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Russia Controversy Engulfs White House; Trump Delays Reworked Travel Ban; U.S. Officials Defend Controversial Yemen Raid; More Allegations Hit French Election. Aired 4-5a ET

Aired March 4, 2017 - 04:00   ET




NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The U.S. president heads to his Florida resort while controversy grows around his attorney general and conversations with the Russian ambassador.

The 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. We look inside this unusual retreat.

It is all ahead here on CNN NEWSROOM. We're live in Atlanta. Thank you for joining us. I'm Natalie Allen.


ALLEN: U.S. President Donald Trump is at his Florida resort for the weekend but the fallout over reported contacts between campaign aides and Russia's ambassador to the U.S. continues to grow.

Democrats are demanding more specific answers from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on why he did not disclose his own meetings with the Russian diplomat. Sessions says he will turn in amended testimony on Monday. We get more from senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN SR. WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump heading off today for a weekend in Florida. But not escaping lingering questions about Russia. Before leaving the White House, his closest advisers holding an animated meeting in the Oval Office.

Chief strategist Steve Bannon looking particularly agitated as the week ends with more aides acknowledging meetings with the Russian ambassador last year.

A day after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from any investigations involving the 2016 campaign, after failing to disclose his meetings with the ambassador, the administration is on damage control. The president's words from last month not holding up to scrutiny.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does.


ZELENY (voice-over): The White House has yet to explain the purpose of these meetings, the disclosure of which has overshadowed the president's well regarded speech to Congress this week, Republicans urging Team Trump to be more forthcoming.

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

ZELENY (voice-over): In a statement, the president defending his attorney general as "an honest man," blasting Democrats for what he called "a total witch hunt."

Those words echoed in Moscow, where Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov described it the same way.

SERGEY LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): It all looks like a witch hunt.

ZELENY (voice-over): Russia clearly on the president's mind today, sending this tweet.

"We should start an immediate investigation into Senator Schumer and his ties to Russia and Putin. A total hypocrite."

Senator Schumer firing back, "Happily talk about my contact with Mr. Putin and his associates. Took place in 2003, in full view of press and public under oath. Would you and your team?"

In Wisconsin, Vice President Mike Pence facing questions about using a personal e-mail account to conduct business as Indiana governor. It was hacked in a phishing scam as first reported by "The Indianapolis Star. "

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm very confident that our e-mail practices were in full compliance with all of Indiana's laws.

On the campaign trail, he often criticized Hillary Clinton's private e-mail server.

PENCE: Even classified information that was allowed to be on her own private server, exposed to hacking, I have to be honest with you, I'm experiencing Clinton scandal fatigue.

ZELENY (voice-over): Pence rejected that comparison today. PENCE: No, there's no comparison whatsoever between Hillary Clinton's

practice of having a private server, mishandling classified information, destroying e-mails.

ZELENY (voice-over): All this as the week drew to a close with the president still not signing a new travel ban for visitors from majority Muslim countries. He once argued it was urgently need because "a delay would allow the bad dudes to rush in."

A new report from the Department of Homeland Security undercuts his goal, finding that most violent extremists are not radicalized when they come to the U.S., but only after living here for several years.


ALLEN: Despite the controversy over Russian contacts that's engulfing the White House, the former head of the CIA says it's in U.S. interest to find areas of cooperation with Russia when ever possible.

Retired U.S. Army general David Petraeus says the most important thing is to be realistic about Russian motives and goals. Petraeus spoke exclusively with CNN's Fred Pleitgen.


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 --


PETRAEUS: -- 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.

There is a possibility of some other initiatives and, indeed, some policy initiatives. At some point this is where you might see an initiative with Russia. I don't think you see that in Ukraine. I think you could possibly see this in Syria.


ALLEN: Nic Robertson joins us now live from Moscow. He's CNN international diplomatic editor with reaction from the Kremlin. And, Nic, we just heard General Petraeus saying it is good to find

cooperation with Russia -- yes, true. But there's an investigation on how Russia may have meddled in the election and now a lot of wariness over reports that several Trump team members had met with the Russian ambassador after the president said in a news conference last month he had nothing to do with Russia and, to the best of his knowledge, he said that no person that I deal with does.

So wariness on this side.

What's going on on that side?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Frustration, Natalie, there's frustration because clearly Russia is being implicated in nefarious activities and meddling in the U.S. elections. That's something that they bridle at. They say that they are not involved in that.

