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London Tower Fire; Anger and Grief after Deadly Inferno; Congress Ballgame Raises $1 Million for Charity; Mueller Expands Probe; Iraqi Christians Outraged after Arrests in U.S.; Trump Calls Russian Collusion Allegations "Phony"; Ex-North Korean Prison Unclear What Causes Injuries. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired June 16, 2017 - 00:00   ET

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


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[00:00:09] SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: This is CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles.

Ahead this hour -- grief tinged with anger. People in west London are demanding answers. How could this tragedy happen?

And President Trump's Twitter tirade trying to knock down reports of an obstruction of justice investigation against him.

Also, a wave of immigration arrests and possible deportations has the Iraqi-Christian community outraged.

Hello and welcome to our viewers all around the world. I'm Sara Sidner.

NEWSROOM L.A. starts right now.

A frank and painful admission from London's fire commissioner -- Dany Cotton admits she genuinely had no idea how many people are still missing from Wednesday's high-rise fire. And she says it would be an absolute miracle if anyone else is still alive.

At least 17 people have been confirmed dead. And officials say that number is likely to rise, as crews continue their search throughout that building. They also warn the bodies of some of the victims may never be identified.

Metropolitan police are leading an investigation to see if a criminal offense may be linked to the fire. Right now, officials say it's too early to confirm what actually caused that blaze. What is apparent, the growing anger and frustration surrounding the tragedy.

Frederik Pleitgen has that part of the story from London.

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FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Of course, there is still a lot of grief here in this community, but there is also mounting anger after this disaster took place here. And the people here say that they are demanding answers. And that's certainly what we also heard when Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, visited the site earlier today, that people came up to him and said that they want these answers quickly. And he said that he's demanding both a public inquiry, but he's also demanding that there be an interim report ready by the end of the summer.

And that's very important not just because people want to know what happened, but also because there are many other buildings both in this city and, of course, also around this country that have similar panels on the side like the one at this building had that many people believe could have accelerated the fire.

Now, Theresa May, the Prime Minister of Britain, also visited the site earlier today. And here's what she had to say after her visit.

THERESA MAY, PRIME MINISTER OF BRITAIN: Right now, people want answers and it's absolutely right. And that's why I am today ordering a full public inquiry into this disaster.

We need to know what happened. We need to know -- have an explanation of this. We owe that to the families, to the people who have lost loved ones, friends and the homes in which they lived.

PLEITGEN: Many of the witnesses that we've been speaking to said they were amazed at the fact that this fire which apparently started around the fourth floor of the building all of a sudden spread up the side of the building very, very quickly, and then managed to make its way into the building through a lot of the open windows. So that's certainly something that the investigators are going to be looking at.

But one of the things that they say they need to do first is they need to shore up the building to make sure that the carcass doesn't collapse. It's unclear whether the structure was damaged so badly by the flames and the heat that it might be danger of collapsing. And only then will the investigation start and at the same time, of course, the authorities are also involved in what they call a recovery operation where they say they're going to go through the entire building and sweep it to see whether or not there might still be bodies inside.

Fred Pleitgen, CNN -- London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SIDNER: There has been an outpouring of support for the fire victims. And amid the grief and anguish, some families are still clinging to the increasingly faint hope that more survivors will be found.

Oren Liebermann has that story.

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OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The Notting Hill Methodist Church very close to the scene of the fire has in and of itself become the scene of a memorial and an ongoing candlelight vigil. You can take a look here behind me, people have come -- dozens, if not hundreds of people have come to say a few words with these flowers, to think and to mourn respectfully, as well as to light some of these candles here as they hope there are some miracles left in this story, while worrying and fearing that the number of dead at this point will only rise.

Jessica Urbano's family is still holding out hope against all odds. They're out there walking the streets handing out fliers, hoping perhaps someone saw the 12-year-old girl who lived on the 20th floor, someone saw her get out. Or maybe she's in a hospital, unconscious, unable to tell her family she's ok.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're hoping that that's the case. That she'll wake up soon and let us know where she is.

