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CNN NEWSROOM

Court Upholds Impeachment of South Korean President; Wholesale Dismissal of U.S. Attorneys by President Trump; FBI Chief to Testify about Russia Investigation; Iraqi Forces Making Progress in Mosul; Assad: U.S. Has No Concrete Plans to Defeat ISIS; U.S. Jobs Numbers No Longer Phony to Trump; Pope Considering Priesthoods for Married Men; Republicans Pulling the Plug on Tanning Bed Tax. Aired 5-6a ET

Aired March 11, 2017 - 05:00   ET

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


[05:00:00]

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She has done nothing wrong, actually.

HANNAH VAUGHAN JONES, CNN HOST (voice-over): The forces of former South Korean president Park Geun-hye take to the streets to protest her impeachment. We'll have the latest from Seoul (INAUDIBLE) look at the country's first female ex-president.

And cleaning house: the U.S. Justice Department abruptly sacks 46 federal prosecutors in a single day. What critics are saying about the way it was handled.

Plus...

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESPERSON: I talked to the president prior to this and he said to quote him very clearly, "They may have been phony in the past but it's very real now."

(LAUGHTER)

JONES (voice-over): Singing a different tune, U.S. press secretary Sean Spicer closing his thoughts after another stellar U.S. jobs report.

Live from London, welcome to our viewers here in Europe, in the United States and, of course, around the world, I'm Hannah Vaughan Jones, CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.

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JONES: We are monitoring celebrations and protests in South Korea this hour after the constitutional court upheld the impeachment of former President Park Geun-hye. Demonstrators there have been rallying for and against Park. Some protests turned violent on Friday and at least three people were killed.

The acting president has called for unity and a snap election is set to be held now within 60 days. For more on this now, our Will Ripley joins me live from the South Korean capital, Seoul.

Will, there has been a split in reaction between protesters of Park Geun-hye and her supporters.

What's the mood like there today?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It really is two very different moods, just within a couple of blocks of each other here in Seoul, Hannah. It's remarkable. We are right now with a large group, we are tailing behind them, because the music inside the group is so loud but this is a group of anti-Park demonstrators.

These are many of the people who've been coming out night after night for months, calling for the impeachment of President Park on these allegations and charges of corruption. They now have gotten what they asked for in that President Park will be leaving the Blue House, possibly within a matter of hours; at the most, within a day or two.

So what we are seeing out here on the streets is essentially a victory lap that these people are taking. There was one point where the leader of the crowd encouraged everybody to take a selfie with the hashtag #GetOutOfTheBlue House.

it struck me, Hannah, just a couple weeks ago, I was reporting from Pyongyang, North Korea, less than 200 kilometers where I am standing right now. This kind of thing you'd never see happen there. You'd also never see it happen in China, right next door to South Korea.

So, while, obviously, this has been a painful time for people that support Park, and we were at that demonstration earlier today, people say this is a real indignity for her, given her political legacy.

Of course, her father led this country for nearly two decades; both of her parents were assassinated. Yet, this is a healthy democracy in action, Hannah. This is what we are seeing on the streets of Seoul right now.

JONES: Will, you mentioned, she is still in the Blue House at the moment, expected to leave there possibly in the next couple of hours.

What's the timeline, though, for any criminal proceedings that might be brought against her?

RIPLEY: Well, she has automatically lost presidential immunity as of the ruling from the constitutional court.

We're just giving you another look; you can see how thick the crowds are here. So as of right now, essentially, prosecutors can begin investigating her activities, her allegations that, through a long- time friend of hers, she was soliciting millions of dollars in illegal bribes and money was being used by her friends to give their children an unfair advantage; to give organizations that her friends ran an unfair advantage.

Those are really what sparked these huge crowds, crowds of more than a million people came out here, because they were angry in this highly competitive society where people fight to get into the best universities and they fight for the best jobs. But the powerful and elite were getting an unfair advantage because of

their association with President Park. So that investigation could begin really at any moment. And we are told that Park, herself, has been holed up in the Blue House, pretty much in seclusion, watching coverage on television and hoping up until the very last moment that, in fact, the constitutional court would overthrow her impeachment.

And she would be able to resume the presidency and continue on for the rest of the year. Obviously we know now that that's not going to happen. She was the first female president in this country.

