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White House Refuses to Back Down on Trump Wiretapping Claims; White House to Cut Social Programs to Increase Military Budget, Build Wall; Tillerson Arrives in South Korea During Tensions; Merkel to Meet with Trump in Washington. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired March 17, 2017 - 02:00   ET



[02:00:09] JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: This is CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles.

ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: Ahead this hour --


VAUSE: Hello. Great to have you be us. I'm John Vause.

SESAY: I'm Isha Sesay. NEWSROOM L.A. starts right now.

U.S. President Donald Trump finding himself increasingly isolated in his claim that Barack Obama wiretapped him at Trump Tower. House Speaker Paul Ryan and the top Democrat and Republican on the House Intelligence Committee all say they see no evidence to back up the charge.

VAUSE: From the Senate Intel Committee, Republican Chairman Richard Burr and Democrat Mark Warner issued a joint statement. This is what it says. "Based on the information available to us, we see no indications that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance by any element of the United States government either before or after Election Day, 2016."

SESAY: Despite that, White House Spokesperson Sean Spicer mounted an extraordinary defense of the president at Thursday's press briefing.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Sean, what you are refusing to answer the question that you're refusing to answer is whether or not the president is still --


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS CONFERENCE: No, no. I just said it to Jonathan --


ACOSTA: You have a Senate and House Intelligence Committee, both leaders from both parties on both of those panels saying that they don't see any evidence of any wiretapping. How can the president go on --


SPICER: That's not what -- I think it's possible he's following up on this. To suggest that is absolutely --


ACOSTA: -- literally, and you said --


SPICER: Right. He said exactly that. The president has said clearly when he referred to wiretapping, resistors to surveillance.

ACOSTA: But, Sean, it sounds like what you're saying we don't mean wiretapping now.


SPICER: No, no, that's not.

ACOSTA: -- other forms of surveillance --

SPICER: No. Jim, I think that's cute, but at the end of the day -- we talked about this for three or four days -- what the president had wiretapping in quotes. He was referring to broad surveillance. The bottom line is that the investigation with the House and Senate has not been provided all of the information, and when it does -- but where was the concern --


SPICER: Hold on.

ACOSTA: The reports than --


SPICER: No, no, I think the president addressed that last night, said there was more to come. I think there's widespread reporting that throughout the 2016 election there was surveillance done on a variety of people that came up --

ACOSTA: But there's an investigation going on --


SPICER: Jim, I find it interesting that you --


ACOSTA: Of course, they're going to be looking at these various -- SPICER: OK. I get it. Somehow you seem to believe you've got all

this information, you've been in read in all these things, which I find very interesting.

ACOSTA: I have read in --


SPICER: You're coming to some serious conclusions for a guy who has zero intelligence -- of classified


ACOSTA: Give me a little credit. Intelligence. Maybe I have some.

SPICER: No, clearance. I wasn't done. Clearance.


VAUSE: Joining us now from Los Angeles for more, former L.A. city councilwoman, Wendy Greuel; Republican consultant, John Thomas; and talk radio host, Mo Kelly.

Thursday's White House briefing, it was promised to be a humdinger, Sean Spicer did not disappoint.

John, first to you.

If you go through it all and try to boil it down, Spicer seems to be saying, wiretapping refers to surveillance in general and there will more evidence to come from the Justice Department to prove the president's allegations are true. Right now, that seems to be pretty thin ice.

JOHN THOMAS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: That's true. I've maintained on this program since Trump tweeted that that Trump talks in broad generic terms just when he calls Ted Cruz Lying Ted 100 percent of the time. It's the same kind of thing. It's complicated.

VAUSE: Why put yourself in this position -- sorry -- to get into this --

THOMAS: That's how the president speaks. I'm sure, if he were being honest he wishes he could say surveillance or surveilled. If there is no "there" there after Monday, then they've got a serious problem. You can't tap dance your way out of that?

SESAY: Wendy?

