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White House Denies Wrongdoing in FBI Conversations About Russia Reporting; Trump Takes a Victory Lap at CPAC; Kim Jong-nam Killed with VX Nerve Agent; The Landmarks in "La La Land". Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired February 25, 2017 - 03:00   ET


[03:00:09] CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR: Denied access. Several news outlets including CNN are blocked from a White House press briefing.

Plus, deadly and fast. We learn more about the lethal substance at the center of the mysterious murder of Kim Jong-un's half brother.

And it's not just the stars who attended. We take a tour of the epic landmarks from the movie "La La Land."

Hi, everyone. Thank you very much for joining us. I'm Cyril Vanier in Atlanta. And CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.

Senior White House officials are pushing back against CNN's exclusive reporting denying any wrongdoing in asking the FBI to speak out against reports of contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians. The administration confirms that it spoke to the FBI about those communications but in an unprecedented move White House press secretary Sean Spicer blocked CNN and other news organizations from an informal press briefing on Friday.

For more insights into this complex and important story, here's CNN's Jim Sciutto.

I'm against the people that make up stories named.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The White House vehemently defending, asking the FBI to deny reports of communications between Trump campaign associates and Russians known to U.S. intelligence.

The administration's intense pushback follows CNN's exclusive reporting of the White House request. Senior administration officials insisting it only asked for the denial after a top FBI official himself volunteered that "The New York Times"' story on those communications was inaccurate.

White House officials, who asked not to be named, outlined their timeline of events, saying, the conversation happened on February 15th, after a 7:30 a.m. meeting led by White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe asked Priebus for five minutes alone after the meeting ends.

This according to senior administration officials and calls a report linking Trump campaign advisers to Russian intelligence total B.S.

Priebus, the White House says, asked McCabe, quote, "Can we do anything about it?" And whether there is something the FBI can do to, quote, "set the record straight." Later, in separate conversations, McCabe and FBI Director James Comey tell Priebus the FBI cannot comment on the reports.

Priebus then asks Comey if he can cite McCabe and Comey as, quote, "top intelligence officials" in pushing back on the story himself in TV interviews last Sunday, which he did.

REINCE PRIEBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I have talked to the top levels of the intelligence community and they have assured me that that "New York Times" story was grossly overstated and inaccurate and totally wrong.

SCIUTTO: The direct communications between the White House and the FBI were unusual because of decade-old restrictions on such contacts concerning pending investigations.

ALBERTO GONZALES, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: You don't want the appearance of political influence with respect to an investigation or prosecution. That's why the protocols are in place.

SCIUTTO: President Trump on Friday ranted against the leaks that have plagued his administration, making a case reporters should only used named sources, even as White House officials spoke to reporters asking not to be named.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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. Let their name be put out.

A source says that Donald Trump is a horrible, horrible human being. Let them say it to my face.

SCIUTTO: Mr. Trump also criticized the FBI directly, tweeting, quote, "The FBI is totally unable to stop the national security leakers that have permeated our government for a long time. They can't even find the leakers within the FBI itself. Classified information is being given to media that could have a devastating effect on U.S. Find now."

(On camera): Now on the larger question of the existence of communications between advisers to Trump during the campaign and Russian officials and other Russians known to U.S. intelligence, Reince Priebus in his comments seemed to say that there's nothing to these reports but the fact is the FBI is still investigating those communications, as are both the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.

Jim Sciutto, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE) VANIER: Mr. Trump took his war with the media to the Conservative Political Action Conference, promising a crowd of right-wing activists that he will be taking action against a critical press. His words have some people worried that picking and choosing outlets for Friday's press briefing might just be the beginning. Take a listen.


TRUMP: As you saw throughout the entire campaign and even now, the fake news doesn't tell the truth. Doesn't tell the truth. So just in finishing, I say, it doesn't represent the people.

[03:05:07] It never will represent the people. And we're going to do something about it.


