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Democratic Memo: FBI Interest in Carter Page Prior to Dossier; North Korean Olympic Delegation Arrives in South Korea; U.S. Slams Russia for Delays in Cease-Fire Vote; Refugee Chefs Flourish in France. Aired 2-2:30a ET

Aired February 25, 2018 - 02:00   ET




CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello, everybody. Thank you for joining us. I'm Cyril Vanier, live from our headquarters in Atlanta and CNN NEWSROOM starts now.


VANIER: So it's chapter two of the memo wars today. House Democrats here in the U.S. are defending the FBI's handling of the Russia investigation and directly refuting a central premise of a Republican memo released earlier this month.

Remember how the story started: three weeks ago, Republicans released a memo which attacked the FBI. It said that the Bureau had obtained authorization to spy on this man, former Trump campaign aide, Carter Page, based solely on an anti-Trump dossier funded by Democrats.

The document also contended the FBI had failed to disclose who had funded the dossier. Well, the Democratic memo refutes both of those claims. It says the FBI had already begun some inquiries into Page and others by the time it became aware of the dossier and it says the political motivations behind the dossier were sufficiently disclosed to the FISA court.

The U.S. president told FOX News that Democratic memo proves his campaign did not collude with Russia in the election. And he also blamed his predecessor, Barack Obama, for letting Russia meddle in the presidential election.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Obama was the president, he's the one that was supposed to take care of this. And he didn't. But he was president during this period of time, during the entire period of time. And he did nothing about it.


VANIER: For a closer look at what's actually in this Democratic memo, here's CNN's Evan Perez. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: The memo from House Intelligence Committee Democrats makes the case that the FBI had plenty of reason to get a secret court order to do surveillance of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

This contradicts the memo that was released a few weeks ago by Republicans, which claim that the FBI would not have been able to get permission for that surveillance without an opposition research dossier paid for by Democrats and put together by former British spy Christopher Steel.

Democrats say that the Steel dossier played only a small part in the surveillance application and they say that the FBI had years of concerns about Carter Page's Russian contacts and the possibility that they were trying to recruit him.

They also say that the FBI told the court that the dossier was funded by people politically motivated to discredit the Trump campaign. The memo says that Carter Page surveillance began in October of 2016 and ended in September of 2017.

Page was no longer part of the Trump campaign when the surveillance was actually done. And the Democrats say that the FBI and the Justice Department provided information from, quote, "multiple independent sources" that corroborated Steel's reports.

There's lots of redactions in the report that was put out. And we know that the FBI was opposed to releasing both this memo and the earlier one from Republicans because of concerns of damage to national security -- Evan Perez, CNN, Washington.


VANIER: As well as I also spoke with "Politico" reporter Daniel Lippman about this new memo.


DANIEL LIPPMAN, POLITICO: The rebuttal stands as a strong reminder that the FBI was interested in Trump campaign associates long before the dossier itself.

And you saw on Friday, with Paul Manafort getting charged with more charges by special counsel Robert Mueller, and Rick Gates, the former top, you know, deputy campaign chairman for the Trump campaign, admitting to his guilt and pledging to cooperate.

And so clearly that's not just fake news. These are real top Trump people saying that they did things that were guilty, maybe not directly tied to the campaign but Trump definitely had people who were dirty in their business dealings.

VANIER: At the end of the day, what's the impact?

What's the fallout of this memo war?

We had the Republican one, now we have the Democrats' rebuttal.

Has it really undermined the credibility of the Mueller investigation in the end or not?

LIPPMAN: I think with the Democratic getting released on a Saturday, when a lot of Americans are not paying attention and a lot of people had moved on after the Nunes memo was released, I don't think the impact will be very much.

People who believe in the Mueller investigation and are opponents of President Trump, they will stick with their positions. And people who are supporters of the president, they are not going to look at this memo and change their mind.

So we have in America people who are stuck in their partisan corners. This memo is not going to make that --


LIPPMAN: -- much of a big splash.


VANIER: Also happening, the Mexican president will not be making a planned visit to the White House, we found out, after a confrontational phone call with Mr. Trump a few days ago.

"The Washington Post" is reporting that President Enrique Pena Nieto wanted the U.S. president to acknowledge publicly Mexico's position that it would not pay for a border wall. But President Trump refused. He was reportedly frustrated that the Mexican president expected him to back off from one of his main campaign promises.

And no Russian flags will be flying at the Olympic closing ceremony. Russian athletes will have to again march under the Olympic flag after the International Olympic Committee decided to uphold Russia's suspension.

The IOC president explains why.


THOMAS BACH, PRESIDENT, IOC: The IOC would have considered lifting the suspension because the Olympic athletes from Russia delegation as such respected the decision of the IOC it did take on the 5th December, 2017.

However two Olympic athletes from Russia failed doping tests here in PyeongChang. This was hugely disappointing and, in addition to other considerations, prevented the IOC from even considering lifting the suspension for the closing ceremonies.

(END VIDEO CLIP) VANIER: Russia won't be officially represented at the closing ceremony. However, the North Koreans will. Their Olympic delegation has just arrived in South Korea. CNN's Paula Hancocks joins me now with the latest from PyeongChang, South Korea.

Paula, who was in the delegation?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Cyril, there is one man, Kim Yong-chol, who's leading the delegation. He used to be a former spy chief. And so some in South Korea believe he may have been behind or masterminded some of the attacks on South Korea.

