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President Trump's Speech Regarding Sweden Raising Questions; New Executive Order on Travel Ban May Come This Week; Trump Meeting With Four Potential NSC Candidates Today; Senate Intel Committee Tells Admin to "Preserve Records" On Russia; Graham: Trump Hasn't Said Russia Will Pay A Price; Trump: Media "Is The Enemy Of The American People"; NBA Players Take A Stand On Political Issues. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired February 19, 2017 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:02] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone, thank you so much for joining me this Sunday, I'm Fredricka Whitfield. We start this hour with an urgent plea from Sweden to the U.S. government asking, what is your president talking about? Here's why Sweden is asking.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITES STATES: You look at what's happening in Germany, you look at what's happening last night in Sweden, Sweden -- who would believe this? Sweden. They took in large numbers, they're having problems like they never thought possible.


WHITFIELD: President Trump at his rally in Florida Saturday talking about a Friday night incident in Sweden and putting it in the same category as the attacks in Paris, Nice and Brussels. And now the Swedish embassy is tweeting, "Unclear to us what President Trump was referring to. Have asked U.S. officials for explanation."

White House correspondent Athena Jones joining me now. So, Athena, do we know what the president was referring to specifically and what is the White House saying about the comments now coming from Sweden?

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Fred. Well, it's still unclear what the president was referring to yesterday when he talked about what happened in Sweden on Friday night. The White House so far offering no clarification. But you can see that that comment raised a lot of eyebrows. A lot of people were watching that rally yesterday, not just here in America but around the world.

I can tell you I got a lot of questions on social media about what he may have been referring to. We know that the president likes to watch cable news. And we also know that he especially likes Fox News. And so it is certainly possible that he saw this segment and that that is what led him -- the segment we're about to play and that is what led him to make these remarks.

His larger point being that Sweden has had a liberal policy on accepting Syrian refugees. He believes that's a bad idea. Let's play that segment from Fox News and then talk about it on the other side.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Perhaps no nation on earth is more committed to accepting foreign migrants and refugees than Sweden. 2016 alone, the country accepted more than 160,000 asylum seekers despite having a population of less than 10 million people. Only 500 of these migrants were able to get jobs in Sweden. But if these arrivals aren't able to work, they're at least able to commit crimes.


JONES: And that segment went on to talk with a filmmaker who alleged that the Swedish government has been covering up violent crimes that have been committed by refugees. We have no independent confirmation of any of that reporting but I can tell you that Swedish politicians have taken to Twitter in response. The former Swedish Prime Minister, Carl Bildt, saying on Twitter, Sweden? terror attack? what has he been smoking? Questions abound.

Another tweet from a prominent American, Chelsea Clinton, who has become something of a troller in chief on Twitter when it comes to the president's comments and the comments of his aides. She tweeted, what happened in Sweden Friday night? Did they catch the bowling green massacre perpetrators?

Now, that reference to Bowling Green is a reference to something that White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway said in a recent interview talking about a nonexistent massacre in Bowling Green.

And I will remind our viewers as well that the White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, repeatedly referred to an attack that never happened in Atlanta. Later clarifying he was talking about the Orlando attack. So clearly the president's remarks raising a lot of eyebrows and clearly people pay a lot of attention about what the president says. Words matter. Fred.

WHITFIELD: So Athena, you're traveling with the president, you're there in Palm Beach. You, many other White House correspondents, have been pressing the communications office for some answers. It's now almost 24 hours since that happened. What exactly has been said to you when you've asked for the White House response?

JONES: Well, yes, no response. So that's what's been said, nothing. No clarification on this, nothing. Nothing at all, Fred. We're still waiting to hear more on that.

WHITFIELD: All right. Let us know when something comes from that office. Athena Jones, thank you so much --

JONES: Absolutely.

WHITFIELD: -- traveling with the president so. We also have new developments on the the U.S. Senate's Russia investigation. We're learning the senate intelligence committee has sent more than a dozen letters to agencies, organizations and individuals to preserve records related to that investigation. Washington correspondent Ryan Nobles joining me now.

So, Ryan, do we know who exactly besides some of these U.S. government agencies are getting these letters?

RYAN NOBLES, CONN CORRSPONDENT: Fredricka, we don't have the specifics right now, this reporting coming from our senior congressional reporter, Manu Raju,

[14:05:00] who was told by an aide to descend intelligence committee that more than a dozen of these letters went out to individuals that are connected to the Trump administration telling them to preserve their records as it relates to Russia.

