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Crowds Voice Anger, Fear at Town Halls Nationwide; Ukrainian Politician Privately Met with Trump Associates; Iraqi Forces Close To Retaking Mosul Airport; Justice Department To Make Legal Case For Travel Ban; Ukrainian Politician Privately Met With Trump Associates; Bannon, V.P. Pence Send Mixed Messages On E.U.; Homes Prepare To Hide Undocumented Immigrants; Private Homes Protected By 4th Amendment. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired February 23, 2017 - 16:30   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: And, Ryan, tell us about the town hall you attended today in Iowa.

[16:30:02] RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Looking right behind us in the courthouse, standing room only, people filled in there more than an hour ahead of time. And they were having some open conversations about what they wanted to see, some great exchanges, a lot of talk about education here in Iowa.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why would you vote to jeopardize Iowa's quality of education and how is Betsy DeVos a qualified candidate for your vote?

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: The president gets elected and has to carry out the responsibilities of which he was elected, that that person ought to have the team that they need to get the job done.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Don't you believe she should be qualified?



GRASSLEY: Then we would not have Tillerson being secretary of state --



YOUNG: And that was when a lot of people were shocked -- Jake, you've been here several times. I was caught off guard by the fact that even though people were having disagreements in this crowd, they were still able to talk to each other and they really appreciated the idea that Senator Grassley showed up. In fact, when I was talking to him afterwards, he said he thought the Tea Party Republicans were much tougher on him and he was being able to talk to the constituents here. I can tell you a lot of people said they plan to go to more meetings over the next few days.

TAPPER: Vox populi. Ryan Young, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Did associates of President Trump meet privately with a Ukrainian lawmaker to talk about ending the fighting between pro-Putin separatists and Ukrainian troops? Details on these new allegations coming up next.


[16:35:51] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Let's turn to our world lead now.

Allegations of a back room deal right out of a Cold War spy novel. A Ukrainian politician privately met with associates of President Donald Trump in hopes of negotiating an end to the deadly fighting between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces in the eastern part of the country. Now, at issue is, of course, the disputed territory of Crimea in one instance which Russia seized in 2014. Now, that lawmaker is facing possible treason charges for trying to undermine Ukraine's president.

CNN's senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh reports now from Ukraine's capital Kiev.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was a peace plan as controversial as the war in Ukraine. It seems endless. It all began with a story of how one obscure Ukrainian MP dined at a New York hotel with Donald Trump's personal lawyer, found his left field ideas perhaps passed on to the president's short lived national security advisor and was then caught in a diplomatic storm -- now investigated for treason in his own homeland.

ANDRII ARTEMENKO, UKRANIAN LAWMAKER: He told me that Michael Flynn is the best person to boost my connections in the Trump administration who really, if he likes, is going to be huge support, huge support.

WALSH: Andrii Artemenko gave us a horrid interview in Kiev and tells us of a January dinner in Manhattan he says he had with Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen arranged by the mutual friend Felix Sater.

ARTEMENKO: We probably spoke around 20, 25 minutes where I present my intentions, my peace plan for the Ukraine, how we can stop the war, how we can finish this. And also he says, listen, this is a gentleman that's very potential and he wants to send a message to Trump administration.

WALSH: Mr. Cohen says the dinner happened, but they didn't talk about peace for Ukraine. But Artemenko says Cohen insisted the plan be given to Trump's controversial and short-lived then-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn who resigned 24 days into his job due to his comments over sanctions on Russia because of Moscow's actions in Ukraine.

(on camera): When you first spoke to Felix Sater, did you ever mentioned that your peace plan would end up on the then-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn's desk?

ARTEMENKO: No, absolutely not. It was the Michael Cohen idea. He mentioned his name first in my meetings. He said, listen, Michael Flynn for his personal opinion is most powerful man who can really support this idea, who really support -- who can help you, who can provide his information to President Trump.