And she now becomes the first president to be thrown out by impeachment and could potentially be facing a criminal investigation and jail time as a result of the corruption allegations.

JONES: And, Will, as you continue to mingle your way through the crowds there, how --

[05:05:00]

JONES: -- crucial is the South Korean political situation, stability in South Korea for the wider region?

I'm thinking, in particular, of course, of the northern neighbors in Pyongyang?

RIPLEY: Well, what you have in place right now, Hannah, is a conservative government, a government that has worked very closely with the United States, that was quick to embrace things like the THAAD missile defense system to shoot down incoming projectiles.

Of course, that missile defense has made China very angry. They have for the moment cut off group tours to South Korea. And it's noticeable. The streets, the airports are a lot emptier.

If a progressive government were to be elected in, so a more liberal, left-leaning government, what you could potentially see happen here is intense militarization, more (INAUDIBLE) not only with China but also with North Korea. There are a lot of elected politicians here, who say they would like to see Seoul sit back down once again with North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un.

So step number one would be the election that has to take place within the next 60 days. The date is being thrown around, Hannah, is May 9th. Not a lot of time people here to chose their new leader, a leader that they have been demanding out on the streets night after night and their demands have been met.

JONES: Will Ripley, live for us there in Seoul, South Korea, a fast moving situation on the streets and a fast moving political situation there as well, Will, thank you.

Let's get more now about Park Geun-hye. She is the daughter of a former president and dictator. Her father, Park Chung-hee, seized power in a military coup back in 1961. Her mother was killed in 1974 in a botched attempt by North Korea to assassinate her father. Park then serves as the country's de facto first lady until her father

was also assassinated. He was killed by his security chief in 1979.

Park, herself, survived a 2006 attack when a man with a knife slashed her face at a political rally. She needed 60 stitches for the wound on her cheek.

For more on Park and her potential legacy, I am joined now from Seoul by Stephanie Studer. She's the Seoul bureau chief for "The Economist."

Stephanie, great to have you with us. Park Geun-hye has herself described herself as being wedded to the country, a country which has now made her a scapegoat for widespread corruption.

Is she the victim in this whole saga?

STEPHANIE STUDER, "THE ECONOMIST": Well, it is tragic in a way that her personal life, which, as you recounted, was so filled with tragic moments, has ended like this, her political career.

And if you look back over the last four years of her presidency, that again has been one that has also been marked by national tragedies. And in a way I think that those are what she leaves behind, that is part of her legacy now and, of course, her impeachment upheld yesterday by the constitutional court.

JONES: And given her family's connections with the country and the Park dynasty, if you like, do you sense there might be a comeback for her after all of the criminal legislation that has happened?

STUDER: I just don't see that happening. I recently visited her hometown and also the hometown of her father nearby and just to gauge the mood there. And this was before the implementation and these had been conservative strongholds for years.

And already there, I was sensing a shift. So if you go to the heartlands and feel that already, then I think that, you know, more broadly, that the legacy of the Park family is now being put into question.

JONES: Stephanie, for all of her protests that are happening around South Korea at the moment, particularly in Seoul where you are, people who are celebrating her impeachment, she does still have a good amount of support as well.

Do her supporters have a good reason to back her?

Does the evidence actually suggest that she has been made a scapegoat and a victim in this?

STUDER: Well, I think that, for those supporters, they are her staunchest supporters, they voted her in in 2012, on the basis of their admiration for her father and, for them, this whole saga has basically been a witch hunt by the Left in South Korea. I think that it's very difficult for them to find fault in her

because, in many ways, that reflects on the South Korea that they grew up with, such as her father, and in a way cast judgment on that extraordinary economic development that happened under him.

[05:10:00]

STUDER: So I think that, you know, for them, there won't be any change in the way that they admire her and I think that they're not going to see her, even if we see in coming months, now that she has lost her immunity from criminal investigation, if we do see that there were instances of criminal actions that come up in a trial, in a potential trial, then I think it will be very difficult for them to shift their view on that.

JONES: She remains in the Blue House, where she grew up in and the presidential house as well, we wait to see when she leaves there is and the criminal investigation continues. Stephanie Studer, thank you so much for joining us from Seoul, South Korea.