And this, of course, comes just a couple of days after FBI Director James Comey held a bipartisan, bicameral briefing with members of congress on Russia and their attempt to influence the American election. And it seems as though many Republicans who may have been skeptical about the way that Russia attempted to intervene in the election came out of that briefing with a bit of changed minds.

Senator Marco Rubio among them, who sits on the intelligence committee, he tweeted shortly after that he believes that now there will be bipartisan cooperation for this investigation. And this perhaps is the next stage of this effort.

Now, the chairman of the senate intelligence -- the senate intelligence committee is Richard Burr, he is from North Carolina. He is someone who generally has been positive of the Trump administration, even though he's been pushed by the ranking Democrat on that committee, Mark Warner from Virginia. And Burr actually just this week, Fredricka, was the subject of an editorial from the "Raleigh News And Observer" his hometown paper that suggested to Burr that he needs to separate from the Trump administration on this and take a tougher stand when it comes to the investigation into this information. This could be the first stage of that.

Once again, we're being told that members of the Trump administration told to preserve their records as it relates to Russia. Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right. Ryan nobles, thank you so much.

All right. Let's talk more about all of this. Joining me from New York is Julian Zelizer, CNN contributor and a political historian at Princeton. And from Washington, Cnn political commentator and Republican strategist, Alice Stewart.

All right. Good to see both of you. So we've got a laundry list now. You've got the president himself talking about Sweden. Nobody knows what he's talking about. You've got a Kellyanne Conway talking about the Bowling Green Massacre. Sean Spicer talking about the Atlanta attack instead of Orlando. So, Julian, how big of a problem is this now for the White House to try to get ahead of these errors?

JULIAN ZELIZER, POLITICAL HISTORIAN, PRINCETON/CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it reflects a bigger concern that some of his critics have had. Either he is sloppy with the facts and he says things that as president can have dangerous ramifications, or he takes certain facts or stories and spins them in a way that doesn't reflect the reality or finally, probably the most troubling of all is if he's intentionally making things up to play into arguments that he has about refugees or terrorism.

And so I do think the White House needs to respond, explain what they were talking about and demonstrate that they have a command about what's going on overseas and what the relevant threats actually are.

WHITFIELD: So, Alice, this can only chip away the credibility not just with Americans but of course overseas. You've got the Swedish government leaders who are now saying explain yourself. What is this?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR/REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: First, I think, we need to make sure and draw a distinction between what we saw with Kellyanne's comment about the Bowling Green Massacre. That was a misspeak. That was something she just said in response to a question. There's a difference in that and something that was written in a speech, more than likely, proved by members of the staff and --

WHITFIELD: But is there really a difference? We're talking about a message from the White House, from those three very important faces of the White House, most notably, the president. Is it a misspeak or, I mean, is it not getting your facts straight? I mean, what's the intention behind this?

STEWART: Like I said, there's a difference between misspeaking and someone writing a speech, it being proofed, it being put in the teleprompter and being read several lines of communication, several areas where it could've been checked and it wasn't and that's the concern.

I think when we have a few incidences of factual inaccurate information being allowed to be presented, whether by the president or the press secretary or whomever, that does create a problem. And especially, when we're talking about other nations that may be, as you say, create a narrative that their immigration policies are extremely troublesome when there haven't been any evidences of immigration issues in Sweden.

And I think there's a distinct difference. But I do think this just goes to the overall narrative. There needs to be a lot more fact checking on information that comes out of the White House in order to prevent these very easily preventable situations because he gave a great speech yesterday. And unfortunately this is something that is a distraction.

WHITFIELD: So then, Julian, another component of this problem, you listen to our Ryan Nobles reporting at the top that possibly an inspiration for Donald Trump saying Sweden was a Fox News report as opposed to sources being checked out throughout the White House, providing information that he then wants to convey to the American public.

And this, while his vice president, Mike Pence, and a number of other very important U.S. leaders are in Europe. You know, the vice president now in Brussels.

[14:10:00] I mean this is problematic, particularly as it pertains to other country leaders taking this administration seriously, Julian.

ZELIZER: Yes. Look, the buck does stop with President Trump, not with his speech writers. And so, ultimately, he is responsible for the words that he utters on television and in speeches like this.