VANIER: Mr. Trump skipped the gathering last year at the time many Republicans were critical of his candidacy. Some questioned if he was a true conservative. But at this year's conference the president took a victory lap, drawing applause and hammering home his "America first" agenda.

Our Tom Foreman has more.


TRUMP: You finally have a president. Finally. Took you a long time.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For all the cheering at CPAC, Donald Trump is hardly the champion many conservatives expected. In much of the nomination process, his support among them was extremely low.

He is a former Democrat, married three times, the voice behind those vulgar comments about women.

TRUMP: Grab them by the (EXPLETIVE DELETED). You can do anything.

FOREMAN: He struggles to explain his faith.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you ever asked God for forgiveness?

TRUMP: That's a tough question.

FOREMAN: He has slammed Republican Party cornerstones, such as broad free trade deals. And on abortion rights, here's Donald Trump in 1999.

TRUMP: I'm very pro-choice. I hate the concept of abortion. I hate it. I hate everything it stands for. I cringe when I listen to people debating the subject. But you still, I just believe in choice.

FOREMAN: That changed over the years and after the election he made sure his position was very clear.

TRUMP: I'm pro-life. The judges will be pro-life.

FOREMAN: So aside from that last answer, what do conservatives like about him? Listen to the applause lines at CPAC.

TRUMP: It's time for all Americans to get off of welfare and get back to work. You're going to love it. We are going to repeal and replace Obamacare. We are going to keep radical Islamic terrorists the hell out of our country. I'm not representing the globe. I'm representing your country.

FOREMAN: Those stances have drawn traditional party Republicans, like White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, much closer to more radical social conservatives like White House adviser, Steve Bannon.

PRIEBUS: And I've got to tell you, if the party and the conservative movement are together, similar to Steve and I, it can't be stopped.

FOREMAN (on camera): Conservatives may yet find their faith tested, if President Trump strays too far from their orthodoxy. And he may find the party's support softening if his approval rating continues to fall in the polls. But for right now, as they say, everyone loves a winner and conservatives believe they are winning big.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.


VANIER: And still on this subject earlier I asked political analysis Ellis Henican about this complex relationship between traditional conservatives and the president.


ELLIS HENICAN, POLITICAL ANALYST: I am losing track of what it means to be conservative anymore. You know, by all the traditional definitions, very, very hard to jam Donald Trump into that pigeon hole. But the power can change a lot of minds right now and there are lots of conservatives -- in the many flavors of conservatism that we have in America, many conservatives who are making the judgment that, listen, we may not approve of the budget busting, we may not approve of some of the attitude we're getting out of the White House, some of the foreign policy decisions, but you know what, this guy is likely to do some things that we really do like including maybe at the top of the list of putting people on to the Supreme Court who are philosophically more attuned to conservative policies. And so I think there's a lot of nose holding and people saying, well, you know, he's kind of hard to defend, but maybe we can keep crazy in the box, introduce some stuff that we want and maybe we'll overlook some of these uncomfortable facets.

VANIER: Well, yes, Ellis, that was one of the interesting things coming out of the last two days at CPAC, with both Mr. Trump and his senior aide, Mr. Bannon, the previous day, now looks like this administration and Mr. Trump in particular has become a conservative's conservative. I don't if you'd agree with that based on what you're just say something. HENICAN: Well, you know, there's a lot of --


VANIER: The point I'm making is he seems to be ideologically pure in many respects. You know, he's like very conservative end of that spectrum.

HENICAN: Yes. There's definitely something to what you're saying. And I think that maybe the strongest evidence are the members of the Cabinet. I mean, this is a Cabinet that ought to please most conservatives quite enthusiastically. So, right, even though there may be some kind of irrationality in some of the policy directions, I think a lot of conservatives figured, yes, even if we don't like the guy, we're getting a lot of what we want, then so, you know what, if it involves giving this guy a big bear hug, you know on balance maybe it's worth it.


[03:10:03] VANIER: All right. We'll wrap it up with a bear hug. Thank you so much. Always -- you're absolutely right, what you're saying about the Cabinet. The moderator at CPAC was saying we've got one of the best and most conservative Cabinets that we've ever seen and so clearly they enjoyed that.

