Return to Transcripts main page


Sweden Questions U.S. Government; Intelligence Committee Asks Trump Administration to Preserve Records; Trump Promises New Executive Order on Immigration; Trump Criticizes Media for White House Coverage; Iraq Launching Offensive on Western Mosul; Interview of Grant Hill and Kristen Ledlow at the NBA All Star Game. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired February 19, 2017 - 16:00   ET


[16:00:00] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Hello, again and thank you for being with me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. We start with an urgent request from Sweden to U.S. government asking what exactly is your president talking about. 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 are having problems like they never thought possible.


WHITFIELD: All right. That was President Trump at his 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. Now the Swedish embassy is tweeting quote "unclear to us what President Trump was referring to. Have asked U.S. officials for explanation," end quote.

Joining me right now on the phone from San Francisco is Azita Raji, former U.S. ambassador to Sweden. So, Miss ambassador, what did you think when you first heard this reference by the president?

AZITA RAJI, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO SWEDEN (on the phone): Thanks for having me, Fredricka. I also am not sure what the president was talking about as a private citizen. I'm going to let the White House respond to the request by the Swedish government for clarification.

But what I would say as someone who represented the United States and was honored to do so in Sweden is going back to the importance of immigration and diversity as the engine of creative thinking and innovation. My own personal story as an Iranian immigrant to the United States is testimony to the power of diversity. Both Sweden and the United States are very diverse countries. And not surprisingly rank at the top level of innovation in terms of economic innovation and solutions for social problems around the world. WHITFIELD: Well then you must have been insulted to hear a reference

that the president was making that an influx of immigrants would then lead consequently to crime or unrest.

RAJI: I'm not insulted. I generally don't get insulted. I just think it's important that facts be presented. For example, today as you may have seen, University of Buffalo came out a few days ago with a study that showed who you over 40 years, mind you, not in the recent political climate that over 40 years, there has been no link between immigration patterns and crime.

Also, I live near Silicon Valley as you pointed out and over half the companies here were founded by immigrants. Swedish immigrants into our own country have played an important role in creating our own prosperity. I would mention companies like Greyhound and Walgreen's and I dare say Nordstrom were founded by Swedish immigrants to our country.

So there's no dispute. The facts are that innovation leads to prosperity, leads to creative thinking and innovative solutions.

WHITFIELD: Do you believe that these words by the president yesterday at that rally will impact a relationship this point forward between the U.S. and Sweden?

RAJI: I certainly hope not. We have a deep and long standing partnership with Sweden that goes back to our founding days. It is wide ranging in security and trade, innovation, and there are still many areas of collaboration that I hope and expect will continue such as in sign tick research, trade and business.

Sweden is one of the top investors per capita in the United States, and statistics like that I'm sure would be of interest to President Trump as a businessman. He would appreciate the value of the relationship we have with Sweden among in other areas.

WHITFIELD: All right. Former U.S. ambassador Azita Raji to Sweden. Thank you so much.

RAJI: Thank you very much.

WHITFIELD: All right. I want to bring in our panel to discuss what the former U.S. ambassador to Sweden just said and what the president said to a growing audience there. Pretty sizable audience there in Florida.

Brian Morgenstern is a Republican strategist and Ellis Henican is a "Metro Paper's" columnist, best-selling author and political analyst. Good to see you both.

OK. So, Brian, is it taking the president or at least his staff too, the long say something, explain those words yesterday.

BRIAN MORGENSTERN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: It would have been nice to have a statement out today although it has come out that while there was no incident per se, there was a documentary interview about how there's been issues with refugees being taken into Sweden by the hundreds and thousands and them having immigration problems in terms of no go zones and areas where there have been, you know, crimes committed, both by refugees and upon refugees which is another issue.

So, look, I think they will get out there and clarify this and they will explain what they meant. And the fact still remains that Europe has experienced problems both in Germany, in Nice, France and other places where there have been, you know, just problems integrating the refugees as they come in to western society.

[16:05:12] WHITFIELD: When the president made reference to it last night meaning Friday night and even Sweden is like what's going on? Ellis, how problematic is this?

ELLIS HENICAN, POLITICAL COLUMNIST: I don't know. I'm very concerned, Fred. I have been hearing reports from the rest of Abba province about Ikea insurgence. And I hear that they are coming at us with Allen wrenched and meat balls with little tooth picks. Don't talk lightly about this people. This is serious stuff.

