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FBI Director Incredulous of Trump's Wiretapping Allegations; Republicans Release Long-Awaited Obamacare Bill; John Dean Discusses Trump's Wiretapping Allegations; THAAD Missile Defense Arrives in South Korea; Opponents of Trump Travel Ban Weighing Options; Putin Spokesman: Russia Hysteria in U.S. Hurting U.S./Russia Relations; Did "Breitbart" Spark Trump Wiretapping Allegations?. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired March 7, 2017 - 02:00   ET


[02:00:06] JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: This is CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles.

Ahead this hour --


VAUSE: Hello, everybody. Great to have you with us. I'm John Vause. For those playing at home, this is now the third hour of NEWSROOM L.A.

Once again, it looks like the U.S. president is headed for a clash with the intelligence community. According to one source, FBI Director James Comey was incredulous over Donald Trump's wiretapping allegation. Without offering evidence, Mr. Trump accused former President Obama of ordering a tap on his phones last year. We're told Comey is frustrated the Justice Department has not publicly commented to reject the claim.

Meantime, White House spokesman, Sean Spicer, ducked a question about the president's support for FBI Director James Comey.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What's the president's view of James Comey right now? Does he have the president's full faith and confidence to stay on as the FBI director?

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We've only heard unsubstantiated anonymous sources make those claims. I don't think Director Comey has actually commented on anything he has allegedly said. I'm not going to comment what people say he might have said.


VAUSE: Joining me here in Los Angeles, Democratic strategist, Dave Jacobson; and Republican consultant, John Thomas.

John, forget what Sean Spicer said there. What is important is what he did not say. He did not say the president supports Comey. Again, there is a rift between the intelligence department and the president. JOHN THOMAS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: Comey has a gun. He can make a

public statement. The president is waiting to see is he willing to use that weapon. Spicer makes a good point. Comey hasn't made a statement. So to speculate as to his intent is just that, speculation at this point.

VAUSE: Dave, given all the problems and the fallout the last time Comey made a statement, is it sort of unrealistic to think he would go public again and, in a way, he is making a public statement by letting it be known.

DAVE JACOBSON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: In a way he totally is. He's gone to "The New York Times" and other publications and insinuated this didn't happen. But I think what this ultimately underscores is the fact that the president is a compulsive flame thrower. We ought to start calling him by his true name which is liar, liar, liar-in- chief. Whether it's the Electoral College, the biggest landslide since Ronald Reagan, the voter fraud or scores of other lies have come out, the lying is just beyond the pale.

VAUSE: John, you said Comey has not made a public statement, but if the president wanted, he could actually speak to James Comey, the FBI director, and could also talk to the head of National Intelligence. As of Monday morning, it seems the president hasn't done that. Listen to this.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I don't know that he has talked directly with the FBI director.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ANCHOR, ABC: He can ask the director of National Intelligence if this is true. Has he done that in.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Look, I don't know that actually that is the case, George. From my understanding, there is a process that this has to follow and in order to go through that process, the first step is a congressional review. That's what we're asking to take place right now.


VAUSE: OK. Whether or not that is the first step I think is debatable.

John, it appears Donald Trump has more faith in what is essentially a dubious report, which appeared on the "Breitbart" website, than the intelligence community.

THOMAS: It's more than the "Breitbart" website. There were a lot of claims, including "The New York Times," that talked about potential wiretapping. We do know General Flynn's phones were tapped while talking to a Russian ambassador. There are suspicions that -- and I think they're fair suspicions -- that Trump allies perhaps were spied upon. President Barack Obama's statement over the weekend parsed his answer in saying that I did not order a wiretap. It doesn't mean one wasn't done, that he wasn't privy to a wiretap. President Trump just wants the facts.

VAUSE: If a wiretap was done, Dave, doesn't that indicate something serious happened?

JACOBSON: Precisely. It's even more -- it's a scarier issue if there was a wiretapping. That means he worked, or someone on his campaign worked for a foreign entity for an outside government, which is even scarier. That highlights the fact that perhaps there was collusion if there was a wiretap.

