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Democratic National Committee Holds Vote to Elect Next Chairman; President Trump's New National Security Adviser Criticizes Use of Term "Radical Islamic Terror," Congress Members Facing Contentious Town Hall Meetings; Investigation Continues into Death of North Korean Leader's Brother; President Trump Criticizes Media; Drug Abuse Epidemic in Midwest Examined. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired February 25, 2017 - 10:00   ET



[10:00:38] VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Victor Blackwell.

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Christi Paul. Thank you for much for keeping me going this morning.

BLACKWELL: Trying to tap you in.

PAUL: It's 10:00 on the east, 7:00 on the west coast. CNN Newsroom begins with you right now

BLACKWELL: We're beginning with the decision day for the Democrats. Any moment the Democratic National Committee winter meeting will begin here in Atlanta. The candidates to be the party's next chair will make their pitch to hundreds of members in attendance there.

PAUL: And then later today they're going to cast their votes for a new leader. But that leader is going to have a daunting agenda on their plate. Can they heal the lingering divide within the progressive and moderate factions here? And how will they channel that anti-Trump energy in rebuilding that party.

BLACKWELL: Also new this morning, President Trump new national security adviser just days on the job breaking with the president when it comes to the term "Islamic terrorism." Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster telling the staff the phrase hurts America's war on terror. We're going to talk about that coming up.

PAUL: Meanwhile, the future of the Democratic Party may depend heavily on who is elected chairman obviously. The Democratic National Committee selecting one of these seven candidates you see on your screen as its new chief. Former Labor Secretary Tom Perez appears to lead the pack, but Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison, he is on his heels. Our Ryan Nobles is there covering the race. He's on the line for us right now. So I know that Ryan, you're there as the committee men prepared to vote. What are you hearing?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christi, I actually saw Tom Perez as I was walking into AmericasMart here in downtown Atlanta where the vote is going to be held in just a few hours. He wasn't very chatty but he seems pretty confident. He's clearly the front runner here going into this DNC meeting where they're going to pick their new chair.

They haven't had a competitive race for chairman of the Democratic Party in almost two decades, so this is something that Democrats are not used to, particularly this group of DNC members that are going to elect this chair. And even though Perez certainly has the advantage, there is some thought that Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison could mount a serious challenge. And if it goes to a second or a third vote, that's when the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg has a shot at maybe being the second choice for many people and perhaps a consensus candidate if they can't decide between Perez and Ellison.

But many Democrats don't believe it's going to come to that. They believe Perez has a strong enough coalition to bring home the chairmanship. And if he does, as you mentioned, Christi, he has a big job in front of him. He's going to have to unite the many different factions of this party with the express goal of being the opposition voice to the Donald Trump administration, something that the Democratic grassroots seem very motivated behind. So it will be Perez's job to corral that motivation as this party grows moving forward.

PAUL: Thank you so much for the update, Ryan.

BLACKWELL: Let's continue the conversation with Symone Sanders, CNN political commentator and former national press secretary for Bernie Sanders, Scott Bolden, former chairman of the Washington, D.C. Democratic Party, and Tharon Johnson, former south regional director for President Obama's 2012 campaign. Good morning, everybody. So Symone, let me start with you. First you of course worked for Bernie Sanders campaign. Are you supporting Keith Ellison?

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I'm not voting DNC member. And I truly believe because I know how the voting DNC members are, they don't like folks that don't have a vote out here endorsing in this race as some people have. So I am not coming out for Ellison or anyone of that nature. But what I have done is I've talked to Keith Ellison. I have also sat down with Tom Perez and a couple other folks, and I've talked about millennials, what they're going to do about staffing, their plan for a pipeline program, and I am definitely encouraged. Everybody needs a little work, and we are going to have to hold folks accountable, but I think the party is in good hands however it goes today.

BLACKWELL: Scott, right now it looks like Tom Perez has the vote advantage as they're doing that preliminary count. But what does that mean to that passionate base, the grassroots that supported Bernie Sanders who may now be supporting Keith Ellison who will be disappointed if Perez is the head of the party.

