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CNN NEWSROOM

Pence Used Personal E-mail Server as Indiana Governor; Sessions Recuses Himself from Russia Investigations; Trump Delays Reworked Travel Ban; Thousands Flee Offensive in Western Mosul; Vintage Tanks for Rent. Aired 12-12:30a ET

Aired March 4, 2017 - 00:00   ET

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


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GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The President of the United States headed to Florida this weekend as tensions continue to rise over questions about Russian involvement in his administration.

Separated at the border: new guidance from the Department of Homeland Security to separate children and adults in some cases. Why some experts say children are being exploited.

A possible chemical attack: the latest from the battle to retake Western Mosul and those trying to help the victims.

Live from CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta, welcome to our viewers around the world, I'm George Howell. CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.

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HOWELL: Good day to you.

There are many, many questions that continue to swirl over what contacts the U.S. President Donald Trump's top aides had, including his attorney general, with Russia's ambassador to the United States.

In the meantime, the president is now accusing Senator Charles Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of being hypocrites, tweeting photographs of them meeting with top Russian officials in the past. We have more now from our senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny.

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JEFF ZELENY, CNN SR. WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump heading off today for a weekend in Florida. But not escaping lingering questions about Russia. Before leaving the White House, his closest advisers holding an animated meeting in the Oval Office.

Chief strategist Steve Bannon looking particularly agitated as the week ends with more aides acknowledging meetings with the Russian ambassador last year. A day after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from any

investigations involving the 2016 campaign, after failing to disclose his meetings with the ambassador, the administration is on damage control.

The president's words from last month not holding up to scrutiny.

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DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does.

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ZELENY (voice-over): The White House has yet to explain the purpose of these meetings, the disclosure of which has overshadowed the president's well regarded speech to Congress this week, Republicans urging Team Trump to be more forthcoming.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think everybody who has had contact with the Russians need to get in a practice of oversharing.

ZELENY (voice-over): In a statement, the president defending his attorney general as "an honest man," blasting Democrats for what he called "a total witch hunt."

Those words echoed in Moscow, where Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov described it the same way.

SERGEY LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): It all looks like a witch hunt.

ZELENY (voice-over): Russia clearly on the president's mind today, sending this tweet.

"We should start an immediate investigation into Senator Schumer and his ties to Russia and Putin. A total hypocrite."

Senator Schumer firing back, "Happily talk about my contact with Mr. Putin and his associates. Took place in 2003, in full view of press and public under oath. Would you and your team?"

In Wisconsin, Vice President Mike Pence facing questions about using a personal e-mail account to conduct business as Indiana governor. It was hacked in a phishing scam as first reported by "The Indianapolis Star. "

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm very confident that our e-mail practices were in full compliance with all of Indiana's laws.

On the campaign trail, he often criticized Hillary Clinton's private e-mail server.

PENCE: Even classified information that was allowed to be on her own private server, exposed to hacking, I have to be honest with you, I'm experiencing Clinton scandal fatigue.

ZELENY (voice-over): Pence rejected that comparison today.

PENCE: No, there's no comparison whatsoever between Hillary Clinton's practice of having a private server, mishandling classified information, destroying e-mails.

ZELENY (voice-over): All this as the week drew to a close with the president still not signing a new travel ban for visitors from majority Muslim countries. He once argued it was urgently need because "a delay would allow the bad dudes to rush in."

A new report from the Department of Homeland Security undercuts his goal, finding that most violent extremists are not radicalized when they come to the U.S., but only after living here for several years.

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HOWELL: That was my colleague Jeff Zeleny reporting for us.

Now more on Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He says that he will submit a, quote, "amended testimony on Monday," a clarification to his testimony.

During the confirmation hearing -- and he says that he'll also respond to questions from U.S. senators about his contact with Russia's ambassador.

All nine Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee say that Sessions has failed to explain why he did not reveal that he met twice with the Russian ambassador last year and now they want answers.

I spoke earlier with constitutional law professor --

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HOWELL: -- Gloria Browne-Marshall about this controversy.

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GLORIA BROWNE-MARSHALL, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW PROFESSOR: He's going to recuse himself, which is something that attorneys general have done before. Eric Holder as attorney general recused himself from the investigation around Fast and Furious.

