Return to Transcripts main page


White House Defends Travel Ban, Wiretapping Claims; Dutch Prime Minister Celebrates Victory Over Populists; U.S. Promising New Approach To North Korea Threat; Top Democrat: Russian TV Paid $33K To Flynn; Heated Exchanges at White House Press Briefing; Suspected Brussels Attacks Ringleader Still at Large; Civilians Flee Mosul as Battle Intensifies Against ISIS; French Voters Sound Off on Le Pen's Appeal. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired March 16, 2017 - 16:00:00   ET





HALA GORANI, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Hala Gorani. We are live at CNN London. Thanks for being with us this Thursday. This is THE WORLD


Under fire on multiple fronts, the American president, Donald Trump, is facing a number of challenges, as well as growing pushback on his

controversial wiretapping claims. Leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee are now joining other officials who say they see no evidence of

any government surveillance of Trump Tower last year. This, of course, contradicts something Donald Trump tweeted several days ago.

Also for Donald Trump, blocked again. Two federal judges have now ruled against the president's latest attempts at a travel ban. And on the health

care front, Mr. Trump's effort to repeal and replace Obamacare hangs in the balance in the House as more Republicans join the opposition.

Now a White House spokesperson came out firing a short time ago, lashing out at those questioning those wiretapping claims and vowing to appeal the

travel ban rulings.

Let's bring in CNN senior political analyst, Ron Brownstein. He's a senior editor at "The Atlantic." All right, there's a lot to unpack here.

Let's first start with -- let's first start, of course, with the Senate Intelligence Committee joining the House Intelligence Committee, in

saying, look, we have no evidence that we know of, that there was any wiretapping of Trump Tower done by the Obama administration. And what do

you make of the reaction of the White House to this?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It is striking. Sean Spicer, literally, minutes ago, doubling down and saying the president does

not retract his claim at all. And it really gets to -- you know, the president right now is besieged on both style and substance.

On both a policy agenda, particularly with the health care bill that is struggling in Congress, but also in the continuation of his style as

candidate into the presidency. Where he has repeatedly made accusations or claims that simply cannot be supported by the facts.

It was one thing as a candidate, people were willing to look past some of that, perhaps in the hopes that he would behave differently as president,

perhaps because they want him to change.

But as president, it is clear it's one of the reasons his approval rating is down around 40 percent, which viewers should understand is far lower

than any newly elected president at this stage.

GORANI: And by the way, Ron, even a Fox News interview didn't go exactly how Mr. Trump may have hoped. Let's listen to a clip and discuss it off

the back of it.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: With the CIA, I just want people to know, the CIA was hacked and a lot of things taken.

That was during the Obama years. That was not during us that was during the Obama situation. Mike Pompeo is there now doing a fantastic job.


GORANI: Well, a high-ranking Democrat in the House says Donald Trump revealed classified information right there, Ron. Listen.


REPRESENTATIVE ADAM SCHIFF (D), HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE MEMBER: It's one thing if the president has a detailed and thoughtful discussion with

the intelligence community about what to declassify, what to release to the public, but if on the other hand, this was simply the president looking for

an opportunity to attack his predecessors, predecessor and giving little thought to the consequences of what he might be disclosing, that is a big



GORANI: I mean, how is the White House going to get itself out of this one? Explain this one away?

BROWNSTEIN: I don't think they are, Hala. Look, for Donald -- for part of Donald Trump's base, the fact that he breaks all of these norms, excuse me,

and says whatever comes into his head is exactly what they wanted him to do. And we have seen stories and focus groups of Trump supporters who say,

yes, we're glad he's going to Washington and breaking the China and breaking windows and moving things around.

On the other hand, on Election Day, as we've talked about before, roughly one quarter of the people who voted for him said they weren't sure he was

qualified to be president. And when you get beyond that base, the doubts about Trump personally.

And whether he has the temperament, the fitness, the discipline to be the president I think, at this point, is a bigger threat to him politically

than even the controversy over his agenda.

And all these episodes, one after the other, I think are just one more brick on that pile that may be what eventually break. And of course, the

ones who would feel that would be Republicans in the 2018 election.

GORANI: So the overall impact would be my next question. You're thinking midterms, potentially --


GORANI: -- but the White House itself, is any of this deliberate, do you think, or do you think -- what is happening in that White House right now?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes and no. It's deliberate in the sense that, as I said, they do believe that shattering norms is not a negative with his core


[11:05:07]And I think they -- you know, President Trump revels in that role. But I think -- not -- there is not a discipline here in the sense of

there being a strategy.

And you see in legislation and in the budget, the struggle of kind of fusing Trump's fundamentally America-first nationalism, like you're going

to be talking about in the Netherlands, with the more conventional conservatism of a Paul Ryan.

I mean, just think about the budget Donald Trump put out today. It hits very hard at domestic programs aimed at young people and poor people, but

it exempts Medicare and Social Security, which benefit the older, white voters who are at the core of his coalition.

On the other hand, the health care bill that is struggling in the House imposes its greatest costs, raises premiums 25 percent for older, working

age adults who are mostly white and mostly Republican. It simply does not fit in.