A. SCOTT BOLDEN, FORMER CHAIRMAN, WASHINGTON D.C. DEMOCRATIC PARTY: Tom Perez is a really interesting candidate because he was the most progressive liberal member of Barack Obama's candidate. That's the first thing. I think some of Bernie Sanders supporters are really supporting Tom Perez, and if that's the case, that helps him a lot.

[10:05:00] The progressive Democrats have got to figure out how to win something. They've got the energy. They're on the ground. But they haven't won. They didn't win with Sanders. They may not win with this. And so building that coalition will be important. And whoever wins is going to need them. And if that's tom Perez, fine. If that's Keith Ellison, fine. But they've got to win. And then they've got to argue for a progressive economic agenda on the ground state by state.

BLACKWELL: Let's talk about what we saw from Alan Dershowitz on "The Hill" yesterday, an op-ed. And I see Symone already shaking her head. "I will leave the Democrats if Keith Ellison is elected chairman." I want to read two sentences here where he says "Ellison has a long history of sorted association with anti-Semitism. Ellison is now on an apology tour as he runs for DNC chairman, but his apologies and renunciation of his past association with anti-Semitism have been tactical at times to his political aspirations." And Ellison for his part, there were 300 Jewish community leaders who came out and endorsed him. Also he said that he had no idea about some of the things that Minister Louis Farrakhan had said that were seen by some at anti-Semitic. But you say to Alan Dershowitz what about the Ellison candidacy.

THARON JOHNSON, FORMER SOUTH REGIONAL DIRECTOR, OBAMA 2012: I think Congressman Ellison came out and basically said, listen, he was not aware of some of these things that Minister Louis Farrakhan had said. But as A Scott and I were talking before we came on the show, we've got to move forward. Congressman Ellison has done a really good job in Congress. And yes, he's maybe probably said some things that may have made our brothers and sisters in the Jewish community not feel good. But we've got to come together as Democrats and we've got to come together as Americans to try to move past this.

The biggest mistake we can make is to allow articles like that to continue to divide us at a time when the country is looking for the Democratic Party to really put forward a jobs be message. Right now we don't have jobs message, and we want to basically really focus on the working class, white Americans, many of whom voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. We've got to figure a way to get those voters back to our party.

BLACKWELL: Let's take people back to the last time Democrats were facing this trifecta with the Republicans holding the House and the Senate and the White House. It was right after the 2004 election. John Kerry just lost. The Democrats had lost more seats in the Senate, more seats in the House. Howard Dean was just elected head of the party. And here's what he said in his acceptance speech.


HOWARD DEAN, FORMER DNC CHAIRMAN: We have to move forward. We cannot win if all we are is against the current president and his administration. Republicans wandered around in the political wilderness for 40 years before they took back Congress. But the reason that we lost control is because we forgot why we were entrusted with that control in the first place. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: So much of the rhetoric we hear from Democrats is about President Trump. How do you get back to what Howard Dean was saying there?

SANDERS: I think we need to do exactly what Governor Dean said. I fully believe that -- we don't even have to look too much farther back. We can look at the general election. People who did not come out and vote, young people said they did not like that all they heard was Donald Trump is bad and Hillary Clinton is just better than Donald Trump. Democrats have to paint the picture and tell a story about who we are as Democrats, why it's important for folks to vote for us, and what we're going to do for the American people.

So I think it starts today. So whoever is elected chair, whether it's Keith Ellison, whether it's Tom Perez, or ever whether it's Mayor Pete, because Mayor Pete could be the next chair of the Democratic National Committee, there's work to do in building that message. We've got a Trump war room right now. We have to do that work of beating back the crazy things that Donald Trump says every day. But Democrats also have to get back to telling the story about who we are.

BLACKWELL: There's a lot of passion. Go ahead.

