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Sweden Asks U.S. To Explain Trump's Comments; Senate Intel Committee Tells Admin to "Preserve Records" On Russia; Big Rally In N.Y. To Show Support For Muslim Community; DHS Lays Out Border Wall Plan; Churches Offer Refuge To Undocumented Immigrants; Iraqi Troops Launch Offensive On Western Mosul. Aired 3-4p ET

Aired February 19, 2017 - 15:00   ET


[15:00:01] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: And here's why Sweden is asking.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED 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: All right, that was President Trump at a rally in Florida, Saturday. He was 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, traveling with the president there in West Palm Beach. The White House is not commenting on this, but this isn't the first for them, is it, in making a major mistake as it relates to a "terror attack."

ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Fredricka. No, it isn't. There have been similar incidents where various officials have talked about terror attacks that did not happen and this is the big question mark. So far, you know, we've asked the White House for clarity on this -- or for clarification on this and we haven't received it so far.

What know -- what point the president was trying to make and that is that Sweden has had a liberal policy towards accepting refugees, particularly from places like Syria. This is something that he very much disagrees with. But, we don't really know what he was talking about when it comes to Friday night.

We know the president very much likes to watch cable news. He's an avid watcher of cable news and that one of his favorite stations is Fox News. And so it's certainly possible that he saw this clip we're about to play on Friday night and that's what led him to say what he said yesterday. Let's play that clip and then talk about it on the other side.


TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: 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: Now, that segment went on (inaudible) across where there was an interview with a documentarian and media personality who argue that the Swedish government was covering up all kinds of violent crimes being committed by refugees. We have no confirmation or information about that, but that was the point of that clip.

But, Fred, this lack of precision from the president, him repeating things that he's hearing, something he's been doing ever since the campaign trail, could become a problem when it comes to actual -- not campaigning, but presidenting.

We heard from the former Swedish Prime Minister on Twitter, Carl Bildt saying, "Sweden? Terror attack? What has he been smoking? Questions abound." Another prominent critic of the president's, Chelsea Clinton, said on Twitter, "What happened in Sweden Friday night? Did they catch the Bowling Green Massacre perpetrators?" That Bowling Green comment was a reference to a comment by Kellyanne Conway, the White House Counselor who talked repeatedly about a nonexistent Bowling Green Massacre.

So this raising a lot of questions and showing that the president's words matter because people all around the world are watching. Fred?

WHITFIELD: Yeah. Instead of becoming a problem, it looks like it is a problem right now. All right, Athena Jones, thank you so much, in Florida. I appreciate it -- in Palm Beach, Florida.

All right, we're also following new developments on the Senate's Russia investigation. The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee has sent more than a dozen letters to agencies, organizations and individuals to preserve records related to that investigation. Senior Congressional Reporter Manu Raju is on the phone with us and CNN Global Affairs Correspondent Elise Labott is joining us from Washington.

So, Manu, let me go with you first. Who's on the receiving end of these letters?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER (via telephone): Well, it's the Trump administration broadly. The intelligence committee is not specifying exactly which individuals have received this letter. Of course, they operate in secrecy. They do these types of investigations in a classified setting behind closed doors. But what we do know, Fred, is that this is an expanding investigation into Russia's meddling in the elections as well as contacts that may have occurred between people involved in the political campaign and people close to the Russian government or part of the Russian government.

And as we know from our own CNN's reporting as well as reporting from "The New York Times," that there was constant contact between certain campaign officials from the Trump campaign with Russian operatives during the campaign. And these letters come at a time right as the intelligence committee actually had classified briefing on Friday with FBI Director James Comey before they broke up into a recess for a week, the Senate did.

[15:05:03] And the senators emerged from that closed door meeting. They were extremely tight lipped. They did not discuss anything that was going on other than the fact that this was a part of their broader look into Russia.

Now, the Senate Intelligence Committee is -- will just run of two committees in Congress that are doing this deep dive into what is happening with Russia, the other being the House Intelligence Committee. But the House Intelligence Committee has already devolved into a partisan sparring match between Democrats and Republicans over exactly the scope of that investigation.