And trying to fuse all of this with a White House that has not been a very nimble in handling policy, I think, is becoming a more, a kind of more

obvious challenge that will reverberate not only to health care, but another big priority of tax reform.

GORANI: Yes, and by the way, you mentioned the budget, now it does completely eliminate funding for agencies that, as you mentioned, perhaps

are agencies that are more popular with left-leaning Americans, that believe things like the African Development Foundation, Legal Services

Corporation, The National Endowment for the Humanities, The U.S. Institute of Peace, The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

I mean, all of these programs that in the grand scheme of things don't cost much in terms of the percentage of the budget, but funding for those things

going away. Overall, of course, those who support Donald Trump will think that's a good idea. But overall do Americans think this is a good idea?

BROWNSTEIN: No, it's a very hard sale and Lindsey Graham, for example, have already said, like most president's budgets, it's dead on arrival.

But it is indicative, though, of the repositioning of the party because what's not being cut is as revealing as what is.

In essence, President Trump is proposing a big increase in defense spending, which most Republicans agree with, with big cuts in discretionary

programs, and the domestic discretionary programs and education scientific research and nutrition, that's where we make the investments in the

productivity of the next generation, which is heavily diverse and democratic leaning.

On the other hand, he is very conspicuously, unlike other Republicans, exempted from cuts the programs for the elderly, Medicare and Social

Security, which benefit a predominantly white, predominantly Republican constituency.

At this point, there is a sharp edge of generational warfare to this budget. And I think, again, the health care doesn't fit in because that is

a more kind of conventional Republican thinking.

And the irony of the health care bill, the Republican health care bill, is it would lower costs for many younger people, but really hit hard older

people with big health needs, and that's the core of the modern Republican coalition, older, lower income, white Americans.

And so many of these Republican senators from blue collar states like Tom Cotton in Arkansas getting second thoughts.

GORANI: Certainly they realize that it will not be very necessarily very popular with their constituents. I want to get you lastly on the travel

ban. Obviously, Ron, in terms of our viewers all over the world, this has been one of the biggest issues they've been most interested in this travel


So the 2.0 version, obviously, that was suspended by a judge in Hawaii. Let's listen to Sean Spicer moments ago, vowing to appeal this ruling and

lashing out at all the skepticism of the president's wiretapping claims. It got fiery. Let's listen.



SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He stands by it, but again, you're characterizing what happened today -- no, no -- I know --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Inaudible) exactly from their statement --

SPICER: I understand that. At the same time, they acknowledged that they have not been in contact with the Department of Justice. But again, I go

back to what I said at the beginning -- hold on, it's interesting, at the same time, where were you coming to the defense of that same intelligence

committee and those members when they said there was no connection to Russia? You didn't seem to report it then. So you want to comment and you

want to perpetuate a false narrative --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I did report that Clapper said that.

SPICER: But when those individuals have come out time and time again, when Chairman Nunes has said, number one that there's no information that he is

aware of that that existed, that got zero reporting.

Number two, when he went out yesterday and said, quote, "I think it's very possible," you don't include that in the question mark. The bottom line is

that the president said last night that he would be providing -- that there would be additional information coming forward. There's a ton of media

reports out there that indicate that there was something going on during the 2016 election.


GORANI: All right, so really what we're seeing, Ron, is Sean Spicer attacking journalists over and over and over again for how and what they

report in order to defend the possibility that his boss, the president, floated that President Obama had Trump Tower wiretapped during the

campaign. So, it's just -- it's becoming more and more tense in that briefing room.

BROWNSTEIN: It is. And it's clearly a strategy. As we said, there is a portion of the electorate, a portion of Donald Trump's base that will

thrill to hear that, who are thrill to see him attacking what they view as elite institutions that have abandoned them.

[16:10:05]But there are lots of other Americans who will find all of this confirmation of their anxieties about whether President Trump is someone

they can trust and someone who has the discipline to be the president.

And by the way, those court decisions really reflect on where we started. I mean, in both of those court decisions, the judges blocking the second

version of the travel ban cite both his words and the words of some of his advisers in concluding that this represented unconstitutional religious


And what a president says matters. The cliche is a president's words can move markets and send armies on the march. And President Trump is -- has

spoken in a way that is different than other presidents.

You can imagine, you know, with presidents, typically, there's an enormous process that the words coming out of his mouth are the last words, the last

part of a long assembly line. Donald Trump is tweeting in many cases unmediated.

I don't think a lot of proofreaders were there to help how he spelled "tap," for example. So he is kind of communicating in a different way. It

worked for him as a candidate, works for him with a portion of the electorate as president, but it is clearly causing problems for him not

only with voters but with the courts.

GORANI: All right, Ron Brownstein, thanks very much for joining us. Really appreciate your time on this.

And Ron mentioned the Netherlands. There was a big electoral test there. Voters there came out in record numbers on Wednesday to deliver a victory

to the incumbent, the Prime Minister Mark Rutte and his conservative VVD party.

Now why was the world watching? It was to see how the populist, Geert Wilders, was going to do and he did not do as well as expected in this

pivotal election. He came in a pretty distant second.