WENDY GREUEL, FOMRER LOS ANGELES CITY COUNCILWOMAN: He used quotations in wiretapping once but all the other times it was not in quotation. He referred to the president of the United States, the former president of the United States that he wiretapped the president. I just think it is outrageous, and that no one today, no one has said there's any evidence. It could be solved. It could be proven right or wrong by Donald Trump talking to the FBI director and saying was it ever done. There's nobody that says that happened.

[02:05:11] VAUSE: Spicer has an audience of one, which is the president, which he was clearly performing for on Thursday.

Mo, to you.

Spicer's briefing, it may have been good television. He sort of went full McCarthy for us. But it gives the impression this controversy is spinning out the White House's control.

MO KELLY, TALK RADIO SHOW HOST: It is. But I think we in the media have a responsibility not to get into all this parsing about he meant wiretapping or surveillance. He has a difficult relationship with the truth. He's made slanderous and libelous statements dating back to when he was a candidate, from Birtherism to supposed 3.5 million illegal voters, to all sorts of things. Why is it we cannot hold this man accountable for not telling the truth, making unsubstantiated claims. This is not an isolated incident and we should be able to call it for what it is.

SESAY: John, you heard Mo say that he has a problem with the relationship with the truth. What about his relationship with Republicans on Capitol Hill?

THOMAS: Listen, they like it when he's winning and they're winning down-ticket. What happens with the health bill, as it stands today, Republicans are saying it could cost them at the ballot box. They're not happy with the president. But as the president said in his interview by Tucker Carlson, it's not in its final form, the health care bill and it's one big negotiation.

VAUSE: The FBI director is expected to talk in a public hearing on Monday, like D-Day, if you like. James Comey could have evidence to support the president. Seems unlikely. He says he doesn't. If ends up debunking all of this, Spicer's impassioned defense will look like the Swiss Guard back in 1587, 189 guardsmen holding off 20,000 Roman mercenaries. That did not end well.

GREUEL: It did not end well. He'll have egg on his face. Republican and Democratic leaders today stood up and said there is no evidence. It is clear. I think we're wasting time and money and energy on this. And the Republicans are getting frustrated. They're losing it every step of the way. He looked today -- Sean Spicer, looked today like when you have an argument with your sibling and you say to your parents you're treating me better than you are my brother of sister. It was comical and sad at the same time.

SESAY: John, what if Comey comes out and knocks this thing down, which is what is expected on Monday, will the president retract his claims and apologize, dare I say it?

THOMAS: The president doesn't apologize.


(CROSSTALK) I think he'll debate was his definition of "is" is. We've heard that before. He'll say, well, I meant that in a different context. What am I supposed to do? I'm reading the newspapers just like everybody else.


GREUEL: He's the president of the United States.

THOMAS: And he may say, just like he did with the Birther, I'm glad I put this issue to bed once and for all.


VAUSE: OK. Let go on to the budget proposal. Before Spicer spun out of control, we heard from the White House budget chief, Mick Mulvaney, defending the White House's programs - he's defending the cuts to social welfare programs like Meals on Wheels. This is what he said.


MICK MULVANEY, WHITE HOUSE BUDGET DIRECTOR: We can't spend money on programs just because they sound good. Meals on Wheels sounds great. Again, that's a state decision to fund that particular portion. To take the federal money and give it to the states and say we want to give you money for programs that don't work. I can't defend that anymore. We can't defend that anymore. We're $20 trillion in debt. We're going to spend money. We're going to spend a lot of money but we're not going to spend it on programs that cannot show that they actually deliver the promises that we've made to people.


VAUSE: Mo, the problem with what Mulvaney is saying that the research on Meals on Wheels, that actually does work. Elderly people get a meal. They get fed and they're not hungry. Other programs like school lunches feeds kids.

