, a major geopolitical event just happened. I mean I think I'm going to interfere and try to tell them that --


HOLMES: One of the issues is the question being asked all day is it was about trust -- that the President lost trust in Michael Flynn. But he knew about this on January 26 --

ZILBER: Right. He knew about it for weeks.

HOLMES: Why was it until the "Washington Post" came out and broke the news that all of a sudden trust became a reason to resign.

WALLIN: Well, I think that comes back to content again. And that really is the elephant in the room for Flynn and it's a dangerous elephant because what did he say that would take someone who's been in his corner from the beginning? He's been a staunch ally. And Flynn's not an easy person to get along with, by all accounts, who's put up with him, who's been a staunch ally. What would get the President to say all right, we have to jettison this?

And I think at some point along there, you're going to see at the very least something that says he was disingenuous, quite blatantly with the Vice President and that just simply doesn't fly, I think.

HOLMES: We also heard more calls for Kellyanne Conway to face disciplinary action over that ethics issue. I just want to remind people by playing the sound where basically she was rooting (ph) for Ivanka Trump's line. Have a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: Go buy Ivanka's stuff is what I would tell you. I'm going to get -- I hate shopping -- I'm going to get some myself today.

It's a wonderful line. I own some of it. I fully -- I'm going to just give her -- I'm going to give a free commercial here. Go buy it today -- everybody. You can find it online.


HOLMES: So there's a call for her to face ethics charges.

The other thing, you got Flynn resigning, you've got this happening with Kellyanne Conway, you've got scrutiny over an open air discussion of matters of state at Mar-A-Lago with the Japanese Prime Minister there.

And Donald Trump tweeted out -- I think we've got this as well. He said, "The real story is why there are so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington? Will these leaks be happening if I deal with North Korea?"

That's not the real story. Surely there's a sense of chaos there. We're three weeks in.

ZILBER: Right. Well, I mean first of all there's not just calls for Kellyanne Conway to be censured. I mean this is the Office of Government Ethics. But the reality is in a normal administration that would be the biggest scandal of the year. In a normal administration, letting someone who's paying your company money take a selfie with the nuclear football will be the biggest scandal of the year.

Those two things didn't even become the biggest scandals of the week because we may have an administration that was collaboration with Russia on its way in and then tried to cover it up. I mean this is providing aid and comfort to a foreign power.

And I mean frankly, there needs to be an independent investigation and I'm thrilled that a lot of Republican senators have said the same thing.

HOLMES: What do you think -- Justin? Do they do it when it comes to investigations particularly when it comes to Russia? The Republican Party has always been the party that's been most hawkish about Russia. We're not hearing a lot of that other than from John McCain.

WALLIN: Well, two things real quickly just on the question of there's been a lot. In any other administration, comparatively nothing had been done by this time. I mean there's been an extraordinary amount of activity.

And if you like the activity or don't like the activity, you certainly have to look at it and say these people are intent on accomplishing their agenda. So with all that activity, they're all newbies, you're going to have mess-ups and I think we're seeing some that are ostensibly quite embarrassing. Now, in terms of Russia, there have been -- once he got his cabinet more and more installed, once Nikki Haley is there she starts to say things that are (inaudible), that speaks to serious problems with Russia particularly in Crimea. I think we'll see more and more of that but there's no question that --


HOLMES: And Sean Spicer touched on that. In fact, I think we've got that sound bite too. Sean Spicer talking about Russia today -- let's have a listen.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: The irony of this entire situation is that the President has been incredibly tough on Russia. He continues to raise the issue of Crimea which the previous administration had allowed to be seized by Russia.

President Trump has made it very clear that he expects the Russian government to deescalate violence in the Ukraine and return Crimea.

At the same time, he fully expects to and wants to be able to get along with Russia unlike previous administration so that we can solve many problems together facing the world such as the threat of ISIS and terrorism.


