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North Korea's Nuclear Program; Face-To-Face In France; Comey Confirms FBI Looking At Trump-Russia Links; Comey Won't Say If He Briefed Obama On Flynn; White House Tweets During House Intel Hearing. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired March 21, 2017 - 01:00   ET



JOHN VAUSE, CNN NEWSROOM ANCHOR: Ahead this hour, the FBI confirms an investigation is underway into possible collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign, and it started months before last year's U.S. election.

SESAY: Plus, a new report indicates North Korea is taking another serious step toward creating nuclear weapons.

VAUSE: And the first in French politics, and a live televised debate with five major candidates vying to be President, trading sharp words on religion and immigration.

SESAY: Hello, and thank you for joining us. I'm Isha Sesay.

VAUSE: And I'm John Vause. We're now into the second hour of NEWSROOM L.A. Donald Trump prides himself on a counterpunch but in the past few hours, the President seems to have shied away from the explosive revelations at a public hearing of the House Intelligence Committee. At a campaign style rally in Kentucky, Mr. Trump focused on health care, making no mention of the testimony from FBI Director James Comey to reveal there is an on-going investigation of possible ties between Trump's campaign and Russia.

SESAY: And Mr. Trump said nothing about his claim that ex-President Barack Obama wiretapped him. The FBI Director, knocked down that allegation as well.

VAUSE: And while Democrats are focused on the alleged Trump-Russia links, Republicans are more concerned about the leaks of classified information.

SESAY: Pamela Brown has more on the contentious hearing.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: FBI Director James Comey, wasting no time dropping this bombshell near the beginning of the hearing.

JAMES COMEY, FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION DIRECTOR: The FBI, as part of our counter-intelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 Presidential Election. And that includes, investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia's efforts.

BROWN: And in a rebuke to the President, Comey said, there is no evidence to support the President's claim that former President Obama had wires tapped inside Trump Tower.

COMEY: I have no information that supports those tweets, and we have looked carefully inside the FBI. The Department of Justice has asked me to share with you, that the answer is the same for the Department of Justice and all its components.

BROWN: The Head of the NSA, Adm. Mike Rogers, also denying a report repeated by the White House that the Obama administration asked British intelligence to spy on the Trump campaign.

ADAM SCHIFF, UNITED STATES CONGRESSMAN FROM CALIFORNIA: Did you ever request that your counterparts in GCHQ should wiretap Mr. Trump on behalf of President Obama?

MICHAEL ROGERS, NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY DIRECTOR: No, sir, and nor would I. That would be expressly against the construct of the Five Eyes Agreement that's been in place for decades.

BROWN: Republicans avoided asking about Trump's wiretapping claims, instead focusing on whether laws were broken and reporting about ousted National Security Advisor Michael Flynn's conversations with the Russian Ambassador that were caught on surveillance. And even insinuating former Obama appointees, could be the source of the leaks.

TREY GOWDY, UNITED STATES CONGRESSMAN FROM SOUTH CAROLINA: Do you know whether Director Clapper knew the name of the U.S. citizen that appeared in New York Times and Washington Post?

COMEY: I can't say in this form.

GOWDY: Would Director Brennan have access to an unmasked U.S. citizen's name?

COMEY: In some circumstances, yes.

BROWN: Congressman Trey Gowdy, providing no evidence to back up his insinuations. Democrats zeroed in on the Russia investigation. From the beginning, laying out a circumstantial argument about what they believe may have transpired.

SCHIFF: It wasn't simply that the Russians had a negative preference against Secretary Hillary Clinton, they also had a positive preference for Donald Trump, isn't that - isn't that correct?

COMEY: Correct.

SCHIFF: Whether they had a preference for a candidate who expressed open admiration for Putin?

COMEY: Mr. Putin would like people who like him.

BROWN: Comey repeatedly tried to avoid going any further on what the investigation has uncovered.

COMEY: I'm not going to talk about any particular person here today, so I can't answer that.

BROWN: Perhaps, anticipating outcry from Democrats, Comey sought to explain the difference between today's testimony and when he spoke about the investigation in the Hillary Clinton's use of a private server.

COMEY: Some folks may want to make comparisons, to past instances where the Department of Justice and the FBI, have spoken about the details of some investigations. But please keep in mind, that those involved details of completed investigations. Our ability to share details with the Congress and the American people, is limited when those investigations are still open. Which I hope makes sense.

BROWN: And Director Comey could not say when the counterintelligence investigation will wrap up, and one official I spoke with says, that these types of investigations can take a while. In fact, in some cases, it takes years because intelligence is rarely black and white as this person said, intelligence is rarely conclusive. Pamela Brown, CNN, Washington.


