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President Trump Firing Off Unsubstantiated Allegations Of Wire- Tapping; Republican Senator Rand Paul Hunts For GOP's Obamacare Replacement Plan; Red Cross Strongly Condemning A Suspected Chemical Attack by ISIS Fighters in Mosul; Second Season of the CNN Original Series, "Finding Jesus" Premieres Tomorrow. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired March 4, 2017 - 16:00   ET


[16:00:00] PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: CNN white House correspondent Athena Jones is live near Mar-a-Lago where the president is spending the weekend for the fourth time since taking office.

So Athena, what are you hearing from the White House regarding these allegations?

ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Pamela. A couple of things. I along with my colleagues have been asking White House officials down here in Florida and also in Washington since early this morning to provide some evidence to back up this, these unsubstantiated allegations that the President made. There is still no official comment or statement from the White House.

But my colleague, Jeff Zeleny, the senior White House correspondent did speak with a senior administration official in Washington. That official says that the White House colleagues only learned about the President's tweet storm after he began tweeting early this morning.

Now, he often does that. He wakes up and begins tweeting early in the morning. Not in any way apparently running these tweets by any of his staffers. This morning he began those tweets at around 6:30 a.m.

Now, this official appointed to a story on the conservative Web site Breitbart News that has been circulating around the west wing which followed up on comments made by radio talk show host Mark Levin that claimed that President Obama was trying to undermine Trump's Presidential campaign and his administration including through these various investigations on Russia and possible ties between Russians and Trump associates. And these stories - that story in particular very much angered the President according to the senior administration official.

And just a couple of hours ago, the President's social media director and an adviser, Dan Scodino tweeted out a link to that very same Breitbart News story which lends credence to the idea that this could be the basis for those tweets from the President. But as you mentioned, that President Obama has strenuously denied this through a spokesperson.

Let's read that statement from Kevin Lewis. Here it is. A cardinal rule of the Obama administration was that no White House official ever interfered with any independent investigation led by the department of justice. As part of that practice, neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen. Any suggestion otherwise is simply false.

So aery vigorous denial there. And we have already had other former senior officials in the Obama administration point out that a President doesn't order wire-taps. Other officials has said that this is simply nonsense and it didn't happen, Pam.

BROWN: All right. And how so, Athena, we are hearing that there is a last-minute addition to the President's public schedule today. What can you tell us about that?

JONES: That's right. A couple of things. We already knew that he was planning to have dinner tonight with commerce secretary Wilbur Ross, but they have added a meeting at 6:30 on this official schedule that was put out, a meeting the President will have with the attorney general, Jeff Sessions and with the secretary of the department of homeland security, John Kelly. And then about an hour later, the President will sit down with Sessions, with Kelly, and also with the commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross and his wife, along with aides, Steven Miller and Steven Bannon, and White House counsel Don McGann.

So all of that taking place in the coming hours at Mar-a-Lago. All closed-press, but these are additions. And this is interesting coming in light of the fact that we are hearing that this new travel ban, the new revised travel ban is going to be coming early next week, going to be signed early next week. And that, of course, has been, delayed, a delay process as they work to put out a revised ban that could better with stand legal scrutiny -- Pamela.

BROWN: All right. Athena Jones, thank you so much for that.

And now I want to bring in my panel. Shimon Prokupecz, CNN's crime and justice producer, Josh Rogin, CNN political analyst and "Washington Post" columnist. David Fahrenthold, and CNN contributor "Washington Post" and Sarah Westwood, White House correspondent for the "Washington Examiner."

Shimon, your reporting here is crucial. You spoke with a former U.S. official about those wire-tapping allegations. Tell us about that conversation.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE PRODUCER: Well, this former senior U.S. official who had direct knowledge of the investigation surrounding Trump associates, meddling in the election, and other facts within the election, deny that there was any intentional tapping of Donald Trump's phones. Or anything intentional sort of at Trump tower related to Donald Trump said this never happened. We never requested it. A warrant was never issued. They never even went to a judge asking for this, for any sort of wire-tapping of Donald Trump's phone.

