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Senate Grappling With Tax Plans as House Passes Bill; DHS Official Resigns over Past Comments on Blacks, Muslims; Trumps Ban on Elephant Trophies for Now. Aired 12-1p ET

Aired November 18, 2017 - 12:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: -- Prokupecz. So, Shimon, what are Kushner's attorneys saying about these latest allegations that he may have lied under oath?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE PRODUCER: Yes, Fred, so this comes after the Wikileaks revelation earlier this week that Don Jr. was in communications with them. Now, we're told that Trump Jr. received -- forwarded an e-mail to Hope Hicks, one of the closest aides to then-Candidate Trump.

She received that e-mail from Kushner. Now, what this latest revelation does it turns up pressure on Kushner to go back to Capitol Hill for more interviews and explain himself.

Kushner's lawyer, Abbie Lowell, issued a statement yesterday sort of upset at the Senate Judiciary Committee for putting out a letter basically saying that Kushner has not been truthful, has not been forthcoming, and this is some of what he said, that "This is a classic gotcha question, as it relates to the Wikileaks question that the Judiciary Committee has for Kushner. Mr. Kushner was asked if he had contacts with Wikileaks, Guccifer or D.C. leaks and said no."

He also said -- so basically, you know, he also said that during the time at the campaign, he himself did not have any contact with Wikileaks. Also, the lawyer continues to say that "From all I have now seen his statement was accurate then as it is now and in over six hours of voluntary testimony, Mr. Kushner answered all questions put to him by the committee and demonstrated that there had been no collusion between the campaign and Russia."

Now, Fred, this, again, you know, obviously puts Kushner in the spotlight. He's had some other issues with his security clearance forms, not revealing additional foreign contacts and, again, you know, there is some feeling from folks, from investigators on the Hill, from senators, that he just has not been forthcoming and now they're obviously raising more questions and asking him to comply with their request.

WHITFIELD: So, Shimon, the real discrepancy here is forwarding an e- mail where there is Wikileaks contacts is different or at least that's the interpretation of Jared Kushner and his attorney than actually engaging in a back and forth contact with Wikileaks. Is that what is at issue here? PROKUPECZ: Yes, that's correct. His lawyer says it was sort of a trick question, right, it's a gotcha question. The question is whether he himself had ever had any contact with Wikileaks. As we know, you know, that was not the case.

It was Donald Trump Jr. who had some direct messages on Twitter with Wikileaks, you know, they had asked him for some information and there was a brief exchange. He then at some point forwarded an e-mail talking about these communications to -- to Kushner.

It was then forwarded to hope hicks who, as we know is very close to the president, so that is where the controversy really is. And Kushner's lawyer's saying, you know, these questions, they were not direct enough to say that he wasn't being truthful, to say he wasn't complying with whatever request the investigators who are interviewing him on the Hill had.

WHITFIELD: All right. Shimon Prokupecz, we'll leave it there. Thank you so much.

So as these developments unfold in the Russia investigation, Trump is taking aim at his former rival. Today on Twitter, he sounded off on Hillary Clinton, tweeting this, "Crooked Hillary Clinton is the worst and biggest loser of all time. She just can't stop which is so good for the Republican Party. Hillary, get on with your life and give it another try in three years."

So, what prompted this? Well, last night in an interview with WABC Radio, Clinton spoke about the sexual assault or harassment allegations against Republican Alabama Senate Candidate Roy Moore, Democratic Senator Al Franken, and President Trump and also the ongoing conversations about comparisons being made to her husband, former President Bill Clinton.


HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (via telephone): This was a painful time not only in our marriage but in our country, as I'd written about, but it was investigated fully. It was addressed at the time. He was held accountable.

That is very different than what people seem to be remembering from that period because you can go back and look at the history. When credible allegations come forward, look at the contrast between Al Franken accepting responsibility, apologizing and Roy Moore and Donald Trump who have done neither.


