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Top Candidates for National Security Adviser Announced; U.S. Presence at Munich Security Conference; President Trump Already Back into Campaign Mode; Weekend In New Orleans with NBA All-Star Game; President Trump Says Classified Information Leaks Out of White House Are Criminal; President Trump Has Testy Exchange with Jewish Reporter over Question about Anti-Semitism. Aired 1:00-2:00p ET

Aired February 18, 2017 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:00] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: -- his options for national security adviser as well after firing General Michael Flynn. We will discuss his potential picks.

Meanwhile, in an effort to ease concerns abroad, vice president Mike Pence is in Germany with the message to world leaders. The U.S. will support NATO and hold Russia accountable for its actions.

Our team of reporters is covering this story from all angles. Let's begin with the president's, the president rather who is expected to meet with his top three players to replace Michael Flynn this weekend on the list, retired lieutenant general, Keith Kellogg, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton and lieutenant general HR McMaster.

CNN Washington correspondent Ryan Nobles has been following the story.

So Ryan, your first senior official says Bolton is gaining support, tell us about the potential candidates to head the NSC.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. We are getting some reporting from our Steven Collins that within the White House, there is some sort of a push for John Bolton, the former U.N. ambassador to become the next national security adviser. But as always, these officials caution that it is Donald Trump's decision to make. And we won't know for sure until he makes that decision. So it's important to keep a list of the final candidates.

Among them is Keith Kellogg, who is currently serving at the interim national security adviser. He is someone who said to want to job and someone the president trust, but the president is going to continue to look at other options before making a final decision.

Another person that's going to meet with the president this weekend is HR McMaster. He is a lieutenant general in the U.S. army. He also considered a strong candidate.

But really, the focus seems to be on John Bolton. Not only are there political staff staffers within the White House that seem to be pushing for Bolton, he also has the support of some powerful members of Congress, including Texas senator Ted Cruz. He, a former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. thought of someone that is outside the mainstream establishment, but because he has worked in the administration before, he understands how Washington, D.C. works.

Now, Donald Trump tweeted that there were three candidates in addition to Kellogg who is already in mix. We are not sure who that forth candidate is, perhaps maybe former CIA director, David Petraeus, who we know is now out of the running.

Now, the president will meet with all three of these finals sometime this weekend at Mar-a-Lago. The hope is that he will have someone place in a very near future - Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. So, he has got those presidential level meetings. At the same time, he is kind of going back to that campaign mode by having the rally later on today in Melbourne. What's this all about the next election or is this about, you know, just getting this (INAUDIBLE) on the campaign trail?

NOBLES: It might be a little bit of both, Fred. And you know, this isn't really campaign mode. This is a legitimate campaign. It is being paid for by his political committee. So this is a campaign event. That is how his White House aides are describing it.

You know, to a certain extent, this is about preaching to his supporters, the people that it stuck by him despite some rough approval ratings here at the beginning of the year. And today could be an extension of that 77 minute press conference that we saw on Thursday where Trump to a certain extent talks past those of us in the media and talks directly to the supporter, pushes back on the narrative that his White House is in chaos and disarray. And instead, said, to makes the point that he is keeping his promises and lays out a laundry list of how exactly he intends to do that. That's what we expect to see later this afternoon in Florida.

WHITFIELD: All right, Ryan Nobles in Washington. Thanks so much.

All right. Meantime, a major U.S. presence at the security conference in Munich, Germany. Vice president Mike Pence, defense minister James Mattis and Homeland security secretary John Kelly all there, reassuring European allies about President Trump's foreign policy, including his past controversial comments on Russia and NATO.

In a speech earlier today, Pence made clear that the U.S. will continue to back NATO and stand firm against Moscow.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And know this. The United States will continue to hold Russia accountable. Even as we search for new common ground, which as you know, President Trump believes can be found.


WHITFIELD: All right. Joining me right now from Moscow, senior international correspondent Ivan Watson. And from Washington, CNN global affairs analyst, Kimberly Dozier.

All right. Good to see both of you.

