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White House Denies Wrongdoing in FBI Conversations About Russia Reporting; Trump Slams Media and Unnamed Sources; White House Blocks CNN and Others From Briefing; U.S. Soldiers Help Iraqi Troops Near Front Lines; Deep Party Divisions Ahead of Democratic Chairman Vote; Small Town Looks to Trump to Save Coal Plant; Aired 7-8a ET

Aired February 25, 2017 - 07:00   ET


[07:00:12] VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: All right. So if you're watching from South America and West Africa, tomorrow is a good day for you. The first solar eclipse of the year can be seen from parts of those continents.

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: It's going to be an angular eclipse according to NASA. That's where the sky will be dominated by a dramatic ring of fire. Kind of like what you see there. The moon and the sun aligned perfectly to cast a shadow on the earth.

BLACKWELL: Yes. Folks in North America, though, do not feel left out. You have a chance to catch another spectacle later this year, six months from now, a total solar eclipse will cross the U.S. for the first time in nearly 40 years.

PAUL: Alrighty. Boy, is there a lot on the agenda today.

BLACKWELL: Yes, the next hour of your NEW DAY starts right now.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: The White House vehemently defending asking the FBI to deny reports of communication between Trump campaign associates and Russians known to U.S. intelligence.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I'm against the people that make up stories and make up sources.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: This is something that embarrasses the White House. That's not a leak. That's a news story.

STEVE BANNON, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: If you think they're going to give you your country back without a fight, you are sadly mistaken.

MICHAEL MOORE, FILMMAKER: The Democrats have a real chance to change things.

REP. KEITH ELLISON (D), MINNESOTA: That's why he beat all those other Republicans because he stole a Democratic message. We do have to lead with our values. MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), INDIANA: We're all in this together, that's

got to be our message.


PAUL: Well, good morning to you. Happy Saturday. I'm Christi Paul.

BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell. Good morning to you.

We're starting with pushing back the White House. Refuting CNN's exclusive reporting denying any wrongdoing in asking the FBI to speak out against reports of contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians.

PAUL: The revelation is raising decades old questions, though. Can the White House have an open discussion with the FBI when there is an investigation ongoing.

BLACKWELL: Yes. And how should that conversation happen. And as to the president unleashing another round of attacks on the news media. CNN and other outlets are blocked from attending a press briefing. Is the White House picking favorites here?

PAUL: Of course, this morning, the Democratic National Committee is set to elect its next chairman. Who will lead the opposition to President Trump's agenda and can they heal the divisions that still linger within the party ranks there?

BLACKWELL: All right. The White House said they did, yes, ask the FBI to knock down media reports of Russian contact during the 2016 race but they say they did nothing wrong.

PAUL: The president is demanding the FBI find the leakers within the government because he says they're endangering the country.

Here's CNN's chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto.

SCIUTTO: Christi and Victor, in the midst of White House criticism of the coverage of this story, the fact is the White House admits that it did speak with the FBI about an ongoing investigation and communications between advisers to Trump during the campaign and Russian officials and other Russians known to U.S. intelligence and that it did in fact ask for the FBI's help in tamping these stories down.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): The White House vehemently defending, asking the FBI to deny reports of communications between Trump campaign associates and Russians known to U.S. intelligence.

The administration's intense pushback follows CNN's exclusive reporting of the White House request. Senior administration officials insisting it only asked for the denial after a top FBI official himself volunteered that "The New York Times"' story on those communications was inaccurate. White House officials, who asked not to be named, outlined their

timeline of events, saying, the conversation happened on February 15th, after a 7:30 a.m. meeting led by White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe asked Priebus for five minutes alone after the meeting ends. This according to senior administration officials and calls a report linking Trump campaign advisers to Russian intelligence total B.S.

Priebus, the White House says, asked McCabe, quote, "Can we do anything about it?" And whether there is something the FBI can do to, quote, "set the record straight." Later, in separate conversations, McCabe and FBI Director James Comey tell Priebus the FBI cannot comment on the reports.

Priebus then asks Comey if he can cite McCabe and Comey as, quote, "top intelligence officials" in pushing back on the story himself in TV interviews last Sunday, which he did.