[01:05:07] VAUSE: Joining us here in Los Angeles: Talk Radio Host, Mo'Kelly; CNN Political Commentator and Trump supporter, John Phillips; and CNN Law Enforcement Contributor, Steve Moore, a former FBI special agent. Thank you all for being with us. And again, John, I'm going to put this to you, Donald Trump was inaugurated 59 days ago, there's already been a lot of scandals, a lot of controversy with his very short presidency. But why is today, why is Monday, and this hearing at the, you know, the House Intelligence Committee, not the worst day of his presidency so far?

JOHN PHILLIPS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think he benefits because what we've seen is "circumstantial evidence," which is a lot of dots, none of them connected. We heard of allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians, there's no beef. There is no proof. Our own Jake Tapper today, did an excellent interview with Adam Schiff, the Congressman who's just played the package. And he asked him, is there smoke or is there fire? And he equivocated, and Tapper really pressed him on, there is no fire. They have nothing. And I think to just have these conspiracy theories floated out there, and for the Democrats to put all of their chips on it, I think it benefits Trump in the long term because it mutes what could be legitimate criticism on other issues when they look like they're just looking for a reason to impeach him. And that's what it looks like today.

SESAY: And Mo, the White House seems to agree with John's assessment there, that this wasn't a bad day.

MO'KELLY, TALK RADIO HOST: Yes, but you can't talk about conspiracy theories and not also talk about the President's conspiracy theory about President Obama specifically, personally, ordering the wiretapping of Trump Tower. Ultimately, this is why you don't go to war with the Intelligence Committee, this is why you don't go to war with the Department of Justice, because you're going to need something from them. And now they're going string out this investigation, rightfully so. And it may not lead to anything, but Hillary Clinton will be the first person to tell you, just the spectator of an investigation can be damaging enough.

SESAY: I want to interrupt you, that what you're suggesting is the politicization of the intelligence services.

MO'KELLY: There're always political implications of everything that you do. I would not sit here and say that you can criticize the Intelligence Community, and not have them feel some kind of way about it.

VAUSE: OK. Steve, let's bring you in. During the hearing, there was this question for the FBI Director from Republican Trey Gowdy. Listen to this.


GOWDY: Did you brief President Obama on - I'll just ask you - did you brief President Obama on any calls involving Michael Flynn?

COMEY: I'm not going to get into either that particular case that matter, or any conversations I had with the President. So, I can't answer that.


VAUSE: Yes. Michael Flynn is the former National Security Adviser who was fired, because he lied to the Vice President about the conversations with the Russian Ambassador. But the point of this is, following that exchange, there was a tweet which came from the official POTUS account, the White House account saying this: "FBI Director refuses to deny he briefed President Obama on calls made by Michael Flynn to Russia." That's not what Comey said. But regardless this Steve, would it be unusual for the FBI Director to brief a sitting President on a National Security issue? Is this POTUS tweet, is it some trying to undermine Comey? Is it suggesting maybe Obama, was the leak? What's happening here?

STEVE MOORE, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CONTRIBUTOR AND FORMER FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION SPECIAL AGENT: Well, first of all, if you have information as the FBI that there is communication between somebody of General Flynn's stature and a target of intelligence activity, such as the Russian Ambassador, and you didn't tell the White House of that, then you've got some problems. So, even though he's not going to say whether he did or not, he almost certainly did. The other thing is that the tweet - the tweet says, he didn't deny it. Well, he didn't confirm it either. So, we're left with that. SESAY: John, the tweet coming from the POTUS account, clearly,

underlines once again that the White House is at odds with the FBI, is at odd with Comey. Where is this going? Where is it going to end? Is Comey going to lose his job? I mean, what's the next move here in this standoff?

PHILLIPS: Well, ultimately, this investigation is going to have to have a final chapter in some capacity. And based on what I believe, based on what other individuals in the intelligence world have been saying, is that they have nothing. We've heard that from Clapper, we've heard that from Morel, we've heard that from many other Obama appointees who, by the way, were quite active in the campaign. Morel, endorsed Hillary Clinton, and wrote a long piece in the New York Times explaining why he was supporting her. So, he's going to have to find a way to put a button on this. And I believe if they don't find any beef, any damning information, anything that proves collusion, then he's going to look like a big, fat turkey.

VAUSE: Well, the White House and Spokesman Sean Spicer said there're no backing down from this.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Following this testimony, it's clear that nothing has changed. Senior Obama Intelligence Official have gone on record to confirm that there's no evidence of a Trump-Russia collusion. The Obama CIA said so, Obama's Director of National Intelligence said so, and we take them at their word.


