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CNN NEWSROOM

New Call for Special Prosecutor to Investigate Russian Ties; Bill Paxton Has Died at Age 61; Excitement on Oscar Night; Civilians Fleeing Mosul; Bernie Sanders Says DNC Chairman Vote Not Rigged; Father of Killed Navy SEAL Calling for An Investigation; Man Plows Truck Into Mardi Gras Crowd; First TV Ad of The New York Times in 7 Years. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired February 26, 2017 - 16:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

[16:00:00] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: New calls for special prosecutor to investigate report a communications between the Trump campaign and Russia as the Trump administration fires back saying not so fast.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That the attorney general wants to recuse himself.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Go you agree with Darrell Issa that is a special prosecutor is needed.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: No.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are extremely confident that whatever review they are all going to come to the same conclusion, that we had no involvement in this.

WHITFIELD: Plus a new leader for the Democratic National Committee. Will Tom Perez be able to unite the party?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The way the Democratic Party has been run, for decades has not worked.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have to do a better job as a Democratic Party of messaging what we stand for.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: CNN NEWSROOM starts now.

Hello, again, everybody, and thank you for joining us. I'm Fredericka Whitfield.

President Trump is facing another crucial week of big events and high expectations. The President's agenda includes a prime time speech to Congress and a revised executive order on immigration. But first, he will renew his focus on replacing Obamacare. The

President is set to meet with a group of governor at the White House where worries about replacing the affordable care act is a big discussion. In fact, just moments ago, the president tweeting this. Big dinner with governors tonight at White House. Much to be discussed including healthcare.

CNN's Athena Jones joins me from the White House.

So Athena, it sounds like the President is ready to talk healthcare, but does that mean he is ready to give specifics?

ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Fred.

Well, that's the big question. It's not at all clear that the White House is prepared to offer specifics. We are seeing drafts and ideas proposed on Capitol Hill. But, of course, this has been a huge goal of Republicans for years now. This was one of the President's main campaign promises, the idea of repealing and replacing Obamacare. He promises a terrific plan that would cover everybody at less cost, but wanting to do these things and succeeding in doing these things are two very different things that's proving to be a big challenge.

We're seeing Republicans all across the country at these town halls being confronted by the worry constituents who are concerned about changes to their healthcare plans. People telling emotional stories.

Ohio governor John Kasich who, by the way met with the President here on Friday and talked about Obamacare and this whole plan. He talked about those town halls on CBS's "Face the Nation" this morning. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: Look, I don't understand everything that's going on with these town halls, but I think it's having an impact from the standpoint of, hey, people are watching, I don't think they mind reform, but don't take everything away.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JONES: Don't take everything away. He said another point that governor Kasich made in that interview is that you are talking about 20 million people who now have health coverage because of the affordable care act. And so, there are a lot of people are concern about millions potentially losing coverage under some of the proposal we have seen from Republicans on Capitol Hill.

And Fred, I don't think we can over state this. You had former house speaker John Boehner who spent 25 years on Capitol Hill who said just last week that he was wrong to sell this as repeal and replace. He thinks that is not what is going to happen. What is going to happen is that they are going to end up, in his words, fixing Obamacare, putting a conservative box around it. And the reason is that he said in all his 25 years, Republicans never, ever one time agreed on what a healthcare proposal should look like, not once. Governor Kasich said he thinks that John Boehner probably has it right

-- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Athena, meantime, there are new polls being released about what people, or at least those who have been polled, what they think about the President's job performance.

JONES: Right, and these are still not good numbers for the President. I will say they are slightly higher than some of the polling we have seen in recent weeks, that had his approval number at about 40 or 41. This new NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll shows 44 percent approve of the job that President Trump is doing, while 48 percent disapprove. That's, of course, still under water.

And here's another interesting nugget from that poll, that might be seen as good news by the President, 53 percent agree that the media exaggerates problems, 45 percent disagree. Of course this is a President who likes to bash the media. And it looks as though 53 percent of the people believe that people in the media do sometimes make too big a deal about things -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Athena Jones, thanks so much from the White House.

All right. Let's talk more about this with my political panel, Republican strategist, Brian Morgenstern and political analyst Ellis Henican.

All right. Good to see you guys.

