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Russia Controversy Engulfs White House; Trump Delays Reworked Travel Ban; "Return to Mosul"; Banksy Opens Art Hotel in West Bank. Aired 2-2:30a ET

Aired March 4, 2017 - 02:00   ET




GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The U.S. president heads to his Florida resort over the weekend. All the while, controversy continues to grow around his attorney general and conversations with a Russian ambassador. We'll have the very latest for you.

U.S. carries out more airstrikes in Yemen as officials insist a raid that killed a U.S. Navy SEAL provided new intelligence.

And a new hotel on the West Bank blends art and regional politics. A look inside the unusual retreat.

Live from CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta, welcome to our viewers around the world. I'm George Howell. CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.


HOWELL: Good day to you.

The U.S. president, Donald Trump, is in Florida this weekend. All the while his senior aides continue dealing with fallout over their repeated contacts with Russia's ambassador to the United States during last year's campaign.

CNN has learned the U.S. attorney general, Jeff Sessions, will give amended written testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday. Sessions met twice with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak but neglected to mention the meeting while under oath during his confirmation hearing in January, despite the fact that he was asked about Russian contacts several times.

We get the very latest now from CNN's Jim Acosta.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When then-candidate Donald Trump delivered a foreign policy speech in Washington last April, the Russian ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, was in the audience, listening in as the real estate tycoon called for better relations with the Kremlin. DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe an easing of tensions and improved relations with Russia from a position of strength only is possible, absolutely possible.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Three months later, Trump national security advisers say they met with the Russian ambassador in Cleveland during the Republican convention. Former campaign adviser J.D. Gordon tells CNN he and another foreign policy adviser, Carter Page, discussed U.S.-Russian relations with the ambassador.

The president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and former national security adviser Michael Flynn also sat down with the ambassador at a previously undisclosed meeting at Trump Tower in December.

Now even Republicans are saying it's time for White House officials to tell all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the -- everybody who's had contact with the Russians need to get in a practice of oversharing.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The president, who has pushed back on questions about his campaign's contacts with the Russians...

TRUMP: Well, I had nothing to do with it. I have nothing to do with Russia.

ACOSTA (voice-over): -- is fighting back, tweeting this photo of Russian president Vladimir Putin and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer from 2003, calling the New York Democrat, "a total hypocrite."

Schumer responded he's willing to talk about his contact with Putin under oath, asking the president, "Would you and your team?"

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R), ALA.: I have recused myself in the matters of that deal with the campaign.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Democrats warn Attorney General Jeff Sessions' recusal from the Russian investigation may only be the beginning.

NANCY PELOSI, HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: The recusal is an admission that something was wrong.

ACOSTA: The White House is definitely seeking some separation between the president and his team when it comes to Russia during the campaign. A White House spokesman says the president had, quote, "zero involvement" with the Russians -- Jim Acosta, CNN, the White House.


HOWELL: Jim, thank you for the report.

One person who understand the complexity of meetings between U.S. and Russian officials is Steve Hall, the retired CIA chief of Russia operations who also serves as a national security analyst for CNN.

I asked Steve if the reported contacts between Trump aides with the Russian ambassador, if they strike him as unusual. Let's listen.


STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, it's not entirely unusual for any ambassador to pay a visit to senior politicians, be they senators or congressmen. And in the case of the Russian ambassador, Mr. Kislyak, under normal circumstances it wouldn't necessarily be an admirable thing, senators meet with lots of different ambassadors and lots of different diplomats.

Under normal circumstances, a meeting with a Russian diplomat would be a little trickier because they're -- we have an adversarial relationship with them. It's different from meeting with the British, for example.

But the context here is critical. This is a time when there is a great question with regard to whether or not Russia was involved in attempting to tilt the U.S. elections and involve themselves in the U.S. political system in a very sinister way.

HOWELL: We've heard the President of the United States continue to say that he would like to work with Russia and we heard from the former CIA director, David Petraeus, backing that sentiment for strategic cooperation. Let's take a listen, we can talk here on the other side.



GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: It's very clear what Vladimir Putin's objectives are. In many cases, they are unacceptable to us and NATO and our allies and partners around the world.

Having said that, there could be some convergence of interest when it comes to the defeat of the Islamic State and Al Qaeda and perhaps to stopping the bloodshed in Syria, as an overall objective, as well.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And could that be a springboard towards better relations, do you think?

PETRAEUS: Again, I would go into this with my eyes very wide open, with a very, very realistic appraisal of what Russia has done and what Putin would like to do. I think that strategic dialogue with one's adversary is not something that should be avoided. I think you should actually pursue it.


HOWELL: So the question, what would it look like to have cooperation with Russia?

Explain how those relationships would have to work for two super powers.

HALL: I always get very concerned, George, when we start talking about cooperation with Russians. You know, on the face of it, it sounds like a great idea. It is a very democratic thing. It's a very forward-leaning, optimistic type of thing. And all statesmen and all politicians want to appear that way. But the reality, unfortunately, is quite different. You have to start

with the context again. In the Russian context is Vladimir Putin's goals, his overall strategic goal, is the weakening and hopefully in his view the destruction of liberal democracies throughout the world.

He wants to split NATO. He wants to -- Brexit was a very good day for him. Those are his goals.

So when you start from that, then you to ask yourself, how exactly can we cooperate with Vladimir Putin?

The Venn diagram overlap there is extremely narrow. It is easy to say, wow, can't we agree on counterterrorism?

Can't we agree on counternarcotics?

I can tell you at least from my experience in terms of intelligence cooperation with the Russians, the return on investment is almost nothing.

And when you think back on it in general, when have we had good success cooperating with the Russians?

Syria comes to mind.

How did that work out for us?

We went into that saying let's fight together against ISIL. Let's fight together. And it turned out that the Russians managed to leverage that into support for Assad, which was their strategic goal there.

Another thing we have to remember is that for Russia -- or let me reverse it for a second. For the West, there is always -- and specifically the United States -- this is the goal for cooperation. You want to achieve a specific goal.

For Russia, sometimes cooperation is the goal. They want a seat at the table. They want to be a great power. They want respect. We hear this constantly in their speeches. So sometimes cooperation for Russia is a very, very different thing than it is for the United States and for the West in general.

HOWELL: This is what you did. You had these conversations. Explain to our viewers around the world how delicate those conversations were.

HALL: Well, I can't get into any great detail with regard to those things because of source and (INAUDIBLE) intelligence matters. But I can tell you it is an extremely -- it's fraught with difficulty. It's very tense.

You can't accomplish things -- and I'm thinking here, again, of the cooperation with -- on intelligence matters. You can cooperate with things but, again, you have to recognize it is a very non-Western, non-democratic context.

There have been times when the Russians have passed this information -- counterterrorism information -- that has not been correct and they have known that and they've done it for political reasons, something that we would never consider doing from our perspective.

There have been times when we have passed the Russians information which has been used in ways which we would consider to be absolute violations, for example, of human rights. So we come at it from such different angles and with such different goals in mind that it really is fraught with difficulty.

HOWELL: CNN national security analyst and a retired CIA chief of Russia operations, Steve Hall, thanks so much for being with us.

HALL: My pleasure.


HOWELL: In the United States, the Department of Homeland Security is considering a proposal to separate children and adults who enter the country illegally at the southern border with Mexico.

A senior official says the proposal is meant to stop people from exploiting children. Right now, when adults come into the U.S. illegally with children, authorities usually release them and the families can then stay in the United States. We spoke earlier about this with Theresa Cardinal Brown. She's the director of immigration policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center.


THERESA CARDINAL BROWN, BIPARTISAN POLICY CENTER: One thing you have to understand is that, under our laws, unaccompanied children are treated differently than adults at the border. And if a child is with a family member, they --


BROWN: -- still get preferential treatment.

And one thing that has happened over the last couple of years is, as Central Americans arrived, first, it was a lot of unaccompanied kids. And then as policies were enacted it said, well, families could be released if they were in this company of minor children.

