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Dems Plot a Comeback by Ramping Up Social Media; VP Pence's Tough Stance on Russia; McCain Questions Trump's Foreign Policy Position; Aired 11-12p ET

Aired February 18, 2017 - 11:00   ET

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


[11:00:27] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me this Saturday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

The Trump administration is seeking to calm the concerns of U.S. allies overseas by rolling out a show of force at the Munich Security Conference. Vice President Mike Pence, Defense Secretary James Mattis, and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly have been meeting with world leaders. In a speech earlier today Pence made clear that the U.S. will continue to back NATO and stand firm against Moscow.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Know this. The United States will continue to hold Russia accountable. Even as we search for new common ground which as you know President Trump believes can be found.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: For more on this I'm joined now by CNN international diplomat editor Nic Robertson in Munich and CNN global affairs correspondent Elise Labott.

So, Nic, you first. How is Pence trying to calm fears there?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes. What he's doing is talking about the shared common history. He brought up, you know, it was 100 years ago the United States came into the First World War to fight shoulder-to-shoulder alongside the European nations to bring democracy to Europe. He's talked about that, he's talked about a shared future, shared struggles, shared identity. You know, if you keep faith in us, we'll keep faith in you. So it's really wanting to sort of build on those bonds of commonality.

You know, this is something that the Europeans want to hear. They've been very unsettled by what they've heard from President Trump over the past month. Very unsettled indeed. Particularly about how he might try to build a new fresh, entirely different relationship with President Putin sort of over their heads and objections of the European leaders. So that's been a big concern.

But at the same time, while Mike Pence is giving a speech here, these leaders here also seeing the tweets that President Trump puts out by the day. His tweet today about the media, fake media, this is what we've come to hear recently. And you have Angela Merkel here, the German chancellor who President Trump criticized so much saying look, we respect the media, they are part of our democracy.

So there's a very clear, you know, understanding here that they're dealing with an entirely different president and, although, you know, his vice president, secretary of State, secretary of Defense, may be saying very positive things, there's still a real concern about the man who's actually, you know, running the White House. So, you know, the messages here have gone down well, but those concerns still remain, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And those tweets you speak of, while Mattis, Pence and Kelly are there in Munich, "Don't believe the mainstream, fake news media, the White House is running very well. I inherited a mess. And I'm in the process of fixing it." And then today he tweeted earlier, "We'll be having many meetings this weekend at the Southern White House. Big 5:00 p.m. speech in Melbourne, Florida. A lot to talk about."

So, Elise, while all that's going on in terms of what we're hearing from Donald Trump, Russia's Foreign ministers also at this conference. How is he responding to this harder line by way of Pence there in Munich?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: Well, not very well, Fred. I mean, look, for all these messages by Donald Trump and other members of his campaign during the campaign, he -- they're seeing this kind of mixed message coming from the administration. A much tougher line. They were expecting, you know, a much warmer relationship. A lot of common ground. They were going to work together in Syria. They were going to have a much more cooperative relationship between the U.S. and Russia.

Now you hear messages today from the vice president. You heard from Defense Secretary Mattis, the U.N. -- U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley, all taking about a tougher line with Russia. And so, you know, they feel like this is not what they bargained for and they're talking about what they want to see is this kind of post Cold War order where there's just not one super power. They're looking to be another super power. And they thought once again and they thought that Donald Trump saw it that way.

So, you know, clearly while the Europeans feel that they're getting mixed messages from this administration about the commitment to Europe and about their commitment to be tough on Russia, they're also -- you know, the Russians are also seeing this mixed message as well.

WHITFIELD: And so, Nic, in an op-ed for CNN.com you wrote this, "While Pence, Tillerson and Mattis will meet Europe's top diplomats in the coming days it's unlikely those diplomats will head back to their capital feeling warm and fuzzy. Undoubtedly they will hope for clarity particularly with regard to the U.S. position on Russia. They might say a silent prayer that Trump's three top diplomats' stories align, but they won't believe anything until they hear it from Trump's lips."