So basically, we have a former officials who are all denying that this, this occurred certainly under the Obama administration. And this person would know all the way through probably mid-January when this investigation was still ongoing up until some of the former officials left the White House.

BROWN: All right. Important context there, Josh. And we are now hearing from former CIA analyst Ned Price. I want to point out he donated $5,000 to the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton's campaign last year. He quit the CIA this month. So this is what he says. This is his statement released today.

This is a calculated attempt to distract from this administration's multi-pronged yet unexplained Russian ties, or a fundamental misunderstanding of how intelligence and law enforcement authorities operate. Either way, this outburst should frighten all Americans.

Some strong words there, josh, your reaction?

[16:05:30] ROGIN: Yes. Well, I think what you are seeing here is sort of the Trump team and President conflating two separate issues. One is what was going on during a long investigation by the FBI into links between the Trump campaign and Russians. And two, the sort of, you know, right-wing media sort of meme that this was part of an Obama administration fifth column deep state attack/coup, OK. And these are two separate things that we need to look at separately.

Now, there's no evidence that the Obama White House was involved in pushing this investigation or setting up any of these investigative tactics. There is also no confirmation that there was an FBI FISA warrant although there has been some reporting on that.

So what the Obama administration is saying very clearly here, the former Obama administration officials is that we weren't involved in this, OK? If there was some FBI monitoring of you know Trump tower connections to Russian banks as has been reported but not confirmed. That's one thing. But to then take it to the next step as the President did this morning and say this is a directed part of an Obama administration, you know, deep state plot to overthrow the Trump White House -- that's really, really inflammatory and that is taking this to a level of conspiracy that is really somewhat beyond the pale.

BROWN: And of course there are checks and balances in place to prohibit a President from ordering surveillance of a U.S. citizen.

And David, it appears Trump once again is relying on right-wing media reports to make these allegations. Of course, we don't know what other, you know, briefings or information he has been looking at. But as my colleague Jeff Zeleny reported, this Breitbart reported and circulating around the White House and the radio show host Mark Levin talked about it. Last time as you will recall, it was Sweden. When he was at that rally saying there was an attack in Sweden because he saw a FOX News report. So the question is, David, do you think this is reckless?

DAVID FAHRENTHOLD, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, the thing that surprises me is that President Trump is in a position to be the best-informed person in the world. He not only has all the news media, the rest of us have. But he has his giant information-gathering, synthesizing apparatuses, ready for him to know. If he wanted to know the answers to these things, he could. And yet he seems to be relying on sort of third-hand misconstrued, sort of spotty report - understandings of reports and often right-wing media. So he is - it is amazing to me that he is not using the powers he has to actually inform himself. And instead wants to rely on sort of what he sees on TV basically the same thing as you and I could see by turning on the radio, for turning on the television.

BROWN: And what's key here is he tweeted it early this morning. He said he just learned presumably he wasn't getting an engine intelligence briefing early this morning.

Sarah, you say it's not in the White House's interest to let a sensational claim and a Trump tweet stand for very long without an explanation. Here is what we have. A senior administration official telling CNN that they learned of the tweet storm about Obama only after Trump sends them. What do you make of team Trump's reaction so far? Is that enough?

SARAH WESTWOOD, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Well clearly, they need to get on top of providing the back story to reporters as quickly as possible. Because the longer they wait, the longer opponents have time to frame this as a conspiracy theory. The longer the Obama administration has time to put their word in before the Trump administration has a chance to talk about what President Trump was intending to say with his tweets.

And the thing that President Trump has done inadvertently, I mean, let's just say for a moment hypothetically that it's true that Trump's communications were wire-tapped. Then Trump is publicly confirming a criminal investigation he has spent so long trying to deny even existed.

Attorney general Jeff Sessions went to great lengths this week not to confirm or deny the existence of this investigation. Now President Trump is coming out and essentially saying yes, this criminal investigation was going on during the campaign and transition. The Trump administration has so far categorically denied as a group that that investigation ever existed.