REINCE PRIEBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I have talked to the top levels of the intelligence community and they have assured me that that "New York Times" story was grossly overstated and inaccurate and totally wrong.

SCIUTTO: The direct communications between the White House and the FBI were unusual because of decade-old restrictions on such contacts concerning pending investigations.

[07:05:10] ALBERTO GONZALES, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: You don't want the appearance of political influence with respect to an investigation or prosecution. That's why the protocols are in place.

SCIUTTO: President Trump on Friday ranted against the leaks that have plagued his administration, making a case reporters should only used named sources, even as White House officials spoke to reporters asking not to be named.

TRUMP: I'm against the people that make up stories and make up sources. They shouldn't be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody's name. Let their name be put out there. Let their name be put out.

A source says that Donald Trump is a horrible, horrible human being. Let them say it to my face.

SCIUTTO: Mr. Trump also criticized the FBI directly, tweeting, quote, "The FBI is totally unable to stop the national security leakers that have permeated our government for a long time. They can't even find the leakers within the FBI itself. Classified information is being given to media that could have a devastating effect on U.S. Find now."


SCIUTTO: Now on the larger issue of the existence of communications between advisers to Trump during the campaign and Russian officials and other Russians known to U.S. intelligence, Reince Priebus said that there's nothing to these reports but the fact is the FBI is still investigating these communications, as are both the Senate and House Intelligence Committee -- Christi and Victor.

PAUL: All right. Jim Sciutto, we appreciate it. Thank you.

BLACKWELL: All right. Joining us now to talk about this, Eric Bradner, CNN Politics reporter, and Jack Kingston, CNN political commentator and former senior adviser to the Donald Trump campaign.

Gentlemen, good morning to you.


BLACKWELL: All right, Jack, let me start with you, your level of comfort or discomfort, let me know, if you let me know, about these communications between the FBI and the White House, should these specific players -- because there are times when the FBI can communicate with the White House but they -- in this 2009 memo, we know that there are specific players who should be involved. What do you think about what we're seeing here?

JACK KINGSTON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, I'm comfortable with it, the way that it has been described that Andrew McCabe came up to Reince Priebus after another meeting and said, by the way, this is all BS and then Priebus says, well, what can we do on it? And he says, I don't know, we can't comment on every story, as you know. We can't call the balls and the strikes, however he phrased it. And then Priebus said, he said let me get back to you. And so Comey calls him and says we can't do anything about it.

But you can imagine the White House's frustration that here they've got the FBI telling them there's nothing to the story. And then you see in many, many news outlets that hey, this is going on. And meanwhile, we've got the president of the United States needing to negotiate and have a -- or normalize relationship with Russia and this is certainly detracting from that diplomatic efforts because there's so many issues that we need to be talking to Russia about, from ISIS, to Syria, to Crimea.

BLACKWELL: All right.

KINGSTON: To trade, to everything else, and it's very difficult to do in an atmosphere like this which keeps getting stirred around.

BLACKWELL: Let's be clear about the reporting there. We heard from Jack there that Reince Priebus, chief of staff, spoke with McCabe and said that, hey, what can we do about this? However, the reporting is from CNN that Priebus later reached back to McCabe and asked the director and asked the FBI to talk to reporters, to come out and defend the White House and clear up what they saw as a discrepancy?

ERIC BRADNER, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: That's right. And then Priebus, later after, you know, being rebuked by the FBI, being told that they wouldn't play that role, went on Sunday shows and cited the FBI as sort of an unnamed source, right? He sort of told the story on his own, saying that he had been told by high-level officials that there's nothing to this. And so he sort of took it on himself to do what he couldn't quite get the FBI to do for the White House.

BLACKWELL: Now, Eric, also, you know, we've heard from the president there in Jim Sciutto's piece saying that he is against reporters using anonymous sources. saying that he's against the people that make up, as he says, stories, that make up stories that use these sources. They shouldn't be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody's name. But the White House does that. Did that yesterday had a briefing on background and asked for their names not to be used.

BRADNER: That's right. This is totally normal. White Houses do this all the time. We just talked about how Reince Priebus did it himself on Sunday shows just a few days ago. And President Trump of course has a long history of tweets attacking former President Obama using unnamed sources of his own, saying that he had, you know, quote, "an extremely credible source" saying --

BLACKWELL: Let's put that up while we talk have Eric talking about it. Continue, Eric.