LIEBERMANN: In the first minutes of confusion of the fire, Urbano was separated from her family, her cousin says. In the smoke and the fire, chaos spread as quickly as the flames. The last time they spoke was at 1:40 in the morning, 45 minutes after the fire started.

[00:05:06] JASON GARCIA, JESSICA URBANO'S COUSIN: The last we heard from her, two phone that calls she made from inside the building from another person's phone. So we also understood she's missing (ph). So since that second phone call, we've had no contact at all.

LIEBERMANN: If you walk around this neighborhood near the fire, you cannot miss the face of Jessica Urbano. Her friends are wearing her picture on their shirts. We've seen her picture taped to concrete walls and their flyer in cars -- anything they can do to get the message out and to get the word out about Jessica Urbano.

Jessica Urbano is one among many still missing, there are flyers with more faces, more pleas for help, and more families who want answers.

AHMED CELLAT, RELATIVE OF MISSING RESIDENT: The police are reporting that the number of dead is rising and rising. And we don't know who. We don't know who and whether they are dead (inaudible) and whether they're the ones in hospital. We still don't know what's going on.

LIEBERMANN: For Ahmed Cellat, grief has turned into frustration. His sister's family and their three children were inside the tower. The youngest child is still missing.

CELLAT: We're still hoping that he might be in a different place, he might be in a different list. We don't know.

LIEBERMANN: At community centers, churches and mosques in the area, there's been an outpouring of support -- Londoners trying to help so many families who now find themselves homeless, many overflowing with clothing, and food and donations, turning away any more as a way to ease the transition for the hardest hit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People coming in from all parts of London, anywhere else bringing the stuff. It's been amazing. Everyone's helping each other. LIEBERMANN: The fire swept through the Grenfell Tower so rapidly that every life saved is a miracle, every life lost a tragedy. More than 36 hours after the fire, Jessica Urbano's family praying she is one of the miracles.

There are still many missing -- an exact number we don't know. But this is a sign of just how many are still trying to hold out hope -- pictures, names of those who are missing, numbers to call, e-mails in some cases, descriptions, ages, apartments, floors. It is all an attempt to find those who are missing by loved ones, by friends, by family, trying to get some answers where until now, there have been none.

Oren Liebermann, CNN -- London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SIDNER: You can help the victims of the London fire. Just go to our Web site at CNN.com/impact to learn exactly what you can do.

The game was baseball. And for those keeping score, the Democrats beat the Republicans 11-2. The real message behind the annual congressional charity event though this time was political unity.

It came a day after a gunman critically wounded House Majority Whip Steve Scalise during baseball practice. The hospital says he's undergone several surgeries, but is improving.

Throwing out the ceremonial first pitch was special agent David Bailey of the Capitol police. He was wounded in Wednesday's shooting along with several others.

At the game, with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi by his side, House Speaker Paul Ryan spoke of bipartisan harmony in the aftermath of the shooting.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: It is a partisan, polarized country. What we're trying to do is tone down the rhetoric, lead by example, and show people we can disagree with one another. We can have different ideas without being vitriolic, without going to such extremes. And so that's what we're trying to demonstrate here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SIDNER: A lot of concern in this country over that very thing. The game, by the way, raised more than a million dollars for charity -- more than twice last year.

Turning now to the ongoing federal probe into Russian interference in the United States election U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is the latest member of the Trump administration to hire a private attorney to help him navigate the legal minefield.

CNN's Brianna Keilar has more on the investigation that now reportedly involves the President himself -- an allegation the President has dismissed as phony.

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BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The President of the United States under investigation for possible obstruction of justice. According to the "Washington Post", special counsel Robert Mueller is looking into whether Trump asked the FBI director, James Comey, to drop the investigation into fired national security adviser Michael Flynn before firing Comey. Trump admitted to NBC News that the FBI investigation into his campaign's ties to Russia was a factor in the termination.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.

KEILAR: But Ken Starr, former special counsel whose investigation of President Clinton ultimately led to his impeachment, says aid it's a tough case to make.

KEN STARR, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL: Obstruction of justice is really a very hard crime to make out. It's not just, you want the investigation to go away, you suggest that the investigation go away. You've got to take really affirmative action.