BRIAN MORGENSTERN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: You too, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. So Ellis, you first. You know, many have been waiting for the specifics on President Trump's plan for a very long time. Will there be a big reveal at the dinner tonight with the governors or perhaps even - governors, I should say, or perhaps even during that address to Congress?

[16:05:08] ELLIS HENICAN, POLITICAL COLUMNIST: Patience, Fred. I think you may have to wait a little longer for the real details.

I think we are likely to get some slogans but increasingly what is looking like is this will not be repeal, it will not be replace, it will be rebrand. And that's got to be disappointing a lot of those Republicans who have been out campaigning against this thing for this for the last seven years.

WHITFIELD: So Brian, even Nancy Pelosi says, you know, what the Republicans have as a lot of iterations with repeal and replace, but after that, they have got nothing, is she right?

MORGENSTERN: No, no, no. What they have is a variety of plans and they need to unite behind one of them. And I think the conversation at the White House tonight will help, you know go down that track. I think governors have a tremendous role in, you know, administering healthcare. And so, I think the President listening to them and what governors are hearing to state level from their constituents in terms of, you know, the good parts and the bad parts and how they can improve the healthcare system. I think that will go a long way towards developing those specific. I think just the president listening to the governors, I think you will learn a lot and I think that that can helps the other conversation towards the replacement.

WHITFIELD: So Brian, how worrisome is it that this report coming from the governors' meeting reveal that millions of people under Republican plan would be losing their care? How does the White House get ahead of that if indeed the report is true?

MORGENSTERN: Well, I think it is sort of correcting the record and explaining that they are not taking it away. They are introducing an alternative and more of market base alternative where the patients, the consumers would be allowed to choose a different health care plan as oppose to just having what it is now, the Obamacare, where in some market, in some states, there's a single insurer, maybe two, you know. They want to introduce more of a marketplace. It's a matter of giving people something different as opposed to taking it away.

WHITFIELD: So Ellis, you know, bottom line, is there's a lot of people who have been benefiting from the ACA who are worried that they may lose it or it may not be as beneficial to them as what they have been able to enjoy. So how much pressure is on the White House to, you know, allay those fears?

HENICAN: Huge. And I'm not sure they are going to be able to. The difference is that Brian speaks so benignly about. Listen, there's nothing more difficult than I have health insurance now and I'm not going to have it later. You know, that is the reason all these people are turning off at these town hall meetings with congressmen and screaming. I mean, this is not some philosophical thing, this are people, who truly, who truly, their lives depend on this insurance. And you know what? Good luck trying to pry it out of their hands.

WHITFIELD: And so, how much of that is behind these approval or disapproval, you know, numbers, this NBC/"Wall Street Journal" report and poll here showing that 44, only 44 percent of those polled approve of his job performance, Brian?

MORGENSTERN: Well, he has got lower numbers than would be typical for a new President. So, in terms of getting his approval numbers up, you know - right. So, I'm sure they'll work hard to correct that. And part of that is going to be, we are going to make the health care system better. What we have now is not sustainable. We are going to give you an alternative that's going to be sustainable and we are going to -- they have said, they want to make sure that everybody that's covered is able to continue to be covered. They don't want to take anything away. And I think when they are able to achieve that, that will help bring those numbers on up.

WHITFIELD: Perhaps it is healthcare, where the President stands on that, perhaps it's the relationship with Putin that may impact these numbers.

Ellis, so you know, that same poll, says at 38 percent of those poll believe Trump's relationship with Putin is too friendly, up five points from last month. So, if nothing else, optics, you know, is potentially influential and now you have a number of people in the GOP who are saying there needs to be a special prosecutor involved here in this investigation.

HENICAN: Yes. And those numbers are only going to go up, too, those disapproval numbers as we learn more details of this. I mean, you know, if you believe as I do, that highly likely were some sort of contact between the people connected of the Trump campaign and people awfully close to the Russian government. As we begin learning those details, they get out into the public, let me tell you, those disapproval number are going shoot up even way higher than they are.

WHITFIELD: So Brian, how bad does it look for this White House that Jeff Sessions, or there's a call for Jeff Sessions to recuse himself if indeed an investigation is forthcoming involving the FBI.