Now, his extreme views on barring Muslim immigration clearly failed to persuade Dutch voters in the numbers that he'd hoped. Atika Shubert

reports from The Hague.


ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A triumphant entrance by the night's winner, reminiscent of U.S. President

Donald Trump in style, but not in substance, as Prime Minister Mark Rutte pointed out in his victory speech.

MARK RUTTE, DUTCH PRIME MINISTER (through translator): This night is a night for the Netherlands. After Brexit, after the American elections,

where we said, stop it. Stop it to the wrong type of populism.

SHUBERT (on camera): Celebrations long into the night as Rutte supporters credit him for stopping the anti-immigration, anti-E.U. populism of Geert

Wilders right in its tracks.

(voice-over): Rutte may have staved off the threat of populism championed by Geert Wilders, the leader of the far-right Party for Freedom, but

Wilders hasn't been silenced. He has increased the PBB share of seats by 5 to 20 and he has succeeded over the years in pushing other parties further

to the right in their attempt to counter him.

GEERT WILDERS, LEADER OF DUTCH FREEDOM PARTY (through translator): If they need me or if they need the PVV for talks, then I am happy to take part.

If not, then they haven't gotten rid of me yet. With more people, with 19 to 20 people in parliament, we will have a strong opposition against the

cabinet, and we will make their lives difficult every day.

SHUBERT: Having topped the polls during the campaign, it was thought big gains by Wilders could be the sign of further populist gains across Europe.

So far, it's attracting unprecedented attention from the world's media on these elections -- a first for the small country.

Buoyed by issues like Dutch identity and with the surprise of Brexit in mind, voter turnout was the highest in decade. A fractured populist

allowed fringe parties to come out with big gains. The left-leaning Green Party, winning the biggest municipality, Amsterdam, outright, but one thing

dominated the night.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Populism here in the Netherlands has stopped and I am very happy with that.

SHUBERT: With no one party winning a clear majority, negotiations to form a multi-coalition government will now get underway and could continue for

some time. Though Wilders says he is willing to be part of a coalition that is unlikely to happen, all the major parties have pledged not to work

with him. Atika Shubert, CNN, The Hague.


GORANI: Arend Jan Boekestijn, lecturer at Utrecht University is in The Hague. Arend, thanks for being with us. First of all, what's your -- I

mean, when you saw the results, the party of the prime minister didn't do as well as last election, but came out first. So has this populist wave

sort of stopped with the Netherlands, do you think?

AREND JAN BOEKESTIJN, LECTURER, UTRECHT UNIVERSITY: It seems like it. It seems like the international populist style starting with Brexit and Trump

has stopped in the Netherlands. But the reason why Rutte's party is a conservative liberal party has done so well is rather peculiar and rather

specific, because it's very much linked to this unprecedented diplomatic row between the Netherlands and Turkey over the weekend.


[16:15:00]BOEKESTIJN: So it could have all been very different.

GORANI: So the row you're referring to is when the government of the Netherlands refused to grant landing rights to the Turkish foreign minister

to come campaign with Turkish-Dutch citizens ahead of a referendum in Turkey that would expand the power of the president. So what the prime

minister did is he stood up to President Erdogan, and you're saying politically, that helped him?

BOEKESTIJN: It helped him enormously. Many people in the Netherlands felt that the Turks went too far. They heard that Erdogan was already speaking

about imposing sanctions on the Dutch, and then our diplomats refused to negotiate under threats.

And then, the Dutch government decided not to grant the Turkish minister landing rights. Now, this decisive stance has greatly influenced and

greatly boosted the vote for the conservative party of the prime minister.

GORANI: But Arend, what's interesting is what you're saying, is that had there not been this unexpected, unusual, pretty unique event, which was

this big row with Turkey, that potentially, we could have seen Geert Wilders do a lot better?

BOEKESTIJN: I think. You can never prove a counterfactual, of course.

GORANI: That's true.

BOEKESTIJN: It seems that 33 seats, prime minister got 33 seats out of 150. It could easily have been 25 for him, if this row wouldn't have

happened. And also, Wilders could have had more than 19. So it's really - - historians will write books about this very, very impressive weekend we had.

GORANI: But what I thought was interesting, too, and I just got back from the Netherlands is that, yes, Geert Wilders got his 21 seats. The prime

minister's party got the 33 seats, et cetera. But then we saw all these smaller parties, the Greens, for, instance. I think they tripled the

number of seats with their very young 30-year-old leader of Moroccan, Indonesian origin, et cetera. So there is a completely different side of

Dutch politics in those smaller parties and they're gaining a lot of traction.

BOEKESTIJN: Yes, but only the Green Party has quadrupled. If you look at the left, at the total left parties, then they decreased in the number of

seats they have. It seems to me that we will have cabinet, consisting of the conservatives, of liberals, of Christian Democrats, and a small

Christian party or, perhaps, also to Greens. That means that the establishment has won. It will be a continuation of the things we've had.

GORANI: And I'm sorry to jump in. When you say, the establishment has won, we haven't heard that line in a really long time in a western

democracy. It's been -- it's been the case for the last year and a half, but the establishment has been getting trounced.