We turn our attention to the United States now, where the Justice Department abruptly fired 46 federal prosecutors in a single day. President Trump later asked two of them to stay. CNN's Jessica Schneider explains.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Those firings coming swiftly and abruptly and the people I talked with really flabbergasted that this happened so suddenly and with no notice.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions asking for the immediate resignation of 46 U.S. attorneys, although two have been asked to stay on directly by the president in a phone call Friday night.

But for the rest, this is an immediate dismissal. It's typical, though, for presidents to want to appoint their own appointees in these positions. But U.S. attorneys do usually get a bit more notice.

Some of these U.S. attorneys found out about their firings via the media or even the Department of Justice press release, one source saying that this could not have been handled any worse.

Now some are wondering if the president is, once again, getting his cues from right-wing media. FOX News host Sean Hannity said on his show Thursday night that President Trump should clean house, comparing it to what President Bill Clinton did upon taking office when he fired 93 U.S. attorneys.

But people are noting that in that case, those federal prosecutors got a lot more notice -- Jessica Schneider, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JONES: The sudden firings raise lots of questions, among them is whether the Trump administration believes its agenda is being compromised by career civil servants; this entrenched bureaucracy is sometimes referred to as the "deep state." The White House press secretary Sean Spicer was asked specifically about it on his briefing on Friday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Does the White House believe there is such a thing as the deep state that is actually working to undermine the president?

SPICER: Well, I think that there is no question, when you have eight years of one party in office, that there are people who stay in government or affiliated with -- you know, joined and continue to espouse the agenda of the previous administration.

So I don't think it should not come as any surprise that there are people that burrowed into government during eight years of the last administration and, you know, may have believed in that agenda and want to continue to seek it. I don't think that should come as a surprise to anyone.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JONES: More on that in a moment. We have more details now, though, on the new controversy surrounding U.S. President Donald Trump's former national security adviser. The White House insists the president did not know that Michael Flynn's firm did work for Turkey that would require Flynn to register as a foreign agent.

Flynn filed those papers just a few days ago. But the White House is acknowledging Mr. Trump's transition team was aware of the potential filing because Flynn contacted an attorney for the transition. More now from CNN's Jeff Zeleny.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SR. WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Was President Trump aware his first national security adviser, General Michael Flynn, was registered as a foreign agent to represent the government of Turkey?

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESPERSON: Just so we're clear, you wouldn't -- the -- General Flynn filed with the Department of Justice two days ago.

ZELENY (voice-over): White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Flynn's lobbying business was private and took place before he joined the administration although, at the same time, he was advising the Trump campaign last year.

SPICER: That is not up for the government to determine. There are certain private citizens' activities that you conduct and you seek counsel on or professional advice.

ZELENY (voice-over): Flynn's contract with the government of Turkey ended after the election. Spicer dismissed a series of questions about the lobbying disclosure. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The person who is in line to be the national security adviser may need to register as a foreign agent. And that doesn't raise --

SPICER: It's not a question of raise a red flag, John. It's a question of whether or not they gave them the advice that they are supposed to.

ZELENY (voice-over): On day 50 of the Trump presidency, this was the latest distraction at the White House. It has been a full week now since President Trump leveled the explosive accusation that President Obama was spying on him at Trump Tower. But again today, still no evidence.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you all very much. We're going to get to work. Thank you.

ZELENY (voice-over): Asked three times, the president would not say whether he had any proof to back up his unsubstantiated charges. The White House --

[05:15:00]

ZELENY (voice-over): -- is now trying to keep its focus on health care.

TRUMP: And that's what people want. They want repeal and replace.

ZELENY (voice-over): Yet Washington is consumed by Russia and the widening investigations into any connections between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives.

The congressional probe includes allegations of presidential wiretapping, which no one seems to know about but Mr. Trump.

Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told CNN's Manu Raju today he has seen no evidence but suggests the question will come up when FBI director James Comey testifies on Capitol Hill later this month.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIF.: He is certainly prepared for the question and I don't see any reason why he can't answer it. He may even welcome the opportunity.

ZELENY (voice-over): The top Republican on the committee, Chairman Devin Nunes, echoed his comments from earlier this week, that he had not seen any proof to back up the president's claims.

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), CALIF.: We want to find that out but at this point I just don't have anything to tell you.

ZELENY: All this talk of Russia from here at the White House to Capitol Hill have consumed and complicated the president's agenda. The White House is desperately trying to get back to health care and other matters. We'll see if President Trump tweets again and disrupts that this weekend -- Jeff Zeleny, CNN, the White House. (END VIDEOTAPE)

JONES: Brian Klaas is here with me now. He is a fellow in comparative politics for the London School of Economics.

