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CNN NEWSROOM

U.S. Investigators Corroborate Some Aspects Of Russia Dossier; U.S. Official: Flynn Discussed Sanctions With Russia; Trump And Abe Pledge Close Ties Between U.S.-Japan; Police Suspend Strike In Brazilian City; Source: France Terror Plot Appears ISIS-Inspired; Six Super Bowl Champs Snub White House Trip; Hundreds of Volunteers Try To Save Stranded Whales; Alec Baldwin Hosts "SNL" This Weekend. Aired 5- 6a ET

Aired February 11, 2017 - 05:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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[05:00:12] GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR: From CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta, welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm George Howell. CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.

It is 5:00 a.m. on the U.S. east coast. After a major defeat in court, so the president's travel ban, the Trump administration is now exploring all of its legal options over the weekend. We now know at least one of those options is apparently off the table for now.

A source familiar with the situation says the case will not be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court at this time. Mr. Trump has suggested he might start over with a brand new travel ban possibly as early as next week or he may choose to keep defending his current directive.

CNN has learned new information about the ongoing investigation into allegations raised in a collection of memos. Those memos created by a former British intelligence agent for political opponents of then candidate Donald Trump.

CNN's Evan Perez and Pamela Brown are working on this story and spoke to Jim Sciutto on "AC 360" earlier. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Why is this court corroboration of some details contained in this dossier important?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Jim, until now U.S. officials have said none of the content or allegations had been verified, but now multiple current and former law enforcement and intelligence officials tell CNN that intelligence intercepts of foreign nationals confirm some of the conversations described in the dossier took place between the same individuals on the same days and from the same locations as detailed in the dossier. The corroboration is based on intercepted communications. It has given U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials, quote, "greater confidence" in the credibility of some aspects of the dossier as they continue to actively investigate its content.

We should be clear that CNN has not confirmed the content of the calls or whether any of the content actually relates to then Candidate Trump and none of the newly learned information relates to the salacious allegations in the dossier.

Reached for comment on this story this afternoon, White House Spokesman Sean Spicer said, quote, "we continue to be disgusted by CNN's fake news reporting." And I should add that the FBI, Department of Justice, CIA, and the officer of the director of National Intelligence, all had no comment on this story -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: So there's a lot of information in the dossier, help explain to our viewers what investigators are telling us that they have confirmed and have not yet confirmed?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Remember that the goal of this counter intelligence investigation is to figure out whether there was truth to those allegations and that Russians were seeking to compromise President Trump.

To start investigators look for information that they could verify easily to give them a sense of the credibility of the author, who was already someone that they were familiar with as having credible sources.

The memos detail about a dozen conversations between senior Russian officials and other Russian individuals so that was one of the starting point.

And one thing that the U.S. has is a collection of foreign call intercepts so that they use that information to seek to verify some of the alleged conversations described in the dossier.

And U.S. intelligence officials are emphasizing to us that the conversations they now verified were solely between foreign nationals including those in or tied to the Russian government intercepted during routine intelligence gathering.

But some of the individuals involved in the intercepted communications were known to the U.S. intelligence community as heavily involved in collecting information damaging to Hillary Clinton and helpful to Donald Trump.

Now, sources would not confirm which specific conversations were intercepted or the content of those discussions due to the classified nature of U.S. intelligence collection programs -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Evan, we've been very careful throughout reporting the story going back weeks of specifying exactly what's been confirmed and what has not been confirmed. Help explain to our viewers what investigators still cannot verify at this point. PEREZ: That's right. As we said, one of the officials stressed to CNN that they've not corroborated the, quote, "more salacious" things alleged in the dossier, and I'll remind our viewers that CNN has not reported any of the salacious allegations.

However, when we first reported this story, U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials said that they could not find any parts of the memos, and what they're now saying is that they've corroborated at least some of these communications.

[05:05:06]Now, none of the officials we've spoke to for this story would comment or confirm that they have proof of any alleged conversations or meetings between Russian officials and U.S. citizens, including associates of then Candidate Donald Trump.

Officials who spoke to CNN for the story cautioned that they have not reached any judgment on whether the Russian government has any compromising information about the president, and we should remember that President Trump and his staff have repeatedly dismissed this dossier, Jim, as phony.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOWELL: My colleagues Jim Sciutto talking with Pamela Brown and Evan Perez. We thank them all for the reporting there. We'll continue to follow the story.

