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FBI Asks DOJ to Refute Trump's Wiretapping Claim; North Korea Fires Projectile into Sea of Japan; Governor Cuomo Addresses U.S. Anti-Semitism During Israel Trip; "Finding Jesus" Premieres Sunday. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired March 5, 2017 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:00] PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: That is certainly a fair point.

Reza Aslan, thank you so much for that. And CNN's new original series "BELIEVER" airs tonight at 10:00 Eastern. And the next hour of NEWSROOM starts now.

Top of the hour now. You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Pamela Brown in Washington. Great to have you along with us on this very busy Sunday.

The breaking news tonight, a request by the FBI to the Justice Department to publicly refute allegations by President Trump that he was wiretapped by his predecessor Barack Obama during the campaign.

This as the president remains steadfast in that assertion despite presenting no evidence. He told a conservative Web site Newsmax, quote, "This will be investigated. It will all come out. I will be proven right."

His press secretary officially calling on Congress to investigate whether executive powers were abused during the campaign.

And meanwhile, we've just learned that congressional Democrats are now demanding answers about whether there have been -- may have been improper contact between the Trump White House and the Justice Department.

So, clearly, a lot going on. I want to bring in CNN crime and justice producer Shimon Prokupecz. He joins us now.

Shimon, so what can you tell us about this letter that this group of Democrats plans to send out tomorrow and of course what you're learning about the FBI's request?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE PRODUCER: Yes, you know, Pam, it just seems like every hour there's something new happening and it just seems like there are more and more investigations that are coming in, more and more people asking for more information. So within the last hour, members of the Judiciary -- Democrats on the Judiciary on the Hill say they're going to ask -- tomorrow they're going to ask the lawyers at the White House, the counsel for the White House to release communications between -- any information communications between the White House and the Department of Justice concerning the -- this investigations and sort of what was asked of them by the Department of Justice regarding these wiretappings. So that's happening tomorrow.

This letter comes on the heels of our reporting tonight, the story first reported by "The New York Times," that the FBI had asked the Department of Justice to refute the allegations made by Donald Trump in this tweet storm yesterday morning that the Obama administration, that President Obama was wiretapping his phones, listening to his conversations, and today we learn that the FBI yesterday in kind of a stunning move asked the Department of Justice to refute those claims.

And for political reasons it seems the FBI felt it was better for the Department of Justice to handle this. They would be able to talk to the White House about this. I think the FBI -- certainly the FBI director has sort of wanted to keep himself removed from this and limiting his communications with the White House about any sort of investigation.

It's just a policy that he has held to, and, you know, he firmly believes in, and also part of it the FBI just does not comment on investigations. You know, there's always that famous line from them. We can't confirm or deny an investigation. And so the FBI really felt it was a better way to handle this was to go through the Department of Justice and also, I think, Comey was really concerned by his comments aside from it being just not true.

You know, just sort of the idea that someone at the FBI would be working with the Obama administration and illegally wiretapping really concerned him and that's why he did this.

BROWN: Right, I mean, and this is a remarkable rebuke and remarkable demand from the FBI to ask the Department of Justice to knock down these reports. You sort of touched on this, Shimon, but any more color behind the scenes of making this request to the Department of Justice. Who made that request? What Director Comey's role may have been in all of this?

PROKUPECZ: I mean, it's pretty safe to say that nothing happens, right, at the FBI, certainly something of this level, without the director having knowledge of it. I think he probably spoke with his staff. Some of the sources and officials that I've talked to today have kind of been sensitive about it. I'm not sure they wanted this out. It did get out and now they're dealing with it.

I think their concern obviously is politically. You have the chief law enforcement officer basically fighting with the president right now, accusing the president in some ways of lying, of making these allegations that just are not true, and Comey really felt, you know, something needed to be done and we'll see what happens, you know, over the next few days and where this goes and politically what this means for Comey. You know, it's going to be really interesting and really the Department of Justice, as well.

BROWN: Oh yes.

