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Trump Team Warned Flynn About Russia Contact; Carter Page Rebukes Senate Intel Committee; Macron's Presidential Campaign Hacked Days Before Election; President Trump Preparing for First International; Trump Signs Executive Order on Religious Freedom; Officer Arrested for Killing Boy, 15; Deadly Synthetic Drug Hits Georgia Streets. Aired 1-2p ET

Aired May 6, 2017 - 13:00   ET



[13:00:39] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We begin with those new developments surrounding Michael Flynn.

CNN Washington correspondent, Ryan Nobles, is following this story for us and joins us now.

Ryan, Trump's transition team, telling Flynn the Russian ambassador he was communicating with was likely being monitored by U.S. Intelligence, and where does this investigation go?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is important, Fred, because it shows that Trump transition officials were aware of the complications that were surrounding Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, and his potential connections to Russian intelligence agencies and, furthermore, their connections in attempts to intervene in the U.S. election. This came at a time when Flynn had meetings with Kislyak and spoke to him about sanctions handed down by the United States.

Now even though Kislyak (sic) received those warnings, he continued to stay in communication with Kislyak. And, at one point, the Trump transition asked the Obama administration for a profile, a CIA profile, of Kislyak, so that Flynn would have a full understanding of who he was dealing with. We don't know if Flynn ever read that report.

Of course, Fred, Michael Flynn did not stay in the role of national security adviser very long. He was only there for 24 days after it was revealed that he did discuss those sanctions with Kislyak after earlier saying that he had not -- Fred?

WHITFIELD: OK. Carter Page, who was also at the center of the Russian investigation, said he was cooperating. That was at first. But now, we're learning, by way of this rather terse letter he sent to the Senate Intel Committee, he's taking a different approach.

NOBLES: You can call this an about-face for sure, Fredricka. Carter Page was somebody who said he was an open book, he had nothing to hide, but now he no longer wants to play ball with the Senate Intel Committee. He wrote a harsh letter saying he is not going to cooperate. Just listen to one excerpt from that letter. Page writes, quote, "I suspect the physical reaction to the Clinton/Obama regime perpetrators will be more along the lines of severe vomiting when all the facts are exposed regarding the steps taken by the U.S. government to influence the U.S. election."

Page accuses the Obama administration of keeping watch over him and putting him under surveillance, and suggests to the Intel Committee leaders that if they want to find out what he was talking about, they should ask President Obama.

The bipartisan leaders, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Mark Warner of Virginia, have both said their inquiry will continue. They also want to obtain records from Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman, and from Roger Stone, once a Trump adviser. They said they will use their subpoena power if they have to.

WHITFIELD: All right. Ryan Nobles, thanks so much.

Let's talk more about this with my panel. I'm joined by historian and professor at Princeton University, Julian Zelizer; CNN commentator and political anchor for "Spectrum News," Errol Louis; and Republican strategist and co-chair for the Great America Alliance PAC, Eric Beach.

Good to see all of you.

Errol, you first, this stunning rebuke to the Senate, the letter sent by Carter Page, saying ask the Obama administration about these kinds of conversations, how does this set the stage for his upcoming questioning on the Hill? Does this mean that it's going to be tough trying to get anything out of him or he potentially may plead the Fifth?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't know about pleading the Fifth but I suspect this is a legal defense more so than a political revolution. Painting this as a counterattack, you know, that's perfectly within his rights and he and his attorney I'm sure thought long and hard before they drafted that letter, but the reality is if he had explosive charges, vomit-inducing evidence of wrongdoing by the prior administration, believe me, I suspect we would have heard it by now. If that is going to be his best defense he is certainly entitled to put it forward, but it really doesn't say anything about whether or not he actually had the kind of ties that this investigation is intended to get to the bottom of.

WHITFIELD: And, Julian, the Trump administration contended Carter Page was a low-level member, didn't want to call him really an adviser, which is what, you know, many heard Donald Trump saying earlier on in the campaign. Does this in any way set the stage for what this -- whether this relationship will also be under the microscope?