[01:10:12] VAUSE: OK. He went on to say the President stands by the wiretapping allegations, which should get some question of credibility. But, you know, the New York Times reported this a few hours ago, that Trump advisors - some senior advisors have said, their jobs are being made a lot more difficult because of the President's habits on Twitter, you know, which, Mo, would seem to be an understatement right now.

MO'KELLY: It's an understatement, but also, it's making it more difficult for the administration more generally. Whether this investigation goes anywhere or comes to some sort of concrete findings, it still makes it more difficult for an American health care act to get passed through. It will - it increases the difficulty of giving Judge Gorsuch through to the Supreme Court. It does embolden the Democrats. Yes, they have to worry about map over playing their hands, but it makes it more difficult for President Trump to get his budget through. All the things that his administration would love to do, are not as easy to do because the President is very loose on Twitter. And also, he's dealing with multiple investigations.

SESAY: John, what about that point, in terms of the fallout, the cost to the President, the fact that they doubled down, they tripled down as much as - let's say just the wiretapping and the lie there. What is the cost, not just on Capitol Hill, but when does start to affect his base? PHILLIPS: I think this whole circus helps him, because it

delegitimizes his critics. And you've got the Democrats that are going back and they're promising the world. I mean, this is sugar to their bake -

SESAY: But you're just talking about the investigation, what about the wiretapping claim which is being knocked down? I mean -

VAUSE: Hillary Clinton lost the election because she was not trusted.

PHILLIPS: Look, he used sloppy language, there's no doubt in my mind that there probably wasn't a FISA court approval of a wiretap.

SESAY: He accused the former President of a felony.

PHILLIPS: The guy was irritated because his private calls with the President of Mexico, the President of Australia, Flynn's call with the Ambassador to Russia that they were illegally leaked to the press, that they were illegally leaked to the public. So, he lashed out it on Twitter. Was his terminology correct? Was his legal phraseology, the right to do it? The answer is, no. But, I understand his frustration and I think a lot of people do too.

MO'KELLY: But he hasn't deviated from the behavior, it's the same type of sloppiness and carelessness that he's exhibited since he was a candidate. But now he's the President of the United States, and the consequences and ramifications are far greater in nature.

VAUSE: At the beginning of the hearing, Comey explained in general terms why the FBI does not comment on-going investigations.


DAVID JOLLY, UNITED STATES FORMER CONGRESSMAN FROM FLORIDA: When he throws out a wiretap charge, what does that mean? Yes, we know he's lying about that, but it means he doesn't understand what a FISA court is. He doesn't understand, he just made an allegation of a felony. He doesn't understand that he is rippling the credibility of the United States on the world stage. That speaks to more than credibility, that speaks to intellect.


VAUSE: Of course, that was David Jolly, a former Republican Congressman. That was not James Comey. But Steve, let's pick it up with you. So, how would someone like James Comey make the decision to go public with an investigation into Hillary Clinton, even though he said that this is not the general practice? And yet keep an investigation into Donald Trump under wraps, even though that investigation started back in July?

MOORE: Well, you got me. I think what we see here is a real strong indication of why the FBI should never get involved in these kinds of situations, because it does - it does cause people to compare. When the President - or I'm sorry, when the Head of the FBI makes a statement about Hillary Clinton's e-mails and then doesn't do anything about it, but he makes a statement about Hillary Clinton's e-mails, then he's put the nose under the tent at that point. You can't then say, well, I'm not going to say it about Republicans, now I'm going to say it about Democrats. He has started with a bad precedent, and he's kind of trapped by it now.

SESAY: And Mo, to that point, quickly, it really does leaves some saying there is no way that he can end up with an, or the results of an investigation that has seen as credible to all.

MO'KELLY: Yes. He's in an untenable position, and we can speculate what's going to happen to James Comey himself, what he's going to continue on Director of FBI. But I'd mean and say, this is a bad day for America overall. I don't think the Trump administration won, they didn't enhance their position. The Democrats didn't really enhance their position, and it's not like the questions are going to go away. Even the Republicans have said, there's a cloud over this investigation. So, who really has made their progress known? Who has benefitted from this? I would say, no one, with exception of maybe Russia.

VAUSE: Very quickly back to Steve, as a former FBI agent, Is James Comey - should he, you know, be expecting a pink slip? Some kind of notification he won't have his job much longer?

[01:14:40] MOORE: Well, under normal circumstances, I would say I doubt it. You need the FBI almost like the judiciary to have a certain independence, and not get bounced when the administration disagrees with you. So, I think it would be a very bad precedent for the President to remove James Comey. I think we need to go ahead with the investigations of the leaks, and of the Russian interference with the election, and try to just steady the course now and let's stop getting off on these tangents and bring the FBI back to where it was, quietly doing their business.

VAUSE: OK, Steve we'll leave it with that. Thank you so much.

