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U.S. President Returns to Firestorm over Mueller; Trump at Davos; Interview with Alexei Navalny; Paris on Flood Alert; Casino Billionaire Accused of Sexual Misconduct; Sisters to Compete at Olympics. Aired 3-3:30a ET
Aired January 27, 2018 - 03:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Donald Trump the salesman, the U.S. president touts the strong U.S. economy in Davos.
And this is what Paris city center looks like at the moment. Floodwaters have the French capital on alert.
Plus two sisters at the Winter Olympics competing for the same gold medal under different flags. We'll tell you why.
Great to have you with us today. I'm Cyril Vanier and we are at the CNN Headquarters here in Atlanta.
VANIER: So Donald Trump is back in the United States after a successful two-day trip to the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. The U.S. president told reporters when he got back that Davos was really great. In his speech, Mr. Trump promoted his vision of America first and he took credit for a surging U.S. stock market.
But his sanguine mood might not last long. He returns to a potential hornet's nest of legal problems regarding the Russia investigation and his attempt to fire special counsel Robert Mueller back in June.
Here's CNN's Sara Murray.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you order -- ?
SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: President Trump using one of his favorite phrases to deny the bombshell report from "The New York Times," that he called for special counsel Robert Mueller's firing last June.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, did you seek to fire Robert Mueller?
TRUMP: Fake news, folks. Fake news. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What's your message today?
TRUMP: Typical "New York Times" fake stories.
MURRAY: But a source confirms to CNN that Trump did call for Mueller's firing and that White House counsel Don McGahn refused because he disagreed with his reasoning. Trump's effort to remove Mueller came just a month after he created a firestorm by firing FBI Director James Comey.
Two people told "The Times" the president expressed concern over what he saw as three possible conflicts of interest, with Mueller serving as special counsel.
One involving a dispute Mueller had at Trump National Golf Club, causing him to resign his membership. Another that Mueller's law had previously represented his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. And, finally, that Trump had just interviewed Mueller for Comey's replacement for FBI director.
White House lawyer Ty Cobb telling CNN, "We decline to comment out of respect for the office of the special counsel and its process.
Back in June Trump was also openly airing his frustrations over the Russia probe on Twitter, in one tweet saying, "You are witnessing the single greatest witch hunt in American political history, led by some very bad and conflicted people."
Two months after the reported attempt to fire Mueller, he was asked if he'd ever considered it.
TRUMP: I haven't given it any thought. I mean, I've been reading about it from you people. You say, oh, I'm going to dismiss him. No, I'm not dismissing anybody.
MURRAY: Trump told reporters on Wednesday that he was looking forward to a potential interview with Mueller's office.
TRUMP: I would love to do it. You know, again, I have to say, subject to my lawyers and all of that, but I would love to do it.
MURRAY: And while Mueller's team tries to zero in on whether Trump obstructed some legal experts say if the president did attempt to fire Mueller last June, it's part of a pattern.
MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: There's this theory in obstruction of justice, you know, which essentially is a mosaic. Can you take a lot of little pieces which, in and of themselves don't amount to obstruction and build an obstruction case by -- by that? And I think the theory is a valid one.
MURRAY: Former FBI Director Comey testified that Trump asked him for loyalty over a private dinner at the White House. Comey says the president later asked him to drop the FBI investigation into his national security adviser Michael Flynn before firing Comey in May.
TRUMP: Jeff Sessions has been a federal--
MURRAY: The president was also fuming when Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation. He later publicly pressured Sessions, tweeting his suggestion to fire Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe.
Trump also asked his intelligence chief to say there was no evidence of cooperation between his campaign and Russia. But on Wednesday, Trump said that's not obstruction. He's just fighting back.
TRUMP: There's no collusion. Now they're saying, "Oh, well, did he fight back?" If you fight back, you say -- you fight back, John, you fight back. "Oh, it's obstruction."
VANIER: That was CNN political correspondent Sara Murray reporting there.
For the most part President Trump got a warm reception in Davos.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VANIER (voice-over): Organizers bringing in there a Swiss marching band to give him a rousing welcome and when he took to the podium for his speech, in front of global business leaders, Mr. Trump added a new twist to his America first message.
America is the place to do business. So come to America, where you can innovate, create and build. I believe in America.
TRUMP: As President of the United States, I will always put America first, just like the leaders of other countries should put their country first also.
But America first does not mean America alone.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VANIER: So the U.S. very much marketing brand America there. But Mr. Trump also brought up a familiar campaign theme which he crafted this time for his audience of global leaders.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We will enforce our trade laws and restore integrity to our trading system. Only by insisting on fair and reciprocal trade can we create a system that works not just for the U.S. but for all nations.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VANIER: And how did these world and business leaders react? Our Nic Robertson took the pulse at Davos.