[11:05:11] So is there a feeling that even Donald Trump should be there instead of Mike Pence?

ROBERTSON: You know, I think that there are many people here who would like to get to know the man better. They heard his campaign rhetoric. They've heard what he's had to say since he's been president. They can recognize that it's been dialed back and changed. But they're under no illusions that potentially there could be more U- turns along the way.

From a European perspective, politicians here are far more used to saying what they mean and sticking to it rather than saying things that then change and then U-turn. So instinctively they have questions about it. So would they be happier if he'd been here? I think that they would look forward to when he comes. There's no doubt, you know, President Trump has committed to events in Europe, to a NATO meeting, to a G-8 meeting. All those are just a couple of months away.

And no doubt the leaders here will hope to get some time with him to understand him better. But at the moment the only way they judge him is by his long press conferences, by his tweets, and by the other ways that, you know, he gets his message across. Another campaign -- well, a campaign rally today in Florida. They will watch that and they'll recognize like many other people that the elections are still four years away.

They know he's an unconventional leader. But they are going to need I think that face time to get more reassurance. But the reality is -- you know, I was at a meeting of European leaders, EU leaders two weeks ago in Malta and there was absolute real concern there from the European perspective that they had kind of lost a good friend in the United States and that they were -- that the Europeans were going to have to unite and themselves become sort of a beacon of liberal views, a beacon of free trade. Global free trade. All these things. They were not really expecting this. So those concerns remain. They're deeply unsettled still.

WHITFIELD: All right. Nic Robertson, Elise Labott, let's leave it right there. Thank you so much.

So while the vice president tries to reassure European allies that everything is OK in the White House, some members of his own party are making it tough to do that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I think that the Flynn issue obviously is something that is -- it shows that in many reports this administration is in disarray and they've got a lot of work to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: All right. I want to talk more about this Kiron Skinner, she is a former member of Trump's national security team, an associate professor of political science at Carnegie Mellon University.

Good to see you. KIRON SKINNER, FORMER MEMBER, TRUMP'S NATIONAL SECURITY TEAM: Thanks

for having me.

WHITFIELD: All right. So that was just, you know, a part of a bigger critique that McCain provided about the Trump administration in an open forum. What message are our allies taking from this?

SKINNER: I would like them to take the fact that it was a seminal moment in the discussion about Western values among those in the Western family because if you listen closely at Senator McCain's important speech, he talked about the potential erosion of democratic values, of Western ideals in -- you know, in both the United States and abroad. He didn't really use the name Donald Trump, but he was clearly talking about the American president.

So I saw it as one take on American values and a warning about what may happen if we don't act in a vigilant manner to protect democracy, openness, and freedom and free trade. But if you listen to Vice President Pence's speech, it was another version of a defense of Western values. And I think if you put them side by side, you saw a more comprehensive discussion that makes one remember the fact that there's not one way of thinking about what the West is and what it should do. That it is a contest of ideas about freedom. And I think both men contributed to that discussion in a powerful way in Munich.

WHITFIELD: So it sounds like you're saying these mixed messages are not problematic.

SKINNER: I don't really see them, Fredricka, as mixed messages. I see them as an open discussion about the future of the West and reminding all of us that at the base of the discussion about Iraq, Afghanistan, what's going on in Syria and Iraq is about how do we position ourselves as Western democracies, as the beacons of freedom, and what are the requirements, defense spending, commitment to certain ways of collaborating, reassuring alliance relationships.

WHITFIELD: Yes.

SKINNER: So I saw them as different parts of a larger discussion.

[11:10:03] WHITFIELD: OK. OK. So listen to the Vice President Pence and his comments on NATO this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PENCE: Today on behalf of President Trump I bring you this assurance. The United States of America strongly supports NATO and will be unwavering in our commitment to this transatlantic alliance.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: OK. So while he added that -- you know, that NATO members need to pay their fair share, he's also echoing the president's sentiments. How are NATO allies supposed to understand that?