[13:05:12] JULIAN ZELIZER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It will. What we now have is not just Carter Page, but it's several officials, including, as you said, Mike Flynn, who are all under this radar. And if it's one person, you could argue they were a rogue person working in the campaign. But I think the fear, the suspicion, is there's too many people now who are involved. That's why the Senate committee, which initially stalled because of partisanship, is ramping up its investigation. And I think there is a sense that ties might have been more sweeping than just one person.

WHITFIELD: And, you know, Eric, this "Washington Post" article that, you know, there was communication between the transition team and the Obama administration or at least the CIA about information as it pertains to Michael Flynn, how does it make it much more difficult for the Trump administration, whether in the campaign or in the transition stage, to distance itself from any players who may have had relations with Russia? -- relations with Russia?

ERIC BEACH, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST & CO-CHAIR, GREAT AMERICAN ALLIANCE SUPER PAC: It's been litigated over the past 101 days, since November 8th. Democrats and many elements of the media have said the Russians were responsible for the Donald Trump victory, which is not the case. Carter Page, in his own words, never briefed Donald Trump. I think what you here is a group trying to deter from the facts and what Donald Trump has done in terms of pushing forward his reform and agenda. I'm pretty pleased with where we are on the 105-day mark.

And I think that, at the end of the day, what you're going to see is the administration keep pivoting toward creating jobs, towards real reform mechanisms. We've seen illegal immigration down 50 percent since they've taken office and we recently passed health care reform in the House. So this is the kind of reform and bold agenda that Donald Trump ran on. I don't think this should be a deterrence from that.

WHITFIELD: Errol, can it be passed off that this is coincidence that there are players --


WHITFIELD: -- with ties to Russia or does this also underscore there's been -- there was a vetting problem?

LOUIS: Of course it's -- of course not. We heard an example of change the subject, which seems to be the favored response from the Trump White House and its supporters. I don't think any responsible person has said that the Russians made the difference in this election, but the level of meddling that went on that has been attested to by over a dozen intelligence agencies is worth looking into. Whether or not the Trump White House wants it to happen is a separate question. The fact that the National Security Agency was headed by somebody who lied about his ties to Russia and then had to be fired, is serious business. The fact that the sitting attorney general has to recuse himself because he failed to disclose his ties, that is serious business. This isn't going to go away no matter how much people would like it to go away. It deserves a response and a serious investigation, and that's what the Senate is doing.

WHITFIELD: Julian, does "The Washington Post" report make it less believable that Michael Flynn was fired, mostly because of keeping this information away from the vice president? Or does it make it -- does it now unleash more questions about really how much did the vice president or anybody else know about Michael Flynn and his reported dealings?

ZELIZER: It unleashes more questions. I mean when you find out that people in the campaign knew about the problem, or in the transition knew about the problem then it changes the narrative. This was not all a surprise. This was not all coming out of left field. And there was some sense that there was a serious problem at hand.

And let's remember, this really accelerated when the intelligence agencies, not the Democratic Party, said that there had been Russian intervention, and there was pretty broad consensus about this. I don't think this is simply about saying Hillary Clinton lost because of this or somehow undermining what President Trump has or has not been able to accomplish.


BEACH: On the other hand, I mean, I think we also have to look at these FISA warrants where it comes to private citizens, and a lot of these actions took place where they were private citizens. Once again, we haven't seen evidence there's been any type of collusion between the Trump campaign, the active Trump campaign and the Russians to try to interfere with this election. We haven't seen that.


WHITFIELD: The investigation is not concluded though.

BEACH: Sure. But we've talked about for 105 days. I mean all it's been is a distraction for people that really, you know, voted for Donald Trump, and not only that but people who want to bring Americans together. That's all this is, is a distraction on it.


WHITFIELD: So you don't think it should be investigated?