Loretta Lynch recused herself as attorney general around this issue of investigation of Hillary Clinton's e-mails. Alberto Gonzalez recused himself as well when it came to investigation of whether or not his office put special pressure on U.S. attorneys across the country who were nominated by Democrats.

So one thing to have an investigation and have the attorney general recuse himself. It's another thing to actually have some type of investigation that is based on a committee, a special committee of Congress. They could have their own investigation and there are other Senate investigations going on.

But there's a law that's required to be passed. That's what Kenneth Starr's actions were based on, a law that was passed, to allow Kenneth Starr to investigate.

And that law goes all the way back to Watergate, when the attorney general and the issue of whether or not the attorney general's office was being abused by the president to force them not to investigate Watergate.

So once that law is passed, it was allowed to just kind of end at a certain time because both sides of the aisle were tired of it. They would have to pass a law for this special prosecutor to be totally independent.

Anyone else would come from the attorney general's office or from Congress but they wouldn't be completely independent.

HOWELL: I'd like to get your perspective on this, given that you are a constitutional law professor, the simple possibility of learning more about possible connections between Trump's team and Russia.

What are the ramifications for this administration as it moves forward and how might this affect cases related to Russia in this administration?

BROWNE-MARSHALL: Well, we have three major issues here. We have an issue of trust, trust in the attorney general, who is the nation's top cop, the top prosecutor. The attorney general is supposed to be investigating criminal cases large and small across the country.

So if he or she is in the midst of their own criminal investigation, that undermines the job that the attorney general's office is supposed to do.

The other one is, if it goes to the president, if it passes the attorney general and is high enough to hit the president, then we're dealing with a major issue of trust in the White House but also with that emoluments clause.

We don't know.

Does the president have special financial issues dealing with his Russian ties?

What is with this issue with Russia and the president?

It's going to be the question on everyone's lips. He may be trying to pass some special legislation, for example, his own health care laws.

But all people are going to be thinking about is, is this guy in bed with Putin?

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HOWELL: And you heard that reference to Kenneth Starr. That was the person who was the special prosecutor who investigated members of the Clinton administration.

Despite challenges, we continue to hear from President Trump that he would like to work with Russia.

We're hearing from the former head of the CIA now, who says that it is still in the U.S.' interest to find areas of cooperation. Retired U.S. Army general David Petraeus says the most important thing is to be realistic about Russia's motives and its goals.

Petraeus spoke exclusively to CNN's Fred Pleitgen. Let's listen.

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GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: It's very clear what Vladimir Putin's objectives are. In many cases, they are unacceptable to us and NATO and our allies and partners around the world.

Having said that, there could be some convergence of interest when it comes to the defeat of the Islamic State and Al Qaeda and perhaps to stopping the bloodshed in Syria, as an overall objective, as well.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And could that be a springboard towards better relations, do you think?

PETRAEUS: I, again, would go into this with my eyes very wide open, with a very, very realistic appraisal of what Russia has done and what Putin would like to do.

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HOWELL: Now in the United States, the Department of Homeland Security is considering a proposal to separate children and adults who enter the country illegally at the border with Mexico. A senior official with that department says the proposal is meant to stop people from exploiting children.

Right now, when adults come into the United States with children, authorities usually release them and the families can stay in the country. We spoke earlier with Theresa Cardinal Brown. She is the director of immigration policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center. Let's listen.

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THERESA CARDINAL BROWN, BIPARTISAN POLICY CENTER: One thing you have to understand is that, under our laws, unaccompanied children are treated differently than adults at the border. And if a child is with a family member, they still get preferential treatment.

And one thing that has happened over the last couple of years is, as Central Americans arrived, first, it was a lot of unaccompanied kids. And then as policies were enacted it said, well, families --

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BROWN: -- could be released if they were in this company of minor children. Border Patrol did see a lot of people claiming family relationships who, after questioning, found out not necessarily the case.

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HOWELL: And on that same topic, from the U.S. state of California, there's new video that's giving a first-hand, up-close look at the human toll of the president's tough immigration policies.

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HOWELL (voice-over): The cries of a 13-year-old girl, as she recorded immigration authorities arresting her father there. They pulled the undocumented Mexican immigrant over as he drove her to school that day. Her mother was also in the car.

Immigration officials say the man was arrested because he had criminal convictions, including for impaired driving as well as an outstanding order of removal.