Ivan, you first. Moments ago, we learned that Russia's foreign minister told reporter that is a cease fire will go into effect for Ukraine, February 20th. What more can you tell us?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We just know that four countries, the top diplomat from four countries including Ukraine, (INAUDIBLE), they helped negotiate this with Russians. It is not the first time we heard about ceasefires being declared there. There were only reports just a dozen hours ago of violations in that very turbulent part of eastern Ukraine. And there have been some frightening flare ups of violence just within the last month that have led to the deaths of scores of people both combatants and civilians.

Of course, any announcement of a possible cease fire, that's perhaps a good sign for the poor civilians who are living this area, some of whom have been cut off by fighting, cutoff from electricity and warm water and heat in very, very cold areas that are also very dangerous. So this could potentially be a good development, but certainly, not a promise of an end to this terrible conflict -- Fred.

[13:05:26] WHITFIELD: All right. And then Kimberly, you know, back to Munich and the vice president being there, they are trying to allay some fears or offer some reassurances talking tough. How effective might this be?

KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, European allies like some of what they are hearing from Mike Pence, that there is this commitment to NATO's article five. He has told Estonia and other nations that share borders with Russia and have felt harassed by Russia on an almost daily basis by things like cyber interference. That Pence has told them, we will be there for you if anyone tries to cross the line from Moscow.

However, you have also had European leaders saying openly to the press, you know, we are hearing two messages. We like what we hear from him. But we want to see what comes out of the White House and we want to see if this is followed up p by action. And just briefly as for the strong words on the lecture to various NATO members saying you have got to invest two percent of your GDP on your defense industry as per NATO agreements. That actually strengthens a lot of defense ministers who come to this conference. They want their nations to commit that kind of money to their defense budget. So you won't hear too many arguments from them.

WHITFIELD: So, there's that message coming from the White House. And then, there is the message from Capitol Hill by way of Senator John McCain who is also there, who tried to offer some reassurances. Listen.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I think that the Flynn issue obviously is something that is shows that in many respects, this administration is in disarray and they have got a lot of work to do.


WHITFIELD: So, Ivan, in your view, how important is it that these messages are being conveyed not just by the White House, but from Capitol Hill?

WATSON: Well, here in Moscow where we are watching this from, I think that the Russians are trying to figure out what are these different messages being sent from Washington today just like the leaders in Europe as well. And the problem is that there are very different messages being sent from this new Trump administration.

The Russians here, important people in this city, were celebrating, toasting, Donald Trump's election, his inauguration, literally toasting it with champagne. And he had a conversation shortly after his inauguration with the Russian president Vladimir Putin and they talked about trying to fix the ruptured relations between Moscow and Washington. And instead, this week in what's been kind of the international debut for top officials in the Trump cabinet in the Trump administration, instead of hearing this kind of, the previous kind of denigration of NATO that Trump himself made where he called the alliance obsolete, instead, you have the new defense secretary, the vice president talking about essential NATO is and also criticizing Russia for the role it's played in Ukraine, accusing it of being a destabilizing force and talking about NATO unity. That is not what the Russians were expecting to hear right now. And so, we are starting to hear some criticism coming from influential Russian political figures who not long ago, were still celebrating the election and inauguration of Donald Trump.

So, I think everybody is trying to figure out what exactly is the Trump administration's policy going to be towards Russia and towards Europe as well - Fred.

WHITFIELD: So, then, Kimberly, with all that, that kind of criticism now coming from Moscow, is that what European allies, you know, want to see happen so that perhaps, they can look to the U.S. again, and be able to rely on the friendship, you know, that historically has been strong?

DOZIER: I think it is too soon for anyone to feel comfortable in this, in their judgments or predictions of what this administration might do. To Ivan's point, they are studying the cacophony coming out of the White House. And it's a parlor game in D.C. among di diplomats. They are studying, OK, what's the latest leak about what adviser Steve Bannon is saying versus who is going to win the fight to become national security adviser versus what they are hearing out of pence's more traditionally Republican staff. You know, it is like a Russian roulette wheel and it hasn't stop yet.

WHITFIELD: Kimberly Dozier, Ivan Watson, thanks so much to both of you. Appreciate it.