But at the same time they describe what's happening in Washington as a political witch hunt but they also describe it as internal U.S. affairs. They feel that they have been caught up in that emotionally charged situation. That's how Dmitry Peskov, President Putin's spokesman, describe it.

But in the areas of cooperation CNN asked Peskov, Putin's spokesman, yesterday about, what about cooperation over Syria?

He said look, there are areas potentially over ISIS where we could be cooperating. And he said, we are not, which is sad. But he quickly corrected himself after that and said but said Russia will strike out and continue to do actions on its own.

However, take a look at where the U.S. stands diplomatically over the issue of Syria. You have peace talks going on in Geneva for about the past 10 days. They wrapped up yesterday.

But as part of that process you had senior Russian diplomats, the deputy foreign minister, meeting with members of the opposition partners. We haven't seen that before. And the United States not representative in any similar level at those talks.

So while there's frustration here in Russia, there's a gaping hole appearing in what should be effective areas of U.S. international foreign strategy and policy appearing.

ALLEN: I want to play, Nic, a portion of an interview we did with Steve Hall. He is a CNN national security analyst and retired CIA chief of Russian operations. This is what he said about potential cooperation between the U.S. and Russia.


STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: 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.


ALLEN: Exactly. That mirrors what you're saying. They are look for something different. They are looking for respect, perhaps.

ROBERTSON: Sure. That's part of Putin's goal here, to be so engaged in big international affairs that Russia is allowed on the international platform -- and to a degree it has. Over the Russia issue, it's playing a bigger role in Geneva. It hosted the Astana cease-fire, the sort of military cease-fire talks just recently.

And it is putting itself on the world stage, which is where it wants to be. But the reality is it cannot resolve these issues alone. It is looking for a partner in the United States.

But you know, you might, you know, if we were more months into the Trump administration you might be able to say this is a tactical move on the Trump administration not to engage in Syria, to essentially not deliver what President Putin wants, which is the international recognition of being an international player and also then get out from under some of the sanctions that he's under in Ukraine for -- over his actions in Ukraine, which is annexing Crimea as well as crossing the border to get involved with the separatists in the east of Ukraine.

So -- but it doesn't seem to be that the United States is at that stage yet at the moment, playing that strategic role. It's they're not ready for it. And that's Russia's frustration.

ALLEN: All right, Nic Robertson for us, live in Moscow, thank you, Nic.

Brian Klaas joins us now from the British capital. He is a fellow at the London School of Economics and author of the upcoming book, "The Despot's Accomplice: How the West is --


ALLEN: -- "Aiding and Abetting the Decline of Democracy."

Thanks for joining us, Brian. First, Sergey Lavrov says this is a witch hunt as far as the curiosity about these meetings with the Russian ambassador; Donald Trump used those same words. But government watchers and Democrats, who are saying it just seems like they are covering something up.

What's your take?

BRIAN KLAAS, LONDON SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS: Well, I think any of these individual meetings could be explained. Jeff Sessions meeting with the Russian ambassador might be something that's normal. But at some point, you have to ask how many red flags do there need to be?

The real problem here is there's no alternative explanation coming from the Trump campaign or the Trump White House. As to why all of these different people from diverse backgrounds have met with Russian officials or Russian operatives, and then have had shifting denials about those meetings and different characterizations over time -- remember, Michael Flynn said that he called the Russian ambassador over a Christmas call, a courtesy call.

Then it became, OK, a series of calls. Then it was, OK, we talked about sanctions. Then it was, OK, now we found out this week that he also met in Trump Tower with him. And the question is, why all of these denials?

Why all of these claims if nothing is really there?


ALLEN: I want to ask you, if there is some sort of cover-up here, what could they don't want us to know?

They, of course, being the Trump administration.

KLAAS: Well, the allegation is that there is collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia because Russia certainly meddled in America's election with hacking. And it was to the benefit of Donald Trump's campaign.

And so the question was is there coordination?

And if there was, it's a serious, serious allegation that the United States president would have been involved with a foreign adversary in illegitimately affecting an election outcome.

ALLEN: So what could the White House or the president do or say to make it crystal clear, this is government business as usual?

KLAAS: I think at this point the only thing that's going to make this story go away is a full investigation and a full report that documents the level of contact, what was discussed and when, by various Trump administration officials.