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HOWELL: President Trump has delayed signing a revised travel ban. That is the executive order that Mr. Trump issued a few weeks ago. It prevented citizens of seven Muslim majority nations from entering the United States. Legal challenges then suspended that ban.

I spoke earlier with Larry Sabato, the University of Virginia's director at the Center for Politics, about this issue. Let's listen.

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LARRY SABATO, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: I don't mind the delay at all because it suggests to me that, this time, they're trying to get it right. They obviously screwed it up badly in its first iteration and we know what happened with all of the so-called judges and what their view was of the original executive order.

So the fact that the administration is trying to do it right this time is a good sign. Let's hope they succeed.

Whether you agree or disagree with the general idea, you want them to pull back wherever they can and wherever the law and the judicial system will eventually not permit them to do what they want to do anyway.

HOWELL: So the travel ban delayed but, Larry, this question, how important is it for this administration to make sure that they reintroduce another travel ban, especially for Donald Trump's base?

SABATO: There's no question that Trump's base is enthusiastic about the travel ban and they want to see some version of it in effect.

But let's remember Trump's base is getting everything they've ever dreamed of, at least in terms of immigration. Our border control agents have been aggressively enforcing border control laws and the directives from the Trump administration.

In fact, many critics say they have been much too aggressive in their sending back to various countries individuals who really don't merit being deported.

So I'm not worried about his base. Maybe he is. But that base is not going to get everything it wants. And, in this case, they would be better off waiting for a well-considered alternative.

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HOWELL: Larry Sabato there. Thank you.

Still ahead here on NEWSROOM, another humanitarian crisis in the making. Iraqis escaping Mosul by the thousands as the battle for the western part of that city intensifies.

Plus another setback for Francois Fillon's presidential bid. Why a rally at the Eiffel Tower may be the French candidate's last stand. That's ahead.

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HOWELL: Welcome back. In the Iraqi city of Mosul, 12 civilians are being treated for injuries after a suspected chemical attack. The Red Cross says that their symptoms are consistent with a blistering chemical agent.

In the meantime, about 46,000 people, they've escaped from Western Mosul this past week as the offensive against ISIS drags on but up to 800,000 people remain trapped there.

A team of U.S. medics is helping with casualties from the fighting. Our Ben Wedeman reports. But a warning here that you may find many of the images in his report disturbing.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You got 100 of Tramadol and 75 of Ketamine.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Scorched by the flames from a suicide car bomb, an Iraqi soldier lies in shock and pain.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a wet -- we'll -- I'll do a layer of wet first.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): Medics at this frontline clinic struggle to stabilize him. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So we're going to get him on that same

helicopter?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE)?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. Is that something -- it might not be too late. He's going to call me back. He might not be able to get out of here for 30 minutes.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): This volunteer group, New York City Medics, is working just a 10-minute drive from the battle for Western Mosul.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Go ahead, (INAUDIBLE). Grab his arm. Make sure he's OK.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): Most have never been in a war zone. They treated only one civilian while we were there, a little girl with a toothache. Her family fled Mosul earlier that morning. The rest were soldiers, many with multiple wounds.

Jeff Evans normally works in Boulder, Colorado.

JEFF EVANS, MEDIC: So that guy had a gunshot wound right under his arm, like right below his armpit and I think he's actually escaped from it penetrating his lung. So I think it bounced down into his gut. But I mean, that's a critical patient, you know.

The first thing he said was, I don't want to die. I want to be able to go fight again.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): Some of the injured here are coming straight from the battlefield.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is shrapnel.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): Here they check their wounds...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) here too.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): -- change their bandages and send them on to the nearest hospital. The team comes from all over the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, Sorry, sorry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Put a little bit of water on it. OK.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): The head doctor from Germany.

Jeff left behind his wife and 11-year-old son to come here.

EVANS: I think as a father and as a husband, that the onus is on me to live through example and to do things that show my son how important it is to live, in a way, a selfless life.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): A selfless life, saving lives a very long way from home -- Ben Wedeman, CNN, south of Mosul.

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HOWELL: An up-close look there at the fighting that continues in Mosul.

Now to France, presidential candidate Francois Fillon is hoping that a rally on Sunday on Paris can keep his campaign hopes alive there. There have been several high-profile defections from his team and calls for the French conservative to step aside.