[13:09:49] BEACH: No. It's been litigated in the court of public opinion for 105 days. At some point, we would like to see somebody bring forth there's been any type of evidence. At the end of the day, if the shoe was on the other foot, we would ask for evidence. We have seen none of that evidence at the very minimum.

WHITFIELD: Julian, is it moving too slow and that's problematic?

ZELIZER: The reason it's moving too slow is it stalled in the House when the Republican leadership didn't move very fast on the committee. That's how this slowed down. It should move fast. And I think everyone is in agreement, including the administration, at least should be in agreement, that we want a conclusion to this investigation. But it will take some time. These are big charges. If this was all true, this could be worse than Watergate. So on the one hand, we want it to move forward, but on the other hand, we do want it to be done carefully so that the argument that this is partisan is not part of how Americans see the investigation.

WHITFIELD: All right. Julian Zelizer, Errol Louis and Eric Beach, thanks to all of you.


WHITFIELD: Next, just hours before France picks a new president, one candidate's campaign says it has been hacked. Thousands of real and fake documents posted online. Details. Plus, Russia's response, all next.


[13:15:18] WHITFIELD: The day before critical election in France, one presidential candidate's campaign says it has been hacked. Thousands of documents have been released online. Campaign officials are warning some of what has been released is fake. Russian officials also quickly weighing in. A spokesman for the Kremlin telling CNN, quote, "These, like other similar accusations, are based on nothing and are pure slander", end quote.

I want to bring in Isa Soares, covering the campaign from northern France.

Isa, is there a concern that this could sway some votes?

ISA SOARES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That is the biggest fear, Fredricka. Of course, today was supposed to be a day of reflection and taking stock. It's been a campaign, so many twists and turns. Today was a time for people to try to decide if they hadn't made up their minds which way they're going to go. And the news of this hacking taking place at 11:00, one hour before reporting restrictions came into place, really shocked many people and really meant that Macron had to -- had one hour to come out with a statement. And in the statement, this is what he said: "This operation is clearly meant to undermine democracy, just like it happened in the U.S. during the last presidential campaign."

Important to point out that, Fredricka, the electoral commission here in France has basically come out and urged the media to stay away from the contents of the e-mails. It's 14.5 gigabytes of e-mails, some personal, some professional, from the Macron campaign. More than 70,000 files. They're saying, look, you can mention the fact that it happened but you cannot mention the contents. The media here actually abiding by that because there could be criminal charges.

Important, too, they ask people not to forward or pass on any information. Of course, it's hard to try to police online the likes of Twitter and that will be the challenge to see if people are swayed when it comes to tomorrow -- Fredricka?

WHITFIELD: Meantime, the Kremlin has been asked. There's been that raised suspicion that Russia is behind this. Customarily, the Kremlin could just remain silent on this, but instead, they have vocalized their opinion on this. Why? SOARES: Well, you know, if we go back before any of the European

elections here, there was already so many fears of Russian meddling, given the concerns and allegations of what happened with the U.S. presidential election. We also heard in April from security experts here that said that Russia -- there were allegations of Russian meddling in the Macron campaign. And this is something we had heard throughout the Macron campaign too.

Also, we know that where Le Pen stands, we know that Russian banks have been funding the Le Pen -- Marine Le Pen campaign and we know politically they see eye to eye on many areas. She's anti-E.U., anti- NATO. She wants to roll back some of the sanctions put in place, close down the annexation of Crimea, and she wants closer ties with Putin. Hence, why you're seeing so much of the finger-pointing turning to Russia and why Russia was quick to respond to these allegations.

WHITFIELD: Isa Soares, thank you so much.

Straight ahead, President Trump prepares for his first international trip, hoping to unite three major religions behind these ambitious plans. We'll take a closer look, next.


[13:23:28] WHITFIELD: President Trump is preparing for his first abroad as the leader of the free world and the stops will be at several religious pillars. Later this month, the president will travel to Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the Vatican.