[00:10:07] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth --

KEILAR: Comey says Trump did suggest it, saying he hoped Comey could let the Flynn investigation go.

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I took it as a direction. He's the President of the United States.

KEILAR: The President denies it.

TRUMP: I didn't say that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So he lied about that?

TRUMP: Well, I didn't say that. I mean I will tell you, I didn't say that.

KEILAR: The President also reportedly bragged to Russian officials, "I just fired the head of the FBI. I faced great pressure because of Russia; that's taken off," according to the "New York Times".

As early as this week, investigators will interview the nation's top intel official -- Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats. He met with the Senate Intelligence Committee today, a week after promising a closed-door discussion on whether the President pressured him to push back publicly against suggestions that the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia as it meddled in the 2016 election. Last week Coats declined to talk about it publicly.

DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I do not share with the general public conversations that I have with the President.

KEILAR: Mueller's team will also interview NSA director Michael Rogers, and is seeking information from former deputy NSA director Richard Ledgett.

Ledgett wrote a memo, according to a source, about a conversation in which the President allegedly asked Rogers to help the FBI to, quote, "lift the cloud of the Russia probe".

Meanwhile investigations could be multiplying. Chuck Grassley, the powerful chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has oversight of the FBI, has not ruled out a request from Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein to open a separate probe into possible obstruction of justice.

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: We're going to leave that to a conversation with Feinstein.

KEILAR: Today in federal court, CNN filed a lawsuit trying to force the FBI to turn over the memos Comey wrote about his conversations with President Trump. The memos are not classified and the FBI has not explained its refusal so far to release them despite a ruling from the Justice Department that it should expedite a Freedom of Information Act request to do so.

Brianna Keilar, CNN -- Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SIDNER: Now, we've also learned that special counsel Robert Mueller has expanded the investigation by hiring 13 more lawyers with more hires expected.

With us now to discuss all of this, and there is a lot to get to, is Democratic strategist Robin Swanson, and CNN political commentator John Phillips. Thank you both for being here.

Let's start with Robert Mueller, and this new revelation, if you will, that he is expanding his investigation adding on to the number of people who will be looking into this. A good thing? Or a bad thing? And yes, I'm looking at you separately.

ROBIN SWANSON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Absolutely. There's a whole lot to investigate here. You can see that there's lots of parties that they're looking into. And, you know, this is somebody who worked for Ronald Reagan, who worked for both Bushes. And so the efforts to malign the investigation now, the investigator, I think are a problem. But he's really just getting started.

I think this is the beginning of the slow burn. And there's lots to look into starting with Jared Kushner, starting with his contacts with Russian banks that have been sanctioned, starting with his contacts with the ambassador, starting with him saying that he wanted a special line of communications, a secret line of communication.

So there's a lot of questions that need answered. And frankly, I think Donald Trump needs to go and answer those like he promised he would, too.

SIDNER: John, you are chomping at the bit. A lot said there. I do want to make a clarification with Jared Kushner. There was some reporting out by the "Washington Post" that there was this new investigation into Jared Kushner. And CNN has sort of looked at that and determined that it appears that this was the same --s part of the same investigation, just that Robert Mueller has taken up the same line.

JOHN PHILLIPS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. I think that Mueller hired one person to investigate and 12 people to leak information because that's the pattern that we're seeing play itself out over and over and over again. And you have to be careful with these things because if you go back to the 1990s, let's not forget, the Whitewater investigation was about real estate transactions in Arkansas, and oh, boy, did that morph into something new.

It's the same story over and over and over again. You have the story coming out in the newspaper with information that's leaked by an anonymous source. And then you have denials by the White House. I still don't see the beef.

SIDNER: And here's one thing, though, to challenge that because you talked about anonymous sources. That is a problem I think for some people. They feel like they have a beef or a bone to pick and they're using information. But some of those sources have turned out to be true, because we saw that when Comey testified, right, he said some things that proved to be true, that the sources had brought out.

PHILLIPS: Many of them also proved not to be true.

SIDNER: But then were proved not to be true. That is true.