[00:14:59] HOLMES: So Sean Spicer basically saying that the President has been tough. He hasn't. I mean his people have. I mean, you know, Nikki Haley was strong about Russia before the U.N. Security Council. But President Trump has been warm the whole time.

WALLIN: Ok. What we do know about Trump is if he doesn't like what you're saying, he tells you and he is no stranger to throwing his people under the bus. So if Nikki Haley says something that's out of line with what President Trump says, I guarantee you, and I think you'd agree within maybe five minutes, we'd see a tweet that quite bluntly puts her in her place.

HOLMES: Why doesn't he say it? Isn't that the question?

ZILBER: Well, I mean -- and there's a lot of open questions. Does Russia have something on him? I mean the fact that this news story came out about Flynn talking to the Russian ambassador shortly after the conversation happened -- I mean we've known about the conversation itself for two months.

Did Trump not care that Michael Flynn called the Russian ambassador the day of the sanctions? Did he know what Michael Flynn said? Did he direct Michael Flynn to talk about the sanctions? We don't know the answer to this. What we do know is that he sat on it for two months and took no action until it became a media controversy.

WALLIN: Ok. But what we also know is this. That Trump is very aware of the dynamics of power. And in the world today, there are three very powerful entities. There's America, there's China and there's Russia. And he has said over and over -- and again whether you agree with him or not is entirely up to you -- that it behooves us to move forward in areas of danger like fighting terror with those that have power and are willing to use it and be quite ruthless with it.

And I suspect that this is all part of somehow a negotiation -- he's a negotiator -- to try to deescalate certain things that he doesn't find much value in and reprioritize things that he does.

ZILBER: Justin, it's well and good to say that he understands the dynamics of power. I think there's a lot of folks who would like to see better relations with Russia. But there's a difference between good relations and collaborating with a foreign power while attacking your opponent --

WALLIN: That's not fair.

ZILBER: He called on the Russians to hack his opponent while these conversations were going on between his campaign and the Russians. I mean we don't need a smoking gun. We have it in the Senate's hand and we're asking did he shoot the gun. It could have just been put in his hand by someone and could have just had smoke out.

WALLIN: I appreciate that but the world is more nuanced than that. Anyone in intelligence will tell you do not perform effectively on a global scale without making bedfellows that aren't very pretty. That's the reality of life.

HOLMES: Right.

WALLIN: I think he's a realist --

HOLMES: Before we go -- I have to get this in.

We're going to be talking with Rick Francona -- Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona a little bit later but there was -- there was a comment that struck me and I've covered the U.S. military a lot.

The head of U.S. Special Operations Command said this about the White House at a conference today. He said, "Our government continues to be in unbelievable turmoil. I hope they sort it out soon because we're a nation at war."

That's a serving commander of Special Operations saying that in a conference setting. That seems to me to be extraordinary.

ZILBER: It's terrifying. And what's more terrifying is that there's not a lot of folks outside of the White House itself and outside of, you know, folks going on TV who are -- who know what's going on.

I mean we've got folks in the U.S. Senate -- Mitch McConnell, Richard Burr -- calling for an independent investigation because frankly they haven't been kept in the loop on what's going on. And until we have a true independent investigation, meaning not including Jeff Sessions and not a part of private committee investigation we're not going to know what's happened.

HOLMES: Ok. We're going to leave it there, unfortunately. Justin Wallin and Mac Zilber -- we're going to have you back next hour. We are not done yet here by a long shot. There's so much to talk about -- Isa.

SOARES: Thanks very much -- Michael.

Still to come another provocation from Russia -- how the Kremlin maybe using its cruise missiles to test the mettle of the Trump administration.

HOLMES: Also still to come -- a new policy from the U.S. concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A little later -- what to expect from the Trump-Netanyahu meeting at the White House.

We'll be right back.


PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: A stormy Wednesday across the southern U.S.

I'm meteorologist Pedram Javaheri watching this pattern here with a quick moving disturbance that is slated to move across the area. It could bring Atlanta Metro some strong thunderstorm and eventually into Charlotte, Charleston, Raleigh into the afternoon hours of Wednesday.

