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Trump "Obsessed" with Identifying Op-Ed Author; Florence Possibly Major Hurricane by Thursday, Eyes East Coast; Ex-Trump Campaign Adviser Breaks Silence; 400 Migrant Kids Still Separated from Parents; Difference Makers: Stoneman Douglas. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired September 8, 2018 - 11:00   ET


[10:59:55] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right. When that person reveals themselves or when they are revealed. We'll see.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: It's all yours -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Good to see you -- guys. Thank you.


WHITFIELD: Have a great one. >


PAUL: You, too.

WHITFIELD: All right. Hello, everyone. It is the 11:00 hour on the East Coast. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

NEWSROOM starts right now.

And so let's start with that obsession inside the White House and beyond, really -- the hunt for the anonymous op-ed writer who claims to be the resistance inside the administration.

President Trump is now calling on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to investigate. And a source tells CNN aides believe they are closing in on exposing the writer.

This chaos unfolding as former President Barack Obama unleashes jabs on President Trump, breaking with tradition after months of silence. And in just a few hours Obama will take center stage for round two this time at a rally in California.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It did not start with Donald Trump. He is a symptom, not the cause.

He's just capitalizing on resentment that politicians have been fanning for years. They're undermining our alliances, cozying up to Russia. What happened to the Republican Party?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I watched it but I fell asleep. I found he's very good, very good for sleeping.


WHITFIELD: All right. CNN's Jeremy Diamond joining us now live from the White House.

So Trump claiming Obama's speech, you know, put him to sleep. But what's really keeping the White House awake for certain is the hunt for this writer. So how has the White House tried to whittle down this list?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Fredricka -- the White House is still trying to root out the identity of the unnamed senior administration official who penned an op-ed in the "New York Times" earlier this week, portraying the President as somebody who really needs to be checked from within his own administration because of the decisions that he makes, "reckless decisions" in the words of the unnamed senior administration official.

But while that hunt is on-going, the President seems to have some idea of who it may be. Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the President, told our colleague Christiane Amanpour that the President believes it is a national security official.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTEL CORRESPONDENT: Do you think that person is inside the White House?

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: Most of us don't think that. The President just today said he believes it is somebody in national security.

But what I do believe is that who has said that ought to come forward and say it, or ought to resign because the loyalty is not to the President only or at all, it is loyalty to the presidency, loyalty to the constitution.


DIAMOND: And the President is now also invoking national security as he calls for an escalation of this informal search at the White House to uncover the identity of this senior administration official, telling reporters just yesterday that he believes Attorney General Jeff Sessions should launch an investigation from the Department of Justice to uncover this person's identity.

That would be a serious escalation of the situation. And so far neither the President nor anybody at the White House has indicated that any crime has been committed, something that's typically required when the Justice Department gets involved.

The "New York Times" has fired in a statement saying, "We're confident that the Department of Justice understands that the First Amendment protects all American citizens and that it would not participate in such a blatant abuse of government power," -- Fredricka. WHITFIELD: All right. Jeremy Diamond at the White House -- thanks so much. We'll check back with you.

So this search for the writer has been consuming the White House for days in fact now. Senator Lindsey Graham summed up the President's frustration this way.


SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I talked to him a bunch. Yes. Yes, absolutely. He's pissed off. He feels betrayed. And I don't blame him.


WHITFIELD: CNN's senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny has a look at the President's latest demand to find the culprit.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): President Trump's asking Attorney General Jeff Sessions to investigate and unmask the author of the anonymous essay in the "New York Times" that blasted him as unfit for office. Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One, the President calling it a matter of national security, not simply as outrage over a senior administration official publicly saying he is ill informed, impetuous and reckless inside the White House.

TRUMP: I would say Jeff should be investigating who the author of that piece was because I really believe it is national security.

ZELENY: On a two-day campaign swing to Montana and the Dakotas, the President is telling his supporters that their decision at the ballot box in 2016 is being subverted by a government bureaucrat.