[02:05:06] VAUSE: There does seem to be a pattern to these controversial tweets coming from the president. They seem to happen early on a Saturday morning. Back in January, he went after John Lewis as being all talk, talk, no action. A few weeks later, he took aim at the failing "New York Times" and fake news. Then the comment about a so-called judge after his first travel ban was blocked by the court.

Dave, is this the sabot (ph) problem when Jared Kushner and Ivanka, when they're not around, he goes off the rails.

JACOBSON: They let the wild beast out. I mean, look, the challenge here is that Donald Trump is an ultimate sort of mastermind when it comes to shifting headlines. And perhaps at the end of the week when there's scandal and controversy plaguing his White House and administration, he tries to change the subject and he goes to war, whether it's with John Lewis or President Obama or any other entity. It illuminates the fact that Donald Trump has gotten off his leash and his staff is not around to rein him in.

THOMAS: I think the deflection argument, in this case, from what I'm hearing from senior people in the White House, this is not a deflection about wiretapping. He believes it to be true. On the weekend, he has more time, so of course he tweets.

VAUSE: A lot of people believe a lot of things but they're not the president. This has more implications.

Stay with us, because the Republicans have unveiled their long-awaited bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. The plan would do away with the individual mandate which requires most people to have coverage or face a tax penalty, still allow young adults to stay on their parents plan until they're 26. They're expected to vote on the measure on Wednesday.

John, already, four Republican Senators are opposed to this, calling it Obamacare Light. Is this going to get through Congress in its current form?

THOMAS: I think it will. The issue is like putting a Band-Aid on the problem. The White House has to lay out mover a comprehensive fix. They're under such pressure because public opinion is turning against the president and his position on health care. He has to start putting something out.

(CROSSTALK) VAUSE: Democrats support it?

JACOBSON: No, public opinion is on the side of Democrats. Hart Research put out a poll, 62 percent of Americans believe that they ought to keep the elements that people like about the Affordable Care Act and then just fix it, not repeal and replace.

VAUSE: Quickly, back to the president's Twitter storm. After making incredibly sensational remarks about Barack Obama, Mr. Trump hit at Arnold Schwarzenegger, tweeting he's been fired from "The Apprentice" for bad ratings.

John, the tweets came within a short time of each other. Does the president sort of equate high crimes and misdemeanors with bad TV ratings?

THOMAS: I think President Trump understands ratings are equivalent to votes. He understands both of those things. Look, I've got to give President Trump credit, he said Schwarzenegger would fail, he failed. Sour grapes.

JACOBSON: Look, he said during his speech the other day he was going to put these petty battles behind him.


JACOBSON: Right. Now he's going to war over Twitter with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

VAUSE: John, Dave, good to see you. Thanks.


VAUSE: Through the weekend tweet storm by the U.S. president, Donald Trump compared Barack Obama with former President Richard Nixon and Watergate. "How low has President Obama gone to tap my phones during the very sacred election process? This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!"

As a reminder, the Watergate scandal refers to a break-in and attempt to bug the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee headquarters in 1972. It was ultimately linked to the re-election campaign of then-President Richard Nixon. And while it's still not known if Nixon knew about the break-in ahead of time, his administration tried to cover it up and, eventually, Nixon was forced to resign.

No one knows more about Watergate than John Dean, White House counsel at the time. He joins us from Los Angeles.

Mr. Dean, thank you for being with us.


VAUSE: Is it possible for a president in 2016 to simply order a wiretap or surveillance essentially for political purposes? DEAN: Not easily. I can't imagine President Obama and michelle

heading out in the dark of the night to plant bugs in some opponent's office. Not likely to happen.

There are laws that make it quite possible. Nixon initially ordered wiretapping through the FBI. Some 17 wiretaps, mostly on newsmen, then on some NSC staff, as well as one of his own speechwriters. This was during the campaign that his campaign did a bungled effort to try to bug the Democratic National Committee. There is no evidence, I didn't see it when I was there, never seen it historically, that Nixon had any knowledge of that wiretapping. So he really wasn't responsible. And I'm not sure Donald Trump understands that for the wiretapping itself.

