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Trump Accuses Obama of Wiretapping Him, Offers No Proof; Senator Lindsey Graham Tackles Latest Trump Tweets During Town Hall; Former Official Denies Donald Trump's Phones were Tapped; Aired 11-12a ET

Aired March 4, 2017 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:00] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: About his predecessor.

CNN's Athena Jones is live in West Palm Beach. So, Athena, do we have any idea where this is coming from?

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Fred. No, at this point we do not. As you have been emphasizing, as we have been emphasizing, the president has offered no evidence whatsoever to back up these allegations, these very serious allegations that the former president was essentially spying on him.

I have reached out to the White House. So have several of my colleagues. We are still awaiting an explanation. But I can tell you that the president didn't just send out that first release. It was a series of tweets starting early this morning. He are two of the others. He said, "I bet a good lawyer can make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phone in October just prior to election."

Now again President Trump calls it a fact. It's not an established fact. There's been no proof offered. The second -- the other tweet that he sent out, "How low has President Obama gone to tap my phones during the very sacred election process? This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad or sick guy." So those are among the series of tweets the president sent out starting early this morning about 6:30 a.m. and again we're still waiting for more comments or clarification from the White House.

Now I've reached out to spokespeople for the former president, President Obama, and they are aware of the tweets but they haven't yet commented on their substance. But a former NSC spokesman, a former spokesman for the National Security Council under Obama, Ben Rhodes, did respond, taking to Twitter, to say, first, "No president can order a wiretap. Those restrictions were put in place to protect citizens from people like you."

He's speaking directly to President Trump there. And in response to that tweet from the president about how he believes a good lawyer could make a good case, Rhodes said that, "That's not the case. Only a liar can do so." And then later he tweeted to the pundits, people who applauded the president's speech on Tuesday night before a Joint Session of Congress and called it presidential, he said, "Dear pundits who lauded his speech, is it still presidential to call your dignified predecessor bad or sick guy?"

So a lot going on on Twitter this morning but we're still awaiting answers and proof from the White House and to learn more about what this -- these accusations are based on -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Athena Jones, thank you so much. Driving conversations in a lot of places.

Already those town halls continue to be under way. Right now in Clemson, South Carolina, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham just responded during a town hall there in his home state of South Carolina.

CNN's Polo Sandoval has been monitoring this event. And he's joining me right now.

Polo, a lot has been discussed at that town hall, but right off the top, Lindsey Graham did talk about the investigations ongoing involving Trump campaign.


WHITFIELD: And Trump officials and Russia.

SANDOVAL: Exactly, Fred. Right out of the gate Senator Graham tackling this later Trump Twitter tirade during that -- during that town hall discussion that is taking place there in Clemson University in South Carolina.

I want you to hear directly from the senator from South Carolina exactly what he had to say regarding some of these latest posts by President Trump. Take a listen.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: So apparently this morning President Trump tweeted out that he believes that President Obama ordered wiretapping of his campaign in Trump Tower.


GRAHAM: And that would be --


GRAHAM: Yes. So I don't know what happened, but I can only tell you the summary of the tweet. The president of the United States is claiming that the former president of the United States ordered wiretapping of his campaign last year.

I don't know if it's true or not, but if it is true, illegally --


GRAHAM: It would be the biggest political scandal since Watergate.


GRAHAM: Now --


GRAHAM: The other side of the story -- just be quiet. If the former president of the United States was able to obtain a warrant lawfully to monitor Trump's campaign for violating law, that would be the biggest scandal since Watergate.


GRAHAM: So here's the deal. As we get ready to talk to each other, I am very worried. I'm very worried that our president is suggesting that the former president has done something illegal. I would be very worried if, in fact, the Obama administration was able to obtain a warrant lawfully about Trump campaign activity with foreign government. So it's my job as the United States senator to get to the bottom of this. I promise you I will.



[11:05:07] SANDOVAL: We just heard there Senate Graham promising to initially help launch this investigation into some of these latest allegations here, but what is interesting here, too, we are getting not just talking that's taking place there in that town hall, Fred, but also shouting and plenty of it in fact.