The Senate inquiry is still proceeding in a bipartisan track, even Marco Rubio putting out a statement on Friday through Twitter saying that this is being done in a thorough, bipartisan manner. So we'll see how this -- if it does break down into partisan fighting, but for right now this is the main committee in Congress digging deep.

And what they want are records and to make sure that nothing that the Trump administration or any federal agency has relating to Russia should be destroyed. They want to preserve these documents, review them and they have the power to subpoena those as well, for further hearings as well. So this is part of that deep dive and we'll see what they actually come up with, Fred.

WHITFIELD: So, Elise, many of these agencies' records are preserved anyway, that's part of the procedure. But in your view, how widespread of an investigation does this indicate?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, I think we already knew even before president took office that there was a widespread investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. And you remember that the intelligence community came out, all of the intelligence agencies came out with this assessment. So I think this is kind of a continuation of that.

Clearly, they'll be looking to the FBI and to the CIA and other agencies to see what kind of information they have and I think part of the preserving of records is related to that. I think there was a concern now because even though a lot -- most of these staffers are apolitical and serve both administrations, that perhaps there could be some holding back from the new administration. So I think it's not only about -- certainly about, you know, people in the campaign, but I think it's a very widespread and deep investigation as to what Russia did, who knew about it, when they knew it and also whether there were any members of the Trump campaign that were involved. I think it's much deeper and much wider, though, than the Trump campaign itself, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Elise Labott, Manu Raju, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

All right, meantime, happening today at Mar-a-Lago, the president hosting a series of meetings with potential candidates to fill the post of national security adviser. All of that, next.


[15:11:14] WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. So President Trump is working today on finding someone to head the National Security Council. The president will be interviewing four potential candidates. We understand Retired Lieutenant General Keith Kellogg, the acting National Security Adviser, former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton, Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster and new to the list, Lieutenant General Robert L. Caslen Jr.

I want to talk more about this with Kiron Skinner. She's a former advisor to Trump's National Security team. Kiron, back with us today. OK, good to see you. So reportedly, many members of NSC are pushing for Ambassador Bolton to head up the NSC and would prefer Kellogg to continue in his role, you know, as that acting position right now, but continue on the team. Do you agree with this combination, that Bolton should be in, Kellogg should stay where he is?

KIRON SKINNER, FORMER ADVISER, TRUMP'S NATIONAL SECURITY TEAM: I think it really depends on what the president wants out of the National Security Adviser. There are different ways to conceive of the job. If the president wants the National Security Adviser to be someone that really leads an in-house think tank for him and the larger White House, then perhaps Bolton is someone to look at because he has been such a prolific writer and thinker since he left government a decade ago.

In terms of a more operational National Security Council, I think Keith Kellogg, General Kellogg, brings a wealth of military experience. But, we really don't know what the president wants out of the NSC. And in fact the NSC director will have to do a bit of both. Be the intellect on National Security within the White House, but also be prepared at a moment's notice when a crisis arises to help organize the National Security Community reaching out to state, CIA and defense. So, it really will come down to how the president wants this office to work.

WHITFIELD: And so as a former member of Trump's National Security team, you know, can you describe kind of the vetting process having, you know, gotten to know Donald Trump? What will he be looking for as he interviews these candidates? SKINNER: So, being part of the transition team, we didn't really become involved in interviewing people for that role. As you know, General Flynn was one of the first people announced in terms of his appointment to the new Trump administration. So, it was a very different situation than state and defense that came much later.

But I have at Mr. Trump in my sense of him and I said this to another interview is that he responds well to strong people with strong arguments. And I believe that whoever is the strongest in terms of making a substantive case about the threats facing the United States will make a deep impression on him this weekend as he interviews people.

But also, the NSC adviser, when you think about it, Fred, is really someone who will spend more time with the president than almost any other member of the president's team. When a crisis happens in the middle of the night, the National Security Adviser may be the first one called. He may be the last, or she, person talked to at the end of the day. So I think having a close rapport with the president will be important. And I'm not sure who that person will be.