KELLY: Seems like if it has to do with education or tools for training or anything that will protect the least of us, the people who are the youngest or the elderly or the disabled, those are up for cuts. We have to make a decision as a nation, are we going to be truly about America first, or are we simply just trying to cut the bottom line so we can build a wall. I'm quite sure most Trump supporters did not vote for him so they could have their meals and education cut, and also foot the bill for the wall. We were sold a bill of goods that we're going to build this wall and Mexico is going to pay for it. I don't think that anyone really wants to pay for this wall at the expense of meals and education and other very important services.

Now we know why we had Ben Carson as the director of HUD. It actually allowed Donald Trump to do this without any resistance at all. It's just blowing my mind that we're actually considering a budget like this, which is going to harm so many Americans.

[02:10:10] SESAY: John, when it comes down to it, this proposed budget is the declaration of this president's principles.


SESAY: Does it trouble you to see programs like this in the crosshairs?

THOMAS: Not really. Because, look, when the government runs wild with spending, and an adult comes into power, they have to make tough choices. They've said that the number-one job of government is to keep people safe. We're not even doing that well. Until we figure that out, we don't have money for other things.

VAUSE: Wendy, these programs, if they're not working or if there's a problem, you fix them, you don't kill them, right?

GREUEL: That's right. He says it's America first budget. It's America first if you're not elderly or low income or someone who doesn't have housing, you're homeless on the streets of our country. And I think that when you look at this budget -- and I worked at HUD, the Interagency Council on Homelessness that's been cut out of this recent budget. He's also cutting millions of dollars out of the National Institutes of Health for things like cancer research, the kinds of things that are going to save us money in the long run. It is not about American first in my book.

SESAY: Mo, let's stress this is a budget proposal. It has to pass through Congress. As it stands now, it's hard to imagine that Republican congressmen, who are up for re-election at the midterms, will be able to sell this to their constituents.

KELLY: It's about the principles of the administration. There is something that is going to be cut which is near and dear to the hearts of many Americans and it just pains my heart being an American, someone who cares deeply about African-Americans, who cares deeply about poor people, who cares deeply about making sure that our children have equal access to education and housing and good lunches, that this is what we want to say to the rest of the world that is most important to not only this president but to American principles. And I just don't understand it for the life of me.

VAUSE: OK. Well, we're out of time. We didn't get to the point that, at the same time, these programs actually proposed for cuts, there's a big increase in defense spending and other areas --


VAUSE: -- as well as Homeland Security. That's also another debate.

John, thank you very much.

Wendy and Mo, always good to see you. Thank you.


SESAY: Thank you all. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson touched down in South Korea Friday. It's the second leg of a trip that will also take him to China. He arrived at a moment of heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula. South Korea is in political turmoil after its elected president was forced out of office days ago.

CNN's Paul Hancocks joins us now from the DMZ.

Paula, to date, South Korea has been a key U.S. ally. Rex Tillerson arrives at a time when the relationship between Washington and Seoul is headed into up charted territory.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Isha, it is certainly an interesting time for the top U.S. diplomat to be here. The fact that many of the people that he is meeting with this afternoon may not be around within the next two months. He's going to meet with the acting president, who's been holding the fort, if you like, since this corruption scandal broke and since Park Geun-hye was first impeached by lawmakers, also with the foreign minister. But it's a very tricky time for him to be navigating through domestic politics.


HANCOCKS (voice-over): South Korea has no president. Its people are sharply divided. The government says it's business as usual when it's anything but.

This is the South Korea that U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is visiting.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's only a matter of time before the North launches a long-range missile tipped with a nuclear device aimed at the United States.

HANCOCKS: The top subject is North Korea and Kim Jong-Un's determination to set the U.S. in its nuclear sites.

North Korea describes itself as a nuclear state, which Washington say it will never accept, one policy the Obama and Trump administrations agree on. But the more North Korea tests, the more it improves. The next four years are crucial.

Tensions rise as the U.S. and South Korean military drills are well under way, war games that infuriate North Korea and have resulted in threats from Pyongyang of nuclear war.

(on camera): North Korea gets very nervous this time of year, the annual military drills, which the United States and South Korea say are peaceful in nature. But Pyongyang still sees them as a threat and they say the U.S. is hostile.