There is too many questions to not have an investigation at this point. And so it would be improper. And I think the question is, is it going to be an independent investigation?

It only took the embarrassment of Sessions' testimony being exposed as being false for the Trump administration to change tack and have him recuse himself from investigating a campaign that he was involved in. So we have to look at the integrity and the independence of the investigation going forward.

ALLEN: Let's talk about another issue. The president and his team have been saying that they are going to roll out a version, a tweaked version of the travel ban. But now it hasn't happened.

What could be the holdup there?

KLAAS: Well, I think this is an extremely complicated policy that needs to pass legal muster. There were a slapdown in courts previously. The travel ban was put on hold and deemed to be unlawful by the court. As a result of that, they are trying to get it right this time.

The irony here though is that Trump tweeted that the judges holding up this travel ban were imperiling national security and that he was going to blame them, effectively, if a terror attack happened as a result.

But now they are waiting. So the narratives are somewhat blurred in terms of is this really essential for national security?

And, if so, why the holdup?

ALLEN: Brian Klaas, a fellow of London School of Economics, thank you for joining us.

KLAAS: Thanks for having me.

ALLEN: And coming up here, we will hear from some Trump supporters about some of these allegations. That's coming up here on our newscast.

Plus an alleged fake job scandal is erupting around French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen as the campaign crisis for rival Francois Fillon deepens. That's ahead as well. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Atlanta.






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

Meantime, Iraqi military commanders say coalition airstrikes in Mosul killed six militant leaders and took out an ISIS headquarters on Friday. The fight for Western Mosul has driven more than 46,000 people from the city -- 46,000. The United Nations fears that number could reach a quarter of a million.

An Al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen is being hammered by U.S. air raids. The Pentagon said it has conducted more than 30 strikes 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 against Al Qaeda in Yemen since a controversial raid in January. Several civilians and a U.S. Navy SEAL were killed then. But U.S. officials are defending the mission. Here is more from CNN's Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.


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 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.



ALLEN: Barbara Starr there from the Pentagon. Now let's go to CNN's Ian Lee. He joins us now from Cairo, Egypt, and monitoring what has been happening there in Yemen.

What are you learning, Ian?

Is it the same that we just heard from Barbara Starr?

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the thing about these strikes is they were targeting a number of things, Natalie. They were going after weapons, they were going after militants, safe houses, the infrastructure of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

There were more than 30 airstrikes. When you compare that to 2016, there was roughly 30 airstrikes in the whole entire year.

So this is a sharp increase that we are seeing taking place here. They are targeting these militants in the southern central parts of the country in the provinces of Bayda, Shabwah and Abyan. And this is an area where Al Qaeda has been known to congregate and

take advantage of the lawlessness and the vacuum that has been created by the war in Yemen.

ALLEN: Right. And this war has been going on and on there, Ian, and there's been criticism from people inside, saying where is the world?

What's the view there on how the U.S. is stepping up its air campaign and how it might overall affect the war?

LEE: You know, the interesting thing about this, Natalie, is when you look at Yemen, there is several conflicts really taking place. You have the primary one between the Houthi rebels and the government troops of Mansour, President Mansour Hadi.

And so that is the primary concern right now. There is a proxy war taking place between Saudi Arabia supporting to the president in Iran, supporting the Houthi rebels to the extent we really don't know.

But then on the other side of the country, you have Al Qaeda exploiting that vacuum. You have ISIS trying to exploit that vacuum. And so these airstrikes are really trying to keep Al Qaeda in check.

But when you look at the war, the conflict overall, it's unlikely to really have much of an effect on the war between the Houthi rebels and the government troops. That is taking play more in the western part of the country, although Al Qaeda has been taking its shots at both in the past as well -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Right. Another war that is extremely complicated in the Middle East. Thank you so much, Ian Lee live for us there in Cairo, Egypt.

French presidential candidate Francois Fillon is hoping a rally on Sunday in Paris can salvage his faltering campaign. He's fighting allegations he misused public money. There are more high profile defections from his team and calls for the French conservative to step aside are growing. Melissa Bell has more 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.


ALLEN: New developments in the murder case of Kim Jong-nam. Malaysia has issued an arrest warrant for this man, a North Korean airline worker. He's wanted for questioning in the death of the North Korean's leader's half-brother. 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 to charge him.