In the meantime, there is another scandal involving Russia that doesn't seem to be going away. This one focused on the president's national security advisor. A U.S. official tells CNN Michael Flynn discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia with the kremlin's U.S. ambassador, adding to the controversy.

The alleged conversation happened in December before President Trump took office while former President Barack Obama was in office. Mr. Trump appears oblivious to the allegations on Friday. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I don't know about it. I haven't seen it. What report is that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Inaudible).

PRESIDENT TRUMP: I'll look at that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL: The vice president of the United States, Mike Pence, has said in the past that Flynn didn't discuss sanctions, but three administration officials say he only knew what Flynn told him. A source now tells CNN the only reason Flynn hasn't been fired is that the White House doesn't want to look bad.

President Trump is hosting the prime minister of Japan, Shinzu Abe. The two leaders and their wives had dinner at the president's resort in Florida, Mar-a-Lago on Friday night. Both leaders are expected to play golf over the weekend.

Earlier Friday in Washington, the president pledged to continue close economic and security ties with Japan, and Mr. Abe also emphasized the U.S.-Japanese alliance.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHINZU ABE, JAPANESE PRIME MINISTER (through translator): Now with the birth of the Trump administration, a new genesis will be built between Japan and U.S. in economic relations.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL: The Japanese prime minister's cordial visit marks something of a turnaround from the U.S. presidential campaign. Back then the U.S. president indicated that he would make Tokyo pay more for U.S. defense aid if he were elected. Now Mr. Trump is underscoring the U.S. commitment to Japan's security. He is also changing his tone on China. Michelle Kosinski has this report for us.

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MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump with the Japanese prime minister facing questions about China, seeming to offer a warning over currency manipulation.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: We will be all on a level playing field because that's the only way it's fair. That's the only way that you can fairly compete.

KOSINSKI: Yet, it comes one day after the stunning statement from the White House summarizing last night's phone call between President Trump and the Chinese president. President Trump agreed at the request of President Xi to honor our "One China" policy. A striking about-face for President Trump who has said plenty to rock that boat.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: I don't know why we have to be bound by "One China" policy unless we make a deal with China, having to do with other things including trade.

They break the rules in every way imaginable. China, which has been ripping us off, the greatest abuser in the history of this country.

KOSINSKI: President Xi had not spoken to Trump since Trump took a phone call from Taiwan before the inauguration. An unprecedented breach of protocol in this complex and important relationship. The "One China" policy in China's view is the bedrock on which cooperation rests insuring that the U.S. views Taiwan as part of China.

TONY BLINKEN, FORMER U.S. DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE: Given its importance to China, it was inevitable we would have to back down, and that makes us look weak. I think our partners and allies in the region are reassured. We're not about to go to war, and the relationship with China is stabilized, and they're also asking if we're not a paper tiger. We make threats and then back away from it.

KOSINSKI: And now comes word from the European Union after meetings with U.S. officials on the Iran nuclear deal.

FEDERICKA MOGHERINI, E.U. FOREIGN AFFAIRS CHIEF: I was assured by what I heard in my meetings on the intentions to stick to the full strict implementation of the agreement in all its parts.

KOSINSKI: Yet again, this was a key issue, one which President Trump ran for office.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: We can't continue to make deals like that horrible Iran deal.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to rip up the Iran deal.

KOSINSKI: A major shift away from the rhetoric reminiscent of President Obama's warning to the new administration.

[05:10:08]BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There are certain things that make for good sound bites, but don't always translate into good policy. Reality has a way of asserting itself.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KOSINSKI: It's clear that foreign policy is very much in the shaping stage. There's a new poll out by Gallup that shows that 20 percent of Americans believe that President Trump is respected by other world leaders and only 42 percent now feel that the U.S. is viewed favorably in the world. Michelle Kosinski, CNN, the State Department.

HOWELL: Michelle Kosinski, thank you for the reporting.

A lot of political storylines have talked about this date. To add some context, let's bring in our political reporter, Eugene Scott, live via Skype in Washington.

Eugene, thanks for being with us. Let's talk about this information we're learning regarding Michael Flynn allegedly talking about sanctions with Russia. Something he has denied before, but it is information that apparently caught the president off guard and put the vice president, Mike Pence, in a tricky spot.

EUGENE SCOTT, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: It certainly did. U.S. intelligence agencies continue to investigate the role of Russia in the 2016 election. As you know, they produced information that said that the government in Russia was behind some hacking that had the desire to see Hillary Clinton lose.