All right. Straight ahead, he is only been in office for a month, but President Trump is already going back into campaign mode. What he hopes to gain by taking his message directly to the people in Florida, next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:13:14] WHITFIELD: All right. He has been in office just barely a month, but President Trump is already slipping back into campaign mode with a political rally coming up in just a few hours today.

Earlier, he tweeted quote "we will be having many meetings this weekend at the southern White House. Big 5:00 p.m. speech in Melbourne, Florida. A lot to talk about," end quote.

All right. It's an unorthodox kind of move having a campaign rally just weeks after taking off.

Joining me right now to talk about it, Republican strategist Brian Morgenstern and Ellis Henican, a metro papers columnist, a bestselling author and a political analyst. Good to see all of you.

OK, so, Brian, you first. How in this campaign style appearance help Mr. Trump? Usually, you know, his predecessors, it would be hundreds of days into office before they started returning to campaign mode for him, you know. It's just a month.

BRIAN MORGENSTERN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes. The cycle is getting longer and longer, isn't it? But look. This is good strategy. You know why? Because the Democrats haven't stopped campaigning. Organizing for America, which is President Obama's campaign arm, has just really been publishing tactics for disrupting Republican congressmen's rallies in support of Obamacare and trying to stop them from pursuing the Republican healthcare agenda. And if you look at a lot of the coverage of the last week, you would have never known that President Trump met with -- had four successful meetings with world leaders and he had successfully rolled out a Supreme Court nominee and you know, rolled back regulations that were really hurtful for the coal industry among others.

He has really some successful points that he needs to get out there. And it doesn't seem to be working the traditional ways. So he has got watch ability, accessibility, he has got a sense of humor and he is going to use them to his advantage and it seems to be working for him pretty well.

WHITFIELD: So then, Ellis, what would be the goal here? Is it to allow him a new tool to better govern or is it strictly, you know, the kind of stroke the ego, make him feel more popular? I mean, what is the goal of campaigning at this juncture?

[13:15:11] ELLIS HENICAN, POLITICAL COLUMNIST: Well, the first goal is to shut us up, right. I mean, he doesn't like all this media commentary going on.

Listen. He won the campaign. And he is losing the governing part, right. It's been a hugely difficult month of sputters and failures and pullbacks and court decisions and we even lost one of the major officials in the White House. So, he remembers fondly those adoring crowds and the screaming his name and whatever is, 100,000 people or a million people, however it is that he estimates the crowds. He says give me more of that and the less of that uncomfortable Washington stuff.

WHITFIELD: All right. So we saw him rallying earlier, you know, just a day ago, you know, in South Carolina at the Boeing plant. The president talked at length about the economy. The importance of bringing jobs back to the U.S. This is what he said in North Charleston. Might we see a return of this today in Melbourne, Florida today. Listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our goal as a nation must be to rely less on imports and more on products made here in the USA, right here in the USA. That's what we do in America. We dream of things and then we build them. We turn vision into reality. And we will be b doing a lot more of that, believe me, in the months and years to come.


WHITFIELD: All right, so, Ellis, people might love hearing about the goal, but people still want to hear from this president how do you get there. Does he immediate to deliver more on that while he is on this campaign mode kind of trail again?

HENICAN: Actually, Fred, I hate to contradict you, but that was the boring Trump right there. That was the prompter Trump. I don't think that's the one we are going to get today. I think the one we are going to get is going to be wild, going to be chanting, maybe we will lock her up again. I mean, God knows, but that's what's worked for him. The thing that he doesn't seem to want to talk about are the actual policy plans and no details on Obamacare and no details on the immigration policy, on details on any of that stuff, just keep on roaring.

WHITFIELD: So, Brian, how long can he do that? I mean, people want to hear some details, right?

MORGENSTERN: Of course. But look in order to get a president's agenda passed, congressmen have to feel comfortable cozying up to him and it's a lot easier to get them to do that when you have, you know, a big time public support. Higher approval numbers. He has got to get those back up. And one way to do that is to speak directly to the American people, show off that sense of humor, show how big his rallies are and that will make it much easier for policymakers to actually get going on these things and make things happen.