VAUSE: The secretary of Homeland Security, John Kelly, told CNN he does not know what the evidence would be for the president's claim but he believes it must be convincing. This is what he said.


[02:10:12] JOHN KELLY, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: If the president of the United States said that, he's got his reasons to say it. He's got some convincing evidence that that took place.


VAUSE: At this point, should we just take the president at his word?

DEAN: Well, that's what we used to do. Presidents, pre-Watergate, got the benefit of the doubt. Post-Watergate, they have not gotten the benefit of the doubt. For Trump to put this out without any offering evidence, he's asking for the blow back he's now experiencing. There's been no viable evidence produced since his tweet that it's even possible. There are some conspiracy theories on the hard-right percolating but they're really not credible, and they're kind of citing themselves and their own bootstrapping, and it's pretty weak stuff. So there is no source at this point.

VAUSE: In that tweet about Watergate, Mr. Trump compared Barack Obama to Richard Nixon. In your opinion, how does Donald Trump at this point compare to Richard Nixon?

DEAN: Well, he compares in the sense that they are both clearly authoritarian personalities, but with some differences. Nixon was much more an authoritarian behind closed doors. We know about his personality because of his secret taping system, whereas Donald Trump is even more an authoritarian than Nixon. On a 10-point scale, Nixon is probably a six or seven, whereas Trump is maybe a 10 or maybe even an 11. He's right out there with it. He ran on it. It was part of his persona that got him elected.

VAUSE: Right now, it seems that supporters of President Trump believe he can do no wrong. All these scandals don't seem to matter at least at this point. While, for the critics of the president, they believe he can't do anything right. Everything seems to be a major scandal. Given than political environment right now, where do you see all of this heading? What happens next?

DEAN: Well, this is very typical of authoritarian followers. There are two types of authoritarians. One are those like Trump, called social dominators. And there's a lot of research on this, a lot of decades of it since post World War II. And so we know that most authoritarian personalities are followers and they blindly follow. They will accept their leader -- as Trump said, he could go out on Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and they would still support him. That's probably true. They're not terribly interested in whether he has a source or not. They like the fact that he's attacking the former president. They're the people who liked him calling Obama a Kenyan rather than an American. So there is -- really, what he's doing is poking old coals and raising some problems that are going to hurt him in the long run in his relationship with Mr. Obama.

VAUSE: OK. John Dean, it's been a pleasure to speak with you.

Also, should mention author of the book "Conservatives Without a Conscience." Selling well now, I understand.

Thanks for being with us, sir.

DEAN: Thank you.

VAUSE: The first pieces of a U.S. missile defense system are now in South Korea. The deployment of THAAD system had been planned for months but it just arrived a day after North Korea launched ballistic missiles. The U.S. says it's strictly for defense. China and Russia consider it a security threat.

Let's bring in our correspondents. Paula Hancocks is live in Seoul. Will Ripley is standing by in Tokyo.

Paula, first to you.

You would think, or you make the assumption that many in South Korea would be pleased at this anti-missile defense system is arriving. But that's not exactly the case.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, opinions fairly split at this point, John. It is true the military wants this to happen, the military wants to the have THAAD, saying it's necessary to try and counter the threat of North Korean missiles. But when you come to some of the politicians, opposition parties don't want it and say something this important needs to be voted on in parliament. The residents in the area near where the system will be based don't want it either. They say that there are concerns, environmental concerns, there are concerns for farming.

But the fact is, the U.S. and South Korean officials have said consistently they do need this for defense against North Korea. We heard, as well, from the commander of U.S. Pacific Command who said that yesterday's missile launches, four ballistic missiles landing in the waters just off Japan, defying international sanctions, showed that it was a prudent decision that they should actually bring this THAAD system into South Korea. It does have those who don't want it but certainly for the overwhelming ruling party and the military, they believe that it is necessary -- John?