SESAY: Gentlemen, thank you. OK, well if Russian State T.V. is an indication, intelligence committee is hearing was of little interest.

VAUSE: Clare Sebastian joins us live from Moscow with more on this. And Clare, you know before the hearing began there was this headline. Take a look in was an RT and the camp on the Kremlin control of RT website. This one read, "Washington vultures circling Nunes is seeing no evidence of the Trump-Kremlin collusion." Nunes of course is Devin Nunes of Trump's exploring Chairman of Intelligence Committee but of course, once the hearing began it was a very different story about the coverage of this intelligence investigation.

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely, John. Very little coverage, if any. Once the hearing began of this in Washington Stark in Moscow rather, Stark contrast to the euphoria that we saw in the wake of Trump's election, the veracious media coverage then. This hearing appears to have had the opposite effect.


DEVIN NUNES, UNITED STATES HOUSE REPUBLICAN: The Putin regime has a long history of aggressive actions against other countries.

SEBASTIAN: As accusations against Russia echoed through Washington, on these streets of Moscow few even know it was happening. I found out from you, this man said. I think Russia will still be in first place despite the U.S., this woman tells me. The hearing comes at the time when Russian euphoria over Trump's election has all but fizzled out and that is partly because of these investigations. Russia has realized that far from their potential ally, it is now politically toxic for Trump.

DMITRY PESKOV, KREMLIN SPOKESMAN: Quite unexpectedly, we faced a situation when Russia all of a sudden became, let's say, a nightmare for the United States.

SEBASTIAN: The Kremlin has distanced itself calling it anti-Russian hysteria saying they were too busy with their own work to follow the hearing. Sergey Karaganov has advised Russian government since the Cold War. What do you think was going on inside the Kremlin today?

SERGEY KARAGANOV, FORMER PUTIN ADVISER: Inside the Kremlin, I mean we, they are preparing for our own elections which are a thousand times more important thing than the Trump elections. We'll have a lot of sympathy towards our American, hopefully friends because the whole debate is unbelievably humiliating for America.

SEBASTIAN: The Russian media stayed mostly quiet on the hearing on Monday. The Editor-in-chief of Kremlin funded English Language Channel RT saying it was, quote, "Like a spy movie from the 1970s." Sergey Strokan is a political columnist for a Russian newspaper Kommersant.

SERGEY STROKAN, KOMMERSANT POLITICAL COLUMNIST: Just to repeat those accusations which are well known for Russian publics and which were downplayed by Russian officials, this is seen as a futile exercise.

KARAGANOV: People are bored. I mean at first it was exhilarating, people felt interested, proud. But now it's boring. And it's boring and stupid.


SEBASTIAN: Well I mean, doesn't get much clearer than that. John, it's difficult to know whether Russians are actually bored of this or whether they're simply being fed a less hearty diet as pro-Trump coverage on the Russian media. But certainly it's true that the media and the public tend to take the cue from the Kremlin. We reached out the Kremlin Spokesman, Dmitry Peskov during this hearing yesterday and he said he didn't see any reason to comment. The Kremlin has previously told us that they were not following this because they had too much of their own work to do, John.

VAUSE: Maybe they reached peak Trump in their coverage. OK, Clare, thank you. Clare Sebastian for us in Moscow.

SESAT: Time for a quick break now. A new ban will keep most electronic devices out of the cabin on certain U.S.-bound flights. The reason officials are concerned, next on NEWSROOM L.A.

VAUSE: Also the U.N.'s top nuclear inspector says that North Korea is entering a troubling new phase in its weapons program.


[01:20:00] DON RIDDELL, CNN WORLD SPORTS ANCHOR: Hi there, I'm Don Riddell with your CNN WORLD SPORT Headlines. In an extraordinary board meeting on Monday, the private Kasumigaseki Country Club in Tokyo has voted to allow women as full members which will preserve its status as the golfing venue for the 2020 Olympic Games. And like your Northfield in Scotland did last week, it seemed as though they caved to pressure as the head of the international Olympic committee. Thomas Bach has threatened to take the 2020 golf event elsewhere.

Footballs World governing body FIFA has just banned a referee for life for what it is calling match manipulation in November's World Cup Qualifier between Senegal and South Africa. This is what caught their attention the penalty awarded by the Ghana official, Joseph Lamptey against Senegal's defender, Kalidou Koulibaly. Replays of the incident showed that the ball wasn't even close to being a handball, hitting him instead on the knee. FIFA says it will reveal more details on the case here in due course.

And finally, you may remember one of the side bar stories from the Super Bowl last month. The missing jersey of New England champion quarterback, Tom Brady. It was said to be stolen and the big announcement from the F.B.I. finally came on Monday. It was found across the border in Mexico and the culprit was apparently a credentialed member of the International Media. That is a quick look at your Sport Headlines, I'm Don Riddell.