[11:05:00] TRUMP: Unelected, deep-state operatives who defy the voters to push their own secret agendas are truly a threat to democracy itself. I think it's backfired -- seriously.

ZELENY: Yet the President made clear he is seething.

TRUMP: The latest active resistance is the op-ed published in the failing "New York Times" by anonymous -- really anonymous, gutless coward.

ZELENY: Struggling to say anonymous but adding the search is still on for the person responsible for the op-ed.

TRUMP: We're going to take a look at what he had, what he gave, what he is talking about, also where he is right now. Eventually the name of this sick person will come out.

ZELENY: Asked how criticizing his presidency presents a danger to national security, he explained. TRUMP: Supposing I have a high level national security meeting and he

has got a clearance, and he goes into a high level meeting concerning China or Russia or North Korea or something and this guy goes in. I don't want him in those meetings.

ZELENY: Two months before the midterm elections, former President Obama stepped back onto the political stage with his own message to the anonymous Trump official.

OBAMA: You're not doing us a service by actively promoting 90 percent of the crazy stuff that's coming out of the White House, and then saying "don't worry, we're preventing the other 10 percent". That's not how things are supposed to work. This is not normal. These are extraordinary times. And they're dangerous times.

ZELENY: Obama has largely remained publicly silent about his successor; in a speech in Illinois, where he called on Republicans to take notice at how Trump treats the rule of law.

OBAMA: It should not be a partisan issue to say that we do not pressure the attorney general or the FBI to use the criminal justice system as a cudgel to punish our political opponents.

ZELENY: Trump, who has not spoken to Obama since his inauguration day in January 2017, responded to Obama's hour-long speech like this.

TRUMP: I watched it but I fell asleep. I found he is very good -- very good for sleeping.

ZELENY: But Trump made clear he's also worried about Democrats in the midterm elections, planting early seeds of an argument against impeachment.

TRUMP: We will impeach him, but he didn't do anything wrong. It doesn't matter, we will impeach him. We will impeach. But I say how do you impeach somebody that's doing a great job, that hasn't done anything wrong?

If it does happen, it is your fault because you didn't go out to vote.

ZELENY (on camera): So even as the President is stewing frankly about the identity of the anonymous author, White House aides are telling us that they believe they're narrowing down the list of possible suspects, but it is just that, possible suspects. Unclear if the person will ever be fully identified.

Jeff Zeleny, CNN -- the White House.


WHITFIELD: All right. So this anonymous writer isn't the only administration official out with an op-ed. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley published her own in the "Washington Post" writing in part, "I too am a senior Trump administration official. If I disagree with something, and think it is important enough to raise with the President, I do it. And he listens. Sometimes he changes course, sometimes he doesn't. That's the way the system should work.

The author and frenzied media reaction to the op-ed hurts all of us who are trying to do our jobs for the country by throwing gas on a fire of endless distraction."

Joining me right now Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu. Good to see you -- Congressman.

So on Twitter, you commented on this. You called the anonymous op-ed a cry for help and its author a coward. So what do you think about Nikki Haley and what she wrote in the "Washington Post"?

REP. TED LIEU (D), CALIFORNIA: Thank you, Fredricka -- for your question.

Let me first say this senior White House official has essentially confirmed what all the books and articles have shown about the Trump presidency, which is that Donald Trump is unfit for office.

But I agree with Nikki Haley that the way this White House official is going about it is all wrong. You cannot, in a democracy, as a staff member not carry out the orders of the President of the United States -- that's not how it works. What this White House official should do is try to change the President's mind. If the President doesn't change, then he should come out or she should come out and resign.

WHITFIELD: So then does that kind of set in to kind of fuel the fire of the President who says, you know, the Attorney General Jeff Sessions needs to step in, needs to investigate, you know, who penned the "New York Times" op-ed?