BOEKESTIJN: Yes, but on the other hand, Wilders has managed to influence the policy lines and all the statements of the mainstream parties, yes?

The prime minister himself said during the elections to people, if immigrants don't like our norms and values, please go. These were very

tough lines.


BOEKESTIJN: So what we see is that some ideas of Wilders are now becoming part also of the mainstream parties.

GORANI: Right. Even Wilders himself says, even if I don't get the number of seats that, you know, as predicted, I've won already because they are

all talking about what I've been talking. Thank you so much, Arend. Go ahead, finish your thought.

BOEKESTIJN: There's a big difference. OK.

GORANI: Yes, Arend Jan Boekestijn, thank you, of Utrecht University, a pleasure having you on the program this evening.

Up next, the U.S. secretary of state says there is a need for a new approach with North Korea. Rex Tillerson is meeting with U.S. allies on

his first official visit to Asia.

Plus, new reports of more Russian connections to one of Trump's former aides, including thousands of dollars in payment by a state-run television

to Mike Flynn. We'll be right back.



GORANI: Promising a new policy on North Korea after decades of failed approach is the message from the new secretary of state, a man we haven't

heard from much, Rex Tillerson. He is beginning his first official visit to Asia as U.S. secretary of state. He didn't take the press with him,

though, as is custom in the United States.

He met with the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, and other top officials in Tokyo today. His next stops are Seoul and Beijing. Tillerson

says he's exchanging ideas on a new strategy for handling the threat from North Korea. Listen.


REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The diplomatic and other efforts of the past 20 years to bring North Korea to a point of denuclearization

have failed. So we have 20 years of failed approach.


GORANI: CNN's Will Ripley joins us now with more from Tokyo. Talk to us a little bit, just sort of, about these meetings in Asia. What he's hoping

to achieve with Japan, with regards specifically to North Korea. What's the aim here?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I was at that press conference, Hala. Some of the diplomatic press corps managed to make their way to

Tokyo and they were flying commercial to Seoul and Beijing. But he only took two questions from the U.S. side, didn't answer one of them, which was

asking for specifics about this North Korea approach.

He said that a new approach is needed. That's pretty obvious to anybody who has watched North Korea and watched their nuclear arsenal continue to

grow and their missile technology continue to advance.

But when he was asked what the United States intends to do about it, besides cooperating more closely with Japan and South Korea and encouraging

all three nations, the U.S., Japan, and South Korea to work together, he didn't give any specifics.

He didn't confirm reports out of the State Department to CNN that he may be proposing sanctions against Chinese companies that trade with North Korea.

That was information that was leaked to us. He didn't confirm that.

Also didn't confirm reports that perhaps he's considering less of a regional and more of a global approach in dealing with North Korea and Iran

model, if you will, which of course, would contradict all of the criticism that Candidate Trump gave on the campaign trail about the Iran deal.

So at this point, Hala, we simply don't know what the strategy is, but it's certainly an urgent time to come up with a strategy as North Korea appears

to perhaps be getting ready to do another nuclear test and launch more missiles, according to the latest intelligence.

GORANI: So we're not getting information from the State Department. We're hardly getting any briefings. We're certainly not seeing a traveling press

corps with Rex Tillerson. So we're having to rely sort of on half-answered questions at news conferences and that kind of thing.

But are we hearing at least anything from the Asian side or are the Japanese officials or Seoul officials saying anything about what is being

proposed to them in terms of dealing with North Korea?

RIPLEY: At this point, no, they're not asking specific questions, either. In fact, the White House press briefing is underway. There was a question

asked to Sean Spicer, he didn't give an answer about what is the strategy is for North Korea.

Which leaves me to wonder, Hala, do they know what to do at this point, given the fact that there's a major national holiday in North Korea coming

up in about a month where they usually like to project force to the world and domestically.

The satellite images are showing activity at their nuclear site. They're showing missile launch activity which could be getting ready for a military

parade or something else.

And you have decades of sanctions, diplomatic isolation. There were six- party talks. Those fell apart and so at this point, you have to wonder what they can do to get North Korea to stop its nuclearization and

proliferation before the threat only increases as it has been.

GORANI: Will Ripley live in Tokyo, thanks very much. Really early in the morning there for you. Thanks for being with us.

Russian state television paid the American president's former national security adviser more than $30,000 for a single speech in Moscow in 2015.

[16:25:10]That's according to a top House Democrat. Chief U.S. security correspondent, Jim Sciutto has that story from Washington.


MICHAEL FLYNN, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Thank you so much for inviting me and having me here.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Recently fired National Security Adviser General Michael Flynn was paid

tens of thousands of dollars by Russian state television for this speaking engagement in Moscow in 2015. Potentially violating the law and U.S. Army


FLYNN: I'm going to be really, really provocative here.

SCIUTTO: The kremlin funded news agency, "Russia Today," or RT, which hosted the event, paid Flynn $33,750 for his appearance. This according to

documents obtained by the House Oversight Committee. In interviews last year, Flynn acknowledged accepting payment for the speech, but denied being

paid by the Russian government.

FLYNN: I didn't take any money from Russia, if that's what you're asking me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, then who paid you?

FLYNN: My speaker's bureau. Ask them.