Brian, welcome. Let's talk about General Michael Flynn. He's already been sacked for lying to the vice president. Now it appears he may have lied to the Trump administration itself -- or worse still the Trump administration knew that he was a foreign agent, acting as a foreign agent and yet they still allowed him to be in charge of American national security.

Your take on this?

BRIAN KLAAS, LONDON SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS: That's right. In October, Trump tweeted that he would put a ban on any senior executive official acting as a foreign agent or foreign lobbyist for another government.

That same month, Michael Flynn was taking $530,000 to work on behalf of Turkey's government. Trump's team was made aware that there was a possibility Flynn would have to file the legal paperwork to register as a foreign agent.

And he was still put on as the top national security adviser in classified briefings in the Oval Office.

So at best, it is a question about Trump's judgments. Worse, there's a serious question about national security and how the Trump administration is handling it at a time where someone who was advising the president was acting as a foreign agent on behalf of another government.

JONES: Thinking about the president's judgment as well, he has said that he thinks there is some sort of "deep state" working against him, agents within his administration, perhaps leftover from the Obama era, who are trying to undermine his presidency; 46 federal prosecutors we understand are gone in one single day as well.

Is this an administration trying to get to grips with what is currently out of their control?

KLAAS: So with the 46 prosecutors, remember that Clinton did something similar, but he didn't do it all at once.

(CROSSTALK)

KLAAS: In one day.

And Trump also did the same with ambassadors that were presidential appointments for Obama. But he didn't have replacements in place at the time. And that's a problem because it leaves gaps in expertise.

As far as the deep state, the deep state, the term comes from Turkey and Egypt, it's from an authoritarian context. And it usually refers to groups that perform false flag operations, assassinate people. It's not happening in America. But that being said, Trump is trying to blame any of his failures on

this sort of shadowy bureaucracy, it's a very dark view of what are effectively career bureaucrats, and presidents shift party all the time. This is something that's normal in American democracy.

The holdovers in the bureaucracy remain. And that's not a problem. But is trying to pin a lot of his problems in his early days of his administration on these officials.

JONES: And there are still some several thousand federal positions that are yet to be filled, I guess because, in large part, it's been slowed down in Congress with the confirmation hearings, but also just because this has been a particularly slow start.

KLAAS: Yes, well, he's blamed -- Trump has blamed the Democrats for being obstructionist. But the overwhelming majority of posts simply have not been nominated. There's hundreds that have not been nominated; whereas actually Congress has approved basically everyone who's been put forward by the Trump administration.

So this isn't some obstructionist ploy. It's simply the Trump administration trying to either leave these positions unfilled or simply not devoting attention to determining who should be in them.

JONES: Russia, a story that never goes away, it seems, we now understand that CNN has found that there are potentially some link in servers between a Russian bank and the Trump campaign team before he assumed the presidency.

Rex Tillerson as well, secretary of state, will be traveling around without the press corps -- this is Rex Tillerson, who is a friend of Russia and has been awarded medals by the Russian president.

What do you make of the Russia saga ongoing?

KLAAS: Well, it's not going to go away because there are very serious and deep questions that need to be answered. There will be an appropriate investigation, there may even be either an independent council or a select committee or a special prosecutor, we don't know exactly how it will take shape.

But any of these individual stories can be explained away by logic. The thing that there has been no logic for is why all of these stories exist in tandem and why the shifting denials and varying accounts of what happened.

Why are all these people in Trump World dealing with Russia?

And when they're asked about it, why are they saying something different preliminarily and then changing their story when new evidence comes out?

And that's something where --

[05:20:00] KLAAS: -- I think the American people say there is something going on here; we should get to the bottom of it. And there is actual evidence of either a cover-up or of some sort of wrongdoing. We don't know exactly what it is but we should figure it out, because it's about the national security of the United States of America.

JONES: Just very briefly, Rex Tillerson traveling around without the traditional press corps with him, what do you make of that?

KLAAS: They've claimed it was to save money. That's not a fair claim because the press needs to be looking at what the secretary of state is doing abroad. It's a branch of the U.S. government and it needs to be transparency and journalistic coverage.

