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U.S. National Security Advisor Michael Flynn Resigns; Kremlin's Reaction to Michael Flynn's Resignation; Trump Criticized Over North Korean Missile Launch. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired February 14, 2017 - 02:00   ET

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


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[02:00:10] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

HANNAH VAUGHN JONES, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. Thanks so much for joining us on CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Hannah Vaughn Jones, coming to you live from London.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Michael Holmes, in Los Angeles. Thanks for your company.

The breaking news this hour, an embarrassing shakeup at the White House, less than a month into Donald Trump's presidency. U.S. national security advisor, Michael Flynn, has resigned. Flynn, under fire for his contacts with Russia's U.S. ambassador before President Trump took office. A number of sources say Flynn inappropriately discussed sanctions on Moscow imposed by the Obama administration. And just Monday, CNN learned the Justice Department had warned the White House, in January, that Flynn might be vulnerable to blackmail by Russia.

Let's head straight out to Washington. CNN's senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, joins us.

Jim, I suppose his position had been untenable or growing that way. But was it this sort of accusation of potential blackmail that was the turning point, or was it that he misled Mike Pence, the vice president?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think that revelation that the Justice Department had warned the Trump administration a month ago, Michael, I think that was certainly a turning point in all of this. I think also, this feeling inside the White House, that it just was unacceptable after the national security adviser, Michael Flynn, now the former national security adviser, had misled, intentionally or unintentionally, the vice president, Mike Pence, about whether he had contacts with the Russian ambassador, that he discussed the Russian sanctions that were handed down by the administration. Originally, Michael Flynn said he did not have the conversations about the sanctions. It turns out later, he did have that conversation.

I think, Michael, the big turning point, earlier today, was when Kellyanne Conway, the counselor to the president, said that the president had full confidence in Michael Flynn. And within an hour of that, the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, brought reporters into his office, and said, no, that was not the case, that the president was evaluating the situation, evaluating Michael Flynn's future. I heard, later in the evening, just a few hours ago, that really, his status was a, quote, "gray area."

Michael, as you know, from observing what happens in Washington for many years, once a top administration official gets to that point, where the president cannot express he has full confidence in that individual, it's pretty difficult to walk it back and for that person to once again have the confidence of the president. And so, it did become an untenable situation.

Now, we can tell you they're starting to talk about the possible replacement for Michael Flynn, Keith Kellogg, the retired general. He had been working in the acting national security council advisor. He had been working in the National Security Council office already, so he will be the acting national security adviser.

But David Petraeus, the retired general, is the front-runner for the job. He was involved in the Obama administration, was a top official in the Obama administration, but resigned from that position because he shared classified secrets with his mistress.

And another retired admiral, Bob Harward, is apparently under consideration for the title of national security adviser. And this will probably be done right away. It will probably take several days.

But what we're hearing from the Trump White House this evening is that the president has already moved on from all of this. That General Flynn did not get fired. He resigned, according to senior administration officials. President Trump tried to hang in there as long as he could, we're told but, eventually, what you saw tonight, simply became, as you said, an untenable situation.

HOLMES: Jim, I'm wondering how much, now, is going the focus on who knew what, and when did they know it?

It was interesting that the president, just on Friday, on Air Force One, said he hadn't heard the reports about Michael Flynn. But the Justice Department warning, according to "The Washington Post," was last month. Starts to make you wonder, how would he not have known? And who knew about the substance of the conversations and when?

ACOSTA: It's very strange. You know, I don't know why the president came on Air Force One and told reporters that, on Friday, that he had not even heard about the story. We were assured by administration officials over the weekend, that the president did know about all this.

Meanwhile, all the while, Michael, Michael Flynn was involved with, you know, the dealings of the White House, in terms of national security business. He traveled down to Florida, down to Mar-a-Lago, with President Trump, when he was having the diplomatic golf outing with the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. He was involved in the conversation that we saw spilled out onto the patio of Mar-a-Lago, dealing with the North Korea missile launch. And as a matter of fact, today, he was involved in the presidential daily intelligence briefing. He was involved in the meetings with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau from Canada, here today. He was involved in all of these normal activities, affairs that you would normally associate with a national security adviser, until this afternoon, when things started to unravel. When you had the counselor to the president, Kellyanne Conway, say he had the full confidence of the president, and then, after that moment, it seemed it all went downhill. And you had top administration officials telling us, well, maybe he didn't have the full confidence of the president. And by 11:00 at night, it was all over.

