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Russia Investigation; Trump White House; Transgender Troops Serve Openly in Israel; Neymar Reflects on Move to PSG. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired August 5, 2017 - 04:00   ET




GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): New reporting from "The New York Times" saying that U.S. investigators have asked the White House to hand over records of the former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. We'll have more on that reporting ahead.

Plus, the White House moves the U.S. ban to transgender soldiers. How the policy in Israel promotes acceptance there.

And later, Neymar finally dons his new kit. The footballer tells CNN why he chose Paris over any other club in the world.

Live from CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta, welcome to our viewers around the world. I'm George Howell. CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.


HOWELL: 4:00 am on the U.S. East Coast.

The details just keep coming. We have new information that we're following in the Russia investigation. At the same timed the president of the United States taking a long break. Keeping in mind Mr. Trump used to boast that he would be too busy to take long vacations.

But after six months on the job, Donald Trump left the White House Friday to spend the next 17 days at his golf resort in New Jersey.

Now here is what's brewing in the background. "The New York Times" reports the office of special counsel Robert Mueller is seeking White House records on former national security adviser Michael Flynn, though it's not a formal subpoena. "The Times" says that it's the first known occasion that Mueller's team has gone after White House documents.

"The New York Times" also reporting that Mueller's team is looking into whether Flynn was secretly paid by the Turkish government during the Trump campaign. Neither General Flynn nor his attorneys have responded to "The New York Times" reporting.

But there is this statement that's coming from White House special counsel Ty Cobb.

It says, quote, "the White House will not be discussing any specific communication with the special counsel out of respect for the special counsel and his process."

It goes on to say, "Beyond that, as I've stressed repeatedly, we continue to fully cooperate with the special counsel," end quote.

Also today, CNN exclusively learning this on how Russian interference was being tracked on Election Day. We've learned that the FBI was actually tracking a disinformation campaign that very day at FBI headquarters. And the primary suspect was Russian interference via fake news, as CNN's Pamela Brown reports.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: We have learned that some FBI counterintelligence agents spent Election Day huddled in a war room, looking for fake news. And what they could see was negative stories streaming in, posted online about Hillary Clinton, some having to do with her health that were fake stories generated from accounts with suspected Russian links. This is according to multiple sources our team has spoken with.

In fact, the FBI agents could see how the fake news was impacting the conversation online. Now the idea of monitoring for fake news was uncomfortable territory, somewhat new territory for the FBI.

But as one official told me, "We were right on the edge of constitutional legality because of First Amendment protections."

But this was something they believed they needed to do because it was important in better understanding how fake news played into this, what role it had and whether or not anyone in the Trump campaign, in the Trump world, worked with the Russians in this misinformation campaign.

Amid all of this, we learned there was constant coordination between the FBI as well as the Department of Homeland Security and DNI, holding conference calls every three hours with the team in the White House to discuss any possible problems.

But these conference calls were largely focused on the concern of whether the vote could be tampered with, whether the machines were tampered with by hackers. And while the FBI says that didn't happen, there was still this open question of whether the Russian disinformation campaign impacted the outcome of the election. And that is something we may never have the answer to -- Pamela Brown, CNN, Washington.


HOWELL: Let's now bring in Michael Genovese. He's a political analyst and the president of the Global Policy Institute at Loyola Marymount University, joining us this hour from Los Angeles.

It's a pleasure to have us with us, Michael. Let's first start with this reporting coming from "The New York Times," that the special counsel's probe led by Robert Mueller is now reaching out to the White House, seeking documents related to the former national security adviser Michael Flynn and whether he was secretly paid by the Turkish government.

First of all, what's the implication here?

MICHAEL GENOVESE, LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Michael Flynn was the first to be caught up in this scenario with the Russian scandal. And as it's gotten deeper and as it has expanded under the Mueller investigation, we're seeing more and more people get involved.

But I think in both Flynn's case and in all of the cast of characters around the president, we may be, if we haven't already --


GENOVESE: -- crossing a line. And the line is we're going to go from people defending the president to people worried about themselves. And that's why they hire criminal lawyers. And it's at this point that we're beginning to see that history is being written. And so people's historical legacy will be written about the things they do now.

I'm old enough -- you're not old enough to remember Watergate. But there were some real heroes and villains in Watergate. And those who did the right thing, the John Siricas; Pete Rodino, the chairman of the House Judiciary committee; Brahmin Elliot Richardson, those people are known as heroes and there's some villains that emerged from that.