[07:10:03] BRADNER: Right. Right. Saying that Obama's birth certificate was faked. Right? So as he was he was sort of pushing this birtherism falsehood, Trump himself was using unnamed sources.

We saw with the Priebus episode exactly how these unnamed sources sort of come about. Priebus didn't deny CNN reporting. Of course, it's sort of the play-by-play here.


BRADNER: So, yes, this is how White Houses operate. They have background briefings. They have officials made available as, quote, "a senior administration official."

BLACKWELL: And it's important to say that every leak is not classified that comes into the press.


BLACKWELL: Jack, reconcile those for me. The president saying that they should not, speaking of the media, use sources unless they use their names. But we just put up the president, then citizen Trump, quoting an extremely credible source calling about the president's birth certificate calling it a fraud.

KINGSTON: Well, I think part of it is a politician in public office who gets very, very frustrated by unnamed sources. And that's not unique to the president, as Eric points out. It's really everybody in Washington. But I do think his point about classified information coming from an unknown source. That's very scary. And it should be to all Americans that if we do have people within the intelligence community because of some reason of their own, some motivation, maybe they just don't like Trump. Maybe they feel like they know better than somebody who got elected to run the country that they need to leak things out that are sensitive.

You know, they might not even be classifying, but getting that information out in public is not helpful. For example, I think we can all agree that when WikiLeaks reported that President Obama had the schedule of Angela Merkel, it was an embarrassment at minimum, but it could have been a lot worse than that. So I think what the president is saying, you know, we've got to run the country. And if we have people within our administration that are leaking information that hurts our strategy, it's not a good thing.

BLACKWELL: Well, the president loved those WikiLeaks, as he said, those are his words, not mine. Last word, quickly, Jack.

KINGSTON: We all like WikiLeaks if the leak favored us. But I do think that the reality is, you've got to do something about the sensitive information that deals with strategy.

BLACKWELL: All right, Jack Kingston, Eric Bradner, thank you.

KINGSTON: Thank you.

PAUL: Well, first President Trump slams the media. Then the White House slams the door on reporters blocking CNN and others from a news briefing. Is the reporting on the Trump's team contacts with Russian officials during the election the real reason this is happening?

BLACKWELL: Plus, Indonesian officials met with a suspect being held in connection with Kim Jong-nam's -- Kim Jong-nam's, I should say, murder. This, of course, comes after Malaysian police say he was killed using a lethal nerve agent. We've got new details for you.

PAUL: And Americans near the front lines of the war against ISIS. It's a CNN exclusive report, U.S. soldiers now. The closest we've ever seen them to the fighting on the ground in Mosul. We're live in Iraq.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We're on the southern edge of Mosul where we've seen a steady bombardment of ISIS target.




[07:16:40] TRUMP: A few days ago, I call the fake news the enemy of the people. And they are. They are the enemy of the people. They say that we can't criticize the dishonest coverage because of the First Amendment. You know, they always bring up the First Amendment.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We have a respect for the press. When it comes to the government. But that is something that you can't ban an entity from. You know, conservative, liberal or otherwise, I think that's what makes a democracy a democracy, versus a dictatorship.


PAUL: That was White House press secretary Sean Spicer back in December offering a different message when it comes to the media and press briefings. Yesterday in an unprecedented move, the White House blocked CNN and other media outlets from an informal press briefing. Many of the organizations who were shut out have reported extensively on the Trump campaign and their contacts with Russians known to U.S. intelligence leading up to the election.

So we want to talk about what might be prompting all of this. CNN media analyst Bill Carter with us, and Rob Mahoney, deputy director of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Gentlemen, thank you so much for being with us. We certainly appreciate it.

Bill, I wanted to start with you here, and I wanted to play some sound from Ari Fleischer yesterday, former press secretary. He was talking about how we need to look at this for what it is, saying that, you know what, it is not a violation of the First Amendment. Let's look.


ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: But stop making this as if some reporters have done. It's a terrible violation of the First Amendment because they've acquiesced already. The president used it regularly that Barack Obama handpicked columnists to have meetings with. I don't remember them saying every columnist has to be in that meeting. So there's no principle here, that a high ground principle saying White Houses can't pick who they meet with. Of course, White Houses can.

I just think it's a personality issue more than anything else. It's going to hinder the relationship between the press secretary and the press corps. And that's why press secretaries have an obligation to everybody.


PAUL: All right. Bill, what's your comment to that conversation he was having there with Brooke Baldwin?

BILL CARTER, CNN MEDIA ANALYST: Well, I think those are separate issues, the president picking a few people for a private conversations, different from the press secretary's gaggle which traditionally includes, you know, a wide range of outlets. And obviously, it comes after the president labels -- the enemy of the people, it looks like retribution, rather than criticism. And clearly, they're trying to put pressure on certain organizations, you know, because they don't like what they're saying. They're disputing what they're saying.

They have every right to criticize the press. There's no violation of the First Amendment to criticize them. But you have to see this for what it is. This is a campaign to delegitimize certain press outlets because they don't like the reporting. They're saying it's dishonest because they don't like -- and fake because they don't like it and trying to discredit the organizations that are particularly finding out things about them that they don't like.

PAUL: Rob, Mr. Fleischer went on to say that he's never seen a president meet so often with the press corps and that he seems to be tremendously accessible as a president to the press. What is your take on that and what was previously said there?

ROB MAHONEY, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, COMMITTEE TO PROTECT JOURNALISTS: The problem here is the way that this looks. It looks as if the administration is trying to delegitimize the press that is investigating.

[07:20:03] Maybe it's getting ready for disappointments in the future, that people won't believe the press. Because we've had a steady drumbeat of rhetoric against the press. Calling it enemies of the people. Fake news. Fake news is news that the government doesn't particularly like. And this sends a terrible example, not just throughout the United States, but around the world where autocrats and dictators are looking to the U.S. and saying, if they can behave like this, then our behavior is not so bad. That's very disturbing to us.

PAUL: So you think the optics are very powerful there. Let's listen to Jake Tapper. He had a response to all of this himself as well.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: This White House does not seem to respect the idea of accountability. This White House does not seem to value an independent press. There is a word for that line of thinking. The word is un-American.


PAUL: Bill, we also had Bret Baier tweeting saying, "Some at CNN and 'The New York Times' stood with FOX News when the Obama administration attacked us and tried to exclude us. A White House gaggle should be open to all credentialed orgs."

What does that say to you that we have -- we have competing news stations essentially standing up for each other in this case?

CARTER: Well --

PAUL: And how strong is this going to be against President Trump?

CARTER: That says these are professionals, and professionals have to stand up for each other because they don't want to have -- if they're isolated, this time someone else could be isolated. The next time I thought it was interesting you had several organizations pulling out of that gaggle yesterday. I think if he tries this again, you'll see even more. They would do it the next time.

By the way, I want to add -- about the other point that Ari made about him being accessible. Remember when he was president-elect he didn't do a press conference when Obama had done seven. He put off having a press conference for a long, long time. The idea that he was accessible was basically as a candidate. He did one big press. He hasn't been all that accessible. I think that's a bogus point.

PAUL: OK. Rob, we had Donald Trump saying to -- yesterday to CPAC the media doesn't represent the people, it never will. And we're going to do something about it. Is this what we're seeing? What we saw yesterday is that him doing something about it?

MAHONEY: Certainly looks that way, even if it wasn't intentional. That's the message that people are taking away. You know, you keep -- you keep vilifying the press, and then this happens a few hours later. That legitimate accredited journalists are deliberately excluded. It's very easy to make that conclusion that this was punishment for those news organizations that were probing and investigating the administration.

PAUL: All right. I want to make a real quick response here, and thank you so much, Bill Carter and Rob Mahoney. We appreciate it.

But CNN does have a response to this saying, "This is an unacceptable development by the Trump White House. Apparently this is how they retaliate when you report facts they don't like. We'll keep reporting regardless." Victor.

BLACKWELL: Still to come, for the first time since Kim Jong-nam's death, Indonesian officials have now spoken to one of the suspects being held in connection with that murder.

