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Crowds Pack GOP Town Halls Across America; Iraqi Forces Driving ISIS Out Of Mosul; Transgender Teen Takes Rights To The Supreme Court; FBI Refused WH Request to Knock Down Trump-Russia Stories. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired February 24, 2017 - 07:30   ET


[07:30:15] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Well, another Republican town hall, another tense confrontation. This one was with Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz and he went face-to-face with a voter.


TOWN HALL ATTENDEE: You are on the Judiciary Committee. You have said that they're going to investigate the Russian allegations.



REP. MATT GAETZ (R), FLORIDA: I'm grateful that in the Judiciary Committee we've included within our --

TOWN HALL ATTENDEES: (Shouting) Yes or no? Yes or no?

GAETZ: I think if you'll hear me out, you'll like the answer.


GAETZ: Let me say right here, right now, absolutely, Donald Trump should release his tax returns. (Cheers)


CAMEROTA: OK, if you couldn't hear that audio very well, they were saying yes or no, yes or no, and he said absolutely, Donald Trump should release his taxes. Let's discuss this with CNN political analyst and reporter for "The Washington Post" Abby Phillip, and CNN political commentator and senior columnist for "The Daily Beast" Matt Lewis.

So, Matt, let me start with you. Is this -- was that -- was that a one-off, what we saw there with Congressman Gaetz where he came around to what they wanted to hear -- yes, Donald Trump should release their taxes or are we seeing other Republicans who go home and have to confront their angry constituents? Have they begun saying things out loud that may seem to be counter to what the Trump White House wants them to say?

MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, SENIOR COLUMNIST, "THE DAILY BEAST": Well, look, right now this is one-off but I think this is part of the strategy. If you are on the left and you go to these town halls, you either force these Republicans to, you know, hide and cower and avoid you or you force them to defend the indefensible, like no, Donald Trump shouldn't release his taxes, or you force them to go against their sitting president and to criticize their guy. And so it's really a lose-lose if you're the Republican politician.

And look, I think we could all agree it probably -- like, everybody thinks Donald Trump probably should have released his taxes, but if you're in the business of appeasing the mob and telling them what they want to hear so they cheer you on, where does it end? I think it's a dangerous slippery slope if you're that Republican congressman.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN HOST: It is interesting that there -- I'm not saying at all -- I don't believe that this is manufactured outrage, but I do think it is coordinated and it's certainly organized. The polish in these questions -- these challenges are very well posed.

CAMEROTA: You mean, like the 7-year-old yesterday?

GREGORY: Yes, even from him. I mean, you know -- and so, you have that. But the backdrop of all of this, in many cases, is Obamacare, and if you're going to take Obamacare away, what are you going to replace it with, Abby? And here was a former Speaker of the House, John Boehner, who, you know, in full, you know, disclosure about all this couldn't control his conservative forces. He says this about the prospect of actually replacing Obamacare.


JOHN BOEHNER (R), FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: In the 25 years that I served in the United States Congress, Republicans never, ever, one time agreed on what a healthcare proposal should look like -- not once. If you pass repeal without replace, first, anything that happens is your fault. But I shouldn't have called it repeal and replace because that's not what's going to happen. They're basically going to fix the flaws and put a more conservative box around it.


GREGORY: That's actually a really important point for both of you to comment on, Abby. This is not going to happen -- it's his fundamental point -- in the way the White House is talking about or that Republicans leaders are talking about it.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST, REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes, and he's absolutely right about that. I mean, he's right in the sense that Republicans have not yet agreed even on those actually less ambitious fixes to the law, which is surprising considering that they're not really talking about anything that would totally upend Obamacare by its roots and replace it with something else.

So, the fact -- the mere fact that they're talking about, you know, fixes to it, tweaks here and there, some of which, you know, we should be very clear, will have an impact on the way people receive healthcare. It could potentially have an impact on the overall market but we're not talking about this top to bottom overhaul.