WHITFIELD: And so what about, you know, loyalty? Where is that on, you know, the list? And then, you know, reportedly I've just read a lot of stuff about, you know, people who have gotten to know him or have worked with him and that Donald Trump likes to be the one to be able to make the final decisions, even as it comes to, you know, hiring deputies or lieutenants and how much that will be a criteria as he interviews a potential NSA?

[15:15:04] SKINNER: I think given the leaks in the White House and the problems that this administration has faced in recent days, loyalty will be crucial. And there's a term in Washington or a phrase that's often used that trust is the coin of the realm. And I think in spades it matters now, because there's been such an erosion of trust by those who have leaked really critical and sensitive details about the inner workings of the Trump administration.

So, I think the president has a right to want a National Security Adviser that he can trust, but also to have a hand in selecting some of the staff below the National Security Adviser, including the deputy.

WHITFIELD: OK. And then quickly, I want to kind of change the subject slightly with you. With Sweden now, you heard Donald Trump yesterday at the rally, you know, talk about, you know, looking at Sweden with its problems now and now Sweden is saying, "What are you talking about? There was no Friday night incident that we're aware of."

How much of, you know, bruising is this for this White House? Sweden is asking the U.S. State Department for answers, asking the State Department -- I mean, the White House for answers.

SKINNER: I don't think it's that bruising. I think, though, it speaks to a couple of issues. One, we do need a National Security Adviser. We need someone right there with the president helping to establish the paper flow on foreign and defense issues.

WHITFIELD: And that would have -- had he had a permanent NSA, you believe that that would have stopped him from making that kind of gaffe?

SKINNER: Not necessarily, because I think it's important that he has that, you know, steady paper flow that a battle rhythm, if you will, gets established in the White House about how foreign policy is going to be discussed --

WHITFIELD: Would you feel like -- do you feel fairly comfortable that he would read that and he would, you know, he would take all of that kind of paper flow into consideration on his decision making?

SKINNER: Absolutely. But, also, he'll be talking with the National Security Adviser on a regular basis. But there's another part to this. The Swedes have processed in excess of 200 asylum seekers in recent years and there have been incidents.


WHITFIELD: But I think he was referring to a specific incident that even that country says, you know, they're curious about.

SKINNER: Right, I get that. But I do think there's a larger point that he was trying to make within the confusion of the smaller, more specific point, and that is we do have a difference in the U.S. and our European allies on refugees and there have been incidents that I think he was concerned about. And that's why he's the national --

WHITFIELD: Well, hopefully we'll get a better explanation from the White House, if not the president directly, because that's the only person and that's the only place that we can get some real clear, concrete guide appearance on it, Kiron.

SKINNER: Absolutely, absolutely.

WHITFIELD: Kiron Skinner, thank you so much. We'll have you back. Appreciate it.

SKINNER: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right, we'll be right back.


[15:21:36] WHITFIELD: All right, right now a rally under way in Times Square to show support for the Muslim community. It's called the "I Am a Muslim Too" rally and it comes as we're expecting President Donald Trump to sign a new executive order on immigration sometime this week. CNN's Rachel Crane is at the rally joining us live now from Times Square. Rachel.

RACHEL CRANE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fred, there's an incredible sense of community here at the "I Am a Muslim Too" rally. The crowd coming together in solidarity to support equality and tolerance and fight Islamophobia, which they say has surged since Donald Trump was elected president.

But I want to bring you into the crowd here and speak to some of the people. It's been incredibly spirited, but very passionate. Your sign here says, "I am the daughter of Muslim immigrants." What does it mean for you to be here at this rally today?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I'm the daughter of Muslim immigrants and I'm here to fight, to resist, to speak out against the hate and the overall just -- this regime that we've elected in, this president who openly, openly is against my religion and against me. I was born here. I'm a foreign American, so I'm here for that.