WALSH (voice-over): The White House flatly denies any contact with Cohen or Artemenko on this issue.

Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea peninsula in 2014, then sent military help to the separatists in the country's east where the war drags on to this day. Artemenko hints his plan may have involved the lease of Crimea to Russia in exchange for Russian troops leaving the east.

Michael Cohen told CNN in a text message, "If this continued fake news narrative wasn't so ridiculous, I would be angered. I acknowledge that the brief meeting took place, but emphatically deny discussing this topic or delivering any document to the White House and/or General Flynn; something I stated to the New York Times."

According to "The Times," Cohen said he left the plan in a sealed envelope on Flynn's desk, although Cohen later denied ever delivering Flynn the plan. The White House says it has no record of receiving such a document.

Mr. Sater and Mr. Flynn didn't respond to request for comment. Both Russia and Ukraine have rejected the plan. Artemenko has since been expelled to his political faction and has to hurry off, he says, to meet Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, although the president's office denies it. He promises to return but doesn't.

Moments after he leaves, Ukrainian prosecutors announce he's being investigated for treason for even suggesting the plan.

[16:40:05] Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, Kiev, Ukraine.


TAPPER: And our thanks to Nick Paton Walsh.

It's a modern day underground railroad, a special look at the private homes being turned into safe houses for undocumented immigrants.

Stay with us.


[16:44:13] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

More now in our world lead. Iraqi security forces are now close to recapturing the airport in Mosul, which is, of course, a major stronghold for ISIS. The joint operations command said in a statement, Iraqi forces have seized more than half of the strategic airport. They are now trying to secure the entire facility.

While ISIS is fighting back with suicide car bombs and IEDs, Iraqi security forces backed by U.S. security forces pushed their way through the airport by pounding the terror group with heavy artillery and drones. This is a major gain for the Iraqi forces in their attempt to drive ISIL out of Mosul. The militant group held the airport since 2014 and largely destroyed its infrastructure. This all comes as we await more details on President Trump's plan to defeat and destroy ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

[16:45:00] Joining me now to discuss this and much more, is Richard N. Haass, he's President of the Council on Foreign Relations and former director of policy planning at the State Department under President George W. Bush, and he is out with a new book titled "A World In Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order." Ambassador Haass, thanks so much for being here. We should point out, of course, that you wrote that book and the title a year ago and you didn't know who was going to be president.

RICHARD N. HAASS, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS PRESIDENT AND FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT DIRECTOR OF POLICY PLANNING: Yes, you can choose anything -- just about anything when you're a candidate, Jake. The one thing you can't choose is the inbox that's going to greet you if you win. So, that was going to be the reality, whether it was Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump or anybody else.

TAPPER: So, let's talk about some of the items in the inbox the Pentagon is expected to present President Trump with a number of options in his stated desire to defeat and destroy ISIS, including the possibilities of putting U.S. ground troops in Syria in addition to the more than 5,000 already in Iraq. What do you think would work?

HAASS: I'm not so worried about Iraq, because I think there the battles will be well advanced. There's a long-term question about whether the Iraqis can get their ethnic rivalry, shall we say, under control. In Syria, though, I could see where U.S. forces would be necessary for the fight. The biggest problem is going to come afterwards. Sooner or later we'll defeat ISIS in Raqqa, their stronghold in Syria, what then? And U.S. forces can't be the ones who hold the territory. We either need, you know, Arab Forces or Kurdish Forces, some combination of local country forces. That, to me, is the biggest issue.

TAPPER: I want to ask you about the story we broke at the top of the show, having to do with the White House, the Trump White House, requesting an intelligence report from the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice that would give them some evidence and proof especially for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and their concerns about the executive order, and what we have now is, first of all, people in the Department of Homeland Security and their intelligence office, I&A, Intelligence and Analysis, submitting a report offering the contrary view, saying that banning people from those seven countries doesn't necessarily make strategic sense. And also, people in the Intelligence Community saying this whole idea of come up with a policy first and then ask for intelligence later, is politicizing intelligence. What's your view?