LIEU: Well, two wrongs don't make a right and so it would be wrong for the President to get the Department of Justice involved because there's actually no crime that this senior White House official has done. What the senior White House official should have happen to him or her is to get fired. But that's not a crime to not carry out orders of the President. I also know that --


[11:09:58] WHITFIELD: It is not a crime, but then you did hear the President express his concern that it could be a potential national security risk because he feels like if there's someone, if the person who penned this was in the room when the President was, you know, to unveil a plan that is a national security issue, he doesn't trust that person to be present.

LIEU: That is not a crime, not trusting a person to carry something out or that person does not have the full trust of the President because in that case, the senior White House official may very well carry out the orders of the President.

But I also want to note it is fascinating that the White House is spending all this time trying to find the identity of the author. They don't really spend very much time denying the substance of what this the senior White House official said. WHITFIELD: And what does that say to you?

LIEU: And that is what is the most disturbing. Well, what the senior White House official said is true and we have really a presidency that is in chaos, we have people who are trying to make the President normal, but that is not what the staff members should be doing.

In a democracy, voters need to know how fully unhinged their president is. And to try to thwart the President this way is not good for democracy and it's really hiding information from the voters.

WHITFIELD: So perhaps there's a theme to some of the content of that op-ed and what makes up the content of Bob Woodward's book which also has very much upset the President.

Listen to what Trump told reporters in Montana last night.


TRUMP: I'm quoted as a fool because if you look at the way -- I don't speak that way. I'm highly educated. I went to Wharton School of finance. I don't speak that way.

They're giving quotes -- now if these quotes even exist, I don't know. Do they make them up or what? They say they got them from a lot of people.

Now General Mattis, who is highly-respected, said he never said that and he gave the most beautiful renunciation of the book.

General Kelly, the same thing. He said I never said that. And he gave -- and if you look, many of my cabinet people, many of the people that were quoted said they never said that. They never said that.

And I actually said in the tweet this morning, I said look, if I spoke that way, I would never be president.


WHITFIELD: So Congressman -- your thoughts because Bob Woodward has already said a lot of the quotes are recorded.

LIEU: The President does speak in a particular way, and Bob Woodward would know that. We have seen the President speak for a year and a half. We've seen him speak on the campaign trail.

And Bob Woodward is a person who helped the "Washington Post" get two Pulitzer prizes. He's won numerous awards for journalism and he's got hundreds of hours of tapes of these interviews. This work has a lot of credibility attached to it. I think that's one of the reasons the President is so upset about the book coming out this week.

WHITFIELD: You touched on this. You know, this year we have seen book after book on Trump's presidency and now this anonymous op-ed which really does underscores the same pattern of concerns about stability and impulse.

So does this in your view, you know, become gossip? Or does it compel any real checks and balances?

LIEU: The way the constitution is structured, check and balance is the legislative branch, it is congress as well as the judiciary. In this case the Republican-controlled Congress has been complicit. They've done nothing to stand up to the President.

But under our constitution you can't have staff members resist their own president. And so again, this senior White House official should come forward, and should try to change the President's mind or should resign and then voters this November have a chance to change the makeup of Congress to get a real check and balance.

WHITFIELD: All right. Congressman Ted Lieu -- good to see you. Thanks so much. >

LIEU: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Meantime, more legal trouble for the President and his attorney general after the first Trump campaign aide convicted in the Russia probe breaks his silence for the first time. What he's saying about Trump and Sessions.

And tropical storm Florence is on the verge of becoming a hurricane dumping heavy rain along the entire East Coast with the potential for severe flooding.

We'll check in with the CNN Weather Center after this.


WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back.

We have new developments on tropical storm Florence which is taking aim at the East Coast. The storm is expected to become a hurricane in the next 12 hours. And moments ago, the National Hurricane Center updated the storm's path.

CNN's Allison Chinchar joins us now from the CNN Weather Center with the very latest. So this is real. This is serious.