Ellis, I enjoy talking to you. Thank you very much.

HENICAN: Always a pleasure. Thank you.


VANIER: Coming up after the break, Malaysia says Kim Jong-nam was poisoned with VX nerve agent at a Kuala Lumpur airport. The airport is saying loud and clear the passengers traveling through there are not at any risk of exposure. More on the deadly poisoning when we're back.


VANIER: Welcome back. Malaysian officials say there is no need to worry about coming into contact with nerve agent used to kill Kim Jong-nam at a Kuala Lumpur airport. They say the airport has been thoroughly clean and no one has got sick from VX since the purported attack took place there on February 13th.

Alexandra Field joins us now with more from Kuala Lumpur.

Alexandra, we're learning more from one of the suspects, one of the people who is in custody, one of the women I believe who actually applied that substance on the face purportedly of Kim Jong-nam.

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Cyril. You're referring to the women who are seen in that CCTV video captured inside Kuala Lumpur's airport. They are the women who investigators say applied the poison to Kim Jong-nam's face. They were taken in custody and now the Indonesian woman who has been held in custody had an opportunity to meet with Indonesian diplomats. She spoke to the deputy ambassador from Indonesia here in Kuala Lumpur. He then reported to the media some of their conversations saying that she is again telling authorities that she thought that she was participating in some kind of prank.

She tells the officials that she had met with a group of people who she described as having appeared to her to be Korean or Japanese, and that they had asked her to do this activity and that they had provided her with what she called substance that was similar to an oil or a baby oil. These Indonesian diplomats say they didn't observe any signs that she had been physically affected by this chemical, which is certainly interesting because we now know within the last day that the Malaysian investigators here have determined that what killed Kim Jong-nam, the half brother of Kim Jong-un, was VX, this incredibly lethal, highly potent nerve agent.

It is a chemical weapon. It's classified as a weapon of mass destruction. And by all expert accounts, in the right dosage it can kill a person within minutes by shutting down their breathing essentially.

You see that video again of these women approaching Kim Jong-nam. That is the moment that investigators say is the attack itself. And then Kim Jong-nam reports feeling dizzy and then he later dies in the ambulance.

It's interesting that these officials say they didn't see any physical signs of symptoms of exposure to the chemical on this woman herself because that's been really a pointed contention for North Korean officials who have criticized this investigation from the outset.

[03:15:05 They've insisted that Kim Jong-nam was not poisoned and they have said that if he was poisoned, the women who applied the poison would themselves have suffered some of the consequences.

What do you make of that, Cyril? Well, there are certainly questions for investigators about whether or not they had access to some barrier that protected them from the chemical, or if this was a chemical weapon that is in its binary form, meaning the two component parts need to be combined in order for it to be a lethal combination -- Cyril.

VANIER: Yes. We're leading new details that we can mull over in the surface every day in this investigation. It's very complex. Another aspect of complexity in this investigation is obviously, how much is at stake given the victim. He was a relative of the North Korean leader and that has given rise or fuel a diplomatic row between Malaysia and North Korea. You're following that, too.

FIELD: Yes, it certainly has. One, there's a fight over the body itself. Malaysian officials still have the body of Kim Jong-nam in a morgue, in a hospital here in Kuala Lumpur. They're refusing to give up the body without a next of kin, a family member, coming to identify him and provide a DNA sample. They've actually asked the North Korean embassy to help facilitate the provision of a DNA sample. They say it could come from any family including Kim Jong-un.

The embassy here not acquiescing to that request and you've got Malaysian officials who say frankly that the North Korean officials aren't cooperating with any of their request. Officials here in Malaysia are looking for up to seven North Korean citizens who they believe played some kind of role in this. They want the North Koreans' help to track these people down. Four of them are believed flew back in Pyongyang. Three of them are believed to be still in Malaysia. They say that the North Koreans have been uncooperative.