BROWN: All right. Shimon, thank you very much. Josh, David, Sarah, you will be back in just a moment with me. So stick around.

And coming up right here on the NEWSROOM, Trump fires back, tweeting pictures of top Democrats meeting with Russian officials calling one a hypocrite and another a liar. A look at the strategy of calling this a witch hunt after this break.


[16:13:57] BROWN: Attorney general Jeff Sessions and the changing story of his meeting with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. stay in front and center on the news this weekend.

We have new developments to share. Sessions is now set to meet with President Trump tonight at Mar-a-Lago. On Monday, the attorney general will amend the testimony he gave before Congress concerning his contact with the Russian ambassador. This after Sessions recused himself from any investigation into possible ties between Russian officials and the Trump campaign. President Trump still calling the controversy over Sessions' testimony quote a witch hunt.

My panel is back with me, Josh Rogin, David Fahrenthold and Sarah Westwood.

Josh, a meeting tonight with Sessions at Mar-a-Lago. Apparently he was a last-minute add to this meeting. What do you make of that?

ROGIN: To me, it seems like a pretty strong public show of support from the President to his attorney general. Let's remember that President Trump was resisting calls for Jeff Sessions to recuse himself only hours before he recused himself. And I think this is just simply the President wrapping his arms around Jeff Sessions and saying he is still a big part of the team. Look, he is coming and meeting with me, having dinner. They also happen to discuss that immigration executive order. That's why DHS secretary John Kelly is there.

The White House I think knows that it sort of has to sort of take a stand against and stick to its positioning, which is now to defend the practice of meeting with the Russian ambassador and to make this argument that just meeting with the Russian ambassador is not in and of itself anything, any indication of wrong doing. And I think that's where they are going to stay and I think no matter how many meetings we find with the Russian ambassador and Trump administration officials, they are going to have to sort of keep that ground pretty solid and then sort of take it from there.

[16:15:40] BROWN: And David, Sessions has already recused himself from investigating Russian election meddling. On Monday he will supplement his Senate testimony about contacts with the Russian ambassador. Do you think that's going to be enough to satisfy critics?

FAHRENTHOLD: No. And I think that what we are going to see is more reporting, some more questions raised both by the media and the folks on Congress on both sides of the aisle, about post Sessions' contact with Kislyak, and there were others. But also about these other contacts we are just learning about now between other members of the Trump team, the close-in numbers and sort of more distant foreign policy advisers, between them and the Russians. I think there's a lot more questions out there about exactly what those conversations were and what they talked about.

BROWN: So enter twitter as is often the case when we are talking about President Trump and the latest development. He is responding to the growing criticism by tweeting -- this 2003 picture of Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer with Russia's Putin tweeting quote "we should start an immediate investigation into Senator Schumer and his ties to Russia and Putin. A total hypocrite. Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer responded to Trump's twitter accusations, with this. Happily talk where in a contact with Mr. Putin and his associates took place in 2003 in full view of the press and public under oath. Would you and your team? The picture Trump posted of Schumer was with Putin was taken in New

York during an opening of the Russian gas company station. Pretty benign staff for the potent image and a social media war, is it not, Sarah?

WESTWOOD: You know, if this was a classic Trumpian way of highlighting the fact that there were some contradictory statements among Democrats when they rushed to pile on Jeff Sessions right after these, the revelations about his contact with the Russian ambassadors, the current senator Claire McCaskill for instance cane out and said she is never met with any Russian official in her decade on the Senate armed services committee. That turned out not to be true.

But those tweets about Schumer and Pelosi miss the real heart of the criticism against Jeff Sessions which is not the underlying meetings, but the fact that he didn't disclose them to the Senate Judiciary Committee. And that's really the heart of the criticism against all of the Trump campaign officials. A lot of them were businessmen or had existing lobbying businesses that took them to contact with Russian officials, but the fact that they seem to have gone to certain lengths to cover up those contacts is what has raised questions among these Trump critics.