WHITFIELD: All right. Joining me right now, CNN White House correspondent, Abby Phillip. So, Abby, the president tweeting about this this morning, taking direct, you know, hit at Hillary Clinton, but is anything more being said, is this a prelude to perhaps the president weighing in with more detail about, say, Roy Moore?

[12:05:01] ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, there has been no indication the president is interested in talking directly about Roy Moore. He's been pretty busy on social media since returning from his Asia trip but hasn't said anything on the platform about Roy Moore. He's been tweeting about al franken, Hillary Clinton.

He told reporters on Air Force once while he was on that Asia trip that he would have more to say once he got back to the United States and have a chance to look at the allegations himself. Since then, it's been about ten days since these first emerged and still nothing.

The White House is actually denying that the president hasn't commented on this. Here's what Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, had to say earlier this week.


SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He has weighed in on Roy Moore. He did it while he was on a foreign trip in Asia. I did it repeatedly yesterday. I took about 15 questions on that topic and only one on Al Franken. So, to suggest that this White House and specifically that this president hasn't weighed in is just inaccurate and wrong.

He weighed in. He said if the allegations are true, he should step aside. He also weighed in when he supported the RNC's decision to withdraw resources from the state of Alabama. It's just a simply inaccurate statement to make about the president.


PHILLIP: Well, some people would argue that there is a big difference between a statement coming from the White House and a comment from the president himself or even one on Twitter. He seems to be very interested in commenting when there are opportunities to score some political points especially against someone like Al Franken who's been very critical of him and Hillary Clinton who he seems to apparently want a little bit of a rematch in 2020.

So, we'll be waiting here to find out if there's more to be heard from the president on this, Fredricka, we'll keep you posted.

WHITFIELD: All right. Abby Phillip, thank you so much, at the White House. So now just three weeks away from that Alabama Senate race and now an eighth accuser has come forward and says Roy Moore grabbed her buttocks when she was in his law office back in 1991.

Moore's campaign has not responded to CNN's request for comment on that allegation, but the candidate is defiant overall, and his supporters are digging in as well with less than three, four weeks now until that special election.

CNN's Nick Valencia is live in Gadsden, Alabama. So, Nick, we're now hearing that faith leaders are speaking out more vigorously in support of Roy Moore?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In support of Roy Moore and also today in Birmingham, we have faith leaders coming out against the Senate Republican candidate. This week, this past week and a half, really, Fredricka, has been a difficult one for Roy Moore. As you mentioned, he's digging in, so are his supporters.

Earlier this week, we mentioned those faith leaders who came out in support of him. Yesterday, it was about 30 women who say they personally know Roy Moore and these allegations against him don't speak to the character of the man they know. They believe he's an innocent man whose reputation is being ripped to shreds.

Of course, the women who have accused him of, in some cases, sexual assault, they say that's the equivalent of victim blaming. Yesterday, Kayla Moore took the podium and she said that her and her husband are in a battle of their political lives.


KAYLA MOORE, ROY MOORE'S WIFE: Even after all the attacks against me, my family, the foundation, and now my husband, he will not step down. He will not stop fighting for the people of Alabama. In his words, and I quote, "I will not stop until they lay me in that box in the ground."


VALENCIA: Moore supporters have gone so far to suggest the GOP establishment is behind these allegations. They've suggested that the "Washington Post," the media outlet that initially broke this story may have paid these women to come forward. Of course, "The Washington Post" denies that allegation, saying that these women had to be convinced to tell their story because they were just really so traumatic.

We talked about the timing of this and how curious it is for some of Moore supporters that these women have come out nearly 40 years later. The women say they were intimidated early on and they say that Moore was a very popular man here and they felt that no one would believe them if they came forward.

Roy Moore for his part is defiant as ever, showing no signs of withdrawing ahead of this December 12th election -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right, Nick Valencia, thank you so much, in Gadsden, Alabama.

Straight ahead, as President Trump refrains from talking at great lengths about Roy Moore, Republican Senator Jeff Flake is expressing serious concerns about the future of the party. What he is saying about the GOP in the age of Moore and Trump, next.



WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. Arizona Senator Jeff Flake caught on a live mic last night at a tax reform event in his home state expressing major concerns over the future of the Republican Party. The retiring senator giving a rather candid assessment when talking to the Mesa mayor about his worries.


SENATOR JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: If we become the party of Roy Moore and Donald Trump, we are toast.


WHITFIELD: All right. Rich Galen, a Republican strategist, and CNN political commentator, Patti Solis-Doyle joining me now. Good to see you both. All right. Rich, you first, so, you know, Flake, he is not running again, but is he just saying what other Republicans perhaps want to say but feel like they can't?

RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, yes, absolutely, I think that's true. One of the things we've seen over last 20 or more years is that in too many of these cases party loyalty overwhelms common sense. We saw that going back to the Clinton days, Bill Clinton.

We certainly are seeing it now. We saw it with Donald Trump in the campaign where people said I'm going to vote for the Republican no matter what. And of course, in that campaign, Patty, I think the only person that couldn't have used that as a principal attack point was Hillary Clinton because of Bill.

[12:15:12] WHITFIELD: So, Patti, you know, is this kind of like an icebreaker, you know, perhaps moment? Might this fuel other Republicans, you know, on the Hill to chime in on their concerns whether it be about Roy Moore or perhaps even President Trump as Flake put it?

PATTI SOLIS DOYLE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, look, I think so. In Alabama, this is a lose-lose situation for the Republican Party. You know, obviously, if Roy Moore loses, then we get another Democrat in the Senate and it lessens their majority.

But if he wins, I think that's an even bigger problem for the Republican Party. Because Roy Moore will take the stench of the child molester and paint that -- paint the Republican Party with that brush.

That does not body well for the 2018 elections and certainly doesn't bode well for the 2020 elections, which is why I think you see so many Republicans saying even if he does win, you know, they might expel him.

WHITFIELD: Normalizing those kinds of allegations but at the same time, what is the message that is sent to the electorate that if these voters in Alabama send Roy Moore to the U.S. Senate and then it's up to senators to say we're not going to honor, you know, what the voters have exercised, won't that be hugely problematic not just for the Senate but perhaps the GOP as a whole?

GALEN: Well, that's happened before, Fred. In the House, of course, there's the famous case of New York Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, who is expelled. The Constitution clearly give both its chamber the right to decide how to punish their members or the qualifications of their members.

So, that's not really an issue. And also in the Senate, Bob Packwood of I think Oregon or maybe Washington, I forget now, was about to be expelled for much the same kind of behavior, except with grown-up women, and he resigned before that could happen.

The chief Republican on the Ethics Committee then was none other than the current Majority Leader McConnell. So, this has happened before and the issue of whether or not the voters have spoken, and you can't do anything about it I think is settled law.

WHITFIELD: And now, you know, we're seeing particularly in light of these allegations of Roy Moore, Al Franken, you know, people are also feeling on Capitol Hill a little bit more free to talk about their, you know, with candor, you know, patty, their thoughts about these kinds of allegations and Senator Gillibrand, you know, kind of broke ranks, so to speak, with the Clinton camp by these sentiments just expressed, listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is it your view that the President Clinton should have stepped down at that time given the allegations?

SENATOR KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D), NEW YORK (via telephone): Yes, I think that is the appropriate response. I think things have changed today. And I think under those circumstances there should be a very different reaction. I think in light of this conversation, we should have a very different conversation about President Trump and a very different conversation about allegations against him.


WHITFIELD: So Patti, you know, your thoughts on that because she really is talking about a few things in terms of, you know, it is a different time. The conversation is different. But at the same time, she's being reflective, at great risk, right, because she has greatly benefited from the Clinton's support.

GALEN: It's Hillary Clinton's Senate seat.

WHITFIELD: I'm sorry, what was that Rich?

GALEN: It's Hillary Clinton's Senate seat that she has.

WHITFIELD: Right, she has that. They helped her raise money, et cetera. There are a number of things, you know, and at the same time, she may have other aspirations for higher office. How is this potentially damaging? I'm asking a lot of things here but how do you see it, Patti?