[02:36:18] HOLMES: Yeah. It started to unravel.

Got to leave it there. It's going to be a lively press briefing tomorrow.

ACOSTA: Absolutely.

HOLMES: And if reporters, like your good self, are allowed to ask questions, should be interesting.

Jim Acosta, great reporting, as always. Thanks so much.

ACOSTA: Thank you.

VAUGHN JONES: Now, to Moscow and CNN's senior international correspondent, Matthew Chance, standing by.

Matthew, Russia involved, whether it wants to be or not, with this fallout from Michael Flynn's resignation. Matthew, how concerned will the Kremlin be with his resignation, the manner he's gone, and whatever is likely to replace him in this role?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's embarrassing for the Kremlin, in the sense they have repeatedly, over the past few days and actually in the past few minutes as well, when I've spoken to them, denied there were conversations about the possibility of alleviating sanctions between Michael Flynn and their ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak.

In terms of the resignation, the Kremlin has also told me, in the past few minutes, they are not going to comment on that, it's an internal U.S. matter, they say, so they're not prepared to discuss it.

But it's astonishing, really, that they've gone out on a limb to really follow the White House denials, to support the White House denials, that any conversations about sanctions took place. Those denials appear to be unfounded. And the situation seems to be very different, which is to say, it leaves the Kremlin with some egg on its face.

And I think it underlines to the Kremlin the concerns they've had all along, about the reliability of the Trump administration. Concerns about what messages they're getting from that administration, how they should play this unusual administration in the United States. Obviously, this has become a liability. This issue of sympathies towards Russia is a liability for the administration. Both Republicans and Democrats, are gunning, essentially, for Trump over this issue and for those around him. Michael Flynn is the first victim of this.

But what the real concern is in Russia, is that, you know, in order to ensure his political survivor, and the survival of those around him, Donald Trump, who, up until now, has been pro-Russia in his stance -- as a candidate, he was promoting the idea of building a better relationship with Russia -- opportunistically, he could do a U-turn and become very anti-Russian to placate his Congress and to ensure his political survival. That's the big concern at the moment.

And Flynn may just be the start of this. One tweet from a senior Russian lawmaker, Aleksey Pushkov, this morning, says it all. He says, "The target is not Flynn, but the relationship with Russia."

So, the concern is that Flynn may be the -- Michael Flynn may be the first victim of this, but the broader battle in the United States, is being fought about -- on the issue of the nature of the relationship between the United States and Russia.

VAUGHN JONES: Matthew Chance live for us in Moscow, with the Kremlin's reaction, so far, to Michael Flynn's resignation.

Matthew, thank you.

HOLMES: Let's get more perspective on this. We're joined by Troy Slaten, a criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor here in Los Angeles; CNN political commentator, Ben Ferguson, in Dallas. He's the host of "The Ben Ferguson Show"; and political commentator, Mo Kelly, host of the L.A. radio program, "The Mo Kelly Show."

Mo, let's start with you this time around.

Do you think the resignation is the end of this?

[02:09:56] MO KELLY, RADIO SHOW HOST, THE MO KELLY SHOW: No, it won't be the end of it, but it will be partisan in nation. The Democrats will come after the Republicans on this issue.

But let's not forget the GOP is the party of personal responsibility. Michael Flynn was the person who had the conversation with the Russian ambassador. That's his fault. He misled the vice president. That's his fault. It will be difficult to blame all this on politics and not talk about the personal responsibility of Michael Flynn, who decided to put Russia in front of America, #americanotfirst.

HOLMES: Ben Ferguson, let me guess, you're going to say it is going to come down to politics. There's going to be investigations. There's investigations into Russia's involvement in the election. Michael Flynn, one imagines, is going to give up evidence at some point. Officials leave administrations all the time but this is three weeks in. This has got to be --

(CROSSTALK) BEN FERGUSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yeah. It's not good to have someone resign this quickly and over something like this. It fits the narrative of what Democrats wanted to say about Russian involvement in the elections, delegitimizing, as they tried to early on, with the free and fair election of Donald Trump winning this. This is going to fit that narrative. And they're going to use this to their advantage going forward.

The politics will help them raise money. It will help many of the candidates coming up with the midterms. They're going to try to drag this on as long as they possibly can because it's good for their business.