He was deported to Pyongyang and said this to reporters after arriving in Beijing.



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


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

Still ahead here lingering questions about contacts with Russian officials. The Trump administration admits there were meetings but only after months of denials.

Why the denials?

We'll have more about it when we come back here.




NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The Trump administration insists there was nothing wrong with senior aides meeting with the Russian ambassador on several occasions last year. Indeed, such contacts are not illegal.

So why did Trump officials repeatedly deny they occurred?

CNN's Brian Todd looks into that.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For months the denials have been emphatic and definitive.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you say with 100 percent confidence that Mr. Trump or anybody in this campaign had no conversations with anybody in Russia during the campaign?

REINCE PRIEBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: No. I'm just telling you, it's all phony baloney garbage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did any adviser or anybody in the Trump campaign have any contact with the Russians who were trying to meddle in the election?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you say whether you are aware that anyone who advised your campaign had contacts with Russia during the course of the election?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge no person that I deal with does.

TODD (voice-over): It now appears those denials were, at best, deflections. CNN has confirmed a growing list of people affiliated with the president's campaign who had contact with Russia's ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, as far back as last spring.

In April of 2016 Kislyak was in the audience in the same room with was in the audience in the same room with Attorney General Jeff Sessions as then-candidate Trump gave a speech calling for the U.S. to ease tensions with Russia.

Three months later Kislyak was in Cleveland on July 20th on the sidelines of the Republican convention. CNN has learned at least three Trump campaign national security advisers met with the Russian ambassador. One of them tells CNN nothing inappropriate was said, that there was no collusion with the Russians to aid the Trump campaign.

But was Trump's Russia policy affected by those meetings? Trump's team allegedly pushed convention delegates into changing the GOP platform language to offer less help to Ukraine in their fight against Russian separatists.

Days later, Trump told ABC this:

TRUMP: He's not going into Ukraine, OK, just so you understand. He's not going to go into Ukraine. All right?

You can mark it down, you can put it down. You can take it --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But he is already there, isn't he?

TODD (voice-over): During his confirmation hearing, Attorney General Jeff Sessions also denied any contacts as part of the campaign.

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R), ALA.: I did not have communications with the Russians.

TODD (voice-over): But on Thursday, Sessions admitted he, too, met with the Russian ambassador in Cleveland.

SESSIONS: In retrospect, it -- I should have slowed down and said but I did meet one Russian official a couple of times. That would be the ambassador.

TODD (voice-over): The week after that meeting in Cleveland, e-mails stolen from the Democratic National Committee were released, embarrassing Democrats during their convention.

The Trump campaign denied any involvement.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are there any ties between Mr. Trump, you or your campaign and Putin and his regime?

PAUL MANAFORT, TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: No fear of that (ph). It's absurd and, yes, there is no basis to it.

TODD (voice-over): Days later, Mr. Trump was back in front of cameras, seemingly daring the Kremlin to help take down Hillary Clinton.

TRUMP: Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing.

TODD (voice-over): U.S. officials now say the Russians were engaged in a concerted effort to help Trump get elected through hacks and fake news. On September 8th, Sessions, still a surrogate for the Trump campaign, met with the Russian ambassador a second time, this time in Sessions' Senate office.

Sessions says the subject of Ukraine came up. CNN has learned contacts between the ambassador and Trump advisers continued after the election. In December, a senior administration now says the ambassador met

briefly at Trump Tower with Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his appointed national security adviser, General Michael Flynn. Despite news cameras rolling constantly in the Trump Tower lobby, Kislyak was apparently never seen by reporters entering or leaving the building.

Later that month Michael Flynn had a flurry of phone calls and a text with the Russian ambassador, he says, touching on everything from holiday greetings to sanctions.

It was then that President Obama expelled more than 30 Russian diplomats and leveled sanctions on Russia. Yet Vladimir Putin said he wouldn't respond in kind.

Trump praised Putin's move in a tweet, "I always knew he was very smart."

Two months later after "The Washington Post" detailed the timing of the calls, Flynn was opened to resign, the White House says, for misleading Vice President Pence about his conversations with the ambassador.

The next day, press secretary Sean Spicer was still trying to answer questions about Trump campaign contacts with the Russians before the election.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESPERSON: There's nothing would conclude me that anything different has changed with respect to that time period.