PHILLIPS: We heard that he was going to say that he did not say on three separate occasions to Donald Trump that he was not under investigation. We heard that from Jim Comey during that testimony that there was much in the "New York Times" report that said that there were Trump associates that had very close contact with Russian agents. It turned out not to be true. So when you rely on anonymous sources, you don't know who it is exactly that you're vetting.

[00:15:10] SWANSON: Well, we also know what Donald Trump has said in his own words, and he has said he wants the cloud lifted. And the truth is the storm has just begun. It's cloudy with a chance of perjury now on all sides.

I think for him, it's his own words, it's his own tweets, it's his own contradictions that are going to slip him up. This is the beginning of an investigation.

And John is right. It always starts with one thing and ends up in a completely different direction, which is why this president needs to be careful with his words. They actually do matter. And I think he hasn't had to do that before. And perhaps his attorneys will advise him otherwise now. SIDNER: I want to mention, Jared Kushner's attorney has responded to

the story that was put out today by the "Post", saying that Mr. Kushner previously volunteered to share with congress what he knows about these meetings and it goes to say that he will do the same thing if he is contacted in connection with any other inquiry.

Is that a reasoned response? You both think that's a pretty reasonable response. I mean he's saying, yes, I will answer questions if I'm called to.

SWANSTON: I think Jared Kushner is being smart in listening to his attorney, something that his father-in-law might want to take into account.

SIDNER: John -- let me ask you about that because the tweets have caused the Trump administration and Trump himself some problems in court when it came to the case that everyone was fighting over at first, the travel ban. And the court did look at some of the tweets. Those were entered into court evidence.

Should Donald Trump just back away from the tweeting for a while?

PHILLIPS: Oh, I'm sure his staff would take out the whole WiFi system at the White House if they had the opportunity. For those of us in the media, we love it, because we get to see exactly, you know, what he's thinking at whatever time he's thinking it. And I think that's refreshing.

I mean I think that's part of the reason why people voted for a nonpolitician this cycle. They want someone who's willing to go out and say bold things and mean what they say.

SIDNER: But if he is hurting his own administration and causing a lot of people to sort of focus on things that some people in the public would rather not focus on, is it hurting him with not only his base, but Americans in general?

SWANSON: Well, I think he contradicts himself so much, that absolutely it hurts him. I mean we saw today, you know, he said he wanted more civil discourse. And then hours later, we see him talking about the fact that, you know, he's being investigated by bad people. And that this is a witch hunt. And so he, again, raises the level of discourse to a fever pitch.

So his inconsistencies on Twitter, the fact that it isn't a reasoned statement, I think we're all getting whiplash trying to keep track.

SIDNER: Let me -- you talked about his tweets. I want to go to one of the tweets. He did today -- yesterday, excuse me, make this very impassioned speech after the Republican leadership was shot. And after the Republicans who were just simply practicing on a baseball field were attacked.

And the President came out and he was -- everyone agreed he was very presidential. He was -- he sort of wanted to bring the country together. But then this tweet went out 24 hours later. Here's what it said.

What is -- why is it that Hillary Clinton's family and Dems' dealings with Russia are not looked at, but my non-dealings are? Is this appropriate to do this right now? Again, we're in the middle of an investigation.

PHILLIPS: Well, I mean there's a play going on in New York City where the finale is that he gets assassinated. So I think the level of discourse is certainly high all the way around. Look, I mean, he believes and I believe that there was no collusion with Russia between him or his campaign and agents of the Russian government. No proof has been offered. He hasn't been charged with a crime.

SIDNER: But the investigation is still under way. And Hillary Clinton is not the President. Why keep bringing her up? Is that just so that his base goes -- rah?

SWANSON: He needs to deflect. He needs somebody else to blame. He has to have an opponent. He's not used to just being out and presenting and making his case. He has to have a foil.

SIDNER: Are you worried at all about the vitriol -- the both of you? And like you said, it is coming from both sides. And it is getting -- it seems to be getting stronger and stronger, especially because of social media. And everyone picks up on it and reacts to it.

And if you ask people, just in the public about politics right now, it's almost like the fever pitch has gone beyond anything we've seen in quite some time. Are you worried about that? Considering what happened on the baseball field yesterday?