WHITFIELD: Is there a feeling that there is kind of an attempt at collaboration between, you know, the White House and Congress because we have seen the president instead sign a lot of executive orders, Brian.

MORGENSTERN: Yes. But there have been a number of meetings recently. Mike Pence went up to the hill and met with dozens of members Congress to talk about getting things going. Secretary Price, when he was sworn in went back and described the things his department can do as part of the executive branch versus what he needs Congress to work on. So those meetings are happening, but they don't necessarily have to involve the president himself every time. He can go out and begin up public sport support while some of the nuts and bolts are being ironed out behind the scenes.

WHITFIELD: All right. We will be seeing that hours from now in Melbourne, Florida perhaps.

Brian Morgenstern and Ellis Henican, thank you.

All right. Straight ahead, it's rather busy weekend in New Orleans with the NBA all-star game in town there. But for North Carolina, it's a reminder of what could have been and the money it could have seen.


[13:22:34] WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. This should have been a huge economic weekend for Charlotte, North Carolina. Instead, all the action is in New Orleans as it hosts the NBA all-star game. North Carolina still dealing with the fallout over the so-called bathroom bill and controversy is costing that state millions of dollars.

Our Dianne Gallagher joins us with much more on all of this.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, Fred, had been speaking earlier with Greg Hill about the politics of basketball. In no way is it on the front, forefront, more than where the all-star game is not being played.


GALLAGHER (voice-over): In Charlotte, the streets aren't exactly bare this weekend, but the plan was for uptown to be booming which is exactly how to describe the scene in New Orleans right now. Thousands of NBA fans and celebrities reveling in the 2017 all-star weekend.

CARLOS DECTON CHARLOTTE RESIDENT: Dunk contest, three point contest, stuff like that.

GALLAGHER: The one that was supposed to be b in Charlotte, that is until the NBA yanked it after state lawmakers passed the so-called bathroom bill or HB2 last year.

DECTON: It's rough. It's rough. I was really looking forward to the all-star game being here.

GALLAGHER: In the words of North Carolina's new governor, this could have been a different weekend.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It would have been awesome just to be in the atmosphere of a city that hosts an all-star game.

GALLAGHER: Charlotte's city council estimated the all-star game would bring in approximately $100 million, most from visitor spending. But because of HB2, which requires all people to use public restrooms that match the sex listed on their birth certificate and excludes the LGBT community for a state-wide nondiscrimination policy, for uptown, it's unfortunately, business as usual this weekend.

JEFF WAKEM, CHARLOTTE BUSINESS OWNER: I'm a not a politician, I'm a business man and so, for me, I kind of take my personal beliefs and all of the stuff out of it and it's more for me just dollars and cents.

GALLAGHER: Jeff Wakem owns a restaurant not far from the spectrum center where the game was supposed to be played.

WAKEM: My guess, probably would have quadrupled our sales.

GALLAGHER: In a state where basketball is nearly a religion, for many it's frustrating.

DYLAN HARRISON, CHARLOTTE RESIDENT: I was really excited to have it here and get Kim Walker vote d into the all-star game, but now that it's moved away, I honestly couldn't care less about it.

GALLAGHER: But others say while they were excited about the weekend, it is not worth compromising their values.

JEFF MUCKLER, CHARLOTTE RESIDENT: You got to stick by what you believe in. You can't compromise your kid's safety. You have to put a dollar value on that. I mean, I don't put a dollar value on that. Politicians will, the mayor may.

[13:25:05] GALLAGHER: And they have. Hundreds of millions are said to have been lost through businesses refusing to expand or relocate to North Carolina. Performers canceling concerts, the NCAA pulling seven championship events from the state and the North Carolina sports association sent a letter out that says unless HB2 is repealed, the NCAA could remove all events through 2022.

DECTON: I hope they come to a resolution, try to turn it around maybe.

GALLAGHER: While several bills have been introduced, none have passed the Republican controlled legislature. For as far as the all-star game is concerned, this weekend, belongs to the big easy. But the NBA say ifs the law changes, Charlotte could be hosting its own big party in 2019.