BOLDEN: Democrats can do that. I believe Donald Trump's Republican support and general support is paper thin, that these are angry voters and they voted for him almost to stick a thumb in the eye of the electorate or of the establishment, if you will. And so the Democrats have not only got to share that message and remind those voters, but they've got to do it by actions. They've got to show them at the grass roots level, at the state and local and federal level, who we are, why you should vote for us, and why we should not tolerate this nonsense that with Trump, who lost by 3 million votes.

SANDERS: We've got to stand for something.

JOHNSON: And one of the things that Governor Dean talked about in his speech is he implemented the 50-state strategy. He was basically on the ground. The DNC had people and staff members and resources. One of the things I heard yesterday was when I was down at the meeting is a lot of the members but also a lot of the activists like ourselves, we don't want the DNC coming in at the last minute trying to elect candidates. We want them there early and making sure we're focuses on all the states, not just the key electoral states.

BOLDEN: And the state parties need that, if you will. I'm a former state party chair in D.C. The DNC needs to bring resources and intentionality at the state races early and often. There are more Republicans elected at the state and local level than Democrats nationwide, if you will. And so that's got to change. It's not just the White House.

[10:10:01] And remember this. The money is super important. I don't see a fundraiser in any of these candidates. You've got to fund this stuff. We've got midterms coming up. We've got the presidency coming up. And we have fights on the Hill in regard to Donald Trump, and the DNC defines and dictates how that message gets across.

BLACKWELL: I know you're not a voting member but what's your expectation?


BLACKWELL: Does Perez has this wrapped up?

SANDERS: Look, I don't think we can make, you know, assumptions about what we've seen in the news and these vote counts. A lot of these DNC vote are like New Hampshire voters. They don't like to make their decision until they get right up until the ballot box. This is going to go to two ballots, I think.

BOLDEN: The only people that you can rely on that they tell you that you support them are the people who say they don't support you. Nothing else is reliable.


BLACKWELL: Symone, Scott, Tharon, thanks so much. We talked before the segment, four black people sitting here talking politics. The bell didn't ring, there wasn't breaking news or anything. We got through.


BLACKWELL: All right, Christi.

PAUL: And I'm just over by myself.


PAUL: I don't p what to say to that. Thanks, guys. Great discussion.

Listen, we have to tell you about this new twist in the murder of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's brother. Police say the nerve agent used by the suspect is designed to kill in just minutes, and one of the suspects is talking.

Also, the president's new pick for his national security adviser isn't in agreement it seems on radical Islamic terrorism. Why General McMaster says that term needs to be banned.

Also we expect another round of rowdy GOP town halls with some lawmakers skipping going face-to-face with the voters. Will that just antagonize the crowds?


[10:15:22] PAUL: It's 15 minutes past the hour. And President Trump's new national security adviser is offering a strikingly different take on some of the language that the administration uses in regards to the war on terror. CNN's Athena Jones joining us live now from the White House. What are you hearing this morning, Athena? ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christi. This is a

very interesting disconnect to have between the president and his new national security adviser. Let's play for you first what the president said at that speech, that conservative gathering near Washington yesterday. Go ahead and play that and then we'll talk about what his new national security adviser is saying.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So let me say this as clearly as I can. We are going to keep radical Islamic terrorists the hell out of our country.



JONES: So you heard the president use the phrase "radical Islamic terrorist." This is a phrase we heard often from him on the campaign trail. We also heard it at the campaign rally last week in Florida. Here is what Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster said to an all-hands gathering of national security staff on Thursday. He said "Jihadi terrorists aren't true to their religion, and the use of the term "radical Islamic terrorism" isn't helpful for U.S. goals of working with allies to defeat terrorist groups."

Among those allies of course would be other Muslim majority countries. This is an argument we've heard often from people other than President Trump and his former national security adviser Mike Flynn. So this is a very different tone, this argument that it's just not necessary or helpful to use that phrase.

And I should tell you that this is not something that's new from Lieutenant General McMaster. He has been saying this for some time. In a speech in November he talked about jihadists cynically using a perverted interpretation of religion to incite hatred and justify horrific.