SKINNER: Well, I think if you listen to everything he said about NATO in that speech, you played one quip where early on he said that he -- that the United States was firmly committed to NATO. Later in the speech he reminded the audience that of the 28 NATO members, only four have lived up to the pledge of 2 percent of GDP toward defense. And he said we need better burden sharing. And there was faint applause actually when he made that statement. So he reaffirmed the president's idea about having more burden sharing but he did not say that NATO was obsolete.

WHITFIELD: And you heard our Nic Robertson earlier who said that he is hearing a lot of concern coming from our European allies, worried that they may have lost a good friend in the U.S. Meantime, President Trump also expressing a desire to pull Russia even closer, how do you suppose that is sitting with European allies?

SKINNER: Well, if you listen again to Pence and to the other American diplomats who were speaking, they all were in lockstep on the view that Russia is a threat to the Baltic States, to the West, more broadly, that the Minsk Agreement needs to be adhered to by the Russians in Ukraine to help deescalate the crisis there.

All of the American diplomats have been giving a very strong anti- Russia message that I think has been reassuring to the Europeans. But like Nic Robert said, it's about what happens when those diplomats go back home and our President Donald Trump then reaffirms what they have said.

WHITFIELD: All right. Kiron Skinner, thanks so much, we're going to have you back.

We're going to take a short break for now and we're going to also discuss the president's potential picks for National Security director when we come right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:15:53] WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back. President Trump has a pretty busy weekend ahead at his resort in Florida. He is expected to meet with three potential candidates to head the National Security Council. They are retired Lieutenant General Keith Kellogg, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton, and Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster.

This comes after the president fired Michael Flynn. Trump will also be back to his campaign roots today. He's holding a rally in just a few hours in Melbourne, Florida.

CNN's Washington correspondent Ryan Nobles is joining me live right now.

So, Ryan, what do we know about these potential candidates?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fredricka, for one thing we know that the president wants to get this right after what happened with Michael Flynn who was removed from this position so early on in the Trump presidency that the president is really taking care to make sure that his replacement is someone that can stay on the job for some time. So let's go through these three candidates that are going to be at Mar-a-Lago this weekend. Among them you have Keith Kellogg who's currently the acting NSA adviser right now. He is someone who is well-thought of within the White House. The staffers there appreciate him. He would like to stay on in the job but it's clear that Trump is going to take a look at some other candidates including McMaster, the general who you see here is someone who's also very well respected. He's got a PhD in military history from UNC Chapel Hill and has more than 30 years of military experience.

But the front runner right now appears to be the former ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton. Now this is someone who did support the Iraq war but he is someone that we are learning through political reporter Stephen Collinson is starting to grow with support within the White House. In fact, a number of NSC political staffers seem to support Bolton, so Donald Trump going to interview all three of these candidates this weekend and the hope is from the administration that he makes a decision in the very near future -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right. Ryan Nobles, thanks so much. We'll check back with you.

All right. I want to bring back now Kiron Skinner. She is a former member of Trump's national security team.

So, Kiron, retired Army Lieutenant General Keith Kellogg who was serving as the acting White House National Security adviser. He told associated that he would take the post permanently if President Donald Trump were to offer it but given that he's the acting, why would it not mean that he's a shoe in?

SKINNER: I think just what your -- the prior speaker said, I believe the president wants to get it right this time so that he doesn't face what Ronald Reagan faced during his eight years as president. Six national security advisers. Basically one every 14 to 16 months. That's not productive for the White House or the National Security Council so I think he wants to be deliberate and talk to a number of people.