TRUMP: America is (INAUDIBLE) in business and we are competitive once again.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, The applause wasn't as loud as I was expecting. I did manage to speak to somebody in there I know, a former minister from the Middle East.
And I asked him what he thought of it.
And he said, well, you know, sort of disappointed. There was nothing in there about the world, nothing there that he was really hoping to hear. Anyway, let's go and find out what other people have to say.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) Donald Trump. I know one thing, he stuck to the script. Everybody was expecting, especially the American media, that he'd slip up, make some mistake, make a fool of himself. He did nothing of the sort.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, the band was very good.
ROBERTSON: And the speech itself?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the speech, the speech I would say awful (ph).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would give the speech itself a thumbs up but the content a thumbs down.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's at Davos. He's going to act like a reasonable person. But we know who Trump is.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I heard him say that he's going to be very selective about his immigration and choose people who contribute to the government.
How do you determine that?
How do you determine if a refugee contributes the government before they come in to a country?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe that what Donald Trump stands for is a world of competition. I'm not against competition at all. But if governments compete, there's 50 percent winners and 50 percent losers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president of America, we expect a global perspective and how we see the changing (INAUDIBLE) in the world. And that was not there.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think there's a lot of curiosity as to what those comments would be. But I think it was well received here in Davos.
ROBERTSON: People are beginning to leave now and take their thoughts away home with them. I guess my takeaway, along with some of the things I've heard from people here, is they have heard the words, now let's see what the actions are. Another year before the next Davos -- Nic Robertson, CNN, Davos, Switzerland.
VANIER: And global affairs analyst David Rohde joins us now.
So David, you watched the speech.
What did you think?
How did Mr. Trump do?
DAVID ROHDE, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I think he did well for the audience there which is basically business executives. He was more pragmatic than many expected; there was less of the bombast that people see on Twitter.
So he'd sort of impressed, if you will, the global elite.
VANIER: He wasn't adversarial as he is known to be in many of his speeches.
ROHDE: Yes, it was a different tone. I think it shows in a way that his White House is evolving. Steve Bannon, who was so critical of international trade agreements, is no longer there and it seemed like Trump is more moderate to mainstream Wall Street advisors, have gotten more influence now.
He was more sort of -- this is according to a colleague from "The New Yorker," where I work, but he was more the sweet-talking New York real estate developer than a wrecking ball offender of American populism.
VANIER: It seems to me this wasn't a 100 percent obvious crowd to him. Yes, there were billionaires; yes, there are world leaders and deciders and business men, as you say, but Davos is also the global capital of free trade, of globalization, of global governance, all of these things that Mr. Trump has seemed to combat in his first year in office.
ROHDE: Well, I think we have to ask ourselves, what's the real Trump?
And I think Donald Trump is a billionaire. Donald Trump is a wealthy businessman. He is a member of the business elite. He portrayed himself during the campaign as, you know, the savior of common people but Davos is his crowd.
What he has done in business has overwhelmingly aided corporate America and the wealthy and that is his world and that might be, you know, maybe too harsh on the president. But I think this is who the president is. He is an extremely wealthy businessman and he wants to help other very wealthy businessmen and corporations.
VANIER: There's --
VANIER: -- one specific line I want you to tell me about, going into this, I think it was legitimate to wonder how Mr. Trump's America first message would go down at Davos.
But he offered a twist on that message, listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: As President of the United States, I will always put America first just like the leaders of other countries should put their country first.
But America first does not mean America alone.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VANIER: So Mr. Trump says America first does not mean America alone.
What's your take on that?
ROHDE: Again, it's a tone to this business audience and it's completely different to what he promised his supporters during the election. He portrayed the outside world as America's enemy, you know, again talked about the U.S. kind of being raped by China. So he struck a different tone in Davos; he succeeded in winning over these billionaires and businessmen.
Again, what will the reaction be at home, to his base?
It is a drastically different Donald Trump than the one on the campaign trail a year ago.
VANIER: Yes, on the campaign trail, he was portrayed as being against free trade. But if you listen to his speech carefully today, even not that carefully, he sounded like the biggest proponent of free trade.
His main argument was if every country just pursues their own economic self-interest and nobody cheats, then we'll all be better off.
ROHDE: Donald Trump today sounded like an establishment American president. He sounded like many of his predecessors that reassure the audience in Davos, who want a growing economy and want corporate profits.
How does this sound to his base?