In May of last year, he also talked about groups like ISIS using what he called an irreligious ideology. So it shouldn't come as a huge surprise to the White House folks here that McMaster might have a slightly different -- or very different view on this than the president. But it is interesting to see. And I should note, Christi, this is not the first instance where you've heard a member of the administration speak in a language, speak in a way that's very different from what we're hearing from the president.

PAUL: And at times the president has encouraged that. When he said I want them to speak their mind. So we'll see where this goes. Athena Jones, good to see you this morning, thank you.

BLACKWELL: Still to come for the first time since Kim Jong-nam's death, Indonesian officials have spoken to one of the suspects being held in connection with the murder. We've got details of that conversation ahead.

Plus the president renews his attacks on the media, doubling down on claims that the media are the enemy of the American people.


TRUMP: I'm against the people that make up stories and make up sources. They shouldn't be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody's name.



[10:22:13] PAUL: New details in the investigation of that bizarre murder of Kim Jong-nam. Malaysian police are analyzing the samples that obtained in an apartment raid connected to the investigation.

BLACKWELL: Also Indonesian officials met with one of the suspects being held by police. During that meeting they say she was asked to do what she called an activity by people who said looked to be Japanese or Korean. This after police say the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was killed by VX. This is an illegal and lethal nerve agent. CNN's Clarissa Ward has more of the story.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Some of the last moments of Kim Jong-nam's life. He approaches airport security to complain that someone grabbed his face and that he is feeling dizzy. He's escorted to the airport medical clinic. A Malaysian newspaper shows a photograph of him slumped over in his chair, apparently unconscious. He dies before reaching the hospital.

In a twist that reads like the script of a Hollywood thriller, Malaysian authorities now confirm that the half-brother of North Korea's dictator was killed by VX, an international banned, highly lethal nerve agent that can kill within minutes.

ROBERT BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: If you get any of it on you, you're dead. There is nothing a doctor can do for you. You just die. You get microscopic dot on you of this stuff, VX, you die.

WARD: South Korea is pointing to the volatile North Korean state, and the leader himself is the prime suspect. The dramatic assassination took place in broad daylight moments after Kim entered the crowded check-in hall. Malaysian police claim that two women, who can just be made out here, wiped Kim's face with some kind of liquid. One of the women can be seen walking off wearing an eye-catching "LOL" t-shirt. Two female suspects, one from Indonesia and one from Vietnam, are now in custody. And it gets more surreal. Indonesian authorities say one of the women told police she believed she was participating in a prank for a TV show, a claim Malaysian officials dismissed.

KHALID ABU BAKAR, MALAYSIA INSPECTOR-GENERAL OF POLICE: These two ladies were trained to swab the deceased's face. And after that they were instructed to clean their hands. And they know it is toxic. WARD: The hunt it now on for these four North Korean suspects who

left the country on the day of the attack, among them a senior official with the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur. In yet another bizarre twist, police said someone tried to break in to the mortuary where Kim's body is being kept, after which they stepped up security.

[10:25:07] BAKAR: We know who they are. No need for me to tell you.

WARD: So why would North Korea's erratic leader want his own half- brother dead? Of more concern to U.S. officials is how the dangerous dictator got his hands on one of the most deadly chemical weapons in the world and what else he could do with it.

BAER: It's a nerve agent that has terrified intelligence agencies in the west for a long time because it's so lethal. Saddam Hussein was accused of having it. In fact he didn't. They couldn't figure out how to weaponize it. What disturbs me is they have figured out how to weaponize it and deliver it. Would he use it on South Korea? Would he use it in the United States? There's simply no way for us to know.

WARD: Clarissa Ward, CNN, London.


PAUL: Well, ISIS fighters are, we understand, setting stores on fire this morning as Iraqi forces close in on the terror group's last major stronghold in that country.

BLACKWELL: Federal police announced overnight that they've recaptured an agricultural area near Mosul and are inching further and further into the city. This comes just days after they regained control of the city's airport. Joining those Iraqi forces in the battle for Mosul are American soldiers stationed just one mile from the front lines.

PAUL: It's the closest we've ever seen U.S. troops to the ground fight against ISIS there in Iraq.