After the senator from South Carolina tackled that issue, there was also some of the crowd -- some of the members in the audience there that stood up and were very expressive at their disappointment with some of the -- some of what the senator had to say particularly when it comes to possibly working with President Trump in tackling what is his very ambitious agenda.

It's interesting, though, some of the members in the audience, they have green cards, they have red heart shaped cards. They're using that to express their disappointment and also their displeasure with the senator from South Carolina but you just heard from his directly. He's saying that two things would concern him. Two scenarios would concern him. One, that the Trump -- that the Obama administration would possibly illegally obtain this alleged wiretap, or that they would have enough evidence to legally be able to convince a judge to wiretap Trump Towers.

Again, there's a lot of allegations there that we are waking up to this morning. And of course the senator from South Carolina promising that he would like to get to the bottom of it.

WHITFIELD: And he tackled that right off the top even though the expectation was the primary focus would be on repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act.

SANDOVAL: Right. WHITFIELD: Or perhaps even immigration matters, the travel ban


SANDOVAL: Economy perhaps.

WHITFIELD: But instead that was the one that got the most attention at the very beginning.

SANDOVAL: He did touch a little bit on this -- on how he would like to essentially repeal Obamacare. And there were a lot of people in the audience that just wouldn't have it. They quickly got up and started to yell at the -- at the senator from South Carolina.

WHITFIELD: Very boisterous crowd.

SANDOVAL: Very emotional and very passionate. We're going to keep an eye on it.

WHITFIELD: All right, thanks so much, Polo. Appreciate that.

SANDOVAL: You bet.

WHITFIELD: All right. Meantime this morning, Democratic Senator Ben Cardin, the ranking member on the Foreign Relations Committee, says the president's new allegation that President Obama bugged Trump Tower should amplify the need for an independent investigation.


SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: Obviously the president is going to interpret things one way. I might interpret things a second way. It's important for the American people to have an independent investigation of what Russia did in attacking us in our free elections, the contacts they had with many Americans, how that came about, what was the relationship if any with the Trump campaign.

All that really needs to be done by an independent commission. I've filed registration to create it. I think there's now more and more momentum to get that done sooner rather than later so the American people can get an independent evaluation here.


WHITFIELD: All right. Joining me right now law professor at George Washington University, Jonathan Turley, CNN senior law enforcement and former FBI assistant director Tom Fuentes, CNN political commentator and assistant editor at the "Washington Post," David Swerdlick, and CNN political analyst and "New York Times" deputy culture editor, Patrick Healy.

All right. Good to see all of you. Glad you could all be with us.

Tom, you first. With no proof President Trump accusing President Obama of wiretapping him. How would investigators get to the bottom of whether this happened? TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, first of all,

Fredricka, FISA wires, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act wiretaps are authorized by a top secret court, the FISA court, in Washington, D.C. And in this case, the FBI is the only agency authorized to lawfully conduct these type of national security wiretaps. So they would submit an affidavit to the court and get authority to conduct these wires. The wiretap itself, the results of the wiretap would all be top secret and should not be leaked out.

I think what's happened here is that numerous media organizations have reported that this wiretap existed, that a first request in June by the FBI was denied, a second one in October was granted, and the FBI was conducting this kind of wiretap at Trump Tower.

Now that's from media reports. And many of them. And then of course what happens is once one outlet reports that, others quote the first outlet, and then that gets repeated and repeated. We refer to this as circular reporting. And before you know it, because everybody is saying it, it somehow becomes the truth. Becomes accepted as a fact. But we don't know that yet. So we don't know -- all we know is that President Trump is seeing this reporting and apparently is not happy about it and chose to go on Twitter with what he believes is the case.

WHITFIELD: And Tom, let me ask you to hold on and our entire panel hold on a moment. I want to bring in to the equation one of our producers from D.C., Shimon Prokupecz, who has some more information. Now apparently he just spoke with a former senior U.S. official.

Shimon, what more can you tell us about this?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT (via phone): Hi, Fredricka. Well, basically we're getting a flat denial from a pretty senior former U.S. official during the Obama administration who's familiar with some of the investigations into the hacking and other matters relating to some of the folks surrounded by Donald Trump.