But, ultimately, look at the facts here. You had an individual that made a bad decision in not telling the truth about what he said to the vice president of the United States of America. The administration made it clear, if you lie, you will be gone or be asked to resign. Flynn got that message very clearly late this afternoon. And Mike Pence, obviously, was very upset with the fact he was misled by his national security adviser. So, from the White House standpoint, I think they're making it clear to their staffers, you better tell the truth and be honest, and if you're not, no one is untouchable. That included Flynn and anyone else beneath him. They have to move on quickly from this. Democrats will do everything they can to make sure they don't.

HOLMES: You would hope your national security adviser would be honest.

Troy Slaten, let's talk about the legal here. The Logan Act, for those who don't know about it, would it apply here? It's never been used before. Are there any legal ramifications here? Or do you think that Michael Flynn needs a lawyer for one of those hearings?

TROY SLATEN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY & FORMER PROSECUTOR: It appears that General Flynn did violate the Logan Act. It's an obscure law, put in place in 1799, that basically says that anyone who is not asked to by the government, that is not an official of the government, that engages in negotiations on behalf of the U.S. government, violates the law. It's a felony.

But, like you stated, it's never been prosecuted. And I don't think that's the reason why he resigned here. It wasn't for fear of prosecution. Rather, he was an experienced intelligence official. He had to know that Ambassador Kislyak's communications were being monitored by the NSA. That's why acting attorney general, Sally Yates, came to the White House counsel's office, at the end of January, and advised the Trump White House counsel that General Flynn may be compromised. He was subject to blackmail. And I think that it was the cover-up, not the crime, that was the problem.

HOLMES: And, Mo, I mean, timing is curious about this. Donald Trump, on Friday, on Air Force One, said he didn't know about the claims against Michael Kelly. But the Department of Justice, last month, brought this issue, and the fear that blackmail could be used against General Flynn. How did the president not know? Do you think they will be the main questions? Who knew what? And did General Kelly act alone? Did he tell anyone he was going to have the conversations? Was he directed to?

KELLY: Those are sensible questions. Those are reasonable questions. But we also know this president doesn't put a lot of stock and time in intelligence briefings. So, it is plausible deniability here. It is possible our president did not know. But it also calls into question the wisdom of going to war previously against our own intelligence community. What goes around has seemingly come back around. And the intelligence community has taken a bite out of the Trump administration and taken out one cabinet official.

HOLMES: Ben, your thoughts on that? And also, the general concern that persists that Donald Trump is tough on some of his allies but not on Russia.

[02:14:55] FERGUSON: Well I think you're seeing, early on, Donald Trump made a strategic decision not to make a war of words with Vladimir Putin and Russia. And he was willing to take some heat for doing that. I don't think there's anything wrong with a president coming in and trying to actually see if they can get along or maybe have a better relationship with a country. I don't think you should come trying to have a bad relationship or a strained relationship with Russia. It's OK to have a conversation. Now, this situation is not going to make that situation any better. I think it's pretty clear the White House is going to -- it's probably going to be a little tougher on Russia with this issue.

But let's go back to something else that was said a moment ago. There's no indication that there's anything with Flynn above the fact that he lied to somebody in his own administration, the United States of America. If people try to stretch here, and make it bigger than it is, which an individual did not tell the truth to the vice president that cost him his job, and put the vice president in a bad situation, as well, I think they will get themselves in some trouble here, as well, if you try to make this bigger than it actually is.

Three weeks in, this is a big deal that someone resigned. But look at why he resigned, because he didn't tell the truth, and that should cost your job in this administration.

HOLMES: But, Ben, you can't deny it appears he had a conversation with the Russian ambassador before the Trump administration was in the White House about sanctions. It was the day before the Obama administration kicked out 30 Russian diplomats, this conversation takes place, and the Russians, uncharacteristically, let's say, did nothing to retaliate. Don't you think it's about more than just not telling Mike Pence the truth?