PAUL: Also, a CNN exclusive report, American troops one mile away now from the intense battle for the city of Mosul. We're live now in Iraq with more on what's happening there in the fight against ISIS.


WEDEMAN: And of course, that's a helicopter overhead, firing heavy machine gunfire and missiles inside the city.



[07:27:03] PAUL: New details in the investigation behind the bizarre murder of Kim Jong-nam. Indonesian officials now met with one of the suspects being held by Malaysian police, and in this meeting they say she was asked to do what she called an activity by people who looked Japanese or Korean, and that she thought the substance was like baby oil.

BLACKWELL: Well, authorities have four suspects in custody, you see them, and are seeking another seven in connection to the murder. Well, this of course comes after Malaysian police say the estranged half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was killed by VX. This is an illegal and lethal nerve agent.

PAUL: ISIS fighters are setting stores on fire as Iraqi forces close in on the terror group's last major stronghold in that country. BLACKWELL: Federal police announced overnight that they've recaptured

an agricultural area near Mosul and are inching farther into the city. Now this comes just days after they regain control of the city's airport.

PAUL: Joining those Iraqi forces in the battle are -- for Mosul are American soldiers stationed just one mile from the front line.

CNN senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman spent time with those American soldiers. He's joining us now live from Irbil, Iraq.

Ben, what can you tell us about their state of mind and this mission?

WEDEMAN: Well, Christi, it does appear that Iraqi forces are now entering the southern edge of western Mosul itself and the fighting is very difficult. However, in this fight which could go on for quite some time, they're getting some help from their friends.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bring up the smoke for megabyte and take it now and move up and try to mark that location.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): American soldiers, they decline to share their names, are setting coordinates for ISIS positions. Just a little over a mile away from the extremists. They never fired their sniper rifle, but used it to identify targets. Nearby they assemble a drone.

Pentagon officials say U.S. service personnel are operating ever closer to the action. The bombardment is western Mosul is intense and steady. Iraqis find Russian-made MI-35 attack helicopters blasted ISIS targets inside the city.

Rapid Response Force Major Wissam says resistance has been stiff because ISIS fighters realize they're cornered.

"They're surrounded," he tells me. "There's no escape, either they die fighting or they surrender."

[07:30:06] The airport on the southern edge of the city is in ruins, the runway strewn with concrete blocks. The fighting is preceding that in accelerated rate, Iraqi forces maybe eager to avoid a repeat of the grueling three-month offensive to liberate the eastern part of the city.

(On camera): Taking Mosul airport was really just the first step. Now these Iraqi forces are heading into the city proper. That's where the real battle will begin.

(Voice-over): A battle in which Americans may play an even greater role.


WEDEMAN: And as the fighting continues, we're hearing that more civilians are fleeing the city. Overnight from the al-Mamuna district in western Mosul. About 1,500 people were able to escape from ISIS. But in other areas, more than 50 people were either killed or wounded when in trying to escape from Mosul, they walked through an ISIS mine field -- Christi.

PAUL: Ben Wedeman, we so appreciate the update on what's happening there. Thank you. And do stay safe, you and the crew.

BLACKWELL: Deep divisions still linger in the Democratic Party as they now prepare to vote in their next chairman. Question, though, can the party heal from bruising primaries and election defeat?

PAUL: And despite coal plants shutting down, Donald Trump assures coal country your jobs are coming back. Why one Ohio town is hoping his words are put into action. That's next.


PAUL: Mortgage rates went down this week. Here's your look.


[07:35:21] PAUL: Saturday has been waiting for you, so are we. I'm Christi Paul.

BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell. Good morning to you.


HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The challenges that we face as a party and a country are real. So now more than ever, we need to stay engaged, in the field and online. Reaching out to new voters, young people and everyone who wants a better, stronger, fairer America. Our best days are still ahead. So keep fighting. And keep the faith. And I'll be right there with you every step of the way.


PAUL: Former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton there getting back into the political fray so to speak. Urging her divided Democratic Party to bridge the divide, to come together to take on President Trump, essentially. And in just a few hours the Democratic National Committee will select one of seven candidates to be its new chief. Former labor secretary Tom Perez appears to lead the impact. Minnesota congressman Keith Ellison is on his heels.