SOLIS-DOYLE: Look, I think the brave women who have come out in the last months against Harvey Weinstein and Bill O'Reilly and Roy Moore and Al Franken and I can go on and on have really changed everything in the way that we deal with sexual harassment today.

It has -- it is a seismic shift in our culture, in our society and now even in the halls of our government. And, you know, Senator Gillibrand went on to clarify that what she said is that Bill Clinton could not have gotten away with it today, what he basically got away with 20-some years ago.

Although he was impeached, although, you know, it was all adjudicated, I think today if any president, including Bill Clinton or Donald Trump or a woman were to have a sexual relationship with their White House intern, that would be disqualifying.

[12:20:02] And the American people would demand that he or she step aside, which is why I think we really do need to look into Donald Trump's history and his sexually predatory behavior.


GALEN: What we were saying before I think still holds. Again, that was adjudicated by the voters in 2016. I absolutely agree that it's unacceptable behavior. I'm not excluding or excusing Donald Trump for any of that. I mean, you could hear in his own words.

But, you know, one of the things that we know in politics and the PR world is you can throw a match into a room 15 times that just because you have the smell of gasoline doesn't mean it's going to explode. The 16th match for no good reason is the one that catches the whole explosion.

And I think that's what we're seeing now. I'm glad it's coming out. I'm glad people are being held to account, but if I were -- I'm not a Roy Moore fan. I said if I only had one vote left in my life and the only candidate was Roy Moore, I still wouldn't vote for him.

But if I were advising the Roy Moore campaign, I would have bumper stickers that said John 8:7 and I'm not too good on the New Testament, but I looked it up and that's the one that has to do with throwing the first stone. I would have people all over Alabama riding around with bumper strips that say John 8:7.

WHITFIELD: OK. All right, Rich Galen, Patti Solis, we'll leave it right there, thanks so much.

All right. Coming up next, now that the GOP tax reform has passed through the House, the Senate gets its crack at it now, but what exactly is in the plan and how will it affect the middle class of America? That is next.



WHITFIELD: All right, now that the House has passed the tax reform bill, the Senate says it will get their version to the floor sometime after Thanksgiving. And one of the biggest sticking points could be the massive debt created by the bill. As Brianna Keilar explains, there are some pretty big questions being raised over the math being used by the Republicans.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Fred, Republicans want to get this done. They need and they want a political win ahead of the crucial midterm election, but their tax plans are propped up by frankly dishonest math.

They violate the very promise that the GOP is made time and time again that they will not saddle future generations with more debt.


KEILAR (voice-over): Republicans are hard at work trying to overall the tax system.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We're working to give the American people a giant tax cut for Christmas.

KEILAR: And it has a giant price tag, $1.5 trillion over ten years. Even as Republicans argue questionably that economic growth will help cancel out the big addition to the national debt, it's a costly plan for Republicans like House Speaker Paul Ryan, who have built their brand on fiscal conservativism.

REPRESENTATIVE PAUL RYAN (R-WI), HOUSE SPEAKER: We face a crushing burden of debt which will take down our economy.

KEILAR: That was back in 2011 when Ryan was House Budget chairman. In 2013, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called the debt and deficit --

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: To try to defend an issue of our era, until we fix that problem, we can't fix America.

KEILAR: But now Republicans are championing a plan that many deficit hawks are saying is anything but physically responsible. The tax plan's $1.5 trillion price tag is a low-ball figure. It's the price tag they need to come under in order to use special Senate rules requiring them to need only 51 votes. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a fiscally conservative advocacy group puts the real cost at $2.2 trillion.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There are a lot of gimmicks they're slipping into the bill to make the costs look less than they actually are.