MORGENSTERN: Well, they are not. They are not thrilled about it, obviously. It calls for a special prosecutors sort of elevate the issue, which is the opposite of what they want, and if they feel is the right path. That's why Reince Priebus was out there talking about how he had these conversations with the deputy director of the FBI who read the "New York Times" story on this issue and called it BS and said there's no there there.

So they are going to be out there aggressively saying that there is nothing to investigate. And this is not a real issue. This is fake news. And, you know, let's just stay focused on the agenda, as you know, I think any White House would. They want to make sure that if there is something there, they address it quickly. If there isn't, that they can just, you know, get rid of it. Get it out of the conversation so they can focus on their agenda.

[16:10:29] WHITFIELD: All right. We will leave it there. Brian Morgenstern and Eliis Henican, thanks so much.

All right. Indeed a big week ahead in Washington, the President giving his first address to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night. Our coverage begins at 8:00 p.m. eastern time.

And then on Wednesday, a town hall with senators McCain and Lindsay Graham. That CNN political special beginning at 9:00 eastern time.

And straight ahead, now that the Democrats have a new leader to bring together their divided party, how will Tom Perez prove to the Bernie Sanders progressive movement that he is the man for the job? We'll discuss.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: One little things that Tom is going to have to change, is to figure out how we elect national Democratic leaders. I am not quite impressed with the process that now exists.

(END VIDEO CLIP) (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:15:12] WHITFIELD: An unexpected cloud over the Oscars tonight following the surprising news today that actor Bill Paxon has died at the age of 61. According to a family representative, Paxon passed away due to complications from surgery. His family released a statement saying quote "Bill's passion for the arts was fell by all who knew him and his warmth and tireless energy were undeniable," end quote.

CNN's Sara Ganim has a look back at his career.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Game over, man. Game over.

SARA GANIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Bill Paxon was a star of some of the biggest Hollywood blockbusters of the 1980s and 1990s. His illustrious career beginning with character rolls in smash hit movie. And a starring role in the cutting edge 1996 film "Twister."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Christ, Jo, is that what you think it did?

GANIM: The Texas man was a versatile actor but also true to his root with that deep rustic voice.

BILL PAXON, ACTOR: I grew up in Texas.

GANIM: Tell comedian Mark Merit (ph) on his podcast just this month, that he spent a good part of the seventh grade in bed battling rheumatic fever.

As an 8-year-old, he witnessed history waving to President Kennedy in Dallas moments before he was assassinated.

PAXON: My dad said, we will go watch the motorcade drive by, it was somehow seeing him in color, you know. He is in a blue suit. His hair was red.

GANIM: Paxon alongside Tom Hanks would later help develop a film called "parkland," about the chaos of that day.

Later in his career, Paxon moved from the big screen to the small screen playing a polygamous Mormon husband in HBO's "Big Love," and then helping to elevate the history channel with his Emmy winning role in the series, "Hatfields and McCoys."

PAXON: I'm considered a working actor. You know, you see the big stars who work all the time. And you know, I never had that one movie that really put it all together for me.

This franchise officially closed to numerous fire code violations.

GANIM: He was currently starring in the movie "the Circle" and the CBS crime show "Training Day." His family releasing a statement saying his passion was felt by all who knew him. His warmth and tireless energy were undeniable.

Sara Ganim, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: All Right. This sadly happening on the excitement of Oscar night. That's where find our Stephanie Elam on the red carpet.

Were already, Stephanie, the stars are arriving?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they are getting ready to. In fact, just now, they have said to all the press time to get off the red carpet, because they are going to close it down and we are going to start seeing those stars making their way in here. And as you can see the little crowd in here, but you can see that there is media is here. You can see the folks (INAUDIBLE) in the back, they are all in place, because they are hoping to get a glimpse of maybe, I don't know, the best actor nominees, maybe Casey Affleck, Andrew Garfield, or Ryan Gosling, or maybe it is going to (INAUDIBLE) they want to see or maybe they want to Denzel. Or the ladies, maybe they are looking to see now (INAUDIBLE) who is in "Elle" or, of course, Meryl Strip, the grand dam (ph). I think this is a record breaking nominations for her as well.