And the continued track of this thing starting to strengthen, that's going to be the biggest area of concern in the coming days because we do expect Florence to get up to major hurricane status. Basically that means category three or higher.

So here's the latest. Winds at 65 miles per hour moving west at about 7 miles per hour; notice one, two, three, four -- that's the intensity of the storm. So we expect to see that strengthen as it continues its trek to the west.

The reason for this, it's going to be entering a much more favorable environment, very warm ocean temperatures and that's fuel for these storms. So that's why you're going to see such strong intensification and very quickly.

Now, the question becomes what impacts does the U.S. have and where is it going to make landfall. Well, in terms of impacts, really anywhere along the East Coast you're likely to see some types of impacts, even if that's places like Florida that just end up getting rip currents or states like New Jersey or Pennsylvania that just end up getting very heavy rainfall. All of the East Coast is likely to have some type of impact.

Now, in terms of landfall, the models are coming together in much better agreement and it is looking more and more likely that that landfall may take place around the Carolinas -- North and South Carolina. The question is which model because each one picks a different Carolina state.

The red model, which is the American model, picks more further north into North Carolina say around the Outer Banks or Hatteras.

[11:19:59] But the blue, which is the European model picks a little bit further south into South Carolina. So that's why it is important to continue to watch this over the next couple of days.

Here's the thing though. This isn't the only tropical system we're keeping an eye on. In fact we have not one but three tropical systems that we've been keeping a close eye on.

We also have tropical storm Helene that just came off the coast of Africa the last couple of days and just got named overnight last night, and then tropical depression 9 which, Fred -- is likely to become tropical storm Isaac in the next 24 hours.

WHITFIELD: All right. That's a pretty busy map. Keep us posted, thanks so much -- Allison.

All right. Next -- a former Trump fixer, Michael Cohen, says he wants to tear up the deal he brokered between the President and porn star Stormy Daniels. He is also demanding his $130,000 back.


WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back.

Still railing over the anonymous "New York Times" op-ed, President Trump is now calling for his Attorney General Jeff Sessions to investigate and find out the author's identity. The President is even suggesting that the person should be considered a threat.

I want to bring in Shan Wu, CNN legal analyst and former prosecutor. All right. Good to see you.

So it's a big if. If the Department of Justice were to actually investigate, what could it do?

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It is kind of hard to figure out what the criminal hook would be here as the "New York Times" accurately put, it is really a First Amendment issue. And the President is trying to treat the Justice Department and FBI as his private fixers, and obviously they're not. That was Michael Cohen's job. And --


WHITFIELD: He nominated -- I mean, you know, he nominated, you know, Jeff Sessions so I guess there's some ownership he feels like it is his.

WU: Right.

WHITFIELD: You know, Sessions is his in which to order around, but you're saying that that's not how Department of Justice works, nor the attorney general's job. It is serving the people -- the American people, not the President.

WU: Exactly. And just to follow their normal law enforcement protocols, there has to be some credible predicate for opening the investigation, some allegation that a crime has occurred. And the most he can stretch it to here is the President is kind of worried that somebody who doesn't like him, who wants to talk to the press might also leak other things like national security issues.

But there's no hint of that in the op-ed. I mean he has an HR kind of issue, not a national security issue. It's the internal matter that his staff needs to solve. And certainly that person is not being very loyal to him.

But it simply is not a criminal matter. And by no stretch of the imagination is it a national security matter.

WHITFIELD: So the President feels like he has a pretty good case. This was him on Air Force One yesterday.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Don't you think Jeff Sessions should be investigating the author of the op-ed piece was --

TRUMP: I think so because I think it is national security. I would say Jeff should be investigating who the author of the piece was, because I really believe it is national security.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And is there action that should be taken against "New York Times"?

TRUMP: Well, we're going to see. I'm looking into that right now.