I know each person that's visiting Mar-a-Lago and they're mavericks in their own right. They're fine statesmen. They've served their country with great distinction. I would not want to be in the president's shoes right now to make that decision, but I would support each one. And I think he's going to make a good choice this time. Not that Flynn was the wrong choice, but the National Security Council is a unique part of the national security structure of the U.S. and getting a person that understands that he's not a member of the Cabinet, he or she, that it's a staff job in the White House, that done properly it's really a back office think tank that produces the ideas that facilitates the discussion among the secretary of State, Defense and the other principals. It's hard to find a person who's willing to take that role and stay in that lane.

WHITFIELD: And then Kiron, this just in, you know, according to senior administration officials, there is strong support among the NSC for John Bolton to be the National Security adviser given his knowledge of Washington and foreign policy. His supporters are also billing him as an outsider, so being an outsider, you would think would help him in the case of Donald Trump who has said, you know, he wants to take the nontraditional route.

SKINNER: He is -- but he is a maverick in civil society. Unlike the other two, McMaster and Kellogg, he is not a military man.

[11:20:07] He's had a distinguished career at State, Defense, USAID, the Justice Department and the U.N. So he's been in part of the scene in various dimensions for a long time. He's been on FOX News really making the case about U.S. foreign policy and national security in a way that no one else has. And with a consistency in the last few years, he's really without peer in that way.

WHITFIELD: And President Trump has said that he was considering four potential candidates. We just named three. Do you know who the fourth person could potentially be?

SKINNER: I don't know. Maybe it's me, I don't think so. But I'm sure there are many people --

WHITFIELD: Would you take it?

SKINNER: Not at this point. I love being an academic. I'm at Carnegie Mellon and the Hoover Institution at Stanford. But I believe in our country and I would like to serve and support all of our national security leaders and the president's building a very strong team. But I believe there are probably more people that he's thinking about. And will probably meet with in the next few days.

WHITFIELD: All right. Kiron Skinner, thanks so much. Good talking to you.

SKINNER: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Coming up, Democrats are still upset after a bruising election but not for long. They're plotting a comeback and flocking to social media.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:25:04] WHITFIELD: Trump connects with his voters on social media. Now Democrats still hurting over their losses of the White House and both Houses of Congress are now plotting a comeback that involves social media.

Here's CNN Brian Stelter.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let me ask you, should I keep the Twitter going or not? Keep it going?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: President Trump has been lining up feather-ruffling tweets since his inauguration. But on Capitol Hill the Democrats have been flocking to social media, too.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Join me by calling your Congress person.

STELTER: Upping their aptitude for a new era of political communication.

ADAM CONNER, FORMER PUBLIC POLICY MANAGER, FACEBOOK: And the tools are more limited per se to minority party right now. The more attention they can draw to something, the more likely it is they are able to get some sort of victory out of it.

STELTER: Adam Conner helped open Facebook's first Washington office. For years now he's been helping members of Congress learn how to use social media.

CONNER: Donald Trump has demonstrated that social media is a tool that can have power and authenticity. And, you know, it is something that they can no longer ignore.

STELTER: Minority leader Chuck Schumer is overhauling the Democratic media center and implementing a broad new strategy.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), MINORITY LEADER: We are reaching the American people where they are. Facebook. Snapchat. Instagram. Twitter. Hi, everybody.

STELTER: It's just in time for controversial confirmation hearings that most constituents didn't watch live. What many did see were short, sharable snippets meant to sway their opinion.

SEN. TIM KAINE (D), VIRGINIA: OK. Is that a yes or?

BETSY DEVOS, EDUCATION SECRETARY: That's -- I support accountability.

KAINE: Do you not want to answer my question?

STELTER: This clip of then Education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos received more than 25 million views on Senator Schumer's Facebook page. In response to EPA nominee Scott Pruitt, Senator Cory Booker posted his floor speech.

BOOKER: May I have the floor?

STELTER: And Hawaii Senator Brian Shots posted this series of hashtag memes touting the EPA's importance.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: She was warned.

STELTER: Earlier this month Republicans stopped Democratic senator Elizabeth Warren from presenting an opposing view of then Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions from Coretta Scott King.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I am surprised that the words of Coretta Scott King are not suitable for debate in the United States Senate.