CRANE: Thank you so much. And, you know, we just heard from Mayor Bill de Blasio, also, Chelsea Clinton just tweeted just moments ago from the rally also pointing out that it was her daughter's first rally. Fred?

WHITFIELD: All right, Rachel Crane in Times Square, thank you very much. A very sizable gathering there.

All right, coming up, the White House is preparing a new immigration order on the heels of the president's controversial travel ban. Details on the newly proposed new rules and how it may affect border security, next.


[15:26:30] WHITFIELD: Hello again and thank you so much for joining us. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

All right, now to the new immigration action plan from the Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly sent memos laying out the new rules and new emphasis based on last month's executive order on border security. Included is an order for customs and border control, "Immediately begin planning, design, construction and maintenance of a wall." Joining me now is CNN Washington Correspondent Ryan Nobles and CNN Politics Reporter Tal Kopan.

So, Ryan, what else does this memo say about the wall and things like what materials will be used, who will pay for it, et cetera?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. It's interesting, Fred, because even though this is a part of this memo, it's not a huge part of it. In fact, it only makes up about three paragraphs of this lengthy list of instructions for members of customs and border protection to begin the process of implementing the president's executive order.

But even though it's short, it actually gets pretty specific. It talks about how the CBP and the under management -- under -- secretary for management need to begin the process of actually going and finding the funds to begin the process of planning and implementing the construction of this wall.

So that means funds that are in the existing budget, but then outlining the costs for the entire project and getting prepared to ask Congress for just how much that's going to cost. Not just for this fiscal year, but fiscal years going forward.

It also gets into pretty specific details about exactly what it's going to take to build this wall, including things like lighting and access roads and technology associated with it. So, even though it's not a lot of words, there are certainly a lot of details and it shows just how serious the administration is when it comes to building this wall.

WHITFIELD: And is there a clear understanding, Ryan, about -- from these memos about the main strategy for border security, immigration?

NOBLES: Well, I think in many ways, Fred, if you look at this on two fronts. First, it's clear that the administration wants to make it tougher to get into the United States. That includes the wall itself, but it also means that if you, for instance, are hoping to seek asylum that the standard for seeking asylum is going to be much tougher.

But you also have to imagine that this is going to be uses away to send a message to people around the world that it's -- maybe not worth the effort to try and get into the United States illegally because the country is going to make it so much more difficult to do so.

WHITFFIELD: So, Tal, is there a feeling by way of these memos that this will serve as a real deterrent?

TAL KOPAN, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Well, that's certainly the hope. You know, keep in mind the conservative school of thought on immigration policy for some time has said, you know, we need to enforce the laws we have and we need to do more to deter people from trying to come in. And this is certainly looks like an attempt to do that.

You know, a lot of what the memos do is point to pieces of existing law that has never really been used or haven't been used to the full extent and really pushing those, including, for example, if you come up through Mexico to try to get into the United States, which a lot of Central Americans who are not Mexican do, and you are seeking asylum in the U.S., you may actually now be sent back to Mexico while awaiting U.S. court proceedings.

They actually in the memos call for the development of a video conferencing system so that individuals who try to come here and are sent back to Mexico to wait can video conference into their court hearings, not even be in the United States for that. That is a significant sea change in our policy, but it is also something that has technically been in the law for some time.

[15:30:08] So you're seeing the Trump administration really try to take a hard line approach to what already in the laws, but hasn't necessarily been used. And you could see a massive uptick in the number of people in detentions and the memo also calls for more detention facilities and judges to try to accommodate that.

WHITFIELD: And then Tal is there, you know, an explanation as to, you know, why there has been this, you know, expanse of time? The original executive order came out January 25th. While it was caught up in the court system, we also heard from the president that within days from the appellate decision there would be a new executive order, but we still have not seen it in detail.

KOPAN: Right. And these are separate executive orders. You know, the ones we spoke about on January 25th are specifically the border security and the executive order on sort of enforcement and public safety in the interior. The one that is caught up in the courts is the travel ban. That was the one related to visas and refugees from certain countries. These orders came out as you said in January. The reason we're just seeing the guidance now, not totally uncommon.