SWANSON: I think it's a tragedy and I think it's super sad. But I look back to 2011, when Gabby Giffords was shot point-blank in the head. And, you know, everybody said that the discourse was a problem then.

So I think what we saw on the baseball field was an important moment. But is it going to last beyond, you know, a health care debate that's going to happen in days or weeks? I don't think so.

[00:20:04] So you know, I wish that we could embrace this. But that was six years ago that that happened. And I don't feel like the discourse has changed a whole lot.

SIDNER: Has it gotten worse, are you worried about it?

PHILLIPS: Well, people have the right to do and say whatever it is that they want to do. But given the climate that all of us know is out there, if I were an entertainer, if I were Snoop Dogg, or I were Madonna, or I were, you know, someone who has a lot of fans out there, I wouldn't want that to be my brand because some nut -- or Kathy Griffin -- some nut could do something like what we saw happen earlier this week.

And guess what, if the last thing that they saw was you saying something outrageous, that's going in your obituary. I wouldn't want that on my conscience.

SIDNER: All right. Thank you both so much for being here. And we're going to see you in just a bit.

PHILLIPS: Sounds good.

SIDNER: Coming up, as fighting rages in Iraq, the U.S. might be sending some Iraqi Christians back. Why they've been detained and the rest -- ahead.

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SIDNER: A wave of arrests has the U.S.-Iraqi community outraged. Almost 200 Iraqi nationals have been detained since May amid a crackdown on immigration. Authorities say most have serious felony convictions and could be deported back to Iraq.

As our Kyung Lah reports some of those detained are Christians. Their families fear a return to Iraq could be a death sentence.

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Sara -- just today, the ACLU filed a lawsuit trying to prevent the deportation of people who were swept up by ICE this past weekend. The grounds, that if they are deported, they will be tortured or even murdered.

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LAH: A daughter screaming for her father. He's just been detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, among nearly 200 here targeted for deportation since May. But the difference with some of these detainees say families who waved to their loved ones from behind a gate is the country they fear they'll be sent to -- Iraq, a war zone where ISIS terrorizes civilians, executing all those who resist.

People like Nasha Conja (ph).

NASHA CONJA, IRAQI CHRISTIAN: Everybody here like me, they're scared to death.

LAH: He's on the phone calling his brother from an ICE facility in Youngstown, Ohio.

CONJA: Please don't sent me to Iraq. Because you are sending us to our deaths.

LAH: He's terrified because he's a Christian. In Iraq, they're an ethnic minority known as Chaldeans (ph). ISIS has targeted the Chaldeans marking their homes with this red Arabic letter proclaiming them a target, undergoing what human rights groups call a genocide.

Conja immigrated to the U.S. from Iraq with his parents when he was 15, four decades ago. At age 21, he was convicted of drug conspiracy charges and served 20 years in prison.

[00:25:04] Since his release, he's opened this business, paid his taxes and hasn't been in trouble. Not even a single traffic ticket says his brother.

The federal government just two days before this ICE sweep agreed to reopen Conja's case to obtain a green card, due to the possibility he would be tortured in Iraq.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is this the United States? Is this what this country is about?

LAH: Most painful for him, like many other Christian Iraqis he knows in Michigan, he voted for Donald Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We though they're picking up some hard-core criminals. We thought they're not going to (inaudible) you know, innocent people or the hard people who turned their life around.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAH: ICE contends these are not innocent people. In a statement to CNN, ICE's spokeswoman says that the majority of the people who were arrested had multiple or serious felony convictions.

We understand tonight that all of them do remain in ICE custody -- Sara?

SIDNER: A powerful piece by our Kyung Lah.

Ahead, reports say special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe is expanding in scope to include the President himself.

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SIDNER: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles. I'm Sara Sidner.

The headlines for you at this hour.

British Prime Minister Theresa May has announced a full public inquiry into the tower fire in west London, as anger grows among residents seeking answers. Police say at least 17 people were killed but that number is expected to rise. An unknown number of people are still missing.

Special counsel Robert Mueller is bringing 13 new lawyers to his team. Recent reports have described the expanding scope of the investigation. Hours earlier, aides to Vice President Mike Pence confirmed he, too, has hired his own lawyer in response to both Mueller's probe and congressional inquiries.