SESAY: Hello, everyone. Passengers on certain U.S.-bound flights will have to leave almost all of their electronic devices in their checked luggage. A new U.S. ban affects more than a dozen airlines with non-stop flights to the U.S. from the Middle East and Africa. Devices larger than a cell phone won't be allowed in the cabins on their plane.

VAUSE: Officials tells CNN the rule could be linked to a security threat from Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The new security measures do not apply to U.S. domestic airlines.

North Korea appears to be advancing its capacity to produce nuclear weapons.

ASESAY: The U.N. sub-nuclear inspector tells Wall Street Journal, the North has doubled the size of the facility it apparently uses to enrich Uranium. Our own Will Ripley joins us now from Beijing. And Will, tell us more about what we're learning about the rate of progress North Korea is making when it comes to its nuclear program.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's difficult to know for sure, Isha, because U.N. inspectors were kicked out in North Korea back in 2009 when the last talks with the Obama Administration broke down. And so all they have to rely on is intelligence and satellite imagery. But what they are seeing from those vice satellites is very alarming for people who are watching North Korea's nuclear progress because as you mentioned, the Yongbyon nuclear facility has doubled in size which means that North Korea is enhancing its ability to produce not only Uranium but also Plutonium, two major components of nuclear weapons.

And there are indications that North Korea is also selling these components to other nations as a way to bring in revenue. And so you have the proliferation issue plus North Korea announcing over the weekend they have now tested a new type of high-thrust rocket engine that experts tells CNN State Department experts say it could actually be placed inside an ICBM. So you have all of these alarming components coming together to move North Korea closer to their goal of a nuclear-tipped warhead capable of reaching the United States. And now you hear President Trump talking more about it, tweeting about it and they even mentioning at a rally on Monday in Louisville, Kentucky.


DONALD TRUMP, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: North Korea. North Korea, I'll tell you what, what's happening there is disgraceful and not smart, not smart at all. So many different problems.


RIPLEY: We know that State Department has their special representative who focuses on North Korea here in Beijing also will be in Seoul this week trying to talk about specifics about how to handle this problem. When Secretary Tillerson was asked repeatedly what the Trump Administration plans to do as part of their new approach on this, Isha, the -- he never gave a specific answer. So right now, we don't know what President Trump will do if there is another nuclear test or an ICBM or missile launch.

[01:26:01] SESAY: Yes, and Will, it's -- we're highlighting as you're there in Beijing, that the Director General of the I.A.E.A. says that the chances of diplomacy working here and holding North Korea's nuclear program are slim. We know that China's call for diplomacy has been their fallback position when it comes to dealing with North Korea. So I guess I wonder, you know, where China goes from here in terms of what they say is the best way to handle North Korea.

RIPLEY: Yes, well the United States has felt for a long time that China has a lot of economic leverage over North Korea as its only meaningful trading partner that it hasn't used fully. There is a U.N. report showing that North Korea has been able to get around these sanctions in part by doing business with small Chinese Banks. So what the U.S. wants China to do is to more severely crack down on companies that go against U.S. resolutions by doing business with North Korea. That is the approach the United States wants to see. What China wants to see happen is for the U.S. to stop what they consider provocative actions like the joint military exercises with South Korea.

So very differing view point and we're hearing -- we're learning that there will be, right now, the Trump Administration is putting together a report that may be ready in time for the Xi Jinping visit that's expected early next month in the United States when he and President Trump will sit down and that's a sure thing that North Korea will pretty but much be near the top of their agenda.

SESAY: Yes, pretty much. Will Ripley joining us there from Beijing. Appreciate it. Thank you.

VAUSE: Former South Korean leader, Park Geun-hye is now being questioned over the corruption scandal which led to her impeachment. She apologized as she arrived at the prosecutor's office and promised to fully cooperate with the investigators. This is the first meeting with prosecutors since she was removed from office and lost Executive immunity. A vote to act to her replacement will be held May 9th.

SESAY: Next on NEWSROOM L.A., the frontrunners in the French Presidential race face-off in a marathon debate. Far right leader, Marine Le Pen, comes under fire from her rivals. How she responded, next.

VAUSE: Also ahead, no matter what Donald Trump says, he makes sure the White House Press Secretary will always have his back. But is Sean Spicer's defense of the President ruining his own credibility?


[01:31:39] JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles. I'm John Vause.


The headlines this hour --


SESAY: White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer refused to back down from the wiretapping allegations Monday even after the FBI director refuted them.

VAUSE: It's not the first time that Spicer defended what many might say is indefensible. But is backing the president impacting his own credibility?