STELTER: So she logged on to Facebook live.

WARREN: I just want to read the letter.

CONNER: It used to just be the moment on the day of the hearing was when people paid attention to it. But now you have this after effect. It's the means, it's unflattering clips and so it really is a full cycle that is what the nominees have to kind of weather.

STELTER: After President Obama's inaugurate in 2009 Republicans stepped up their social media game as well beginning a years-long messaging competition with the White House.

MCCONNELL: The president made an outstanding choice.

STELTER: Now both parties are seeing more followers. They're sharing talking points on more platforms than ever but also adding to the plethora of false information.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: Just this morning Trump and this is a quote, "Scapegoat."

STELTER: Congressman Elijah Cummings, and House Democratic Nancy Pelosi.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), MINORITY LEADER: It's not scapegoat. It's stone wall. And that's exactly what the Republicans in Congress are doing.

STELTER: Vested by a fake account for ousted National Security adviser Michael Flynn on Tuesday.

Brian Stelter, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: All right. Still ahead FBI director James Comey goes behind closed doors with the Senate Intelligence Committee. We'll take a closer look at the mystery meeting and why Senator Marco Rubio is tweeting he's confident a bipartisan investigation will be conducted.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right, welcome back. President Trump is meeting today with potential national security advisor candidates to fill the vacancy of Michael Flynn who was fired. On the short list are former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, and acting national security advisor, Keith Kellogg.

Here with me now to discuss all of this CNN White House reporter, Stephen Collinson, CNN political analyst, Patrick Healy, and Lynn Sweet, Washington bureau chief for the "Chicago Sun-Times." Good to see all of you.

All right, Stephen, you first, you just reported that senior administration officials are showing strong support among the NSC for John Bolton to be the national security advisor given his knowledge of Washington and foreign policy.

His supporters are also billing him as an outsider. So why is he -- what are the other reasons that he's being favored?

STEPHEN COLLINSON, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: I think that political appointees on the National Security Council are sort of ideologically in sync with John Bolton to start with. He's been a controversial character in Washington. He had to get a recess appointment to serve as President George W. Bush's U.N. ambassador, for example, but he is clearly preferred by some of the political staffers.

They say that although there's a great deal of affection for General Kellogg and they would like to see him remain as chief of staff and executive secretary of the NSC, Bolton is someone that sort of fills the boxes for this administration in a number of ways. He's clearly an anti-establishment figure.

That's something that might appeal to the president, but he also has, you know, an in-depth knowledge of how Washington works and how foreign policy process is conducted in Washington. So I think those are the reasons that some people see him as potentially a good candidate for this.

At the end of the day, though, it all depends on the president. He's the person who has to spend hours with his national security advisor. Clearly, it has to be someone with whom he is comfortable. That was the case for General Flynn so we're just going to see how this plays out.

WHITFIELD: Yes, and it seems odd to some that he would still be considered an outsider given all that Washington experience. So Patrick, you know, Trump's most recent pick, retired Vice Admiral Robert Haward, he declined the job offer sighting family reasons. That's an unusual move, right, that White House would put out his name if they weren't so sure about his reaction?

PATRICK HEALY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And they were scrambling on that. The concern was that after General Flynn, you know, stepped down, they wanted to fill that vacuum very quickly. They were concerned that a lot of people, you know, who might be seen as a first tier candidates might look at what was going on with Steve Bannon on NSC, with Jared Kushner playing kind of a large advisory role, almost without portfolio or limits

And kind of wonder, OK, well, how is this job going to work and how much authority is this person going to have? How much influence? I think certainly the situation with our top choice kind of bowing out through them. Now they're looking at names.

The one thing with John Bolton, though, is that as much -- he's sort of a disrupter in a way that Trump likes. I talked to Trump last fall about Bolton in just terms of various people in the mix about what a Trump administration might look like.