JONES: Brian Klaas, thank you very much for coming in on a Saturday morning. We appreciate it.

Next on CNN NEWSROOM, the battle for Western Mosul in Iraq rages on. We'll take you inside the bullets in the neighborhood.

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(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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JONES: Street by street, house by house, Iraqi forces are making progress in their fight to recapture all of Mosul from ISIS. The battle, though, is taking a horrible toll on civilians, tens of thousands fleeing in just the past few weeks. But as our Ben Wedeman now reports, others have remained behind, determined to ride out the war.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is how you get around West Mosul. You run.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language).

WEDEMAN (voice-over): The soldiers here in the southern neighborhood of Danadan aren't confident of victory.

"The situation here is very good," says Ahmed (ph). "ISIS has run away. There are no problems in this area."

His comrade, Ali (ph), agrees.

"ISIS is finished," he says.

The battle passed through here just a few days ago, leaving massive destruction in its wake. Attack helicopters are busy overhead.

WEDEMAN: This is what the Iraqi military says is a liberated area but there's gunfire nearby and not a civilian to be found. WEDEMAN (voice-over): Just a few blocks away, most of the houses are

empty and many of the few who stayed behind are leaving. There's no running water, electricity or food.

Omahamed (ph), however --

[05:25:00]

WEDEMAN (voice-over): -- staying put. She and her family hid out in their basement for 16 days while the battle raged around them. Their only food was cold porridge made of flour and water.

"The children were afraid," she recalls. "We gave them and the old folks medicine to make them sleep through the whole thing."

She's the exception. Thousands are fleeing the city every day.

"Our house was destroyed," Ivania (ph) says. "ISIS had forced us out. Then it was hit by a rocket."

Meriam (ph) left her home this morning and now enjoys a cigarette, forbidden under the rule of ISIS, although, she says, they weren't above a few sins of their own.

"They took pills, they drank alcohol, they oppressed us," she says. "But when they came to you, they'd say 'God says this, Muhammad says that.'"

Their experiment at being holier than thou has ended in this -- Ben Wedeman, CNN, West Mosul.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(WEATHER REPORT)

JONES: Coming up on CNN NEWSROOM this hour, President Trump's first full month was a big one for U.S. jobs and his aides say you can take the numbers to the bank. We'll explain next.

And Donald Trump's choice for U.S. ambassador to Israel has deep ties to the Israeli settlement movement. We'll visit the West Bank for details.

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[05:30:00]

HANNAH VAUGHAN JONES, CNN HOST: Welcome back to our viewers here in the U.K. and the U.S. and around the world, you are watching CNN NEWSROOM. It's great to have you with us. I'm Hannah Vaughan Jones with the headlines we're following for you this hour.

(HEADLINES)

JONES: Staying now with Syria and the story of ISIS as well, Syrian PEREZ: Bashar al-Assad says his country and the United States have a common goal in defeating ISIS but he says he has yet to see Donald Trump's talk translate into real action.

In an interview with the Chinese TV network Phoenix, President Assad said during his campaign and after the campaign, the main rhetoric of the Trump administration and the president himself was about the priority of defeating ISIS.

I said since the beginning that this is a promising approach to what's happening. He goes on to say, we haven't seen anything concrete yet regarding this rhetoric. We wait to see how the White House responds to that.

Now to an investigation that we touched on earlier with my guest. This is about a highly secretive division of the FBI. Sources are telling CNN that federal investigators are continuing to examine if there was a computer server connection between the Trump organization and a Russian bank.

The Internet data shows that last year a computer server owned by the Russian-based Alfa Bank pinged a computer server being used by the Trump organization over and over again. CNNMoney investigative reporter Jose Pagliery has the details for us.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOSE PAGLIERY, CNNMONEY CYBER SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: What these servers are doing is that a Russian bank was repeatedly looking up the unique Internet address of the particular computer server in the United States being used by the Trump organization.

In the computer world, it's nothing more than looking up someone's phone number over and over again. While there isn't necessarily a phone call, it usually indicates an intention to communicate, according to several computer scientists we spoke to.

Now a group of computer scientists who obtained these leaked Internet records, records that frankly they were never supposed to make public, they were puzzled as to why Alfa Bank in Russia was doing this.

Was it trying to send e-mail to the Trump organization? They just couldn't tell.