VAUSE: Paula, thank you.

Will Ripley, to you in Tokyo.

The Japanese prime minister and U.S. president have spoken by phone about North Korea. What are the details?

[02:15:12] WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they spoke, John, we know, in the early morning hours Tuesday here local time. And the most important message reiterated by the Japanese prime minister was that the alliance between the United States and Japan remains unshakeable. That's a term that Japanese officials like to throw around these days in private meetings. And also, to say publicly because there has been a lot of concern here in Japan that the United States' commitment to securing this region may not be as ironclad as it was in previous administrations.

This is one example of the kind of technology that really is a key line of defense for the more than 20 million people living in the Tokyo metropolitan area from the threat of North Korean missiles. These are the Patriot missile interceptors, U.S. technology that was sold to Japan. Japan installed these when North Korea was launching a lot of projectiles last year. And it's not an exact science. It's kind of like I'm told a bullet shooting it another bullet out of the sky. This is similar, not the same system, but similar to the THAAD missile defense system going up in South Korea.

Listen to what Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said about his phone conversation with President Trump.


SHINZO ABE, JAPANESE PRIME MINISTER (through translation): President Trump told me that the United States was with Japan 100 percent and that he wanted his comments to be communicated to the Japanese people.


RIPLEY: Japan is one country in this region that will not be protesting the installation of technology like this in South Korea, John. They understand all too well the threat from North Korea.

One other important thing, systems like this can easily be overwhelmed, I'm told. If North Korea were to launch a number of missiles simultaneously, like the four they launched during this recent test that landed less than 200 nautical miles from the shores of Japan, a system like this might not be able to shoot them down. Imagine if North Korea was able to progress to developing a nuclear- tipped missile and launched a number of them at once on a densely populated area like Tokyo. It's a very scary thought. That's why you have the prime minister and President Trump reaffirming their commitment to protecting the people within striking distance here.

VAUSE: Will Ripley in Tokyo, Paula Hancocks in Seoul, thanks to you both. We'll take a break. When we come back, critics are taking aim at

Donald Trump's revised travel ban. We'll tell you what changes the president has made to try to keep the executive order out of the courts.


[02:19:40] VAUSE: Welcome back, everybody. Senior Trump officials are forcibly defending the president's new travel ban, saying it will stand up to any court challenge. Some states and immigrant rights groups are already weighing legal options. Mr. Trump refused to allow reporters into the room as he sign this new executive order. This one is more limited in scope than the first ban. Iraq was removed from the list, meaning six Muslim-majority countries are now affected. And valid visa and green card holders and permanent U.S. residents are all exempt. The new ban takes effect March 16th.

Joining me here in Los Angeles, the deputy director of the National Immigration Forum, Ali Noorani; criminal defense attorney, Sara Azari; and from Amman, Jordan, CNN's Jomana Karadsheh.

Jomana, first to you.

Iraq is off the list. How is that being seen right now in Baghdad and how did they essentially negotiate to get off the list?

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, this is how expected this new executive order was and what details it had. Hours before President Trump signed it, there was a statement from the Iraqi foreign ministry expressing, quote, "deep relief" that Iraq had been taken off the list, saying this is an important step in the right direction, that it will strengthen cooperation between the United States and Iraq, especially in the field of counter-terrorism. This is, of course, coming after weeks of intense lobbying from Iraqi officials, including the prime minister, who spoke to President Trump trying to make the case also for Iraq to be removed off the list. We also know that the U.S. officials, including defense officials, have been lobbying to get Iraq off this travel ban because the importance of Iraq when it comes to the fight against ISIS. It's worth keeping in mind, there are more than 5,000 U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq who are advising and assisting Iraqi troops in their fight against ISIS. When the initial ban on January 27th came into effect, there was concern that, you know, there would be a rise in anti-American sentiment. We heard calls that Americans should be expelled from Iraq, from within that country. And also, there was that symbolic vote in the Iraqi parliament to apply reciprocal measures. So I think all of this did help Iraq get its way at the end of the day.