He talked about how blunt Bolton was, how he knew that what Bolton said was, like, very direct and he sort of knew where the guy stood. He clearly liked that.

[11:35:05]But the reality is that for at least some Republicans and for a lot of Democrats in Washington, this would be seen as a controversial pick and the question is do you want to go from one controversy on the national security advisor to kind of another figure like that?

WHITFIELD: So with that in mind, would there be a feeling that there would be changes within the inner circle to try to appeal to someone who would be less of a disrupter, Patrick?

HEALY: I mean, that's a real question. Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner very much have the president's confidence. They're people who very much see geo politics as part of the domestic and foreign policy brief that they're interested in influencing. So I don't see President Trump putting any kind of boundaries around them.

The national security advisor has always been a very difficult position. You're in sort of sometimes conflict or competition with the secretary of state, with the defense secretary, with the U.N. ambassador.

So the question is do you have someone like the current acting national security advisor, who might be more of a facilitator and peace maker or do you have a power player like Bolton?

WHITFIELD: So Lynn, you know, with no national security adviser in place, who does have the president's ear on issues of national security right now?

LYNN SWEET, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "CHICAGO SUN TIMES": I would go along with the consensus that it's Steve Bannon in this vacuum right now and Jared Kushner because they have the closest physical proximity to them.

I want to point out something about John Bolton to remember. He was a United Nations ambassador as was noted here. One of the most noteworthy things I thought about his tenure is he was not a believer at the time he was there necessarily in the mission of the United Nations.

He was very skeptical of what the United Nations was doing and I believe that would underscore and emphasize the skepticism that Trump has to a lot of the institutions both domestically and globally as he starts his presidency.

What's interesting, though, is that his U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, going by what her first speech was seems more of a conventional believer in what the United Nations is trying to do. But I would look for (inaudible) to have an even more heightened interest in policy dealing with Iran and Israel.

WHITFIELD: All right, let's talk about Russia now and that closed door meeting. James Comey was part of that. We saw pictures of him emerging after leaving members of the Senate Intelligence Committee and then out of that meeting Senator Marco Rubio tweeted this. "I am now very confident the Senate Intel Committee I serve on

will conduct thorough bipartisan investigation of Putin interference and influence."

So Stephen, what does that say to you a tweet coming from somebody who has not been in the practice of doing that and really the only member to reveal something about that meeting?

COLLINSON: Yes, this is a very rare occasion in Washington where there's a meeting of senators and nobody p knows exactly what went on in the meeting. There's been no leaks from it which tends to make you believe that this was a significant session that James Comey held with these senators.

The fact that Marco Rubio who is clearly a Russia hawk in terms of foreign policy and his attitude towards President Vladimir Putin and the geo political moves that he's made says that he thinks there is going to be an investigation that's fair and sweeping I guess tends to sort of make you think that's possibly going to be the case.

There have been real concerns among Democrats on Capitol Hill that what's going to happen is what the Republicans are going to try to sweep all this under the rug somehow and not conduct hearings and an investigation that could put the president in a poor light.

So I think we have to wait and see exactly what comes out of this. The Democrats, Mark Warner, the senator from Virginia has been a key figure in this from the Democratic side. He has so far said he believes there's going to be a good bipartisan look into exactly how Russia influenced the elections. So until we know more, I guess, that's where it stands.

WHITFIELD: Yes. Warner very confident that there will be that bipartisan effort. Real quick, Lynn.

SWEET: Well, one thing, I think another significant point to what Rubio tweeted out is right now one of the lines that President Trump is trying to advance is that the whole questions about Russia is ruse. And we'll hear more of that I bet.

Well, now with this briefing, it just adds to the conversation that there is something there that is worth a congressional inquiry, and certainly worth a briefing from James Comey.

WHITFIELD: All right, Lynn Sweet, Patrick Healy, Stephen Collinson, thanks so much to all of you. Appreciate it.