PROKUPECZ: Because there's a lot of concern there with the career staff about the implications of this. [20:05:02] The implications of these allegations can't be understated,

and I think it's really, really concerning for all and, you know, perhaps maybe Comey just felt like something had to be done and this is what he did. I mean, you know, Comey has this history of sort of stepping up and, you know, staying strong to his beliefs in interference and government.

BROWN: As he did in the Clinton -- well, that's true. And you say stepping up, he also stepped up and was very public when it came to the Hillary Clinton e-mail probe, of course, holding that press conference in July, not even telling the Justice Department about that and then, of course, when he re-opened the case he went against the Justice Department's wish to do so.

So any indication, Shimon -- I know you sort of touched on this, but why Director Comey thought it best for the Justice Department to knock this down?

PROKUPECZ: So the best way, as it was explained to me, sort of was the Department of Justice can communicate with the White House. There is some indication that I think the FBI would have preferred for the Department of Justice to handle this and to deal with this politically. They can communicate with the White House, they can communicate with the White House counsel and sort of, you know, come together with some agreement about how to handle this and really refute the allegations.

BROWN: All right, Shimon. Thanks for breaking that down for us, a busy Sunday for you and I imagine it will be a very busy week for the two of us. So I appreciate it.


BROWN: Shimon, thanks so much.

All right. Let's talk about this over with our panel. We have Jill Dougherty, former Moscow bureau chief for CNN, David Gregory, CNN political analyst.

David, this is uncharted territory, best we can tell. The FBI trying to knock down a claim from a sitting president. How do you think President Trump may respond to this?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, without restraint given the way he's behaved here recently. I think what's quite clear is that President Trump thinks that there are forces trying to sabotage his administration. What we don't know is whether he or his advisers have come clean about whatever contact there was that may have been inappropriate with Russia in the course of the election at a time when Russia was engaged in a major information war against the United States which Senator McCain has called an act of war against the United States to undermine the 2016 election.

So now you've got Jim Comey back in the news, back in the thick of things, getting very public about saying this was absolutely not true, that the president has leveled a charge against his predecessor of breaking the law, of illegally wiretapping him or his associates based on a Breitbart article and a talk show, and not on any government sources whatsoever. So this is quite shocking even by Trump standards.

BROWN: And you mentioned James Comey back in the news. The irony is that clearly the FBI wanted to sort of stay out of this and let the Department of Justice publicly refute it, but of course, this is how this is playing out.

And Jill, in a sense, this is behavior and those that the U.S. associate perhaps with Russian politics. One leader accusing his predecessor of wiretapping. How is this playing out in Russia?

JILL DOUGHERTY, FORMER CNN MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF: You know, remember a couple of weeks ago when we talked about this and the Russians where kind of set back by all of this. They we didn't quite get what happened to the relationship. We expected that it would work out. We expected that there would be a payoff and some type of better relations and that's not happening. So I think for a couple of weeks -- past couple of weeks they have been trying to figure out how do we play this because the media are controlled by the Putin administration.

So I think now they've got their message together and the message essentially is look, we have to lower expectations, number one, about Donald Trump. Not get the Russian people excited as much as they were about the relationship because not a lot may happen. In fact, you can argue right now it's worse than ever, and then they had to come up with some type of explanation as to why this is all happening. And I think that they kind of went back to the shelf of a lot of kind of old Soviet ideas.

I mean, you look at some of the message. They're saying American society is divided. It is a violent society. There are -- and this is the phrase. They're actually calling now the American media the oligarchic media.

Now oligarchs, as most Americans would know, is a word that we kind of associate with the rich, rich people who controlled the Russian government, et cetera. Now the Russians are flipping that and saying this is the oligarchic media, and they're also coming down on liberals, radical liberals. So it's very interesting to watch and, as David was saying, the Russian -- what they are, I find, almost uncannily similar to what Donald Trump is saying, which -- here's a good example.