BROWN: It certainly does.

And David, you touched on this in your last answer and I want to do a little bit of deeper dive, just kind of going through these meetings between members of Trump's inner circle and Russian officials. So let's take a look at this list here. Attorney general Jeff Sessions we now know, the President's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, ousted national security adviser, Michael Flynn. The campaign's national security representative, JD Gordon, adviser Carter Page, and campaign adviser as well.

Many of these people have previously denied any such contact with any Russian during the campaign. So does that denial make you wonder that there's something they don't want us to know? I mean meeting with the Russian ambassador doesn't necessarily mean anything you know, nefarious is going on. But the fact that they won't sort of come out and say up front about it. What do you make of that, David?

FAHRENTHOLD: At this point it's hard to know. And in every case they have come up with some excuse or another and they've changed their story several times. Particularly in the case of Michael Flynn, now resigned national security adviser.

The interesting thing to me is the two biggest cases, Jeff Sessions and Mike Flynn, Trump himself well Trump himself said he didn't know until it was in the media the news was out there. And remember Mike Pence who had gone on TV to defend Mike Flynn, didn't know that Flynn had lied to him until he read about it in the "Washington Post." So even within the Trump team there's been some confusion about who is actually telling the truth, who is giving the pulling version of the story. It's hard to know exactly what the underlying truth is here. It is hard to connect those dots. But it seems certain there's a lot more to come out just because the more people have dug, the more they found out the first answers they got were not truthful.

BROWN: Right. And it's so interesting the context, the same person, Russia's ambassador, Kislyak led to the ouster of Michael Flynn as national security adviser. Once it came to light there were discussions of sanctions and so forth even though he denied that. And then after it came to light that Jeff Sessions had met with him during the campaign, he came out recused himself from any investigation involving the Trump campaign so what do you make of that, Josh?

[16:20:16] ROGIN: Yes. The Russia issue had just become so sensitive and so tense, and such an existential crisis for the Trump White House that any smoke is just, they just avoid it so much that it causes them to be defensive, to be overly, you know, cautious about what they admit about it, they don't know what they're supposed to say. There's a lot of confusion. There is a lot of disorganization inside the administration about how they should respond to this.

You know, the bottom line here is we don't know, OK. The FBI doesn't know, if there was real collusion between the Trump people and the Russians. I don't know, you don't know, probably Trump doesn't even know, OK.

So the problem is because this is a, this issue has come out of such a divisive and contentious campaign season and it has become so highly politicized, their reactions are suspicious. And that is not an indication of guilt, but it is also, you know, not a sign of innocence, either.

BROWN: All right. Josh Rogin, David Fahrenthold, Sarah Westwood, thank you all. We do appreciate it.


BROWN: And coming up right here on the NEWSROOM on this Saturday, a bizarre scene on Capitol Hill. One senator who literally goes on a scavenger hunt to find a Republican plan to replace Obamacare while another lawmaker talks to a statue, details ahead.


[16:25:58] BROWN: Well consider it a political game of hide and seek. This week, Republican senator Rand Paul went on a hunt to find the GOP's Obamacare replacement plan. A plan he says is being kept under lock and key.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Paul, are you concerned that the bill is in a locked room?

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: We are going to find out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not allowed to be in this area.

PAUL: I would like to read the Obamacare bill. This is being presented as if this were a national secret. I think there's a bill in there. It's the secret office for the secret bill.

Now we brought our own copy machine, too, but we didn't get to use it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm told that the Republicans have their ACA, affordable care act bill, repeal, somewhere? The capital. We're going to look for it.

It's not here.

Mr. Lincoln, I can't find the bill.

I know it was -- Mr. Lincoln, you are as upset with your party as I am. Thank you all.


BROWN: Joining me now for what I imagine will be a lively discussion, Republican and former lieutenant governor of New York, Betsy McCaughey, the author of "beating Obamacare: avoid the landmines and protect your health in common freedom." Also joining us, Democratic strategist Jonathan Tasini. Thank you both for coming on. We do appreciate it.