And to the north, a new system comes in out of Canada, produces some very heavy snowfall generally north of Boston. It could get a few light snow showers out of Boston but the highest accumulations around northern New England in the next 24 hours.

In the western U.S., the storm door wide open -- a lot of folks under preparations here of flooding concerns, of course, around parts of northern California with a dam that has been damaged and is under repair at this hour. So certainly watching that carefully.

And notice San Francisco warms up to 18 degrees and places like Denver also a very mild winter day at 18 degrees with generally dry conditions. And notice the shots of cold air very short-lived and very much confined to one corner of the entire continental United States.

So it is going to be a dry period, a warm period the next week or so around the U.S.

Down into the tropics -- Belize City around 30 degrees; Kingston, Jamaica bringing in some showers; Cartagena around 31 degrees and also expected to remain dry; while in Lima, Peru going to begin to see the warming trend across this region at 31; Manaus comes in with temps in a similar range, right around 30 degrees and watching additional storms around the Rio Gallegos.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SOARES: If you're just joining us, let me bring you up to date. The breaking news this hour, multiple sources telling CNN that top aides to then-candidate Donald Trump were in constant communication with Russian officials during the presidential campaign. Normally, that kind of contact is not considered unusual.

HOLMES: But here's the thing, investigators say these talks stood out for a few reasons -- the frequency with which they happened and the high rank of the people involved.

Just yesterday, you'll remember, national security adviser Michael Flynn resigned due to his contact with Russian officials.

SOARES: Let's get more on all of this. Clare Sebastian joins us now live from Moscow.

Clare -- good morning. I know it's very early there.

Any reaction though from the Kremlin in regards to this breaking news?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Isa -- very early here in Moscow. And so far, quiet on this front. But certainly the issue of contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia was something that we'd heard about in the past from Russia in the days after the election.

The deputy foreign minister had told the Russian news agency, Interfax, that there were contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia. He didn't elaborate on that. But he did come back to the topic in January just before the inauguration to say that, you know, certainly the U.S. media as he put it was whipping up the kind of fever around these contacts and using it as a way of sparking fears of a so-called Russian threat.

But I think it's fair to say certainly in a week where we've seen the national security adviser leave his position ostensibly because of mishandling his contacts with Russia. This is certainly something that Russia will be concerned about whether or not it will make President Trump take a more hawkish stance towards Russia than he has been as a way of falling in line with many in his party.

And certainly I will say that something that's had a lot of focus in the Russian media so far today are those comments that we heard by Sean Spicer saying that Trump expects Crimea to be returned to Ukraine. So that is something that is certainly of a concern here -- Isa.

SOARES: On those comments on Crimea, what was the reaction -- Clare?

SEBASTIAN: Well, this is simply getting a lot of attention -- Isa. You know, we've seen that President Trump has been in great pain so far not to go out of his way not to criticize or insult President Putin.

[00:25:02] Obviously, if he is going to come out and say that he expects Crimea to be returned to Ukraine, that would echo those comments that we heard from his U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, a couple of weeks ago as she came out in very harsh tones and said that sanctions on Russia would not be lifted unless Crimea was returned to Ukraine. She blamed Russia for the escalation of tensions that we saw in Eastern Ukraine.

But at the same time a few days later, we saw President Trump in that interview with Fox News tell Bill O'Reilly in response to his comment that Putin was a killer -- President Trump saying well the U.S. isn't so great in that department either. So this certainly represents a sharp tone in what we're hearing directly from the President and of great concern in here in Moscow.

SOARES: You were mentioning there Clare, the national security adviser Michael Flynn. What more are you learning about his connections to Moscow? Because we know -- we did see a video, I don't know if we can bring it up, of him attending an event for the Kremlin- Funded Russia Today TV network.

So besides this video we're looking at right now, what else do we know in terms of their connections?