[20:10:06] They say that Donald Trump is pinned down to the ground by intense fire, meaning like gunfire by the liberal media, the radical, liberal media. And so they even got to the point and one thing that I was reading today where they said, you know, the United States has a lot of guns, and it's a pretty violent place so we don't know where this is going. In fact, we don't know where it will end or whether it will end at all. So I think they're flipping the message, using a lot of the things that Americans have, you know, accused Russia of doing. They are flipping it back on to the United States, but they're also kind of standing back and they don't know where all this is going either, Pam.

BROWN: And you know, just this latest example, look, President Trump was the one that tweeted a remarkable accusation about a former president wiretapping his phone, and so how could the media not react to something like that?

And in the wake of that, David Gregory, what about this White House request now in the wake of this tweet for a congressional investigation into this? How is that going to play in the U.S.? Spending taxpayer money to investigate claims with no solid evidence provided?

GREGORY: Well, look. And this is ridiculous on a couple of levels. The president of the United States with the whole world watching now and there are implications for this is accusing his predecessor of illegally wiretapping him and his associates. The FBI director says that is false. That did not happen. And so does President Obama.

And after making that assertion without any evidence now they're asking Congress to investigate to perhaps find some evidence. So there is a lot of noise here and we have a recognizable pattern in this fledgling administration and that is a president who is extremely thin skinned who feels besieged and who is lashing out.

There's been reporting this weekend about how furious he was at his staff before he left for Florida this weekend. He wants congressional investigations. He's got an attorney general who's recused himself after giving inaccurate testimony on Capitol Hill related to his contacts with Russian officials. So this is going in so many different directions that Trump does not like and it's not going away.

And what we've seen is that every time he feels besieged he launches something like this without any evidence whatsoever and sends everybody scurrying and that's what's happening this weekend, but at a time when the president would like to get focused on some very big agenda items that he wants to take on that are policy, I think it's quite clear that whatever the basis of whatever wiretapping was going on, if there was a reason for it to be going on against candidate Trump and his associates at the time, that should be great cause for concern, as are these assertions that he's leveling without evidence.

BROWN: You know, it's been reported he was angry about the headlines recently about Russia and the Russian ambassador's meetings with his Cabinet members such as Jeff Sessions during the campaign, but is this latest accusation, I mean, is this a better distraction because the argument is made, David, that he put this out there to sort of take away from those other headline, but is this any better? What is your take on that?

GREGORY: No, look, I don't think this can get any better. I mean, look, as Jill was speaking to, there is a reaction in Russia. Russia has been long involved in trying to create information-based turbulence in the United States around elections and is seizing on that in the digital age to do so in an even more sophisticated way, but look, the world is watching the conduct of this president and the conduct of his policy and he's just rolling out things that he's in some control of here.

What happens when there is a real crisis? What happens when the American president has to persuade allies around the world to do something, to believe him? Right now he is at war with the intelligence community in the United States, at war kind of hilariously with the media in this country, and presumably it will certainly take on the head of the FBI who is now pushing up against him quite strongly.

So all of this as there is fighting on Capitol Hill about how deep this investigation should go into the Russia connection in the election. So none of this is good. All of it is a huge distraction from what the president, I suppose, would like to get focused on and that's trying to get his agenda passed and improve the economy, and everything else.

BROWN: And of course there are, you know, crises going on. I mean, just today we reported that North Korea fired four ballistic missiles and so -- I mean, there's a lot that the president has on his shoulders, but of course something like this, an accusation like this that has been knocked down by the FBI certainly I imagine doesn't help President Trump's case or goal to have the media focus on policy.

Very quick, Jill. Does this make the U.S. appear weaker in Putin's eyes?

[20:15:04] DOUGHERTY: There's no question. There is no question. I mean, not only in Russian where they are using the United States and what is happening right now is a very bad example of what can happen when you loosen up and when you have these radical liberals because President Putin himself is going to run for reelection, we expect in 2018. So the campaign has already begun and he's using the United States as a bad example of what can happen.