But part of these investigations conclude exploring whether or not there were communications between Russian officials and the campaigns, specifically the Trump campaign.

And what some of the intelligence revealed is that there were communications between Flynn and officials in Russia and what it also revealed is that some of those talks involved sanctions.

There was some desire from some people in the Russian leadership to see whether or not sanctions would remain in place after the election of Donald Trump won.

HOWELL: You know, earlier we showed a sound bite where Mike Pence was on CBS "Face The Nation" where he said that, you know, he did not believe that Flynn had talked to Russia about sanctions, but, again, we're hearing this other news. It does put the vice president in a strange position.

SCOTT: It certainly does because the vice president's role -- while much of the campaign especially later and even this early in the administration has been to be the clean-up guy, but the reality is officials are saying that Pence just told the American public what Flynn told Pence.

And we saw even yesterday aboard Air Force One that the president himself was not as aware of the goings on regarding this investigation as reporting has suggested. So whether or not Flynn will experience any repercussions significantly for making the vice president look unfavorable and quite frankly dishonest is not quite clear yet.

HOWELL: And you know that this topic will be front and center come the Sunday political shows. A lot of reporters will be asking this question.

Let's talk about the president's meeting with the prime minister of Japan, Shinzu Abe. This is their second time to meet face-to-face. The first time was when the prime minister flew to New York before the president took the oath of office.

But it does seem that the Japanese prime minister is making certain to be front and center to strike a strong relationship with President Trump.

SCOTT: Absolutely. As we have seen President Trump be very aggressive very early on in making sure that the Transpacific Partnership did not move forward. We are seeing individual countries including Japan reach out to make sure that their individual trade relationships with the United States are not only not weakened but strengthened.

And so that's one of the reasons that we've seen the two connect. So personally and professionally in such a short amount of time. There's a lot of interest in seeing what will happen regarding national security, international affairs, and trade between the U.S. and Japan.

HOWELL: We're seeing some new poll numbers about how the U.S. president is being viewed abroad from the vantage point of Americans, and here's what this Gallup poll indicates. That 29 percent of Americans believe that the U.S. president, Donald Trump, is respected by other world leaders. Eugene, comparing this to the former President Barack Obama's number, 67 percent. The president has had some room to grow here.

SCOTT: He certainly does. Americans most likely have that view because multiple world leaders, including the leaders of the United Kingdom, Australia, and China have been critical of the president already. It's also worth mentioning that many Americans have unfavorable views of Donald Trump's administration. He actually went into office with the highest disapproval ratings of any president in American history since this polling was conducted.

And so there's a lot of interest in seeing America's standing in terms of the area of leadership improving internationally.

HOWELL: Eugene Scott, our CNN politics reporter live via Skype in Washington, D.C. Eugene, thank you so much for the reporting.

[05:15:0U]Still ahead here on CNN NEWSROOM, the U.S. president taking steps to deport undocumented immigrants with criminal records, but one case since he took office is causing controversy.

Plus, French police say they have stopped the terror attack and the suspects may have been inspired by ISIS. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

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HOWELL: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell. Mexico is warning its citizens in the United States of a, quote, "new reality" after a high profile deportation. Guadalupe Garcia de Reyes was expelled from the U.S. on Thursday after a routine check-in with immigration officials.

The 35-year-old mother had been in the United States since she was 14 years old, but she was arrested in 2008 and convicted of using a fake Social Security number.

Five years later, Garcia de Reyes signed papers acknowledging that she would eventually be removed from the U.S. Her attorney says her deportation now was due to a crackdown on illegal immigrants by the president.

CNN's Jean Casarez reports on her case, which some worry is the first of many more to come.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): News that Maricopa County's 35-year-old Guadalupe Garcia de Reyes was deported back to Mexico Thursday after more than two decades in the United States spread through the undocumented community in Phoenix.

A mother of two teenagers, Garcia de Reyes came to the U.S. when she was 14. Now in Nogales, Mexico, she says it was Sheriff Joe Arpaio who led a 2008 raid by local authorities at her workplace, originally meant to enforce a new controversial state law aimed at punishing employers who hired the undocumented.

The next year as a result she was convicted of a Class 6 felony criminal impersonation for intentionally having a fake Social Security number.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People will still do it today. Make up a number.