Now last summer during the presidential campaign, the Russian bank looked up the address on this Trump corporate server some 2,800 times. That's a whole lot. And to put it in context, that's more lookups than this Trump server received from any other source.

The only other entity we know of that was doing this many Internet lookups for this Trump server was Spectrum Health. This is a medical facility chain led by Dick DeVos, the husband of Betsy DeVos. And if that name sounds familiar, that's because Betsy DeVos is --

[05:35:00]

PAGLIERY: -- later appointed by the president as U.S. Education Secretary. Those two entities made up 99 percent of the lookups. And it's that

that computer scientists found very strange. Now all the corporations involved say they've never communicated by e-mail with the Trump organization. And they have different, sometimes competing explanations for that server activity.

But they have not provided any proof to CNN and they don't always agree about what's going on.

For example, the Russian bank thinks it was receiving Trump hotel e- mail marketing last summer, which would make sense because a lot of its executives stay at Trump hotels.

But they weren't able to provide CNN with a single e-mail to back up that theory. Meanwhile, the American marketing company that was indeed sending Trump e-mails out says it wasn't doing so at that time in the summer.

Alfa Bank for its part did stress that none of its top executives have any affiliation at all with President Trump or the Trump organization and they put out a very firm statement. They said that neither Alfa Bank nor its principals, including Mikhail Fridman and Petr Aven, have or have had any contact with Mr. Trump or his organization.

So in essence what we have got here is an unanswered mystery.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JONES: Jose Pagliery reporting there.

Now the U.S. president has some good news. The Trump White House is celebrating healthy U.S. jobs numbers, employers hired 235,000 more workers in February, the president's first full month in office. Mr. Trump's aides say that's no fiction. Tom Foreman explains.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESPERSON: Obviously, we are very pleased to see the jobs report that came out this morning. It's great news for American workers.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): More manufacturing, more work in health care, education and mining, almost a quarter million added jobs have the first unemployment rate report for the new president down to 4.7 percent.

The president tweeting, "Great news and much more than expected."

But hold on. Democrats say this is just a continuation of a trend started by Barack Obama, noting ever since the recession ended, the unemployment rate has been pretty steadily dropping. Yet when Obama spoke a year ago of a barely higher unemployment rate of 4.9 percent, listen to what candidate Trump said.

TRUMP: Don't believe those phony numbers when you hear 4.9 percent and five percent unemployment. The number is probably 28 percent, 29 percent, as high as 35, in fact I even heard recently 42 percent.

FOREMAN: It was a standard part of the Trump stump speech, calling the federal jobless rate misleading, deceptive, fake.

TRUMP: It is such a phony number.

These numbers are an absolute disaster.

The unemployment number, as you know, is a totally fiction.

FOREMAN: Now the White House suggests the driving force behind this better than expected jobs report is optimism over the president's business, trade, immigration and tax policies. Never mind that some analysts say the unusually warm winter weather also deserves credit for enabling more construction work. And as for all those past claims about phony government figures.

SPICER: I talked to the president prior to this and he said to quote him very clearly, they may have been phony in the past but it's very real now.

(LAUGHTER)

FOREMAN: Of course President Trump has another reason to embrace this report. He has pledged under his leadership, voters will see 25 million new jobs over the next 10 years. And with these numbers, at least for now, that promise is on track -- Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JONES: From jobs to the Middle East and Donald Trump spoke to Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas by phone on Friday for the first time since he took office. The U.S. president emphasized peace in the Middle East is possible and it is time to make a deal.

He invited Mr. Abbas to the White House but no date has yet been set. Reports say the Palestinian leader will stress his concerns about Israeli settlement building and the need for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Mr. Trump's choice for U.S. ambassador to Israel has been a supporter of settlements. He's now just one step away from confirmation, a Senate approved David Friedman's nomination on Thursday and the full Senate could confirm him next week. As CNN's Oren Liebermann now reports, President Trump also has connections to Israel settlement activity.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the shadow of the Palestinian city of Ramallah, this is the settlement President Trump has supported. His name is not in any of the buildings, but his mark and those of his administration are here in Beit El, one of the oldest settlements, home to 6,500 Israelis.

LIEBERMANN: Do you see Trump as positive for the settlements and positive for Beit El?