Back with me to discuss all of this, Julian Zelizer, Errol Louis, and Eric Beach.

Eric, let me begin with you.

Realistically, what is the president hoping to accomplish by visiting these three religious capitals?

BEACH: I think these are exciting times. The president, as you mentioned, is the leader of the free world. He's going over to Israel. There's no better friend to the United States than Israel. And he really wants to enhance that relationship that I think has faltered

over the past eight years, at the same time be very respectful, you know, to Muslim countries and other Muslim countries and try to unite all of the religions. Not that he's going to do that on this trip but it's a signal to the rest of the world that, you know, during the campaign, there was a lot of heated rhetoric, a lot was maybe mischaracterized, a lot was probably very poignant. But at the end of the day, his job is to really unite all the fractions around the world. But, you know, he sets -- in the first 105 days, he enforces America first policies, and now going around the world to really talk about his leadership and that the U.S. is going to again be the leader of the free world.

WHITFIELD: Errol, the first stop will be Saudi Arabia, a predominantly Muslim country. Given the president's travel ban, directed primarily at Muslim countries, what is the expectation of the objective, and how might the president be received there?

LOUIS: Well, that's a great question, Fredricka. I understand from the point of view of trying to create drama, trying to show the president as a world leader, the overall trip or all three countries, all three religions being a package deal. But if you're asking specifically about the first leg of that trip, as announced, to Saudi Arabia, I suspect the president will be asked a couple of pointed questions about his statement from December of 2015, which is still up on the web for all in the world to see. He was calling for a complete and total shutdown of Muslims entering the United States. If that has changed, it would be a good idea to sort of figure that out before he gets to Riyadh and meets with King Salomon, gets pressed by other Muslim leaders about what he meant by that and what he means. That's one small taste, I think, of the many complex issues that will land on his plate. He's built up the drama and it's going to be very much a high-wire act going to Saudi Arabia first.

[13:26:04] WHITFIELD: And your feeling is, that he should expect those questions to come? It would be unusual or odd if they were not to be that direct?

LOUIS: Sure. I mean look, if the diplomats don't ask him, if the head of state doesn't ask him, the local press certainly will. So I'm not sure what his answer is going to be, but it will have to be I think considerably more sophisticated than what he has offered on the campaign trail and from the White House.

WHITFIELD: So the president has not shied away from taking on long- standing issues, divisive issues. He vowed to help broker peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis. This is what he had to say.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Over the course of my lifetime, I've always heard that perhaps the toughest deal to make is the deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Let's see if we can prove them wrong, OK?


WHITFIELD: Julian, why so confident? Is it apparent that he has some sort of framework, or is that just, you know, the optimist in him, the deal maker in him?

ZELIZER: I think that's the confidence in him and the belief that he has -- that he could ultimately broker the kinds of deals that other politicians can't. And so maybe that will help him. It might actually help in this kind of contentious situation. But as he steps into the Middle East, he has to remember, this is a region where every country has a very long history, where every negotiation has been worked through, and often fallen apart, so he'll have to show a degree of caution. It's very different than what we've seen in this stage. One small utterance could, you know, tear things apart. We will have to see a different Trump also as he actually starts to work on this.

WHITFIELD: And very unlike -- excuse me -- excuse me - say, like President Obama who made that speech in Egypt, one of his first forays into a Muslim-based country, this president is not expected to have speeches.

Instead, Julian, these are going to be one-on-one meetings. Why would this president not want to take the opportunity to talk to the masses?

ZELIZER: That might be a better decision. Part of it is the controversy and baggage he brings because of the campaign, because of the ban on refugees from Muslim countries. There's a lot of baggage with anti-Semitism in his campaign and even circulating in the administration, and so the speech might not work, and that's not really his best mode of communication. So I think he's thinking a little more like jimmy carter at Camp David back in the late '70s where behind the scenes working one-on-one he can broker some kind of agreement.