And then other countries are looking at this chaos and saying, how are the Americans even functioning? I mean, I talked to a lot of people in Europe and in the kind of the former Soviet Union space. A lot of them are just looking back and saying, what is happening? Where is this going? Can we rely upon you? What will the United States do? What would this administration do? This really serious concern that I think a lot of Americans probably aren't even aware of.

BROWN: All right. Jill Dougherty, David Gregory, interesting discussion. I do appreciate it. Thanks so much.

And coming up right here in the NEWSROOM on this Sunday, much more on our breaking news tonight. The FBI pushing back against accusations from President Donald Trump that the previous administration ordered wiretapping against him at Trump Tower.

Also ahead, North Korea with a flurry of missile tests, four in all, falling into the sea near Japan.

You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [20:20:33] BROWN: It is our breaking news this Sunday right here on CNN. The FBI demanding the Justice Department tell the American people that President Trump's wiretapping claim is baseless and never happened. This is according to our sources. Nothing yet, though, in terms of formal announcements from either the FBI or higher.

Let me bring in Tom Fuentes, a former assistant director of the FBI and our law enforcement analyst, also James Carafano who runs the Foreign and Defense Policy Studies Institute at the Heritage Foundation.

Great to have both of you, gentlemen, on.

Tom, first to you. Explain how the FBI, your former agency, would make such a demand and has this ever happened before, in your view?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, Pamela, I can't explain how they would make the demand because I don't know of any time it's ever been done before for the FBI to ask someone at the Department of Justice to release a statement that basically would say that what the president said yesterday is not true, that the FBI did not have a wiretap on Mr. Trump or his associates, or now President Trump. So that's unprecedented.

The other problem, as I see it, is that there's no attorney general to ask about this because Attorney General Sessions had already recused himself last week from anything concerning the investigation of the -- of these allegations that Mr. Trump's associates were, you know, working with the Russians, let's say, to alter the election results. So now you don't have an attorney general and because it's so new in the administration you don't have a staff to deal with.

You don't have a confirmed deputy attorney general and others at that level, so this is very similar to last July where Director Comey didn't have an attorney general then because Loretta Lynch had said she would rely on whatever decision Director Comey made with regard to the Clinton e-mail investigation. So here we have another incomplete staffing at the Department of Justice on this case.

BROWN: But we have a different response, seemingly, because in that case we know Director Comey held that press conference and was very public about his conclusion with the Hillary Clinton e-mail probe. In this case he's asking the Justice Department to come out and publicly refute this allegation from the president.

And, James, to be clear, would there be any way possible for the FBI not to know if then-candidate Trump's phone was wiretapped? And just walk us through the process for why this is so rigid for something to actually happen?

JAMES CARAFANO, FOREIGN AND DEFENSE POLICY STUDIES INSTITUTE, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: Right. To Tom's point first, we don't know what the FBI director has asked for because the FBI and the Justice Department hasn't commented on yet. So I think that's important. We all made a lot of assumptions about what he said but we don't actually know that.

BROWN: Well, we do know. We have -- we do have our reporting that the FBI asked -- go ahead.

CARAFANO: Well, I know -- well, we have reporting on lots of thing, but we don't know precisely what the FBI's asked for. You know, I would say I think it's smart for the FBI to basically stay out of the political crossfire. I think he's asking for the justice department to clarify something, and I think that's appropriate. The FBI shouldn't be doing that and what I would hope and what I would assume the case is, the number one thing that the FBI is interested in is if there is an ongoing investigation, regardless of who is involved in it, that the FBI doesn't want to have to make any statements or have the Justice Department make any statements that would compromise that investigation.

There are two possible venues here. One is this could be a criminal investigation and then a legitimate warrant would come from some place else, or it could involve foreign intelligence. We would come under a FISA court or we'd go to a special court to get an authorization to wiretapping because foreign intelligence is involved, but in either case we don't know who it might involve. It might involve somebody that was just in the Trump Tower and -- or it might have involved a call into somebody that was incidental.