And, you know, I think that John Boehner is also reflecting the reality that as we've said many times on this show, the Affordable Care Act is now part of the entire healthcare system. It is not very easy to just take it and throw it away. You have to deal with the system as it is. It has already changed irrevocably because of this law. You cannot just throw it out the window and I think Republicans who are being candid know that and they are acting --

[07:35:00] GREGORY: And the fact that he's saying, Matt -- that he's saying it will be a fix -- a more conservative fix -- that's somebody who knows the machinery of how the House might work on this.


CAMEROTA: Right, but Matt, I mean, did somebody slip him some truth serum or something? I mean, this is --

LEWIS: He's been liberated.

CAMEROTA: Yes, he's been liberated. Once you're out of Congress then he can say you know what, Republicans talked about this for 25 years. They never had a solution.

GREGORY: Yes. Well, they never agreed on a solution.

LEWIS: He's absolutely right.

CAMEROTA: That's right. They never agreed.


LEWIS: He's absolutely right. He's actually -- he has the ability -- the freedom to tell the truth now and that's an empowering thing. And look, you know, about a month ago I wrote a column for "The Daily Beast" and I wanted to write a column that said this is how Republicans can fix Obamacare or fix healthcare. And I -- look, that was what I went into it and I started calling these conservative health policy experts who had helped me over the years talk about all the very real problems of Obamacare.

And the conclusion I ultimately came to is what Abby said, what John Boehner said -- that this is not going to happen. And the problem is that any conservative fix that would actually fix healthcare is not politically palatable. It cannot happen in the real world. And so I think what you're going to end up with basically Obamacare-like, maybe with a few more free market tweaks, maybe a little more competition. But it is not going to be any sort of brand conservative solution because it just -- it's not possible.

The tentacles of Obamacare are so deeply rooted and the only way to -- you know, you would have to do dramatic change and I don't think there's the political will for that in America.

GREGORY: All right, we will leave it there. Abby, Matt, thank you very much. In the battle to retake Mosul from ISIS, Iraqi forces are reporting major success this morning. CNN is on the ground in Mosul with the breaking details. That's coming up next.


[07:40:15] GREGORY: We're tracking breaking news this morning out of Iraq. Iraqi forces having major success driving ISIS out of oil-rich Mosul. They are now clearing IEDs in the western part of the city after retaking a key military base and the city's airport. CNN senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman just filed this report from Mosul.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We're on the southern edge of Mosul where we've seen a steady bombardment of ISIS targets. (Gunfire) And, of course, that's a helicopter overhead firing heavy machine gun fire and missiles inside the city. Now, this has been going on all day long. The airport is to the south of us. That's already been completed secured. Now, Iraqi forces are trying to take this southern neighborhood in Mosul. We believe it's called Dangana (ph).

Now, what's interesting and what we also saw today was a group of American spotters who are working the Iraqis. They spent a long time looking through their binoculars studying (gunfire) Iraqi positions. There's another helicopter flying overhead. What we're noticing is that -- (gunfire) there are missiles going in. What we're noticing is that the intensity of the bombardment, the shelling, the airstrikes on to southern Mosul is something we did not see on the eastern part.

Of course, keeping in mind it took Iraqi forces about three months to finally gain control of eastern Mosul. It appears that when it comes to the west their intention is to go in, go strong, go hard and make sure that this operation is over as quickly as possible.


CAMEROTA: All right, our thanks to Ben Wedeman there for being on the front lines in Iraq to show us what's happening on the ground.

GREGORY: And this is an important moment in driving out ISIS, especially as the Trump administration talks about a new policy to drive out ISIS, that the Iraqis are doing a lot to get closer and closer to these power centers of this terrorist movement, so an important development.

CAMEROTA: It is and CNN is there for you to see. Meanwhile, this other important story. A lawyer for the ACLU says 746 people were detained by U.S. Border agents in those chaotic hours in the first weekend of the president's travel ban. That was after a judge partially blocked enforcement of that executive order. It is not clear how many people in the U.S. may have been deported during that time.

So, those statistics and the Trump administration's rhetoric has been sparking fear among immigrants nationwide and it's creating an underground network of safe houses for undocumented immigrants. CNN's Kyung Lah is taking us inside the shelters.


KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Pounding, sanding, laying the groundwork at this secret home in Los Angeles.

How many families would be --

PASTOR ADA VALIENTE, FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH OF MAYWOOD, CALIFORNIA: It would be about three families that we can host here. This is the living room.

LAH: Pastor Ada Valiente walks us through one safe house for the undocumented running from immigration officers, an underground network.

Essentially, what you're doing is you're trying to hide people. Is that right?

VALIENTE: But that's what we need to do as a community.

LAH: On the other side of L.A., another safe house in this man's home. We're not naming him or telling you where he lives because of what's at stake.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's hard, as a Jew, not to think about both all the people who did open their doors and their homes and take risks to safeguard Jews in moments where they were really vulnerable, as well as those that didn't. We'd like to be the people who did.

LAH: This is beyond sanctuary churches, what we've already seen at this Colorado church offering refuge for an undocumented woman. Federal agents don't enter religious houses without approval under a policy put in place during Obama's presidency.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I, Donald John Trump, do solemnly swear --

LAH: But faith leaders believe that will change under President Trump. Private homes fall under Fourth Amendment protection and need a warrant before authorities can enter.

REV. ZACH HOOVER, LA VOICE: It's something sort of like this.

LAH: Rev. Zach Hoover says faith groups across Los Angeles County could hide 100 undocumented immigrants today and that number could soon be in the thousands.

HOOVER: People will be moving into a place so that ICE can't find them so that they can stay with their families. So that they can, you know, be with their husbands. So they can avoid being detained and deported.

LAH: The idea comes from leaders across all states and Los Angeles just days after the election, pledging opposition to Trump's immigration orders. HOOVER: We are not going to stop until we get to the place that God is calling us to.

[07:45:00] LAH: People who may not agree with you would look at what you're doing and say you're simply aiding and abetting the violation of federal laws.

HOOVER: Look, I'll speak for myself. I feel really convicted that I answer to God at the end of the day. Like, that's who I'm going to see when I die. And I hope that, you know, we can live up to our -- I hope we can live up to who we are.

LAH: Pastor Valiente is clear-eyed about the risk.

VALIENTE: We're trusting in God that he would kind of help us, guide us to make the right decision.

LAH: It doesn't mean it's an easy choice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's some element of we're entering into territory that I don't totally know exactly what the consequences are, but I think I know what the moral consequences are for me if we don't act. Like this isn't a moment to be standing idly by.

LAH: Kyung Lah, CNN, Los Angeles.


GREGORY: Fallout this morning from the Trump administration's decision to rescind transgender protections. We'll talk to the Virginia teenager who is center stage in the transgender fight. His case is heading now to the Supreme Court and he will join us live, coming up next.


[07:50:00] GREGORY: Victims of hate crimes in Seattle used to have no place to go until veteran officer Jim Ritter stepped up to the plate, creating a safe place for victims. Now, his phone is ringing off the hook. CNN's Sara Ganim tells us how he went beyond the call of duty.



SARA GANIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right after Election Day, Aaron Amundsen walked out his Seattle tattoo parlor and found a note on his car.

AMUNDSEN: I opened it up and I looked at it and I thought, you know, is this a joke? But, you know, I mean -- and then it hit me and I got really upset by it, and it was kind of threatening and really spooky. And in the 25 years I've been here I've never experienced that before. GANIM: "Your days are numbered," it said. "Make America straight again to make it great again. You will see." It included two gay slurs.

OFFICER JIM RITTER, SEATTLE POLICE DEPARTMENT, STARTED "SAFE PLACE" INITIATIVE: You've got victims from all different kinds of minority communities that have the same thing happen to them.

GANIM: Two years ago, Seattle police officer Jim Ritter found a role more rewarding than anything else he's done in almost four decades on the job.

RITTER: Good morning, Aaron.

I actually feel like I'm making a positive difference in society, I'm not just going through the motions.

Jim Ritter of Seattle Police community relations section.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, how you doing, Officer Ritter?

GANIM: He started a first in the nation initiative known as Safe Place, which designates local businesses as a place where victims of hate crimes can shelter while waiting for the police to arrive.