[11:10:20] And basically this official says this just did not happen. They never wiretapped his phone. There was never a warrant issued to wiretap any of his phones. And also, you know, this official kind of outlined what Tom was speaking about, the FISA court. They would have had to go to a judge in the FISA court to get approval for this. And I think it would have been pretty difficult for them to legally get any kind of warrant to tap Donald Trump's phone given that we were -- October was the height of the campaign.

They would have had to meet all sorts of legal burdens that just probably would not have happened. So pretty much this official did not happen and basically saying that Donald Trump is making this up.

WHITFIELD: And so, Shimon, did this former official with the Obama administration, senior former official, express to you his or her reaction to a sitting president making this kind of accusation about his predecessor without also revealing any evidence?

PROKUPECZ: Yes, I mean, they're pretty shocked. I mean, are they surprised? Probably not. They think he's just trying to change what we're all talking about. There is still this swirling kind of various different parts of whether Russia, you know, influenced the election, whether he had influence, whether he was -- whether Donald Trump was influenced by Russia. So there's all this stuff still swirling about Russia and, quite frankly, they believe that he's just trying to change the conversation.

You know, keep in mind also that Donald Trump -- it is highly unlikely that he's getting any sorts of briefings into the investigation of the Russia hacking and other stuff directly from the FBI. You know, the director -- Director Comey has done a pretty good job of trying to keep it separate from the White House. They just have this practice where they don't talk about investigations. And they're certainly not going to talk about investigation surrounding the folks around Trump or anything related to the election and hacking and whether or not Russia had any kind of influence or if they influenced Trump in any way.

So the FBI has been very careful to sort of keep that away from Trump, to not inform him of where the investigation is, and of what they're doing. So it would be highly, highly unlikely that Trump would be getting any of this information from anyone at the FBI.

WHITFIELD: So then, Shimon, you talked to Justice Department intel officials all of the time. And when something like this has occurred involving the sitting president, are any of them expressing to you how this further deepens any of their suspicions as they continue the investigations of Russia's involvement in the U.S. elections?

PROKUPECZ: I don't think that it deepens any of their suspicions, certainly not the law enforcement people that we talked to at the various agencies that have been looking at this and some of the officials on the intel side. There still are a lot of questions. And they're just trying to answer those questions. But I don't think that they're any closer to figuring this outright right now than they were maybe, you know, in October and November and December. They're still working through the information.

I think what's more concerning to them is that Trump, you know, continues to tweet stuff like this without really backing it up or without really being informed of what's going on. And it just, you know, continues to kind of build this riff between the agencies and him. Certainly, you know, if anyone would be tapping phones or would have authorization to wiretap a phone, it would have to be the FBI. I mean, this would be an FBI investigation. And he's essentially accusing, though he's saying it's Obama, it would have to be the FBI ultimately that would do this.

So -- and they are the ones that are investigating this whole -- this whole matter. So it continues to sort of I think build this division between him and some of the folks on the law enforcement side at the FBI and the other agencies that are investigating this.

WHITFIELD: Shimon, hold tight. I want to bring in our panel now.

Professor Jonathan Turley, I'd love to bring you in on this and especially underscoring Shimon Prokupecz's conversations with intel. [11:15:06] You know, it furthers this divide between intel community,

FBI, and the Trump administration. How do you see this accusation from a sitting president about his predecessor with no proof undermining his credibility and damaging the president's every word whether it be by tweet or the spoken word?

JONATHAN TURLEY, LAW PROFESSOR, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Well, I think that one question I would raise about Shimon's reporting, which is really great contribution, is that Trump may be arguing not specifically that his phone was tapped, but that phones at the Trump Tower were tapped. And that would still raise a serious question.

I think Senator Graham is correct that if there were applications approved under FISA to surveil conversations in the Trump Tower, I think those are legitimate and disturbing questions to be raised. It's more disturbing when it involves FISA. And I have to say, I was introduced to FISA as a young intern at the NSA, and I've been in that court and I became a lifelong critic of it. I've litigated FISA cases since then.