WHITFIELD: When it comes to the Vatican, Eric, there have been some, you know, rather sharp criticisms from the pope towards, or at least the inference to Donald Trump when he was on the campaign, and then President Trump, when he was a candidate, had some rather, you know, colorful language about the pope. Is this going to be an opportunity for the two to find common ground, make peace? What are your expectations?

BEACH: Those are my expectations, that Donald Trump, I think he's going to welcome this trip. And one thing that needs to be said about him is that, you know, he's an unconventional candidate -- he was an unconventional candidate and president and he has the ability to be the greatest deal maker. When he goes into these meetings, he knows what he wants. I think he looks forward to those challenges of all three countries and, of course the Vatican. What you're going to see is him really kind of engage other world leaders and, you know, make sure that they understand why he has enforced his policies and put Americans first with all of his, you know, policies. But at the end of the day, you know, talk about how he can really unite all the factions around the world. That's what you're going to see ones they trip and those are going to be the expectations.

[13:30:00] WHITFIELD: And so President Trump, he will be going overseas on day 119, in the White House. It's later than the last several administrations.

So, you know, Julian, does it matter at what juncture in your first trimester, you know, of your administration or first quarter of your administration that you go overseas.

ZELIZER: I don't think it always matters. The reason it matters with him is because of this America First rhetoric, and the perception here and around the world that he doesn't really care about international alliances and international problems. So, a little earlier might have been better to disprove that. But, look, if it's a successful trip at this point, that's what people will be talking about, not what day this happened. WHITFIELD: All right. Julian Zelizer, Errol Louis, Eric Beach,

thanks to all of you. Appreciate it.


WHITFIELD: President Trump says a new executive order is aimed at protecting religious liberty. Will it really allow churches to get more involved in politics and endorse candidates? Our legal panel weighs in straight ahead.


UNIDENTIFIED CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is horse country where betting, breeding and the selling of horses is big business. 16.5 million visitors travel to Louisville every year, and 1.5 million come just for the Kentucky Derby. But horses aren't the only attraction in town. Here, under the Louisville Zoo, is the only underground zip line in the U.S.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mega Cavern is a former 100-acre underground limestone pit mine in the middle of metropolitan Louisville. There's a lot of connoisseurs of zip lines that will go from place to place. We hit the unique factor for them.

UNIDENTIFIED CNN CORRESPONDENT: This cavern was built in the 1930s. There are 17 miles of corridors, which are the perfect temperature to house Hershey's chocolate and top-secret government documents.

But the cavern's biggest attraction is the mega zip, a 100 foot drop into darkness.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We do have a lot of people that get nervous. They can't see how deep the ground is below them. Kind of just looks like an eternal pit. We always talk them through it. Sometimes maybe give them a nudge of encouragement.

UNIDENTIFIED CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Nudge of encouragement.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Zipping. Three, two, one. Go!





[13:35:12] WHITFIELD: The now fired Texas police officer, who shot and killed an unarmed 15-year-old, has been arrested and charged with murder. 37-year-old Roy Oliver turned himself in to the Parker County jail Friday night. The fired officer is out on a $300,000 bond.

Meanwhile, heartbroken friends and family were in mourning today at the funeral for Jordan Edwards.


The Mesquite Skeeters started their spring practice without Jordan Edwards, a freshman, who was excited to compete for a spot on the team. His life was cut short on a weekend night leaving a crowded house party. The straight-A student athlete was shot and killed in his brother's car by a police officer.

Faculty at Mesquite High School mourn Edwards' loss and describe him as one of their best.

KEVIN SAMPRA, PRINCIPAL, MESQUITE HIGH SCHOOL: You see and hear of a student always smiling, happy, the energy that he brought into the room. You know, when you ask his teachers what they thought about him, every one of them said he was awesome.

WHITFIELD: Edwards loved football and became friends with the school's new coach.