WHITFIELD: OK. Well, you know, it is a serious matter because we are talking about the vice president is overseas in Europe. And the homeland security secretary is in Europe. And then those who were in Europe along with are hearing what the president said about Sweden. While in Florida it really could be a very serious matter in terms of, you know, trusting what comes out of the mouth of the president of the United States if no one can back up his words, Brian.

MORGENSTERN: I think that we are not at risk of Sweden misinterpreting something and then hitting their red button. I think that a country that makes us build our own furniture from Ikea, the most famous export, is not going to start a war with us. I think this is a repairable relationship for sure.

What doesn't help is that it can be a distraction as the vice president and other senior leaders are there to basically start out the relationships of this new administration but I have no doubt they will be able to put this lack of clarity aside and push forward and I think they will clean this up in the days to come.

WHITFIELD: All right. But does this speak to a pattern, you know, of facts that are not facts, but they are spoken as facts, you know. Kellyanne Conway, you know, Bowling Green, Sean Spicer talking about Atlanta. You know, it just seems it's a lot to clean up. And it is a giant distraction for this White House which is also, you know, Ellis, trying to assemble it's national security council.

HENICAN: And don't forget the 45 year high in the crime rate either. Don't let that one to slip by you.

Listen. To repair a relationship, Brian, you have to want to repair the relationship. And while poor Mike Pence and now the secretary of state and defense secretary have been sent overseas to try to soothe some of these jitters, every time Donald Trump opens his mouth or pokes his finger at his phone people have another reason to worry. You know, I think there are legitimate concerns to say hey does he

really want NATO? Does he really like the European Union? Until we clarify that from the big man's voice I don't think they are going to calm down.

MORGENSTERN: I just don't see how Sweden comes away with this thinking Donald Trump no longer wants to trade with us. No longer wants to work with us.


MORGENSTERN: And he clarified that those things need to be modernized to confront terrorism.

WHITFIELD: But the issue is saying something that's not even true. That's the issue. Isn't it?

HENICAN: Over and over again. And then the defense, by the way being, well yes my victory was of historic proportions because some guy told me that. I'm sorry, we got to do better than that.

MORGENSTERN: They are up against an awfully big, you know, onslaught of people who make mountains out of mole hills. And I would suggest that being precise about Sweden having issues integrating refugees is a mole hill. The mountain is actually working together with these countries to integrate refugees in our society to maintain security. That's the real issue. And I think, you know, that will be pushed aside as the administration gains its footing and builds these relationships.

HENICAN: Before that it would be better. It would really good.

WHITFIELD: All right. Brian Morgenstern and Ellis Henican, we will see you again.

HENICAN: Be careful out there. It is dangerous world.

WHITFIELD: All right. CNN is learning the U.S. intelligence committee has told the Trump administration to preserve records related to the committee's investigation on Russia. A live report on that after our break.


[16:12:13] WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

So we got new developments on the U.S. Senate Russia investigation. CNN global affairs correspondent Elise Labott is in Washington.

So Elise, what do you know about these letters? Who is receiving them?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, we know it's about a dozen individuals, agencies and organizations that were asked to preserve records that could pertain to the Senate intelligence committee's investigation of Russian involvement and meddling in the 2016 election.

Now, of course, this comes on the heels of revelations about the former national security adviser Mike Flynn and his communication with the Russian ambassador. We do know that, you know, the investigation will widen to include possibly members of President Trump's campaign. CNN has been told by various officials that members of the campaign were in constant communication with Russian officials and operatives during the campaign.

So, you know, look. The investigation itself is very wide and a real deep dive not just about President Trump's aides and campaign officials, but also this larger issue about Russian involvement in the campaign.

There was a closed door briefing by FBI director James Comey with members of the Senate intelligence committee on Friday. That was a closed door meeting. Senators came out very hush-hush. But you saw from Senator Rubio, Republican senator saying he was confident that the committee would be doing a bipartisan investigation, not just of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, but Russian influence.

And so, obviously we're really looking to see what was in that closed door meeting that gave even Republican senators pause that this investigation needed to be continued. So, obviously, this will take its time. The U.S., the intelligence committee wants to make sure those records are preserved. And you remember during the many investigations into the Benghazi attack, that's exactly what happened. Those committees asking all the relevant agencies to preserve those records to make sure the investigation is as thorough as possible, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Elise Labott in Washington. Thanks so much.