A wounded police officer threw out the ceremonial first pitch at the congressional ballgame in Washington today. The annual contest became a show of unity after a gunman critically wounded House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and hurt several others during baseball practice Wednesday including that officer. Democrats beat Republicans 11-2.

A blimp fell out of the sky and burst into flames near the U.S. Open championship in Wisconsin. You see it there. The pilot, the sole occupant, is in the hospital for serious burns. No one else was injured. The pilot told investigators he was trying to return to an airstrip because of gusty winds when the accident occurred.

[00:30:07] U.S. President Donald Trump is lashing out at reports that he is under criminal investigation now for possible obstruction of justice.

The "Washington Post" first quoted unnamed officials on Wednesday who said Special Counsel Robert Mueller was expanding his investigation to involve Mr. Trump personally. And the president is once again calling the probe a witch hunt.

Earlier he tweeted, "They made up a phony collusion with the Russian story, found zero proof. So now they go for obstruction of justice on the phony story. Nice."

Joining me now, Seth Abramson, an attorney and professor at the University of New Hampshire. Also joining us again, Trump supporter and CNN political commentator John Phillips.

All right, let's start with you, Seth.

Seth, you received a lot of attention for some tweets, a hundred, if you will, tweets that you posted tearing apart a document that is reportedly Republican talking points to counter reporting that investigators are looking into whether Donald Trump obstructed justice in the Russia collusion probe.

The first talking point there that we read is there is no case for obstruction of justice. This point has been made by legal scholars from both sides of the aisle over and other again.

Seth, what's your opinion on that first talking point?

SETH ABRAMSON, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF NEW HAMPSHIRE: Well, that's very much a minority view that we've heard from just a couple of attorneys, particularly Alan Dershowitz and Jonathan Turley.

In fact, the majority of you when you talk to trial attorneys, not appellate attorneys, is that a prima facie case, the case on its base, has been made for obstruction of justice on the basis of ex-director Comey's contemporaneous memos, the context in which Mr. Trump said the words to Mr. Comey, I hope you'll drop the Flynn matter, as well as the fact that he fired him later and the comments he made to the Russians in the Oval Office about trying to ease pressure on himself over the Russia probe. So we do have a prima facie case at this point on obstruction.

SIDNER: John, I'm curious what you make of that statement?

PHILLIPS: Well, it's not just Alan Dershowitz and Jonathan Turley, it's also Nancy Pelosi. It was reported not long ago that there was a meeting of the Democratic caucus and you have, of course, certain members of the caucus including Maxine Waters and Brad Sherman calling for the impeachment of the president over obstruction of justice and collusion, all of these things. And Nancy Pelosi told them to cut it out. If Nancy Pelosi thought that this was -- there was any truth to it, or this was a prudent place for the Democrats to go, she wouldn't be telling her members to knock it off, she would be moving forward full steam ahead.

SIDNER: And, John, that means in a response to the investigation is not over yet. It is still ongoing. I want to point out another one of the Republican talking points, which said, after months of an investigation, there is no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Seth, I want to bring in some of your tweets now, because you tweeted back to that, saying, "Trump asked Putin to hack. Putin asked Trump to drop sanctions. Trump agreed. Putin hacked." That's, quote, "evidence of collusion right there."

Now, Seth, we certainly haven't heard that from investigators.

How did you make that determination on your own?

ABRAMSON: Well, let's make few points here.

Number one, "The Hill" reported just a few hours ago that the FBI investigation into collusion is in its, quote, unquote, "Early stages." So we wouldn't expect any conclusion on the collusion question at this point.

"The Washington Post" reported today that the FBI investigators are starting to look into the possibility that financial crimes were the basis for collusion. Now, the comments that I made in my tweets had to do with this question of when did the Trump campaign find out that Russia was engaged in cyber war on the United States. We know that Mr. Trump knew, as early as July of 2016, because he said during a press conference that he knew that Russia had the ability to release e-mails. And weeks later, he allowed his chief foreign policy correspondent, Jeff Sessions, to talk about sanctions, and dropping sanctions with Sergey Kislyak. We know that from Jeff Sessions and that suggests something the FBI should be looking into seriously.