Border Patrol did see a lot of people claiming family relationships, who, after questioning, found out not necessarily the case.


HOWELL: President Trump says that he wants to hire 15,000 Border Patrol and Customs enforcement agents but it won't be easy. The job market is saturated and candidates must meet a series of requirements including written tests and a Spanish language course. A U.S. judge is giving the White House two extra weeks now to respond to a lawsuit challenging parts of the president's travel ban. The judge noted what seemed to be contradictions from the administration over a revised ban.

It is not clear yet if the new order that Mr. Trump says he will sign will supersede the current order. This is the same judge who put most of the president's previous order on a hold just a few weeks ago.

French presidential candidate Francois Fillon could face embezzlement charges in less than two weeks' time as a result of some of his top aides having -- heading for the exit at this point. Now calls for the conservative to quit the race, they are getting louder. Melissa Bell has this report from Paris.


MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was another difficult day for Francois Fillon. He lost not only the spokesman of his campaign but two of its directors, its foreign affairs spokesman and its treasurer.

His support has really been hemorrhaging over the course of the last 48 hours. More than 60 Republican parliamentarians have said they no longer back his candidature for the party.

And yet the man who beat Alain Juppe back in November says that he will remain the party's candidate. He's looking towards Sunday and a rally that's he's called on the Trocadero Place here in Paris to try and show that he has the support of the people.

That gathering has already been criticized by the French president, Francois Hollande, who says it is, by definition, a criticism of the institutions of the republic; that is, of the judicial system that is taking Francois Fillon on.

Ever since it was announced he would likely be facing charges on the 15th of March, this having said all along that if he faced charges he would be standing aside and then refusing to stand aside. This has all proved too much for so many of those who supported him thus par.

Now the calls for Alain Juppe, the man who came in second in that primary, to come back and save the party and be the party's candidate are growing almost, it seems, by the hour.

All the more so since this new poll today, which for the very first time put Emmanuel Macron first in the first round, even ahead of the Far Right's Marine Le Pen, but also suggested that were Alain Juppe to become the Republican Party candidate, he would not only beat Marine Le Pen but Emmanuel Macron as well -- Melissa Bell, CNN, Paris.


HOWELL: Thank you.

There are new developments in the murder case of Kim Jong-nam. Malaysia has issued an arrest warrant for the man you see here, a North Korean airline worker. He is wanted for questioning in the death of the North Korean leader's half-brother.

In the meantime, Malaysia has released this North Korean citizen. He was held as a suspect in the case but Malaysian authorities say they don't have enough evidence at this point to charge him. He is being deported now to Pyongyang and said this to reporters in Beijing.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I realize it that this is a conspiracy, a plot to try to damage the status and honor of the republic.


HOWELL: Two women have been charged with murdering Kim. Malaysian officials say that he was killed with VX nerve agent at an airport there in Kuala Lumpur.

Still ahead here on CNN NEWSROOM, U.S. air raids target an Al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen. Why the U.S. is defending a controversial mission there. Stay with us.





HOWELL: The International Red Cross is sounding an alarm about Iraq's battle for Mosul. It says that 12 civilians were treated this week for injuries from a suspected chemical attack.

In the meantime, Iraqi military commanders say coalition airstrikes in Mosul killed six militant leaders and took out an ISIS headquarters on Friday.

The intensifying fight for control of Western Mosul is forcing tens of thousands of people to leave Iraq or to leave the city there. Officials say that more than 46,000 have already left. The United Nations fears that that number could reach a quarter million.

On November 4th, CNN correspondent Arwa Damon and her camera man, Brice Laine, entered Mosul with advance units of the Iraqi army, looking to liberate the city from ISIS. Their convoy was then ambushed and they spent 28 hours under siege.

Two months later, they return. In this excerpt from their special report, "Return to Mosul," Iraqi soldiers unearthed a surprising find.


ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We've always wondered how ISIS had so much ammunition in Mosul. And it's obvious when you see the weapons factories they had everywhere.