They are growing, all of this over claims that he misused public money to employ family members. Our Melissa Bell picks up the story from Paris.

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MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was another difficult day for Francois Fillon. He lost not only the spokesman of his campaign but two of its directors, its foreign affairs spokesman and its treasurer.

His support has really been hemorrhaging over the course of the last 48 hours. More than 60 Republican parliamentarians have said they no longer back his candidature for the party.

And yet the man who beat Alain Juppe back in November says that he will remain the party's candidate. He's looking towards Sunday and a rally that's he's called on the Trocadero Place here in Paris to try and show that he has the support of the people.

That gathering has already been criticized by the French president, Francois Hollande, who says it is, by definition, a criticism of the institutions of the republic; that is, of the judicial system that is taking Francois Fillon on.

Ever since it was announced he would likely be facing charges on the 15th of March, this having said all along that if he --

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BELL: -- faced charges he would be standing aside and then refusing to stand aside. This has all proved too much for so many of those who supported him thus par.

Now the calls for Alain Juppe, the man who came in second in that primary, to come back and save the party and be the party's candidate are growing almost, it seems, by the hour.

All the more so since this new poll today, which for the very first time put Emmanuel Macron first in the first round, even ahead of the Far Right's Marine Le Pen, but also suggested that were Alain Juppe to become the Republican Party candidate, he would not only beat Marine Le Pen but Emmanuel Macron as well -- Melissa Bell, CNN, Paris.

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HOWELL: Melissa, thank you for the reporting.

Still ahead here on NEWSROOM, so if you are into World War II history and you've ever wanted to drive a vintage tank from that war, well, stay with us because there are places where you can make that dream happen. We'll show you what it's like.

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HOWELL: Welcome back to NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell, here alongside Pedram Javaheri, our meteorologist, to talk about this slow-moving and strong tropical cyclone that is brewing off the coast of Madagascar.

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: We don't talk about Madagascar very often and rightfully so because they don't have too many large scale tropical cyclones.

This particular one has the potential to get there. Take a look at the images there out of Antananarivo, which is the capital city of Madagascar, the island home to about 22 million people. Think New York City metro population.

That's where the island stands there. But Madagascar really fascinating when you think about this because the island itself sits at an area just east of Africa. It's been there some well over 150 million years, when it broke off away from the continent itself.

And the biodiversity extremely rich as well. So the perspective with this particular tropical cyclone, it is sitting just north and northeast of the island. The population density, unfortunately, is the highest right there on the eastern coastline of Madagascar.

Of course there is the capital city right there with the highest population density.

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HOWELL: All right. This story for all the military buffs out there. Maybe you already know everything about World War II weaponry like the Sherman tank.

But what about actually being inside one and firing its guns?

CNN's Richard Roth visited a ranch in the U.S. state of Texas, where the star attractions are vintage tanks that actually work.

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RICHARD ROTH, CNN SENIOR U.N. CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Who were you expecting, General Patton?

I'm from Manhattan. I don't have a driver's license and I'm a bleeder.

Can I drive this tank?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, yes and yes.

ROTH: All right. Let's do it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's do it. You'll go up first.

ROTH: I'm so glad I wore a business suit.

Did I tell you I have flat feet that should disqualify me?

Ready for service.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, Richard.

(INAUDIBLE).

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ROTH: Oh, my god. Look at that drop.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let it roll. Give it a little gas.

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ROTH: I feel like we're going to fall straight down in this tank.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are. (INAUDIBLE).

ROTH: Sometimes I think diplomacy is best backed by military force. So here we go up this hill.

Now those sound like gunshots.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE).

You're pretty much going to have the gas pedal all the way forward.

ROTH: Oh, my god, I blew it.

How did I do?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was a lot worried at the beginning.

ROTH: Now you tell me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, well, it's over now.

ROTH: So we're done here, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, no, no, no. Range is hot. (INAUDIBLE).

I think you killed the mountain.

ROTH: Oh, my God. It was so hot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, it's hot. It's a flame thrower.

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HOWELL: Richard Roth typically reports at the U.N., I guess getting a little stress out there.

Thanks for being with us for CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell at the CNN Center in Atlanta. I'll have your world headlines right after the break. Stay with us.

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