SEBASTIAN: Well, we know that that was an event that happened in December 2015. It was for the 10-year anniversary of RT -- that Kremlin-funded English-language news channel.

We know that Flynn was painted sitting next to Vladimir Putin during a gala dinner for that event. He has also admitted to being paid for holding a Q&A session during those commemorations where he talked a lot about the Middle East and you know, cooperating with Russia on fighting international terrorism. And we know that he has appeared as an unpaid analyst on RT a number of times.

So he's certainly, you know, a man who is very well known here in Russia; a face that people potentially would recognize -- Isa.

SOARES: Clare Sebastian for us in Moscow. Thanks very much -- Clare. Michael.

HOLMES: Thanks Isa. And we're going to have much more on our breaking news this hour as U.S. investigators say troubling communication with Russian officials may not have stopped the former national security adviser.

We'll be right back.


[00:31:02] MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: And we are following breaking news out of Washington for you with the Trump administration facing new questions about its contacts with Russia. Multiple intelligence and law enforcement official say the communications from top Trump campaign aids were virtually constant.

Well, the revelations come amid calling calls for an investigation into Mr. Trump's ties to Russia. U.S. intelligence officials have concluded Russia interfered in the presidential election.

HOLMES: CNN military analyst retired Lt. Col Rick Francona joins me now La Quinta in California.

Colonel, thanks for doing so.

I mean, he would go again in a way. How troubling is it to you that, you know, while the country is fighting ISIS, you've got the conflict in Ukraine. Any number of affairs that the government should be dealing with that, we keep having these sorts of distraction

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA, CNN MILITARY ANALYST (RET.): Yes. It's like this one thing right after the other. Talking to some people back in Washington. They say it's like -- it's like drinking from fire hose. There are just so much going on. And the new administration doesn't seem able to handle more than one thing at a time and they're trying to figure out as they go.

Unfortunately with the conditions as they are in the world today, we can't have that. We need to have some real policy goals set down. Every time we think we're getting there, something like this comes up and we have to stop what we're doing and address this.

HOLMES: And what was your reaction to this, this latest news, you know, that, that senior Trump campaign officials were in what appears to be very regular contact with what's being described as Russian operatives during the campaign.

What do you make of that?

FRANCONA: Well, you know, I used to do this for a living and do a lot of intercepts myself so I'm very struck by the amount of communications. And I would like to know not just whose communications, but were these Russian communications, were these Russian and American communications, were these Russians talking about the communications just what were, just what communication are we talking about.

But anytime you've got Russian intelligence officers in constant contact with American politicians or people involved in political campaigns, you have to wonder just what are they doing.

We know they were trying to influence the election in certain ways. Were they trying also to influence it by going after members of the campaign? So this has just opened up yet another can of worms, another whole series of questions and it's all speculation.

We don't know what the content of those communications were and until we do, were not going to get to the bottom of that. And I suspect that we will at some point.

HOLMES: It does seem to be an awful lot of chaos, you know, when you look at everything that happened over of, what, three weeks. But there was one - you're a military man. I wanted to ask you about a comment from the head of US special operations command on Tuesday at a symposium. He said, I just want to read it, people, "Our government continues to be in unbelievable turmoil. I hope they sorted out soon because we are a nation at war." That's General Raymond Thomas at that symposium. I think -- I might wrong, but it seems extraordinary that our serving commander would say such a thing.

FRANCONA: Yes, it's interesting that he would actually vocalize that. You know, we've seen what has happened to general in the past and made these sorts of comments. But I have to agree with the general. This is the impression I'm getting from my contacts in Washington. My contacts at the Pentagon.

It's, you know, they are stumbling through this and there's no coherent policy. There's no direction. And, you know, a nation of war cannot survive that way. We've got to address these policies head on. So I'm surprised that the general said it, but I do not disagree with him.

HOLMES: And it sort of shows the level of concern, I suppose, when a serving officer or commander says something about that.