So a lot of people will be looking for her as well. But everyone is probably betting that Emma Stone is going to take it from her portrayal in "La La Land."

So lots of predictions out here of what's going to happen. One thing that we would like for it to stop bringing on Oscar Sunday is the rain, because it has been raining off and on here today in Los Angeles. The sun does not always shine in Southern California despite what Tony, Tony, Tony said. But we are dealing with that. But it's kind of in and out. And it is a little chilly. So a lot of big coats out here on the red carpet as of now, Fred.

WHITFIELD: So no big canopy or something like protecting you from the elements?

ELAM: No. They learned their lesson. There is a canopy that is up there.

WHITFIELD: OK.

ELAM: But that is here behind the camera. What you can see is that it is just open. So every now and then we get a little spritzer in the face.

WHITFIELD: OK. I got you.

And what's the feeling for best picture? I know you mentioned Emma Stone for best actress, but what are the rumblings out there for best picture?

ELAM: Right. Well, you know, "La La land" has the most nominations tonight going into the night with 14 nominations, tying the overall record that has been set before. But if a lot of you are wondering whether or not (INAUDIBLE). I mean, it is a postcard from L.A. to L.A. So -- and from Hollywood to Hollywood. So it wouldn't be surprising if it does well here tonight. But some are people - some people saying maybe they are going to go for something with more meat potatoes, like a moonlight, or perhaps or a lion, which also has, you know, pulls at your heartstring and Manchester by the sea. So it will be interesting to see if "La La Land" doesn't win, that will be news because that is the big prize of the night.

WHITFIELD: Yes. OK. I know a lot of those movies have a lot of substance and we are expecting that a lot of presenters and actors might be bringing a little substance to the microphone tonight, too.

[16:20:03] ELAM: If there is not a political scene they made, that would breaking news.

WHITFIELD: Yes. All right. Stephanie Elam, and you'll bring it to us, whether it's broken or un-breaking. All that stuff.

All right. Thanks so much. You look lovely.

We will have much more right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:23:58] WHITFIELD: All right. Right now, there is a sea of civilians trying to escape the embattled city of Mosul in Iraq. More than 2000 just in the last 24 hours. They are trying to flee the battle going on between ISIS and Iraqi forces in the western part of the city. The Iraqi army launched an offensive last year to rid Mosul of ISIS fighters.

An investigation into the murder of the strained half-brother of North Korea's leader widens. Authorities say that he was killed by a nerve agent so toxic that he was dead within 20 minutes of being touched by it inside Malaysia's airport.

CNN's Matt Rivers is following the case from Kuala Lumpur.

So Matt, the autopsy is apparently now complete. What else are we learning?

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this autopsy really just confirming, further corroborating what we have heard from Malaysian police. What Malaysian police say happened is two women, smeared that VX nerve agent, that deadly toxic chemical on Kim Jong- Nam's face in Terminal 2 of the airport here in Kuala Lumpur. And he was dead within 20 minutes according to the minister of health that spoke to reporters local time here on Sunday.

Now, the Malaysian police had come out and said that on Friday, but what we heard from the minister of health here on Sunday is that this autopsy and the results from the autopsy were in line with what they would expect if this kind of attack happened. So really this further corroboration of just what is truly a remarkable attack here. And one further line of investigation that's come out is that we do

know that the two women at the center of this case, one an Indonesian national, the other a Vietnamese national. Both of those women met with their respective councilor officials here in Kuala Lumpur over the weekend. And both women are now saying that they thought that they were just part of a prank show. That they didn't know what they were really getting themselves into here. So both women sticking to that story. However, Malaysian officials say they don't buy it. They say that they believe both of these women were trained for this attack.

[16:25:55] WHITFIELD: And then, Matt, crews have finally swept the airport where this attack happened. Have they uncovered anything new?

RIVERS: Thankfully no. There was no chemical substances found that could be dangerous. A hazmat team went in for several hours in the middle of the night, Saturday into Sunday. And I hear they went through the entire terminal. And thankfully, they didn't come up with anything. No reported illnesses amongst anyone here. But one thing that we should say is that it has been almost two weeks since this assassination happened and that is the first time a hazmat crew has gone through that part of the terminal. A little bit scary considering how public this attack was and how dangerous and deadly this particular chemical used in the attack, certainly is.