WARD: Still ahead, first President Trump slams the media, then the White House slams the door on reporters.

PAUL: CNN and other outlets blocked from a news briefing. Could critical reporting on the Trump campaign's contact with Russian officials during the election be the main reason?

BLACKWELL: Plus new research shows that this spike in overdoses across the country is continuing. One sociologist says the reason behind that may have also influenced the 2016 election.


[10:30:05] PAUL: It is good to have your company this Saturday morning. I'm Christi Paul.

BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell. Good morning. A potential political reset this morning for the Democratic Party. It

could come at any moment now. DNC members are meeting right now to elect the next chair of the Democratic Party tasked with taking on President Trump's administration.

PAUL: But the big question to be answered today is can Democrats bridge the divide and stand united against the White House and Republicans? I spoke with Jeff Weaver, former campaign manager for Bernie Sanders and president of our revolution movement. He says there's a lot of anxiety, particularly among the grassroots.


JEFF WEAVER, FORMER BERNIE SANDERS CAMPAIGN MANAGER: I think what people are looking for is, are inside players willing to change the way they've been doing things so we begin to win elections and elect progressive candidates to office. I think everybody was disappointed by what happened in 2016. And we clearly cannot continue down that path. We have got to reach out. We've got to enlarge the base of this party. We've got to bring in all the young people, working class people, people of color who either sat out the last election or decided to go with another candidate.


PAUL: Former labor secretary tom Perez appears to lead the pack, but Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison is on his heels. Once we do get that official vote, we'll bring it to you live.

BLACKWELL: The town hall backlash continues. More and more lawmakers are being greeted by angry constituents as they go back to their districts.

PAUL: Happening now in New Jersey there's a town hall for Republican Congressman Leonard Lance. For more on the strategy from both sides when it comes to these town halls, we want to go live to CNN correspondent Sara Ganim who's in New York. Sara, this is the beginning?

SARA GANIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Congress is in recess right now, which generally means that your lawmakers are home in their districts meeting with their constituents. But after some angry protestors as we've seen in the last couple weeks, some very contention town halls, some lawmakers have decided that town halls are simply too risky. New York Congressman Peter King said on Friday he won't hold town halls if they're just going devolve into, quote, "screaming sessions," saying "Angry town halls trivialize and diminish democracy."

But it's not just Republicans who are backing off of these traditional more brash meetings with constituents. Some Democrats, particularly in those states who went for Trump in 2016 who are in vulnerable positions now who are up for reelection in 2018 are also shying away from town halls to avoid a possibly contentious situation. Senator Claire McCaskill, for example, in Missouri, Senator Joe Manchin in West Virginia. To be fair, McCaskill's office told CNN she's on a planned visit to the U.S.-Mexico border during this Congressional break, and Manchin held an invitation only event instead in North Dakota.

Senator Heidi Heitkamp held public events, just not the traditional town halls. Same with Montana Senator Jon Tester who instead opted for an online town hall via Facebook Live. Senator Joe Donnelly is another example of a Democrat holding something he calls "Donnelly days," events in Indiana where he shadows different workers at their respective jobs. He's up for reelection in 2018.

Democratic strategists are telling me that this is an opportunity to avoid those more brash town halls which are simply just too risky right now. They see no upside in putting themselves in a position where an exchange with an angry protester could end up going viral on CNN. So I talked to University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato who told me there's another reason too that some Democrats want to hold off on town halls right now.


LARRY SABATO, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: I think they are avoiding stepping on the anti-Republican story, because it is the Republican town halls that have become very controversial, and it's video clips from those town halls that have made it on to the national news night after night. So if a Democrat has a town hall and it turns messy, that steps on the story. That makes it a bipartisan story, probably less interesting or less potent politically.


GANIM: They don't want to step on the story. A Democratic strategist also told me there's at least one group out there that's raising money to put up primary candidates against sitting Democrats who are in states who went for Trump, targeting senators who are more likely to side with Trump on some of his policies. And that's just another reason they're opting for these more controlled events and less town halls, Christi.