SCIUTTO: Documents obtained by the Oversight Committee, indicate however, that the money was coming from RT. E-mails show an official of RT Russia

first haggling over Flynn's fee. Quote, "The speaking fee is a bit too high and exceeds our budget at the moment so we have to negotiate it with

the management. Do you think there is any possibility to reduce the price to $45,000?"

And then confirming that RT would provide the funds. Quote, "We will be covering the payment of General Flynn's fee from our London office." The

U.S. intelligence community has long assessed RT to be a propaganda tool of the kremlin.

Writing in its January report on Russian interference in the U.S. election that the organization had participated in disinformation campaigns aimed at

the U.S.

U.S. intelligence first determined RT was backed by the kremlin in 2012, when Flynn was head of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Price Floyd,

spokesman for Flynn, told CNN today, quote, "General Flynn reported the trip to the DIA both before he went to Russia and after he returned."

FLYNN: We have created some of these problems.

SCIUTTO: However, Flynn was required to do more than simply report the speech. Representative Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the

committee, has asked the White House, FBI, and Pentagon whether Flynn appropriately reported the payments on his security clearance form as

required by law. His spokesman declined to comment.

Cummings also accuses Flynn of violating military regulations that prohibit retired officers from receiving payments from a foreign government. Flynn

would have had to seek approval from the Army for such a payment, something that the Army tells CNN they have no record of.


GORANI: Jim Sciutto reporting there. We'll have more on this story throughout the coming hours on CNN.

Coming up, it's been nearly a year since the deadly terrorist attacks in Belgium. And this man, he's the suspected ring leader, well, almost a year

later, he's still at large. CNN has an exclusive report on him, next.

Also, this --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We lost everything, our hearts, our beliefs, our belongings. We don't want to be here anymore.


GORANI: CNN's Ben Wedeman spends a grim day with those fleeing the ruins of their homes, hoping for a better future.


[16:30:51] GORANI: The head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, says today's letter bombing at IMF offices in Paris was a cowardly

act of violence. One worker was slightly wounded in the attack. No one has claimed responsibility.

The British Prime Minister, Theresa May, has rejected demands for a new Scottish independence vote, saying now is not the time. Not surprising

that she would say that. On Monday, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon called for a second vote to take place before Britain leaves the

European Union. Theresa May, though, dismissed the time frame.


THERESA MAY, PRIME MINISTER OF THE UNITED KINGDOM: Right now, we should be working together, not pulling apart. We should be working together to get

that right deal for Scotland, that right deal for the U.K. So I say that's my job as Prime Minister. And so for that reason, I say to the SNP, now is

not the time.


GORANI: Leaders from the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee say they have no indication that Trump Tower was subject of any wiretapping before or

after Election Day. The statement is, of course, linked to the American President Trump's claim on Twitter that he was wiretapped by the former

president, Barack Obama. The White House has never provided any evidence to back up the claim.

The White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, in fact, had a heated exchange about all of these with our own senior White House correspondent,

Jim Acosta. Listen to what happened in that briefing room just a few minutes ago.


JIM ACOSTA, CN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: But, Sean, what you are refusing to answer -- the question that you're refusing to answer is

whether or not the President still believes what he believed --

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: No, I'm not refusing. I just said it to Jonathan. I didn't --

ACOSTA: But you have --

SPICER: -- refuse to answer that.

ACOSTA: But you have a Senate and House Intelligence Committee, both leaders from both parties on both of those panels saying that they don't

see any evidence of any wiretapping. So how can the President go on and continue to say --

SPICER: Because that's not -- because you're mischaracterizing what Chairman Nunes said. He said, quote, "I think it's possible." He's

following up on this, so to suggest that is actually -- and you're stating unequivocally that you somehow --


ACOSTA: -- literally. You said if you take the President literally --


SPICER: Right. And I think that we've already cleared that up. And he said exactly that. But the President has already said, clearly, when he

referred to wiretapping, he was referring to surveillance. So that's --

ACOSTA: Right. That sounds like -- but it sounds like, Sean --


ACOSTA: -- that you and the President are saying now, well, we don't mean wiretapping anymore --

SPICER: No, it means --

ACOSTA: -- because that's not true anymore.

SPICER: No, no. We --

ACOSTA: So now we're going to explain it's other --

SPICER: No, no. That's not --

ACOSTA: -- forms of surveillance. What's it going to be next?

SPICER: No, no. Jim, I think that's cute, but at the end of the day, we've talked about this for three or four days. The President had to quote

"wiretapping." In quotes. He was referring to broad surveillance, and now you're basically going back. We talked about this several days ago.

The bottom line is that the investigation by the White House and the Senate has not been provided all of the information. And when it does -- but

where was the concern --


SPICER: Hold on. I just --

ACOSTA: -- these reports not evidence --


SPICER: No, no, no. I think the President addressed that last night and said there's more to come. These are merely pointing out that, I think,

there is widespread reporting that throughout the 2016 election, there was surveillance that was done on a variety of people that came up.

ACOSTA: What's the investigation going --

SPICER: But how do you --

ACOSTA: -- as to whether they were contacts --

SPICER: Jim, I find it interesting that you --

ACOSTA: -- between the President's campaign and the Russians?