GALLAGHER: Now, North Carolina Republicans including the former governor who signed HB2 into law say that the state is being unfairly singled out and there are at least more than a dozen states that have at least fought about introducing something similar, most notably in Texas, which just hosted the super bowl. It's something that is actually getting further there Fred than in some of these other states, but we are talking at least 14 of them that are trying to follow suit. So all of the economic hardship and the backlash doesn't seem to be deterring anybody from trying to move forward with it.

WHITFIELD: So, in the case of the all-star game, it's one city's big loss. Another city's big game. I mean, New Orleans still trying to recover from Katrina 11 years ago. So, they are really taking advantage of this in the midst of Mardi gras as well. But as it pertains to North Carolina, is there kind of a long view of this?

GALLAGHER: It depends on who you ask. At this point, the new governor, Roy Cooper, who is a Democrat, he has proposed what he calls a compromise. And that compromise would take away what HB2 does, but it would increase bathroom penalties. So, if you commit a crime in a bathroom, it would increase it, but Republicans, Fred, have said they don't think it's a compromise, even parenting (ph) Donald Trump so- called compromise and said that essentially is a look but don't touch law.

WHITFIELD: Wow. All right. Dianne Gallagher, good to see you. Thanks so much. Appreciate it.

All right. The president says classified information leaking out of the White House are criminal. Now, he is calling for an investigation. So, if people are found guilty of leaking, what punishment could they face? Our legal team weighs in next.


[13:30:49] WHITFIELD: All right. Hello again, everyone. Thanks so much for being with me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

All right, the Trump administration has been plagued by leaks over its first four weeks in office. One led to the fall of national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who was forced to resign after classified information was leaked about his conversations with a Russian ambassador about sanctions. The president and other Republicans are calling for an investigation.


TRUMP: I have actually called the justice department to look into the leaks. Those are criminal leaks. They are put out by people either in agencies. I think you will see it stopping because now, we have our people.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: I think there should be an investigation as to the leaks. Of information leaving where ever they're coming from. And if it's classified information, that is criminal and there should be a criminal investigation of these leaks.


WHITFIELD: All right. People found guilty of leaking classified information could face jail time.

Let's talk with Avery Freedman, a civil rights attorney and Richard Herman, a criminal defense attorney, both of them professors by the way.

All right, good to see you all.

So, Avery, you first. I mean, we are talking about Washington. People kind of feel like leaks go with the city. But if we are talking about classified information that is leaked now, we are talking about you know, real punishment. So, Avery, do you see that potentially happening here?

AVERY FREEDMAN, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: Well, I don't. I think you nailed it here. Leaks are what happen all the time in Washington. The biggest issue here to me is you have got a lieutenant general who is national security adviser and is communicating with the Russian government after former administration put sanctions on. So, the focus should be really on what general Flynn did. Not on the individual leaks. The focus from the administration was the leak. So what you really need is an independent prosecutor, which unfortunately is going to be decided by the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who is part of the Trump campaign effort. So, at the end of day, the little guys I think might get picked on by the justice department rather than the big guys.

WHITFIELD: So, then Richard, do you see that happening? Because we have heard back and forth, there won't be any pursuit of whether you know, any investigation should go further with Michael Flynn in terms of whether he violated any laws in those conversations. And more so on looking for the leakers. Do you see that focus could potentially change?

RICHARD HERMAN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Fred, there are just so many issues here and you can't make this up. This live drama that we're seeing unfold every day. You can want make it up.

FREEDMAN: That's right.

HERMAN: Every president has dealt with leaks. Here, we are dealing with classified information, you know, when the intelligence agencies, the CIA and the FBI report to the president that Russia had absolutely influence over the election process and the president says no, I don't believe that. How do you know?

You know, there's the undermining of trust with them. And now, the theory is that these leaks are emanating from the FBI and CIA and these people consider themselves patriots because think about it, Fred, Congress is totally Republican. Who is going to monitor this really objectively, who is? Who in Congress is monitoring the president? Who's going to stand up here?


WHITFIELD: Given that he was more of a campaign.