(voice-over): The U.S. disagrees.

REAR ADM. JAMES KIRBY, U.S. NAVY: To build a relationship requires trust to operate together. That requires practice and working through a series of exercises. [02:15:03] HANOCKS: And military hardware, apparently. The U.S.

THAAD missile defense system is arriving in parts. South Korea wants assurances it will be fully operational to counter the threat of North Korean missiles as soon as possible.

The next president coming in, in a couple of months, is likely to be liberal and is likely not to want it.


HANCOCKS: Secretary of State Tillerson is now back Seoul, ready for the political meetings. He's had some military meetings. He was here at the DMZ, the Demilitarized Zone, meeting with top military brass to make sure he understands the technicalities, the situation, as we understand the Trump administration is still hammering out it's North Korea policy -- Isha?

SESAY: Paula Hancocks joining us form the DMZ. Paula, appreciate the reporting. Thanks.

VAUSE: The U.S. military is disputing local reports from Syria that it carried out an air strike on a mosque in west Aleppo, which killed dozens of worshipers. The U.S. Central Command confirmed that an air strike in nearby Idlib Province was believed to have targeted an al Qaeda meeting place. A spokesman for CENTCOM says there will be an investigation into the allegations of civilian casualties.

SESAY: Time for a quick break. Next on the NEWSROOM L.A., Angela Merkel is meeting Donald Trump months after he claimed she's ruining Germany.

VAUSE: And Russia says it is under attack from fake news. We'll tell you how Moscow is fighting back.




[02:20:19] VAUSE: Rarely has a meeting of two of the world's most powerful leaders had this much anticipation, a meeting that's already been delayed by the week's blizzard in Washington, and now set for Friday. She grew up in East Germany, holds a PhD in quantum chemistry, is known to be calm and detail oriented. He comes from the world of New York City real estate and reality television. He went to an Ivy League school and says he's really smart. Beyond their backgrounds, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. President Donald Trump seem to be polar opposites on policy issues as well, like immigration, the European Union and trade. This relationship has been off to a rocky start from the beginning.

Here's Candidate Trump last year.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In short, Hillary Clinton wants to be America's Angela Merkel.


TRUMP: And you know what a disaster this massive immigration has been to Germany and the people of Germany. Crime has risen to levels that no one thought they would ever, ever see. It is a catastrophe.


VAUSE: And when Mr. Trump won the election, Chancellor Merkel offered her congratulations, but it seemed laced with criticism.


ANGELA MERKEL, GERMAN CHANCELLOR (through translation): Germany and the United States are joined by common values, democracy, freedom, respect for the law and human dignity, regardless of skin color, religion, gender, sexual orientation or political beliefs. Based on these values, I offer close cooperation to the future president of the United States of America, Donald Trump.


VAUSE: CNN contributor, Jen Psaki, is with us now. She's a former spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, which means she has a unique perspective at what could happen at this meeting.

Jen, good to have you with us.


VAUSE: How do you see these two different leaders working together? Can they put aside their differences?

PSAKI: Well, this is a very important meeting for President Trump coming up. The relationship that President Obama and President Bush had with Merkel was one of the most important relationships they each had with a leader in the world, certainly a leader in Europe. And as you've noted, Trump has some permanent hurdles in their relationship to overcome. What he has going for him is that Merkel is a pragmatist. She knows that they need a strong trans-Atlantic relationship and so I'm sure that she will be looking for ways to work together. It's interesting that she's taking some business CEOPs with her on this trip as well.

VAUSE: On policy, where do you see the potential for the biggest flash points between these two.

PSAKI: There's no doubt refugees and the handling of refugees will come up. The Trump administration has had several stumbles. Reportedly, Merkel required him of requirements under the Geneva Conventions that the United States has. So there's certainly some tension and there's a disagreement about even a moral obligation and a moral reason to find a place for refugees in your country. I suspect they will try to find areas of agreement on the economic relationship. Again, she's bringing the CEO I believe of Seamens (ph) and BMW here to try to find some common ground with President Trump. We'll see what that results in. It's hard to predict. This meeting may be purely about their personal relationship and that may be the outcome that the Trump administration is really focused on.