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 rules and how it will affect border security next.


[16:18:22] WHITFIELD: 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 bit 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 rollout plan, in particular to make sure that there's no one in a sense caught in the system 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 are 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'll be allowed to enter the country.


WHITFIELD: So in the same week as the travel ban the president also issued an order on border security and now we're getting a look at how that order would be enforced. A memo from Secretary Kelly says the president has determined that the lawful detention of aliens arriving in the United States is the most efficient means by which to enforce the immigration laws at our borders. That from the memo.

I want to bring in now our Ryan Nobles from Washington.

So based on the memos, is detention now the main focus on the plan for border security?

[16:20:14] RYAN NOBLES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fredricka, there's no doubt that detention and detention aspect of the memo is significant. But it is really just one part of a broad plan that will significantly change how the United States patrols the border and how customs and immigration officials will handle those undocumented immigrants that are already here in the U.S.

When it comes to detention the memo aims to expand the number of detention facilities designed to house captured undocumented immigrants and increase the number of immigration judges. It also gives more authority to immigration officers.

The memo isn't necessarily a surprise, though. President Trump promised a tougher stand on immigration during his campaign and he signed the executive order outlining the policy a week into his presidency. But these memos outline the implementation of that policy. In addition to the potential uptick and detentions, the memo expand the expedited removal process for undocumented immigrant. And that could leave to more being deported and potentially without significant time in court and not necessarily because they have been convicted of a crime. It also provides some specifics as the beginning of the process of building that wall on the southern border. It actually instructs the agency to figure out just how much money the agency will need to ask Congress for to complete the project -- Fred.

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

So as we learn more about the president's immigration plans one thing that has people uneasy how the administration will handle undocumented children in the U.S.

Joining me now is Raul Reyes, attorney and frequent opinion writer for CNN.

Raul, good to see you the.


WHITFIELD: So these memos leave intact President Obama's orders that give these children some legal leeway, that is so-called DACA rule, but it doesn't seem entirely clear, does it?

REYES: Exactly. It is not entirely clear because on one hand, and these are two orders. Remember there is an order dealing with border security and another order dealing with interior enforcement. They do say that recipients of DACA are to be excluded from these enforcement measures. They do say that recipients of DACA are to be excluded from this enforcement measures. That elsewhere the memos, it specifically states that there will not be any protected class unlike President Obama who had certain priorities for deportation that now in effect under this Trump administration there will be no one group that receives relief from deportation or any type of special protection from the removal process.

And given the way the Trump plan is outlined there's a lot of discretion left to local law enforcement, to ICE agents to administrative immigration authorities around the country. That creates a significant and ambiguity which could catch up -- which could catch some DACA recipients or even green card holders in the process.

WHITFIELD: So the president's immigration policy, it is also a little contradictory according to some critics of it. He's addressing DACA in his recent press conference. Take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are going to show great heart. DACA is a very, very difficult subject for me. I will tell you. To me it's one of the most difficult subjects you have. Because you have these incredible kids in many cases, not in all cases. In some of the cases they are having DACA and they are gang members and they are drug dealers too. But you have some absolutely incredible kids. I would say mostly. They were brought here in such a way -- it's a very, very tough subject. We are going to deal with DACA with heart.


WHITFIELD: So this new immigration policy states quote the department no longer will exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement. At least one DACA recipient has already been detained. Is it your view that a bigger crackdown is on the horizon?

REYES: Yes, absolutely. Because this significantly brought into scope in the interior and border enforcement. Basically anyone in the country now who is undocumented is at risk for deportation. This is - I mean, this is what as your previous guest said this is what Donald Trump promised now. This show you he is going to -- this is like the blueprint for how he is going to do it.

But the potential obstacles standing in his way that there are a lot of legal considerations involved and likely legal challenges for example with the system of expedited removals if that's rolled out nationwide we are going to see challenges based on due process as part of his plan.

Donald Trump has also changed the standard by which people can apply for asylum. But asylum is very tricky when it comes to immigration law because it involves international laws, things like U.N. high commission on refugees. Previously asylum seekers just had to meet a standard of establishing credible fear of persecution in their home country. Now they basically have to meet that standard and show a customs and border patrol agent that they can succeed on such a case. And again, great discretion is given to these local authorities.