I think his base is very well. I don't think it hurts in the short term to say these things abroad. But if he keeps changing his tune, it will -- you know there's a danger if Donald Trump just becomes another politician, another typical American president.
VANIER: All right. Well, that said, he did impose pretty steep tariffs on solar panels and washing machines just a few days before that speech. So his protectionist credentials are still intact, I think, for the moment, at least in terms of his record. David Rohde, thank you so much for joining us here on the show.
ROHDE: Thank you.
VANIER: Moving on from Davos, Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny says that he has no doubt the Kremlin tried to interfere in the U.S. election. Navalny says that he, too, has been the target of hacking and fake documents.
He had planned to run in this year's presidential race in Russia but he has been banned. In this exclusive interview, he told CNN's Matthew Chance that he is not going to stay quiet.
ALEXEI NAVALNY, RUSSIAN OPPOSITION LEADER (through translator): The Putin regime is built on corruption and Putin himself is the most corrupt. His family is directly involved in corruption. According to official data, over 20 percent of our population lives below the poverty line. And people link the obvious.
Why are we so poor?
Because they steal so much.
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Regardless of the popularity of that issue, you have been prevented from standing in these forthcoming presidential elections.
Do you think that Vladimir Putin is genuinely concerned or fearful of you as a political opponent?
NAVALNY (through translator): He is scared of all real competition. We see in these elections that he only allowed those to run who did not even resist, do not even do any campaigning.
When they saw that we are actually fighting for people's votes, they got scared. The famous Putin's ratings, all these 86 percent, 70 percent, all of that the sociologists and political analysts love to talk about, they exist in only one scenario: when Putin faces the candidates, he controls.
CHANCE: But that issue of polling numbers, I think, is important because, as you say, Vladimir Putin is polling more than 80 percent popularity in this country, if you believe the opinion polls.
But you are polling just 2 percent.
How much of a political threat does your movement really pose to this Kremlin juggernaut? NAVALNY (through translator): Look, I stood for election just once in my life. In 2012, I participated in the Moscow mayor elections. And everyone was showing me polls when I had 2 percent. And without money or any media support, I got almost 30 percent.
Same thing goes for the presidential elections. Putin doesn't have an 80 percent rating; he has an 80 percent rating when compared to other candidates whom he has let run.
CHANCE: As we now approach the election season, we are already in the election season, as we approach the election, what are you going to do?
What is your plan to try and get yourself on the ballot, to try and promote your cause or have you abandoned all hope at this stage of standing in this election?
NAVALNY (through translator): We urge all Russians to join a voter's strike, not just refusing to vote but campaigning so others don't vote as well. We are actively --
NAVALNY (through translator): -- organizing this boycott. And this is the reason why we are being raided every day and our staff are being attacked.
CHANCE: As the leading opposition figure in Russia, you have been harassed; you get regular visits from the authorities, the police, the other inspectors; you have been insulted widely and, of course, you have been attacked.
How concerned are you, in a country like this, where opposition figures have been killed in the past, how concerned are you about your own safety and security?
NAVALNY (through translator): I'm a reasonable man. I ran my election campaign for 12 months. And out of these months, I spent two in prison. So I have a clear understanding of what this regime can do.
But I'm not afraid and I'm not going to give up on what I'm going to do. I won't give up on my country. I won't give up on my civil rights. I won't give up on uniting those around me who believe in the same ideals as me. And there are quite a lot of people like that in Russia.
VANIER: In Paris now, the River Seine burst its banks after days of nonstop rain.
So how high will it go?
Our updated forecast is just minutes away.
And this man is a Las Vegas casino titan. Now he is facing multiple sexual misconduct allegations. Steve Wynn's denial when we return.
VANIER: Welcome back.
So Paris remains on flood alert. It has been several days now of heavy rain and the Seine overflowed its banks earlier this week, considerably changing the face of the city center, at least in parts. Our Zain Asher reports on the dramatic impact this has been having on the region.
ZAIN ASHER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): This statue of a soldier near the Pont de l'Alma is Paris' unofficial flood guide. The waters of the River Seine usually below his feet, have risen to his thighs.
Weeks of heavy rains have caused the Seine to spill over onto nearby roads and flood the city's iconic riverbank walkways. The sunny conditions are making it tough for commuters and tourists alike to move about the city.
The famous tourist boats, the Bateaux Mouches, have stopped running. Popular Metro stations with stops at the Eiffel Tower and the Musee d'Orsay have been suspended and a main train line has been disrupted.
Rail officials say keeping everyone safe is their main concern.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We know it's going to get worse so we are very watchful. We are apt to be very vigilant so that there won't be any problem, any critical system problem, on all our lines.