Here's Brian Stelter.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRTARY: I'll try to keep this relatively short.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT & CNN HOST, RELIABLE SOURCES (voice-over): Sean Spicer's briefings are contentious.

SPICER: Hold on. no, no. You're asking -- hold on.

STELTER: Confusing.

SPICER: I don't have a full read on it yet.

STELTER: As for his credibility? That's being questioned more every day.

Today's example trying to distance President Trump from his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.

SPICER: There's been discussion of Paul Manafort, who played a limited role for a limited amount of time.


SPICER: Jonathan. Hold on. Can you stop interrupted other people's questions?


SPICER: Jonathan, somebody's asking a question. It's not your press briefing. Julie is asking a question. Please calm down.

STELTER: Manafort's role was not limited. Hired in March 2016, he was promoted to chairman in May, managing the campaign at a crucial time. When reporters pressed --

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: If he worked for the campaign for five months and was the chairman and he was there for a number of difficult decisions. I'm wondering how is that insignificant?

STELTER: Spicer got the facts wrong again.

SPICER: Paul was brought on some time in June.

STELTER: Again, this press release says March.

SPICER: We're in the first chapter.

STELTER: Two months in, and the story of the presidency is about trust, lack of trust.

On day one, Spicer shocked the press corps with false statements about crowd size.

SPICER: This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe.

STELTER: Defending the boss means bending into contortions.

SPICER: He doesn't really think that President Obama went up and tapped his phone personally.

STELTER: Reporters don't know what to believe. Last month, CBS reported that Navy secretary nominee, Phillip Vilding (ph), was like toy li to withdraw. Spicer instantly denied it, calling Vilding (ph) "100 percent committed." And sure enough, Vilding (ph) withdrew a week later.

Spicer often brings printouts of news stories to the podium, using and misusing reporting to prove his point.

SPICER: Quote, three intelligence sources have informed FOX News that President Obama went outside the chain of command.

STELTER: Last week, Spicer shared FOX's baseless claim about Obama using the British to tap Trump, sparking an international incident.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOUOS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: The credibility of the spokespeople in tatters.

STELTER: Spicer said it was silly to say equate quoting a news story to support for that story.

SPICER: Merely reading a story that is in a paper is not vouching for it. It's reading the story.

STELTER (on camera): So Monday's exchanges in the White House press briefing room, just the latest example of this credibility crisis for the White House.

And it's not just Sean Spicer. Other Trump aides, like Kellyanne Conway, have also been scrutinized for false or misleading statements.

But, ultimately, it's about the boss. It's about President Trump himself. Aides like Spicer put in impossible positions trying to defend or explain the president's tweets.

Back to you.


[01:35:22] VAUSE: Brian Stelter, thank you.

Let's head over to France now where their election seems a little tamer. The top five contenders for the presidency went head to head on their first televised debate on Monday.

SESAY: They clashed on jobs, terrorism, immigration, and France's future in the European Union.

Details now from CNN Paris correspondent, Melissa Bell.


MELISSA BELL, CNN PARIS CORRESPONDENT: This is a French political campaign like none other, and like no one can remember here in France, already shaken by the populist wave that appears to have swept the Western world.

Tonight, for the first time in the Fifth Republic, before the first round of a presidential elections, the leading candidates held a live televised debate. It was focused on the issues and what each candidate offered for France, what each candidate would bring to the country as its president.

For the last few weeks, the presidential campaign has been dominated by the judicial troubles faced by Francois Fillon, the Republican candidate, the traditional right candidate, and the far-right's Marine le Pen.

Tonight, this was a debate about issues and issues that went to the heart of what kind of country France wants to be.

The question of the burkini and whether it should be allowed on French beaches has dominated French politics for many months now, and it was central to the conversation tonight. Have a listen.

EMMANUEL MARCON, FRENCH PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (through translation): The trap into which you are falling, Madam le Pen, with your provocations, is to divide society, meaning that more than four million French women and French men, whose religion is Islam, and are not dividing society but live in our republic, you're making them an enemy of the Republic. Well, I say no.

BELL: Plenty of tension there in those exchanges, tension in the speeches of all five candidates who knew especially for Emmanuel Macron, the leading centric independent candidate. This was really his debate to lose. For the time being, the polls suggest that he will be facing off with the far-right's Marine le Pen in the second round of the election, with, again, this historic situation where the two candidates, the Socialist and the Republican, representing the two parties that have essentially shared power for the last several decades fairly excluded from the political debate, excluded also, according to polls, from that second round. Can Emmanuel Macron keep his campaign on track and keep this shift going, that is the question for the coming weeks.