The other part of the Trump immigration plan which was likely very troubling to immigration advocates and civil rights advocates is that it reinstates these local enforcement programs whereby local law enforcement team up with ICE to in effect serve as immigration agents. What we are seeing in the past is that this has led to significant racial profiling, civil rights violations, the most prominent example I can think of offhand is Sheriff Joe Arapaio. He was part of the 287G program. He was found to have engaged in racial profiling by the department of justice and were even refused to comply with them.

And just for a record I want to push back that something President Trump was saying that when he talks about some DACA members, some DACA grantees being gang members or criminals, that is actually not true. In order to be seek, to be granted DACA you do go through a process where you apply and you must have a clear background check. You cannot have any criminal activity, gang affiliation or anything like that. So when he refers that some DACA members are criminal elements, that is false.

WHITFIELD: All right. Raul Reyes, thank you so much. Always good to see you. Appreciate it.

REYES: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Straight ahead, the president was greeted by thousands at his campaign style rally just last night in Florida and it didn't take him too long to take aim at one of his favorite targets. Guess what that is?


TRUMP: I also want to speak to you without the filter of the fake news.



[16:59:41] WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back. Thank you for being with me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. President Trump sparring once again with his favorite target, the

media. During a rally in Melbourne, Florida this weekend he once again lambasted reporters calling them the source of fake news and claiming their stories written about his White House are untrue. And this morning his own chief of staff reiterated those attacks.


[16:30:03] TRUMP: I also want to speak to you without the filter of the fake news. The dishonest media, which has published one false story after another, with no sources, even though they pretend they have them, they make them up in many cases.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a debate when to take the president seriously. He recently tweeted that the press was the enemy of the American people. Should we take that seriously from him?

REINCE PREIBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIE OF STAFF: Well, I think you should take it seriously. I think that the problem we've got is that we're talking about bogus stories like the one in the "New York Times" that we've had constant contact with Russian officials. The next day the "Wall Street Journal" had a story that the intel community was not giving the president a full intelligence briefing.

Both stories grossly inaccurate, overstated, overblown and it's total garbage so we spend, you know, 48 hours on bogus stories and the American people suffer. So I do think it's a problem and I think that the media needs to, in some cases, not every case, John, but in some cases really need to get its act together.


WHITFIELD: All right, let's talk about all of this. I'm joined now by Republican strategist Brian Morgenstern, political analyst Ellis Henican who writes the Trump's America column for the "Metro" papers. Also joining us is CNN's senior media correspondent Brian Stelter. All right, good to see all of you.

OK. So it's an interesting admission coming from the White House from the chief of staff that yes, indeed the president feels that he justifiably should believe that the media is out to get him or that it's fake and that it's not legitimate. So, you know, Brian, how long can this go on because, you know, the press is an extension of the American people. This is the way in which the American people can have indirect contact with the leaders from the White House, Congress, et cetera. This has to undermine the presidency, doesn't it?


BRIAN STELTER, SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT, CNN NEWS: I'll just quote the other Brian on that.

WHITFIELD: Oh, I'm sorry. Brian Stelter.


STELTER: OH, well, I don't know. I don't know if I have to go -- do I have to go first?


STELTER: I mean listen, this is the most fundamental of the issue.


STELTER: It really is. I mean, this is the most fundamental. In some ways the media is the foundation of the house and if Donald Trump is challenging the walls, the structure of the house, it is problematic. I think for all of our viewers, readers and listeners. What Trump is essentially saying is don't trust the press, only trust me. And that's not a sustainable argument.

MORGENSTERN: Oh, I disagree, Brian because the press is there as a watchdog and, you know, there's polling data out there to suggest that the American people accept the premise that the press is harder on President Trump than it is on Obama. That they are adversarial to him and I think that fighting back is his right just as it is the media's right to press him.

The first amendment doesn't protect the press from criticism. The president has a first amendment right to go after stories that he feels are inaccurate or unfair just as much as anybody else. And you know what? It works for him on a political level.

WHITFIELD: So I want to interject with one other thing because we know yesterday that the president also said in that rally, he talked about Sweden -- just a bit of a departure from, you know, press talk right now -- but he talked about Sweden and he underscored that there was an incident in Friday.