And when you're dealing with allegations or insinuations of attacks overseas, you need to be careful with what you say, especially if you're getting things wildly wrong and it causes all kinds of ripple effects for his own administration on foreign policy.

There's too many instances of this, though, to say it's just a one-off problem with a speechwriter. I think this is a consistent problem that we have seen in the first month of this presidency.

WHITFIELD: And then now, I want to hear from both of you on this issue of this widening investigation as it pertains to Russia and its involvement in U.S. elections. The senate intelligence committee now sending out a letter to agencies, to individuals, businesses, et cetera, saying preserve any and all records on Russia. Julian, what does this say to you? What are the red flags that go up here for you?

ZELIZER: Yes, it's an important development. The Republicans have been pretty solidly behind President Trump on most issues until now. This is the first real crack we've seen on Republican unity. if the senate intelligence committee launches an investigation or a special committee is set up, this could potentially be a huge issue that goes into the Russian intervention and potential connections with the administration.

So I imagine people in the White House are watching this. It's not about the Democrats now, it's about the GOP.


STEWART: I think it's even more about the united states of America, I agree exactly with what Julian said. And the speed in which Marco Rubio came out after that meeting with Comey and said that more than likely a senate intel committee will look into Russian connections said quite a bit.

And we also have Lindsey Graham out today saying that this is -- 2017 is the year we're going to kick Russia in the tail, so to speak. And there's clearly a bipartisan desire to look into what Russian hacking was -- to the extent that it was.

They didn't just hack into a Republican presidential election or Democrat presidential election, they hacked into the American presidential election and this undermines the American democracy and it should be across the board concern for finding out clearly if they did involve themselves in our election and what impact it had. And unfortunately, this is another Russian story that is tied with the Trump administration.

WHITFIELD: All right. We will leave it right there for now. Alice Stewart, Julian Zelizer, thank you so much, appreciate that.

ZELIZER: Thank you.

STEWART: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Right now, happening in Times Square, an 'I am a Muslim too' protest, picking up steam now as crowd gather to show solidarity with American Muslims. Rachel Crane is there. Rachel, the crowd is very sizable, what's happening?

RACHEL CRANE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Making a stand and to make a difference and so we need to have help (ph). At (inaudible) we have an interesting tradition --

WHITFIELD: All right, Rachel, if you can hear me, describe what's happening there.

All right. It looks like we're having a little audio problem. Of course, we're going to try and work that out. We could see the live pictures right there in New York. We're going to take you back to New York for this 'I am a Muslim too' protest in New York. We will be right back.



WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. Right now, crowds gathering there in Times Square to show support for the Muslim community. You see the slogan on the T-shirts and the signs 'I am a Muslim too.'

PROTESTERS: Love Trumps hate. Love Trumps hate. Love Trumps hate.

WHITFIELD: All right. Participants there are pushing back on President Donald Trump's travel ban that critics say targets Muslims. Rally organizers also say they're looking ahead to protesting Mr. Trump's new executive order on immigration when it happens. And apparently it's expected in the next week possibly. CNN's Rachel Crane is there in the crowd. She's joining us now live. Rachel.

CRANE: Fred, there's at least a thousand people here from all different faiths and nationalities standing together in solidarity to show their support for tolerance and equality. Many people with a homemade signs here. One sign we've seen many people carrying is one that says 'We all belong here. We will defend each other.'

Now it has been incredibly spirited here but incredibly peaceful as well. Many different performances and speeches happening throughout the day. Also, Mayor de Blasio here. Also, Chelsea Clinton just sending out a tweet just a couple of minutes ago showing her support for 'I am Muslim too.' Also saying that this was her daughter's first rally that she was having as it points out, incredibly spirited, very loud here, but very, very peaceful. Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, Rachel Crane. We will check back with you. Thank you so much from Times Square. All right. Also coming up, the president narrowing down his search

for a new national security advisor. This as the White House prepares for a reset on that controversial travel ban. What (inaudible) tell us about how they will enforce this version, next.



WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. President Trump has promised a new executive order on immigration this week. The new order will replace parts of last month's order struck down by a federal appeals court. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, who was at the Security Summit in Munich, talked a little about how that new order will be structured.


JOHN KELLY, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: The president is contemplating, releasing a tighter, more streamlined version of the first E.O. and we will have this time opportunity -- I will have opportunity to work a roll-out plan. In particular, to make sure that there's no one in a sense caught in the system of moving from overseas to our airports which happened on the first release. So that's where we are on that, David.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So people who have valid visas will be allowed to enter. People who have green cards will be allowed to enter, I'm assuming.