And again, as Tom will tell you, just because somebody is being investigated or they were listened to as part of a legitimate wiretap doesn't necessarily mean that they've committed any wrongdoing.

BROWN: And just to reiterate, our reporting is that the FBI asked the Justice Department to refute this allegation from President Trump that the president -- past president asked for his phone to be wiretapped and that was granted.

Tom, what does this mean for the relationship between James Comey and President Trump?

[20:25:07] FUENTES: Well, I think what Director Comey has found out going back to July is that all glory is fleeting. You know, one minute when he gives a decision that seems favorable to one side he's praised and then the next minute he's criticized and I think that, you know, we recently -- when President Trump began his administration he backed up Director Comey, that he wanted him to continue as the director, and now I would say that this is going to cause a problem in that relationship.

But we don't know. We've never had something like this before and we've never had President Trump in a situation where he's in the middle of a firestorm and we don't know how he's going to react to that. We know how he already reacted yesterday morning when the accusations were made, you know, in certain media outlets that he had been wiretapped by the Obama administration and when he heard that, you know, he quickly was upset with that. So what's going to happen now? I don't know.

BROWN: Let me just ask you this, James, because this is not the first allegation that officials have said is baseless. I mean, you'll recall when President Trump said there were three million to five million people who voted illegally and talking to people in the FBI and Justice Department they said well, there's no fact to that back that up. And that appears to be the case in this situation so why -- why is the director seemingly so adamant for this to be publicly refuted, James?

CARAFANO: Well, again, we don't know the director is adamant. We just know there's reporting that says he's adamant but I will say I think Director Comey is a man of incredible integrity and professionalism, and actually I think he'll do just fine in the Trump administration because he's doing his job, and I think both he and Mr. Sessions will respect that.

You know, on the tweeting, I would be the first to acknowledge, as a matter of fact, I've written a lot about this that Trump's tweeting is often imprecise. I'll give you a perfectly good example. He tweeted the other day that one of the meetings that Sessions had was with 100 ambassadors. Well, that wasn't actually correct. It was a State Department event. There were about a hundred people in the room, and I know because I was there, but there were actually about 60 ambassadors.

Now does that make Trump's statement false? No, it's just, you know, Trump being Trump, and my perspective is I think people are starting to -- I'm saying segregating kind of the political firestorm and the crossfire and the actual acts of governance, and I actually think that these kind, you know, debates that we all get excited and everything about that Americans are getting largely kind of ambivalent to this, and what I see in foreign leaders is they're paying much far less attention. It shows South Koreans actually had somebody reading Trump's tweets and I think they've learned that that's not really a useful exercise.

BROWN: All right. James and Tom, thank you much to both of you.

FUENTES: Thank you.

BROWN: And just ahead in the CNN NEWSROOM North Korea again presenting a foreign policy crisis for President Donald Trump's new administration with several missile tests. Tonight the projectile is landing in the sea near Japan. That's up next. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


[20:32:26] BROWN: Well, don't miss tonight's premiere of CNN's new original series "BELIEVER." It's a journey into scientology, voodoo and more. At 10:00 p.m. tonight host Reza Aslan heads to India to learn about a Hindu sect known for their extreme rituals.


REZA ASLAN, HOST, "BELIEVER": Why are people on that side of the river so afraid of the Aghori?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Graphics) Should we eat the living? Shall I show you by eating my own flesh? Then call me Aghori.

ASLAN: I see. Why do --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Graphics) I will call off your head if you keep talking so much.

ASLAN: This may have been a mistake. Maybe we just like somebody distracts him and I just leave?

BEN SELKOW, DIRECTOR: This is actually where it goes.

ASLAN: I can be polite. I can be very polite about that.


BROWN: Watch the premiere of "BELIEVER" tonight at 10:00 Eastern only on CNN.

And up next, our breaking news. The U.S. and the South Korean military scrambling to find out exactly what North Korea just fired toward Japan. We're going to take you live to the region on edge after several mysterious objects land in the Sea of Japan.