VAUSE: Angela Merkel will stand for re-election later this year. In terms of domestic politics for her, is there much to gain for her by making nice with the United States president?

PSAKI: I think she has to be pretty careful here. President Trump is not near as popular as President Obama was around the world. She has to be thinking about all the impacts on oar domestic politics. Broadly speaking, the relationship between Germany and the United States is something she wants to maintain, and certainly wants to send the message that that trans-Atlantic relationship is something that she has continued to marijuana taken and uphold over the course of the transitions of several presidents. I'm certain she's thinking about that balance. And how she wants to strike the right tone with her domestic audience.

[02:25:00] VAUSE: Quickly, how "Politico" described Friday's meeting, said, "The leader of the free world meets Donald Trump." It's a little snarky, but how much truth is in that headline?

PSAKI: Well, I think that the Trump examination in the United States has had several stomach buildings out of the gate here. There's no question that Merkel is a far more established global leader than Trump. So in that sense, she certainly has the upper hand. I don't think that the majority of the American public can identify who she is, or which country she leads, so there's that. There's no question that, by people who pay attention, certainly in Washington circles, she's more respected than the current president.

VAUSE: OK, Jen, we'll leave it there.

Great to have you with us. Thank you so much.

PSAKI: Great to be here.

SESAY: We're going to take a short break now. "State of America" is coming up next for our viewers in Asia.

VAUSE: And for the rest of the world, after the break, President Trump wants to spend billions of dollars more on the U.S. military and cut billions of dollars from the U.S. State Department to help pay for it.


[02:30:13] SESAY: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles.


[02:30:13] ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles. I'm Isha Sesay.


We're at the home stretch. Let's check the headlines.


SESAY: The heart of U.S. diplomacy, the State Department, is bracing for dramatic budget cuts. U.S. President Donald Trump is proposing a 28 percent cut in State Department funding. That's about $10.9 billion. Foreign aid spending in the budget would be slashed by 38 percent. And it reduces payments to the United Nations for climate change and peacekeeping efforts. The plan also increases funding to fortify U.S. embassies abroad and provides $34.1 billion in commitments to Israel.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is defending the plan.


REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: The State Department is coming off an historically high level of budgetary resources in the 2017 budget. The level of spend at the State Department has been undertaking in keeping this past year is simply not sustainable.


SESAY: We go now to David Talbot in Washington for some reaction. He's worked with the U.S. State Department and the United Nations. He was also a foreign policy advisor to Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign.

David, thank you for being with us.

This budget proposal has drawn sharp criticism from those on the left as well as foreign policy and development experts. But the president's director of the Office of Management and Budget had this to say on Wednesday. Take a listen.


MICK MULVANEY, DIRECTOR, WHITE HOUSE BUDGET OFFICE: There's a very deliberate attempt here to send a message to our allies and our friends, such as India, and our adversaries with other countries, shall we say, which is this is a hard-power budget that this administration has to change course, from a soft-power budget to a hard-power budget, and that's a message our adversaries and our allies should take.


SESAY: So, David, Mr. Mulvaney saying the president is sending a message of strength. What's your take away from these numbers?

DAVID TALBOT, FORMER U.N. & STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL & FORMER FOREIGN POLICY ADVISOR, BARACK OBAMA 2008 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: Well, this is a little odd. Normally, hard power and soft power go together quite well. So President Trump has proposed huge increased spending in military spending. The budget cuts in the State Department are wrong. We have fledgling democracies around the world that are on the verge of failure. We have a battle with Islamic fundamentalism and for the hearts and minds of the people in the Middle East and soft power needs to go hand in glove with hard power in order to effectuate our foreign policy objectives overseas. I've spend a lot of time in Iraq. I was just in Iraq in December. The military campaign against ISIS is going quite well. However, I was at the State Department last week. They talk about how some of the most difficult questions in Iraq after ISIS is pushed out have been kicked down the road. Our diplomats have to take leadership in Iraq to work out those questions, questions about who's going to govern the areas that have been cleared from Mosul. How are we going to change the government in Baghdad so it's more supportive of some of the minority communities that had is attack them. And how are we going to ultimately keep Iraq together or let Iraq break apart, but make sure that Iraq is never again a home for fundamentalist radical terrorists like is.