HAASS: Again, I haven't seen the specifics, but it - but it looks wrong to me. It's also how you ask the question. The question ought to be what - how would you characterize the threat of people coming from the following countries? That, to me, is a neutral question. You don't want the question to bias, if you will, the outcome. And, yes, you're right, you ought to have the sequence right. We ought to be doing the Intel first, then set the policy, and in large part based upon the intelligence. If these - if these reports are true, it's yet another example where this administration is having real trouble forging a functional relationship with the Intelligence Community.

TAPPER: One thing that a senior White House official said to me, I wanted to get your comment on, your views on, he said it doesn't make any sense the way that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, democrats and in some ways the U.S. government, have categorized terrorist attacks only by those attacks in which somebody has successfully killed an innocent American, that terrorist activity includes attacks in which people were wounded, attacks that were foiled by the FBI, trying to join ISIS, trying to provide material support for ISIS, and that the definition of what the government considers to be a terrorist activity, should be expanded. What do you think?

HAASS: And to some extent, that's fair. Just because we got - you know, we stop somebody this time doesn't mean we'll get them next time. So, I think, yes, you ought to look not just at terrorist attacks where people are killed, people are injured, or terrorist attacks were thwarted. We'll learn from it, and if there are certain patterns, we then ought to sell policies and procedures to deal with it. Yes, we have to discriminate obviously in terms of success and severity and all that, but I think there's some utility in casting a broader net.

TAPPER: Let's turn to Ukraine and Russia now. What is your reaction to these allegations that members of President Trump's inner circle were having these back-channel conversations with Ukrainian politician to negotiate a possible settlement over Crimea?

HAASS: This kind of freelancing, there's just no place for it in any administration. Every White House runs into trouble when they have friends of friends of friends of the president or someone on the staff, and amateurs get into the act. We really need a disciplined, strict national security process, where only authorized people are involved. And none of this - none of this off-line stuff. You get into trouble every time you go off-line, whether it's (INAUDIBLE) or somebody like this. This just ought to be cut out 100 percent for the next 4 years.

TAPPER: Take a listen to White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon and what he had to say today about the Trump administration at CPAC.


[16:49:55] STEVE BANNON, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: We have wide and sometimes divergent opinions, but I think we -- the center core of what we believe, that we're a nation with an economy, not an economy just in some global market place with open borders, but we are a nation with a culture and a - and a reason for being. And I think that's what unites us.


TAPPER: What do you think?

HAASS: Well, Jake, this is a version of America first. I think it's essentially flawed, it's wrong. I think it ignores the reality that the United States benefits when the world is stable. We need to make the world stable, not as an act of philanthropy, but as an act of self-interest. I think people like Mr. Bannon exaggerate the cost of American foreign policy. They underestimate the benefits of it. And our problems here at home are not caused by what we do abroad. Our problems here at home are caused by what we fail to do here at home.

TAPPER: CNN has learned and at the same time Vice-President Pence was in Europe reassuring European leaders about the U.S. commitment to the E.U. and NATO. Steve Bannon was telling the German ambassador something like the opposite. There seemed to be mixed messages coming out of the Trump administration, especially when it comes to Europe and NATO.

HAASS: Well, the lieutenants of a president, whether it's the vice- president or anyone else, can't reassure if people don't believe they're speaking authoritatively for the president. And this president, among other things, favored Brexit, and that's not a reassuring signal. And I think the administration needs to be careful here, Jake. The European project that began after World War II, the whole idea was to knit together the countries of Europe, so that the kinds of wars we had twice in the 20th century would never happen again. That European project is at risk. We should not take the stability of Europe for granted. The United States ought to be pro- NATO and we ought to be pro-E.U.

TAPPER: Richard Haass, thank you so much. Always good to see you, sir.