RITTER: I want you to train your employees to call 911 immediately regardless if the victim wants them to or not. We need to have the police en route to these things.

We had a problem with people not reporting serious crimes that were happening to them.

GANIM: Now, his phone is ringing off the hook. Dozens of police departments across the country are looking to implement Safe Place.

RITTER: Durham to Baltimore to New York, Honolulu.

GANIM: Most notably for Ritter, helping the Orlando police start the program on the six-month anniversary of the Pulse nightclub massacre.

RITTER: In this day of communications everybody just assumes somebody else is calling the police.

GANIM: Here in Seattle, Ritter says two felony assaults were reported from inside a Safe Place business within the program's first week.

RITTER: In one of those Safe Place locations the witnesses were holding the suspect down when police arrived.

GANIM: Ritter is even working with the Department of Justice and it's all in the name of inclusion.

RITTER: Well, I think that anytime the police can work with the community to a degree like this everybody wins, except the criminals.

GANIM: Sara Ganim, CNN, Seattle, Washington. (END VIDEOTAPE)

CAMEROTA: Let's talk about another story that is making so many headlines, and that is that 17-year-old Gavin Grimm is the plaintiff in a transgender rights lawsuit that is set to be heard by the Supreme Court next month. At issue is whether transgender students should be allowed to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity. This comes as the Trump administration is rescinding federal protections for transgender students.

And Gavin Grimm joins us now in the studio. Great to see you, Gavin.


CAMEROTA: Great to have you. So what did you think when you heard this week that the Trump administration was rolling back the protections that the Obama administration had put in place for transgender students?

GRIMM: It was very frustrating. I don't think anyone was necessarily surprised. They'd been saying that they were going to. But, more importantly than any of that, it emboldened us to really ramp up our efforts in what we're doing and keep fighting as hard as we always have been.

CAMEROTA: What is your life like? Let's talk about what sort of prompted this lawsuit and prompted everything. What was life like for you in high school with bathroom use and everything else?

GRIMM: So, for a period of seven weeks, after I came out my sophomore year, I used the men's room with no issue and things were fine. There was -- I mean, it looked like I was going to have a normal high school experience where I was supported as any other student was. But, obviously, things didn't continue to go that way and I was barred from the men's restroom and this is what ended up happening as a result.

CAMEROTA: Because as I understand it there was a member of the community who wasn't comfortable with you using the boy's bathroom -- or the men's room -- and then what happened? What did you have to do?

GRIMM: So, there was a school board meeting and I had to attend -- or I chose to attend -- and they debated whether or not I was to use the men's room there, and then they ultimately decided I was not able to. And then I got in contact with the ACLU and we put things in motion.

CAMEROTA: Now, as I understand it, what the school came up with was a special accommodation for you. They found a unisex bathroom somewhere in the school that you could use. Why wasn't that good enough for you?

GRIMM: Well, an accommodation is an exclusion. I'm a boy like any of my other peers and I should be able to use the boy's room like any of my other boy peers.

CAMEROTA: But, I mean, if, you know -- look, sure, but sometimes we all make special accommodations for our own circumstances and if there was a unisex bathroom for you why did that feel bad to you?

GRIMM: Well, again, because it's an exclusion. It's saying that I'm not fit to be in communal spaces with my peers. It's saying I'm different from them. I'm not deserving of the same opportunities that my peers get. And I don't pose a threat or any form of harm to people using the correct bathroom.

[07:55:00] CAMEROTA: You know, we've heard some of the surrogates for the Trump administration say oh, well, wait a second, this does actually possibly expose other students to harm. It can make, say, female students vulnerable if they're in the bathroom and somehow a boy takes advantage of this and goes in. What's your response to people who are afraid of this policy?

GRIMM: I guess I would say that transgender people have been using the correct restroom for years and years and we haven't seen rashes of attacks like these. There's no evidence to support that these arguments are valid. And, I mean, transgender people are not innately dangerous or perverse. This is a line of dialogue that really needs to stop.