What else, your contacts there at the Pentagon telling you. Do they, do they feel a lack of direction as I feel a lack of chain of command at the moment.

Well, they are very happy with this. The secretary of defense and the team that he's putting in place. They're just worried about that that jump from the, from the secretary of defense over to the White House.

[00:35:00] You know, they feel very comfortable with the new direction that they are getting from Secretary Mattis. But they are very concern about what's coming from National Security Council. And as you know, the firing or the resignation if we'll put it that way by General Flynn, just cause this yet more angst among the people.

Is there a real guidance coming down from the White House or are we playing this by ear?

HOLMES: When we go back to General Flynn and the resignation there, one of the questions that keeps coming up to is would he have had these phone conversations with the Russian ambassador of his own initiative.

Would he pick up the phone and discuss sanctions with the Russian ambassador, or what you're seeing. Do you think that that would being something that he would have had to have run by others in, in the campaign or in the transition team?

FRANCONA: Right. You know, I don't know General Flynn. I know people that have worked for him. He does have that independent streak and he is not easy to get along with. But I cannot imagine someone that level, someone advising someone who he hopes to be the next president of the United states would take this on his own to call senior Russian officials, the U.S. ambassador, the Russian ambassador to United States being one of them.

So you have to think that somebody in the campaign at the senior levels would be orchestrating these communications. I don't know who that is, who that was. But, of course, we need to find that out and I suspect we will.

HOLMES: Where do you think this goes from here? Do you think that, you know, we're going to just be seeing a few of months of investigations and inquiries. What do you think Congress does?


FRANCONA: Well, I think this is important after. They're going to have to empanel some sort of a select committee or independent investigator to look into this because you cannot let the people that are being accused of anything or suspect of anything actually run the investigation. So this is probably going to have to be done in a congressional level. And I think we're going to see Manafort, Flynn and others being called to testify and find out exactly what went on.

The part we're not going to get is a lot of the actual communications themselves, because I suspect many of that were not just calls between US officials and Russian officials, but there probably a lot of intelligence information between the Russians themselves that we have had access to, that we are not going to release because that, that indicates a capability.

HOLMES: General, as always, thanks so much. Rick Francona there in La Quinta, California.

FRANCONA: Good to be with you, Michael.

ISA SOARES, CNN ANCHOR: Well, you are watching CNN NEWSROOM.

Still ahead, Israeli prime minister heads to the White House. How a shift to U.S. policy on Israeli-Palestinian conflict to shape this meeting with the U.S. president. We'll have that story for you after a very short break.


[00:41:40] HOLMES: And we are following breaking news out of Washington as multiple officials confirmed President Donald Trump's campaign aids were in constant communication with Russian officials as he bide for the White House.

SOARES: Yes. Investigators say contact by itself isn't unusual, but the frequency of the talks as well as the high standing of the people involved, well, that's raise concerns.

Mr. Trump's national security adviser Michael Flynn and one of his early supporters resigned after it became public he misled the vice president over his talks with Russian officials and that happening in the last 24 hours or so.

HOLMES: And we are getting a glimpse into Trump administration's policy concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

SOARES: President Trump will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday in Washington. And just hours ago, a White House official said Mr. Trump will not insist on a two-state solution, which would be an about face with the previous administration. The leaders are also expected to talk about Syria as well as Iran.

HOLMES: David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy joins me now.

We're going to start with this new development that the U.S. apparently is no longer going to push at least of this meeting for two state solution as part of policy when it comes to Israel and the Palestinians. On the fact of it, it's a major departure from the norm. What's you're thinking of it?

DAVID MAKOVSKY, WASHINGTON INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST POLICY: I agree with you. On its face, it's a huge shift, but it could also be done for much more short-term political tactical reasons and that is to help Netanyahu with the domestic conundrum.

Namely, he's been under pressure from his right saying, you know, renounced the idea of two states. Netanyahu does not want to do it, but the journalist would bet, well, then, reaffirm it. And so I think what the Trump people seem to be wanting to do is let's just get this issue out of the way. We weren't going to be able to implement a grand deal tomorrow morning, anyway.