But at the end of tonight's debate, in which really no killer lethal blow was delivered to any of the candidates, it is one that he seems to have gotten past for tonight. Emmanuel Macron and Marine le Pen looking at the moment like they'll be facing off in that second round, presenting to the French electorate two different versions of what they believe France should be.

Melissa Bell, CNN, in Paris.


SESAY: Dominic Thomas is here now. He chairs the Department of French and Francophone studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Dominic, good to have you with us once again.

Heading into this debate, Emmanuel Macron faced the accusation of not really standing for anything. Did he settle that charge once and for all after this three-hour marathon?

DOMINIC THOMAS, CHAIR, DEPARTMENT OF FRENCH AND FRANCOPHONE STUDIES, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, LOS ANGELES: It was a long marathon. And it was the first time in French history they've had a televised debate in the first round that brought these different candidates together. The interesting thing is, thus far, he hasn't needed to develop any kind of a specific policy scheme. Of course, he has in the multiple rallies. The left has done a good job of imploding. And the right has been embroiled in its own financial and enrichment scandals and so on. And was has been left has been between the far right, le Pen, who from the beginning has been polling high, has a decent base support, and will be there most likely in the second round, left this huge gap that Emmanuel Macron was able to fill with his campaign.

Now as the lead up to this discussion, you know, showed, these are two diametrically opposed candidates. Macron does have policies. He is in favor of the European Union, in the way that Chancellor Merkel is and Robert Schultz, who will be running against her in the German elections in the fall. He worked very closely as a Socialist minister with the reforms to some of the job laws, opening up the market and reducing taxation on businesses. And he is very invested in the idea of digital innovations, of kind of jumpstarting the French economy and bringing it into the 21st century, and making people want to work rather than being concerned whether they should be working 35 hours and so on. And he is different to le Pen. We saw it in the debate tonight, especially over the argument over the burkini. For example, he made controversial views about colonial history and he's talked about a diverse society, about these things being assets to France. And so his positions are quite clear. He believes in openness. He believes in the European Union and so on. And therefore, it is enough, I think, right now, to stand against le Pen on that in an election. And that is an election of the heart and not of the mind, and it is working on the fear that le Pen is trying to do or the hope that Macron is trying to represent or offer to the people.

[01:40:35] VAUSE: You mentioned the European Union. Le Pen is not a fan of the E.U. And during the debate, she talked about what a success the Brexit has been. Listen to this.


MARINE LE PEN, FRENCH PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (through translation): Mr. Fillon, that is what is called a fear project. It was used before Brexit. It was used before the election of Donald Trump. The results of Brexit are wonderful. They have doubled the growth of the E.U. They have the lowest unemployment rate since 2004.


VAUSE: I mean, we can get to the numbers, but for le Pen, the bigger picture here, taking the French out of the U.K. is not as simple as it was for the U.K. when it comes to France, because of the way their constitution is set up and the way their political system is established, right? This is a big ask for le Pen.

THOMAS: It would be a big ask. And also, she is speaking as if Brexit has actually happened.


THOMAS: This is the problem. And the other candidates really sort of got her on that. It also feeds into the idea she is weak about speaking on the economy. She's good on fear and immigration and Islam but --


VAUSE: She is flakey when it came to the economy.

THOMAS: Absolutely. She was unable really to offer a modern plan to answer these kinds of questions. So, yes, you're absolutely right. The Brexit, if anything, the process so far has been incredibly complicated. Ironically, Theresa May has had to wait a little longer to announce the triggering of Article 50. The European Union is celebrating its 60th anniversary on the 25th of March. She is waiting for the 29th. It's going to be a very long and complicated debate. And British society is extremely divided as to whether or not they really want to go through on this. And the fact is, in France, the French have done very well out of the European Union, and this would not have been an easy process. But, of course, where she to be elected, it would deal a severe blow to morale in the European Union.

SESAY: Are we seeing an impact in the numbers in the polling after what happened in Holland?

THOMAS: Well, the debate in Holland is very different. It's a parliamentary system and so on, too. But --


SESAY: It's more the outcome for the election --


THOMAS: I think the underperformance in many ways of Wilders, he did pick up votes, but not enough to make him a powerful interlocutor in this complex coalition debate that has started. And it was clear, the question Nexit, of the Netherlands leaving the European Union, was pushed aside, too. And that has not helped her as we've gone into this debate. And we saw, which was interesting in the Dutch debate, was this tremendous turnout, that people did come out and vote. The French, we still don't know. Many people are undecided and many have said they won't vote. There is a lot of disillusionment with these candidates, particularly around the corruption of Fillon and so on. So it remains really highly unpredictable. And the fact that we have never had two non-mainstream party candidates in the second round makes it all the more unpredictable in terms of the outcome.

VAUSE: Dominic, as always, thank you so much.

SESAY: Thank you so much.