REP. KEITH ELLISON (D), MINNESOTA: Donald Trump as deceptive as he was did say he was for jobs, trade, infrastructure, and protecting Social Security. That's our message. That's what we do. That's why he beat all those other Republicans because he stole the Democratic message. We do have to lead with our values.

(END VIDEO CLIP) PAUL: The face-off between the two is similar to the Clinton versus Bernie battle that we saw during the primaries but Mayor Buttigieg, third in the race for DNC chair, is positioning himself as a break from that dynamic.


MAYOR PETER BUTTIGIEG (D), INDIANA: What we've got to do as a party is recognize that that same struggle for belonging is true whether you're an immigrant mom trying to make sure you won't be divided from your family or a blue-collar auto worker trying to figure out where your job is going to be, or a transgender kid in a high school who just needs to go to the bathroom like everybody else. We're all in this together. That's got to be our message.


BLACKWELL: All right. Let's continue the conversation now with Ryan Nobles, CNN Washington correspondent, Maria Cardona, CNN political commentator and Democratic strategist, and Robert Zimmerman, Democratic strategist and Democratic National Committee member.

Good to have all of you with us this morning.

Ryan, let me start with you because head to head now for the two front runners, we've got former Secretary Perez, we have Congressman Ellison. Perez has the advantage here. The votes are counted preliminarily, of course, but there are a lot of passionate people and there could be some protests if Ellison does not win this. What are we seeing?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And I think to a certain extent the Democrats are in a position here where they're trying to bring their party together. There's a unity effort affront here by Democrats. And even though Perez clearly has an advantage, he does not want to in any way dampen down the enthusiasm of that Ellison wing of the party, which is really the Bernie Sanders wing. So I would imagine today even if he wings on the first or second ballot, you're going to see him reach out to that group of Democrats because if they have any shot of taking on Donald Trump down the road, they need to come together.

And you can see just by all of the signs throughout the Westin that the party isn't necessarily together, and it's going to be the job of this new chairman to bring them together.

BLACKWELL: Yes. The Westin Hotel where this is happening. How does that happen? How do they come together, Maria?

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think by having the conversations that we have been having, frankly, in these last three months. What I've been so excited about in this election is that we have been -- we've had a plethora of riches, Victor, with so many terrific candidates and, you know, to be up front, I am supporting Tom Perez. But I think Keith Ellison has been fantastic. The mayor of Indiana has been great, very impressive. BLACKWELL: Yes.

CARDONA: I think that what we have here are people who understand that we do need to bring the party together who are going to do what they need to do to bring the party together. And frankly, I think that, you know, this proxy war that people have been trying to put this race into is not what the candidates themselves have been focused on. They have been focused on party unity. On understanding that we have the most progressive platform we've ever had. Understanding that we need to represent our values, especially against Donald Trump who has been so divisive to the country.

BLACKWELL: There's much more here to decide. And we've talked off camera, Robert, about this than deciding who the next chair will be.

I want to take everybody back to the last time the Democrats were up against the Republican trifecta. It was 2005, Robert -- I'm sorry, Governor Dean, was just elected the party chairman. And this was part of his acceptance speech after the Republicans increased their advantage in the House and the Senate and John Kerry just lost. Let's watch.


HOWARD DEAN, FORMER GOVERNOR OF VERMONT: We have to move forward. We cannot win if all we are is against the current president and his administration. Republicans wandered around in the political wilderness for 40 years before they took back Congress.

[07:40:08] But the reason that we lost control is because we forgot why we were entrusted with that control in the first place.


BLACKWELL: In '06 Democrats took the House, tied up the Senate. And in '08, President Obama won the election. How do Democrats get back on to that play being set up?

ROBERT ZIMMERMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It's so instructive that you brought up Governor Dean's statement because what distinguished his chairmanship was, what was famously called the 50-state strategy. Governor Dean took the Democratic Party back into the grassroots into the state legislative races, into congressional races, into parts of our country Democrats have not been active or engaged.