WHITFIELD: All right, Matt Rivers. Thank you so much.

All right. Coming up, back in this country, as Tom Perez takes the reins of the Democratic Party, both parties are watching the new DNC leader tells us what is top of the agenda to get the Democrats back into power. That's next.

[16:30:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: All right, hello again. Thank you so much for joining me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. All right, this morning, Bernie Sanders said he does not believe the election for the new DNC chairman was rigged against Congressman Keith Ellison. He does however believe the system could use some re-tooling. This morning, Jake Tapper spoke to the new chairman and former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders on the future of the party.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: I want to ask you about a tweet from President Trump this morning about the DNC chairs race. He wrote, quote, "The race for DNC chairman was of course totally rigged. Bernie's guy like Bernie himself never had a chance. Clinton demanded Perez!" I wanted to give you an opportunity to respond.

TOM PEREZ, CHAIRMAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Well, you know, Congressman Ellison and I got a good kick out of that. Donald Trump up again in the morning tweeting about us. You know, our unity as a party is our greatest strength and it's his worst nightmare. And frankly, what we need to be looking at is whether this election was rigged by Donald Trump and his buddy Vladimir Putin, and I'll tell you, having Jeff Sessions oversee such an investigations, it's really unfair to any foxes across America to say that would be the fox guarding the hen house.

We need an independent investigation because that is a serious, serious issue and the American people need to understand whether the Russians, in cahoots with the Trump folks and others rigged the election. And when Sessions and Flynn are out there together campaigning, they clearly lack the authority and the objectivity to conduct that investigation. So we need an independent investigation.

TAPPER: So let's start with yesterday's big vote of the DNC. You obviously strongly backed Congressman Ellison. He lost the race to former Labor Secretary Tom Perez. You issued a statement saying, quote, "At a time when Republicans control the White House, the U.S. House, U.S. Senate and two-thirds of all state houses, it is imperative that Tom Perez understand that the same-old, same-old is not working." So senator, did the same-old, same-old win?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D), VERMONT: Well, look, Keith ran a great campaign. He took on in essence, Democratic insiders and yet he came close to winning. That was a very impressive effort when you realize that he was playing inside the establishment's house. But right now I think Tom Perez who was a very, very good Secretary of Labor has a real opportunity in his hands and I hope he seizes it. And that is to understand that in fact the way the Democratic Party has been run for decades has not worked.

TAPPER: You have a massive e-mail list that helped your presidential campaign raise $218 million online from 2.8 million donors, are you going to give your list to the Democratic National Committee so that you can help them become more grass roots?

SANDERS: We are going to do everything that we can and we have started that progress. To transform the Democratic Party into a party that stands up for working families. And we have, and we will strongly support those candidates who are going to take on the issues of income and wealth inequality.

They're going to take on the greed of the pharmaceutical industry. Those people who want to make public colleges and universities tuition free, who understand unlike President Trump. That climate change is real and we got to transform our energy system. So we're going to work to support progressives who are running for the senate, who are running for the house. And to help Perez made this point, for a school board, for a city council, for state legislature.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: All right, I want to bring back our republican strategists, Brian Morgenstern and political analyst Ellis Henican. Welcome back, guys. All right, so Ellis, you know, Sanders says, you know, to the whole e-mail list, he's going to do everything he can to help transform the party. What does that entail to you?

HENICAN: Well, he's going to back candidates. He'll be out there. I mean, listen, in a funny way, this is weird to say, but in a funny way, Bernie won, right. I mean, the future of the party, the passion of the party is all on the progressive side.

And so while Keith Ellison came close but didn't quite become the chair, in the end, that really is the direction that the party is heading and Bernie has some right to be proud.

WHITFIELD: So how meaningful was it that the so-called progressives can that Keith Ellison is now the deputy and that happened rather instantaneously?

HENICAN: Well, it's great. Listen, I'm always skeptical of claims of party unity on either side. Most claims of party unity are constructed with wallpaper and paste, right. I mean, these are big tents. You got to cover a lot of stuff. But you know what, I mean, I think there's a real good first sign. Let's see what they can pull off.

