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U.S. Attorney General Under Fire Over Russian Meeting; Dutch City, Microcosm of a Divisive Dutch Election; Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired March 2, 2017 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Aircraft carrier. In the meantime, the news continues right now right here on CNN.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, Moscow calling again. Now it's Donald Trump's attorney general, Jeff Sessions, under siege, accused of

lying under oath about his links to Russia and that nearly 24 hours after the gold dust settled on President Trump's speech to Congress. I examine

the fallout with former Republican White House ethics lawyer, Richard Painter.

Plus, can Europe stand the far-right tide? A special report from the Netherlands two weeks before their election.

Good evening, everyone. And welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London. President Donald Trump had barely 24 hours to bask in

the good reviews generated by his speech to Congress before yet more turmoil hits his Cabinet. Yes, another official, none other than America's

top law enforcement officer is facing calls for his resignation over meetings with the Russian ambassador to the United States during the

presidential campaign.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions was one of the first surrogates for Trump on matters of foreign policy no less and it's emerged that he met twice last

year with Russia's ambassador to Washington, Sergey Kislyak. Of course it was his dealings with Trump's National Security adviser Michael Flynn who

then lied about it that led to him being fired two weeks ago.

During the confirmation hearing, Sessions said that he had had no contact and today in damage control mode he denied discussing campaign related

issues with anyone from Russia.


JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I have not met with any Russians at any time to discuss any political campaign and those remarks are

unbelievable to me, and I'll -- I don't have anything else to say about that.


AMANPOUR: But several prominent Republicans are calling on Sessions to at least recuse himself from federal investigations into alleged Russian

meddling in the U.S. election while top Democrats say he must resign.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), MINORITY LEADER: The fact that the attorney general, the top cop in our country, lied under oath to the American people

is grounds for him to resign.


AMANPOUR: Joining me now to discuss this is the former White House ethics lawyer Richard Painter, and he wrote a piece in today's "New York Times"

titled "Jeff Sessions Needs to Go."

So, Mr. Painter, welcome to the program. We obviously know where you stand on this issue but let me ask you, can he weather this storm? Is there any

wiggle room here?

RICHARD PAINTER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ETHICS LAWYER: Well, I don't know. This is a very difficult situation because the attorney general in his

confirmation hearing did not provide accurate information to the Senate Judiciary Committee. His answer to the questions about the Russians were

misleading. He could have disclosed, should have disclosed the fact that he had these communications with the Russian ambassador and then he would

have answered questions about what those communications were.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is entitled to know about who is talking to the Russian ambassador at the time that the Russians were conducting spying

activities inside the United States to seek to destabilize our democratic system.

AMANPOUR: So let me first quickly, because you mentioned it, let's just put out this bit of this confirmation hearing that you just referred to.


SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: If there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government

in the course of this campaign, what will you do?

SESSIONS: Senator Franken, I'm not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did

not have communications with the Russians. And I'm unable to comment on it.


AMANPOUR: Yes, I mean, it's either bald faced or he's saying that he had no discussions about the campaign.

PAINTER: Well, I heard him say he had no discussions with the Russians. And apparently he had discussions with the Russians and he needs to

disclose those discussions and then explain why he was talking to the Russian ambassador and maybe it was just fine. We don't know. But the

committee was entitled to that information and he certainly shouldn't have told the committee that he was not having discussions with the Russians

during the time when he was also helping with the campaign if in fact had discussions with the Russians and the Russian ambassador is a Russian.

[14:05:11] AMANPOUR: Indeed he is and in fact today U.S. intelligence officials described the Russian ambassador, he is of course Sergey Kislyak,

as a top spy and a recruiter of spies, of course the Russian Foreign Ministry reacted very angrily when CNN tried to get comment. Let's just

play this.


MARIA ZAKHAROVA, FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESWOMAN: I mean, Mr. Kislyak is a well-known -- I mean, world class diplomat who was a deputy minister in

Foreign Affairs in Russia, who has communicated for decades on different fields. CNN accused him of being a Russian spy? Recruiting -- my god.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was U.S. officials that are accusing him of that.