JEFF FLEENER, FOOTBALL COACH, MESQUITE HIGH SCHOOL: We knew he was one of our best athletes but even more, just one of our best all- around kids. He was a coach's dream. He was very self-motivated and had a lot of goals on what he wanted to do down the road.

WHITFIELD: The very same day the 15-year-old should have started spring practice, his family received word that the officer who killed him, had been fired.

JONATHAN HABER, CHIEF, BALCH SPRINGS, TEXAS, POLICE DEPARTMENT: After reviewing the findings, I have made the decision to terminate Roy Oliver's employment with the Balch Springs Police Department.

WHITFIELD: Roy Oliver was responding to a neighbor's complaint about noise and possible underage drinking. Oliver and his partner were looking for the homeowner when they said they heard what sounded like gunfire. Oliver then ran into the street and fired his rifle into the car that Edwards was in, hitting the teenager in the front passenger seat.

Police Department Chief Haber originally said that car reversed aggressively toward the officer, but after review of the body camera footage, he acknowledges that wasn't the case.

Oliver, an army veteran, twice deployed to Iraq, is charged with murder.

The Edwards' family praised the decision to fire Oliver, saying they will seek justice for their son. They tweeted, quote, "We fully expect an equivalent response from those responsible for investigating and punishing crime."

The family has asked for privacy in their time of mourning and requested the community refrain from protests or marches in their name.


WHITFIELD: And we'll be right back.


[13:42:46] WHITFIELD: This weekend, Americans will be headed to their places of worship for the first time since President Donald Trump signed an executive order that's designed to ease a ban on political activities by religious organizations.

CNN's Rene Marsh explains exactly what that means.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This financial threat against the faith community is over. No one should be censoring sermons or targeting pastors.

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION & GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Under the federal tax code, the Johnson Amendment says the IRS can investigate churches and potentially lose tax-exempt status if they engage in politics. Trump's executive order intends to weaken that law, but only Congress can repeal it.

During his campaign, Trump told Catholic television channel, EWTN, he was upset that the law was preventing him from getting religious endorsements.

TRUMP: I said, when are you going to endorse me, and they said, we can't do that. I said, why can't you do that. They said, we're not allowed to do that. If we did that, we would lose our tax-exempt status. I said, why is that. They told me about the Johnson Amendment, 1954. I said, we're going to get rid of the Johnson Amendment.

MARSH: Trump's executive order intended to give the IRS more discretion to ease up on any enforcement on religious groups who get political.

Minutes after the new executive order was signed, the ACLU said it would file a lawsuit.

But once the text of the order was released, the language was noticeably scaled back, and some on the left say the order actually won't change much at all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The churches of America, the clergy of America from free speech now. They can say and do whatever they want.

MARSH: Some consecutive religious groups said the executive order didn't go far enough. Others applauded the president.

TONY PERKINS, PRESIDENT, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: This executive order and the statements by the president today says that the hostility that we've seen toward religious freedom at the hands of our own government in the last eight years is coming to an end. MARSH: Rene March, CNN, Washington.


WHITFIELD: I want to bring in our legal guys to talk over all of this. Avery Friedman, a civil rights attorney and law professor; and Richard Herman, a criminal defense attorney.

Good to see you both.


OK, so, Avery, you first.

What is it that religious leaders can say or do now that they couldn't before this order?

[13:45:11] AVERY FRIEDMAN, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY & LAW PROFESSOR: Nothing. The legal effect of the so-called religious freedom executive order is nil. It will have no effect. In fact, the threat of ACLU's lawsuit went up in smoke when they looked at it and realized it doesn't do anything. There's verbiage about the federal government protecting religious rights. Let me tell you, since 1789, the Constitution has ensured the protection of religious rights, and it's not involving the government. It involves individuals. So at the end of the day, nothing. This will have no legal effect whatsoever.

WHITFIELD: Richard, do you agree with that?