CAMEROTA: Sean Spicer spoke for the White House and basically when the White House -- the Trump White House came out and changed the policy they said that they basically -- for them, this is just about state's rights. States should have to decide this. Let me play this for you and you can respond to Sean Spicer.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Children do enjoy rights from, you know, anti-bullying statutes that are in almost every state and that there's a difference between being compassionate for individuals and children who are struggling with something. We wanted to make sure they're protected and how it's being done. And I think that the president has a big heart, as we've talked about in a lot of others issues, and there's a big difference. But he also believes that that's not a federal -- it's not a federal government issue. It's an issue left to the states.


CAMEROTA: What do you say to that?

GRIMM: Civil rights are not state issues, they're everyone issues. And if you leave civil rights up to the states, people will wait very, very extended amounts of time to get their rights.

CAMEROTA: And what about that he says there are already anti-bullying federal statutes?

GRIMM: To say that there's already anti-bullying measures in place, but then to advocate for these policies that will actively harm and bully our transgender youth is just very counterintuitive.

CAMEROTA: So, Gavin, now you're going to the Supreme Court. What's it like? I mean, what is it like for you, at 17 years old, to have become the face, basically, of transgender teenagers?

GRIMM: I mean, it's daunting and I just -- above all, I'm so, so honored and proud and humbled to have the ability to carry such an important and strong voice. I'm going to have to balance and be very careful because I need to uplift the voices of all transgender youth and not speak for someone I shouldn't or speak over people. But I also have to be aware that I have this platform and I need to be doing good things with it while I still do have it.

CAMEROTA: And how have your classmates responded to you now?

GRIMM: I mean, it's a mixed bag. I live in a rural Virginia area so there's a lot of conservative opinions and there's a lot of more liberal opinions with the younger crowd so it's definitely a very mix bag, but I've gotten a lot of positivity.

CAMEROTA: That's nice. It's really nice to hear that. Well, we will be following your story, obviously, and watching what happens at the Supreme Court. Are you feeling optimistic?

GRIMM: I try to always be optimistic.

CAMEROTA: Gavin Grimm, great to talk to you.

GRIMM: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: Thanks so much for sharing your personal story with us here. Well, we're following a lot of news this morning so let's get right to it.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: The FBI rejecting a White House request to knock down media reports about Trump's associates and Russians.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: The request would appear to violate procedures.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Despite the best efforts of liberal activists at town halls, the American people know better.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: The Trump White House seeking an intelligence report that will demonstrate that the security threat for these seven countries is substantial.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Intelligence officials are concerned about this assignment.

TRUMP: We're getting gang members out, we're getting drug lords out. It's a military operation.

GEN. JOHN KELLY, SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: I repeat, there will be no use of military forces in immigration.

SPICER: The United States will not yield its supremacy to anybody.

TRUMP: If countries are going to have nukes, we're going to be at the top of the pack.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CAMEROTA: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your new day. Chris is off this morning. David Gregory joins me. Great to have you here.

GREGORY: A great pleasure to be here.

CAMEROTA: All right, we have two CNN exclusives to tell you about and they are focused on the Trump White House. CNN has learned that the FBI rejected an unusual request from the White House to publicly dispute media reports that the Trump campaign was in constant contact with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign.

GREGORY: And, another big story, another CNN exclusive. Growing concern now in the Intelligence Community about the steps the White House is now taking to build the legal case to justify the travel ban that it's pursuing. Is the White House politicizing intelligence?

We are now in day 36 of the Trump presidency. We're going to begin our coverage with CNN justice correspondent Pamela Brown, part of the team here at CNN that broke these exclusive stories. Pamela, good morning.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning to you, David. CNN is told that the FBI rejected this recent White House request to knock down media reports about communications during the 2016 presidential campaign between Donald Trump's associates and Russians known to U.S. intelligence.

But a White House official said that the request was only made after the FBI indicated to the White House it did not believe all of the reporting was accurate. Multiple U.S. officials telling CNN the White House sought the help of the Bureau and other agencies investigating the Russian matter to say that the reports were wrong and that there had been no contact, these officials said.

Now, FBI Director James Comey rejected that request --