Now, there's an official statement coming from the deputy press secretary, Sarah Sanders. I would like to convey that to you, addressing the many questions as a result of what he said. And Sara Sanders says, quote, "he was talking about rising crime and recent incidents in general and not referring to a specific incident." And recall as he was talking about immigration and problems, he exemplified, you know, escalations and terrorism in Paris, in Nice, Brussels and so there by many people heard him making reference to a specific incident in Sweden.

In fact, if we can replay that sound bite if we have that handy. It'd be nice to hear that juxtaposed against the deputy secretary's -- press secretary's comments. Do we have that? Right, as we try pull that, Brian, is this explanation enough in response to what the president said and even the Swedish government reaching out to the White House, reaching out to the State Department and saying what incident are you're talking about?

[16:35:00] STELTER: I think she is confirming the suspicion over the weekend that the president was referring to a Fox News segment on Friday night, a Fox News segment about refugees and about violence that seemed to be what he was talking about. Now, I think the White House sort of confirming that by saying he was speaking more generally. But the reason why, to the other Brian's point about this poll, there

is polls in Dallas suggesting that the American people feels the press is being tougher President Trump than it was on President Obama. President Trump track record in the past four weeks has been checkered with a number of misstatements, the confusing statements and with his aides saying false statements. So there's a lot to fact check, a lot to aggressively cover right now and journalists are trying to stand up and do that on a daily basis.

WHITFIELD: Here's that sound bite from President Trump at that rally in Melbourne.


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. They took in large numbers, they're having problems like they never thought possible.


WHITFIELD: All right. So, again, the Deputy Press Secretary Sara Sanders saying that the president was talking quoting now, "talking about rising crime and recent incidents in general and not referring to a specific incident" and then in response to exactly to what you're talking about, Brian Stelter, about possibly he was watching a Fox report --


WHITFIELD: -- that highlighted that Sweden, and I showed pictures as they were talking about immigration, showed pictures of cars on fire, et cetera and Sanders was also asked about that. And she said, "he may have seen the report, but no real confirmation that he was inspired by that." So, Ellis, I mean, this is messy. There's no disputing that. It's messy.

And even if he saw the report, and as a result of seeing that report and then going before upwards of 9,000 people who were in front of him in that hangar and the millions more who were watching it on television, I mean this speaks to responsibility or lack thereof when it comes to words coming out of a president's mouth.

HENICAN: Fred, he was talking about last night. This is not some general social trend that maybe we're concerned of that. I mean the level of sloppiness is so much greater than anything. Even, frankly even the worst of our profession has performed in the past month.

You know what's going to he save us here? What's going to save us is journalism, right. The same stuff that I and Brian and some of the other reporters learned when we were covering night cops in rotten little towns out in America which is get the facts straight, treat it as well as you can you, give some context. If we failed on this or we overreact we're going to have a problem. But I'm telling you capital J is going to save us here. WHITFIELD: So Brian Morgenstern, I mean how problematic -- I mean

this really continues to be a distraction created by the White House to either not have all the facts, you know to throw these like grenades, you know, of stories or information that were inspirations behind information. I mean how long can the White House keep this kind of behavior up?

MORGENSTERN: Look, there's no question that a number of White House officials in the Trump administration have lacked as I've said being imprecise, but I think that when the media pounces on details and makes mountains out of mole hills as I've said, I think that brings into question the trust in terms of how they are conveying reality.

And I think that, you know, when President Trump cites what's going on in Sweden and there actually is some unrest there and there are no go zones and there are some problems they are having and then you pounce on the fact that maybe he didn't put a comma in the right spot of what he said last night --

WHITFIELD: So do you mean --

STELTER: Oh, Brian.

MORGENSTERN: --looking at, I mean I think that's just --

WHITFIELD: reporting on it on what the president says or what comes out of the White House is making a mountain out of the mole hill reporting on it period.

MORGENSTERN: No, no, no, of course not. I think it's just -- I think it's the way things are presented, the way things are emphasized can -- it has breathed a little bit of distrust, a little bit of contempt --

HENICAN: But Brian.

MORGENSTERN: -- and it's been over a decade that the bias has existed, that 70 percent of the American people believe the media tends to lean left and so --

HENICAN: But this argument --

MORGENSTERN: -- into to this case as well.