CASAREZ: Garcia de Reyes appealed a voluntary deportation order, but in 2013 lost the battle. A final removal order was entered and acknowledged by the now convicted felon.

[05:20:05]MARGARITA SILVA, IMMIGRATION ATTORNEY: She would have been told go home, wait for the letter, and then you'll come back to ICE on the day that, well, we tell you to come back and be ready to leave that day.

CASAREZ: The Obama administration had more deportations than the Bush administration, but they were focused on violent felons who endangered public safety. Donald Trump campaigned using the same terminology.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: The first thing we're going to do if and when I win is we're going to get rid of all of the bad ones. We have gang members, we have killers, we have a lot of bad people that have to get out of this country. We're going to get them out, and police know who they are.

CASAREZ: But now with president Trump's executive order enhancing public safety in the interior of the United States. The emphasis has shifted. Topping the list for enforcement priorities are those who have been convicted of any criminal offense charged with any criminal offense, or even acts that constitute a charge of criminal offense. Further down on the list but still a priority of deportation are those just like this mother of two, subject to a final order of removal.

SILVA: There was actually a priority list of what to follow. The current executive orders seem to do away with that priority list and make everyone a priority. I think what we're going to see now is the immigration courts are going to go back to being backlogged.

CASAREZ (on camera): ICE will not say if they are following the new executive order, saying simply for them it's just business as usual.

(voice-over): But ICE has released a statement including this paragraph, "ICE will continue to focus on identifying and removing individuals with felony convictions with final orders of removal issued by the nation's immigration courts." And Guadalupe's husband will now have to raise the children alone.

AARON REYES, GUADALUPE GARCIA DE REYES' HUSBAND: My wife is not a threat to the United States. She's a great person. You know, she's a good citizen regardless of her status.

CASAREZ: Jean Casarez, CNN, Phoenix, Arizona.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOWELL: Now to Brazil and the state of Espirito Santo police there -- military police have agreed to end their week-long strike that sparked violence in the streets. Violence that left at least 110 people dead there. The police and government officials cut a deal that will promote officers who are eligible and address concerns about the workload, but they won't receive a salary hike. The officers' wives who initiated the strike did not participate in the negotiations.

In France, police say they stopped an imminent terror attack. A source says the four suspects who are French nationals appeared to have been inspired by ISIS.

CNN's Erin McLaughlin gained exclusive access into one of the suspect's apartment and spoke to his roommate.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the aftermath of an early morning raid. French police say their work here prevented an imminent suicide attack. For Mohammed Mad Jodi, this is what's left of his home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I'm seeing this for the first time. I didn't go home because I went to the police. I was scared they would think I was an accomplice.

MCLAUGHLIN (on camera): Neighbors say the police arrived at 6:00 in the morning and blew down the front door. They arrested the suspect and then started to search for evidence completely turning the place inside out. But the tenant says the suspect only had two suitcases, and had only been here for a few days.

Mad Jodi met the 20-year-old through a local mosque and needed a place to stay, and Mad Jodi had a place to spare.

MOHAMMED MAD JODI, TENANT (through translator): I knew she was in a tough situation, and I just wanted to help.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): Mad Jodi says the man kept to himself except for his teenage companion believed to be his fiance visited every so often. She's also under arrest. Investigators believe she planned to join ISIS in Syria just before the planned attack. Now his neighbors are furious. How could he allow a suspected terrorist to live among them? He says he had no idea. He is still in shock.

MCLAUGHLIN (on camera): You've seen the attack that happened last year in Nice, the Paris attacks. Did you ever think that something like that could happen here?

MAD JODI (through translator): It can happen anywhere. It's sad. Now if I see someone in a tough situation, I will just let them be because we don't know any more who is the person in front of us.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): Erin McLaughlin, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOWELL: Erin, thank you for the reporting. Still ahead, the new secretary of education in the U.S. is getting a lesson on Twitter. Her tweet from her first day on the job is going viral along with scores of tweets she got in response. We'll have details on that ahead.

Also, a growing list of Super Bowl champs who say they will skip meeting the U.S. president at the White House.

[05:25:05]Live from Atlanta to our viewers here in the United States and around the world this hour. This is CNN NEWSROOM.

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HOWELL: Welcome back to our viewers around the United States and around the world. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. It is good to have you with us. I'm George Howell with the headlines we're following for you this hour.