WHITFIELD: So Brian, are you a believer or non-believer in this party unity seeing that Ellis is not buying?

MORGENSTERN: Yes, it's wallpaper, for sure. I mean, look, the crazy Bernie socialist wing and their representative Keith Ellison got darn near half the votes in this election and that shows that

[16:35:00] it basically illustrates that the Democratic Party has been -- the establishment has been trying to fight back the looneys (ph) and try to keep some modicum of credibility and that there's going to be a split that's going to continue to go forward.

And this is going to be so hard for them to unite because they don't have elected leaders at the state and local level. They don't have a bench. They were decimated over the Obama years so they're basically starting from scratch in a place where half the party hates the other half of the matter. I mean, he is not in an enviable position.

WHITFIELD: So what's going to be the biggest obstacle in your view, you know Brian, in terms of being able to bridge that gap?

MORGENSTERN: Well, you know, negativity obviously is a big motivator in politics, so like Hillary Clinton was the biggest motivator and unifier for Republicans. I would expect President Trump, you know, negative message towards President Trump to go some ways in terms of unifying their party.

But they don't have a message. They don't have a positive thing. They don't really have an agenda in terms of what they're standing for and that's what really hurt them in this last election. So many voters who were not on the coast really didn't hear a message that appealed to them in this election. So, again, sort of starting from scratch in developing something that's going to appeal to a lot of voters because the Bernie message, the Hillary message obviously didn't cut it.

WHITFIELD: So, Ellis, you know, is the big unifier going to be the going against Donald Trump? But again, as Brian just said, if that was kind of the leading message leading up to 2016, being against something as opposed to for something, might this be effective?

HENICAN: Well, yes. I mean it's a great unifier. But let me help dab Brian's tears a little bit hear. First of all Brian, the Democrats got more votes. More people like that, even that poorly delivered message than the one that got Trump through the Electoral College. And I don't think there's nearly the vision you're talking about.

The progressives have won here, right. Hillary is not coming back, right. That wing of the Democratic Party is in severe decline, it's on the way to where moderate Republicans are going.

(CROSSTALK)

WHITFIELD: But why Ellis you're saying that the progressives won when, you know, Tom Perez doesn't represent the progressives. He really does --

HENICAN: Well hold on a second.

WHITFIELD: From the point of view of so many, he represents more of the establishment.

HENICAN: I mean, maybe a little more than Keith Ellison, but he's not some, you know, blue dog regular. I mean he's the first Latino. He's a very assertive Labor secretary. I think the guy's got some fire in his belly that may surprise all of you people.

WHITFIELD: OK, Brian, how may we be surprised?

MORGENSTERN: Well, we might be surprised if the Democrats actually start to win some stuff. But the map is very bad for them in 2018. So not only does Perez come in representing the sort of establishment wing of the party, which goes against where the real energy is on the far, far left. He's also got really no bench.

He's got to start from scratch developing both the message and recruiting candidates in a cycle where they have to defend twice as many states in the senate as they can, you know, go on offense. So, this is just a brutal position for him to be in and you know, we'll see if he's able to sort of rebrand the party and unite it. But it's going to be really hard.

WHITFIELD: All right. Brian Morgenstern and Ellis Henican, thanks so much gentlemen. Always good to see you every Sunday.

All right, straight ahead, the first military mission under Trump is facing new questions today. Up next, why the father of the fallen Navy Seal killed in last month's Yemen raid is calling for an investigation into the president's operation.

[16:40:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: The father of fallen U.S. Navy Seal Ryan Owens is calling for an investigation of a U.S. raid in Yemen. The raid was the first under President Trump who gave his approval just six days into his term. The operation was targeting Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

They quickly ran into trouble and came under fire from all sides. The 36-year-old Owens was killed along with more than 20 civilians. Now, his father is sending a message to the president. CNN Washington correspondent Ryan Nobles is joining me now. So Ryan, what is Bill Owens' saying?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Fredricka, Bill Owens is a military veteran himself and he concedes (ph) in this interview with "Miami Herald" that he would not vote for Donald Trump. He's now questioning the motivation for this mission that killed his son. He told the "Miami Herald," quote, "Why at this time did there have to be this stupid mission when it wasn't even barely a week into his administration? Why? For two years prior there were no boots on the ground in Yemen -- everything was missiles and drones because there was not a target worth one American life. Now, all of a sudden we had to make this grand display."