The standard is very, very low. Applications are rarely if ever turned down. Literally only a couple of applications have been turned down in the history of that law because it was written largely to evade the Fourth Amendment protections.

There is a protection under FISA that says that it cannot be used when someone is being investigated solely on the basis of First Amendment activities. That solely is a critical component here. It also has minimization protections. That you're supposed to remove from surveillance collateral information, particularly First Amendment protected information.

So what does all that mean? I think what it means is that President Trump has brought forth a very disturbing allegation. But it's also very rare for a president to talk about FISA intercepts. These are the most sensitive forms of surveillance. Presidents rarely talk about them. It's not considered an appropriate subject.

And so I'm not too sure what to make from this. But if there was a FISA application approved on Trump Towers, particularly at the height of the election, I think we all should have a legitimate interest in having that investigated. If there is -- if this did not occur and there is no evidence to support it, then obviously it's very troubling.

WHITFIELD: So it sounds like you are underscoring, you know, Senator Lindsey graham who says this would be, you know, a big scandal, the biggest scandal since Watergate if there were that request for a warrant through FISA or if the Obama administration were to carry through any wiretapping or FBI wiretapping without that kind of approval.

So, David, given that, do you believe that the Trump administration or President Trump realizes the gravity of which he -- of what he is saying?

All right. Looks like we don't have that audio. Patrick, can I ask you to tackle that question?

PATRICK HEALY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: -- decision making. Control room, what happened?

WHITFIELD: All right. We're having some real audio problems. OK. David, I can now hear you clearly. Perhaps you can hear my question in terms of what do you think President Trump understands the gravity of what he is saying, especially in step with hearing Senator Lindsey Graham underscored by Jonathan Turley's point that this potentially could be the biggest scandal since Watergate if a request was made through a FISA court or even if the FBI or Obama administration were to execute any kind of wiretapping?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. OK. I hope you can hear me, Fred. I'm not sure what happened there.


SWERDLICK: But in any case, yes, it's problematic and it's troubling either way just to go back to Jonathan's point. If President Trump is out there in a tweet storm making assertions without evidence and so far we haven't seen any evidence other than this tweet storm, then I think, you know, the first question we have to ask is what is that evidence? If the Obama administration didn't in fact tap his phones as he's suggesting or tap the phones at Trump Tower and this is just being, you know, sort of bandied about in a tweet storm, that's troubling in it of itself, and as Jonathan said, as Senator Graham said a few minutes ago.

And if the Obama administration sought and got a FISA warrant to do it, then that brings us back to all of the questions. What was the evidence? I know Jonathan just said it was a low bar, but what was the evidence that they were able to take to the FISA court to enable them to get the warrant if in fact they got a warrant. We just don't know.

But can I take a step back for a minute, Fred?


SWERDLICK: And just say, I think one thing about this that I see with the tweet storm is that President Trump is proceeding with this, this morning as if he's still the upstart leader of a movement or as if he's still an outsider. He's the head of the government.

[11:20:03] He is the leader of the free world. He has the ability to get to the bottom of this if there is a "this" there to get to the bottom of. So it's a little bit -- you know, sort of strange that he continues to use Twitter to either rally people to his side on this or to bring up an issue as if he's powerless in this equation.

WHITFIELD: And Patrick, in your view, is this strictly a diversionary tactic given his attorney general has been under fire even though, you know, Jeff Sessions came out yesterday and said that -- you know, recuse himself from investigations involving Russia and U.S. elections but still the drumbeat gets louder in terms of whether more should be taking place involving Russians?

HEALY: Yes, he's made these -- he's made these sort of attempts to just, you know, make baseless attacks that are incredibly provocative where he doesn't offer any kind of evidence, you know, in order oftentimes to divert attention from, you know, sort of major really serious issues that are going on regarding in this case Jeff Sessions' meeting with Russians, you know, others within the Trump team.