The North Korean embassies sent an envoy outside of their embassy here in Kuala Lumpur just yesterday to say well, they haven't received any official request from Malaysia. But you've got two sides going back and forth. North Korean officials being very sharp in their criticism of how this investigation is being conducted. Malaysians saying they need more help from North Korea.

VANIER: All right. Alexandra Field, thank you very much for updating us. This continues to evolve every day. This developing story. You're in Kuala Lumpur, following that for CNN. Thank you very much.

So we now know Malaysian officials believe that VX nerve agent killed Kim Jong-nam. But just what is that exactly and how does it work?

Alexandra started to tell us about it, CNN's Anderson Cooper posed these very questions to Dr. Sanjay Gupta.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Sanjay, what exactly is this nerve agent used on Kim Jong-nam? How does it work?

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's called VX and I think the best way to think about it, sort of a very, very powerful pesticide in a way you think about pesticides, what they can do to pests, they're trying to do the same thing to humans with a nerve agents like this. And specifically what it does, you know, constantly -- our muscles are constantly firing and then relaxing. That's happening all the time. Right now your muscles are doing that Anderson, mine are as well.

What this does, it turns off the off-switch so that muscles are just firing all the time. They start to really contract and eventually get tired. And that's ultimately what can lead to death. Someone may stop breathing as a result of this.

COOPER: How does it differ from nerve gasses like sarin and how close do you actually have to be -- to be effective?

GUPTA: Yes. Sarin is the one that a lot of people hear about. And there's been various attacks over the years. Sarin is a gas. It's more of a gas. So that's something that people will often release, you know, disperse and they can affect a lot of people. VX can affect a lot of people as well but it's not typically a gas. It's almost sort of the consistency of motor oil. I mean, it's harder to turn into a gas. So it's something that typically comes in contact with somebody's

skin. That's typically what happens with VX. It can be used, you know, in the water supply or in food as well to be ingested, but typically it's just a small amount on the skin that can serve to cause all these symptoms.

COOPER: And what are chances of survival if you're exposed? Is there an antidote? If you've gotten to hospital and they knew what it was, could they have saved him?

GUPTA: You know, it works very fast, so it's unlikely -- you know, this is very toxic stuff. And Anderson, you may remember when you and I have covered conflicts and those concerns about chemical weapons we're often given a vial of atropine, that's sort of an antidote. And what we're often told, you may remember, is that, if there's any concern at all about a chemical weapon release, you go ahead and give the antidote because you don't have any time really, a very little time if there's an actual release.

But when it comes to something like VX, I mean, you can get a lethal dose in just a drop of the stuff. So that gives you an idea. And it also brings that this issue, Anderson, the people who are handling it, people who are actually moving it around, they're at risk. The people who may have cared for this gentleman, they're at risk. If they don't know what they're dealing with and they come in contact with the VX gas, they can also become poisoned as a result.

That's part of the reason it's banned and it's part of the reason people don't use it very often, because it is so dangerous for everyone involved.

COOPER: It's just incredible. Sanjay, thanks very much.

GUPTA: Yes, you got it. Thank you.


VANIER: CNN's Anderson Cooper there speaking with chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. And just a reminder to our viewers in case you're traveling through that airport, Kuala Lumpur Airport has been adamant that, you know, that airport gets cleaned and no one else has got any kind of illness from that VX nerve agent.

All right. Let's move on. Iraqi officials are nearing a key area in western Mosul housing government offices. Iraqi officials said the military has now liberated the airport and a military base but getting all of ISIS out of western Mosul will take time. They add that the latest operation has killed dozens of militants, but some have been escaping from the city through tunnels.

Now this is important to us here at CNN. CNN is teaming up with young people around the globe for a unique student-led day of action against modern day slavery with the launch of My Freedom Day. That's on March 14th. Driving My Freedom Day is a very simple question, what does freedom mean to you?


QUINCY JONES, AMERICAN MUSICIAN: I'm Quincy Jones. And to me, the meaning of freedom is life unhindered by the unfair restrictions that society creates.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To me freedom means when I'm able to provide for my family.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To me freedom means the ability to make your own choices.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Freedom means do whatever I want on my own convenience.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) In this year's My Freedom Day.