SPICER: -- you somehow believe that you --

ACOSTA: Of course, they're going to be looking at these various things.

SPICER: OK. OK. I get it.


SPICER: Somehow you seem to believe that you have all of this information, you've been read in on all of these things, which I find very interesting.

ACOSTA: I haven't been read in by the FBI, but the House and Senate committees have been --

SPICER: Well, so you're coming to some serious conclusions for a guy who has zero intelligence -- classified --



GORANI: All right. Well, it ended with a chuckle. But I mean, this wasn't the only altercation he had, Sean Spicer, in that briefing room. He

also had this type of exchange with other reporters.

He also went on to read, for what felt like a very long period of time during that briefing, summaries of "New York Times" articles and other

articles in the press that, in fact, in no way, supported the idea that there was wiretapping of Trump Tower going on, but claiming, by reading

them, that they provided some sort of basis for that allegation. It was a very tense news conferences and one that got a bit heated as you saw there.

Now, to some of our exclusive CNN reporting, Oussama Atar is the suspected ringleader of the Paris and the Brussels attacks. He is still on the run

all this time later. Erin McLaughlin spoke to a former Belgian intelligence officer who believes authorities missed an opportunity to stop

him a long time ago.


[16:34:59] ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): March, 2016, two blasts, moments apart, at Brussels Airport. An hour later, another

bombing at a metro station. The deadliest act of terrorism in Belgium's history, carried out by a network of ISIS operatives with clear ties to the

Paris attacks.

Nearly a year on, the search continues for this man, the suspected ringleader in both attacks. His name, Oussama Atar. His face, well known

to this former Belgian intelligence officer, who is talking on camera for the first time about his interrogation of the convicted terrorist.

It was July, 2006, in Iraq. The young Belgian national was in U.S. custody.

ANDRE JACOB, FORMER BELGIAN INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: I've seen a young boy disappointed to be there, surprised also, and trying to tell us that he was

not a terrorist.

MCLAUGHLIN (on camera): Did you believe him?

JACOB: I think that, at that time, he was not already a real terrorist.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): Court documents show Atar crossed the Iraqi border illegally. Jacob says he was found with weapons. But at the time,

he saw Atar as an asset, not a threat.

MCLAUGHLIN (on camera): Did you recommend his release?

JACOB (through translator): Indeed our conclusion on the basis of the interrogations at Camp Cropper was that this person could have potentially

been recuperated. The Americans didn't want to take that risk.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): His family joined a campaign to transfer Atar on medical grounds. And according to documents from its commission of

inquiry, the Belgian government repeatedly pushed for his return.

After more than seven years in prison, Atar was eventually released by Iraqi authorities. No longer, says Jacob, a disappointed young boy.

JACOB (through translator): His time in the Iraqi prisons and American jails made him become a character who's more than radicalized. He became a


MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): He had forged links with other jihadists in prison, including the founder of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. According to

an official letter, Belgium promised not to give Atar a passport and to monitor his activity, but a source close to the inquiry says the Foreign

Ministry did issue him a passport.

And even though his name was on the foreign fighters list, the source says he was allowed to visit his cousins in Belgian prisons at least 20 times,

the same cousins who would go on to carry out the Brussels attacks. Belgium refused to comment, citing the ongoing investigation.

MCLAUGHLIN (on camera): According to a source close to the inquiry, Atar traveled to Tunisia. There, authorities arrested him for having been

imprisoned in Iraq. He was released, told to leave the country. From there, he traveled to Turkey and, according to the source, simply


MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): But he still maintained contact with family online, radicalizing his two cousins who would carry out the Brussels

attacks. According to a judicial source, Atar even had the confidence to return Brussels in August, after the attacks, visiting family undetected.

But for the former intelligence officer who once thought he could bring Atar in, regret. He wishes he could have brought him back to Brussels in

time to make a difference.

JACOB: Because maybe, it could have been a solution to avoid these terrorist acts. But who knows what would have happened?

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): With Atar still on the run, he now wonders what will happen next.

Erin McLaughlin, CNN, Brussels.


GORANI: Let's bring in Julien Theron. He's a political scientist and joins me from Paris via Skype.

What do you make of the fact that all these years later, the suspected ringleader of the horrific Paris attacks, the Brussels bombings, as well,

is still out here?

JULIEN THERON, POLITICAL SCIENTIST: Well, there's a lot of media sites which have been made. We know that is ways actually -- exactly the kind of

elements that brought ISIS to power.

It's a little bit what happened as well to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who founded, actually, the very initial ISIS, meaning al Qaeda in Iraq. He

spent some times in American prisons, in Camp Cropper. While Zarqawi, for instance, was in Camp Bucca, he was contact with other jihadi and

radicalized progressively.

And a lot of different mistakes have been made. For instance, he has been released from prison because of the Belgian pressure to release him. And

then probably perhaps a passport has been issued and given to him. And this man was actually an ISIS operative, and his brothers went to organize

the terror attack. He discussed with the Parisian and Belgian cell about the techniques, about how to make a bomb, about the targets, and so on with

encrypted networks.