PAUL: All right, Sara Ganim, thank you so much. I want to show you some live pictures here of Congressman Gary Palmer. He is in Alabama and fielding some conversations about Planned Parenthood we understand. I just heard a few chuckles there, but you see the arms that are being raised. So we will continue to watch this and see if he's facing some of what we've been seeing here in the last couple of weeks. Sara Ganim, thank you so much.

[10:35:10] BLACKWELL: President Trump going after anonymous sources in his campaign like speech at a conservative conference. Watch a portion of what he said here.


TRUMP: But I am only against the fake news media or press. Fake, fake, they have leave that word. I'm against the people that make up stories and make up sources. They shouldn't be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody's name. Let their name be put out there.

(END VIDEO CLIP) PAUL: CNN doesn't make up sources, we want to point out. We don't name sources in our reporting to protect our sources, which in turn help tell you the facts. But President Trump himself, we do need to be transparent, is no stranger to unnamed sources. I want to show you a tweet from 2013 that he put out there saying "An extremely credible source has called my office and told me that Barack Obama's birth certificate is a fraud." That of course turned out not to be true.

But let's bring in CNN political analyst and national political reporter from Real Clear Politics Rebecca Berg, also Republican strategist Brian Robinson. Thank you both for being with us. Brian, I want to start with you. You can't help but see what seems to be some hypocrisy there. Why is it OK for the president to use unnamed sources and for others not to do so?

BRIAN ROBINSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I doubt Donald Trump is the first to change his mind on such issues going from candidate to being in the Oval Office. But using unnamed sources is not controversial among political people. It's also controversial among journalists. In many newsrooms around the country, unnamed sources are not allowed for the very reason that President Trump is insinuating, that you can't trust these sources. You don't know who they are coming from. You don't know what their agenda is.

And that is the underlying issue. What are these people trying to accomplish with these leaks that are coming out of the executive agencies? And what are the people who are reporting on it trying to achieve in the end, too? I would imagine it's not to help Donald Trump. So him talking about this I don't even think is really all that controversial.

PAUL: OK. Rebecca, I want to listen to some sound from former CIA operative Phil Mudd. He had something to say about this last night with Wolf Blitzer. Listen to this.


PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Let me be clear. I've served as an anonymous source on the other side of this. If you don't like anonymous sources, let me reflect the conversation that just happened. If I speak as Philip Mudd when I was back at the FBI or CIA, the chance that the American people will get the real story is far diminished than if the press office comes to me and says, Mr. Mudd, will you speak to CNN, "The Washington Post," "The New York Times," and we'll allow you to speak on what's called background, that is they can use the information, they can quote you as an anonymous source, but they can't use the name. If you want the story, Wolf, stick with anonymous sources. I was one of them.


PAUL: Rebecca, what's your reaction?

REBECCA BERG, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: Phil is absolutely right there. We are talking about in this case high level sources within the administration, within the intelligence community, who are giving us a straight, candid look at what is happening inside this administration, inside the intelligence community, which if they said these things on the record they would be at risk of losing their jobs. That's the facts of the matter.

And it doesn't mean they are necessarily unreliable sources. Some of them might have an agenda, and that's always for the reporter working on the story and their editors to try to assess and weigh and work into the story in some fashion. But the fact of the matter is that these sources are reliable, and some of the biggest stories that are coming out of this administration and that have come out of prior administrations I might add were sourced by anonymous sources. Just look at Watergate. Deep Throat was an anonymous source that the "Washington Post" used and for years after that we didn't know who that source was. But the story was correct.

And so for the biggest stories oftentimes we need to rely on anonymous sources because these people cannot be made to put their job on the line to tell us the real story.

PAUL: Brian, the media, the whole thing, politics, media, all of it can be a really tough business. We know that. I want to share a tweet with you from Bret Baier of FOX. He said "Some at CNN and "New York Times" stood with FOX News when the Obama administration attacked us and tried to exclude us. A White House gaggle should be open to all credentialed orgs." Do you agree.