You know, the executive orders are signs and then the agency heads go back and they say, "OK, how can we make this reality? What kind of guidance are we going to give to our staff in the field, to the various agencies about how we're actually going to be putting them in place?" And I imagine, you know, the criticism of the enforcement order is that it wasn't given sort of full vetting. I imagine, these memos went through several rounds of vetting with the agencies before being issued.

WHITFIELD: All right, Tal Kopan, Ryan Nobles, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

KOPAN: Thank you.

NOBLES: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right, up next, as Americans await a new order on immigration from the president, the number of churches offering sanctuary to undocumented immigrants is on the rise. Details on that, next.


[15:35:29] WHITFIELD: All right, it's Sunday and for most churches that means a day of worship. But some churches are doing double duty, giving sanctuary to undocumented immigrants who worry they could be deported at any moment. The fears are growing in the face of President Trump's plans to step up immigration law enforcement. CNN National Correspondent Dianne Gallagher is following the story and joins me now with more on this.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. Fred, this is something that's actually been going on for centuries, churches offering sanctuary to people. But, it really has hopped up in the past couple of weeks here, especially with what's been going on in Colorado.

There are two women who are undocumented who are staying in churches there. One of them, Jeanette Vizguerra and the other one is Ingrid Latorya (ph). Now, both of them, again, are undocumented but they have American born children and they're hoping to avoid deportation by staying in these churches.

Vizguerra has actually out, almost holding rallies outside of the church that she is in, difficult situation, of course. But, the question is, can ICE go in and actually apprehend either of these women? Fred, the answer is yes, they can. There is absolutely no law as long as they have a warrant preventing immigration services from going in and basically apprehending or arresting either of these women.

Back in 2011, ICE did send out a memo, though, that really discouraged the agents, essentially saying that unless you have a reason that is of the essence, unless local law enforcement has told you that you need to go in there, they should stay away from going into sensitive areas. A, because they say they want people to be able to go into those areas and feel safe, churches, schools, community centers like that when things are going on. But also because, let's be honest, right, it looks bad. ICE agents going in and coming out with a woman in handcuffs who is seeking refuge in a church, it doesn't look so great.

WHITFIELD: Is there a feeling that more churches are trying to be, you know, proactive by opening their doors letting, you know, people know that there is this, you know, place of comfort or refuge while they're caught in the middle?

GALLAGHER: Yes. So, according to the Church World Services, we're talking about 800 churches across America at least that have said, "We will offer some form of sanctuary to people." But, they're actually putting themselves at risk as well. Thanks to the Immigration and Nationality Act, if you are caught harboring somebody who should not be here, you can be charged with up to six years in prison if convicted underneath then. Again, that's not something that looks so great.

But, we talked to one pastor here in Atlanta. He said they're mostly focusing on refugees, not undocumented people right now, but that in his mind this is them exercising their religious liberties because in their idea it is not a political issue, it is a moral issue to take care of these people.

WHITFIELD: All right, thanks for bring it to us. Dianne Gallagher, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

And as reminder, don't miss this week's "Democratic Leadership Debate" moderated by Dana Bash and Chris Cuomo. In focus, who is best suited to run the party in the Trump era? That's this Wednesday, 10:00 Eastern Time only on CNN. We'll be right back.


[15:42:10] WHITFIELD: All right, tomorrow marks one month since President Trump took office. And at his inauguration, he pledged to unify the country. But in the 30 days since being sworn in on that day, January 20th, there has been a lot of criticism about his travel ban that some believes targets Muslims along with a lack of diversity in Trump's cabinet.

The issue of inclusion and mixed messaging also seem to come to a head, exemplified in at least one moment, a press conference last week when veteran White House Reporter April Ryan asked this question to the president.


APRIL RYAN, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Are you going to include the CBC, Mr. President, in your conversations with your urban agenda, your inner city agenda as well as --

TRUMP: Am I going to include who?