But, you know, more probably, Fredricka, kind of what's going on is just the way that President Trump still operates here which is he's obsessed with leaks right now. He's basically hearing in the Oval Office different reports about, you know, how information was obtained, maybe phones being tapped and then he's seeing basically traffic on Twitter. He reads Twitter regularly and then he just sort of goes to social media and just makes these statements like sort of Jonathan said that past presidents really would never make.

That they would basically sort of defer to discretion and to keep things kind of under wraps. In a way, he gets into these modes where he both wants to lash out but he also very much wants to divert.

WHITFIELD: And then, Tom, you know, what are your concerns when, you know, President Trump is talking about wiretapping of his phone, perhaps more than, you know, one phone. Wiretapping at the Trump Tower in New York is what he's talking about. And while he lashes out about this, is he also making an admission so to speak as the investigations are ongoing as it relates to Russia and the U.S. elections and the Trump campaign officials?

FUENTES: Well, I think not necessarily, but, you know, the problem here is that we don't know for a fact that this FISA operation was actually conducted or that the bureau applied for a warrant in June, and was declined, and reapplied in October, and was granted the authority to do it. You know, we know that there's media reports.

And I think that probably President Trump should have used the same terminology he did throughout the campaign and that's say people say that there was this and that that happened or media outlets say and not just reported that this is a fact and therefore former President Obama is a criminal and that this is terrible.

We don't know any of the above. And it's just taking on a -- you know, like a snowball going down the mountain growing and growing. And we need to just take a step back. We don't know for sure that there was even a FISA on Trump Tower in the first place positively. And we may not know for a long time.

And these cries for public -- I mean, you know, special investigators, special attorneys to run an investigation.

WHITFIELD: Prosecutor.

FUENTES: You know, the FBI agents would be the one conducting that investigation. So that's kind of -- you know, kind of a silly approach at this point. Just let the FBI do the investigation they're doing. FISA or no FISA. WHITFIELD: OK. I'm going to ask all of you to hold tight. We're

going to take a short break. When we come back we'll talk more about the controversy over Russia and the Trump campaign, a growing list of Trump campaign staff now known to have talked to Russian officials. We'll talk more about all of that in light of now this accusations coming from the sitting president about his predecessor and wiretapping.


[11:28:10] WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back. President Trump's embattled attorney general Jeff Sessions will amend his testimony during confirmation hearings on Russian contacts on Monday. This after Sessions recused himself from any investigations into possible ties between Russian officials and the Trump campaign. Democrats want to know why Jeff Sessions did not reveal during his confirmation hearing that he met with the Russian ambassador two times last year.

Our panel back with me now. All right. So good to see all of you. Hopefully we can all hear each other no problem. All right. So we've now learned that other Trump aides also met with Russia's U.S. ambassador including the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

So, you know, Patrick, if all of these meetings were above board, you know, and the Trump campaign is saying nothing was wrong with it, then why is it now the sitting president is now accusing his predecessor of perhaps wiretapping, learning of these meetings among other things that something sinister is behind all of this?

HEALY: Yes. President Trump and his team have been so much on the defensive over this Russian story that it feels like he's very much sort of lashing out, going to his favorite method, Twitter, to do it. Sending these, you know, four early morning tweets to try to dominate the Sunday headlines to set the agenda for the Sunday morning talk shows. I mean, it's very much politics on his part as he sort of sees this entire storyline.

I mean, he sort of looks back on Paul Manafort, you know, his campaign chief executive, over the summer who had ties to Ukraine and who's ultimately forced out of the campaign. He looks at kind of the Michael Flynn storyline, the former National Security adviser --

WHITFIELD: And I think we have some of the pictures of all these people we're referring to.

HEALY: Sure.

WHITFIELD: Because the list is now growing. There we go. A number of people, it's no longer one person. Michael Flynn, of course, lost his job over it. But now a host of people working closely with the now president.

HEALY: Right.

WHITFIELD: And working closely with him during the campaign. HEALY: And you better believe, Fredricka, as you and I will know, I

mean, the Trump White House is very concerned about -- you know, all the president's men narrative to the story line that they feel that the media is sort of unfairly ginning up to create a sense of evoking old images of wiretapping and subterfuge and you know, kind of like Watergatesque tactics.