KELLY: Yes, it's a good assumption. And as far as the visas go, again, if they're in motion from some distant land to the United States, when they arrive, they will be allowed in. That said, we will have a short phase-in period to make sure that people on the other end don't get on airplanes. But if they're on an airplane and inbound, they will be allowed to enter the country.


WHITFIELD: In a separate order on the same day, the president also issued an order on border security. And now we're getting a new look at how that order will be enforced. A memo from Secretary Kelly says the president has determined that the lawful detention of aliens arriving in the United States, I'm quoting now, "Is the most efficient means by which to enforce the immigration laws at our borders."

So let's talk more about those new immigration enforcement rules. Joining me right now from New York is Julian Zelizer, CNN contributer and a political historian at Princeton, back with us and in Boston, CNN national security analyst, Juliette Kayyem.

All right, good to see both of you. So Juliet, let me begin with you. So in the memo, Secretary Kelly promises a, "Surge of immigration judges and asylum officers and 5,000 new border patrol agents." Does that bypass the earlier federal hiring freeze ordered by the president? And does just throwing more people at the problem seem to solve it?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It never does. I mean border enforcement is only one piece of a comprehensive immigration plan.

[14:25:00] And to give Secretary Kelly credit, he recognizes that. He had been in charge of southern command.

What's also not in the memo is how are they going to pay for this. I mean, most of these things, the wall, more FTEs, border patrol agents cost money and so it's going to be an ask to the senate and the house for budget purposes.

I think these new provisions, what's most amazing about them is actually what it doesn't say. Don't get me wrong, there's some very aggressive parts to it. It does not mention that the dreamers will be part of enforcement action.

Now, remember, Trump has been pretty harsh on immigration enforcement and a lot of dreamers, these young people who came in and have lived a life essentially as American citizens have been nervous as of late. And it seems or it appears that Trump is backing down from yet again, I have to say, another sort of campaign promise that he gave to his base.

WHITFIELD: You think there will be an inclusion in there to make allowances for dreamers in this go-round?

KAYYEM: Actually, it excludes them. And so in other words, they're not part of any new enforcement action. Meaning that he's going to let the dreamers hopefully continue their lives here.

Most people on the left and right view the dreamers as a group of people who are worthy of being able to stay in the United States and not being deported. So I think that's interesting that he's not following up on his campaign -- his, you know, sort of campaign promises that he would go after unlawful immigrants.

WHITFIELD: All right. So Julian, the strategy resolves around quick detention as well. How is that going to sit with those border states?

ZELIZER: Well, look, this is aggressive use of executive power in certain areas and it's going to play well in those parts of the country, where this was a core issue from the very beginning of his campaign.

What President Trump is confronting both with the dreamers and with the wall are the limits of presidential power. And so I think expedited removal and limits on asylum are all ways in which he's attempting to send a signal to his constituents and supporters that I'm still with you, I'm still trying to go with these promises. But he will encounter the budgetary limits of what he can do just through the oval office.

WHITFIELD: So Juliette, in that memo Secretary Kelly says that he will have unreviewable power to make some of these decisions, similar language to what we saw in that overturned executive order on the travel ban. So is this likely to see the same potential fate that it may end up in court as well?

KAYYEM: Yes, it very may will be as well as individual cases that are brought under these new enforcement action. Secretary Kelly as the secretary of Homeland Security has some discretion to set the priorities of deportation rules. So we've seen this before. President Obama set those priorities towards people who are sort of felony criminals, those are the people you want to deport.

And so this will be challenged. But I agree with Julian in some ways what this executive order is sort of a statement to the base that he's going to be tough on some enforcement efforts. But the fact that it cannot deal or address the wall or the dreamers, also shows the limitations of much of what Trump promised to his base. So I would say it's 50/50 with these executive orders at this stage.

WHITFIELD: All right. Julian Zelizer, Juliette Kayyem, good to see both of you. Thanks so much.

ZELIZER: Thank you.

KAYYEM: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. President Trump's quest to find a national security advisor, at least four potential candidates buying for the job now, meeting face to face with the president today. Details on that, coming up.


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right, welcome back. President Trump working today on finding a replacement to head the National Security Council. Today the president will be interviewing these four potential candidates is our understanding.