VAUSE: We really appreciate the insight.

THOMAS: Thank you.

SESAY: Thank you.

VAUSE: Next up on NEWSROOM L.A., Donald Trump had strong words for President Obama when he was playing golf, but now that President Trump is in the White House, playing golf seems to be par for the course.


[01:46:52] VAUSE: Some of the world's fastest-growing economies can be found in southeast Asia. Many people in the region don't have a bank account or even a credit card.

SESAY: Tech startups may be the answer to boosting financial inclusion. They're pushing regional growth even further, a trend we are seeing in Singapore.

Kristie Lu Stout has more in CNN's "Road to ASEAN."


KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Aaron has earned thousands of points collecting crystals in this popular mobile phone game. He is about to beat his best friend's record when the free demo expires but, like most people in southeast Asia, he has no credit card or bank card and he can't pay online. So it's too bad this time.

ANNOUCER: Game over.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About a third of adults in southeast Asia have a bank account. Only 3 percent of adults have a credit card. What that means is there is a huge number of people in this region who are online and connected and want to transact but don't have a way to pay online.

STOUT: Southeast Asia boasts a $2.5 trillion compete but without bank accounts, hundreds of millions of people remain locked out.

Singapore-based startup, Code a Pay, has created a platform to allow them to spend money online.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The contribution startups like us are making is drawing people into that Internet economy sooner and help grow that Internet economy sooner and I think that will have tremendous welfare benefits.

STOUT: Take Spotify as an example. Code a Pay allows users to pay their subscription fee using mobile phone credit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Another example would be paying at a convenience store. So you can make a purchase online, walk in to, say, 7-Eleven, pay for that purchase, and it will be delivered.

STOUT: Startups are every evolving, embracing tech innovations like Bitcoin and eWallets to further boost financial inclusion. And Singapore is proving to be the ideal place to innovate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have $225 million Singapore dollars of incentives schemes to support banks establishing their R&D centers to work with startups so we can have an evolution that is part of the process. STOUT: International tech investment is pouring into the city state.

Mega firms have backed Code a Pay seeing Singapore as a jumping off point towards an emerging Asean.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The startups come here and bring their idea and commit in Singapore and test it here. Singapore will be a place where the startup will start the journey and end up in Asean and the Asian market where they'll scale for larger deployment.

STOUT: Bringing more people into the online economy could mean a multi-billion-dollar boost to Asean's bottom line, but with cash still king, the region looks to tech startups to open the online marketplace to all.


[01:50:06] SESAY: Fascinating.

Next on NEWSROOM L.A., he called out his predecessor for playing golf but now that President Donald Trump is president it's a different ball game.

VAUSE: No, it's the same game.

VAUSE: Different player.




SESAY: Hello, everyone. So Candidate Donald Trump wasn't shy about taking a swing about President Barack Obama for playing too much golf.

VAUSE: Turns out, though, President Trump is no stranger to the greens. He likes a couple of rounds himself.

Here's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): "Golf Digest" called him "the golfer-in-chief," but because he used to slam President Obama --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He played more golf last year than Tiger Woods.

MOOS: -- Trump is getting heat because he himself has been doing so much golfing.

UNIDENTIFIED COMEDIAN: He is the Tiger Woods of hypocrisy.

(LAUGHTER) MOOS: Before he was President, Trump posted tweets like, "Can you believe that with all the problems and difficulties facing the U.S. President Obama spent the day playing golf?"

TRUMP: Because I'm going to be working for you, I won't have time to play golf. Believe me.


[01:55:00] MOOS: Hard to believe, President Trump seems to have played golf 10 times in his first two months. We say seem because the White House avoids talking about it.

As a CBS reporter tweeted, "White House press aide wouldn't say if POTUS played golf. Told of Twitter photo of POTUS in golf attire, he may have hit a few balls."

(on camera): Reporters have resorted to pouring over photographs looking like this, looking for telltale signs.

(voice-over): Aha, he's wearing a golf glove.

Trump has said it is best for a president to play with other leaders.

TRUMP: I wouldn't have made certain deals without golf. Big deals.

MOOS: The only time we saw him play golf with a leader, the president gave Japan's prime minister a pat on the shoulder. Golf diplomacy?

SPICER: Help foster deeper relationships in southeast Asia and Asia.

MOOS: Who is the better golfer? Obama or Trump?


MOOS: "Golf Digest" calls Trump the best golfer to ever hold the presidency with a 2.8 handicap compared to Obama's 13.

Look who else golfs. There's Ivanka in a dress billowing like Marilyn Monroe's and high heels instead of golf shoes.

But with the president sneaking off, we're going to need a birdie to tell us when he is gone golfing.

ANNOUNCER: President Trump for the birdie.