SESAY: David, if nation's top diplomat is in support of the proposed cuts. He's framing this more of an issue of dollars and cents rather than the administration's principles and values. Let me ask you this. Is there an argument to be made about out-of-control spending at the State Department when it comes to foreign aid and development programming?

[02:34:50] TALBOT: I don't think so. The State Department's budget is less than the increase that is proposed for the Department of Defense. Now, can we spend some of this money better? Yes, we absolutely can. I would like to hear this administration come up with creative ideas to use the money better, to effectuate our objectives abroad. We spend less than 1 percent of our overall budget on foreign assistance abroad. Senator Rubio has talked about that and talked about how important it is for us to keep spending the budget in order to project soft power in addition to hard power. There are people who have talked about how we need our diplomats alongside our military generals in order to make an impact overseas, to make sure hot spots aren't places we have to keep our military for every. We need diplomatic engagement in addition to military engagement. Having these budgets is an important part of that.

SESAY: David, one thing that could help, if you are a dictator sitting in some corner of the world or you're a terrorist group looking to blight freedom and reject your propaganda, this is a good day when you see a proposed budget like this. I mean, what are the consequences for U.S. leadership in the world if these cuts are enforced?

TALBOT: You're absolutely right. This is a good day for dictators. Some of the programs we do are anti-corruption programs. They are democracy building programs overseas. We try to build up civil society overseas, free press overseas. All of those things are a threat to autocrats, dictators. He doesn't like that kind of programming and funding by the U.S. Those are things that are really going to be jeopardized by these cuts. Again, I would like to see the Trump administration put their stamp on foreign assistance. They can change it or try and do things a little bit differently, but don't cut it. We're going to end up helping the world's autocrats. SESAY: David Talbot, thank you for the insight.

TALBOT: Thank you.

VAUSE: Well, the proposal by the Trump administration for cuts for foreign aid as well as funding for the United Nations comes at the same time as millions are facing famine in Africa and the Middle East.

CNN's Farai Sevenzo joins us from Nairobi, Kenya.

They recently warned that the world is facing its greatest humanitarian crisis since World War II. It would seem the outlook would be worse if the Trump administration gets its way and makes these cuts.

FARAI SEVENZO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You're absolutely right, John. In this region, we're talking about Nairobi, we're surrounding by countries that are in dire peril. We're talking about South Sudan. The U.N. warns that they need $1.6 billion. Somalia, massive famine going up there. Cuts would massively affect agencies for like the United States' Agency of International Development. Wherever you go in Africa, these bags of grain emblazoned with stars and stripes are crucial to helping Africans in need.

And, of course, we're talking about the very real threat of terrorism. Every other month, we report to you that al Shabaab has bombed another hotel. We report to you that Boko Haram has kidnapped people. All of this goes hand in hand with state assistance and U.S. diplomacy. It's hard to see how America's place in Africa can be maintained if they suddenly cut themselves away from those in need.

VAUSE: Other countries right now at least are looking to try to help those in need and divert what essentially is a crisis on the horizontal.

SEVENZO: Absolutely right. Here in Nairobi, probably the capital of the humanitarian organizations. We had the WFO, the World Food Organization, in our office the other day, warning about famine in South Sudan. People are dying, John. Other countries are helping. This afternoon, we have the British foreign secretary landing in Nairobi. He's just come back from Mogadishu where he has promised more aide in the fight against terrorism. Where he's mentioned the drought. The United Kingdom, the German government, they all know that in order to stop terrorism they need to be on the other side of these people by giving them the food and the help they need to stop them being influenced by a very real threat of terrorism.