HERMAN: He should recuse himself but he won't. He won't. He won't and the president is going to now hire, get this. He is going to put in his buddy, a billionaire, who is going to oversee broad review of the intelligence agencies. It's beyond ludicrous. And this is what we are living. Every day, something new happens. It is exhausting, Fred.

WHITFIELD: It is. So, you know, Avery, go ahead with your point. FREEDMAN: Well, I think the problem is, it's impossible to separate

political from legal. And on some of the element, I'm in agreement with that. But if we really are honest, we want to get to the truth. The idea of an independent counsel is really the answer. It shouldn't be if the Republicans overload the Congress, if the president is looking in the wrong direction, simply at the leaks and now that the underlying question of Americans communicating with the Russian government, I don't think there's any question.

Let's let an independent prosecutor take a look, yes, it's expensive, but from Watergate to Monica Lewinsky, independent prosecutors get to the facts. That's what is needed here.

[13:35:31] WHITFIELD: So then, Avery, what is potentially the worst offense. Is it the leaks or is it potentially that Michael Flynn had a conversation about sanctions as they were being imposed by the Obama administration before this swearing in?

FREEDMAN: Well, the answer is both wrong. The question is if you have a policy in place, which required sanctions against this Russian government and you have an individual negotiating with the Russian am ambassador, I think the greater crime is that. That doesn't excuse misbehavior by government officials that are at CIA and FBI that might be releasing information. The problem is that you need to zero in on the larger issue.

WHITFIELD: And Richard. Want to finalize the thought on that?

HERMAN: Yes, the FBI has made a determination that General Flynn did nothing illegal. And if you examine this Logan act that you hear everybody talking about, the Logan act which nobody has ever enforced in the history of the Logan act and, you know, forget that. There's going to be no criminal prosecution against Flynn for that, but there will be an investigation and it's important the American people want to know who directed Flynn to go there. Who directed --

WHITFIELD: There's a real conclusion, it's really more the issue of the pursuit of the investigation against Flynn and what he talked about happened.

FREEDMAN: Exactly right.

WHITFIELD: Won't happen.

HERMAN: If they don't give Flynn immunity, he is never going to testify. So they are going to have to give him immunity. And the FBI's going to have to release transcripts.

WHITFIELD: All right. Avery Freedman --

FREEDMAN: They're going to have to give Flynn immunity in order to get to the truth here.

WHITFIELD: All right. Avery Freedman, Richard Herman, always good to see you. Never long enough.

HERMAN: See you, too.

WHITFIELD: All right. Good to see you. Thanks so much.

All right. Still ahead, President Trump has a testy exchange with a Jewish reporter over a question about anti-Semitism. A look at that coming up.


[13:41:07] WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back.

During a news conference this week at the White House, President Trump had a testy exchange with a Jewish reporter from Ami magazine who questioned the president over the rise of anti-Semitic attacks.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are people who are committing acts or threatening to.

TRUMP: You see I am the least anti-Semitic person that you have ever seen in your entire life. Number two, racism. The least racist person. In fact, we did very well relative to other people running as a Republican. Quiet, quiet, quiet. So, he lied about he was going to get up and ask a straight a very straight simple question. So, you know, welcome to the world of the media.


WHITFIELD: All right, that reporter Jake Turx didn't get to finish the question. Turx spoke to our John Berman last night and John asked him to repeat the question that he had for the president.


JAKE TURX, REPORTER, AMI MAGAZINE: Simply put, I would like to know, I got clarification on, what is it that his administration's position is that the executive branch of the federal government of the United States, it can and would be doing to try to curb anti-Semitism and try to address that issue and work together with the community.


WHITFIELD: All right, for more on the rising concerns over anti- Semitic incidents across the U.S., we turn to CNN's Gary Tuchman.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hail Trump. Hail our people. Hail victory.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hail victory. Translated into German, Cig Haehl, the surreal scene happened just day after the presidential election and just steps from the White House. A gathering of a so-called alt right group cheering Donald Trump's victory with Nazi salutes. After an uproar, Donald trump transition team released a statement two

days after the incident denouncing racism. When the president-elect himself was pressed on it by "The New York Times" the day after, he said he disavowed the group. Back then, many people wished he had sent a stronger message against hate.