RICHARD HERMAN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, Fred, it's the weekly insult to the intelligence of the American population by the Trump administration. Here he stands up yesterday with pomp and circumstance surrounded by his conservative religious backers and constituents and tells them he annihilated the Johnson Amendment. First of all, as your reporter said --


WHITFIELD: It takes an act of Congress.

HERMAN: It's a wish by a president. It's not law. Congress has to do that. Number two, what he did was nothing. He did nothing of substance yesterday. Yet, he proclaimed this great result. And by the way, how possible the conservative right wing religious organizations can support this guy after knowing his history and what --


AVERY: Well, wait. The right wing is no --


HERMAN: Wait a minute.

Fred, the executive order does nothing, does not -- (CROSSTALK)

AVERY: The right wing is no more happy --


AVERY: -- no more happy than the left wing.

WHITFIELD: Does it --


HERMAN: Candidates --


WHITFIELD: Does it pave the road, does it potentially pave the road, toward --



WHITFIELD: -- potential change as many of his previous executive orders do?

They don't necessarily impose change right away, Avery, but some of his executive orders give instructions as to offer change later down the road?

FRIEDMAN: Yeah. There's something in there that talks about the Labor secretary, and the Treasury secretary and HHS, considering. That's it, considering changes upon the advice of the Department of Justice. And that's why if you really look at it, all the cheering that was going on, if anybody looked at the language, they would see it has absolutely no effect. Yes, it might be on a pathway, but, ultimately, if -- and I think a lot of people thought, well, this is going to get rid of those rulings involving putting those two little plastic guys on top of a wedding cake or something. Well, there's got to be an awful lot of disappointment if they showed up in the rose garden to see something like that. Maybe a pathway but, Fredricka, it is nothing legally and constitutionally.


HERMAN: Yeah. Fred, churches and religious organizations have tax- exempt status. One of the things they can't do is endorse a candidate. But anything short of endorsing a candidate they can do. They can speak freely --


AVERY: They do it anyhow.

HERMAN: And they can have sermons about that every single week. They just can't endorse a particular candidate. And by the way, Fred, the enforcement of the Johnson Amendment since it's been enacted in the late '50s has been like minimal. Very little force and effect.

AVERY: Virtually none.


WHITFIELD: So there were no cases that precipitated this?

HERMAN: No. It's just nothing, Fred. It's about nothing yesterday. Like much of this administration. It's pathetic.

WHITFIELD: The show "Seinfeld," it's about nothing.

HERMAN: Although, it's a serious message, but you're right, at the end of the day, it is absolutely nothing, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right. Avery and Richard, why we always love to invite you to clarify things.

HERMAN: We agreed on that. We agreed on that.


AVERY: Right.

WHITFIELD: I'm sure next week we'll find something perhaps there will be, you know --


HERMAN: Something tells me you're right.

WHITFIELD: All right. Thanks so much. Avery and Richard, good to see you.

HERMAN: Take care.

[13:50:09] WHITFIELD: Next, solve the opioid crisis, it was a key Trump campaign pledge, but a draft memo obtained by CNN shows next year's budget could virtually eliminate a White House office aimed at doing just that.


WHITFIELD: A humanitarian and human rights crises continues to intensify in Venezuela. Protests have erupted again today as the nation's president has called for a new Venezuelan constitution. We're about to show you images of yesterday's unrest. And those images are graphic. The images show government riot vehicles driving into crowds of protestors, killing or injuring numerous people.

And in just the last hour, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, is putting the president of Venezuela on notice. Haley released a statement saying, in part, "We are deeply concerned about the Maduro government's violent crackdown on protestors in Venezuela. President Maduro's disregard for the fundamental rights of his own people has heightened the political and economic crises in the country," end quote. We'll continue to monitor the situation and bring you updates.


TRUMP: People struggling with addiction access to the help they need.

I would dramatically expand access to treatment slots and end Medicaid policies that obstruct in-patient treatment.

We want to help those who have become so badly addicted. This is a total epidemic. And I think it's probably almost un-talked about compared to the severity that we're witnessing.