VAUSE: OK, Farai, thank you. Farai Sevenzo, in Kenya, bringing some perspective from the region. Thank you, Farai.

[02:39:32] SESAY: Next on CNN NEWSROOM, Russia is calling some stories biased, even false. Now it's fighting the spread of so-called fake news. Details when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) VAUSE: Both the Kremlin and the White House have spoken out about the growing problem of fake news, accusing the other of spreading false and misleading information. Now Moscow is going on the offensive, tagging stories which it believes are actually false.

We'll go to Claire Sebastian is in Milwaukee.

Claire, Russia trying to stop fake news. It seems irony dies another death.

CLAIRE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, this is not just a buzzword we're hearing in Washington. This is a phrase we're increasingly hearing, often not even translated into Russian, in Moscow. Russia feels it's been unfairly represented in the Western media. We've seen a couple of high-profile efforts in recent weeks to do what they feel is countering back.


SEBASTIAN (voice-over): For Kremlin-funded TV channel, RT, the issue of fakes news is personal.

ANDREW KYANKO (ph), DEPUTY EDITOR OF NEWS, RT: A lot of people are saying this is ironic. RT is doing fake check. We don't think so.

SEBASTIAN: Fake Check is a new project by RT, a slick interactive website that it says aims to expose false or misleading elements I news stories.

We're not labeling anyone as fake. We're saying probably I could question this a little more.

SEBASTIAN: The stories selected include a now-corrected "Washington Post" article which initially cited federal authorities suggesting Russia hackers penetrated the U.S. electricity, points to a Russia that is fighting back.

KYANKO (ph): This whole story about Russian hacking, this is being positioned by a lot of media as a fact. Although as we know, the reports by the intelligence community did not have a certainty. It had a certain degree of -- certain degree of certainty, not facts. That's why we do think that Russia is being victimized.

SEBASTIAN: It's not state-controlled media that feels that way.

(on camera): Russia's foreign ministry says fake news about Russia is becoming almost a daily occurrence, and it's taking action. Last month, the ministry unveiled a new section of its website dedicated to debunking what it calls fake reports.

(voice-over): So far, "The New York Times," "Bloomberg," "al Jazeera" and CNN all among those given the ministry's fake stamp on real news.

The claim against CNN, a report citing current and former senior U.S. government officials that Russian ambassador to the U.S. is considered by the U.S. to be one of Russia's top spies and spy recruiters in Washington.

Russian's foreign ministry spokeswoman had this response to CNN's Matthew Chance.



SEBASTIAN: An anchor on TV in Russia, says Russia is turning defense into offense.

UNIDENTIFIED RUSSIAN TV ANCHOR: I think that accusations of fake news spread by Moscow have become so common in the West that, finally, a decision was taken to react to that.

SEBASTIAN: While Russia may still be waiting for a new friendship with U.S. president Trump, it seems they have at least found a common target.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's all fake news. It's all fake news.



SEBASTIAN: John, it's interesting, because this may look like a very blunt instrument that big red fake stamp across those stories that we do know are not fake in those cases. This is actually a broader and more subtle effort by Russia, even though we see -- even as we see come out of Washington all this rhetoric about the media being dishonest. This is what we keep seeing come out of Moscow. Just this week, the Defense Ministry called a report about the Russian military presence on the Egyptian border with Libya, they called that a hoax by Western media. We constantly hear from the Kremlin on accusations of Russian hacking, just the Western media is stirring up anti-Russian hysteria.

This fake news label is a convenient way for Russia to deal with what they say is a barrage of unfair accusations leveled against them.

VAUSE: Like those reports of Russian troops in Crimea, that was fake news as well, I guess.

Look, few news organizations in the world, I guess, are responsible for spreading as much fake news as RT. This is the bizarre part about all of this. They've had reports of classic investigations, like is the CIA responsible for Ebola. Was 9/11 an inside job? How seriously can their word be taken when it comes to all this?