CHAIM SILBERSTEIN, BEIT EL SPOKESPERSON: Absolutely. I think that he loves Israel.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): Trump donated $10,000 to the settlement's schools in 2003 according to tax filings from the Trump Foundation. Tax documents show the Kushner Family Foundation --

[05:40:00]

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): -- his son-in-law's family charity, also donated tens of thousands of dollars.

But Trump's pick for ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, has the deepest connections. Friedman's name is on some of the buildings here, so is his father's. Friedman, a long-time supporter of a settlement school. He's even president of the school's fundraising arm, which raises some $2 million a year.

Critics question whether Friedman's loyalty of Beit El could conflict with what's in the best interest for the U.S., which considers the settlement expansion unhealthy to peace.

SEN. TOM UDALL (D), NEW MEXICO: I would like you, for the record, to answer in writing whether you've separated your financial interests from that of Beit El.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): On the conservative Arutz Sheva news outlet run from Beit El, Friedman, a regular columnist, has advocated for settlements, illegal under international law and against the Palestinian state.

He compared liberal Jews to kapos, Jews who worked for the Nazis during World War II, accused the U.S. State Department of a century of anti-Semitism and called the two-state solution an illusion for a nonexistent problem.

DAVID FRIEDMAN, NOMINEE FOR UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO ISRAEL: I regret the use of such language.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): Friedman apologized for those comments during his confirmation hearing, even saying he'd support Beit El becoming part of a Palestinian state in a peace deal.

SEN. EDWARD MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: If the land in Beit El was included in a two-state solution and that that land had to be returned to the Palestinians, would you support the return of that land to the Palestinians?

FRIEDMAN: In the context of a consensual filigree to a two-state solution?

MARKEY: That's correct.

FRIEDMAN: Yes.

MARKEY: You would?

FRIEDMAN: Yes.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): Beit El's spokesman Chaim Silberstein standing by Friedman.

SILBERSTEIN: In his position as ambassador, he would certainly fulfill the requirements of that position and he would support what his government decided.

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JONES: CNN's Oren Liebermann reporting there. We will have more on CNN NEWSROOM after the break.

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JONES: Welcome back.

Pope Francis is considering a possible shift in how the Roman Catholic Church deals with marriage and the priesthood. The pontiff is suggesting he is open to allowing married Catholic men to become priests. Pope Francis told a German newspaper the global shortage of priests is a, quote, "enormous problem." Here's how CNN's religious commentator Father Edward Beck explained it.

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FATHER EDWARD BECK, CNN RELIGION COMMENTATOR: With the shortage, especially in remote areas, he's thinking about perhaps married priests. Now of course, it has to be you're married already and then you can become a priest.

If you are already a priest and single you can't get married and stay a priest. So again there's a kind of a little bit of a double standard, which some priests don't appreciate what they're hearing right now. But we have to see how it evolves.

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JONES: Well, most priests are required to be celibate.

But that wasn't always the case.

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BECK: After the first thousand years of the church, priests could be married.

And then when they started to give property to their children, it was a sociopolitical issue and then it changed. And then of course we spiritualized celibacy. But there was really nothing to say that priests couldn't be married from the beginning.

The disciples were married, the apostles. And so what the pope has said is it's a discipline. It's not dogma. It can change.

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JONES: Father Edward Beck explaining for us there.

Almost a dozen European countries are holding elections this year and the stakes are high as far as the European Union is concerned. Populist candidates are doing well. And they could win in the Netherlands and France. French far right leader Marine Le Pen has turned her once fringe party into a political force.

CNN's Melissa Bell traveled to Northern France to visit a rural town that has turned to Le Pen's National Front after years of Socialist rule.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): (INAUDIBLE) packed into one town. It's very rural. It used to be industrial. There's an agricultural center that's disintegrated. There's also a history of corruption in local politics. It's a place that represents the French public opinions.

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Henin Beaumont is Christophe Szczurek, the town's deputy mayor since 2014, when the far right National Front took over after nearly a century of Socialist rule. Its once prosperous streets are deserted, the coal mines on which it was built, closed.

Unemployment is roughly twice the national average. Henin Beaumont was natural Socialist territory.

So what changed?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): You can explain it by people being fed up in France and around the world. That's what's at the heart of this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): As a Frenchman I've seen roamers get more help than I do. I understand what she means when she says we need to put a stop to this because, in France, we don't feel at home anymore.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I think those who vote for National Front don't admit to it. Today I think we stigmatize people who vote for National Front. I don't like having someone dictate my vote to me.