So as you can imagine there are a fair few protests going on in South Korea, the fact he's even here. He's also on the list of individuals sanctioned by the U.S. and South Korea. But there are a number of people within the delegation itself.

I just met with the South Korean unification minister, who's about to go into a meeting with them. He's met the North Korean delegation before and he was telling me how positive he felt the mood was, when they had met in the past during the Olympics.

The fact that he thought that it was sincere at least on the part of the North Koreans. But once again saying he believes both the U.S. and North Korea are ready for talks. But they both have different preconditions before they can get to those talks.

So echoing there what the South Korean president Moon Jae-in had said. He also said something interesting, that in the past, when the South Korean side had brought up denuclearization, with the North Koreans, they would either stop listening or simply walk out, he said.

But since January, since Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader said he was going to engage with the South, they have been listening and apparently there have been quite substantial talks about denuclearization, he said, at least from South Korean side.

He said the North Koreans did listen; in the past they had said they had to have that conversation with the United States but now they're having it with South Korea and he believed that that was a change -- Cyril.

VANIER: I wonder how South Koreans -- and I don't mean the government, I mean, the man on the street, if there is such a thing -- I wonder how South Koreans in general feel about these games?

They're almost over now. We're just waiting for the closing ceremony. Obviously these games got a lot more global attention than regular Winter Olympics would. There was a lot of talk about Olympic diplomacy.

How do South Koreans feel about this, now that it's almost over?

HANCOCKS: Well, Cyril, it's a difficult question to answer while I'm still in PyeongChang because everyone you see here is obviously delighted with the way it has gone. But I think beyond PyeongChang, beyond this region, there are some reservations by the very fact that the North Korean delegation has been here. There have been protests.

But on a wider note, I think that certainly the feeling is quite positive. South Korea has done better than it was expecting to do. There have been medals won that they weren't expecting to even be medal contenders for.

So certainly from that respect I think there's a positive vibe surrounding these Olympics -- Cyril.

VANIER: Paula Hancocks, reporting live from PyeongChang, South Korea. Thank you very much.

We go to Syria now. A Saturday ceasefire vote at the U.N. appears to have done little to stop the carnage in Eastern Ghouta. The rebel- held enclave has been pounded for weeks by bombardments. The Security Council resolution calls for a 30-day truce. But there are reports that Eastern Ghouta has already been hit by more airstrikes.

Hundreds of civilians have reportedly been killed over the last week. Activists say the government has even started using incendiary weapons that spread fires.


VANIER: So what's the best we can hope for with this U.N. resolution?

Let's ask Gayle Tzemach-Lemmon CNN national security analyst. She was recently in Syria.

Gayle, do you actually expect to see a ceasefire materialize?

GAYLE TZEMACH-LEMMON, CNN U.S. SECURITY ANALYST: Unlikely. Syria is the war that has extinguished the power of adjectives to describe its horrors. And I think that horrible pictures coming out of Ghouta really moved the Security Council to pass this resolution.

But the question is, what comes next and what is coming tomorrow or the next day?

And how many dead by the time anything is implemented?

VANIER: Does the Syrian regime have any compelling reason to actually observe this ceasefire?

In other words, can anybody enforce this cease-fire?

LEMMON: The Syrian regime will stop when the Syrian regime wants to. That has been the rule for this conflict. Internally, it's hard to imagine what would compel them to do anything different than they have been doing which is changing facts on the ground.

VANIER: So I have to ask you, then, is this U.N. Security Council resolution worthless?

Was it a waste of time? LEMMON: I think it's an acknowledgment that the world is watching. But where there's a big gap between watching and stopping and I do think that we will have to wait and see whether the pressure is enough to compel the regime and its backers, Russia and Iran, which have been all in on the side of the regime for some time, to do anything.

Look how long it took just to get this resolution passed and hundreds have died, including more than 100 children in the meantime.

VANIER: If you actually look at the language of the resolution, there's a caveat in there, which is something we've seen before in previous comparable circumstances, which is that fighting against terrorists can continue in this call for a cease-fire.

When you know the Syrian regime has characterized all its enemies for the last seven years as terrorists, doesn't that just give them a blank check to keep fighting?

LEMMON: Here's the reality. The Syrian regime has characterized everybody who has opposed it since 2011 as terrorists. So you could drive aid trucks that aren't regime (INAUDIBLE) through that resolution. This is the issue.

The issue has always been, who do you define as a terrorist and what does the regime argue is in its interest and will do regardless of what the rest of the world says?

And that we don't see changing with this resolution.

VANIER: All right, Gayle Tzemach-Lemmon, thank you very much for joining us here on the show. And I encourage all our viewers to look up her latest story on CNN's website. It's called "The Mom Story I Could Not Forget." And Gayle just came back from Syria. She gives incredible, powerful voice to those people that she met there.

Gayle, thank you very much.

LEMMON: Thank you.

VANIER: And one more thing we want to tell you. March 14th is the second annual My Freedom Day. CNN is partnering with you people around the world for student day action against modern-day slavery.

You know this is something that's important to us here on CNN. We've been doing it for a while. We've been asking people what freedom means to them. Here's what it means to American Olympic figure skater Nathan Chen.


NATHAN CHEN, U.S. FIGURE SKATER: Freedom means being able to be who you are whenever, wherever, say whatever you would like and just truly be yourself.

(END VIDEO CLIP) VANIER: Tell us what freedom means to you. Share your story using #MyFreedomDay.

All right, thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Cyril Vanier. "MARKETPLACE AFRICA" is up next. Stay tuned.