Lieutenant governor, I want to go to you first. So do Republicans really have a secret Obamacare plan? Or is the only secret that the Republicans don't have a plan that they can all eventually agree on?

BETSY MCCAUGHEY (R), FORMER LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR, NEW YORK: Well, they do have a plan, and it's not secret at all. In fact I'm holding a copy of the version that they discussed Wednesday, when all the Republican senators met behind closed doors. And I have a piece in the "New York Post" today analyzing it in case your viewers would like to read that.

So the latest iteration, just one day after that meeting, includes the mark-ups that are now being added by two house committees. The energy committee and the ways and means committee. And that is the way the normal course of events for writing legislation.

So I know that Rand Paul is garnering a lot of press, pretending that he can't find this bill. But the fact is, he will be able to read the mark-ups, as soon as they are ready just like they are always available as soon as they are ready. There is no secrecy about this. They are doing it the same way legislation is always written.

BROWN: Jonathan, do you agree?

JONATHAN TASINI, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, apparently Rand Paul and other members of Congress don't agree. I think it's been hidden. I think there's a reason for that. I think the Republicans have been buried and barraged at town hall meetings all across the country. I think CNN and many networks have shown video of people coming to town hall meetings, crowding in those town hall meetings and basically shouting at their legislators, Republican, mostly Republicans, and some Democrats, demanding that they protect Obamacare. And what's interesting, Pamela, is that Obamacare is more popular than

it's ever been before. And that's largely because of the demonstrations, the rallies that party been organized by Bernie Sanders, and Chuck Schumer and Democrats, because people now understand that Obamacare was the affordable care act. They had health care that way. And the Republican alternative is to basically do what they had done before, is throw people on the mercy of the free market where millions of people won't have health care. They have unreasonable and high deductibles.

And here is an important part, Pamela. It's going to shift an enormous amount of money to the one percent, to the riches which is what Republicans do all the time.

[16:30:01] MCCAUGHEY: Well let me point out, since I have actually read this plan and it appears that Jonathan hasn't that none of that is true.

TASINI: Well what's not true, Betsy?

MCCAUGHEY: Just a moment. Let me please finish and I will explain. First of all, 15 of the 20 million newly insured under affordable care act are enrolled in Medicaid. And the plan does not throw anyone off of Medicaid.


TASINI: So here's, here's, but that's not true. Because if it's the Republican plan, what Paul Ryan --

BROWN: Jonathan, hold on. I want to hear what the lieutenant governor says. Yes, let her describe and then I will let you respond, Jonathan. Hold on.


MCCAUGHEY: So the 15 million who are on Medicaid are not going to be thrown off. It's right here in the plan. They are not going to be thrown off. Number two, 20 million people newly gained insurance, but about 200 million people are being very hurt by this law. And they are demanding repeal. A hundred and fifty six million people with on- the-job coverage who are paying much more in deductibles than ever before because of the employer mandate. Ten million people who are incurring penalties for not having insurance. Penalties they can't afford. Eight million people who have lost their on-the-job coverage because of the Obamacare employer mandate. So there are many, many people who are demanding repeal. They may not show up at town hall meetings, they're too busy working.

BROWN: OK. Jonathan?

TASINI: So let me make an important point first, Pamela, that I have always been for single payer, Medicare for all, like all major countries. And the fact that we aren't doing that I blame partly Republicans, but also some Democrats. That's the only solution to our healthcare crisis. And that's what we should push for. Every CEO in America, as I wrote on and I am happy it too. Anybody who tweets it happy to send that link.

Every CEO in America should want a single payer Medicare for all program which would relieve us of hundreds of billions of dollars of cost. Now, let me just take two points that Betsy McCaughey which is absolutely false. On Medicaid, the biggest difference with Republicans, assuming that's what they are arguing in this healthcare bill which is what Paul Ryan was arguing, is that they would deliver a block grant to the state. But if that block grant didn't actually cover people, unlike the ACA, which committed the government to cover all the medical cost, millions of people would be thrown off Medicaid. That is just an economic fact.