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM and we'll be right back. Stay with us.


[20:37:51] BROWN: More on our breaking news out of North Korea. The Southern Korean military is saying tonight that North Korea has fired several unidentified projectiles into the Sea of Japan. This comes almost exactly four weeks after the North tested a ballistic missile. That missile travelled some 300 miles before falling into the East Sea.

So let's go live now to CNN's Paula Hancocks live from Seoul, South Korea, and Will Ripley in Tokyo, Japan.

Paula, first to you. Are we any closer to knowing what these objects were?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Pamela, the South Korean Defense Ministry has confirmed that they are ballistic missiles and confirmed that they have flown a range of about 600 miles. Now what we don't know at this point and this is crucial is what kind of angle they were fired at, what was the trajectory which could give us more of an idea of exactly what kind of missile this was. Now we know that South Korean and U.S. officials right now would be combing through that U.S. satellite data to try and find anything more they can about it.

It was launched from the western part of North Korea, Dongchang-ri. This is an area where quite often long-range missiles are fired from and also the same area where a satellite launch happened just last year which was seen as a cover for a long-range missile. So certainly that is raising questions as to what exactly these ballistic missiles were. There has been a national security council meeting here. The acting

president saying that this is a direct challenge to the international community. Also saying that given the brutality of North Korea and we've seen with the assassination of Kim Jong-nam, this is the half- brother of North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, which South Korea blames on the North, he says that the consequences of Kim Jong-un having nuclear weapons will be horrible, also adding it is something that is even hard to imagine. So there is a huge amount of concern here in South Korea -- Pamela.

BROWN: And Will, what about the concern in Japan? How are the Japanese responding to this? Are they perceiving this as a threat?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they certainly are, Pamela. Just down the road from where we're standing now, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been speaking with lawmakers.

[20:40:04] He also confirmed that these were four ballistic missiles that landed in the waters very close to Japan. He says this is a new level of threat.

I was in North Korea just a couple of weeks ago after the first missile test of the Trump administration. That particular missile we've since learned was a solid fuel missile launched from a mobile launcher. That's particularly dangerous because those mobile launchers were very difficult for satellites to track ahead of time which means these missiles can be launched as a surprise attack. That missile -- and we don't know the full range of these four that were launched, but that missile could hit anywhere in mainland -- anywhere in Japan including where more than 50,000 U.S. troops are based, anywhere on the southern end of the Korean Peninsula where more than 25,000 U.S. troops are based.

And Pamela, all of this has continued in North Korea. They expressed a lot of anger about the joint U.S. and South Korean military exercises that are happening right now. But we know what their endgame is. It's to get a ballistic missile with the nuclear warhead capable of reaching locations such as the mainland United States. And despite many efforts to stop the North Korean sanctions, the "New York Times" reported over the weekend, cyber attacks trying to lace their supply chain with faulty parts, none of this has appeared to slow their progress.

BROWN: All right. Will Ripley and Paula Hancocks, thank you very much for your latest reporting there.

And up next right here in the NEWSROOM, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo making an impromptu visit to Israel after a wave of anti-Semitic violence in the U.S.


GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D), NEW YORK: It has to be addressed forcefully in my opinion and immediately. Zero tolerance for racism, for discrimination.


BROWN: Our Oren Liebermann has more on what the governor had to say. That's next and you're live in the CNN NEWSROOM. We'll be right back.


[20:45:55] BROWN: Well, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in Jerusalem today meeting with the Israeli prime minister following a wave anti- Semitic violence across the U.S. The governor condemning the violence, calling it, quote, "reprehensible. "

CNN's Oren Liebermann has more.


OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Governor Andrew Cuomo laying a wreath at Yad Vashem, the Israeli holocaust museum. The lessons of the past especially relevant today.