WHITFIELD: All right. The President says it is a national security issue. The "New York Times" came out with its own statement said it's a constitutional freedom of speech issue. So if the two were to go toe to toe, the White House were to find a way to take "New York Times" to court, how would those arguments unfold? WU: I think the "New York Times" would come out well ahead on that

argument in terms of the First Amendment issue. And you know, there have been other situations historically, of course, where things actually are classified or involve national security are still leaked in the name of freedom of the press, right to know. People can invoke a whistleblower kind of protection for whoever may have leaked the documents.

But we're not even there yet. This is simply somebody expressing their opinion. So frankly, I mean I think the President would be hard pressed to find a legitimate lawyer who would even want to bring that case because it is so frivolous.

WHITFIELD: All right.

Then there's the other issue that's been a thorn in the side of the President for a really long time. We're talking about, you know, President Trump's former attorney Michael Cohen who is now saying that he wants to actually tear up that hush agreement, the nondisclosure agreement with Stormy Daniels and says that he wants his $130,000 back.

So it says a couple of things. A, he hasn't been reimbursed by the President perhaps for that $130,000. But if the nondisclosure agreement were to be torn up, does it simply, you know, give license to both Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels to, you know, speak freely. Is it that simple?

WU: It is not quite that simple because for the litigation that's been commenced to actually end to have a settlement so to speak, I mean everybody has to agree to that settlement. I think Cohen is trying to make a legal argument that by taking the contract back there wouldn't be a case any more and he wants to dismiss his case.

And you know, he may be right about that but just his wishes alone don't make a settlement. And it is part of a course of conduct that he is doing. I mean he is kind of on a tear of tearing up things. He has been dropping other suits as well.

And obviously it's because while the NDA once served the purpose of trying to have things silent, it has gone exactly the opposite way now. I mean to pursue this further into litigation exposes him to having to go through the discovery process. He has to answer questions, has to be deposed, and of course, ultimately it would expose the President as well.

So there's no longer any benefit for him. And you know, maybe he could use the extra $130,000.

[11:30:01] WHITFIELD: Right. And he's an attorney. Wouldn't he know all of that? But you know, at the same time, it also adds to the confusion over was the agreement one that was made strictly between Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels? Was it, you know, at the, you know, wishes, request of the President, I mean because he is his attorney? I mean this just -- it just makes it far more complicated and one would think that the attorney Michael Cohen would anticipate that before saying and suggesting this.

WU: Well, I think he did know all that. But I think at the time they thought this was a way to keep all those secrets hidden, and it's kind of backfired on him now. And that's exactly what he does not want to come out now.

WHITFIELD: Yes. All right. Shan Wu -- good to see you, thanks so much.

WU: Good to see you. You're welcome.

WHITFIELD: All right.

Still ahead, a convicted Trump campaign official breaks his silence for the first time since his guilty plea. George Papadopoulos gives us a new picture of how Robert Mueller is building his case but also contradicts U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on what Sessions knew about his effort to set up a meeting with Russians.


WHITFIELD: A federal judge has delivered the first sentence connected to a Trump campaign affiliate in the special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe. Former campaign aide George Papadopoulos will spend 14 days in prison for lying to investigators about his contacts with people linked to Russia during the 2016 campaign.

CNN's Jake Tapper spoke to Papadopoulos exclusively in his first television interview. And Papadopoulos says he doesn't remember telling anyone on the campaign that Russia had damaging e-mails about Hillary Clinton, but adds he can't guarantee that he kept that bombshell from his campaign colleagues.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: When did you first meet Donald Trump?

GEORGE PAPADOPOULOS, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN AIDE: March 31st at the national security meeting.

TAPPER: There's a photo of you at the table. Candidate Trump is there. Senator Jeff Sessions is there. What was discussed at that meeting in terms of Russia, in terms of meeting with Putin?