ASHER (voice-over): So far, the floods have not shut down Paris' museums though they are taking emergency preparations and The Louvre has closed off an entire wing.
Nearly two years ago, when the Seine swelled to similar levels, The Louvre was forced to evacuate 35,000 --
ASHER (voice-over): -- pieces of art. The newest floods come as Paris is just finishing repairs from the last and the city's deputy mayor warns there's probably more to come.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Two floodings of the same river in less than two years, we have to change. We have to change the way we built this city. We have to understand that climatic change is not a word. It's a reality.
ASHER (voice-over): But in true Paris style, many residents are nonchalant about weathering the waters this weekend. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We already have this big month of water. So I'm not really surprised but it's always crazy to see this. Dangerous but like -- it's not the end of their life. So just need to pay attention and be careful.
ASHER (voice-over): Zain Asher, CNN, New York.
VANIER: His name towers over the Las Vegas Strip. Steve Wynn is a hotel and casino giant and now the billionaire is denying accusations of sexual misconduct as reported by "The Wall Street Journal." "The Journal" spoke to 150 current and former employees. Some of them say that he pressured them to perform sex acts.
Since the Harvey Weinstein scandal, many powerful figures, often men, have faced accusations. But Wynn is the first CEO of a major publicly traded company to be in that position.
Shares of Wynn Resorts plunged more than 10 percent following this report. On Friday, the company's board formed a special committee to investigate the allegations. Here is what Wynn says in his statement.
"The idea that I ever assaulted any woman is preposterous.
"We find ourselves in a world where people can make allegations regardless of the truth and a person is left with the choice of weathering insulting publicity --
VANIER: -- "or engaging in multiyear lawsuits."
And still under the sexual misconduct heading, students at Michigan State University are rallying in support of women abused by the school's former sports doctor, Larry Nassar. On Friday night, hundreds marched toward the school's administration building, demanding that the Board of Trustees resign.
They say the board is complicit in Nassar's decades of crime because they heard complaints about him but did nothing. The school is dealing with several lawsuits and is under investigation by the NCAA, which regulates U.S. college athletic programs.
The unified Korean women's hockey team is getting to know each other before next month's Winter Olympics. Players from the North and from South Korea have been practicing together at the national training center in Tianjin (ph).
As part of the agreement between the two countries, 12 North Korean players will join the South's squad of 23. And at least three North Korean players will be selected for each match.
Meanwhile, here are two players that you think would be on the same team, sisters Marissa and Hannah Brents from Minnesota. But actually they will be wearing different jerseys for next month's Olympic Games.
Hannah will play for the U.S., Marissa for South Korea. Here is their story.
ROBIN BRANDT, MOTHER OF MARISSA AND HANNAH (voice-over): It's a really unusual one, you know, to have two daughters playing for two different countries.
HANNAH BRANDT, OLYMPIC HOCKEY PLAYER: You can't really script something like this.
MARISSA BRANDT, OLYMPIC HOCKEY PLAYER: It's really nothing we could have ever dreamed of.
GREG BRANDT, FATHER OF MARISSA AND HANNAH: It's just icing on the cake that we can follow along.
MARISSA BRANDT: We're going to together and get to experience everything for the first time together, which is very special and not many people can say they've done that with their sisters.
HANNAH BRANDT: The coolest thing about going to the Olympics together is I'm going to be walking around. I'll be at the dining room and my sister's going to be there. Most people cannot say that.
Hockey has really brought the two of us together. Playing on the line together was fun. We always knew where each other were. We had that little connection.
MARISSA BRANDT: To be able to bond over the sport and the relationships (INAUDIBLE) it's memories that will last a lifetime and I couldn't imagine growing up without having her there with me doing it.
GREG BRANDT: We had always planned as a family to go to Korea someday.
MARISSA BRANDT: I never thought in a million years it would be under the circumstance or going and being able to play the sport I love and represent my home country.
HANNAH BRANDT: I was always super interested in the whole idea of her being adopted and the Korean roots, even more so than she was. She just kind of wanted to fit in here.
MARISSA BRANDT: Growing up, I really shied away from it. I did not really want to embrace being Korean. I just wanted to fit in and look like my sister and not be different in any way. So for me this experience has been just really eye-opening and important for me to be able to embrace my heritage.
And, yes, so now I can say I'm very proud to be Korean. (END VIDEOTAPE)
VANIER: Watch them compete at the Winter Olympic Games.
Thanks for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Cyril Vanier. I'll be back with the headlines in just a moment. So stay with us for those.