ZAKHAROVA: Come on. Stop -- stop spreading lies and false news. This is a good advice for CNN.

CHANCE: Are you concerned that the investigations into Russia are going to turn up more secret meetings?

ZAKHAROVA: Please stop spreading lies and false news.


AMANPOUR: So we've got a lot to unpick there. The whole idea of stop spreading lies and false news. How difficult does this -- does this

climate make it to actually get to the bottom of an honest investigation first and foremost? You were the -- an ethicist of the ethics lawyer. How

tough is it right now for people trying to do that?

PAINTER: Well, I have no idea whether the Russian ambassador is a spy or not. I don't have the security clearance to know that information. The

Trump administration won't give it to me. And we can expect of course a spokesperson for the Russian government to say that CNN is fake news. What

we don't expect is the president of the United States to say that CNN is fake news. That is unacceptable and we also do not expect to see attorney

general of the United States to not reveal his own conversations with the Russian ambassador in sworn testimony in front of the Judiciary Committee

when he was asked about communications with the Russians.

And if we're going to get to the bottom of this, we need people to tell the truth and stop attacking the media and towing Putin's line, accusing CNN

and other outlets of being fake news. The fake news is coming out of the Kremlin here. I don't know whether the ambassador is a spy or not. But we

need to find out the truth. We need to find out who was collaborating with the Russians because we know the Russians were spying inside the United

States on very high ranking officials and former officials throughout 2016 in an attempt to destabilize our country as they have destabilized many

other countries.

AMANPOUR: So then where is this going to lead? Because, you know, there was sort of kind of maybe calls for a deep investigation into this,

something that the attorney general, the Department of Justice, was going to oversee. Is there going to be -- can there be a proper investigation?

Does he have to at the least recuse himself from that? What next?

PAINTER: Well, yes, there has to be an investigation. There has to be a special prosecutor appointed to conduct an investigation and find out what

was going on inside the United States during 2016, who inside the United States was cooperating with the Russians, whether any deals were made with

Russians to get the Russians to release information, computer hacking information and WikiLeaks, we need to get to the bottom of what was going

on inside our country. There needs to be an independent investigation, not one conducted by the attorney general or anyone who works for him or anyone

who participated in either of the political campaigns.

AMANPOUR: When you look at what the FBI is doing and, you know, it's got all sorts of information, apparently, how do you assess the FBI's

investigation, its handling of all of this material and particularly the "New York Times" is also reporting that American allies like here in

Britain, also in the Netherlands, provided the U.S. government with information describing meetings in Europe between Russian officials and

associates of then president-elect Donald Trump?

So, you know, it's obviously not just a domestic issue. It has international implications. What do you really think is up here?

PAINTER: Well, the big picture is a pattern of Russian conduct going back to the 1920s of trying to destabilize Western democracies. They supported

communist parties for years and now it's the far-right parties and they're doing it in France right now as we speak.

But we in the United States need to get to the bottom of what is happening. We need our FBI to tell us when there are these types of threats to the

United States. The FBI knew in the summer of 2016 that the Russians were seeking to break into and were breaking into the Democratic National

Committee computers and they did not take appropriate action to make sure that that information got out and that there was -- were steps taken to

protect information.

[14:10:14] And the Clinton campaign and the Clinton Foundation, the rest of it, we cannot have the Russians spying on anyone, I don't care if they're

Democrats, Republicans, socialists, it doesn't matter. We can't have Russian spying on American citizens to try to mess around our elections.

And we need the administration and Congress committed to a thorough investigation and to make sure this never happens again.

AMANPOUR: Richard Painter, ethics lawyer for the George W. Bush administration, thank you very much indeed for joining me tonight.

And as you just heard, it's reading like a spy story from the Cold War. And amid these Russia eruptions at the top of the U.S. government,

Russian's European neighbors are taking their own precautions. Sweden has brought back the draft citing security concerns in the Baltic and a

shortage of soldiers.