PAPADOPOULOS: As far as I remember, it was I who brought up anything regarding Russia. I was under the impression that an individual I had met in Rome, the so-called professor, was able to provide high level connections in Russia that would result in some sort of summit or meeting, mostly for a photo op.

So I sat down and, you know, I looked at candidate Trump directly in his eyes and said I can do this for you if it is in your interest and if it's in the campaign's interest.

And the collective energy in the room, of course, there were some dissenters, but collective energy in the room seemed to be interested. TAPPER: The collective energy -- was Donald Trump interested?

PAPADOPOULOS: The candidate, you know, he gave me sort of a nod. He wasn't committed either way but I took it as he was thinking.

TAPPER: Senator Jeff Sessions was there too --


TAPPER: -- at the table. What was his response?

PAPADOPOULOS: My recollection was that the senator was actually enthusiastic about a meeting between the candidate and President Putin.

TAPPER: So you say that then-senator, now-Attorney General Sessions was enthusiastic about the idea of candidate Trump meeting Putin, but he has said the exact opposite. He says, he testified before Congress saying that he, quote, "pushed back" when you raised the possibility of a meeting with Russia. That's not true you're saying?

PAPADOPOULOS: I don't remember that.

TAPPER: You don't remember him pushing back?


TAPPER: You remember him saying this is a good idea?

PAPADOPOULOS: I remember him being enthusiastic about a potential meeting between the candidate and President Putin, after I raised the question.


WHITFIELD: All right. Let's talk more about this -- Papadopoulos getting a 14-day sentence in jail.

Joining me right now Patrick Healy, a CNN political analyst and politics editor for the "New York Times"; also with me Lynn Sweet, Washington bureau for the "Chicago Sun Times". Good to see you both.

All right. So Lynn -- you first. You know, 14-day sentence, President Trump commented via tweet saying 14 days for $28 million, $2 million a day, no collusion, a great day for America. But what he means by $28 million, it is not factually correct if he's talking about how much has been spent by the Department of Justice which reportedly approximately $17 million has been spent on the Russia meddling probe. Bob Mueller's team has only spent reportedly under $8 million.

So back to the sentencing of the 14 days, does this potentially send an overall message or tone or seriousness about the Bob Mueller probe?

LYNN SWEET, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "CHICAGO SUN TIMES": Well, that was the reason that the judge in the courtroom, I was in the courtroom yesterday during the sentencing, did not want to just give him probation and no prison time. But actually that offense was never one that anyone would have gotten much prison time for, and that's something to remember.

Fourteen days is very, very small amount of time, but it is not enough. The real message is not to lie to the FBI when you're asked a question, and if you do lie to come back in and try to correct the record as soon as you can. And that's what the message was from the judge at the sentencing yesterday.

[11:40:03] WHITFIELD: And then, Patrick -- reportedly, you know, he was facing upwards of five years in jail for that offense. And then recall it was just a week ago when Papadopoulos, you know, pleaded for some leniency, filing a motion, you know, hoping that he would get, I guess a more lenient sentencing. So does that mean it worked?

PATRICK HEALY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's clear, this is a small sentence. The judge was trying to send some kind of a message to hold Papadopoulos accountable. But, you know, there's no really other way of seeing it. You know, he did get a measure of leniency. There was sort of some, you know, penalty that he was going to have to pay.

But really this did give, you know, some fodder to President Trump to sort of be able to say certainly to his base -- look, there's all, this is an investigation that is consuming so much time and energy and conversation, you know. You think it is sort of the biggest issue facing the country right now just given the media attention, and a guy gets 14 days.

That is his take. That's his spin.


WHITFIELD: Might it also mean --

HEALY: It's not accurate, you know. It's a much bigger investigation --


HEALY: -- than George Papadopoulos.




WHITFIELD: And one has to wonder whether that 14-day sentence also sends a message that perhaps Papadopoulos will be cooperative, could assist in other forthcoming cases as relates to this.