They were making everything from scratch, mortars, rockets; in one factory, they even had fake Humvees made out of wood that they were using as decoys.

DAMON: This almost feels like it should be some sort of crafts workshop. There's a childish feel to everything but that is also what makes it all the more sinister.

DAMON (voice-over): ISIS had even begun building its own planes, planes not designed to land anywhere but, instead, to be flying suicide bombs.

DAMON: They found this inside the industrial zone, in one of the areas used for manufacturing, along with some manuals. It is fairly crudely put together. But this would take a certain level of expertise, creativity and ingenuity.

They've cobbled together all sorts of different parts and even used glue to try to fix some of the wires into place.


HOWELL: "Return to Mosul," a CNN special report with Arwa Damon. It airs several times this weekend. You can catch it on Saturday at 11:00 pm in Hong Kong. That is 3:00 pm in London, right here on CNN.

An Al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen is being hammered by U.S. air raids. The Pentagon says it conducted more than 30 strikes there on Thursday and Friday. Drones were used and at least one high value Al Qaeda member was targeted.

These are the first known U.S. strikes in Yemen since a controversial raid that took place in January. Several civilians and a U.S. Navy SEAL were killed. But U.S. officials are defending this mission. We get more now from CNN's Barbara Starr.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: U.S. officials are insisting to CNN that they did get valuable intelligence from that raid back in January that killed the U.S. Navy SEAL and led to the death of several civilians on the ground.

None of it can be absolutely verified because the intelligence is classified. But officials say that they are now taking action to monitor, look for hundreds of contacts that they got on some of the data, the laptops, the cell phones that they seized.

They believe they have names and contact information for people in the West who may be sympathizers to Al Qaeda --


STARR: -- in Yemen, may even be working to plot and plan new attacks. So they are taking action, they're trying to track all of that down. At the same time, they got intelligence that is leading them to more

information about Al Qaeda's safe havens in Yemen. That may lead them to more raids. They have information, they say, about recruiting, targeting, all of the activities of Al Qaeda and even information about its explosive manufacturing.

And of course, it is Al Qaeda in Yemen that has been perfecting non- metallic bombs, the kinds of bombs that can make it past airport security. This is a group that very much wants to get a bomb on board a U.S. airliner.


HOWELL: That was our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, reporting for us.

So this next story, forget the view because there isn't one. A controversial street artist has built a boutique hotel in a place that is searching desperately for dialogue. We'll have a story next.




HOWELL: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM. So there's a powerful late winter storm that's moving across Europe and our meteorologist, Pedram Javaheri, is here to tell us more about it.



HOWELL: The view isn't much and there's no gym. But Israelis and Palestinians are allowed to visit and that's a big deal on the West Bank. Well, graffiti artist Banksy has opened his first hotel. Jonathan Mann tells us about it.


JONATHAN MANN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is all about location and that's definitely the selling point of Bethlehem's newest hotel, which opened under the concrete shadow of Israel's security wall.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It has the -- probably the worst view ever that you can get (INAUDIBLE) from a hotel.

MANN (voice-over): It is called the Walled Off Hotel. And there are no rooms with what you would traditionally call a view. All look out on the graffiti-scrawled barrier, long seen as the symbol of oppression by Palestinians.

It is an unusual venture, developed over the past year by the hotel's unusual owner, British street artist Banksy. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Banksy chose the location for the hotel and he

developed the whole hotel as a concept. He chose to put it next to the wall, perhaps not for the great views but for other reasons, more artistic.

MANN (voice-over): And Banksy's artistic touch is unmistakable throughout the venue, which is decorated with an eclectic mix of his murals and gentleman's club kitsch. A statement from Banksy says it's a place for people from all sides of the conflict, an artist who's famous for never being seen, a hotel with no view.

Would you call it visionary? -- Jonathan Mann, CNN.


HOWELL: Thank you for being with us for CNN NEWSROOM. "LIVING GOLF" is up next but first your world headlines -- after the break.