Retired Lieutenant General Keith Kellogg, the acting national security advisor, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton, Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, and new to the list is Lieutenant General Robert L. Caslen Jr.

CNN's national security analyst, Steve Hall joining me now live. So, Steve, what do you see as the biggest risk for the president by not having a national security advisor at this point?

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I think we're seeing some of the risks right now or some of the outcomes from not having a national security advisor in the Munich Security Conference where you just had some senior American officials, to include the vice president, saying what seemed to be the right thing about Russia, for example, being a little more strong than the president has been.

But we don't know exactly whether or not that's going to stick or not because we don't really have anybody behind the scenes at the National Security Council at the White House that these folks can reach out to and say, hey, is this really what the president thinks? WHITFIELD: You're talking about McCain and Lindsey Graham who have been very strong in their language. Vice President Pence is there. Homeland security secretary is there as well. Do you believe that this mixed messaging makes it difficult for other countries to get a better handle of what National Security Council is looking like or what it's enlisted to do?

HALL: Yes, absolutely. I think President Trump has made the argument that he's not going to be clear on all of his planning, but that's sort of an argument that you make in the face of your enemies when you're making war time decisions about where you're going to attack.

But with your allies, you really need to be clear. You need to be firm and you need to have a very clear policy. Without a national security structure to do that, all you have is senior guys going out and saying, look, this is the way we see things.

But our allies don't know whether they're going to be overturned or overruled by somebody at the end of the day I think is a somewhat unpredictable character as the president of the United States right now.

WHITFIELD: All right, let's talk a little bit at least about one of the candidates that President Trump is talking with today, Robert Caslen Jr. Most outlets knew about the other three, Kellogg, Bolton and McMaster, but now this Robert Caslen, what do you know about him?

HALL: You know, to be quite honest, this is the first I heard of Caslen to be on the list so I can't specifically say that I know much about him as an individual. Some of the others, Bolton and the rest of them I'm more familiar with.

But again, the critical thing right now I think is almost more important than who, and I'm not saying that's not important, but you've got to get somebody in there to get a staff going, to get it moving or the interpretation by our allies is we're not taking any of this seriously and don't have a real foreign policy. So we've got to get somebody in there as quickly as possible.

GORANI: So when the president says, you know, all is going well at the White House and things are operating rather smoothly, is that convincing to you?

HALL: Certainly not from the national security perspective. I mean, again, I think the vice president, I think secretary -- the secretary of state and others have said the right things. We're seeing a little bit of moderation perhaps, what might be moderation in the position of the administration.

But again, it's not -- it's not clear because there's no structure there to reach out at the working level to our allies and others around the world to reassure them that, yes, this really is the U.S. policy. Pay no attention to what the president said during the campaign or even what he said more recently. We're here as the professionals to get this. WHITFIELD: So at an event in Abu Dhabi, Defense Secretary James Mattis was asked about reports of the chaos in the administration, contrary to what President Trump is saying about what's happening in the White House. Listen to Mattis' response.


JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Welcome to democracy, it's at times wildly contentious, it's at times quite sporting, but the bottom line is this is the best form of government that we can come up with, so the military's job is to hold the line and to hold the line and to hold the line while our government sorts out the way ahead and our people speak. So we don't have any disarray inside the military and that's where my responsibility lies.


WHITFIELD: So what are your thoughts on that?

HALL: Well, first of all, that's a very good diplomatic response. I mean you never want to say publicly that there's disarray anywhere in your government. I would agree with Mattis that inside the military there does not seem to be as much disarray as they are in other parts of the government, specifically at the National Security Council level.

But yes, I mean, you have to tell your allies and the world that, no, everything is under control, everything is perfect because really what is the alternative? It's sort of horrific if you posit the idea that the United States government is in disarray. That's not what you want to portray.

WHITFIELD: All right, Steve Hall, thanks so much. Good to see you.

All right, coming up, deep divides over how to deal with Russia. Members of the GOP demanding an investigation into the election hack, but others saying it makes no sense. New details on the rift action next.



WHITFIELD: All right, just a day after Vice President Mike Pence declared that Russia would be held accountable for its actions, many in the Republican Party are still split on whether to investigate Moscow's alleged hacking of the U.S. election.

Some have called for a bipartisan probe while others have said it would only hinder the GOP agenda. Ohio Republican governor and former presidential candidate, John Kasich, was asked about that this morning in an exclusive interview on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION."