And quite frankly, while we see this process unfold today, let's understand, yes, Democrats are off the yoga mats but that doesn't mean they're engaged yet. Doesn't mean they're focused. The real challenge for the Democratic leader, whoever is chosen as chairman, is to make the Democratic Party relevant again. That's the real battle. And I think that's why I think Donald Trump helps keep us in focus, but we have to capitalize on the legislative agenda that Senator Schumer, for example, is putting forward.


ZIMMERMAN: And reinvigorate activism in our party.

BLACKWELL: Maria, there's obviously the passion. We saw it in the marches on the weekend of the inauguration in the women's march or the airports. How do Republicans -- Democrats, rather, turn that passion into votes?

CARDONA: By going exactly what Robert talked about and going into the grassroots, and to be very clear, I don't think the Democratic Party or the DNC should co-op that movement, they should let it rise, they should support it every chance they get. They should talk to these progressives and these activists, who by the way the most exciting part about this is that so many of them, and I've been to all of the marches, have never marched in their life.

These are new people who understand what a threat the Trump administration is. And want to be active. Want to be a voice in their local communities. The Democratic Party has the infrastructure to help them do that. Because what's the next step here? We can't just protest. We can't just march. We have to talk about running for office. We have to talk about taking back state legislature. So that we can do the redistricting and so that we can run people for office that will fight this administration from the local level on up.

BLACKWELL: Ryan, is there evidence that we're seeing the signatures being collected, the e-mail addresses being collected at these rallies we're seeing across the country?

NOBLES: I mean, that's the big question here, Victor, because Washington is only part of the problem for Democrats. As both Maria and Robert have said, there's deficiencies there in the state legislatures. They have fewer governorships. They obviously don't have Congress in the Senate or on the House. And, you know, we're going to see the first big test in Virginia. That is a state that I covered pretty closely. And that's going to be the first legislative race here in November.


NOBLES: The first race for governor. That's where we're going to see Democrats are going to put this momentum into action. We don't know yet. And it's not going to be until we actually see some names on the ballot and an actual race take place if we're going to see if this is actually going to turn into something.

BLACKWELL: All right. Ryan, Robert, Maria, thank you all.

CARDONA: Thanks, Victor.

ZIMMERMAN: Thank you.

NOBLES: Thank you.


PAUL: Well, still to come. Coal country becoming obsolete after plants shut down nationwide here. There's a small town in Ohio who is looking for President Trump to save their jobs, but they say he needs to do it fast. That's ahead.


[07:46:46] BLACKWELL: Thirteen minutes to the top of the hour now. President Trump had a rousing message to coal country in his CPAC speech yesterday. Your jobs are coming back.

PAUL: That promise is already being put to the test, though. Large numbers of coal plants are being shut down across the country. In Ohio, specifically, residents are now asking President Trump to save not only their jobs but their entire town before it's too late.

BLACKWELL: CNN's Martin Savage has their story.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In Ohio it's hard to find an area more remote or more red than Manchester where two of every three votes were for Donald Trump.





SAVIDGE: The tiny town sits along the bucolic banks of the Ohio River.

WILSON: It's something about the water here. You get it in your blood and you don't want to leave.

SAVIDGE: Folks can tell you when the town started, 1791. And when they believe it will die.

HILDERBRAND: I say 2018.

SHELTON: June of 2018 is the last I personally heard on.

SAVIDGE: That's when two large coal fired power plants on either side of the town are projected to close. The news broke just after the election.

RICHARDS: It was definitely a shock to myself and my friends and coworkers, family, people in the local community. I mean, I think some people are still in shock.

SAVIDGE: As it stands now, the union says about 700 jobs will be lost in the town of just 2,000 people. The coal supplier says it will cut an additional 1500 jobs. Tax revenues and property values will plummet. So what about all those rallies?

TRUMP: I love Ohio. You know, I worked in Ohio.

SAVIDGE: All those promises of jobs and of reenergizing coal.

TRUMP: Jobs, jobs, jobs.

SAVIDGE (on camera): So if he is the energy coal president, why are coal plants still shutting down?

SHELTON: I don't think it's a 100 percent up to Trump. I mean, I think he's got a lot to say so in it, but to me it's poor business decisions.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): The mayor agrees it's not Trump's fault. He blames plant owners and management.

HILDERBRAND: Men in overhauls built this country. The men in suits to work destroyed it.