SEBASTIAN: It's interesting you ask this question of people from RT. They say this is simply asking the question. They say that they are trying to fill a gap that is not being filled by the mainstream Western media. They say they're trying to provide a different perspective on stories. That may just be semantics. But I asked them, are they going to include fake news checking of the Russian media. When it comes to their policy of questioning more, a glaring absence is whether they question more about the Russian government. They don't seem to be holding the Russian government to the same account as with the Western media and Western politicians. They said they may consider including Russian news reports in their fake news checking. That's something they haven't ruled out. That's something we'll be watching for -- John?

VAUSE: Don't hold your breath.

Claire, good to speak with you in Moscow. Thank you.

SESAY: Quick break. Now, next on NEWSROOM L.A., someone sent an insulting tweet to U.S. President Donald Trump on McDonald's Twitter account. The fast-food giant says, wait a minute, we were hacked.




[02:52:42] SESAY: Hello, everyone. McDonald's is cleaning up after a social media snafu.

VAUSE: The company says its Twitter account was hacked after someone posted an insulting tirade against U.S. President Donald Trump.

CNN's Jeanne Moos has details.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL CORESPONDENT (voice-over): Like salt on a wound, there was nothing sweet about this McTweet from McDonald's: "@realDonaldTrump, you're an actually disgusting excuse of a president and we would love to have @BarackObama back. Also, you have tiny hands."

This to a guy who has been photographed eating McDonald's, who knows the menu.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR, A.C.360: What did Donald Trump order?

TRUMP: A fish light sometimes. The Big Macs are great. The Quarter Pounder with cheese.

MOOS: The tweet only lasted about 20 minutes before McDonald's deleted it, later posting, "Twitter notified us that our source was compromised, hacked by an external source."

A McHack attack.

Seth Meyers tweeted, "Clown-on-clown crime."

Someone else made The Donald resemble Ronald McDonald. Was the culprit the Hamburgler, of perhaps rival, Burger King.


MOOS: While the president probably wasn't loving it, this guy may have been. Barack Obama was Photoshopped into the president's meal asking, "Too much special sauce?"

Trump supporters suggested a boycott.

Once it game known the account was compromised, there were mostly jokes.

"In fairness, Trump's hands make their regular cheeseburger look like a Big Mac."

(on camera): Do my hands make my burger look big?

(voice-over): To think the president once did a McDonald's commercial.

TRUMP: A big and tasty for just $1? How do you do it? What's your secret?

MOOS (voice-over): Guess who has to clean up this whole McDonald's P.R. mess?

(voice-over): Former Obama press secretary, Robert Gibbs, who is now global chief communications officer for McDonald's.

What does the president like about McDonald's?

TRUMP: At least you know what you're getting. I don't want to go into a restaurant and say, Mr. Trump would like a hamburger to go. I don't know what they're going to do to that hamburger. If they like me, I'm happy.


MOOS: At least his hamburger didn't get spit on.

Somebody just spit out a tweet.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


VAUSE: Publicity stunt. Very suspicious of that.

Finally, the tease that was downright breathless. MSNBC's Rachel Maddow promised a scoop that no other journalist had. She had President Trump's tax returns.

[02:55:13] SESAY: The big reveal, was a bit of a let-down.

Comedian Stephen Colbert couldn't resist spoofing her later. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHEN COLBERT, COMEDIAN: Whether or not you're a Trump supporter, whether or not you've heard this joke before, it ought to give you pause that after all of this buildup, I still haven't gotten to the punch line.


So without further ado, why did the chicken cross the road?


The answer right after this break.




VAUSE: That was absolutely brilliant. You've got to watch it all. It's only about two minutes long. If you know Rachel Maddow, Stephen Colbert does a great impression.

SESAY: Absolutely, yeah. I'll be watching that soon. OK.

VAUSE: You've been watching CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles. I'm John Vause.

SESAY: And I'm Isha Sesay.

More news now with Natalie Allen and George Howell, after this.