SWEET: May I jump in on this?

WHITFIELD: Yes. SWEET: Even though the top penalty was five years, the judge took pains to point out in this case it's a real complex formula that federal guidelines have for sentencing. So Papadopoulos had no prior criminal offenses. Even the government was asking for at the most six months.

And even another defendant in the Mueller probe who also was charged with the same thing, one count of lying to the FBI, only got 30 days. The judge gave Papadopoulos some credit. He liked his plea for leniency and he was very remorseful during the sentencing.

So I would put that in the context that again that the most he probably could have gotten was the six months because that's more comparable situation with what the government was asking. And in terms of his further cooperation, the government was a little angry that he was not more helpful, and they can't drag him back in on this.

Where he has exposure is whether congressional investigating committees now want to come in and say Sessions said this under sworn testimony, tell us your story under sworn testimony in front of Congress. That may be what could happen next.

WHITFIELD: So Patrick -- in this interview with Jake Tapper, Papadopoulos you know, kind of reveals a few contradictions, does he not -- specifically about the Attorney General Jeff Sessions -- Papadopoulos, you know, claiming that Sessions was enthusiastic about this meeting with Russians. Sessions has testified that he pushed back on that idea. So might this present a problem for Jeff Sessions?

HEALY: Yes, it does to the degree to which people either see Papadopoulos as now a credible figure or a high profile figure. I mean Papadopoulos clearly in the interview with Jake Tapper, you know, is really hitting the enthusiastic sort of talking point over and over again, even in other parts of the interview where he seemed to be saying well, I don't remember that, or it could have been this, and you know, his memory was fuzzy.


WHITFIELD: But then you remember --


WHITFIELD: Specifically how about that -- you remember specifically certain things but then somehow you don't remember them.

HEALY: But he really remembered Jeff Sessions, I mean. And you know, we have to keep in mind in the context, Jeff Sessions isn't Donald Trump's favorite person now, it's sort of putting Jeff Sessions, you know, into a box. It was an interesting, you know, an interesting takeaway from what Papadopoulos had to say to Jake.

WHITFIELD: All right. Patrick Healy, Lynn Sweet -- thanks to both of you, appreciate it.

SWEET: Thanks -- Fred. HEALY: Thanks -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right.

Next, a progress reuniting hundreds of immigrant children with their parents -- pretty slow and that's boosting outrage and concern over their well-being. So what is the hold up?


WHITFIELD: More than 400 migrant children taken from their parents at the border remain in custody of the federal government. It's been two months since a district court judge ordered these children be reunited with their parents.

Joining me right now to discuss is immigration lawyer and CNN opinion writer Raul Reyes. Good to see you.


WHITFIELD: So progress has been very slow. What is the holdup, what's going on?

REYES: Right, progress has been very slow. I believe it's 42 days since the deadline for reuniting all of these children. And the great problem is that the federal government has not fully committed to establishing a plan and then carrying it out with the full force of the United States government behind it.

Many of the reunifications that we've seen, and most of these kids, as you mentioned, have been reunited. It's been done thanks to the leg work of volunteers, of groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, even of journalists.

Because the government has not provided enough information, enough contact info for investigators to go about this very complicated process. Not only of reuniting children and their parents who might be scattered all over the United States but reuniting many children of the United States whose parents have been deported.

[11:50:02] Of the 400 and some children who are still separated from their parents right now, most of them have parents who are now in Central America. The great problem is not only finding them but you have to remember these are people who may live in rural areas. They may be illiterate or semi-illiterate --


WHITFIELD: Difficult to find. Yes.

REYES: Right. And many of them, as a result of this trauma they experienced with the government, may be very reluctant to talk with anyone who shows up claiming to be the representative of a government.

WHITFIELD: Right. And isn't it the case that many of the people that you are describing right now, they may have voluntarily left simply because they didn't understand, you know, I guess the instructions --

REYES: Exactly.