KEILAR: Here's one major gimmick, while the corporate tax cuts would be permanent, the tax cuts for American taxpayers would expire after ten years, on paper anyway, even though it's expected Congress would just ultimately make the cuts permanent. That fishy math allows the Republicans to claim a smaller price tag.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: On one hand they're saying sure, there's all these expiring tax breaks, but don't worry we fully intend to extend them and you won't have to worry about your taxes going up. On the other hand, they are saying don't worry about the cost of the bill, barring $1.5 trillion, which I would say everybody should be worrying about, but we're not going beyond that limit, when really they are.

KEILAR: Some Republicans say they are not quite as committed to this charade that the bill won't add more than $1.5 trillion to the deficit such as retiring Senator Bob Corker.

SENATOR BOB CORKER (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: If I believe it's going to add to the deficit, I'm not going to vote for it.

KEILAR: Critics say it will add significantly to the deficit, just as the Bush tax cuts did. Exactly what Republicans warned against in the past.

RYAN: It is unconscionable to leave the next generation with a crushing burden of debt and a nation in decline. Washington's obsession with the next election has come at the expense of the next generation.


KEILAR: There is also a dubious promise that the White House is making about the tax overhaul. The congressional liaison for the White House, Mark Shor, saying that every income bracket will see a decrease in taxes and every working family will see a decrease as well.

That is not fully true. Independent analysis shows in the long term American families earning less than $75,000 a year are, over time, going to pay more in taxes -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Brianna Keilar, thank you so much.

I want to bring in now Congressman Ted Yoho. He is a Republican from Florida, who serves on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and is a member of the House Freedom Caucus. Good to see you. He also voted in favor of the tax reform bill.


WHITFIELD: Good day to you. OK. So why did you vote yes?

REP. TED YOHO (R), FLORIDA: Well, you know, we've had over 30 years before we've had major tax reform or tax cuts, and this is something we needed to do to simplify our tax code, to put more money in the American people's pocket. In addition, to stimulate our economy through the business growth --

WHITFIELD: But that's the sell --


WHITFIELD: I mean that's the sell but then just listening to Brianna's piece and seeing so many reports, CBO report, et cetera, that it doesn't really put money into the pockets of everyone. It's very uneven. It does add to the debt in a very big way between $1.7 trillion and $2.5 trillion. So --

YOHO: Fredricka --

WHITFIELD: -- now come back to me with why is it good?

YOHO: If we do nothing with the current tax program, the debt is going to grow. If we don't do anything, if this (ph) new one, it's going to grow. And what we have to do to get the debt under control is number one, grow the economy which this bill will do. Number two, is tackle mandatory spending reform. Social security, Medicare and Medicaid, retirement programs for our seniors and for our retired military, and the nutritional programs which our mandatory spending is 80 percent of the Farm Bill. Farm Bill is $125 billion a year. That's 80 percent of that is nutritional programs.

All those programs need to be reformed. And by stimulating the economy through tax reform, you're going to have more money coming in and it's been shown at one percent growth in GDP will bring in $1 trillion extra.

So people just need to kind of calm down, let this work through and realize this is not an end product. This is a product that's going to go to the Senate. It'll come back and go through reconciliation. So overall, we're going to be better off.

If we're going from 70,000 pages of tax codes that nobody understands, even the IRS, and we're going down to a bill that's under 500, I think it's good and it's a good win for America.

WHITFIELD: So you mentioned it'll go to the Senate. What are you hoping the Senate will keep because they are likely to do away with a lot?

YOHO: I think the biggest thing that the Senate can do to keep would be the repeal the individual mandates. That brings in approximately $338 billion. Keep in mind when the Affordable Care Act went through --

WHITFIELD: But that goes to another area. That's not the -- that would not then be the sell on tax reform.

YOHO: But it would lower the debt that much. I mean, over a ten-year period of time. So yes, that's significant.

WHITFIELD: But of the tax reform bill, what are you hoping the Senate will keep so that the middle class of America will be able to benefit?

YOHO: I hope they keep the 20 percent corporate tax rate, the individual deductions. I think those are very generous. In fact, they were talking about increasing the dependency credit and I think I'm ok with that. The expensing for businesses, this is to be able to write off capital improvements to their business, that's huge. That's gives stability.