[13:55:27] WHITFIELD: President Trump there, on several occasions, vowing to fight opioid abuse, but we're now learning the office within the White House that's tasked with doing just that is facing massive cuts. CNN has obtained a draft memo of the president's 2018 budget and it says the National Drug Control Policy Office will get a 94 percent budget cut, down to $24 million from $380 million. The White House is not commenting on specifics of the budget but says the process is complex and ever changing.

This comes as a new crop of next-generation drugs hits the streets in Georgia. Synthetic drugs are flooding the market, drugs so potent that even touching them can kill you.

Here's CNN's Scott McClain.


BUD BENEFIELD, DEPUTY CHIEF, ATLANTA FIRE DEPARTMENT: Eventually, we want to be able to have it readily available.

SCOTT MCCLAIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In Carol County, just outside of Atlanta, Deputy Chief Bud Benefield is on a mission. They want every first responder to carry Narcan, a nasal spray that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose.

BENEFIELD: Sometimes revived in as little as two to three minutes.

MCCLAIN (on camera): Sounds like a miracle drug.

BENEFIELD (voice-over): It does, it sounds like a miracle drug.

MCCLAIN: But it may not be so miraculous when it comes to the street drugs Fentanyl and U-47700, both on the rise in Georgia and both so strong investigators say a single dose of Narcan may not be enough.


MCCLAIN: Nelly Miles speaks for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which she says has seen some combination of the drugs 50 times this year, causing 17 deaths, the same number as in all of 2016. MILES: This crop of synthetic opioids for us, it's unheard of,

unprecedented to see these types of concoctions coming into the crime lab here in Georgia.

MCCLAIN: The drugs have all the trappings of fentanyl, an opioid that's often linked to overdoses and deaths. But these next generation drugs are so potent, Miles says even touching them can be deadly.

MILES: They are transdermals, that means they can be absorbed through the skin. If you're not wearing personal protective gear, you can be exposed and at risk.

MCCLAIN: What makes it scarier, they're sometimes pressed into pills meant to look like more common street drugs. Even for drug users, every high is Russian roulette.

MILES: These days you have no idea what you're getting. The moral to the story is just stay away from it all. It's just really out of control.

MCCLAIN: Miles says the drugs are made in China and often come through Mexico before reaching the United States. These drugs are so new that it was just last month that Georgia officially outlawed them. Other states are still catching up.

BENEFIELD: It's becoming a nationwide epidemic.

MCCLAIN: In the meantime, the mission to expand the use of Narcan is becoming more urgent. They say the opioid problem is only getting worse, not better.

Scott McClain, CNN, Atlanta.


WHITFIELD: The next hour of the NEWSROOM starts right now.

Hello again, everyone. Thank you so much for being with me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

The Trump administration is still unable to get from under the cloud of suspicion surrounding its ties to Russia. The "Washington Post" first reported that members of Trump's transition team warned former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, about his conversations with the Russian ambassador weeks before he was forced to resign. The revelations come as former Trump adviser, Carter Page, tells the Senate Intel Committee that, if they want to know about his communications with the Russians, ask President Barack Obama.

Ryan Nobles is following these new developments and joins me now -- Ryan?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Fredricka. Carter Page's role in this entire process has become an important one because many believe his connections to the Russians government could be the key to figuring out whether or not the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russian government, something the Trump White House has vehemently denied.

At one point, Page had discussed the option of actually cooperating with the Senate Intel Committee, but he has now backtracked, saying that he's not going to fork over any of the records or talk to the committee as he had once promised.

And listen to this letter that he wrote to the Senate Intel Committee. It is pretty forceful. Look at this one excerpt. He says, quote, "I suspect that the physical reaction of the Clinton/Obama regime perpetrators will be more along the lines of severe vomiting when all the facts are eventually exposed regarding the steps taken by the U.S. government to influence the 2016 election."

And the Senate Intel Committee doesn't want to hear just from Carter Page.