SWEET: Thank you.

GORANI: All right, we'll be right back. A little diversion from news, a little sports coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:43:29] WHITFIELD: All right, don't you wish you were in New Orleans about now? Mardi Gras is underway and it's the NBA All-Star Weekend, it's in full effect in the big easy. I'm back from the city after getting a little flavor of the action, seasoned players, lots of fans and of course, and indulge in the food.

I also sat down with the host of "Inside Stuff," Kristen Ludlow and seven-time NBA All-Star, Grant Hill. We talked about everything from the all-star excitement to their thoughts on players taking a stand on cultural and political issues.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: So what do you look forward in an All-Star Weekend?

GRANT HILL, RETIRED NBA PLAYER: A lot.

KRISTEN LUDLOW, HOST, "INSIDE STUFF": There is a lot to look forward to in an All-Star Weekend. The game itself. We've got the rookies going at it. We've got the three-point contest, the dunk contest. I mean, there's a lot to look forward to.

WHITFIELD: It's a lot of fun. It's great to see players doing their stuff and you know, really taking everything to the next level, but we're also seeing on display in a much larger way, many of the players who are finding it part of their responsibility, not necessarily a risk to be outspoken about very serious issues.

LUDLOW: I think it's interesting how many people tell these guys to stick to sports when the reality is they have a platform. I mean, there are thousands if not millions of people listening to everything that they have to say, to everything that we have to say. I love seeing these guys step up and speak on things that matter. They don't have to stick to sports. They can stick to the platform that they've been given.

HILL: Without a doubt. Guys today with social media, there's a comfort level, there's a platform. You have an audience. They speak their message. I think back to 20 years ago when we played, we didn't necessarily take advantage of that opportunity. I think things are a little bit more easier for them now to get their message across.

There's different ways they can voice their opinions or concerns about social issues. I applaud what these young men are doing. I wish we could go back maybe and do some things differently during my time back in the '90s.

WHITFIELD: Is the NBA setting the example in large part, making a decision to be here in New Orleans as opposed to being in Charlotte?

HILL: Well, without a doubt. I mean, I think Adam silver and the NBA officials are taking a stance, social injustice, what was happening in the state of North Carolina, by moving the all-star game, which we know would have brought a lot of economic -- had a significant economic impact on the city of Charlotte. So deciding at the last minute to move and bring it back to New

Orleans, I think sends a strong message. The league is also I think very supportive and understanding of players today and understanding the impact that they can have through their voice, speaking out on various issues as they have.

WHITFIELD: Particularly in this presidency, it seems to have inspired more athletes to be outspoken. Steph Curry being outspoken about the CEO of Under Armour in his position in support for the Trump administration. Is there a great risk involve when an athlete does that?

HILL: You know, I really don't think so. I don't. I think Steph Curry what he's done speaking out, knowing he has that kind of relationship with Under Armour and then to see the response from their CEO, Kevin Plank, you know, issuing a new -- changing his stance.

WHITFIELD: A modification.

HILL: I think that shows you the power that athletes have. Somebody like Steph Curry speaking out on something he's passionate about really impacting not just the people who follow him, but also the organization and the leadership at Under Armour.

LUDLOW: I think this is the first time that we've actually had a generation of young men who have had the ability because of things like social media to be able to speak out as adamantly as they have. And Stephen Curry, I feel like I can count on one hand the number of men that I can hold their character up against anything. Steph is one of them. This guy next to me is one of them. It's a privilege to see these guys speak on such important things on a much larger scale.

HILL: And other thing, look, sports is a macrocosm of life. If you look around now in this society we're in, you know, people are speaking out. People are protesting in a nonviolent way. People are very outspoken about their opinions one way or the other, whether it's political, whether it has to do with a number of different issues. So I think that's the world we're in. Sports just reflects that and you see a lot of these guys like Steph Curry, and thanks for chose kind words.

LUDLOW: Slip me a 20 later.