HAASS: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: Taking a page from history, how a self-styled new Underground Railroad is being set up to protect undocumented immigrants in America. Stay with us.


[16:55:00] TAPPER: We're back with our "NATIONAL LEAD" now. The so- called "Sanctuary Movement" is growing across the United States. According to Church World Service, a faith-based charity organization, more faith-based communities are taking a stand against President Trump's immigration policy, but beyond political opposition, there is political resistance. Some houses of worship are actually hiding undocumented immigrants from authorities. They see their mission as something of a 21st century version of the Underground Railroad. CNN National Correspondent Kyung Lah joins me now. Kyung, are these people breaking the law? KYUNG LAH, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, technically, but for them, Jake, they actually believe that it is worth it. Because for them, it is a moral and religious choice, choosing God over government.


LAH: Pounding, sanding, laying the groundwork at this secret home in Los Angeles.

How many families would be -

AIDA VALIENTE, PASTOR: It would be about three families that we can host here.

LAH: Pastor Aida Valiente walks us through one safe house for the undocumented running from immigration officers, an underground network.

Potentially, what you're doing is you're trying to hide people, is that right?

VALIENTE: Well, that's what we need to do as a community.

LAH: On the other side of L.A. another safe house in this man's home. We're not naming him or telling you where he lives, because of what's at stake.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's hard as a Jew not to think about all the people who did open the doors and their homes and take risks to safeguard Jews in moments where they were really vulnerable as well as those that didn't. We'd like to be the people who did.

LAH: This is beyond sanctuary churches. What we've already seen at this Colorado church offering refuge for an undocumented woman, federal agents don't enter religious houses without approval under a policy put in place during Obama's presidency.

DONALD TRUMP, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: I, Donald John Trump, do solemnly swear -

LAH: But faith leaders believe that will change under President Trump. Private homes fall under fourth amendment protection and need a warrant before authorities can enter.

ZACH HOOVER, ?L.A. VOICE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: Something sort of like this.

LAH: Reverend Zach Hoover says faith groups across Los Angeles County could hide 100 undocumented immigrants today, and that number could soon be in the thousands.

HOOVER: People will be moving into a place so that ICE can't find them, so that they can stay with their families, so that they can, you know, be with their husband, so they can avoid being detained and deported. LAH: The idea comes from leaders across all faiths in Los Angeles, just days after the election, pledging opposition to Trump's immigration orders.

HOOVER: We are not going to stop until we get to the place that God is calling us to.

LAH: People who may not agree with you would look at what you're doing and saying, "You're simply aiding and abetting the violation of federal laws."

HOOVER: Look, I'll speak for myself. I feel really convicted that I answer to God at the end of the day, like that's who I'm going to see when I die. And I hope that we can live up to our -- I hope we can live up to who we are.

LAH: Pastor Valiente is clear-eyed about the risk.

VALIENTE: We're trusting in God that he would kind of help us, guide us to make the right decision.

LAH: It doesn't mean it's an easy choice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's some element of we're entering into a territory that I don't totally know exactly what the consequences are; but I think I know what the moral consequences are for me if we don't act. Like, this isn't a moment to be standing idly by.


LAH: So, let's talk about the risk of prosecution. We had to search through our archives to find a case back in the early 1980s, where the federal government actually tried to crackdown on sanctuaries. And, Jake, when we talked to a number of people in Washington about the optics of this, what it would look like to arrest a rabbi or a priest or a pastor, they say it simply wouldn't look very good.

TAPPER: And these are families that would be in hiding. They wouldn't be going out and working during the day or going to school, they would just be in the house the whole time.

LAH: Yes.

TAPPER: Kyung Lah, thank you so much. Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER, or tweet the show @THELEADCNN. That is it for THE LEAD, I'm Jake tapper. Turning you over to Wolf Blitzer.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM: Happening now, mission to Moscow - to Mexico, I should say. Top cabinet officials are dispatched on what President Trump conceives -