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN GUEST ANCHOR: I am certain that Russia is a major topic of conversation there, also certainly here at home. And two of your former presidential rivals, Senator Lindsey Graham and Senator Rand Paul, they expressed very different views on how Congress should deal with allegations here pertaining to Russia's meddling in the U.S. election. First let me play what Senator Graham said.


SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: This 2017 is going to be a year of kicking Russia in the (inaudible) in Congress.


SCIUTTO: That's Senator Graham there. Rand Paul suggesting something very different, that Republicans should not investigate the Trump administration's potential links to Russia because it would impede the GOP's policy agenda. Listen to Senator Paul.


SENATOR RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: I just don't think it's useful to be doing investigation after investigation, particularly of your own party. We'll never even get started with doing the things we need to do like repealing Obamacare if we're spending our whole time having Republicans investigate Republicans. I think it makes no sense.


SCIUTTO: Who do you side with, Governor Kasich, Senator Graham who says we got to push hard or Senator Paul who says Republicans should be pulling back?

GOVERNOR JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: Look, if our intelligence community thinks we need to get to the bottom of this, I happen to believe that perhaps a joint House-Senate Intelligence Committee investigation ought to get to the bottom of Russian hacking. Were they trying to influence our election? You know, what is it all about? What is the bottom line?

Now, I don't favor at this point moving it outside of the intelligence committees. I think that the intelligence committees have the capability to conduct a thorough understanding of what happened so that we can be in a position to prevent it in the future.

Many European countries are worried about Russia's hacking their elections, disrupting their elections. So I believe that the House and Senate can carry this out and I think that it has to be done in a bipartisan and thorough way.

And I think that a person like Senator Feinstein, Senator Warner, if they feel as though we're not getting to the bottom line and that the investigation has become partisan, then we have to look at something more independent.

But I'm confident that the House and the Senate Intelligence Committee can do this. It's in the best national security interests of the United States and, frankly, the rest of the world is looking at how we handle this because they don't want to be hacked. They don't want to have their elections to be disrupted in any way.


WHITFIELD: All right, all of that now before what we are now learning that the Senate Intelligence Committee has told the Trump administration to preserve records related to the committee's investigation on Russia.

Let's talk more about this with my panel. I'm joined once again by historian, Julian Zelizer and CNN political commentator and Republican strategist, Alice Stewart. All right, welcome back.

All right, so, Julian, that government agencies and individuals are being asked to preserve records, especially that pertains to U.S. government agencies, wouldn't that be happening anyway? What flags you about that letter that's now gone out?

JULIAN ZELIZER, HISTORIAN AND PROFESSOR, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: Well, if a letter like that goes out, sometimes there are concerns that this isn't what's going on. You know, we've seen in the past in scandals like Iran contra, where documents disappear.

So I think there's due diligence being taken here to make sure that we have all the material necessary to understand exactly what happened and to reach some bottom line on what Russia did in 2016 and what other kinds of issues arise from that.

WHITFIELD: And you know, Alice, you've got prominent Republicans now talking about this issues of the U.S./Russian relations at this Munich security conference. Here's more of what Senator Lindsey Graham had to say.


[14:45:07]GRAHAM: My biggest concern with President Trump, and I want to help him where I can, is that he's never really looked the camera in the eye and said even though it was the Democratic Party that suffered from Russian interference, I am now the leader of the free world, democracy in our background, and I can assure you they're going to pay a price on my watch for trying to interfere in my election even though it was Democrats that were affected the most. He has yet to say that.


WHITFIELD: So Alice, doesn't he have a pretty good point? Why doesn't President Trump come out blatantly and say more about this issue?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The senator makes an excellent point because regardless of who won the election, this is a concern to everyone. Russian influence in the American election undermines American democracy, and it should be looked at whether Donald Trump won or Hillary Clinton won.

The good news is that we heard from Vice President Pence while he was overseas that Russia will be held accountable this year, and I think that's what we're going to see. It's encouraging that the Senate Intel Committee is looking at though they're going to look into this because, look, we have two different things.

We have Russia hacking into the election, which is critical, and we also have whether or not there was any collusion with the Trump campaign and Russia. But with that hacking into the election, this is not about hacking into a Republican presidential campaign or Democrat presidential campaign.