Now Owens is not the only one with concerns about the mission, Republican Senator John McCain was also critical of its execution and its necessity and the days after the problems with the mission were revealed. Now at that time, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer evoke the death of Owens as a way to rebut McCain's criticism.

Hence, Spicer and the White House have repeatedly said that the mission did recoup plenty of valuable intelligence. Now, with his interview with the "Miami Herald," bill Owens warned that the White House should not, quote, "hide behind his son's death to prevent any investigation." Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And so how has the administration responded if at all?

NOBLES: Well, at this point, they're being very careful not to be too critical of the father of this fallen Navy Seal. But this morning on ABC, White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders hailed Owens as a hero, but also pointed out that that mission was successful in gathering that intelligence. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: I know that he paid the ultimate sacrifice when he went on that mission and I know that the mission has a lot of different critics, but it did yield a substantial amount of very important intel and resources that helped save more American lives and other lives. And as much as again, I can't imagine what this father is going through. I think his son is a true American hero and we should forever be in his son's debt.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOLOUS, GOOD MORNING AMERICA SHOW HOST, ABC NEWS: Does the president want an investigation?

SANDERS: I haven't had the chance to speak with him directly about that, but I would imagine that he would be supportive of that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[16:45:01] NOBLES: And those investigations already underway. According to the Pentagon there's a standard set of investigations that take place after the death of any Seal including one that will specifically look into his death in particular. Of course President Trump made a special trip to Dover Air Force Base

to be there when Owens' body returned to the United States, but Bill Owens told the "Miami Herald" that he refused to meet with the president while that took place there at Dover Air Force Base. Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right. Thank you so much Ryan Nobles. Appreciate that.

NOBLES: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right, straight ahead, 28 injured after a drunk driver plowed into a crowd of people at a New Orleans Mardi Gras parade. New details on the suspect's blood alcohol level, next.

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[16:50:01] WHITFIELD: We're learning new details about the man police say drove into a Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans last night injuring 28 people. Police say 25-year-old Nielson Rizzuto had a blood alcohol level of .232 when he was arrested. That's almost three times the legal driving limit in Louisiana. Witnesses at the crowd say the scene was complete chaos.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is something like you would have seen in a movie. I have never encountered anything like this before, and I've seen people on the hood of truck.

WHITFIELD (voice-over): Eyewitnesses described the chaotic scene in New Orleans after a truck rammed into a crowd of Mardi Gras revelers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I hit the ground because everybody said there was a gunshot but I saw the car accident like what happened here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I heard the impact over here, I've seen the truck hitting the people on the ground, coming through the crowd. It ricocheted off from one car to another when he hooked a hard left and that's when he had all the people on the ground over here. Everybody was trying to help one another.

WHITFIELD (voice-over): Police say a suspected drunk driver plowed into pedestrians watching one of the most popular Mardi Gras parades.

MICHAEL HARRISON, NEW ORLEANS POLICE CHIEF: We have one subject in custody. He was driving a pick-up truck behind me who apparently on the opposite side of the parade that was active, was traveling in the opposite direction from the parade, struck two vehicles and then reared off to the other side and struck a dump truck came to rest on a neutral ground. In the process before that truck came to rest, struck a number of pedestrians.

WHITFIELD (voice-over): Seven victims declined medical attention, while 21 others were taken to area hospitals. Five of them in serious condition. The youngest victim, 3 years old. Bystanders help triage victims. JEFF ELDER, DIRECTOR, NOLA EMERGENCY MEDICAL SERVICES: We had multiple bystanders that were helping us initially to treat the patients here with multiple medical providers here helping the triage and treat the patients.

WHITFIELD (voice-over): Fortunately, none of the injuries appear life threatening.

HARRISON: We suspect that that subject was highly intoxicated. He is in custody. He is being investigated right now and he is at our DWI office.

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WHITFIELD: And the FBI has released a statement saying in part, quote, "We are currently coordinating with our federal, state and local law enforcement partners to determine whether a federal violation has occurred." And we'll be right back.