More than 100 bomb threats called into Jewish community centers across the United States. Jewish cemeteries vandalized, headstones knocked over. New York has not been immune. Late last week, more than a dozen tombstones were toppled in a Jewish cemetery in Rochester. It's being investigated as a hate crime.

CUOMO: When you start demonizing differences, it's a social cancer because now the body is feeding on itself. And it has to be addressed forcefully, in my opinion, and immediately. Zero tolerance for racism, for discrimination.

LIEBERMANN: Israeli politicians have watched the surge in anti- Semitic acts from afar taking to Israeli TV and social media to speak out against anti-Semitism in the United States. Many in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government stayed quiet until after President Donald Trump condemned anti-Semitism most recently in a speech before Congress.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all of its very ugly forms.


LIEBERMANN: Netanyahu, who was quick to invite European Jews to come to Israel after attacks in Paris, has not once been critical of Trump or even voiced his concern, even as Trump's adviser, Steve Bannon, faces repeated accusations of anti-Semitism.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: There is no greater supporter of the Jewish people and the Jewish state than President Donald Trump. I think we should put that to rest.

LIEBERMANN: Netanyahu has urged caution and expressed optimism with the Trump administration. It's the first time Netanyahu has ever worked with a Republican president, an opportunity too great for Netanyahu to risk, even if it means overlooking criticism Trump faces in his mishandling of a wave of anti-Semitism.

Oren Liebermann, CNN, Jerusalem.


BROWN: And still to come on this Sunday evening, the CNN original series "Finding Jesus" takes us to the ancient city of Jerusalem following tourists on a spiritual quest.

You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. We'll be right back.


[20:52:33] BROWN: Well, just into CNN, a congressman is apologizing for a crude joke he told last week at the expanse of White House counselor Kellyanne Conway after a picture of her in the Oval Office seen here went viral. The comments were made by Democratic Congressman Cedric Richmond at the Washington Press Club Foundation's annual dinner. Take a listen.


REP. CEDRIC RICHMOND (D), LOUISIANA: And you can just explain to me that, that circumstance because she really looked kind of familiar in that position there.


BROWN: So now Richmond is apologizing in a statement that we just received moments ago that reads in part, "The last thing I would ever want to do is utter words that would hurt or demean women. I apologize to Kellyanne Conway and everyone who have found my comments to be offensive."

Well, the second season of the CNN original series "FINDING JESUS" premiers next at 9:00 p.m. Eastern. This season, the series takes us to Jerusalem for a closer look at the people and places that shape the life of Jesus.

CNN's David Gregory also travelled there and met up with tourists in search of deeper spiritual meeting.


GREGORY (voice-over): Jerusalem calls to the faithful. Here, the Bible comes to life. And pilgrims come in search of it history.

PAULA FREDRIKSEN, PROFESSOR OF COMPARATIVE RELIGION, HEBREW UNIVERSITY: This is something that is one of the most powerful and remarkable things about the tradition, is that you can actually go to the place where things happened.

GREGORY: We've come to the old city with Professor Paula Fredriksen in search of the historical Jesus.

FREDRIKSEN: I think the historical Jesus has always mattered to Christianity or we wouldn't have the gospels.

GREGORY (on camera): Right.

FREDRIKSEN: Those are stories about Jesus, the man.

GREGORY (voice-over): Along the Via Dolorosa, the pilgrim imagines the agony and physical strain for Jesus of Nazareth during the march to crucifixion. On his final journey, the gospels say he faltered carrying the cross, placing his hand on this stone before Simon helps to bear the burden.

Visiting Methodists from a church in St. Louis find a visit to the place makes for deeper spiritual meaning.

PASTOR MICHAEL MCINTYRE, PILGRIMAGE LEADER TO HOLY SITES OF CHRISTIANITY: I think Scripture goes from black and white to Technicolor when you come here because all of a sudden you serendipitously discover things or you've been reading it your whole life, studying your whole life and it's like this kind of aha, oh my goodness, I get why Jesus came here.