MCCAUGHEY: It is not what the plan says?

TASINI: Look, you, I don't care if it's written. It's how you fund it. If it's about a block grant, which is what Paul Ryan has always argued would be the solution in any health care bill, that means and I want people to understand this. That means millions of people will be thrown off Medicaid.

The second point, on the question of people paying a, what Betsy called a penalty. The problem actually with Obamacare, the affordable care act, is the fine if you will call it for not participating, was too low. And if we, if we, and that, that basically put, that allowed young people, healthy people to opt out of the plan. What we need to do and I think there are some things that need to be fixed in the arch ca. We need to set the penalty at the lowest premium so people do essentially opt in. When you have participation --

MCCAUGHEY: Sounds like Jonathan wants --

TASINI: Excuse me, Betsy. Excuse me. Let me finish. When you have participation, this is just a reality economics, not Betsy's alternative facts. When you have participation in a health plan, that's what pushes costs down.

BROWN: All right. Betsy?

MCCAUGHEY: Yes. Let me point out that Obamacare did something very unfair. It forced young, healthy people to pay the same premium as chronically ill people. But chronically ill people use on average ten times as much health care as younger, healthier people do. So they could see it was a sham and that's why they didn't sign up. This new plan funds care for the seriously ill with tax dollars, rather than imposing the burden on premium payers in the individual market. Those with preexisting conditions will be fully cared for. But the costs will be spread far more fairly over all taxpayers, rather than burdening people in the individual insurance market. So premiums are going to come way down and health insurance will be affordable again. And that is the goal.


BROWN: Hold on. Take a step back, Jonathan, hold on. Let's take a step back and look at the politics that is surrounding all of this right now. We saw Steny Hoyer talking to the statue of Lincoln. House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, has also been mocking the Republicans on twitter offering her hounds to help in the search for the missing Obamacare replacement bill and even comparing the search to a game of "Where's Waldo?"

Jonathan, are Democrats doing too much to fuel anger instead of helping Republicans get down to the business of improving Obamacare?

TASINI: Well, but here's the thing, Pamela. Republicans have no interest in improving the affordable care act. They want to throw millions of people off the health roles and that's what will happen. And by the way, they want to bankrupt Medicare.

Look, Republicans always wanted to destroy Medicare. That's been -- they have hated Medicare. And what the Affordable Care act did actually, and this is an important thing, we don't talk about this, it pushed off the insolvency of Medicare, at least until 2028. And the congressional budget office, not Betsy's alternative facts or the White House's alternative facts, the congressional budget office said that $350 billion of the cost over ten years for Medicare, that was attributable directly to the affordable care act. So I would say to seniors right now, if the Republicans oppose and repeal ACA, you will be off Medicare. Your premiums will go up and your co-pays will go up.

[16:30:55] MCCAUGHEY: That's terrible scare-mongering.

TASINI: No. That's a fact, Betsy. It is just a fact. Tell me, is it a fact -- let me ask you a question, is it a fact that the congressional budget office said that 350 billion --

MCCAUGHEY: I would like to answer this. That in fact Obamacare eviscerated Medicare.

TASINI: That is not true.

MCCAUGHEY: And one of the reason for that take in such a strong stand against the affordable care act is that it included provisions that made it much harder for older people to get hip and knee replacements and other things.

TASINI: I just want to point out one thing, though, Pamela --


BROWN: Jonathan Tasini, former lieutenant governor Betsy McCaughey, I gave you both the fair chance to get your words heard. And I appreciate you coming on and having that debate. Thank you so much to both of you.

And coming up on the front lines in Mosul. We go live to Iraq as doctors treat the victims of a suspected chemical attack by ISIS.


[16:41:06] BROWN: Well, the Red Cross is strongly condemning a suspected chemical attack by ISIS fighters in Mosul, Iraq. Red Cross officials say five children, three women and four men were treated for symptoms consistent with exposure to a chemical agent.

Senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman filed this story. And we want to warn you that you may find the video you are about to see disturbing.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 11- year-old Yassed lies unconscious in bed. A rocket lit outside his home Wednesday in liberated east Mosul, leaving him with a concussion and symptoms doctors at this hospital in Erbil say point to a chemical attack.

DR. LAWAND MIRAN, DIRECTOR, IRAQ HOSPITAL: Shortness of breath. Second-degree burn.

WEDEMAN: Hospital director Dr. Lawand Miran has no doubt about what happened.

MIRAN: It is a chemical gas.

WEDEMAN: Twelve people including a month-old baby have been treated for exposure to chemical agents in the first such attack by ISIS since the start of the Mosul offensive last October. Wisam Rashid was in his house when a rocket landed outside.

There was a rotten smell, he recalls and there was something like burnt oil. There was gas, no one can breathe in the whole area. We left the house and the civil defense sealed it up.

The U.S. defense department has warned that ISIS has developed a primitive capacity to develop chemical weapons and has used them in Syria and Iraq. The worry is with ISIS desperate and surrounded in western Mosul it won't hesitate to use everything in its arsenal.

The Red Cross is setting up tents in the event there are more chemical attacks. Now, in a statement related to this incident, the Red Cross stressed that the use of chemical weapons is a war crime. Not that that makes any difference to ISIS. Indifferent as it is to the suffering of its victims.


WEDEMAN: And this attack comes at a time when people are starting to move back to liberated east Mosul. Of course the problem is, the eastern part of the city is within mortar and rocket range of the west. Those parts that are still under ISIS control. And basically, this is the classic tactic of terrorists. You kill one, terrorize a million. Pamela?

BROWN: Ben Wedeman, thank you very much for that.

And coming up on this Saturday, a CNN original series, retracing the roots of Christianity and the myths surrounding the life and death of Jesus. A sneak peek at the new season of "Finding Jesus" up next.


[16:48:22] BROWN: Well the second season of the CNN original series, "Finding Jesus" premieres tomorrow night at 9:00. It focuses on the central figure in the death of Jesus, the Roman governor at the time, Pontius Pilate. Who was he? And is there evidence that helps confirm the gospel's account.

Our own David Gregory went to the holy land to explore.


DAVID GREGORY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the shore of the Mediterranean Sea, there is an ancient secret, as old as the birth of Christianity. Here in Ceseria, the majestic Roman port, a fatal determination changed history. The Roman governor based here, Pontius Pilate, was called on to decide the fate of Jesus of Nazareth. He would be a harsh judge.

SHIMON GIBSON, ARCHEOLOGIST: He was a brutal, we hear about massacres and the bloodsheds that was connected to the time that he had the rule of Judia. He was not a nice person.

GREGORY: We have come to the amphitheater in Ceseria with Dr. Shimon Gibson, an archaeologist who has spent more than 20 years conducting excavations in the holy land. Here, in 1961, archaeologists discovered proof of Pilate's existence.

GIBSON: You wouldn't think that at this spot, under this wooden step, this encryption was found, Latin inscription, mentioning Pontius Pilate. Was a one of those pivotal moment, with changes everything because suddenly Pontius Pilate comes out of this written inscription. It is not just this figure in the gospels.

[16:50:04] GREGORY: The Israel museum here in Jerusalem is a treasure house of artifacts from the first century. To visit here is a religious pilgrim or an historian, is to discover crucial evidence of the end of Jesus' life.

The left side of the Pilate's stone was chiseled away to fit into the theater. But the inscription is clear - Tiberium, Pontius Pilate, Perfectus Judea. A stone fought to commemorate a lighthouse dedicated to the emperor Tiberius.

JONATHAN RICE, PROFESSOR OF CLASSICS, TEL AVIV UNIVERSITY: It was a wild moment because first of all, this is the only physical object from the time of Pilate which has his name.

GREGORY: The gospel of Luke tells the story. Pilate was called to Jerusalem amid the uproar over the ministry of Jesus. Considered a rebel leading a messiah movement.