And make sure this is yesterday's news so we could focus the summit on the warmth and the reset between the two countries and not be distracted by what seems to be a very big headline. So it might just be a tactical move.

HOLMES: So you're thinking it could be just a temporary thing. We shall see, I suppose.

Now you touched on his. News of, well, let's just say difficult relationship with President Obama. Now Mr. Netanyahu feels it has a frame in Washington and that is going to get a different reception. Optics are important to Benjamin Netanyahu. How much is he wanting the world to see that new administration greeting him warmly?

MAKOVSKY: Extremely important. You know, he takes a lot of pride that he is only the fourth visitor to what the new Washington after traditional American allies like Britain, Canada, Japan, that means a lot to him. The time where he felt that he was marginalized over the last eight years. That he's suddenly a very wanted visitor.

So the symbolism is critical for him. And I think also for Trump, who really campaigned on a reset with Israel as well that here, you know, the message is the music that it's a -- it's a new tone. And despite that, in the Obama years there was extremely close security relations in many ways unprecedented. There is no hiding the very bruising, you know, policy disagreements that existed between Washington and Jerusalem over Iran and differences over the Palestinian issue.

[00:45:05] HOLMES: This is the reality that Benjamin Netanyahu, no matter what he says, he heads up a very right wing gap. And a lot of members of his coalition site, no two state solution ever.

Donald Trump campaigned on a confidant. He said he was going to do the ultimate deal in the Middle East. What chance that?

MAKOVSKY: Well, I think in a weird way that this statement tonight might put more pressure on the president because the world might interpret this not as a tactical way to help Netanyahu with his own domestic politics. They might wonder, is this a huge shift and they will say Mr. Trump and elsewhere for us, your commitment, you keep saying it over and over again at the television cameras since you've been, since you won, I'm going to do the ultimate deal.

So how are you going to do the ultimate deal if you're not committed to two state? So I think it could create more pressure on him going forward. But the most important thing, though, is to find a way that even if you don't get to the final grand deal moment is at lease what are the steps now to keep the door open to two states in the future that doesn't shut the door. And here, I think, it's very important that the US and Israel synchronize their position on settlements and that there is no blind siding.

HOLMES: The reality is as settlements expand particularly in East Jerusalem but elsewhere, I mean, the two state solution gets further and further away.

I mean, we haven't talk about the Palestinians. What do you see is the risks in all of that? More violence, perhaps, by Palestinians resistance.


HOLMES: All the option where the Palestinians could have their nuclear option, which is say, OK, fine one country, one ban, one vote, which of course threatens Israel's existence.

Right. You, you, you put your finger exactly on the right point that, you know, there could be violence and they could just throw in the towns say we give up. We want to be Israelis. Give us the vote.

MAKOVSKY: I mean, those are the two, you know, are the two poles I think of danger. And, therefore, for me, even if there cannot be a grand deal and I don't believe there can be tomorrow morning, I think it's very key to say OK, give me a sense of how you're leaving the door open.

The settlers about as 75 to 85, depending how you count percent live in a narrow area, you know, inside what's known as the security barrier. But 92 percent of the West Bank is outside of that barrier and almost all the Palestinians lived there.

So that's why, I think, it's very important that all sides know what's coming and they don't blindside each other. And that Israel doesn't build outside the barrier because I think if you do that, then you Duke start closing that door on the two states.

HOLMES: Right.

MAKOVSKY: So it's not about implementing it tomorrow. It's more about how do you leave it open for the future and that requires synchronization by all the parties.

HOLMES: David, thanks so much. David Makovsky of Washington Institute for Near East Policy, grateful to get your thoughts. Thanks so much.

MAKOVSKY: Anytime, Michael. Anytime.

SOARES: Now the man once considered to be next in line to lead North Korea has died mysteriously. Now we hearing Kim Jong-un's half brother may have been murdered with poison. We'll have that story, next, on CNN.