[16:55:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: Welcome back. This just in to CNN. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer asked to review his aides personal and government issued cell phones in the attempt to find the source of an overwhelming amount of information leaks to the media. Spicer called his staff into his office and checked their phones for encrypted messaging apps. He then reiterated his frustration about the leaks. Spicer has declined comment on that meeting.

And tonight will mark an unprecedented move for the "New York Times." For the first time, the paper will air a 30-second ad during the Oscars.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The truth is our nation is more divided than ever.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The truth is alternative facts are just delusional.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The truth is locker room talk is harmless.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: The ad is titled, "The Truth Is Hard." It is the first TV ad the paper has run in seven years. It didn't take the president long before he responded. Trump tweeting this, "For the first time, the failing "New York Times" will take an ad (a bad one) to help save its failing reputation. Try reporting accurately and fairly."

On CNN's "Reliable Source" this morning, the paper's executive editor was asked about President Trump's tendencies toward the media.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BRIAN STELTER, RELIABLE SOURCES SHOW HOST, CNN NEWS: Do you think

these are authoritarian tendencies the way some outsiders have suggested they are?

DEAN BAQUET, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I'm not going to go that far. I'm going to hold on to my newsroom hat of not characterizing things that way, but I think it's troublesome. I think it's dangerous. I think it means that all of the institutions, including the press and particularly 'The New York Times" whose job it is to ask hard questions.

If he continues to doing what he's doing it's -- he's attempting to make that harder to do. It will not be harder to do inside our newsrooms, we're going to ask hard questions, we're going to continue to be tough analysts and reporters about the Trump administration and it's action, fair and tough analysts, but I think he clearly wants to convince his supporters that we're not to be trusted and he's wrong.

STELTER: But he tweets about your company -- does that help subscriptions? Is Trump the best thing to ever happen to "The Times'" subscription strategy?

BAQUET: Trump is the best thing that happened to the "The Times'" subscription strategy. Yes, every time he tweets, it drives subscriptions wildly.

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WHITFIELD: All right, don't miss "Reliable Sources" every Sunday at 11:00 a.m. eastern time. And all eyes will be on Hollywood tonight as the 89th Annual Academy Awards are presented and it's fair to anticipate that the Trump presidency will be mentioned a few times. It's the subject of this week's State of the Cartoonian by Jake Tapper.

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TAPPER: It's probably a safe bet that President Trump will be watching the Oscars tonight ready to tweet his thoughts if anyone gets political.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (voice-over): I don't to service, I want the people.

TAPPER: One wonders how President Trump might have responded to previous Oscar political outbursts, such as in 1973 when Marlon Brando sent Apache leader Sacheen Littlefeather to decline his best actor award for "The Godfather."

TRUMP: You don't have to go with Pocahontas, you don't have to go that far.

TAPPER: Perhaps Trump would have paid Richard Gere a compliment for having taken on China's human rights abuses in 1993.

TRUMP: We're going to stand up to China. TAPPER: But how would he have responded to Susan Sarandon and Tim

Robbins taking the stage and saying they are protesting HIV positive Haitians who were barred from the U.S. being held down at Guantanamo Bay.

TRUMP: Gitmo, we're not closing Gitmo. We're going to fill it up. We're not closing Gitmo.

TAPPER: Would the president have gotten into a spat with Michael Moore after his speech railing against President Bush and the Iraq war in 2003 arguing misleadingly about who was opposed to the war first?

TRUMP: I was against the war in Iraq from the beginning.

TAPPER: All we know for sure is that with millions of people watching, the president will be ready, tweets a blazing for Hollywood's biggest nights.

TRUMP: Look at this people. What a bunch of loser I'd tell you. You are a loser.

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WHITFIELD: And all eyes will be on the Oscars tonight. Thanks so much for being with my today. I'm Fredericka Whitfield, NEWSROOM continues with Dana Bash right now.

DANA BASH, CNN HOST: You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Dana Bash in Washington. President Trump is facing his most crucial week yet since moving into the White House. His first speech before

[17:00:00] a joint session in congress, that's just two days away. Plus, a brand new version of his controversial travel ban is expected any day now. In the meantime, tonight, President Trump is hosting his first major social event at the White House, a black tie gala called The Governor's Ball.