HENICAN: Doesn't this argument come down to, Brian, supporter of the president says don't listen to what he says. You can't trust what he says. He's going to say a bunch of stuff that's factually not true, a bunch of things that you know, anger our allies. You're going to cause all kinds of trouble. We got to send the VP out to try and clean up the mess. This is not a long term tenable approach to being president of the United States. I don't think.

WHITFIELD: So Brian Stelter, I mean at issue really, it is a credibility issue. Credibility for the White House, for the president. Credibility of America as a whole particularly as it pertains to other world leaders, outside looking in, wondering, you know, what do we believe?

STELTER: There are some folks in Sweden laughing at President Trump today, mocking him for his misstatement. It certainly can get attention in other parts of the world as well.

[16:40:02] I don't want to go overboard on any individual slip of the tongue. I think it's more about a pattern of sloppiness from this White House.

So whether its typos and memos or it's big misstatements spoken aloud by the president of the United States, I think he is still in very much in campaign mode as you've been talking about this afternoon, but with that comes consequence, and this sort of one of the consequences. His words are going to be very carefully scrutinized as they should be.

One of our values as journalists is to get it right. And when the White House -- when we get it wrong, the White House points it out as they should, but when the White House gets something wrong there also does need to be a fact checking role, a fact checking function. I agree with the other Brian, you know, we got to keep this all in proportion. But let's keep in mind to some folks in Sweden this is actually really offensive yesterday.

WHITFIELD: Yes, and I'm just laughing at whatever we were just seeing right now in that scroll because that was a little distracting too. You know, I'm reading further on this note, you know, which is a transcription of some of the bites coming from the Deputy Press Secretary Sara Sanders and in terms of the reference to last night that the president made in front of the audience in Melbourne, that perhaps Sanders, you know, reiterated that the president did not mean to say last night but was referring in general to the rise in crime.

STELTER: It's also why most presidents use teleprompters or they write out their speeches in advance. One thing people love about this president is that he's unscripted, that he's unpredictable but with that comes these challenges about accuracy.

MORGENSTERN: And Brian, I mean, the rally you saw that we're talking about the quote in question was much like his campaign rallies where there is performance art. It's like a WWE event where people are so into it, are so emotional, there's chanting involved and it's part of the excitement that makes the networks want to run these things, that makes him able to speak to the American people.

WHITFIELD: But should the messaging be different, I mean, when he was on the campaign trail and that was, you know, his style and that was the kind of language that he would use and even his vision of the future, it worked on the campaign trail. But now when you're president of the United States, can that same style be packaged in a way that also propels governing? Brian Morgenstern.

HENICAN: As long as there are -- as long as there are microphones and cameras, you can't do that if you're the president. Maybe in WWE thing but not when you're president, not in front of all of the world. MORGENSTERN: I will always maintain that if a president is popular,

if he is controlling the conversation, it makes it easier for Congress to do what he wants and that's why it's important. And President Obama was very good at this and I think that President Trump is trying to take President Obama's talent at this and, you know, ramp it up a notch and I think that's what we're seeing.

STELTER: I just want to go visit Sweden now. I've heard it's a great place. It certainly not as dangerous as some have suggested. Maybe a summer trip is in store.

MORGENSTERN: Delicious meat balls.

WHITFIELD: All right, I'll accompany Brian. I'll accompany. All right, Brian Stelter, Brian Morgenstern, Ellis Henican, thank you so much. Good to see all of you.

All right, coming up next, hey, the NBA All-Star ame tips off tonight just hours from now in New Orleans. I got a chance to pay a visit to the Big Easy just a couple of days ago and sat down with former All- Star great, Grant Hill, talking about everything from the game to even politics. My conversation with the basketball legend and his co-host of "Inside Stuff" right after this.


WHITFIELD: Iraq's president says the Iraqi army is mounting a major offensive to push ISIS fighters out of western Mosul. It's the biggest offense since the campaign to rid the city of the terror group began last fall. The retaking o-f 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 had been heavily damaged. CNN's Ben Wedeman is following the developments.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The latest and perhaps decisive phase to drive ISIS out of Mosul, Iraq's second largest city began at the crack of dawn. Before Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the beginning of operations on Iraqi television, Iraqi and Coalition aircraft and artillery pummeled ISIS targets in the western part of the city. And overnight Iraqi airplanes dropped millions of leaflets on Mosul calling on ISIS fighters put down their weapons and surrender and warning civilians to stay in their homes and cooperate with Iraqi forces.