When we come back, where Russia is also accused of interfering in crucial upcoming elections with fake news and support for the anti-establishment

populist parties. The Netherlands vote is two weeks away. And next, we ask whether it, too, will get caught up in the populist ways.


AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program, as right-wing politics surge around the world, the coming months will bring momentous elections in Europe, in

Germany, in France, but first in the Netherlands where the anti-Islam, anti-immigrant politician Geert Wilders has helped make identity a central

issue of this election, as our Atika Shubert found out, in one of the party's strongholds, the city of Rotterdam.


ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the Netherlands, quaint canals and windmills, are pragmatic easy-going

country, famed for liberal thinking.

And this is also the Netherlands, home to one of the biggest Muslim populations in Europe. Islamization or the fear of a growing Muslim

minority is the buzz word of the upcoming election.

IMAM AZZEDINE KARRAT, ESSALAM MOSQUE, ROTTERDAM: (Graphics) I find Islamization to be a word that people use with one goal and that is only to

spread angst.

GEERT WILDERS, DUTCH PARTY FOR FREEDOM: Look at the Islamization of our country. The Moroccan scum in Holland, and once again, not all are scum,

but there is a lot of Moroccan scum in Holland, who make the streets unsafe.

SHUBERT: Anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders is ahead in the polls. Campaigning to ban the Quran, halt migration, and return to what he calls

Dutch values.

Voters are asking themselves what does it mean to be Dutch. The port city of Rotterdam is in a unique position to answer that question. Muslims make

up nearly 20 percent of the population here.

(On camera): Is this an election on identity and Dutch values basically?

AHMED ABOUTALEB, ROTTERDAM MAYOR: Yes. The answer is yes. The elections will be the most central theme is the identity of the Netherlands. It will

not be about the economy, it will be not be about jobs.

SHUBERT (voice-over): Ahmed Aboutaleb, the mayor of Rotterdam, is a walking, talking example of the multicultural identity of the Netherlands.

Born in Morocco, raised in the Netherlands, Aboutaleb identifies himself as both Muslim and Dutch.

[14:15:03] And he presents me with a true Netherlands tradition, raw herrings and onions served to us by Moroccan fish mongers. He bolstered

his reputation as a Dutch truth-teller after the attack on the satirical magazine "Charlie Hebdo" in Paris.

ABOUTALEB: (Graphics) If you don't see yourself here because you don't like seeing humorists who make a newspaper then yes, I can say it like this, get


When you come to the Netherlands or to any country in the world and you migrate, it's your free choice. So it's up to you to make the choice to be

part of that society. There is a kind of -- a mixed feeling among citizens thinking maybe that the fact about a lot of immigrants and a lot of

immigrants are still coming, refugee crisis from the Middle East, and are concerned about their own future. And these people are always on the other

hand maybe also the losers when it comes to the economy.

RONALD SORENSEN, FOUNDER, LIVABLE ROTTERDAM: I saw that there was integration whatsoever.

SHUBERT: Ronald Sorensen spent 30 years teaching minority kids in inner city schools for what he saw spurred him start the Conservative Livable

Rotterdam political party. It launched the career of another anti-Islam politician, the late Pim Fortuyn, and laid the groundwork for Geert


(On camera): Do you think that Islam is incompatible with Dutch values or is there some sort of a ground in between?

SORENSEN: No. I don't think there's something --

(Graphics): I don't think there's something in between. It's very clear. I, of course, as a history teacher have read the Quran and some of the

Hadith. And I say no. That's not only counter to Dutch values, it's also against European, Western values.

SHUBERT (voice-over): The imam at Rotterdam's Essalam mosque sees no such contradiction.

KARRAT: (Graphics) I try to be a practicing Muslim. But I've never had a problem with Dutch norms and values or with Dutch law.

SHUBERT: For Imam Karrat, talk of Islamization is simply stoking fears. He says anyone is welcome to attend prayers here and the mosque preaches a

message of friendship and tolerance which is why it was such a shock to receive these threatening neo-Nazi letters just a few weeks before, says

Imam Karrat.

KARRAT: (Graphics) After the attack on a mosque in Canada, I found myself thinking during prayer, what if someone came in now?