RYAN: Are you going to include the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus --

TRUMP: Well, I would. I tell you what, do you want to set up the meeting? Do you want to set up the meeting?

RYAN: No, no, no

TRUMP: Are they friends of yours?


WHITFIELD: So the CBC, the Congressional Black Caucus said that it has sent a letter to the president last month requesting a meeting, but did not get a response. And then later, the caucus chairman said the White House subsequently reached out in an appropriate manner to request a meeting with the caucus and that he was working to set it up. So it creates a really awkward, difficult moment moving forward.

So I want to talk more about this with Michael Eric Dyson author of "Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon for White America" and Bruce LeVell, Executive Director of the President's National Diversity Coalition. Good to see both of you gentlemen.


WHITFIELD: So, Bruce, you know, you here in studio with me. How should the Trump administration try to recover from that moment, either reach out to the CBC or at least try to send a message that it is trying to make amends with was it a communication issue or, you know, how would you classify that moment and I guess lack of communication between the CBC and Donald Trump?

LEVELL: Well, I'm not sure exactly what went on back and forth. You know like I said, this has been fast paced going in the last month since the president has been in office. But, I just want to say that in terms of the April Ryan situation on there, when the president -- first of all, I didn't really -- he probably didn't know what acronym it was, but in all defense to the president --


LEVELL: With all defense of the president, I've been in the room where he's a very proactive type of person, a businessman, so when Ms. Ryan brought that up he's like, "You know what, hey, let's set that up." I have been in meetings where he actually does that. So that was a proactive solution. When something is being reactive to the president, he likes to come out with proactive solutions. That's what Donald Trump -- President Trump is. That's who he is as a person.

WHITIFIELD: And if you listen too and read social media, it was as if it was dismissive. There was a feeling that he was dismissive toward her, treating April Ryan, a veteran White House Correspondent --


WHITFIELD: -- and a secretary kind of mode like go ahead and set it up.

LEVELL: No. Like I said, again, you know, Fredricka, he -- this -- President Trump is a proactive president and it was no disrespect to Ms. Ryan or anyone.

[15:45:08] I mean, I have been in situations where -- that Pastor Scott, who is the CEO of the National Diversity Coalition, we are the largest diversity coalition in the history of a Republican president and where, we represent tons and -- oh, gosh, many, many cultures all over the country. So, you know, this is an ongoing dialogue that we've actually been having for the last two years as it relates to a lot of the things that are happening in our cities, inner cities.

WHITFIELD: So how does President Trump kind of move forward, use this as an impetus of a pledge of unity moving forward?

LEVELL: Well, one great, you know, meeting that's coming up is being headed by Senator Scott of South Carolina who is heading up the meeting in February 28th with all the presidents of the HBCUs across the country, then that's very exciting. And, Fredricka, I will tell you --

WHITFIELD: What's your understanding of that meeting? I did talk to at least one HBCU --


WHITFIELD: -- president who says that there isn't a whole lot of clarity about what that meeting is or that there's an opportunity for the presidents of the HBCUs to talk, but instead to be talked to from lawmakers. What's your understanding?

LEVELL: Well, there's no secret without mentioning our Historically Black Colleges, you know, across the country and not to call their names out. Infrastructure and a lot of things that are required at these universities are in dire need. And I am very (inaudible) and excited that this president has had an ongoing dialogue, the need in the inner cities as well as HBCUs that he is very proactive and the fact that Omarosa Manigault who came from an HBCU college in Ohio, has the president's ear. So this is really, really positive things that are going take place. I'm very, very excited about it.

WHITFIELD: All right, so Michael, you know, are these encouraging things you're hearing from Bruce here and the fact that there may be this meeting or at least that President Trump has committed to want to talk about tax reform, education, some of the items that are on the list of concerns that the CBC has when they finally get a chance to talk with President Trump?