ROBINSON: No. I have been the White House press secretary, but I have been the communications director for a governor of one of the largest states in the union. And I know the frustration within an administration when certain news outlets time after time, day after day, are distorting the news coming out of what your boss is trying to accomplish. I know the frustration.

[10:00:07] PAUL: Again, Brian, our sources are credible sources. We don't put fake news out there.

ROBINSON: No one is saying fake news. But what Rebecca was getting at is that some of these off the record sources are reliable. Sure. I'm sure a lot of what they're saying is true. But it's not necessarily the full story. We don't know what other information is out there that they are not sharing. They may be sharing information that is just the most damaging, the most slanted, the most likely to do damage to the administration that is in power. There may be other information out there.

PAUL: There's information that we get that we do not put out there until we can confirm, deny. There's a lot. There are a lot of things that go down the pike, a lot of elements before we make sure that anything is out there. And I understand what you're saying.

Ari Fleischer had something to say about this as well yesterday. He said that "The press secretary needs to meet with all press. I think this is unwise and counterproductive because your relationship and your obligation is to all media." So here we have President Trump saying what he is saying. What kind of a position, Rebecca, does this put Sean Spicer in? BERG: It's a difficult position for Sean, no doubt, because clearly

in this case it seems like he would agree with what Brian is saying, that some of these reporters weren't telling the full story, weren't maybe accurately representing what went on.

But at the same time retaliation, I would argue, is not the answer here. The answer is to try to work with these reporters. Tell your side of the story. Don't withdraw completely and cut them off from information. I think the job with any communications professional, especially one working for the government, being paid by taxpayers, is to try to work with these reporters, try to help them tell the true story, tell the right story. And if they don't, don't get mad at them. Don't cut them off. Bring them into the process.

And I should note that with this story in particular, "The New York Times" and CNN, they reached out to the White House. CNN confirmed with the White House what they were reporting. And so if Sean Spicer wasn't happy with the story, he should have worked with them. He should have told them what was going on.

PAUL: Rebecca berg, Brian Robinson, we appreciate it. I just want to read real quickly CNN's response here. "This is an unacceptable development by the Trump White House. Apparently this is how they retaliate when you report facts they don't like. We'll keep reporting regardless," that of course from CNN communications after we were shut out of that conference. Thank you so much, both of you. We appreciate you being here.

BLACKWELL: Counties in and around the rust belt were key to Donald Trump's election win. We're going to see how those voters are now desperately counting on him to bring back jobs.


[10:46:27] BLACKWELL: The deadly opioid addiction epidemic is growing. A new report from the Centers for Disease Control shows that drug overdoses more than doubled across the country since 1999. And as health professionals and politicians look for a solution, one sociologist has found a link between the spike in drug and alcohol overdoses and the despair that motivated many disillusioned voters in the 2016 election.


RYAN COOPER, LIVES IN WILKES-BARRE: The most fun I never want to have again.

BLACKWELL: Army veteran Ryan Cooper proud of his service in Afghanistan, but he's had a tough time transitioning into life back home.

COOPER: You're trained to do one thing and then you come back and there's, you know, very little need for an infantry soldier back in the civilian world.

BLACKWELL: Ryan came home in 2011 and he struggled to forget the horrors of his service. And there was another struggle.

COOPER: There really wasn't much going on at all. People were either collecting unemployment, you know, taking a couple classes at community college or not doing anything at all. I kind of just fell into that with them.

BLACKWELL: Ryan could not find a suitable job here in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. That year unemployment here in Luzerne county peaked at 10.6 percent. So Ryan says to ease the emotional pain he began taking prescription pain killers.

COOPER: A lot of the other people who were either unemployed, not in school, not doing anything, they were doing heroin.

BLACKWELL: Soon Ryan was too.

Didn't meet your expectations of what life would be?

COOPER: Exactly. There was just disillusionment all around.

BLACKWELL: According to Penn State University rural sociologist and demographer Shannon Monnat, people handled that disillusionment in different ways.