And I think we're going to begin to see the similar thing coming about in this case. There are going to be people whose legacy, whose biography is going to be written. And the first line of that biography, they don't want it to read indicted or convicted of something.

And so the loyalty to the president may take second place to their own historical reputations, which now they know are very much on the line.

HOWELL: It is interesting, certainly when put in the context of history, looking back to see exactly what happened here.

Let's also, Michael, talk about this new reporting coming from our correspondents here at CNN, that there was a meeting in Washington, D.C.

So on one side of the world, we understand that there were Russians who were celebrating on Election Night after Donald Trump was elected President of the United States. But on the other, at FBI headquarters, a meeting of FBI agents, who were monitoring very closely by social media trends there, looking at what was being posted to places like Facebook, Twitter, these fake news stories.

The question here, was there any sort of Russian interference?

Was there any sort of help coming from Russia basically to post fake news items on Election Night?

They were monitoring those trends.

First of all, what are your thoughts to that?

GENOVESE: It crosses a line, perhaps, where the FBI is getting too involved in personal emails, sites that one may look at. So it's a very fine line that they may be treading here as to the importance of trying to figure out what happened, but also interfering in the privacy of individuals.

Having said that, it's clear that there was a crime going on, that we were being attacked. And so while I don't want to draw the war analogy too closely, in times of war, in times such as that, when we're being attacked or our democratic institutions, government tends to go maybe a little bit further than they might ordinarily in times of peace, prosperity and calm.

And so I'm willing to give the government a little bit of leeway and the FBI a little bit of leeway. But it does raise some chilling questions about privacy and about individual rights.

HOWELL: Let's also talk about Mr. Trump's president, national security adviser H.R. McMaster. The focus here now of a great deal of criticism, especially from right wing media, about his decision to extend security clearance to people like Susan Rice. Now he is getting a great deal of heat and some are asking for him to lose his position.

GENOVESE: There are several different wings in the Trump White House, the military wing, the RNC wing, which has been pretty much depleted with a few losses. The family wing. And then you've got the ideological wing led by Bannon.

It is that wing, the far right wing of the party and the ideological wing of the Trump presidency that's after McMaster. I don't think McMaster is worried. I think he's going to plow ahead, do what he thinks is the right thing and not worry about those kinds of political consequences.

He is a politician in a sense. But -- any general becomes a politician. But he's really got the military mind and he's just going to plow ahead and do what's right and he's going take a lot of flack. The right wing really doesn't like him because he calls it as he sees it. He doesn't go in for the truisms of the Right.

HOWELL: Michael Genovese, we always appreciate you here on the show. thank you for your insight today.

GENOVESE: Thank you.

HOWELL: Another big story line moving this day, the issue of leaks in Washington. Earlier, this week, the White House was shocked to see published transcripts of two private phone conversations that President Donald Trump had back in January. The Australian prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, downplayed his

conversation being leaked to "The Washington Post." But the transcript of Mr. Trump's conversation with the Mexican president, Enrique Pena Nieto, is making headlines there. Our Patrick Oppmann reports from Mexico City.


PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Mexicans have been riveted by the release of transcripts to "The Washington Post" of a conversation that took place between their president, Enrique Pena Nieto, and U.S. president Donald Trump that is casting doubt on who will pay for the wall that Trump wants to build between the two countries.

This conversation that took place in January was supposed to be a private conversation and, in the conversation, Trump begins initially trying to --


OPPMANN: -- flatter the Mexican president, saying that he's eloquent and speaks better English than Trump. And then he begins to bully him, saying that is Pena Nieto doesn't agree to pay for the wall, he will impose tariffs on Mexican products going to the U.S. and essentially cause damage to the Mexican economy.

Trump also says at one point that he might send soldiers into Mexico if Pena Nieto can't get the drug war under control. And this has been bit of a bombshell in Mexico, to read these transcripts of what was supposed to be a private conversation.

Many here say that Pena Nieto held firm and told Donald Trump again and again that he would not pay for the wall. Others said that he should have pushed back harder, that much of what Trump said about Mexico and his comments to Pena Nieto were insulting and undignified.

Still, though, these two men, at the end of the conversation, were unable to come to an agreement, at least in January, of who would pay for this wall. They finally said that they would leave the political problem, as Donald Trump called it, that the wall presents by not talking about it anymore, at least in public.