[16:40:20] So, I mean, like, there's a lot of questions regarding to the man we spoke, also Abu Ahmed.

GORANI: Yes. And what about ISIS, just generally speaking? We're seeing a lot of pressure being placed on the terrorist group in Iraq. Western

Mosul, for instance, really pretty much, it's just a matter of time now. Then we have also pressure put around Raqqa, on the self-declared capital

of this so-called caliphate. What impact, though, in terms of the network and its capabilities in western countries?

THERON: Well, Hala, it's a tremendously interesting question because a lot of military personnel actually, and politicians, say that the ISIS is

disappearing from the Middle East. Well, it's not disappearing. The ISIS territory is disappearing, indeed. And there's, like you said, a lot of

pressure on Mosul and on Raqqa. And even at the city of Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria after the siege, well, the territory is reduced.

But what is very important is that in May 2016, Abu al-Ani, one of the main character of ISIS, called the retreat of ISIS, to go and hide -- and also

in Al Anbar, the Iraqi province -- and to go back to clandestinity.


THERON: So I don't believe at all that it's the end of ISIS. It's the end of the so-called caliphate's territory.

GORANI: Right. Julien Theron, thanks very much, joining us from Paris. We appreciate it.

And you can check out our Facebook page, We'll post some of the show's content there.

Six years ago this month, the Syrian civil war started to simmer in Daraa. Today, hundreds of thousands of people are dead. Millions more are

displaced. So it's easy when you talk about the scope of the war to lose sight of the individual. Here's a potent reminder, though.

This is Mohammad Mohiuddin Anis, a 70-year-old. His apartment was destroyed. He sits smoking a pipe in his wrecked bedroom in Aleppo. He's

listening to a vinyl record there. He once collected classic cars, but like so many other Syrians, he's lost nearly everything he once held dear.

Still, though, there's something about this picture. He's persevering, a sign of resilience in the face of total destruction. And listening to

beautiful music, rather than thinking, for just a few minutes, of the horror of the war.

Iraqis living in Mosul can relate to Muhammad's situation. Their city has been reduced to ash and rubble in the battle between ISIS and Iraqi

security forces. CNN's Ben Wedeman reports from inside Mosul.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They keep on coming. However, with whatever they could take. Happy to have

made it out of Mosul alive.

"The shelling was violent," says Jessen (ph), "I haven't slept in two days."

"It was hard," says Suria (ph), "we stayed inside without anything, not even bread."

Their city now a bleak landscape of violence, destruction, and death.

Hadija Hussein (ph) still has four walls and a roof, but her home is a charred shell. ISIS fighters ordered her family to leave. She refused, so

they doused it with gasoline and set it on fire.

"My children survived, thank God," she says, "but why did they do this?"

WEDEMAN (on camera): We're just two kilometers or just over a mile from the grand Nuri mosque. That's that leaning minaret over there, where on

the 4th of July, 2014, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the so-called caliph of the Islamic State, made his first public appearance. And the Iraqi forces are

just blocks away.

The state he declared from Mosul has turned to rubble and ash. So many of its inhabitants now homeless and hopeless. Struggling through the mud with

his mother's wheelchair, Sufian (ph) is going for good.

SUFIAN (PH), MOSUL RESIDENT: It's a disaster. We lost everything. Our hearts, our beliefs, our belongings. We're don't belong here anymore. We

want peace.

[16:45:07] WEDEMAN (on camera): Will you come back?

SUFIAN (PH): No, I can't. I can't, no more.

WEDEMAN (on camera): Why not?

SUFIAN (PH): I can't. I'm so scared. They will kill us.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): And so many of those who supported Baghdadi either dead or prisoners like these, fate unknown. This is what has become of

Baghdadi's state.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, west Mosul.


GORANI: This is THE WORLD RIGHT NOW. After a break, we return to the Netherlands. Geert Wilders is down and likely out of any chance of being

in the Dutch government. Nobody is willing to form a coalition with him, but now right-wing populism in Europe faces its next test in France. We

look at the appeal of Marine Le Pen.


GORANI: Well, the Dutch elections are now over, and the far-right party of Geert Wilders did not come in first. They were beaten in that respect.

Now, it may seem like the wave of populism washing across Europe has crashed into a Dutch dam, so to speak, but in a matter of weeks, France

goes to the polls to elect a president in May. The National Front there appears to be poised to make its best showing ever. As Jonathan Mann

reports, it's going to be a very different election.


JONATHAN MANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's easy enough to see the similarities between Geert Wilders of the Netherlands and Marine Le Pen of

France. Both lead parties that have spent years fighting their way in from the fringes, railing against the influence of Islam, immigration, and the

E.U. in their respective countries. Both take credit for pushing mainstream centrist parties to adopt more nationalistic policies.

But the similarities end there. Wilders wants to ban the Koran and once called Islam the ideology of a retarded culture. Marine Le Pen has

condemned Muslim extremism and Islamism, but her campaign promises what it calls a calmer France, not an angry crusade.

Wilders' Party for Freedom gained ground in the Dutch parliament Wednesday, though it's still well below its 2010 high of 24 seats. And isolated by

its political rivals, it will almost certainly be excluded from the coalition government that's likely to take power.