Mexico is warning its citizens in the United States take precautions after a high profile deportation. Guadalupe Garcia de Reyes was expelled from the U.S. on Thursday. The 35-year-old had been in the country since she was 14 years old, but was later convicted of using a fake Social Security number. Her attorney blamed her deportation on Donald Trump's crackdown on illegal immigration.

The U.S. president is hosting the prime minister of Japan, Shinzu Abe at his resort in Florida. The two leaders and their wives had dinner at Mar-a-Lago. Earlier in Friday in Washington, both the president and Mr. Abe pledged to continue close security ties between their countries.

Police in France say they've stopped an imminent terror attack. Three men and a 16-year-old girl now in custody following a series of raids. A source close to the investigation told CNN one of the men is suspected of wanting to carry out a suicide attack, and he tried to travel to Syria more than a year ago.

With regards to the president's travel ban, the Trump administration will not appeal its recent defeat in court to the Supreme Court, at least want at this time. This is according to a source familiar with the situation. Still, the president has several options to try to salvage his controversial order after it was blocked by federal judges on Thursday.

[05:30:06]One alternative is to keep defending the current travel ban in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, but Mr. Trump has also suggested he may simply scrap the original executive order and sign a new one that can withstand a court challenge.

An Iranian baby girl could have died due to the travel ban, but instead she is finally set to receive surgery in the United States to treat her life-threatening heart defect. The 4-month-old Fatema Rashad was admitted to a hospital in Portland, Oregon on Tuesday.

Her family had been scheduled to meet with doctors in the U.S. last Sunday, but they were caught up in the travel ban. That is, until the government then let them in. The hospital says the little girl is undergoing preoperative tests. Early indications are promising for her.

Now back to our story about Mr. Trump's national security advisor, a U.S. official says Michael Flynn and Moscow's ambassador discussed sanctions imposed on Russia before Donald Trump became president. Here's CNN's Jake Tapper on this story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR, "THE LEAD" (voice-over): A bombshell out of Washington today, nine current and former government officials told the "Washington Post" that national security advisor, Michael Flynn, discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia with Russia's ambassador before taking office despite both Flynn and the White House insisting that was not the case.

Sources tell CNN the communications occurred in December just as the Obama administration was announcing retaliatory sanctions against Russia for interfering with U.S. elections.

OBAMA: We can do stuff to you --

GREG MILLER, REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Some officials were actually characterizing what was said in the calls, right? It's not just, oh, that this subject came up. It is Flynn was conveying a signal here, a clear signal to the Russian ambassador. Don't overreact to these sanctions, the Obama team is announcing. We're going to have time to revisit this later.

TAPPER: Sources told the "Washington Post," the private conversations between Flynn and Russia's Sergey Kislyak were explicit contradictions to President Obama's actions. But this is what Vice President Mike Pence told CBS.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What can I can confirm having spoken to him about it is that those conversations that happen to occur around the time that the United States took action to expel diplomats had nothing whatsoever to do with those sanctions.

TAPPER: That forceful denial turns out to be false. Did the vice president know he was repeating a falsehood, or did General Flynn lie to Pence? Vice President Pence's office today said the reports are a problem. They will get to the bottom of adding that the vice president had only conveyed what he had been told, creating tension between Flynn and Pence, seen here earlier today.

Here's what Sean Spicer had to say about Flynn's call with the Russian ambassador.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY (via telephone): The call centered around logistics of setting up a call with the president of Russia and the president-elect. They exchanged logistical information on how to initiate and to schedule the call. That was it. Plain and simple.

TAPPER: Flynn himself denied the contents of the call when asked Wednesday by the "Post."

MILLER: He was out of it. He said no. In fact, he said no twice. He asked him, did you ever discuss this subject with the Russian ambassador? No is the answer and then the answer changed the next day. TAPPER: But an aide close to Flynn now tells CNN his boss, quote, "can't rule it out that they discussed the sanctions." The shocking revelations also might shed light on the likely reason Vladimir Putin did not retaliate against the Obama sanctions.

TONY BLINKEN, FORMER U.S. DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE: That's been past practice, and you have to wonder whether, in fact, he was told hold off, don't do anything.

TAPPER: Soon after Putin's decision in December, then President-elect Trump tweeted "great move on delay by Vladimir Putin. I always knew he was very smart." Was Putin being smart, or did he just have information the rest of us did not? Jake Tapper, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOWELL: The new U.S. education secretary took to Twitter on her first day on the job. Just this past week, Betsy DeVos tweeted this, "Day one on the job is done, but we're only getting started. Now, where do I find the pencils," she asked.