And I think what you'll see with this tax reform bill is that it's going to create a stability and certainty in the business world. And if the business world has that (ph), they'll invest here in America, creating a more jobs, and if there's more jobs that creates more competition.

WHITFIELD: And but we heard from a lot of CEOs this week who said not necessarily with that tax break would that mean that there would be more jobs. It might mean that shareholders would see a greater dividends.

YOHO: Well, if shareholders are getting greater dividends that means businesses are creating more business --

WHITFIELD: By the tax break -- I mean these are CEOs who said it this week.

YOHO: Well, I've talked to CEOs that said the other thing where they said this will stimulate more jobs because Americans will come in. You know, American businesses. Right now we have more versions going on than we've ever had in our history.

And look at where our companies are going. A lot of them are going to communist China, you know, they're going over there because that country treats them better than our own government. It's time to bring these businesses back in America, create American jobs and that's going to create the competition. That's going to raise wages.

WHITFIELD: All right, Congressman Yoho -- Ted Yoho, thank you so much for your time.

YOHO: Have a great Thanksgiving.

WHITFIELD: Happy Thanksgiving. We will be right back.


[12:38:26] WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back. A Department of Homeland Security official has resigned over past controversial comments he made on the radio about black and Muslim communities. The comments go back nearly a decade. Reverend Jamie Johnson's resignation as the director of the DHS, Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnership comes after a CNN KFILE investigation into his time as a conservative talk radio host.

KFILE Reporter Nathan McDermott co-authored the report and joins me now. Nathan, good to see you so let's first listen to some of what Johnson has said.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of blacks are anti-Semitic. Why?

JAMIE JOHNSON, FORMER DIRECTOR, DHS CENTER FOR FAITH-BASED AND NEIGHBORHOOD PARTNERSHIP: I think one of the reasons why is because Jewish people from their coming to America in great waves in the early part of the 1800s immediately rolled up their sleeves and began to work so hard. And it's an indictment of America's black community that has turned America's major cities into slums because of laziness, drug use and sexual promiscuity.


WHITFIELD: All right. So, what is behind, you know, this tape, this interview, these comments from him, and, you know, how did this lead to his resignation? I mean (ph) kind of obvious reasons but how did it all and what's the sequence of events?

NATHAN MCDERMOTT, CNN KFILE REPORTER: Well, that's the thing. Reverend Johnson didn't make just that one comment we listened to. He's been on the radio for nearly a decade and he made similar comments about various minority groups over the years. So that makes it pretty difficult for him to argue that this was just a one off comment because it was kind of pretty central to his entire radio persona.

[12:40:09] And so my team and I, we worked together and dug through various archives and listened to several hours of his interviews. And after we request for a comment, pretty soon thereafter he resigned after the story was published.

WHITFIELD: And that's really is just the tip of the iceberg, right Nathan? I mean there's more he had disparaging things about the Islamic faith also while raising (ph) a radio show. Let's listen.


JOHNSON: I agree with Dinesh D'Souza, your friend and mine, who says really all that Islam has ever given us is oil and dead bodies over the last millennia and a half. And they are not our friends. They are not our friends.


WHITFIELD: So no one knew about this before his post?

MCDERMOTT: Well, that's the thing. It's kind of hard to imagine that they didn't. Once we asked for their -- for the White House's comment and for DHS's comment, they weren't -- they didn't exactly embrace what he said, though they did point to his radio career as a reason why they hired him in the first place. But like I said, these comments were pretty par for the course for what he said on the radio.

So, again, I don't want to say what they knew and what they didn't know but, again, it was pretty central to -- it wasn't an unusual thing for him to say.

WHITFIELD: Yes. So, reminder, he was the director of the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnership. So after you kind of, you know, let everybody know about all of this he resigned within 24-hours of that published KFILE investigation and he did apologize and I'm going to read it.

"I regret the manner in which those thoughts were expressed in the past, but can say unequivocally that they do not represent my views personally or professionally." Help us understand that apology.