But one group of Iraqis that will be not expressing deep relief at this point is refugees, John, because they have been waiting for years and now they have to wait for another four months potentially to try and get to the United States.

VAUSE: OK. Jomana, thank you for that, the view from Amman.

Ali, I want you to come in on this. Do you this new travel ban as an improvement in any way? Is there

anything positive this slimmed down version you can point to?

ALI NOORANI, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, THE NATIONAL IMMIGRATION FORUM: We have serious concerns about this ban. We believe it will have serious constitutional questions as we go through the court process. I think you can make a decision that they have narrowed the ban so it doesn't include those who have green cards. But at the end of the day, the intent of this executive order is clear and that it is a Muslim ban. We do have serious concerns.

VAUSE: This new executive order replaces the one blocked by the courts. The Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that this new travel ban will be defended by the Department of Justice. This is what he said.


JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: The Department of Justice believes that this executive order, just as the first executive order, is a lawful and proper exercise of presidential authority. This Department of Justice will defend and enforce lawful orders of the president consistent with the core principles of our Constitution.


VAUSE: Sara, from a legal point of view, looking at all the changes made, will this one stand up in court?

SARA AZARI, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: No, John. If it's ban number one, two, three, or 10, for as long as it is carving out these countries, which are majority Muslim, almost 100 percent Muslim, it is an Islamic Muslim ban. It's based on religion. It's unconstitutional and un-American because it goes against our fundamental values and beliefs as Americans. And so, Mr. Sessions saying this because, apparently, there was a report today that Homeland Security through the Justice Department has investigated 300 individuals who are traced to terrorist acts and then to these countries. We don't have findings from these this investigation. Just because there was an investigation doesn't mean that the conclusion is actually there.

So there's an issue and there's an issue because, much like some of the other assertions and accusations we've seen come from Trump and this administration, there is no evidence to support that these particular countries or nationals from these countries committed terrorist acts on U.S. soil. Not one example has been presented. And that is why the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals couldn't reconcile this as a national security threat. There's no evidence to support that.

VAUSE: It was interesting that, despite everything the president said about getting this ban out so urgently because of the threat, Ali, it could wait for the president to sort of bask in the glow of a good speech in Congress. What does that say?

NOORANI: Exactly. Last Wednesday, the day after his speech at the joint session, we thought they would be announcing this ban. They gave themselves more days. It leads to the questions, what are the national security implications of this ban. Clearly, there aren't any.

[02:25:09] VAUSE: Did you think he would change his mind after the controversy of the first ban?

NOORANI: I think if there's one thing we've learned about President Trump, he's pretty set in his ways.

VAUSE: Sara, a fundraising e-mail sent out shortly after he signed the order. It talks how this ban will fight radical Islamic terrorism and the president is keeping his campaign promises. With legal challenges pretty much guaranteed, could this end up as being evidence in court?

AZARI: It could. Remember that the justices or judges that are reviewing this are not limited to the four corners of this order. They will look at the totality of the circumstances. They will look at what's missing. And so, we did get some indication from the Ninth Circuit Court before on the first ban that Mr. Trump had made all these assertions throughout his campaign promising his supporters he's going to eradicate Islamic terrorism, et cetera. So the court used that. It's a bell that you cannot un-ring.

VAUSE: Ali, this does not apply to current visa holders, does not apply to green card holders. How does this impact the American-Muslim community?

NOORANI: It impacts the American-Muslim community in that it leads to a very high level of anxiety and fear. If you're a Syrian refugee, resettled by an evangelical church in South Carolina, or you've been here for generations, you're going to ask yourself once or twice before you report a crime to local law enforcement, which, at the end of the day, makes us all less safe. And the other part of this is the economic implications. The message the Trump administration is sending to the world is that we don't want tourists, we don't want visitors, we don't want people to come and bring their talents to the United States. And is a terrible deal for the American worker.

VAUSE: OK, Ali and Sara, thanks for being with us.