VANIER: Send us your answer via text, photo or video across social media, using the myfreedomday hash tag.

All right. After a week of wild weather across the U.K. additional storms are now lining up across the Atlantic. Let's see what's in store for Europe and the U.K. Meteorologist Derek Van Dam cannot wait to tell us.


VANIER: Nice one. Derek Van Dam, at the CNN Weather Center. Thank you so much.

And it's just about here, Hollywood's biggest night of the year. The Academy Awards. "La La Land" leads the pack with 14 nominations, and if you haven't seen it, that musical plays out among some of the most iconic landmarks in Los Angeles.

Paul Vercammen is our guide.


[03:25:04] PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The odds are astronomical against the star-struck fan meeting "La La Land's" Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The cinematography and the music and the dancing, it just tells a beautiful love story.

VERCAMMEN: But they can remember dancing and romancing at "La La" landmarks. The Griffin Observatory.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it was just a really good movie, and I'm an artist anyway so I thought the movie was very artsy and it's had its nostalgia to it with, like, old Hollywood kind of.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The folks want to come in and they want to dance in the planetarium and some even think that perhaps they can float through the planetarium.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can recreate some of the scenes like I'm floating.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Impossible of course.

VERCAMMEN: Robert Foulkes, location manager for the film, guided Director Damien Chazelle to 48 locations in 42 days of filming.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The beginning stages of movie over time is me and the production are sitting in a car, and driving around, figuring out if this is where we're going to make the movie or not.

VERCAMMEN (on-camera): I know I don't look like Ryan Gosling, but I am allowed to walk on this pier, the Hermosa Pier, and you can, too. It's featured in the movie. One thing you may notice, though, there are no actual lamp posts.

(Voice-over): It's getting political. The Hermosa City Council is considering adding the lamp posts.

JEFF DUCLOS, HERMOSA BEACH CITY COUNCIL MEMBER: Whether it's Dyersville, Iowa, in the "Field of Dreams," or that bench in Georgia for "Forrest Gump," I mean, people connect with the moment. And there was a moment there in that film that will always be remembered.

VERCAMMEN: Near the pier, the Lighthouse Cafe where gosling played jazz. It's a treasure and so is the 91-year-old woman who books the music acts.

GLORIA CADENA, TALENT BOOKER, LIGHTHOUSE CAFE: And I'm Gloria Cadena, but they call me Glow because I shine. Can you feel it?

VERCAMMEN (on camera): It's lighting me up right now. The Lighthouse.

(On-camera): Here's the "La La Land" landmark from the opening scene where they were all dancing on this freeway onramp. This is where the 105 can exit the 110 in L.A. So you can't set foot on it, but you sure can go ahead and drive this part that so many people remember.

(Voice-over): Now the scene where Gosling gets fired is inside Burbank's Dark Smoke House restaurant across from Warner Brothers Studios.

JACE DAVIS, PRODUCTION MANAGER: To be sitting here in a landmark of "La La Land," an Oscar-nominated film on my lunch break, I can't think of a better place to be.

VERCAMMEN: They remove the head shots for filming. Recognize Jennifer Aniston and George Clooney?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So many cool things happened here that this place was filled with actors and crew, and you know, watching the movie and being in the same place is actually pretty cool.

VERCAMMEN: Also cool, this mural of actors which looks like the entrance to the smoke house in the film but isn't.

(On camera): The mural is over the hill at Hollywood seems it's all just one sprawling special effect.

Paul Vercammen, CNN, "La La Land."


VANIER: And do not miss our special edition of NEWSROOM L.A. on Oscar Sunday. That's with my colleagues Amara Walker and John Vause. We'll bring you the highlights of the 89th Academy Awards, Sunday at 9:00 p.m. in Los Angeles.

Thank you very much for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Cyril Vanier. And I'll be back with the headlines in just a moment.