MCDERMOTT: Well, again, it's sort of -- I don't want to say whether it's genuine or disengenuine (ph), but the fact is he made these comments as recently as last year. So this wasn't, again, a one of thing. He said it for over a decade. And now he's arguing that once he got to the White House and once he joined this position, he became a bit more open minded and he distanced himself from those past views.

But, again, the apology doesn't make too much sense when you consider all of his fact basis -- all of the stuff that he said in the past.

WHITFIELD: Yes. Operative words, I regret the manner in which those thoughts were expressed. I mean, there's no -- it's almost as if, you know, the apology has a lot more to do with the forum in which those thoughts were expressed as opposed to the thoughts themselves.

All right, Nathan McDermott thanks so much, appreciate it.

MCDERMOTT: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. So much more in the "Newsroom" straight ahead, but first, when Justin Salas lost his sight as a teenager he found rock climbing. A hobby that has taken him to the top of that sport.


JUSTIN SALAS, ROCK CLIMBER: I get to kind of interact with rock on a way that I think very few people get to experience. Climbing has taught me how to navigate the world in a completely different way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Justin Salas is a professional rock climber. He's also legally blind.

SALAS: Being a young teen boy and losing your vision is one of the hardest things I could've imagined. I was about to get my learner's permit and that was just robbed from me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Despite years of tests, doctors couldn't determine the cause of his vision loss.

SALAS: I spent probably two or three years just not doing anything at all until a friend of mine that worked at the local gym told me that I didn't need to see to rock climb and I was hooked.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Justin can't see anything straight ahead. So he relies mainly on his peripheral vision.

SALAS: When I'm looking at a wall, I don't see holds most of the time, it's just out of feel or muscle memory or having a sight guide call for me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's where Matt Frederick comes in.

MATT FREDERICK, SIGHT GUIDE: Your next foot is at your waist.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As a sight guide, he directs Justin up the wall.

FREDERICK: I've learned a lot about how he climbs. And I think what he want to do here, base on that I'll call holds in a specific order. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Together they're headed to the 2017 IFSC World Cup

in Edinburgh where Justin will climb against other visually impaired competitors.

On his first descent, Justin suffered a major setback.

FREDERICK: You're on a bolt. You're on a bolt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: By mistakenly stepping on a bolt that wasn't part of the course, his first climb was disqualified.

FREDERICK: It's just no go.

SALAS: Yes. OK. Sorry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But he regained ground on his second climb.

FREDERICK: To the left, perfect.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And qualified for the finals.

FREDERICK: Good job.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the main event, Justin challenged for the top spot.

FREDERICK: Good, stand on it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Coming in just short of finishing first.

SALAS: I had no idea that I was going to do this well. All I wanted to do was make finals and getting second place for my first World Cup it was really, really cool.



[12:49:41] WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back. President Trump has decided to put his big game-trophy decision on hold. He will enforce for now the existing federal ban on hunters importing trophies of slain elephants from Zimbabwe and Zambia.

Trump tweeted his announcement last night saying he needs to further review conservation facts. On Thursday, the Trump administration had announced it would lift the restriction sets in place by President Obama back in 2014.

[12:50:07] Trump's move was heavily criticized because of the elephant's dwindling population across Africa. Joining me right now, Collin O'Mara, who is the president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation.

Collin, good to see you. So when the president says it's on hold for now, is that of great relief to you? COLLIN O'MARA, PRESIDENT AND CEO, NATIONAL WILDLIFE FEDERATION: I think it is great news. I mean over the past century, we went from having more than three million to four million elephants to 350,000 today in a survey that was done by Paul Allen's great elephant census. And so -- and we lost 30 percent of the elephants in the last few years.

And so we think this is the way they (ph) should look at the facts on the ground and make sure we are conserving elephants because they're an amazing specie. And in Zambia we've seen some population increases. But in Zimbabwe and in Zambia along the Zambezi River, we've actually seen some pretty big decreases. And obviously there's a lot of turmoil right now in Zimbabwe with the coup and the question about Mugabe's future.