Are you the king of the Jews, Pilate asks in the scripture and he answered them, you have said so.

RICE: He probably thought of Jesus as a minor rebel, the kind of which he saw many in his governorship. GREGORY: The ornate ossuary next to the Pilate stone is thought to

belong to (INAUDIBLE), the Jewish high priest and a pivotal figure in the trial of Jesus.

Dr. Gibson's excavations next to the tower of David museum have uncovered further evidence of Pilate's time in Jerusalem. Based on the gospels and writings of the period, the archaeologist imagines Pilate's judgment.

GIBSON: He decides to make an example of Jesus and to have him crucified. I don't think he would have had a sleepless night over it.

GREGORY: There are no records of Pilate's last days or his burial place. History records that he was called back to Rome to account for the brutality of his rule.

Pilate may have ended the life of Jesus. But for the faithful, this crucial episode marks just the beginning.


BROWN: Very interesting. Our thanks to David Gregory.

And let's talk it over with Robert Cargill, assistant professor of religion at the University of Iowa and the author of "the Cities that built the Bible."

Robert, thank you for coming on. You were featured as an expert commentator, throughout "Finding Jesus season 2." So we know Pontius Pilate existed. We hold off the hour just say Pontius Pilate was quote "not a nice person." How does the bibles portrayal of Pontius Pilate compared to other historical counts about him?

ROBERT CARGILL, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF RELIGION, UNIVERSITY OF IOWA: Pamela, the bible essentially portrays Pilate with softer gloves than does let's say the Roman Jewish historian Flavius Josephus. The reason for this, we believe, is that the Christians wanted to portray Jesus and Christianity as little more favorable to Rome. They wanted Rome to look upon Christians, you know, not as they had looked upon the Jews, who you know, had rebelled against them from 66 to 70 A.D. And so what we see is that Josephus, for instance, says that Pilate was a brutal, brutal administrator. Whereas in the bible he has shown as being very reluctant to crucify Jesus.

BROWN: And you say the relationship, Robert, between science and religion can be an uneasy one. How does this series, "Finding Jesus" explore those connections between hard evidence and faith?

CARGILL: Sure. Whether you are religious or not, it's hard to deny that Judaism and Christianity have had an effect, not just on the western civilization but on world history. And there seems to be at many times this -- that they are at odds, science and religion are at odds. What we try to do is examine the actual evidence. And to be honest about the evidence that we have, and the evidence that we don't have. So that people of faith can watch the show, understand what we know and what we don't know. And it underscores the importance of faith in Judaism or Christianity. And for nonreligious individuals, they can understand why this is such a big deal to so many people around the world.

BROWN: And in "Finding Jesus," you were on the ground in Israel walking viewers through significant historical sites and showing precious artifacts. What was the experience like for you personally?

CARGILL: Every time I go to Israel, and I have been digging there since 1999. You know, I have been there quite a bit, it's a thrill for me. I really am a kid again. Very excited all the time and of course, in "Finding Jesus" I get to do my very favorite thing, which is climb on things, point at them and explain why they are such a big deal. So for me it's a lot of fun to meet the people, to hear all the sounds, and just to touch history. It really makes history and the bible come alive.

[16:55:00] BROWN: And you say that people of all faiths or no faith should watch the series. Looking forward to seeing it.

Robert Cargill, thank you very much.

CARGILL: Thank you, Pamela.

BROWN: The search continues an epic new season of "Finding Jesus" begins tomorrow night at 9:00 p.m. eastern and pacific only on CNN.

Quick break. We will be right back.


[16:59:37] BROWN: You are in the CNN NEWSROOM on this Saturday. I'm Pamela Brown in Washington. Great to have you with us.

And we begin with the breaking news. President Trump firing off unsubstantiated allegations of wire-tapping. Allegations that stun even members of his own administration. President Trump tweeting, terrible, just found out that Obama had my wires tapped in Trump tower just before the victory. Nothing found this is McCarthyism. He went on to clarify that his personal phone was tapped.

A spokesman for former President flatly denies his claims saying this.