FERGUSON: I think it's costing him his job, the fact he did that and he wasn't honest about it. I think if he would say, hey, look, I was trying to have conversations with countries all over the world, which is normal in this situation, with diplomats around the world, which is very normal for a smooth transition, especially when you're dealing with national security advisers. When this part of the conversation came up, which it did, he should have disclosed that to the president and vice president of the United States of America. He may now realize made a mistake in having the conversation, and this is the part of him trying to cover his own rear-end personally with a job he deeply wanted. His legacy now is going to be this moment in time. He will not be remembered for all the positive things he's done. History books are going to write this, first and foremost, that he resigned in three weeks, it made the Trump administration look bad, it made the vice president look bad, it made him look bad. It ruined his career, you can make the argument. Outside of that, to imply there's some sort of bigger issue or a bigger story, I don't see that.

HOLMES: Mo, do you think it's a bigger story here? Or is it about General Kelly (sic) telling a lie to the vice president? Or do you think there's more to be uncovered.

KELLY: Ben said it all. He just ran down the litany of issues of why this is a big deal. You're talking about the NSA, the national security adviser, having to resign within three weeks because he lied to his own administration about communications with a foreign adversarial government, Russia, who, at least at the minimum, interfered with our American electoral process. All this is very important. It is a big deal.

HOLMES: Quickly, Troy, what other legal ramifications are in play here?

SLATEN: Well, there are going to be investigations, as to who knew what, and when. And did this go all the way up to Donald Trump, the president of the United States?

HOLMES: All right, Troy, thanks so much.

Troy Slaten, criminal defense attorney; CNN political commentator, Ben Ferguson, political commentator; Mo Kelly, thanks to you all. Appreciate it.

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VAUGHN JONES: More discussions will come out on this, throughout the morning.

Here on CNN NEWSROOM, I'm live in London. It's just coming up to 20 past 7:00. Turmoil at the White House as national security adviser, Michael Flynn, resigns after less than a month on the job. Still ahead, we ask a CNN military analyst for his take.

HOLMES: Plus, President Trump criticized for his response to North Korea's latest missile launch. Why some say it now critical to stop North Korea. We'll the right back.

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[02:22:59] VAUGHN JONES: Breaking news out of Washington this hour. U.S. President Donald Trump is looking for a new security adviser. Michael Flynn resigned on Monday after a growing controversy over his contacts with Russia before taking office. Flynn says he inadvertently briefed the vice president, Mike Pence, and others, with incomplete information about his conversations with Russia's U.S. ambassador. Sources say that Flynn inappropriately discussed U.S. sanctions on Moscow.

To dealings with other foreign nations, and Mr. Trump has not clarified exactly how he will deal with North Korea's first missile launch since he became president.

Meanwhile, a familiar scene in the United States Security Council, more condemnations that have done little to stop the leader, Kim Jong- Un. And U.S. officials believe the North has improved its missile technology, requiring less time to refuel, which then makes it harder to detect any possible launch upcoming.

Our Matt Rivers joins us from Seoul, South Korea, just south of the peninsula, from Pyongyang.

Matt, let's talk about Donald Trump and how he responded to this missile test. Some are criticizing him that it was a slow reaction and perhaps showing some early signs of his inexperience in these affairs.

MATT RIVERS, CNN ASIA-PACIFIC EDITOR: Yeah, people are giving that argument, especially that night, when this first came out. Some people were saying, when he gave that very, very short statement with Prime Minister Abe of Japan, he should have mentioned North Korea, maybe given a more strong statement. And then, it was during his press conference, with Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, that he brought up North Korea again and said he would deal with it strongly, but gave no specifics. So, yes, you have people who are saying he should have a more specific outlined plan here.

But the fact of the matter is, this administration is very new. They're probably formulating their North Korea strategy. And others would argue that his response was measured, and this was only an intermediate-range missile, this is something that North Korea has done many times before. Each time there was a missile test -- there was 24 in 2016 -- you didn't see President Obama coming out and making a statement every single time that happened. So, some would say that the president is just making a measured response. So, definitely, two sides of the coin here, when it comes to how President Trump should have responded.

[02:25:23] VAUGHN JONES: Matt, briefly. North Korea, claiming this missile test was a success. Can we quantify that success in any way, and find out what progress Pyongyang has made?

RIVERS: According to U.S. defense officials, the success here is in the progress they've made. You mentioned it off the top, they have changed other their fuel, from liquid fuel to solid fuel. That allows the missile to be launched much faster. And this missile is also mobile. You saw it in that video. It's on the back of a track. You can side that truck, and when you want to launch it, you drive it out, find a spot, and up the missile goes. Between those two things, the solid fuel and the more mobility this rocket appears to have, U.S. defense officials say, no matter how far it traveled, the North Koreas definitely appear to be making progress in their weapons program.