In the three months since, a rash of anti-Semitic threats. One such bomb threat against a Jewish community center caught on tape. The caller using voice masking technology.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In a short time, a large number of Jews are going to be slaughtered. Their heads are going to be blown off from the shrapnel.

TUCHMAN: Just this past January, nearly 60 bomb threats were called in to 48 Jewish community centers across 26 states. That according to the JCCA in association of the centers.

CHIEF RICH WALLACE, AMBERLEY VILLAGE, OHIO POLICE & FIRE: There's been a number of threats at Jewish community centers throughout the United States. It's just unfortunately, what we're dealing with now, today in the world.

TUCHMAN: The FBI, department of justice are currently investigating beyond the threats, anti-Semitic vandalism across the country. This spray painted on a car in Florida.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That symbol is a symbol of hatred. That symbol is a sign of anti-Semitism, which is violent and awful and despicable and deplorable.

TUCHMAN: And while none of these incidents has led to physical violence, a community is on edge.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People are scared. They're saying what is next? What is this about?

TUCHMAN: The FBI, which tracks hate crime, does not yet have national statistics for the time period since the election. But we do know President Trump's hometown of New York City according to an NYPD report, has seen a dramatic rise in hate crimes against Jews so far this year. That was the backdrop for this testy exchange from President Trump's news conference yesterday.

TRUMP: Not a fair question. OK. Sit down, I understand the rest of your question.

TUCHMAN: And why even some of his most ardent supporters wish that President Trump would be clearer and unequivocal in condemning bigotry.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, Los Angeles.


WHITFIELD: And straight ahead, athletes feeling embolden to open share their views on politics and beyond. I'll talk about what with former NBA star Grant Hill leading up to our special coverage all- access at the NBA all-star weekend with Steve Smith.


[13:49:00] WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back.

The NBA all-star weekend is in full effect in New Orleans. They are having fun there. I'm just back from being in the big easy after getting a little flavor of the action there. See some of the players, and of course, see a lot of fans and of course, indulge in the food. And I also sat down with the host of "Inside Stuff," Kristen Ledlow and seventh times NBA all-star Grant Hill and we talked about everything from the excitement this weekend to their thoughts on players taking stands on cultural and political issues.


WHITFIELD: So what do you look forward in all-star weekend?


KRISTEN LEDLOW, HOST, INSIDE STUFF: There is a lot to look forward to in an all-star weekend. I mean, the all-star game itself. Of course, as we have got the rookies going at it. We have got the 3-point contest, the dunk contest. I mean, there is a lot to look forward to.

WHITFIELD: It's a lot of fun. It's great to see, you know, players doing their stuff and, you know, really taking everything to the next level. But we're also seeing on display in a much larger way many of the players who are finding it part of their responsibility, not necessarily a risk, to be outspoken about serious issues.

[13:50:15] LEDLOW: I think it's interesting how many people tell these guys to stick to sports when the reality is they have a platform. I mean, there are thousands if not millions of people listening to everything that they have to say, to everything that we have to say. I love seeing these guys step up and speak on things that matter. They don't have to stick to sports. They can stick to the platform that they have been given.

HILL: No, without a doubt. I mean, look. Guys today with social media, there's a comfort level, there's a platform, you have an audience and they speak their message. And you know, I think back to 20 years ago when we played, we didn't necessarily take advantage of that opportunity. I think things are a little bit more easier for them now to get their message across. There's different ways that they can voice their opinions or concerns about social issues. So I applaud what these young men are doing and, you know, I wish that we could go back maybe and do some things differently during my time back in the '90s.

WHITFIELD: Is the NBA setting the example in large part, making a decision to be here in New Orleans as opposed to being in Charlotte?

HILL: Without a doubt. I mean, I think Adam Silver and the NBA officials taking a stance, social injustice, what was happening in the state of North Carolina by moving the all-star game which we know had brought a lot of economic, had a significant economic impact on the city of Charlotte. So deciding at the last minute to move and bring it back to New Orleans, I think sends a strong message. So the league is also I think very supportive and understanding of the players today and understanding the impact that they can have through their voice, through their talking, speaking out on various issues as they have.