DeVos whose appointment has been controversial for her perceived lack of support for public schools got plenty of answers in response, leak this tweet. "At the store, something you should know. We teachers buy pencils and supplies for our classes with our own money."

Another Twitter user responded as this, "You realized how not funny this is since most teachers buy their own supplies, but I bet you're going to pink slip them anyway."

And then there was this response showing a bear and the words, "He has them." That came from a Twitter user who was mocking DeVos' comments at her confirmation hearing that guns might be needed in schools due to a threat from grizzlies.

Now to this year's Super Bowl champions, no date has been set for the team to be honored at the White House at this point, but at least six players with the New England Patriots say they won't be going.

[05:35:09]Some cited their political opposition to the U.S. President Donald Trump. Others, though, less forthcoming saying only that they had other plans. Former Patriots wide receiver, Dante Stallworth, who has since become a journalist, says professional athletes have every right to decline a White House invitation. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANTE STALLWORTH, FORMER NFL'S WIDE RECEIVER: Our voice had been an advocate for players to speak out on social and political issues. You know, what's the interesting, the funny thing to me is that people always say that athletes and actors should not engage in politics.

I mean, Donald Trump was a reality TV star. Ronald Reagan was an actor. Al Franken, he was on "SNL." I think these are precisely the people that should be leading the political example. These people are people that are role models. And if you look at it, a lot of these athletes have grown up in these types of neighborhoods where they've come from the bottom. And so they relate more to the average person than some of the politicians do who are, you know, sponsored by a lot of these corporations and have a lot of money.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL: In fact, sports celebrities have a long history of using their fame to make political statements. We get more on that from CNN's Jason Carroll.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The president's controversial first few weeks in office has inspired a new wave of athlete activism. NBA player, Lebron James, Prima Ballerina Misty Copeland, Olympic medal winning fencer, Ibtihaj Muhammad, all speaking out against President Trump's policies.

Super Bowl champs, Chris Long and Lagarrett Blunt now joining at least four other New England Patriot players passing on a White House meeting with the president and their team later this year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (via telephone): I won't be going to the White House.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is that a will not, no?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I will not.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you want to expound on that at all or?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's just something that some of the things that I just don't feel welcome into that house. I'm just going to leave it at that.

CARROLL: Patriots player, Martellus Bennett will also be a no show. Shortly after the Patriots victory over the Falcons, Martellus said he won't attend because the president has what he called too many prejudices.

MARTELLUS BENNETT, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: I'm not going to go. It is what it is.

CARROLL: Bennett supported Hillary Clinton on social media during the election and criticized Trump's travel ban days after the order was signed tweeting "America was built on inclusiveness, not exclusiveness."

Patriots leadership firmly on team Trump. Owner Robert Craft, Head Coach Bill Belichick and quarterback, Tom Brady, all say they're friends with Trump. Trump's make America great again pact displayed in Brady's locker.

While Brady visited the White House with his team all three times during the Bush years, he skipped it during the Obama's term citing family commitment. That day Brady spotted shopping at an Apple store in New York City.

CNN has reached out to the Patriots and the White House for comment and has yet to receive a response. Sports analyst, Christine Brennan says her sense is that more athletes will come forward to express their political opinions.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN SPORTS ANALYST: My sense is we're going to see more and more athletes speaking out, and their fans actually supporting it and thanking them for it.

CARROLL: Already on the record a number of former and current NBA players criticizing Trump's immigration restrictions.

KYLE LOWRY, TORONTO RAPTORS: I think it's absolute (inaudible). Our country is a country that -- for that to happen I think is (inaudible).

CARROLL: When Underarmour CEO, Kevin Plank, praised Trump's pro- business approach calling him an asset to the country, Golden State Warriors guard, Stephen Curry, said, "I agree with that description if you removed the E.T. from asset."

Certainly not the first time players have taken a political stance. This iconic image from the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, Tommy Smith and John Carlos raising their fist to support civil rights.

Just last season, San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick refusing to stand during the national anthem in the name of racial injustice. Now other athletes standing up to challenge the White House. Jason Carroll, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOWELL: Jason, thank you. All right. Still ahead, there is a race against time to save dozens of whales stranded on a New Zealand beach. Hundreds have already died. We have the latest on the rescue effort ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:43:09]

HOWELL: Hundreds of volunteers plan to return to a beach in New Zealand trying to save dozens of pilot whales who beached themselves on the sand. At least 250 of whales stranded on a beach have died. Emily Cooper of TVNZ has more now on the desperate rescue effort.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

EMILY COOPER, TVNZ REPORTER (voice-over): A desperate and heart breaking rescue mission.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is echo. Named her. Echo will survive.