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, AUTHOR, "TEARS WE CANNOT STOP: A SERMON TO WHITE AMERICA": Well, let me shock Mr. LeVell and perhaps you, Fred, by saying, yeah, those are incredibly encouraging signs if indeed the president reaches out to the CBC. What we know is that under the Obama administration, it was quite difficult for the Congressional Black Caucus to initially meet with the president and then to sustain meetings with him.

At one point, as I've written in my book "The Black Presidency," the CBC went over 635 some odd days before the Obama administration would agree to meet with them. And then with the HBCUs, there was a legal technicality and a procedural one that denied millions of dollars and cost tremendous resources to people who attend historically black colleges and universities, especially penalizing their parents in a financial way. So those two things alone could galvanize African- American interests, which has been diminished and eroded under the apparent assault of the Trump administration against people of color, against women, against immigrants and others.

On the other hand, what we find out here is that President Trump doesn't know what CBC stands for. You asked Mr. LeVell but he didn't get a chance to answer. Let me say, of course, the president of the United States of America should know that CBC is shorthand for Congressional Black Caucus. I know there are a plethora of acronyms, but he should be familiar with them because this has nothing to do with anything but politics.

LEVELL: Well, I wasn't sure he heard it, Michael.

DYSON: Number two -- let me finish. I didn't interrupt you, sir. So number two, I think that when he thinks basically, and this is my characterization, that Frederick Douglass is a second baseman for the Baltimore Orioles by saying he's getting better and he's getting more notice and things are going out.

It is apparent here that this president is not intimately familiar with or conversant with African-American culture, the interests that define us, but by reaching out to talk about what goes on in inner cities, by talking about the crime that besieges these African- American cities and by speaking to the needs that we have.

Thank God at this point he's not simply trying to meeting with entertainers and performers and alike, but actually meet with people whose responsibility it is to address the serious and sustained issue of African-American culture politically and who are sworn representatives, who have taken an oath of office to represent those interests to the American people and as a result of that have much more intelligence to respond to President Trump.

WHITFIELD: So I wonder, Bruce, you know, is there a feeling, is anyone conveying to the president some of those concerns? I mean you heard, you know, Michael talk about the apparent assault, you know, on women, on black people. Is there anyone who is able to deliver a message like that to President Trump? Do you think he is even aware that there is this sentiment?

LEVELL: Well, first of all, I respectfully disagree with Mr. Dyson. There is no assault or attack, number one. Number two --

WHITFIELD: But it's a matter of responding to those who feel that there is.

LEVELL: Yeah. As I said earlier --

WHITFIELD: Even if you don't agree that there is.

LEVELL: Remember, the president's inauguration speech. Remember the ongoing campaign promises. You know, Fredricka, like I said earlier before we came on the set, I am very, very excited about this president.

[15:50:06] This president has spoke and touched the nerve and the pulse of a lot of particular areas that we just kind of passed along. Remember, the swamp draining is applicable to Democrats and Republicans. Both sides have kicked this can down the road. But for a president to come out of the gate in less than two months and address tissue, have a big meeting together with all the HBCU colleges and is very strong about putting an executive order was going to bring funding, which desperately needs a lot of this HBCU college.

We all know where they are without calling their names on T.V. You know, just simple things like sidewalks on some of these colleges. We're very excited to that. We're also excited about Omarosa of being, you know, his eyes and ears right there in the president's ears.

WHITFIELD: So, Bruce, you're very hopeful. Michael, what brings you hope about President Trump's term?

DYSON: Well, not much.

LEVELL: Oh, come on, Michael.

DYSON: The reality is that hope against hope is real, but I think that the fact is this is one of the most chaotic presidencies we've ever witnessed. It is in disrepair. The extraordinary incompetence that is manifest here where there's an African-American person or a woman occupying that Oval Office, this would be remedied by some people's argument for impeachment already, because the level of inability to articulate a sustained vision and to know something about political realities.

Even if you're left or right, even if you're Democratic or Republican, the bottom line is that this White House, this Trump presidency, this Trump administration has advance little intelligence about how the mechanics of politics work. It's one thing for you to make the argument that you are standing against the politics as usual. It's another thing to know what to do once you occupy that office. And the level of malfeasance, potentially, and the level of lack of intelligence and knowledge is pretty depressing and remarkable.