That strategy, if there was a strategy, has backfired, because everybody in Mexico is talking about this now. It is once again very much in the public eye, the wall that Donald Trump wants to build between these two countries and who is going to pay for it -- Patrick Oppmann, CNN, Mexico City.


HOWELL: Mr. Trump mentioned in his conversation with Malcolm Turnbull that his conversation with Vladimir Putin went better. But at this point, relations between those two nations at a low. Let's now get reaction in Moscow with Oren Liebermann following the story.

Oren, so many stories that are crossing this day. Let's talk about this new reporting coming from CNN about how the FBI was tracking the online activity of what's described as a disinformation campaign, Russia suspected to have been involved in some form or fashion.

All of this happening at a time when both countries agree, Oren, that their relationship has hit "a very dangerous low," is the quote.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, George. The new reporting on Russia isn't going to change Russia's position or how adamantly they refuse or deny that they had any involvement in meddling in the election.

They call the investigation just yesterday, the Kremlin, that is, called it "absurd and groundless." And just because of CNN's new reporting that's not going to change that position.

But you're absolutely right. What it goes to show is how bad the relationship is. There certainly was hope here over the last half year or so that President Trump could improve the relations. That hope, especially with his signing of the sanctions bill, is all but gone at this point.

Now Russia has essentially given themselves a few options for how to respond. First, they say they could respond in more ways to the U.S. sanctions bill, that's on top of closing two U.S. compounds here and kicking out some 750 members of the U.S. diplomatic staff here.

But also, we're now seeing that they say they reserve the right to respond to European Union sanctions. And now with the deputy prime minister of Russia in Tehran, we're seeing Iran and Russia, two of the countries targeted in the new sanctions bill, say they will improve military ties, technological ties and start working more together.

That can very much be seen as a further response to the sanctions bill and to how bad relations are between the U.S. and Russia. Russia now seems to be looking the other way with relations with the U.S. not improving anytime soon -- George.

HOWELL: Oren, interesting. So looking ahead, there is a very important meeting that will take place between Russia's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, and the U.S. secretary of state Rex Tillerson.

Given where things stand right now, that these relations, as both nations agree, at a very low at this point, what is expected to come out of that meeting?

LIEBERMANN: There will certainly be some form of statement. And these two spoke on the phone just a couple of days ago. They talked about North Korea, which is one of the few areas where the U.S. and Russia actually see eye to eye, perhaps just about one of the only ones there.

They'll also talk about the sanctions bill and relations. There is little hope that they can do anything or say anything that will reverse the trend of which way relations are going, which is to say straight downhill. But these two seem to have a very good relationship. That is the

secretary of state from the U.S. and the foreign minister of Russia. But that relationship isn't stronger than anything else going on here. So it's not seen that they will be able to change the downward trend in U.S.-Russia relations at the moment, even if they get along well.

HOWELL: And the leadership at the top, from the president and the secretary of state, there does seem to be more oof a connection very different from the tone and the feeling in the U.S. Congress and the questions certainly that arise from the investigations, the many investigations that are ongoing here in the United States with regards to Russia. Oren Liebermann, live in the Russian capital. Thank you for the reporting today, Oren.

The United States has taken a largely symbolic move to reassert President Trump's decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord. The U.S. has now told the United Nations --


HOWELL: -- that it does intend to get out. You'll remember most countries around the world have hailed that agreement and have all signed onto it. The process to withdraw cannot start until at least 2019. Still, the United States says it will continue to cut greenhouse gas emissions and even take part in a conference that is set for November of this year.

Still ahead here on CNN NEWSROOM, new developments in the probe involving the Israeli prime minister. Why Benjamin Netanyahu's former chief of staff is now cooperating with investigators.

Also ahead this hour, as transgender troops face a ban in the United States, we'll hear from one soldier who openly serves in the Israeli military.

And football's newly-minted richest man, Neymar, sits down with CNN to talk about his big move to the French capital. Stay with us.




HOWELL: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell.

In Rwanda, President Kagame appears to be headed for a landslide victory in the presidential election. Preliminary results show that the two-term incumbent has more than 98 percent of the votes counted so far. About 7 million people were registered to vote in that election. Final results won't be announced until August 12th.