WHITFIELD: The government saying, you know, they left voluntarily without their children but then the ACLU is saying on many of those parents' behalf that they were coerced or they didn't understand what they were agreeing to.

REYES: Exactly.

WHITFIELD: So how does that get resolved?

REYES: Right.

WHITFIELD: And I guess the resolution of that, how does that, I guess, better increase the chances that some of these parents will ever see their kids again?

REYES: Well, sad to say, it actually really in my view decreases the likelihood that some of these children will see their parents. To put this in perspective, just think of your average American who was born and raised here who's perfectly fluent in English being handed legal documents and told to sign them.

Most people, unless they are an attorney, that's a confusing process. There's language they don't understand. They may not understand the consequences.

Now imagine people who are not from this country, who are not fluent in English, who have just gone through this harrowing journey, and are confronted with government officials. It's highly likely that they either did not understand what they were signing, let alone the consequences.

Many of them have reported being coerced into signing these documents. Many of them have told representatives of the ACLU, for example, that they were promised that if they signed these documents then their children would be returned to them. And come to find out they did not get their children and all that it did was it put them on a plane to be removed from the country.

So that's a huge problem. And unfortunately, our government does not have a lot of credibility when it comes to vouching for the informed consent that these people allegedly made on these life changing documents.

WHITFIELD: All right. Raul Reyes -- keep us posted. Thank you so much.

REYES: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Next -- turning tragedy into triumph. Football players who lost a coach in the Parkland school shooting are now trying to rally their community and honor their loved ones.

[11:52:24] (COMMERCIAL BREAK) WHITFIELD: The Stoneman Douglas football team in Parkland Florida is honoring the memory of their assistant coach and the other victims who died during the February 14th mass shooting.

Andy Scholes is here with more in this week's "Difference Makers".

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fredricka -- the Stoneman Douglas Eagles are this week's difference makers presented by the new 2018 Ford F-150. Last night, the team played in their first home game since that terrible day. We spoke with the team last week to see how they're helping to rally the community and play in honor of those 17 that were lost.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The tragedy on February 14 only brought us closer together. We're with each other more than we're with our own families. On and off the field, we're as tight as it comes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We still have a job to do and we still have to live life and we have to learn from it and be stronger and move on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Coach May has been made everything about a family or one or all the family. The brotherhood is unbreakable. It's an amazing bond.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Take a knee. Lock up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our God and our Father, help us to remember in our hearts our motto -- faith, family, football.

CROWD: Amen.

CROWD: Let's go. Let's go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Playing for them is our motivation. It's who we want to represent this season. And our main goal is the playoffs and that's what we want to do it for.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Playing for 17's honor, you know, is something you shouldn't take for granted. I personally don't. And it's just something to always remind yourself to go harder, take it to the next level.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're hurt. We've been through a lot. But we still fly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're built different. We're tough. We can get through any type of adversity thrown at us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're strong. And our whole community's strong. Our kids in our school are strong. And we've got to first pierce (ph) through the hurt and the pain and just do great things and (INAUDIBLE). God left us here for a reason.

(END VIDEOTAPE) SCHOLES: Stoneman Douglas won their first home game last night by 17 points -- 17, the same number as the victims killed in the school shooting there this past February -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Wow. All right, thank you so much -- Andy Scholes.

All right. We've got so much more straight ahead in the NEWSROOM and it all starts right now.

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

All right. We start with the obsession inside the White House and the hunt for the anonymous op-ed writer who claims to be the resistance inside the administration. President Trump now calling on U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to investigate and a source tells CNN aides believe they are closing in on exposing the writer.

[11:59:52] This chaos unfolding as former President Barack Obama unleashes jabs on President Trump, breaking with tradition after months of silence. And in just a few hours, Obama will take center stage for round two, this time at a rally in California.


OBAMA: It did not start with Donald Trump. He's a symptom, not the cause --