TODD (voice-over): Two days later, the president himself was again asked and again denied that anyone on his campaign team had contacts with Russia during --


TODD (voice-over): -- the election.

TRUMP: Nobody that I know of.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So you're not aware any contacts --


TRUMP: How many times do I have to answer this question?

TODD: It appears the president and his team will continue to have to answer these questions as congressional investigations are looming. Now it is important to note it's not unusual for members of the president-elect's team to meet with foreign dignitaries after the election. But none of these contacts appear to have been illegal and the Trump administration says it did nothing wrong -- Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ALLEN: In Brian's report there, one of the people pictured as having had contact with Russia's ambassador is Carter Page. Last September the Trump team tried to distance itself from Page, saying he had, quote, "never been part of our campaign."

And now even the energy executive himself has been denying he had meetings with Donald Trump. CNN's Anderson Cooper asked him about that.



CARTER PAGE, TRUMP CAMPAIGN NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I never shook his hand. I've been in many rallies with him from Arizona to North Dakota to many in New York.


PAGE: You know, which is meetings, you know, so it's --

COOPER: Well, let me ask you about that because you have said repeatedly that you were in meetings with the president.

You were in Moscow in December of 2016, you held a press conference at the Sputnik headquarters and you, apparently to reporters, you deny claims that you had never met Donald Trump during your time as adviser.

And you said, "I've certainly been in a number of meetings with him."

That implies I'm in a meeting, in a conference room, around a table.

You're now saying that those meetings were actually rallies?

PAGE: That is -- listen, if you look at the definition of meeting in Russian and -- in a Russian context, 90 percent of the students from the university and other media people that came to that meeting, that briefing or whatever, yes, presentation I gave, were Russians.

And so when they -- you know, when they have demonstrations and gatherings in Bolotnaya Square or other places, you know, that -- the term for that is meeting.


ALLEN: So, again, a lot of questions surrounding Trump's team and more revelations about these meetings.

We wanted to hear from Trump supporters.

What do they think about what's happening?

CNN's Randi Kaye posed that question to people at the president's rally in Virginia. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RANDI KAYE, CNN INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: On board the USS Gerald Ford, sailors and shipbuilders packed the belly of the aircraft carrier anxious to see their new commander-in-chief.

TRUMP: I agree. I agree.

KAYE: Many in the crowd hadn't yet heard that newly minted Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions was under fire for failing to share during his confirmation hearings that he had met with a Russian ambassador twice during the campaign.

Many members of Congress including Republicans are saying that he misled the committee during his confirmation hearings.

Does that concern you?

QUENTIN CAVANAUGH, ATTENDED TRUMP RALLY: It does. It does concern me. So I hope that's not true.

KAYE: Should he resign?

CAVANAUGH: No, I don't think so. I think we need to find out more about him first.

KAYE: Do you think it's a big deal?

LANCE HALL, ATTENDED TRUMP RALLY: Yeah, probably. I mean, he's talking with the Russians and we don't know exactly what is going on, I mean not sure exactly.

TOM EAMAN, ATTENDED TRUMP RALLY: They said he was doing it because his job at the time, not because of Mr. Trump or anything else.

KAYE: So you believe he met with him as a senator and a member of the armed services committee, not as a Trump surrogate?

EAMAN: Why would he not?

I mean, you have take a man of his word, right?

KAYE: So, all the questions about him lying under oath, do you believe he told the truth?

EAMAN: I do not know all the questions but there is no upside to lying.

CAVANAUGH: I hope if he's done something illegal, that's taken care of.

KAYE: When we told this Trump supporter that the man then Sen. Jeff Sessions met with is considered by U.S. intelligence to be a top Russian spy, she refused to even talk about the situation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You better get somebody else because I'm -- that really pisses me off.

KAYE: Some in the crowd thought Sessions deserved a break suggesting it was memory lapse or that he was possibly being coached.

EAMAN: It's part of his job and normal routine. You don't know what he do every single day.

KAYE: Are you at all concerned that perhaps then Sen. Sessions lied under oath?

ABBY PRUET, ATTENDED TRUMP RALLY: No. I think that time he was probably told that he should not say anything, so I don't think he was lying under oath.

KAYE: And about those appeals for him to step down.

What do you make of the calls for the attorney general to resign?

Is it too soon?