COOPER: The hundreds of volunteers digging in at the site of a mass stranding of pilot whales.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not covering the blow hole going around the dorsal fin and then just making nice move back into the water.

COOPER: Trying to save the animals still beached in the shallows (inaudible).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're singing to her because she was whistling before when we were doing it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's quite emotional. For me it's encouraging to see the number of people who have come out today to help. A lot of them haven't seen a whale before.

COOPER: The whales stranded here overnight.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When they said come and see the whales, we just assumed that they were near to the shore, but not stranded or beached like this.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Some might die.

COOPER: Many did die, but rescuers successfully refloated about half of the survivors.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've just been sitting out on the edge of the shelf just observing, making sure that they don't come back in.

COOPER: For the remaining whales, a long wait for the next high tide.

(on camera):It's currently a race against time for these guys at the moment. It's low tide. It's about keeping them comfortable. Later on this evening at high tide, let's hope they'll be able to refloat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The dead ones on the side was pretty heart breaking. It's an amazing thing to come out here and help these animals.

[05:45:11]UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The adrenaline has been keeping us afloat.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is very emotional. It's very sad.

COOPER (voice-over): An emotional time for all of those on the beach that will carry on into tomorrow.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOWELL: Again, that report coming to us from Emily Cooper of TVNZ. For the second time in less than a week, a big snowstorm is set to hit the northeastern part of the U.S. Our meteorologist, Julie Martin is looking at the timing of this storm and how that will compare to the last one that came through -- Julie.

JULIE MARTIN, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Not expecting quite as much snow with this next system, George, but still New England will get hit once again. We're looking at Sunday in through Monday, and lots of folks traveling on Monday for work. You'll be impacted by those winds.

Here's a recap of that last storm. It was just a couple of days ago. Perry, Maine, picked up 20 inches, about 50 centimeters of snow. Anywhere from, say, a foot to a foot and a half elsewhere. It was pretty miserable out there. Do you remember this video?

Take a look at what folks were dealing with there, downed power lines and trees. This is some video coming in from the police department there in Sandwich, Massachusetts.

By the way, winds on Cape Cod gusted to around 70 miles per hour, so we were dealing with hurricane force winds. We just had blizzard conditions. A real mess there in the northeast. Now we're getting ready for round two.

The good news is I mentioned not going to be as big of an event. Nonetheless, still going to be an impressive storm. Taking a look here at the blue on the map. This is all a winter storm watch stretching all the way from Maine down in through Massachusetts.

All the way out through upstate New York, Vermont, New Hampshire included in that. The purple here that is a winter weather advisory. That's where you are looking at the messy weather conditions on Sunday in through Monday.

This is actually a blizzard watch where you see the bright green here in Northeastern Maine. White-out conditions very likely. Taking you live to the radar. You pick up a dusting of snow overnight in general. Maybe about an inch or so for folks here in Boston.

Here's our setup. The low pressure rapidly moves off shore on Sunday, deepens, really gains, and then that snow machine really starts rolling in, and that is going to be the timing again. Sunday into Monday, in general looking for anywhere, say, two to six inches of snow.

You see the bright purple here on the map. We'll keep you posted on that and the wind conditions as we head out into the workweek.

HOWELL: Julie, thank you so much.

A star of the hit TV show "Game of Thrones" is focusing his off camera efforts on the topic of climate change. Jonathan Mann shows us the actor's mission to document some of the dramatic changes that are happening right now in Greenland.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Greenland, it's like a whole different world. It's like something out of a movie.

JONATHAN MANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For Danish actor, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Greenland is his family's second home. His wife grew up there. Now the "Game of Thrones" star and newly appointed U.N. goodwill ambassador is partnering with Google to document the country's changing landscape. Waldau is traveling around Greenland wearing a high-tech backpack called "The Trekker" collecting street view imagery of the country's amazing sites. From the ancient Viking ruins to these stranded icebergs called beached whales, to its geothermal hot springs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What I love about Greenland, you turn a corner, you walk a few hundred yards, and you are in the middle of nowhere, and I feel small in the best sense of the word.