Le Pen doesn't need the help of her rivals. She's running for the presidency of France, and that doesn't depend on her National Front winning

seats in parliament. In fact, when she launched her campaign for the presidency, the name of her party, still so controversial in France, was

notably absent.

Her family name wasn't there either. It's controversial, too. The Le Pen name still reminds many voters of her father, Jean Marie Le Pen, a

provocative figure known for his often offensive comments about Muslims and immigrants.

[16:50:07] In some ways, Wilders and Le Pen Senior have more in common with each other than Marine Le Pen. She's put a less-toxic face on the far

right. Polls suggest that French voters may, in fact, make her the winner of the first round of presidential voting next month.

But millions in France reject Le Pen and her policies. And it's the second round of voting for the top two candidates in May that may be the real test

of the new face of the French right. Polls suggest she isn't likely to do nearly as well.

Jonathan Mann, CNN.


GORANI: Well, let's take a look now on what is drawing French voters to Marine Le Pen. Melissa Bell sat down with three of her supporters who

believe the National Front leader will put France and the French people first.


DAVID MASSON-WEYL, NATIONAL FRONT SUPPORTER: I do think there is a new thing here, that is a renewed patriotism, you know? In the U.S., you have

America first. In the U.K., they do have the Brexit, which basically means the U.K. first. And what we are trying to achieve here is, really, France


MANON BOUQUIN, NATIONAL FRONT SUPPORTER (through translator): It would show that all the polls were once again wrong, like they were with Brexit

and Donald Trump. The impossible is now possible.

GUY DEBALLE, NATIONAL FRONT SUPPORTER: This election means people want to get free. It has in America, as in England, people want to get free. And

that's why Marine Le Pen will win. Because people doesn't want, again, this system.

MELISSA BELL, CNN PARIS CORRESPONDENT: Of course, the French president has a lot of power, much more than an American president. There are fewer

check and balances. It's a lot of power in the hands of one person.

Many people are looking at France from the outside and saying, given how radical she is in so many questions, this will represent a sort of

revolution for France. Do you agree with that?

BOUQUIN (through translator): All this power, which is great, that Marine Le Pen will have in her hands, well, she's going to give it back to the


MASSON-WEYL: Sometimes, there are opponents saying, yes, she's against democracy. She wants less democracy. But on the contrary, we want more

democracy. We want proportional law, we want referendums, we want the people to be more involved in their electoral process and in the democratic


BELL: None of you have mentioned immigration so far, which was, of course, traditionally central, at least to the National Front under Jean Marie Le

Pen, until just a few years ago. Manon, is that still a consideration for you in your National Front?

BOUQUIN (through translator): The immigration question is, of course, very important. It's a question like any other, but it can't be overlooked

because we know immigration lowers salaries. However, we also believe that cultural assimilation is possible.

BELL: Is it easier to say, I vote National Front, I support the National Font, than it was just a few years ago?

BOUQUIN (through translator): Yes, more and more, especially among young people. Even the young people who don't agree with us are more and more

respectful with regards to our political opinions.

BELL: Would Marine Le Pen, arriving in power, not be a bad message to send to France's ethnic minorities, its Jewish population, as a result of the

history of the party?

DEBALLE (through translator): The only way to fight racism is to be proud, to be patriotic, belonging to the national community. Be French above

everything else.

MASSON-WEYL: -- somebody's side. If there was any chance that the Front National was racist, anti-Semitic, or anything else, I wouldn't be able to

campaign for Marine Le Pen, you know. I do have Jewish origins, partially. Some people in my family were deported during the World War II, so I'm very

sensitive about this issue.

I think that it's really the symbolism that Front National has really changed, you know. Marine Le Pen doesn't accept at all this kind of

declarations of racism or anti-Semitism.


GORANI: So you have three very sort of diverse, actually, panel of supporters of Marine Le Pen, which is kind of an interesting look at those

who say they will vote for her.

Coming up, a tweet that came from the verified Twitter account of McDonald's raised quite a few eyebrows earlier. We'll explain why. Stay

with us.


[16:56:35] GORANI: It's the world's largest living structure. Now, a new report reveals the unprecedented damage being done to Australia's Great

Barrier Reef. Scientists say it's directly linked to climate change and global warming.

Research published in "The Journal of Nature" found almost half of the reef is extremely damaged by coral bleaching, and more than 90 percent is

suffering some form of that damage. Sustained coral bleaching is deadly for reefs. Rising sea temperatures are the cause. And the report says a

heat wave last year triggered the most damaging and widespread such event on record.

The McDonald's verified Twitter account usually advertises the restaurant's burgers and fries, but a tweet that appeared earlier on Thursday raised a

few eyebrows. It was directed right at President Donald Trump and said, "You are actually a disgusting excuse of a President and we would love to

have @BarackObama back, also you have tiny hands."

The company later said the account was compromised but has since been secured. They were hacked. There you have it.

This has been THE WORLD RIGHT NOW. I'm Hala Gorani. Thanks for watching.

Stay with CNN. "QUEST MEANS BUSINESS" is up next.