So we think this is a great step to take a deep breath and really make sure we do the right thing base on the science to save this amazing specie.

WHITFIELD: So wouldn't it have been your thinking that the president would've already looked at conservation facts and that's why he lifted the ban. But now in a tweet says he wants to look at conservation facts, you know, review all the data and reconsider. What do you think has really changed?

O'MARA: Yes. I mean we would hope so. And there -- and as I said, there's been some gains in Zambia. But I think at the end of the day the instability in the Zimbabwe government probably contributed to it. I think the public outrage was fantastic in many ways.

And, again, sportsman are amazing conservationists, but we have such a problem with poaching in these areas even in protected areas. They have that this kind of ban being lifted right now when we're seeing such massive declines. I think the public outrage really led the president to give it a second thought. And I just -- I couldn't be prouder of the partnership with the National Wildlife Federation with Paul Allen's Vulcan Productions really trying to raise the profile of the need to make sure we're saving every single elephant in this case.

WHITFIELD: And the president, you know, said he will work with the Interior Secretary Zinke who already, you know, recommended, you know, that Trump modify or shrink several national monuments created by his predecessor. So, do you have much confidence in that pairing as it pertains to being mindful of the conservation of elephants abroad?

O'MAR: Yes. We are hopeful because we do think the science is overwhelming. And, you know, look we're also concerned about big horn sheep and elk populations in places like the Barazoria's (ph) National Monument which is one of the ones that's proposed for being shrunk.

So, you know, I've had a chance to work really closely with Secretary Zinke. He is a sportsman. He understands conservation. We're hopeful that we can have more science and more data driving some of these decisions. But we're encouraged that the president's taking second look, we're hoping to -- you know, hope he'll (ph) take a second look at some other issues that we're pushing on right now. WHITFIELD: We know the president is often watching CNN. This is, you know, your opportunity to give like a big push to him to help educate him perhaps about the elephant population in Zambia and Zimbabwe. What do you want him to know right now about the population, the consistent problem of poaching, conservation overall?

O'MAR: Yes. I think unlike so many species that sportsman have helped bring back across the U.S., things like deer and water fowl and wild turkeys, the pressure is on the elephant populations because of the poaching, because of the illegal ivory trade, is so much greater.

I mean the technology that's being used by poachers today is so much more advanced than ten years ago. Folks using drones, folks using long-range rifles, it's a very different technologies in landscape than before. And so we really just can't afford to have these populations decrease any further if we hope to have them live for future generations.

And right now we're trying to get every kid in this country inspired to care about elephant conservation. Because if we do that, hopefully we can get kids to care about a whole range of species, things like monarch butterflies in the U.S. that also need our help right now. And we think we can do these things in ways that actually improve the economy, strengthen America. We don't have to choose either/or and we think this decision to take a step back is a step in the right direction.

WHITFIELD: They are amazingly majestic and compassionate animals. All right, Collin O'Mara, thank you so much.

O'MAR: Thanks for helping (ph) me out --

WHITFIELD: Still so much more straight ahead in the "NEWSROOM". But first, voting is now under way for the CNN Hero of the Year. Here's one of this year's top ten heroes.



My son Graham passed away two years after he was diagnosed with leukemia. We spent two years pretty much in and out of the hospital. When he was sick, the computer definitely helped him stay in contact with his school and friends. When you lose your child, the love doesn't go away, it has to find a place.

I really wanted to make a difference with the families and the children that I had met in the hospital.

So I heard you like iPads, is that true?

We give away free technology to children with cancer and other serious illnesses.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. Yes. I love them. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We love to say that we're connecting kids when their world is out of reach. One of our major goals is to connect kids to their classrooms which really helps them to continue their education.


[12:55:12] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Phillip's got to have a bone marrow transplant. We're going to be here in the hospital like six weeks. Thanks to that robot, he's not going to miss out on anything.

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WHITFIELD: Vote for your favorite hero right now at