WHITFIELD: OK. Let's call this part one to this conversation because there has to be a continuation. Michael Eric Dyson, Bruce LeVell, thank you so much gentlemen for being with us. We'll see you again soon. Appreciate it.

LEVELL: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

WHITFIELD: All right, we'll be right back.


[15:55:40] WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. Iraq's president said the Iraqi army is mounting a major offensive to push ISIS fighters out of western Mosul. It's the biggest offensive since the campaign to rid the city of the terror group, which began last fall. The retaking of Mosul's western side has been one of the toughest challenges for the Iraqis because all five bridges connecting the eastern and western parts of the city have been heavily damaged.

Let's talk more about this with CNN Military Analyst Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona. He also is a former defense intelligence officer who served in Iraq. Good to see you. All right, so we just heard that the battle for western Mosul is expected to be fierce. How important is it for Iraqi forces to take it quickly and decisively?

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, they have to take it decisively, quickly might be a tall order. You know, they have a real problem taking the eastern side of the city and we can expect to see that on the western side of the city. ISIS is going to put up fierce resistance.

You know, the Iraqis have now surrounded the city. There is no escape route. So they're either going to have to surrender or die fighting and it looks like they have chosen to die fighting. It's going to be a very, very tough slog for the Iraqis. This is going to take several months to completely clear that city.

And while they're doing this in the west as they mount that assault, they still having to consolidate their hold over the eastern part of the city. We're starting to see a lot of insurgent type operations, these tunnels that ISIS has dug. So, we're seeing a lot of intense fighting on both sides of the river.

WHITFIELD: So while you got this fighting, what about the issue of governing. How much more complicated does it become?

FRANCONA: Well, this is a big problem. Of course, the initial thing is to provide security and then take the city. And then once you've, let say let's look at what's happening the eastern side of the city. Now that they control -- if they have to govern it, they've got to provide the social services, you know, basic things like food, water, shelter and security.

So, it's a simultaneous process and it's a real challenge for the Iraqis. And I will say, you and I have had this conversation before pretty skeptical. But I'm going to give the Iraqis their due. They're doing a really good job here.

WHITFIELD: So when you hear President Trump who says he's preparing a plan to defeat ISIS, what do you suppose that plan? What's incorporated in that plan?

FRANCONA: Well, he's given the Pentagon 30 days to come up with some different options. And, you know, we heard Barbara Starr was doing some reporting last week that may include U.S. combat forces, not just the training and advice forces, the special ops, but actual U.S. combat units on the ground. I think we're still far away from that, but it's one of the options that they are considering.

So, they're going to present the president with a whole range of options, but basically we're going to continue what we've been doing that's using a lot of air, a lot of Special Forces until the president decides just what our policy is going to be. And this is going to spill over not just in Iraq, but more importantly what happens in Syria. How are we going to solve the problem in Syria, which as you know is a multi-faceted problem on that side of the border?

WHITFIELD: Yeah. Let's talk quickly more about Syria as the United Nations saying this weekend that because the cease-fire is mostly holding there, it could open the door for political solution to the civil war. You buy that?

FRANCONA: No. I don't. The cease-fire is holding in certain areas, but if you look in the area in the central part of the country, we still see the Kurds and the Syrians and the Free Syrian Army going at each other as they try and take Al-Bab on their way to ridding ISIS and getting them out of Raqqa.

So, although it's holding in certain areas, it's really not holding throughout the country. And it's just a temporary stop gap. There is no way that Syrian government is going to sit down with a political agreement that doesn't involve the survival of the Assad regime. And of course as you know, that's anathema to the Free Syrian Army.

WHITFIELD: All right, Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona, always good to see you. Thank you so much.

We got so much more straight ahead in the Newsroom and it all starts right now.

All right, hello, again everyone and thank you so much 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.


TRUMP: You look at what's happening in Germany.