But it's night and day right now, Fredricka. Right now they're genuine legitimate questions about Jeff Sessions and the conversations that he had with the Russian ambassador, why that wasn't disclosed during the Senate confirmation hearings. There are a lot of unanswered questions.

And the one thing that President Trump doesn't like do -- one of the things he doesn't like doing is feeling like he has to answer questions under pressure from the news media, who he feels is out to get him.

So what you're seeing this morning is very much a concerted sort of pushback on their part to try to suggest again that this is something now cooked up by President Obama himself.

WHITFIELD: And you know, David, Attorney General Sessions has tried to make a distinction between his meetings, whether he was working on behalf of the campaign or remember he said sometimes I was referred to as a surrogate and then he also in the capacity of being on the armed services committee as a senator that there may be other circumstances in which he would have these meetings with the Russian ambassador. Why should those distinctions or why could shows distinctions matter as the investigation moves forward?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think those distinctions do matter. Attorney General Sessions has worn a lot of hats. Now the attorney general formerly a U.S. senator was closely tied to President Trump's campaign. There's nothing personally wrong if he runs into the Russian ambassador in Cleveland or they talk --

WHITFIELD: During the Republican National Convention.

SWERDLICK: -- yes, right, at the Republican National Convention last year, if they talk in his capacity as a former senator, there's nothing personally wrong with that, but he's been unable to sort of get around the question of why when he was in his confirmation hearings did he not just drop in there.

Look, no, I didn't talk to the Russian ambassador about the campaign but yes, I have talked to him. I have met him. That isn't fully explained and then if you go back to General Flynn having to leave the national security advisor position, you know, the administration has defended both Attorney General Sessions and General Flynn.

But the question is if Attorney General Sessions did nothing wrong, why did he recuse himself? If General Flynn did nothing wrong, why did the administration asked him to resign? That's the bigger story.

WHITFIELD: I wonder if we can pull up or at least get ready the tweets from this morning because I think we need kind of a reminder of all that President Trump was tweeting. In part, one of his tweets says this is a Nixon -- this is Nixon/Watergate bad or sick guy referring to the president.

You see right here he went through a string of rants this morning. I bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October prior to the election. How long has President Obama gone to tap my phones during the sacred election process? This is Nixon/Watergate, bad or sick guy.

Professor Turley, what concerns you about this? Do you believe this is reckless behavior? How would you classify this behavior by a sitting president and that his sourcing may come from something he heard on, you know, during reports or radio, et cetera, as opposed to information he's getting from intel?

JONATHAN TURLEY, LAW PROFESSOR, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: I think that we've had a longstanding problem with the administration generally being more improvisational and somewhat casual in how they deal with these issues. This is obviously an example, you should not be discussing FISA targets on Twitter.

This is something you need to go through your own staff. You need to confirm it. He has access to any FISA applications he wants to look at. Having said that, it is very serious. That is if there was a FISA application targeting the Trump Tower, I think that we need to look very closely at that.

It does raise Watergatesque type of issues. We have to be a little bit careful in terms of how we deal with some of these terms, there have been talk about a special independent council commissions. I think it's always a good thing to have an independent review.

But the Independent Council Act expired. The act -- the second in command at Justice could order a special counsel into all of this. You have to articulate what you're investigating. We're a little short of evidence of an actual crime. There is hacking.

We're all pretty convinced that happened. It was done by some web jockey in Moscow probably, but we're not going to try to track him down. There's no real evidence we've seen so far of collusion or any money exchanges, the type of things that would trigger federal statutes.

[11:35:13]And so part of the problem is we're getting a little ahead in terms of what we know and what we don't know. What was surprising is how long it took for Attorney General Sessions to recuse himself. Many of us said weeks ago this should have been done.

Quite frankly it's the right answer not just legally but politically. I'm not so sure why the Trump White House didn't see this as a gift from God to recuse many of these people, pull them out of the mix, not have the drip, drip, drip. Let them focus on other things.

Once again, time and again we see that the staff seems about three beats behind and the president seems about three beats too far.