SHUBERT: Mayor Aboutaleb, however, is not worried at all.

ABOUTALEB: The best cleaning machine we know in our system is democracy. We have nothing with extremes to the left or extremes to the right. They

never entered the power in the Netherlands. It's always the power in the center that created such a great nation and I really believe and Muslims

believe also in the people of the mill.

SHUBERT: The Dutch pride themselves on compromise, centuries of coming together to fight water, their common enemy. How much of that moderation

survives this extreme election remains to be seen.

Atika Shubert, CNN, Rotterdam.


AMANPOUR: So will that tradition of compromise survive? Joining me now from Amsterdam is Eelco Bosch van Rosenthal, journalist and anchor for the

Dutch Public Television.

Welcome to the program. So, first question, obviously, will it survive this tradition of compromise and basically ruling from the center?

EELCO BOSCH VAN ROSENTHAL, DUTCH JOURNALIST AND ANCHOR, "NEWS HOUR": It's hard to say. And Mayor Aboutaleb who you just heard maybe wishful thinking

on his behalf. I mean, the polls are very fluent and we all know since last year what the meaning of the polls really is but, I mean, you have to

understand that in the Netherlands, traditionally the end game of an election season is always a representative of the leftist bloc, usually the

social Democrats, Labor, as you call it, and representative of the right- wing bloc, liberals, the European way of liberalism, fiscal conservatism or perhaps the Christian Democrats. It's always the left versus the right.

If you look at Mr. Aboutaleb's party right now, the social democrats, the Dutch Labor Party, they are decimated. If you look at the polls, they have

10 or 12 seats in the polls right now two weeks ahead of the election while they have almost 40 seats in parliament. So, no, this year it seems to be

a clash between the right, the current prime minister, Mr. Mark Rutte, and the far right, Mr. Wilders. And particularly in Rotterdam, it is very

strong and in the rest of the country is seems to be a bit more of a mixed bag.

AMANPOUR: So I want to ask you about the electorate because we've also done obviously lots of reading and we can tell that there's sort of an

economic disparity, there's also a sort of rural and urban disparity in terms of who goes -- who goes where. Is that significant enough to sort of

decide the election?

[14:20:09] VAN ROSENTHAL: It's difficult. There are many similarities with the Brexit vote and the Trump vote, for instance. On the other hand,

and the rural versus urban divide may be part of that. On the other hand, in a city like Amsterdam where I am right now Labor still seems to be the

strongest party and Mr. Wilders' party, the Freedom Party, is not to be seen anywhere while Amsterdam has many immigrants as well.

The "Financial Times" actually did a very interesting investigation this week and they -- their conclusion was that, in the Netherlands, it's more

of an educational divide than anywhere -- than anything else basically. They base their investigations on the past selections in 2012 and they say

more than anywhere else basically it's the lower educated who vote Freedom Party, Mr. Wilders, and the higher educated who don't over the past four


Things have changed a little bit. It seems that Mr. Wilders' party attracts more highly educated voters than a couple of years ago but

education seems to be the most divisive thing in this election, more perhaps than urban versus rural.

AMANPOUR: And I also understand identity. I mean, we heard in that piece from Rotterdam that it's not the economy so much as often it is but this

year it's identity, as this sort of trend sweeps across the west. Do you think the Netherlands can survive that? Because, you know, I also read

that there are, you know, very poor parts of the Netherlands which don't have this sort of anti-immigrant, even those with asylum centers in their

little towns.

VAN ROSENTHAL: Definitely. First of all, by the way, if you look at Dutch voters, if you ask them what's the main topic for you, most of them will

probably say it's health care or elderly care, that kind of thing. After that, yes, it's immigration, it's values, and yes, it's national identity

that has been the case for the past 10 years, with the refugee crisis, with more refugees coming in. It's been more of a factor at the European Union

enlarging and not being able to stop the refugee crisis. Obviously it's a big part of that.