VAUGHN JONES: Matt Rivers live for us in the North Korean capitol, Seoul. Thank you.

Stay with us on CNN NEWSROOM. It's coming up to half past 7:00 local time in London. Up next, more on the resignation of Donald Trump's national security adviser. Why it could be bad news for Russia's relationship with the new U.S. president.

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[02:30:24] HANNAH VAUGHN JONES, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. Let's get you up to speed on the breaking news out of Washington. U.S. national security adviser, Michael Flynn, has stepped down. He has resigned less than a month into the job. A number of intelligence officials say Flynn inappropriately discussed U.S. sanctions on Russia before President Trump took to the Oval Office. Flynn, originally, denied the reports. And then, later, he said he couldn't recall exactly what he had said. General Keith Kellogg takes Flynn's place on an interim basis now.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Joining us now from California, CNN military analyst, Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona.

Thanks for being with us again, sir.

This job, national security adviser, give people a sense of how important this job is.

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: This is the man what runs the National Security Council meetings. All of the intelligence briefings that come to the president go through him. All of the meetings, the interagency meetings between the secretary of state, the secretary of defense, and other cabinet officials, the vice president, those are all chaired by the national security adviser. He is a real -- he's the gatekeeper to the president. Anything important that goes to the president that has anything to do with national security, goes through the national security adviser. It's a key position. It's one of the president's most trusted and closest confidants.

HOLMES: Given the role that Michael Flynn played, and given his past experience in the intelligence field, are you surprised that he would have a conversation with a Russian ambassador that included sensitive information? Would he not have thought that it might be taped? FRANCONA: Two questions there. I'm not surprised he had a

conversation with the Russian ambassador. I would expect that as the incoming national security adviser for a new administration. During that transition period, makes perfect sense that he would contact various ambassadors, various officials in the embassies. No problem there. It's what was the substance of the conversations? If he went into detail about the sanctions, if he made any kind of commitment whatsoever, that once President Trump took office, that we would relook the sanctions, possibly looking to lift them, that's grossly inappropriate. And that would be grounds for dismissal.

HOLMES: Did you find it odd that President Obama just kicked out 30 diplomats, this conversation takes place, Russia, uncharacteristically, did not respond in kind. And then President- elect Trump said very smart move by Vladimir Putin. Were you surprised at how that unfolded?

FRANCONA: I was. You could make a cause-and-effect there if you had some sort of a conspiracy theory, but it might be true. We don't know what was in that conversation. But throwing out 30, 35 diplomats, seemed like an overreaction. And for the Soviets -- the Russians -- I'm sorry -- not to do anything about that was very uncharacteristic. It almost looked like Vladimir Putin was taking the high road. Vladimir Putin not known for taking the high road. So, you have to wonder, what was the substance of that conversation? Hopefully, we'll find out in the investigations just what was said, and did Flynn cross that line.

HOLMES: Just, finally, replacements, who leaps to your mind? General Petraeus has been mentioned. Kellogg, acting in that role now. What are your thoughts?

FRANCONA: I think Petraeus probably has the inside track. But Petraeus brings his own baggage. We're going to throw stones at General Flynn for these kinds of indiscretions, yet, General Petraeus pleaded guilty for a misdemeanor for mishandling classified information. The vitriolic fallout from the last campaign, where when talk about Mrs. Clinton's use of a server that might have been hacked, so he brings his own baggage with that.

I don't know who he is going the pick. But Mr. Trump has shown a penchant for choosing military officers. I would look in the general ranks for a successor.

HOLMES: Probably a safe bet.

Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona, as always, thanks. Appreciate it.

FRANCONA: Sure.

VAUGHN JONES: To stay with this story, Russia has long denied any inappropriate discussion of sanctions with Michael Flynn, when he was in post. I spoke in the last hour with the former CNN Moscow bureau chief, Jill Dougherty, and I asked how embarrassing this situation is for Russia.

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[02:34:58] JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTROR: In general terms, it is bad for them. Their expectations that they would have a better relationship with Donald Trump are really collapsing before their eyes. And nobody here in the United States, let alone in Moscow, knows where this is all going.