WHITFIELD: And really quickly, I know we've got to take a break, but Tom Fuentes, you know, yes or no, even though he's recused himself, is it possible that he would learn about machinations of the investigation even though he's recused himself?

TOM FUENTES, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: I think if he learns it's going to be in the media probably and not from subordinates at the Department of Justice.

WHITFIELD: OK, we'll leave it right. Thanks so much. We'll take a short break for now. Jonathan Turley, David Swerdlick, Patrick Healy, Tom Fuentes, all of you, appreciate it. We'll be right back.



WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Let's get back to our breaking story now. The president is accusing former President Obama of ordering a wiretap on his phone in Trump Tower and comparing this unsubstantiated claim to Watergate.

You see the tweet right now. Donald Trump on a Twitter tirade this morning. But a former Obama official says the accusation is false and wrong. It's important to note here that these tweets cap off weeks of blaming President Obama and his administration for leaking information about Trump's campaign contact with Russia.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I think that President Obama is behind it because his people are certainly behind it and some of the leaks possibly come from that group, but I also understand that's politics. And in terms of him being behind things, that's politics and it will probably continue.


WHITFIELD: Let's talk more about this now with CNN senior media correspondent, Brian Stelter. He's also the host of "RELIABLE SOURCES." Brian, good to see you.

All right, you've been doing some digging. Everyone is trying to figure out what the real impetus of his tweets this morning? What information are you getting about what may have inspired him to tweet the way he did?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Our conspiracy theory president is at it again and whenever something like this happens I wonder what are the president's sources of information? Where is he getting these ideas? It could be from intelligence briefings, classified intelligence briefing. In that case, he might be sharing classified information on Twitter.

However this tweet came around 6:00 in the morning. The president said he was just told about this. I highly doubt he was getting an intel briefing at 5:00 in the morning. He may have been receiving information that these claims don't have proof from right wing media sources.

Let me show what I mean. This is from Thursday. The Mark Levin Radio show who was suggesting that President Obama and his aides have been attempting a silent coup. Take a look.


MARK LEVIN, CONSERVATIVE RADIO SHOW HOST: How many phone calls by Donald Trump, if any, have been intercepted by the Obama administration and recorded by the Obama administration? And all the other transition officials involved in foreign policy and national security and defense policy. This ladies and gentlemen is the real scandal.


STELTER: He says that's the real scandal. Let me show you how this echoes through conservative media. From, the popular news site, opinion site that was run by Steve Bannon now Trump's senior strategist.

The headline there is they're picking up what Levin said on the radio, and then this article by (inaudible) on kicks through what it says is a series of reasons to believe the Obama administration was trying to undermine President Trump.

So this comes out on Thursday. It spreads more virally on Friday. A couple of shows on Fox News picked up on this by Friday night, a couple were re-airing early Saturday morning. There's no definitive evidence this is where the president heard about this.

But "Washington Post" Robert Costa is hearing that that Breitbart story was passed around among Trump aides. So Fredricka, it's the best indication we have so far of where the president could be getting this conspiracy theory from.

WHITFIELD: And if it is the case, does this speak to a possible pattern? It was just a couple weeks ago when he was talking about Sweden, what was going on in Sweden. And then even Sweden said what do you mean and apparently after some digging, some made a correlation that perhaps the president was inspired by something he saw on Fox News.

STELTER: That's the point. He's receiving these ideas from conservative media in some cases and then sharing them with the whole world from his huge Twitter pulpit. It is reckless, Fredricka, and if the president doesn't know that, his aides surely know that. Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon, they know this behavior is reckless.

WHITFIELD: All right, Brian Stelter, thanks so much. Of course, you can see Brian tomorrow on "RELIABLE SOURCES" at 11:00 only on CNN. All right, we'll be right back.



WHITFIELD: The Department of Homeland Security is considering a proposal that would separate children from adults when they try to across the border illegally. A DHS official says this proposal is meant to protect children and sometimes they are kidnapped and used to cross the borders successfully.