They hacked into the American presidential campaign and we as a country should look into it thoroughly and aggressively. I think the fact that they're asking folks to keep all of their documents and e- mails related to this intact goes to show that they are taking this very seriously.

WHITFIELD: So it's becoming more and more glaring that the GOP leadership sees Russia or the interference with U.S. election very differently than Trump sees it. In fact this is what John McCain said.


SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: If you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press. And without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That's how dictators get started.


WHITFIELD: Julian, in large part President Trump has been blaming the media for shining the spotlight on Russia's involvement with U.S. elections. That's what John McCain was really responding to in terms of Trump calling the media, you know, enemy number one. Is it time now for Donald Trump to address his colleagues?

ZELIZER: Well, it's been time for a while, but until now we haven't heard as vociferous a response from the congressional Republicans, but now we are. Part of it is on principle and the idea that many Republicans, like Democrats, don't think it's right if there was a major intervention into our campaign and want to know not only that, but were there any connections with the Trump campaign, and part of it is politics.

There are many Republicans who are unhappy with the relationship and attitude toward Russia generally and they fear that if this unfolds, it could be very costly to the GOP in a way Senator Paul is not anticipating.

WHITFIELD: So Alice, do you see this backfiring, particularly Donald Trump's, you know, war with the media?

STEWART: Clearly Donald Trump has had frustration understandably with so much attention being put on the Russian hacking in the election because in his view there can be a case made for it undermining his victory. While I think he would have won regardless of Russian hacking, I think they ran a strong campaign at the end.

They campaigned in the key battleground states and worked every single voter to the very end, he would have won in my view regardless. But the fact that we're having this conversation, he views that as taking away from his victory.

That being said, there still is evidence that is out there that shows we do need to investigate this and I see evidence of Russian hacking based on what we're hearing from the Senate Intel Committee. Whether or not it influenced the election that remains to be seen.

Is there a distinction without a difference? We will see, but we will only determine that once we have an investigation. Hopefully sooner rather than later Donald Trump will recognize the fact that this needs to be done.

We need to get to the bottom of this and I think it more than anything will be able to put this behind us and move forward so he can continue what he really has been doing, rolling out campaign promises and following through on promises that he made during the campaign.

WHITFIELD: All right, Alice Stewart, Julian Zelizer, thanks so much.

As the GOP works to unite as one party, the Democrats are still in search of their next leader. That's the focus of this week's "Democratic Leadership Debate" moderated by Dana Bash and Chris Cuomo this Wednesday at 10:00 p.m. Eastern only on CNN. We'll be right back.



WHITFIELD: All right. In New Orleans the NBA All-Star Weekend wrapping up, but the excitement is still running high.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's see what you got then.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, he brought out the cheerleaders, now he's bringing them out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Over! Show time, it's over!


WHITFIELD: That was a sweet shot, that was this year's dunk contest winner, Indiana Pacers forward, Glenn Robinson III. His crowd- pleasing dunk involved a jump kind of like a leap frog 2.0 over his teammate and a cheerleader and a dunk from behind.

So I got a chance to be in the big easy with all the all-star excitement this weekend and I sat down with seven-time NBA all-star, Grant Hill, and we talked about everything from the all-star excitement to his thoughts on the NBA taking a stand on political issues.

One of those issues including the NBA's decision to move the all-star event to New Orleans from Charlotte, North Carolina, because of North Carolina's controversial law that limits protections of the LGBT community.


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?


[14:55:00]I think Adam Silver and the NBA officials are taking a stance, social injustice, what was happening in the state of North Carolina, by moving the all-star game which we know would have brought a lot of -- 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.

The league is also, I think, very supportive and understanding of players today and understanding the impact that they can have through their voice, through their talking, speaking out on various issues as they have. Sports is a microcosm of life.

If you look around now in the society we're in, people are speaking out. People are protesting in a nonviolent way. People are very outspoken about their opinions one way or the other, whether it's political, whether it has to do with a number of different issues. So I think that's the world we're in and sports just reflects that.


WHITFIELD: The all-star game is tonight. You can watch it, of course, on TNT.

The next hour of the NEWSROOM starts right after this.


WHITFIELD: Hello again. Thanks for being with me this Sunday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. We start this hour with an urgent request from Sweden to the U.S. government asking what exactly is your president talking about, and here's why Sweden is asking.


PRESIDENT TRUMP: You look at what's happening in Germany. You look at what's happening last night in Sweden, Sweden, who would believe this, Sweden --