And then, it also continues to raise, and raises it higher than ever, this issue of why the special relationship between Donald Trump and Russia, Vladimir Putin, what is that relationship? There are a lot of questions. And that would be bad for the relationship between Russia and the United States. There would be more acrimony, more congressional involvement, and Congress, as you know, is unpredictable, where that could go. It could be very rocky.

But I have to say that the Russians, in recent days, have been a bit more critical, it's been a little bit more of a sense they were questioning exactly what he was doing. I believe they are probably looking at a certain level of incompetence, quite honestly, in this administration, that surprises them. When President Putin and Donald Trump were talking about nuclear weapons, the nuclear arms control agreement, New Start, it was clear in that conversation, according to media reports, that Donald Trump did not quite get it. He didn't understand what the agreement was about. And when President Putin said, according to reports, we should extend it, because it is going to expire next year, Trump said, it's a bad deal for the United States. It's a good deal for Russia. In other words, we got a bad deal. That's not a good way to start off the relationship with a country that thought it was going to have a lot clearer sailing than it did with the Obama administration. This is really, I think, bad news and very unpredictable bad news for Russia.

VAUGHN JONES: More bad news, as well, as Michael and Jim were just alluding to, Jill, "The Washington Post" report that Michael Flynn may be vulnerable to blackmail by Russia. This is one of the main reasons why his position became untenable. How is the blackmail allegation going to play out in Moscow? It casts more shade, does it, on Russian dealings?

DOUGHERTY: It does. What would they blackmail him on? You can blackmail him perhaps in the sense that he knew, let's say, that he was misleading the vice president. But that doesn't seem very strong. I don't think that the Russians would like to use that as a bargaining point. But could there be something else? Nobody at this point knows. But we do know that General Flynn did speak in Moscow, and was at that RT, Russian broadcasting dinner, and has had relationships with the Kremlin. We don't know all the details. But there could be more. So, these are the things that, perhaps, you know, in the intelligence service of the United States, they had more clarity on that, and they could say there was compromising data that could be used for blackmailing General Flynn.

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VAUGHN JONES: That was former CNN Moscow bureau chief, Jill Dougherty, speaking to me in the last hour. HOLMES: Steven Mnuchin is the new U.S. Treasury secretary. The

Senate confirming the former Goldman Sachs banker on Monday after a lengthy debate. The vote mostly along party lines. Democrats arguing that Mnuchin represents the kind of corporate greed that led to the 2008 financial crisis. After his swearing in, President Trump said everything Mnuchin touches turns to gold. His first priority is to raise the government's legal borrowing limit.

A wave of asylum seekers in the search for refuge in Canada, after they've been unable to find it in the U.S. The only thing standing in their way, deep snow and bitter freezing temperatures.

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[02:43:16] HOLMES: Welcome back, everyone. It's 11:43 on the U.S. west coast.

Let's recap our top story.

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VAUGHN JONES: After President Trump announced his travel ban, a wave of refugees began fleeing the United States into Canada and they're facing incredible danger to do it.

Our Sara Sidner reports.

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[02:45:44] SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In the middle of the night, this is when refugees are choosing to try and escape the U.S. to Canada. Just behind me is Minnesota. To the left of me is North Dakota. And this is Emerson, Canada. It's pretty easy to cross here. There's not much to stop you, except for the snow.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Follow me, OK.

SIDNER (voice-over): Men, women and children picked up in the middle of the night in the dead of winter looking for refuge after being denied it in the U.S. This is the latest wave of asylum seekers who have snuck across the United States border, not trying to get into the U.S., but trying to get out. Destination? Canada.

These four men were among them.

(on camera): What was it like trying to get here?

UNIDENTIIFED MALE: I cannot believe now speaking to you with my life. I was almost dead being freezing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was very, very difficult.

SIDNER (voice-over): At one point, they all thought they were going to freeze to death.

(on camera): This is easy entryway into Canada because this is a decommissioned border crossing. This is actually one of the routes. People were talking in knee-deep snow in sub-zero temperatures for hours. And they did it all in the dead of winter in a panic for one reason.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Donald Trump was elected so I fear that I would not have an opportunity to be granted and to live under the asylum of a refugee in the United States because Donald Trump hates the refugee.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They don't want any immigrants, especially my country, Somalia.

SIDNER (on camera): How many of you left the United States because of Donald Trump's executive order?

SIDNER: All of you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, all of us.