SOARES: If you're just joining Michael and I, let me update you on the breaking news we've been following in the last few hours.

High-level advisers to Donald Trump were in constant contact with Russian officials during Mr. Trump's presidential campaign. Now multiple enforcement and intelligence officials say they were concern about the frequency of the communication as well as the proximity of those involved to Mr. Trump.

HOLMES: Now among those talking with foreign -- with Russian nationals, the former campaign manager Paul Manafort and former national security advisor Michael Flynn, who of course resigned on Monday.

Manafort has told the "New York Times," he never knowingly spoke to Russian intelligence officers.

SOARES: Now another story we're following here on the show. South Korea says the man who was once considered to be next in line to lead North Korea has been murdered with poison.

The half brother of leader Kim Jong-un suddenly fell ill while at Kuala Lumpur airport on Monday. Kim Jong-nam was critical of his family's dynasty and was leaving in exile. You're looking at pictures of him there.

Let's get more on this.

Matt Rivers joins us now from Seoul, South Korea. And, Matt, this is quite a revelation. Do we know how he was poison and by whom?

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is an extremely complicated story that we're still really, to be honest, flushing out the details of. So let's start with what we know for certain.

And so there was a meeting this morning, briefings with the National Security Council here in South Korea. They all met this morning and after that briefing, there was a short press briefing given by the chairman of the National Assemblies Intelligence Committee.

In that very short briefing, he said that it is the opinion of the South Korean government that Kim Jong-nam was murdered in Malaysia due to being poisoned at the airport.

We know that he later died after being poisoned at the airport en route to a hospital according to Malaysian police.

Now the national intelligence committee here provided no proof to that assertion. They didn't tell us how they know that, why they know that and they said they also couldn't say how he was poisoned specifically. How that poison ended up getting into Kim Jong-nam's body.

They also went on to say that they believe there are two suspects in this case. They say both suspects are women of Asian descent that could possibly be North Korean.

Again, they provided no proof for that assertion. They did not say how they know that assertion, but that is the assumption that these lawmakers are going on after the national Security Council briefing this morning.

CNN has learned from Malaysian police that it was on Monday morning that Kim Jong-nam went to the airport in Kuala Lumpur. He went up to a checking counter, complained of feeling ill and according to a police chief CNN spoke to said that someone, quote, "grab or held his face from behind."

It was shortly thereafter he was put in an ambulance and he died en route to the hospital. And we do know that Malaysian authorities are anticipating an autopsy to be done later on today by medical examiner in Malaysia. We don't know exactly when that autopsy will be done and we don't know when the release of that autopsy, of results of that will be released.

So, obviously, this is a very complicated story, something that we're still following very, very closely. But as you can imagine, there is a lot of injury. Given that this is Kim Jong-un's older half-brother who's been living in exile for some time.

SOARES: And I'm guessing Malaysia is the one investigating what has happened to him. But let's talk about what we do know. The facts here.

When was -- when did he actually leave North Korea. I mean, was he even banished by the regime?

RIVERS: Yes. It was in, some time, in the early 2000s. We don't know exactly when he was banished, but it appears that he fell out of favor. His father, Kim Jong-il, the late leader of North Korea, the father of Kim Jong-un, the current leader North Korea. He died in 2011. And Kim Jong-nam for a long time is expected to be the heir apparently. He was the favorite son of Kim Jong-il according to observers. He was the oldest son, but he fell out of favor with the regime, and since then he has been living abroad developing a reputation as a bit of a playboy, as a gambler and frankly someone who has spoken out against the regime and actually said that he didn't think that his little brother, his little half-brother would succeed. So very, very interesting there. Some serious intrigue.


SOARES: Matt, thank you very much. Very good to see you. We'll have much more news after a short break. I'm Isa Soares. You are watching CNN NEWSROOM.

HOLMES: And I'm Michael Holmes. We'll be right back after this.