WHITFIELD: These are young guys, but here we are talking about Lebron James is a senior at 32. His 13th All-Star game.

HILL: It's amazing. I played in Lebron's first All-Star game in Denver. To see him and watch his career and how he's not just developed into just a fantastic basketball player, the best basketball player of this era, but just a fantastic person, businessman. Someone who I feel has great integrity.

He understands the platform he has. He's somebody that's been a great ambassador for the NBA, but really a great ambassador for sports in general. The way he's conducted himself, coming in so young and just having a storied career. He's somebody that we all should applaud for how he's gone about his business.

WHITFIELD: Is there a particular message you think some of the NBA players are trying to send particularly to young people today?

HILL: I think really just to be yourself and to be comfortable with who you are. Don't feel like you have to necessarily conform. I think it really also is indicative of the spirit of that generation. And so you know, millennials, there's sometimes some negative things said, but there's really a lot to admire.

And so I think they understand the importance of relationships. They have sort of a big picture perspective. It's not sort of all work and no play. There's really great balance. I don't know. Just the spirit that I see of these young players and how they enjoy themselves. And they're true to who they are. They keep it real and that's something among other things to admire.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: All right. Grant Hill and Kristen Ludlow keeping it real right there. We've got much more straight ahead at 2:30 Eastern Time. Take you back to New Orleans for our NBA All-Star Weekend special. That's coming up right here on CNN.

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[11:53:27]

WHITFIELD: All right, protecting the first family is always challenging, but keeping tabs on the Trump family is particularly difficult given their jet setting lifestyle.

This weekend, President Trump's oldest sons are in Dubai opening a golf course and the U.S. Secret Service in tow and this is the third straight weekend trip to Mar-a-Lago for the president and first lady.

And of course, there's the first lady's residence in New York. As Tom Foreman reports, the price tag for security is becoming a big number.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The cost of protecting the jet setting first family could be epic. Starting with the president, the vice president, their wives, confidants, children and grand kids, over 20 people from the get go.

JONATHAN WACKROW, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: That's unprecedented. It's not unattainable to protect them all. It's just unprecedented.

FOREMAN: CNN security analyst, Jonathan Wackrow, says the equation is complicated by the Trump family working out of so many places. The White House, the Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida, several private residences in and out of D.C. and Trump Tower in New York, which the first lady calls home. Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy. JOSEPH CLANCY, SECRET SERVICE DIRECTOR: When I go into Trump Tower, the restaurant is full. Starbucks is full of people, so the challenges to a lot of those businesses to continue to operate, but in a secure manner.

FOREMAN: In the works, permanently hiring out a whole floor for security operations.

(on camera): To give you a sense, that would be 13,000 square feet of prime New York real estate at a four-year market value of $6 million although the president could give his team a deal.

[11:25:03](voice-over): Another worry, most of Trump's children are grown and involved in business, meaning lots of travel. The "Washington Post" put the Secret Service hotel bill for a son's trip to South America at $100,000 and two sons are opening a golf course in Dubai this weekend.

CLANCY: I would say the most challenging trips for us are the foreign trips.

FOREMAN: Every time a president takes off, up to 300 people go along. Teams for personal security, counter assault, intelligence, surveillance, emergency response, military support, transportation, communications, staffing and more. Price tag is hard to pin down, but a government study found a three-day trip by President Obama in 2013 cost taxpayers $3.6 million. So, will the total security bill be tens of millions, hundreds?

WACKROW: It's very hard to forecast, what the cost is going to be.

FOREMAN: Other presidents have raised security challenges with their lifestyles and travel. Bill Clinton's vacations in Martha's vineyard, George Bush's retreats to Texas, Barack Obama's holidays in Hawaii, and CNN has told just protecting Vice President Biden's family took nearly 50 agents.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: All right, that was Tom Foreman reporting. The next hour of the CNN NEWSROOM starts right after this.

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WHITFIELD: Hello again, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.