The former chief of staff of the Israeli prime minister has agreed to testify against him in an ongoing investigation. Benjamin Netanyahu's former aide also pleaded guilty in a separate case in order to avoid jail time. Mr. Netanyahu has been questioned as a suspect in two investigations

involving allegations of bribery, of fraud and breach of trust. He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

The U.S. president recently announced that transgender troops will be banned from the U.S. military. That's quite different from some other countries, including Israel, where transgender soldiers serve openly. CNN's Ian Lee has this story from Jerusalem.


IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Micha Yehudi is happy today. But a couple years ago he had hit rock bottom.

MICHA YEHUDI, ISRAELI SOLDIER: I never told anyone before. I've really told myself I was terrified.

LEE: Back then, Yehudi was a female army captain and didn't feel right in her skin. So she went to her commanding officer and said she wanted to transition to a man.

YEHUDI: I cried during that interview from the moment the reaction came out of his mouth and he said, OK. And that was it.

LEE: Yehudi credits Israel's army for helping him make the transition. Today he marches for transgender rights at Jerusalem's gay pride parade. Israel says roughly 60 transgender soldiers serve openly in the country's --


LEE (voice-over): -- military.

In the United States the future of transgender soldiers could change. It started with a tweet from President Donald Trump, ordering a ban on trans soldiers in the U.S. military. That message left thousands of U.S. military personnel in limbo.

Yehudi thought said any notion transgender people aren't up to the task.

YEHUDI: If I'm not tough, then I don't know what I am. I wouldn't be here if I wasn't tough enough. I wouldn't be alive.

LEE: Israel also grapples with equality. Gay couples still can't marry and religious conservatives view the community as an abomination.

Shira Banki was murdered two years ago at this gay pride parade by an ultra-Orthodox extremist. And while the LGBTQ community fights for their rights in society, in the Israeli army they've been accepted.

As for President Trump, Yehudi urges him to get it know trans soldiers.

YEHUDI: They're no different from anyone else, they just want to -- they just love their country like I love mine.

LEE: A country where soldiers can march to the beat of their own drum -- Ian Lee, CNN, Jerusalem.


HOWELL: Ian, thank you.


HOWELL: The Brazilian football star Neymar was already one of the best players alive but with his record-smashing move to Paris Saint- Germain, his career could enter another stratosphere. Our Christina Macfarlane sat down with PSG's newest forward.


CHRISTINA MACFARLANE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You could have picked any club in the world.

Why come here to Paris Saint-Germain?

NEYMAR DA SILVA SANTOS JR., FOOTBALL STAR (through translator): Because of all they offered. Because of the objectives this club has, the ambition they have.

They're very similar to mine. They're one of the biggest clubs in the world. I want to be part of their history. I came here to make history and win unprecedented titles.

MACFARLANE: You obviously loved playing with your teammates at Barcelona, in particularly Lionel Messi.

But how important was it for you to escape from the shadow of Messi and start something new here?

NEYMAR (through translator): Messi is number one. For me, the best I ever saw playing and every player that is next --


NEYMAR (through translator): -- to him would be number two. I haven't come to Paris to be the first, to be number one, to have all the spotlight. Quite the contrary. I came to help my teammates to make history and to make history in this club.

MACFARLANE: Do you ever see Messi following you and leaving Barca as well?

NEYMAR (through translator): I don't know. But I think not.

MACFARLANE: The general feeling is that you came to Paris Saint- Germain because of the money.

What do you say to critics who are saying that? NEYMAR (through translator): Because they don't know me. It's unfortunate. I'm sad that some people think that way. I'm not a guy who's motivated by money but by happiness and challenges.

MACFARLANE: But you come from very humble beginnings in Brazil.

Does this amount of money make you feel at all uncomfortable?

NEYMAR (through translator): No, not a bit. I am just happy and flattered that they believe in my football and that they brought me to a club as big as Paris.

MACFARLANE: What does success look like to you at Paris Saint- Germain?

How much do you want to win the Champions League and go on to win the Ballon d'Or, perhaps, as well?

NEYMAR (through translator): My priority is the Champions League and to win everything that I can with Paris. But the Champions League is our biggest objective.

MACFARLANE: Are you the best player in the world, do you believe?

NEYMAR (through translator): I don't know. But I'm very happy with what I've been doing and I hope to keep improving.


HOWELL: Christina Macfarlane, we appreciate that.

And thank you for being with us. I'm George Howell at the CNN Center in Atlanta.

"AFRICAN VOICES" is next and I'll be back at the top of the hour as we bring in our viewers in the United States with a full hour of CNN NEWSROOM worldwide. You're watching CNN, the world's news leader.