SIDNER (voice-over): All of them ended up stumbling into the small border town of Emerson, Canada, and calling 911.

Here, border jumpers are nothing new. But the numbers coming over are.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I guess it started with a trickle and now it's increased to like a flood stage.

SIDNER: We witnessed 21 people, including an entire family, coming to Canada near Emerson in just 24 hours.

The mayor of Emerson says he feels for the asylum seekers, but he's also worried about the safety of his town.

(on camera): Are you worried about tourism? Are you worried about the people coming across the border?

GREG JANZEN, MAYOR OF EMERSON, CANADA: Well, that's always in the back of your mind. I mean, you're getting these people coming across. For one thing, they're breaking the law when they jump the border. So right away, they're criminals.

SIDNER (voice-over): Not everyone we saw was from the list of banned countries, but they all have their reasons for making the journey.

Sader (ph) is from Ghana.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now, I'm wanted in my country.

SIDNER: Wanted, he says, for the crime of being gay.

SIDNER (on camera): What would they do if caught you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would be in the -- if they didn't kill me, I would go to jail.

SIDNER: Tell me how this happened to you? How you lost your freedoms.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUIDBLE)

SIDNER (voice-over): They had never heard of frostbite until all of their fingers had to be amputated to save one thumb. When asked if it was worth it, they said they had no choice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We feel like we are home.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's how we feel.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the Canadian people open their hearts for us.

SIDNER (on camera): But even those two men from Ghana, who lost all their fingers, except for one thumb, they have no guarantee that they will be given refugee status here in Canada. But more people keep coming and hoping.

Sara Sidner, CNN, Emerson, Canada.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[02:49:24] HOLMES: And still to come here on the program, nearly 200,000 people are being evacuated in California as crews scramble to repair a dam spillway that threatens to fail. We'll have that and more when we come back.

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VAUGHN JONES: Welcome back. You're watching breaking news on CNN. We're less than a month, just three weeks, into Donald Trump's presidency, and already a member of the White House inner circle has resigned. U.S. national security adviser, Michael Flynn, stepped down late on Monday. He has been under fire for allegedly discussing U.S. sanctions with Russia before President Trump took office.

HOLMES: The U.S. Department of Defense says it is ready to assist in operations at California's Oroville Dam, after damage to the spillways forced hundreds of thousands of people to evacuate as a precaution. Engineers are cautiously optimistic they can contain the potential flooding. But more rain is on the way.

Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri joins us now with more on the situation.

We were talking a little while ago about California's drought. Now, they have all of the water and more to come.

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLGOIST: It's incredible. It's one of those things, I always say, too much of a good thing, Michael, quickly becomes a bad thing. That's what's happening in parts of California and statewide. From the south, 130 percent of normal in precipitation in the past 30 days to 300 percent of normal. That's how much rainfall and snow melt we've had in California.

You go in towards this reservoir, we know it's the highest dam in the United States, the second-largest reservoir. Hundreds of billions of gallons of water. And distributes about one-third of the water supply for the state's population. We know the damage across the main spillway, and the reason why so many people, upwards of 200,000 people have been evacuated, if this damage continues -- and they're trying to fix the situation -- and water has to be brought down from the emergency spillway, and a significant amount, that will be an uncontrolled amount of water. That can be just as bad. If the emergency spillway fails, that would be just as bad if the dam were to fail. About 100 feet of water could come towards the town of Oroville for one hour. That's why the town has been evacuated. Again, they're trying to alleviate the situation. But projects are showing the timing of the event, that could bring the water down to about 10 feet in height. As far south as Marysville, it could reach there within seven hours. Officials saying the threat for this is being minimized because they're allowing a lot of water to be expelled out of the main spillway and reducing the levels.

The concern is there's a storm system on the horizon. A second storm comes in Friday, through much of the weekend, Michael and Hannah. And that could bring in not only heavy rainfall, high-elevation snowfall. You put this together, the water level is poised to rise again. That's why officials are trying to quickly bring the levels back down to a manageable state across this region.

[02:56:21] VAUGHN JONES: Pedram, thanks very much, indeed.

You are watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Hannah Vaughn Jones, in London. It's coming up to 8:00 on this Tuesday morning.

HOLMES: I'm Michael Holmes, in Los Angeles, where it is nearly midnight.

More news straight ahead, right after the break.

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[03:00:14] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.