But it goes deeper in the Netherlands. There's a whole debate over the past years about Zwarte Piet, the folksy character of the Dutch national

holiday. In America you would call him "Blackface." Many people feel like he has to go, the other half of the country feel like he has to stay. And

this is only a fictional character but that's really the core of the whole debate about the national identity.

So, yes, this election is more than anything else about identity but I wouldn't say that the economy and health and enough to pay for your health

care and for your elderly care, that's not totally out of the picture. That may still be in the last two weeks to determining factor for many

voters here.

AMANPOUR: Yes, I was going to ask you, you know, what is the last sort of motivation and do you believe -- because this will be crucial -- that there

will be a heavy turnout?

VAN ROSENTHAL: That's hard to say. The turnout is hard to say. It's -- I think regularly it's about 70 percent. A big question is here, since this

is coalition country, even if Mr. Wilders would win and he's one or two in the polls right now but the margins are very narrow, does anybody want to

govern with him and the answer is that's hardly any party does want to govern with him. They all say they don't and you have to be able to form a

government so the past two weeks it will be very interesting how the parties respond to each other.

Mister Wilders, he is ducking debates, he cancelled tow debates. He mainly does interviews with tabloids and just as Trump, he responds via Twitter,

and -- if many parties said that they won't work with him that may discourage voters to even vote for him. I'm not saying that will happen

but at least that's the gamble that, for instance, Prime Minister Rutte, takes to say there's no use for voting for him because we're not going to

work with this guy.

AMANPOUR: All right. Journalist Eelco Bosch van Rosenthal, thank you so much indeed for joining me.

So stoking fear of immigrants here in the West but imagine the benefits, the proof is in the pudding as next we meet the Gambian immigrant who rose

from dishwasher to co-owner of the world's best restaurant.


AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, imagine a world where a traditional Gambian farmer can become the co-owner of a modern Danish institution that's become

a Mecca for epicureans all over the world. At Noma in Copenhagen, one dishwasher has climbed all the way up a notoriously greasy culinary ladder.

62-year-old Ali Sonko was a farmer in Gambia before coming to Denmark 34 years ago.

When Noma opened in 2003, he was hired as a dishwasher and now the master chef and co-founder Rene Redzepi has promoted him to partner, saying that

Sonko is the heart and soul. The restaurant is moving locations and Sonko was given the honor of taking the first letter off the fabled sign as it

closes before opening up again as an urban farm restaurant in the future.

And he's not the only one with a promotion. Two other star staff were also given a piece of the action. And Redzepi, who himself is the son of an

immigrant from Macedonia, says there is more promoting to be done as he rewards loyalty and hard work that have helped make Noma a two Michelin

star sensation.

Now we're going to go over to the United States to the aircraft carrier in Virginia where President Donald Trump is addressing the military and others

who have come out to hear him speak.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you. Thank you very much. What an honor. You know, they just gave they this beautiful jacket.

They said, here, Mr. President, please take this home. I said, let me wear it. And then they gave me the beautiful hat, and I said, you know, maybe

I'll do that.

We have a great "Make America Great Again" hat but I say this is a special day, we're wearing this, right. So --


TRUMP: I have no idea how it looks. But I think it looks great. It's a great looking hat. Just like this is a great looking ship.

Thank you as you stand here today with the incredible men and women of the United States Navy.


TRUMP: American sailors are the best war fighting sailors anywhere in the world and it's not even close.

And Susan, I am so glad you could be with us. I know how hard you work, 17 visits, and she wanted things done right. I will tell you. They told me

she wanted this one done right in honor of both of her parents who are great, great people. And we wanted to introduce this beautiful vessel to

the American people and I wanted to be here. I wanted to be with you.

So, Susan and to your family, unbelievable job. Unbelievable.


TRUMP: The soon-to-be-commissioned Gerard R. Ford USS, what a place. It really feels like a place. You stand on that deck and you feel like you're

standing on a very big piece of land but this is better than land. Not only be a great symbol of American strength but a great legacy for your

father and our former president, Gerald Ford.

President Ford was a Navy man. By the way also a great athlete for those of you that didn't know. He saw action in the South Pacific during World

War II.