MANN: Waldau hopes his efforts and images will help people understand the drastic changes taking place in Greenland.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we go and we film with the trekker a glacier and come back in five years, we'll be able to see that there's less of this ice in five years' time.

MANN: And by documenting Greenland's vanishing beauty helps people better understand the impact of climate change before it's too late.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Greenland is all untouched in a way, but if we all work together, we can preserve this beautiful wilderness that we have left.

MANN: Jonathan Mann, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOWELL: Jon, thank you.

Fans of the show "Saturday Night Live" are anticipating stars like Alec Baldwin to appear this weekend. All, of course, with the clear dislike of the president. A preview of what may be to come as NEWSROOM continues.

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[05:50:00]

PATRICK SNELL, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Hi there. I'm Patrick Snell with your CNN World Sports headlines. It just goes from bad to worst right now for America's former world number one golfer, Tiger Woods, after the 41-year-old pulled out of last week's Dubai desert classic.

He has now revealed he has withdrawn from next week's Genesis Open and the forthcoming Honda classic too. This is due to ongoing back spasms. Woods making the announcement via his website Friday, which says his possible playing schedule in March will be determined after his back is reassessed.

The fall-out from the Russian doping scandal continues with confirmation now that one of the country's best known middle distance athletes and London 2012 gold medalist, Marie Sabinova (ph) has been stripped of her 800 meter title. Also banned until 2019 after being found guilty of doping.

The Court of Arbitration with Sports said there was clear evidence that Sabinova (ph) was involved in doping from the eve of the European championship in Spain in 2010 until the 2013 world championships in Moscow.

We can tell you the Swiss skier, Wendy Holden, are claiming gold in the women's combined event, the Alpine Ski World Championships. The news of the day really, the defending World Cup overall champ, Laura Gute, crashing during a training session between the discipline's downhill and slalom runs. Out for the season after tearing the ACL in her left knee. That's a look at your CNN World Sports headlines. I'm Patrick Snell.

HOWELL: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM. A full moon, a comet, and a lunar eclipse all in one big night. It is the perfect trifecta this weekend. First, there was the return of Comet 45p. That is, well, you see that green smudge there on the screen. It comes around every five and a quarter years. Adding to the spectacle earlier, a lunar eclipse of the full moon that ended several hours ago.

Now to the show "Saturday Night Live." Alec Baldwin, the actor, is hosting this weekend, and he will also presumably do his scathing impersonation of the president, Donald Trump, once again. CNN's Jeannie Moos has more for us.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Fans are expecting --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I deeply apologize.

MOOS: A Trump-a-thon this weekend when Alec Baldwin returns for a record 17th time hosting "SNL."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No one can resist my --

MOOS: President Trump can. The teaser alone probably annoys him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Alec, you were here just yesterday. It's not that big of a deal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a big deal.

MOOS: Lately, the big deal has been Melissa McCarthy's portrayal of Press Secretary Sean Spicer.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you OK?

MOOS: "Politico" reported sources close to President Trump said that what bothered him most about the portrayal is the role of Spicer was played by a woman.

[05:55:11]That made some women mad and sparked a push to draft Rosie O'Donnell to play Trump's chief strategist, Steve Bannon. These are their faces morphed together. Rosie is using this one as her Twitter profile picture, and on Thursday she tweeted this photo of Bannon as a puppeteer with the president on his lap. Since there's such bad blood between Rosie and the president --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Well, Rosie O'Donnell is disgusting. She's a slob.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Orange slug.

MOOS: Trump critics figure it would drive the president nuts to see her play Bannon. Rosie tweeted "Available. If called, I will serve." The "Huffington Post" compiled an entire cast of women from Ellen Degeneres as Mike Pence to Betty White as Attorney General Sessions.

(on camera): But sorry, Rosie fans, we have a five-word answer from Rosie's rep. She is not doing "SNL."

(voice-over): Unless, of course, the show invites her and she accepts at the last minute. When it comes to Rosie and President Trump --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm building a wall. I'm building a wall.

MOOS: Maybe the wall should separate them. Jeannie Moos --

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Living with this pig face.

MOOS: CNN --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Snake oil salesman.

MOOS: New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOWELL: Thank you for being with us. I'm George Howell at the CNN Center in Atlanta. For our viewers in the United States "NEW DAY" is next and for other viewers around the world, the "BEST OF QUEST" starts in a moment. We thank you for watching CNN, the world's news leader.

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