AZARI: Thank you.

NOORANI: Thank you.

VAUSE: Time for a quick break. "State of America" with Kate Bolduan is coming up next for our viewers in Asia.

And for everyone else, Russia says it just wants to get along with the United States. Next, here on NEWSROOM L.A., Vladimir Putin's spokesman tells CNN American hysteria over Russia is hurting diplomatic relations, but Mr. Peskov says diplomacy can be restored.


[02:30:16] JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. You're watching an CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles. I'm John Vause, with the headlines this hour.


VAUSE: Russian President Vladimir Putin says hysteria in Washington and the media is hurting U.S./Russian relations. Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told CNN's Matthew Chance that the U.S. is trying to make a toxic country out of Russia.


DMITRY PESKOV, SPOKESMAN FOR RUSSIAN PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: The situation that we're facing now, I mean, it is I would say emotional -- trying to make the toxic country out of Russia. To make a toxic ambassador out of Russia's ambassador. This is something unbelievable actually. And I don't think it all corresponds with our national interests.


CNN's Fred Pleitgen joins us live from Moscow this hour.

Fred, according to U.S. intelligence, Russian officials were cheering the day Donald Trump won the presidential election. There's no cheering now from the Kremlin.

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, there certainly isn't. You can feel there's been a sobering of the mood here in Moscow where as you point out that some of that mood after the election has certainly gone away. You heard that there in the statements of Dmitry Peskov. It was interesting to hear in the past when he's been questioned about things having to do with the Trump administration, the responses you got from the administration, from the Putin administration has been very similar to some of the things that officials in the Trump administration have said. This time, when Matthew asked him about these latest wiretapping allegations coming from President Trump and whether the Russians knew about it, all he had to say was, listen, we don't want to interfere in any way, shape, or form in American politics. It seems as though the Russians trying to take themselves out of the discussion here in this case.

And if you look at the Russians, obviously, on the one hand, they were not unhappy to see President Trump come into office, but at the same time, of course, they were so because they wanted tangible results because they wanted an improvement in U.S./Russian relations because, at the end of the day, what they're looking for is to get back on the international stage, for instance, to get sanctions relief to, get agreements with the United States in places like Syria, possibly even although that's farfetched, in Ukraine, as well. And right now, they don't see much progress on that path simply because of all the things going on in Washington and all the things that the administration has been embroiled in rather than trying to get those relations back up to speed -- John?

VAUSE: As you say, the Kremlin spokesman denied any intention to interfere in the U.S. election. Here's what he said.


PESKOV: We don't have the slightest intention to interfere. The only thing I can tell you is that all this hysteria in public opinion in official Washington, hysteria in American media, this is doing lots of harm to the future of our volatile relationship.


VAUSE: But, Fred, Russia has got form on the board, at least the Kremlin does, when it comes to interfering in elections, maybe not in the U.S. but certainly elsewhere in Europe.

PLEITGEN: Well, absolutely. The Russians have been accused by several European countries of possibly interfering in the elections there through what people believe has been the disinformation campaigns. The Russians for their part are saying that they have nothing to do with that, that that is not their intention, not what they want to do, and certainly not something that they feel they should be accused of. At the same time, that is out there. The Russians have been on the defensive, as well. When you look at some of the things surrounding the U.S. election where, time and again, Dmitry Peskov has said the Russians had nothing to do with it, these are all things President Trump is coming up with and the media is coming up with. They've been defensive about that -- John?

[02:35:31] VAUSE: Fred Pleitgen, for us in Moscow. Appreciate it, Fred. Thank you.

March 14th is My Freedom Day. CNN is partnering with young people around the world for a student-led day of action against modern-day slavery. Driving the day is just one simple question, what does freedom mean to you.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Freedom means to expand your knowledge and to into what you're passionate about.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The courage to stand up for what I think is right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Freedom means having control of my own body and happiness.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Freedom to me means going to school. What about you?




VAUSE: You can send us your answer by texts and photo or video on social media using the My Freedom Day hashtag.