MATTHEW HAYES, ATTENDED TRUMP RALLY: I think maybe too soon. Maybe wait a little while for more facts to come out and wait some more time just to see what happens, you know, let the whole due process continue.

KAYE: Do you think he'll make a good attorney general?

PRUET: I think he will.

KAYE: So does this man who was quick to point out all senators talk to foreign nations, that it's part of the job.

Does that bother you?


KAYE: Why not?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It doesn't. He's a patriot, God Bless America.

KAYE: Randi Kaye, CNN.


ALLEN: The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is considering a proposal to separate children and adults who enter the country illegally at the border with Mexico. A senior official says the measure is meant to stop people from exploiting children.

Right now, when adults come into the U.S. illegally with children, authorities usually release the families, who can stay in while cases are processed. We spoke earlier with Theresa Cardinal Brown. She is the director of immigration policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) 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 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.


ALLEN: President Trump says 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.

Just ahead here, forget the view. There isn't one. A controversial street artist has built a boutique hotel in a place that is searching desperately for dialogue. We'll explain in just a moment.



ALLEN: All right. The view isn't much and there's no gym but Israelis and Palestinians are allowed to visit. That's a big deal on the West Bank, where 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.


ALLEN: And a programming note for you, CNN is teaming up with young people around the world for a unique student-led day of action against modern-day slavery with launch of My Freedom Day on March 14th.

Driving My Freedom day is a simple question, what's freedom mean to you?

Here's what some students in Asia said.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Freedom to me is to be able to pursue my passions and dreams and to achieve what I want to do (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Freedom, according to me, is an emotion. It's much more than an (INAUDIBLE) or expression.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Freedom to me is waking up every day, not having to worry that my rights will be taken away from me and living peacefully and happy with my friends and family.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To be free is to have the power to give -- to make others free.

ALLEN (voice-over): So what does freedom mean to you?

We want to hear from you. Send us your answer via text, photo or video across social media using the #MyFreedomDay.

We enjoy hearing from people around the world, young people.

It is a tale old as time with a twist. Coming up, why one theater in the U.S. is keeping the "Beauty and the Beast" remake off its theaters.






ALLEN: In the U.S., a theater in the state of Alabama is closing the curtain on the new "Beauty and the Beast" movie before it is even released. It is all because of "a gay moment," as the movie's director calls it. Here's Trey Borde (ph) from our Alabama affiliate, WAAY.



TREY BORDE (PH), WAAY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A classic Disney story of a young girl who falls in love.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If she is the one, it'll break the spell. You must finally learn to love.

BORDE (PH) (voice-over): But when the remake begins in March, it will debut Disney's first openly gay character (INAUDIBLE), who has a crush on the film's Billet (ph) Gaston.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Homosexuality is a sin.

BORDE (PH) (voice-over): But it won't air at Henagar (ph) Drive-In Theater. The owner, Carol Laine (ph), took to Facebook Thursday night, announcing she will not show the film at her business because of the gay character.

In the posts, she writes, quote, "When companies continually force their views on us, we need to take a stand."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My salvation isn't about money.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's what God wants me to do.

BORDE (PH) (voice-over): The post received mixed responses. And while some patrons said they won't buy another ticket at the theater, some customers I spoke to said that they will still be in line for a front row seat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I grew up it was just a regular story, a regular romance between a man and woman.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's absolutely absurd.

BORDE (PH) (voice-over): But gay rights advocate Cleve Whitley (ph) strongly disagrees with the owner's decision.

CLEVE WHETLEY (PH), GAY RIGHTS ADVOCATE: I commend Disney for being inclusive and showing the real diversity of love in our world.

BORDE (PH) (voice-over): For 17 years, this drive-in theater has shown many explicit movies right here on its jumbo screen behind me. But the current owners who took over in December told me that "Beauty and the Beast" isn't the only movie that's getting the cut.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We will not be playing movies that have sex. We will not be playing movies that have nudity.

BORDE (PH) (voice-over): Laine (ph) said while she knows she might lose out on a lot of money, she is staying firm on her beliefs.


BORDE (PH) (voice-over): And for now that choice will have nothing to do with "Beauty and the Beast."


ALLEN: And that's CNN NEWSROOM. Thank you for watching this hour to our viewers in the U.S. and all around the world. Hannah Vaughan Jones in London has another hour of CNN NEWSROOM right after this.