CNN Washington correspondent, Ryan Nobles, is joining me now with more details on this. So how exactly would this proposal work, Ryan?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, the goal, Fredricka, would be to curb the smuggling and exploitation of children at the southern border. The critics argue it could separate families and could be very difficult to implement. As it stands now border policy allows children and adults to be released into the U.S. while their cases are pending.

But under this new policy, the adult in the situation could be detained while the child would be put under protected status perhaps with Child Protective Services or maybe with a family member already in the U.S.

[11:50:00]Now in a statement, David Lapan, a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security said quote, "The journey north is a dangerous one with too many situations where children brought by parents, relatives or smugglers are often exploited, abused or may even lose their lives.

With safety in mind, the Department of Homeland Security continually explores options that may discourage those from even beginning the journey. The obvious question, though, which DHS is yet to explain is how the agency plans to determine which children are being exploited and which ones are traveling with actual family members.

The policy at this point is just a proposal and those fine details are still being worked out. Of course, during his campaign, President Trump promised while he'd have a tough line of immigration, he would work to keep families together.

And Fred, it's also important to point out that the Obama administration proposed a similar policy, but then decided it was just too difficult to implement.

WHITFIELD: All right, Ryan Nobles, thanks so much in Washington.

Tomorrow night, CNN debuts a new series, "BELIEVER," it takes a look at religions and sects around the globe. We'll talk with the host, next.



WHITFIELD: All right, tomorrow night, CNN debuts a new original series called "BELIEVER." In the first episode, host, Reza Aslan, heads to India and there he learns about a religious sect called the Agori. It's a group people seeking to transform India into a cast free society. Here's a clip.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dr. Singh is a second generation Agori and a doctor at this clinic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Inaudible) patients were kind of untouchables, they were condemned a lot. People thought it was incurable and they would ultimately die. So when Baba came, by treating those patients and giving them the same respect that they are human beings, they say that leprosy is not untouchable, by just touching a leprosy patient, can't contaminate infection. He gave consent and started treating.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not just the fear of infection, but the fear of pollution as well. They were seen as unclean, impure, but, of course, the foundation of Agori philosophy is no such thing as unclean or unclear.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Agori system, there's nothing called untouchable.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You feel like Agori philosophy can actually change Indian society?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, because here everybody is equal. We are trying to convert this society into a class-free society.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's funny, everybody talks about putting their faith into practice, religion is not supposed to be just the things you believe, but the things that you do. You want to know what putting your faith into practice looks like? This is what it looks like.


WHITFIELD: And Reza Aslan is the host the series joining me live right now. Good to see you, Reza. And congratulations. Look forward to seeing this series tomorrow. What did you learn about this system because this is something that's been engrained in India for a very, very long time? Why did Agori followers believe they could rid the caste system?

REZA ASLAN, CNN HOST, "BELIEVER": So much of the system is based on what in Hinduism is purity and pollution. How pure or polluted are you depending on where you are in the social structure, what kind of work that you do. So the Agori, their belief system is predicated on a disbelief in things like purity and pollution so the way they put that out into the world is by attacking the caste system in its roots. In doing so, from a Hindu position, saying we are all the same. Saying that if God lives within us, everyone is the same. It's a beautiful thought, actually.

WHITFIELD: So, there was a scene in this episode where you were learning about rituals and practices from one religious sect. Can you hear me OK? Let's watch it.



ASLAN: OK, maybe I'll take this off right now and then -- thank you. OK. Thank you.


WHITFIELD: What was going on there?

ASLAN: So, as the case with all religions in the world, there are many, many different ways of expressing it and so some people express their lack of belief in purity and pollution by taking care of lepers and by opening up orphanages and some people so do so by taking part in spectacular displays of self-pollution like the guru on the beach is doing. He's covered in the ashes of the dead and eating bits of rotted meat.

WHITFIELD: And were you too because there's something on your face. Were you, too, were you completely immersed in all of this?

ASLAN: Well, look, the point of the show is I'm not a tourist. I'm not there to just point at different religious groups and say, boy, don't they look interesting. I'm there to fully immerse myself in these communities, to do what they do and be what they are. I think that's why they opened themselves up to me. You know, a lot of these communities are very secretive and so that's the way that I was able to earn this trust.