We'll take a short break. When we come back, President Trump makes an explosive claim about his predecessor, putting him at odds with the FBI director. What apparently sparked that Twitter tirade in the first place?


VAUSE: When U.S. President Donald Trump unleashed his barrage of tweets early Saturday morning with unfounded accusations that former President Barack Obama had ordered his phones to be tapped, it seemed to come out of nowhere. While it's still to be confirmed, this article posted Friday on Alt-Right website "Breitbart" may have actually been the spark.

So to break down this "Breitbart", senior media correspondent, host of "Reliable Sources," Brian Stelter, joins us now from New York.

Brian, good to have you with us.


VAUSE: Let's go through the writing here. The story refers to the Obama administration requesting the wiretap. So at the end of the day, it's the FBI which makes the request, right? This seems to imply it came directly from the Oval Office.

STELTER: Right, the story tries to put this squarely on former President Obama. It's part of a narrative we've seen from "Breitbart" and other right-wing websites saying that the Obama administration on the way out the door Obama himself and his aides now have been trying to undermine the new president at every turn. This has been a popular narrative for weeks but it's picked up steam in recent days because of this "Breitbart" story and conservative radio host, Mark Levin. They presented this conspiracy narrative that Trump has latched on to.

[02:40:16] VAUSE: Let's go to the story. It says, "Donald Trump was asking when he asked for Russia to find Hillary Clinton's 30,000 missing e-mails." But that's not how many in the intelligence community heard those comments, right?

STELTER: Right. My head's dizzy from the spinning going on in this story. What happened at that press conference in July of last year, President Trump may have sounded like he was joking but his words were taken very seriously. Not just by journalists but by members of the intelligence community and by folks in Russia, it would seem. This was a serious comment the president made. Even if he said it in a light-hearted way or trying to have some fun, he was the GOP candidate for president talking about Russia maybe going and finding his rival's e-mails.

VAUSE: To line four, in the article, which deals with the WikiLeaks release of e-mails from the Clinton campaign chair, John Podesta, saying, "The Clinton campaign blames Trump and the Russians." It wasn't just the Clinton campaign blaming Russia, was it?

STELTER: No, far from it. This was an intelligence community consensus conclusion reached by multiple agencies from many different directions. But what you're showing here is the way that a framing of a story can really confuse an issue, it can muddy the proverbial waters. This what sites like "Breitbart" do well. There's obviously room all over the web for opinion journalism, for point-of-view journalism. But what we see as a result when people read these stories and don't know where the writer is coming from or why things are spun a certain way, it can be awfully confusing.

VAUSE: OK. The story talks about the scandal over Michael Flynn, national security adviser, who was forced to resign after revelations he lied about his conversations with the Russian ambassador. It describes him as a private citizen at the time of the conversations. Also says the acting attorney general, Sally Yates, was later fired for insubordination. And then refers to Flynn misleading the vice president, adding in brackets, "perhaps inadvertently."

Let's clear this up. Because Flynn was named national security adviser on November 17, long before he had that conversation with the Russian ambassador. Sally Yates actually tried to warn the incoming president there was a problem. Who knows if Flynn lied inadvertently or not?

STELTER: That is an open question. Many folks have reached a conclusion he was being deceptive in his comments. He's been turned into a martyr of sorts by the "Breitbart's" of the world. I've been noticing this in conservative media, pointing to Flynn as the first victim of what is described as this Obama attempt to take down Trump. You know, Mark Levin called this a silent coup. Rush Limbaugh and others, as well. There's a real attempt to say all of Trump's troubles are Obama's fault.

VAUSE: OK. Brian, thanks for breaking it down. Appreciate you being with us.

STELTER: Thanks.

VAUSE: And thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles. I'm John Vause.

"World Sport" is up next. Then Max Foster will join you from London with another hour of news from around the world.

You're watching CNN.




[03:00:09] MAX FOSTER, CNN ANCHOR: Strong push back to President Trump's explosive wiretapping allegations against his predecessor. Lawmakers --