SHANNON MONNAT, PENN STATE UNIVERSITY: Some people turned to self- medicating, and some people turn to another kind of fix, which may be voting for a candidate that is just proposing some radical change and burning the place down.

BLACKWELL: Last year Monnat crunched the numbers for more than 3,000 counties across the country, comparing Trump to 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney. She found that President Trump did better than Romney in 80 percent of the counties, especially well in New England, Appalachia, and the industrial Midwest. Also that he performed best in counties with the highest drug, alcohol, and suicide mortality rates.

MONNAT: I'm not saying that Trump supporters are a bunch of drug addicts or alcoholics, but that drug use in communities, alcohol abuse in communities, mental health problems are really symptoms, canaries in the coal mines, so to speak, of broader economic and social issues that have really been building.

BLACKWELL: Monnat says that strong correlation is rooted in the broad economic distresses and job losses in these counties.

MONNAT: These sorts of places are really primed to be vulnerable to prescription pain killers and heroin. And they were also primed to be vulnerable to messages of a quick fix or quick change from somebody like Donald Trump.

EILEEN SOROKAS, TRUMP SUPPORTER: This is all from Obama's campaign.

BLACKWELL: Eileen and Richard Sorokas have lived there all their life. They're registered Democrats and voted for Barack Obama twice, even volunteered for the president's 2008 campaign near the height of the great recession.

RICHARD SOROKAS, TRUMP SUPPORTER: People are desperate to work and a lot of people going back on welfare and counting on the government. So people were struggling at that time for any type of work.

BLACKWELL: And the end of President Obama's term unemployment in Luzerne County had dropped to 5.9 percent. The Sorokas said that's not good enough and the high paying jobs have not returned. So in 2016 they voted for Donald Trump.

EILEEN SOROKAS: Just like Barack Obama, there was time for change. It was time for change again to have Trump in there.

BLACKWELL: A lot of their neighbors agree. In 2012 President Obama won Luzerne County by almost five points. In 2016 Donald Trump won the county, beating Hillary Clinton by 20 points.

[10:50:08] RICHARD SOROKAS: I believe you need that businessman. You've got to get the politically correct things out of here and get a businessman and get this country straight out, get the deficit down. And start getting jobs.

BLACKWELL: Ryan has been sober for 90 days now. He knows that his recovery will take time. And when it comes to President Trump and the return of those high paying jobs?

COOPER: This area is relying on him, so I hope that he doesn't steer them wrong.

BLACKWELL: He and the Sorokas hope that those jobs rush in as quickly as the president promised.


PAUL: And speaking of change, right now in Atlanta the DNC meeting to elect their new leaders. Some live pictures for you there, speaking at the podium. Could be divisions within the parties linger beyond today? We're going to bring you the very latest on the vote that is ahead.


[10:55:20] PAUL: The Daytona 500 kicks off the NASCAR racing season tomorrow, but if you're looking to get a little closer to the action, in Charlotte, North Carolina, visitors can suit up and chase your NASCAR dream.


PATRICK MCVAY, NASCAR RACING EXPERIENCE: Welcome to Charlotte. This is NASCAR's headquarters.

The NASCAR racing experience is our program where people can come out and take a ride or a drive in one of these stock cars. Here at Charlotte Motor Speedway, you can reach speeds of over 160 miles an hour. A lot of people say that it's kind of their bucket list to come out here. When you take that ride, you really feel the banking and the speed out here at the racetrack.

It's real important that you wait for your instructor.

Our customers are a little nervous as they're coming in. They're not sure of what to expect. And after we put them through the class and we train them, we put them in the cars, they're instructed through the radio. Almost every driver and rider actually coming out of the cars has got a huge smile on their face. Charlotte is a race-oriented area. A lot of the backgrounds of stock car racing comes from this area.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think need you need to be a NASCAR fan. We all drive a car. Some of our vehicles are pretty mundane, so getting in a car like this really makes you feel alive.


PAUL: We hope you make some great memories yourself today. Thank you for spending your time with us.

BLACKWELL: Much more ahead in the hour of CNN Newsroom. It will respect right after a quick break.