SAVIDGE (on camera): But he is a man in a suit.

HILDERBRAND: But he has touched the working people. He stood up for the working people.

SAVIDGE: Did you vote for Trump hoping that he would save your job?

SHELTON: That's not the only reason I voted for him, but I did vote for Trump because I just -- I liked the way his views are on stuff. And I liked the way he don't try to be all political correct on everything.

RICHARDS: He was very positive towards coal where others weren't.

SAVIDGE: You don't feel like despite all his talk of coal, bring the jobs back, that somehow your coal-related job?

SHELTON: No, I personally don't feel let down. But I'm personally hope that he steps in on this part as well.

HILDERBRAND: Puts some pressure on, you know, let's rework this coal industry around.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): These Trump voters are trying to convince now President Trump to keep his promises about jobs and coal.

(On camera): If he can't? If he doesn't?

RICHARDS: Well, you know, I don't know, I guess I'll have to see what the future holds. I won't necessarily hold it against him, but I guess more of a disappointment.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): If they were just empty promises, then in Manchester, in other towns with coal fired power plants, futures once so bright will soon face much darker days.

Martin Savidge, CNN, Manchester, Ohio.

(END VIDEOTAPE) [07:50:02] PAUL: Allrighty. More severe weather is on the way for the northeast. We're taking a look at the problem areas. What you can expect.


PAUL: Well, a central Florida man is flying a peace drone in honor of the 49 people who lost their lives in the Pulse nightclub shooting. He says it took him 100 hours to make this drone and each Pulse nightclub shooting victim is represented on it.


ROSSI NUCCIO, DRONE OWNER: An opportunity to keep them dancing. There's all 49 of them represented here. There's 41 males and eight females. They all have an individual dance move.


BLACKWELL: Well, he added that the artwork on the wings is designed to show the families that the victims will never be forgotten. I'm sure that's well received.

Tomorrow the first solar eclipse of the year can be seen from, drum roll please, from South America and West Africa, so unless you're at the airport you've got something else to look forward to, because this will be an annual eclipse according to NASA where the sky will be dominated by a dramatic ring of fire as the moon and the sun align perfectly to cast a shadow but --

PAUL: But listen, for folks in North America you don't have to feel left out. You're going to have a chance to catch another spectacle later this year, six months from now, a total solar eclipse will cross the U.S. for the first time in nearly 40 years.

BLACKWELL: All right.

PAUL: So folks in the northeast, I'm sorry to tell you, just be on the lookout for some wicked weather yet again.

[07:55:08] BLACKWELL: Yes, I feel like we've been doing this weekend after weekend, this rough weather. This time we're talking about New York and Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia. The cooler weather will be surging through the east after record high temperatures yesterday, and they were great yesterday.

PAUL: Yes, but look at the video from Minnesota. Oh, my goodness, a semi turned over in a ditch next to the interstate there. The good news is that nobody was injured, but, look, I'm from Ohio. I understand what it's like driving on those roads. My husband, I'm sure, would have something else to say about my driving anyway but let's not go there.

BLACKWELL: Are you a bad driver?

PAUL: Let's just say -- I am not a bad driver, but driving on those roads and driving with big trucks like that, it's very nerve-racking. I can imagine what it's like for the truckers who are driving them.

BLACKWELL: Yes. Absolutely. But we're glad that person who is driving that is OK.


BLACKWELL: No injuries.

PAUL: So we have got an awful lot to talk to you about this morning.

BLACKWELL: There is a lot coming, and the next hour of your NEW DAY starts after this quick break.



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: The White House vehemently defending asking the FBI to deny reports of communications between Trump campaign associates and Russians known to U.S. intelligence.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I'm against the people that make up stories and make up sources.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: This is something that embarrasses the White House. That's not a leak. That's a news story.

STEVE BANNON, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: If you think they're going to give you your country back without a fight, you are sadly mistaken.

MICHAEL MOORE, FILMMAKER: The Democrats have a real chance to change things.

REP. KEITH ELLISON (D), MINNESOTA: That's why he beat all those other Republicans because he stole the Democratic message. We do have to lead with our values.

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), INDIANA: We're all in this together, that's got to be our message.