[20:55:02] GREGORY: Jerusalem is the epicenter of three great faiths -- Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. But more than half of the visitors to the country are Christians coming increasingly from Asia and African nations.

Leading parishioners from Ohio to the site of the visitation where Mary is said to have praised God after learning she is the mother of Jesus, Father Steve Brunovsky says the history is meant to help us live our faith today.

FATHER STEVE BRUNOVSKY, LEAD HIS PARISH ON PILGRIMAGE OF HOLY LAND: When you go to a place where there's a shrine or where your ancestors have been, where people of faith have been for a long period of time, it also reminds you that, you know, we're all on pilgrimage and we take this experience of these holy places into our daily life.

GREGORY (On camera): The narrative of the New Testament unfolds powerfully along the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Here is where the ministry of Jesus was formed. And today, it's where religious pilgrims come to explore the natural beauty of this area, but also to look up from the pages of the gospels and imagine what happened here.

(Voice-over): This is a landscape of miracles, love and faith, where Jesus is said to have told his followers, "Don't be afraid." Today, it's where pilgrims come to dig even deeper. These students from Chile are volunteering at an archaeological site in the first century port town of Magdala.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are trying to (INAUDIBLE) and to show the people how they lived in the last 2,000 years.

GREGORY: Artifacts from such digs may end up at the Israel museum in Jerusalem. Here, the findings include remains of a Jewish high priest and a stone bearing the name of Roman Governor Pontius Pilate. DAVID MEVORACH, SENIOR CURATOR, ISRAEL MUSEUM IN JERUSALEM: So it's

an amazing coincidence that two architects like this that relate directly to the last moments of Jesus, to the arrest and trial and crucifixion were found in excavations.

GREGORY: Evidence for the faithful in this city under God.

David Gregory, CNN, Jerusalem.


BROWN: And David Gregory joins us now.

So, David, clearly, and just watching that clip, this was very personal for you.

GREGORY: Well, I've been on my own faith journey for the past decade or so and written about it in my book "How's Your Faith?" So there's no question. I mean, I have deep interest in this, deep interest in people who go to the holy land to walk the gospels, to walk their tradition, as Jews, Christians, or Muslims, and find in biblical archaeology a sense of place, unfolding history which has a real impact I think on the development of your own faith, the deepening of your faith. So as somebody was able to do this in, you know, as a journalist, it was also very meaningful.

BROWN: And was there any sort of moment throughout this experience for you where you were kind of taken aback or perhaps it was an emotional moment? Anything like that in this journey for you?

GREGORY: Well, you know, people of faith differ in terms of the extent to which that sense of place, walking the gospels or walking the bible more generally how much impact that has on them. I'm among those who likes to do it. To try to imagine the sacred text, to try to imagine what happened in history. And to try to imagine these figures in the bible and how they have resonance in our lives today. So that's something that's impactful on me.

And I just love going to places where we know from the text that things were said to have happened. You know, that we believe from the text that things were to have happened. And that has a lot of meaning for me. It helps to make it all come alive.

BROWN: And just quickly, what will viewers and your hope walk away with after watching this?

GREGORY: Well, again, I think, and especially this first episode is about Pontius Pilate and the stone that was found, it is the master biblical stories coupled with what history and biblical archaeology has done to try to inform the gospels. What that -- what those findings tell us about the life of Jesus, I think, is remarkable. There's still a lot of mystery. There's still a lot of questions. Not everything is resolved, but the series really leans into that mystery. And I think whether you're a believer or someone who's interested in the history, there's a lot for both groups. BROWN: Yes, it certainly seems that no matter what faith you have or

even if you don't have a faith, there's something in this for everyone.

David Gregory, thank you very much for that. A great night of television ahead for you.

Up next, stay tuned for the season premiere of the CNN original series "FINDING JESUS." And then tonight at 10:00 Eastern, another CNN original series, "BELIEVER," with Reza Aslan."

I'm Pamela Brown in Washington. Now stay tuned for the season premiere of the CNN original series, "FINDING JESUS."