WHITFIELD: And particularly, in this presidency, it seems to have inspired more athletes to be outspoken. Steph Curry, you know, being outspoken about the CEO of Under Armor and his position in support for the Trump administration. Is there great risk when an athlete when a Steph Curry does that?

HILL: You know, I really don't think so. No, I don't. I think Steph Curry, what he has done, speaking out, knowing he has that kind of relationship with Under Armor and then to see the response from their CEO, Kevin Plank, issuing a, changing his stance.

WHITFIELD: A modification.

HILL: A modification. I mean, I think that shows you the power that athletes have when somebody like Steph Curry speaking out on something he is passionate about. You know, really impacting not just the people who follow him but also the organization and the leadership of Under Armor.

LEDLOW: And I think this is the first time that we have actually had a generation of young men who have had the ability because of things like social media to be able to speak out as adamantly as they have. And Stephen Curry, I feel like I can count on one hand the number of men that I can hold their character up against anything. Stephen is one of them. This guy next to me is one of them. And I think it is such a privilege to see these guys able to speak on such important things now on a much larger scale.

HILL: And one other thing. Look. Sports is a microcosm of life. And if you look around now in a society we are in, you know, people are speaking out. People are protesting in a non-violent way. People are very outspoken about their opinions. One way or the other, whether it's political, whether, you know, has to do with a, you know, a number of different issues. And so, I think that's the world we are in. Sports just reflects that and you see a lot of these guys like Steph Curry. And thanks for those kind words.

LEDLOW: You are welcome. Don't worry. Slip me a 20 later.

WHITFIELD: Well, you are for NBA all-star weekend, but we are seeing even if in the NFL, some New England Patriots players who made a stand not to go to the White House. Some said, you know, for political reasons because of their differences with the Trump administration.

LEDLOW: I think for the first time, we are just seeing these guys actually able to take a stand. And like I said it's a privilege to watch I think so many athletes across the board because as much as they may want to say that they are not role models, they are not mentors, they are the ones that are defining our culture. They are the ones that the young men look up to and watching. And so, whether you agree or disagree with what it is they have to stand up for or I guess at this point sit down for, I think it's important that they are able to speak on it.

WHITFIELD: You mentioned a couple of times, these are young guys but here we are talking about, you know, LeBron James is a senior at 32. And this is 13th all-star game.

HILL: No, I is amazing. I remember I played in LeBron's first all- star game in Denver. And to see him and watch his career and how he has not just developed into a just fantastic basketball player, but the best basketball player of this era, but just a fantastic person, a businessman. Someone who I feel has great integrity. He understands the platform he has. And so, he is somebody that's just a great ambassador for the NBA. But really, a great ambassador for sports in general and the way he has conducted himself, coming in so young and just having a story career. He is somebody that we all should applaud for how he has gone about his business.

[13:55:04] WHITFIELD: Is there a particular message that you think some of the NBA players are trying to send particularly to young people today?

HILL: I think really just to be yourself. And to be comfortable with who you are. Don't feel like you have to necessarily conform. I think it really also is indicative of the spirit of that generation. And so, you know, millennials, sometimes, some negative things said about millennials but there is really a lot to admire. And so, I think they understand the importance of relationships. They have sort of a big picture perspective. It's not sort of all work and no play. There's really great balance. And so I don't know. The spirit that I see of these young players and how they enjoy themselves and it is true to who they are. They keep it real. And that's something among other things to admire.


WHITFIELD: All right. Grant Hill and Kristen Ledlow keeping it real there. Great to be with them. And also, fantastic with this guy right here. My favorite all-star, Steve Smith. Join me and Steve for our NBA all-star weekend airing next hour from New Orleans at 2:30 eastern right here on CNN.

NEWSROOM continues right after this.


[13:59:59] WHITFIELD: All right. Hello again. Thank you so much for being with me. I'm Fredericka Whitfield.

The Trump administration is seeking to calm the concerns of U.S. allies overseas by rolling out a show of force at the Munich security conference. Vice president Mike Pence, defense secretary James Mattis and homeland security secretary --