BELL (voice-over): And sure enough, many of the locals we spoke to were not willing to share their thoughts on camera.

Not far from the town hall, this charity helps some 600 families to survive. The food is sold at 20 percent of its normal price. The man who created this supermarket says that to his --

[02:25:00]

BELL (voice-over): -- customers, many of whom are trying to survive on less than 400 euros a month, a corruption scandal involving the last Socialist mayor was just too much.

For many, the National Front suddenly seemed the only party worth voting for.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): It didn't bring an answer but it brought a way out. Voters say to themselves, I've had enough. Let's go to the other side. In many towns today, there are families that can no longer afford to live. That's the system we're in, where money rules and kills families.

BELL (voice-over): Freida (ph) used to shop here. Now this daughter of Algerian immigrants works here but she says she still struggles to survive and she explains that she's not put off by the National Front's anti-immigrant rhetoric.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): We feel like we've been duped. We've been lied to so much. She is credible, though while at her words not be credible. Why? Because it's Madame Le Pen? I don't agree with that.

BELL (voice-over): Back at the town hall, Christophe Szczurek says that where Henin Beaumont has led, the rest of France is now likely to follow.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): It's the way the wind is blowing. Whether it's France, Donald Trump's victory or Brexit, there's a real willingness for change in a lot of countries. Globalization creates winners, losers and often it's the little towns, the rural ones, the ones we don't hear of because the media doesn't cover them.

BELL: Everyone we spoke to today has said that for the first time in decades, things had been done for their town --

[05:50:00]

BELL: -- they also all said without exception that they would be voting National Front in the presidential election.

Very few of them, though, were willing to speak to us on camera, a remainder that, even here, in National Front territory, there is still a vote that dare not speak its name but that is determined to express itself in the ballot box -- Melissa Bell, CNN, Henin Beaumont.

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JONES: Lots to watch in Europe in the coming months. Stay with us here on CNN NEWSROOM, more headlines after this break.

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JONES: One of the lesser known provisions of ObamaCare is a tax on tanning beds. Now congressional Republicans are promising to pull the plug on it. CNN's Jeanne Moos explains.

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JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Remember the days when, instead of a tan line, a tan that crossed the line became news?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have been tanning my whole life.

BILL MAHER, HBO HOST: And you get to be the same color as a 500-year- old iceman mummy?

Stop.

MOOS (voice-over): We eventually put the tan mom story to bed. But the tanning bed is back in the news or more precisely repealing the tanning tax.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Paid for on the backs of so many females.

[05:55:00]

MOOS (voice-over): As part of ObamaCare, tanning customers have been paying a 10 percent tax. The idea was to deter people from risking skin cancer and also to bring in revenue. President Obama joked about it at the time.

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BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The following individuals shall be excluded from the indoor tanning tax within this bill. Snooki, J. Wow, The Situation and House Minority Leader John Boehner.

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MOOS (voice-over): In those days, Boehner was the most famous orange guy. But he has been replaced by the man comedians love to paint with a broad brush.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Agent Orange.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That orange slub.

JOHN OLIVER, HBO HOST: An old piece of luggage covered in Cheez Whiz.

MOOS (voice-over): The new Republican health care bill would repeal the tax on tanning, prompting tweets like, "The Cheeto in chief probably doesn't like the tanning tax."

MOOS: Of course, we don't know for sure if the president uses a tanning bed or maybe tanning spray. Some makeup artists think he is using the wrong shade of makeup on top of spray tan.

MOOS (voice-over): The industry says the tax has forced half of the tanning salons in the country to close while critics argue fear of cancer is what's driving away customers.

Missouri Republican Jason Smith said the sun is what causes most skin cancer, facetiously suggesting...

JASON SMITH (R): Why have they not proposed a tax on the sun?

MOOS (voice-over): It used to be orange is the new tax but now it's the new president.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Creamsicle.

MOOS (voice-over): Better a Creamsicle than...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm saying burnt up.

MOOS (voice-over): Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

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JONES: And that wraps up this hour of CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Hannah Vaughan Jones. For viewers in the U.S., "NEW DAY" is ahead, for other viewers around the world, "BEST OF QUEST" starts in just a moment. Thanks so much for watching CNN, the world's news leader.