Since then, those forces have moved from the south and the southwest towards the center of the city -- their first objective, to take Mosul airport. Resistance is expected to be fierce. ISIS has dug a complicated network of tunnels in the city and is already using armed drones and is expected they will as usual, use many suicide car bombers. Perhaps the most difficult or challenging part of this operation for government forces will be to minimize civilian casualties.

There are as many as 650 to 800,000 civilians living in the western part of the city and ISIS has never hesitated to use civilians as human shields. The humanitarian situation in the west is dire. Food, medicine, fuel and drinking water, safe drinking water are in seriously short supply and humanitarian groups expect hundreds of thousands of civilians to flee the city as the fighting intensifies. Ben Wedeman, CNN, Istanbul.

WHITFIELD: Up next, ahead of tonight's NBA All-Star Game a former All-Star, Grant Hill, talks about everything from the game to politics. My conversation with the basketball legend and his co-host of "Inside Stuff" right after this.


WHITFIELD: So the big NBA All-Star Game is tonight and I'm just back from the Big Easy after getting a flavor of the All-Star action. And I actually got a chance to sit down with the host of "Inside Stuff," Kristen Ledlow and 7th time NBA All-Star, Grant Hill. We talked about everything from the excitement surrounding the weekend's events 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, INSIDE STUFF HOST: There is a lot to look forward to in an All-Star weekend. I mean the All-Star game itself, of course. We've got the rookies going at it. We've got the three-point contest, the dunk contest. I mean there's 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 very serious issues.

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 they have to say, to everything that we have to say. I love seeing these guys step up and speak on to things that matter. They don't have to stick to sports. They can stick to the platform that they've 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 would 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.

[16:55:00] There are different ways that they can voice their opinions or concerns about social issues. So I applaud what these young men are doing. 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: Oh, without a doubt. I mean, 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 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 you know 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 support for the Trump administration. Is there a great risk involved 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's 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 and somebody like Steph Curry speaking out on something he's passionate about, you know, really impacting not just the people who follow him but also the organization and the leadership at Under Armour.

LEDLOW: And I think this is the first time that we've 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 Stephan Curry, I feel I can count on one hand the number of men that I can hold their character up against anything.

Stephan is one of them. This guy next to me is one of them, and I think it's 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, sport is a microcosm of life and if you look around now in the society we're in, you know, people are speaking out. People are protesting in a nonviolent way. People are very out spoken about their opinions. One way or the other, whether it's political, whether it has to do with, you know, a number of different issues. And so I think that's the world we're in and sports just reflects that. And you see a lot of these guys like Steph Curry and thanks for those kind words Kristen.

LEDLOW: You're welcome.


LEDLPW: Slip me a 20 later. WHITFIELD: We're here for the Nba All-Star weekend but we're seeing

even in the NFL son New England Patriots players who have 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 that for the first time we're 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're not role models, they're not mentors, they are the ones defining our culture. They are the ones that young men are looking up to and watching and so whether you agree or disagree with what it is that they have to stand up for or I guess at this point, sit down for it's important that they are able to speak on it.

WHITFIELD: You mentioned a couple of times these are young guys -- these are young guys but here we are talking about, you know, Lebron James as a senior at 32.

HILL: Yes.

WHITFIELD: -- 13th All Star game.

LEDLOW: Right.

HILL: It's 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's not just developed into just a fantastic basketball player, the best basketball player of this era but just a fantastic person. A businessman. Someone who actually has great integrity. He understands the platform he has. And so he's somebody that's not just a great ambassador for the NBA but really great ambassador for sports in general. And the way he's conducted himself, coming in so young and just having a storied career, he's somebody that we all should applaud for, for how he's gone about his business.

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. So, you know, millennials -- there's sometimes some negative things said about millennials but there's 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 just, I don't know, just the spirit that I see of these young players and how they enjoy themselves and true to who they are. They keep it real and that's something among other things to admire.

[17:00:01] WHITFIELD: Grant Hill and Kirsten Ledlow, keeping it real. All right, tonight's NBA All Star on TNT this evening. Don't miss it. I'm Fredricak Whitfield. Thanks so much for being with me this Sunday.

NEWSROOM with Pamela Brown starts right now.