SIDNER: John, I mean, those are pretty strong words from Seth there, that he believes there's evidence of collusion right there. That he just described.

PHILLIPS: Yes, well, Seth can say it's collusion, but that's Seth's opinion. That's not something that's been proven yet by any investigation. I can stand in my garage and say that I'm a Volvo, that doesn't mean I am one.

If you go back to James Comey's testimony that he just gave in front of Congress, there was a lot of information that was almost exculpatory to the collusion argument.

In fact, it was so much so, that Chris Matthews went on TV after Comey's testimony and said, well, you know, I think the whole collusion thing fell apart today. SIDNER: Seth, another one of your tweets reads that we also know the top national security official in the nation, Trump's right-hand man, lied about receiving huge payments from Russia. Is it not enough, though, that Trump fired national security adviser Michael Flynn, who you're -- I'm assuming you're referring to here?

ABRAMSON: Well, let me make one point first. And that is, when you want a legal question answered, you ask a lawyer, you don't ask a politician. So quoting Nancy Pelosi or quoting Chris Matthews, frankly Nancy Pelosi said Mr. Trump would self-impeach. Meaning that he would for obstruction of justice be impeached. So I'm not sure she would agree with John. But I think you have to look at attorneys.

And what attorneys are saying on the Michael Flynn case is that we have a prima fascia case for making false statements to the FBI, yet another prima fascia criminal case involved in this probe. So the second talking point from the RNC that we have no evidence of any crimes being committed whatsoever is really laughable on its face to attorneys, whatever politicians might be saying.

SIDNER: John, your reaction to that?

PHILLIPS: Yes, Michael Flynn lied about taking money from Russia television, which is the same operation that pays Larry King and they pay Ed Schultz. He lied to the vice president. He was fired over it.

I don't see what the scandal is. I don't see where the Trump administration went wrong. If you have an employee that's not being fully honest with you, you've got some problems. And if you ignore those problems, OK, that's understandable issue. But they responded to it by forcing the guy to leave his post. And I think that was appropriate.

SIDNER: I'm curious, Seth, are you at all concerned about your messaging here? And the way that you went through each of these? I know you had a hundred tweets, you look at every single talking point from the Republican Party.

Are you concerned that people who you may be trying to reach will look at what you did and say, he's obviously a Democrat, he doesn't really, you know, he's just trying to malign the president?

ABRAMSON: Well, as an attorney, I try to be thorough, and I try to be factual. So for instance, what John was just referring to with respect to Michael Flynn, in fact making false statements claim is not about his payments from the Russians though he didn't disclose those, it's actually about lying to the FBI as to whether he discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador.

And in fact, the Trump administration did not fire him on the basis of making false statements to the FBI. We would have thought that they might. In fact, Mr. Trump was very clear that he only fired Mr. Flynn for lying to the vice president. And that's very, very concerning when you know that someone has made false statements to the FBI, but you say that that's not a basis for dismissal even though it is a basis for a felony conviction. SIDNER: John, you've got to respond to that one.

PHILLIPS: Well, look, I think this is a situation where you have people who are very upset over the results of the election working their way back.

They've decided that Donald Trump is going to get impeached, and they are moving back from that point. And so if it goes to collusion, they'll go to collusion. If it's obstruction, they'll go to obstruction. If both of those turn into dead ends, they'll go someplace else.

And I just think it's a big waste of time. I think the American people want Washington, D.C., want politicians to move forward on issues like jobs and the economy and trade. Those sorts of things. Immigration.

SIDNER: I think, though, you know, if you look at some of the polls and you look at some of what people are talking about, they are concern about this, because their political leaders are concerned about this as well.

I thank you two gentlemen for coming on the show and talking us through it all.

Just ahead, an American student held in North Korea is now in a U.S. hospital where he remained in a coma. Doctors give their assessment of his condition, coming up next.

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SIDNER: The American college student brought home from North Korea earlier this week has extensive brain damage. University of Cincinnati doctors say Otto Warmbier has a condition known as unresponsive wakefulness. That means he can blink, but shows no signs of understanding language. Warmbier who's 22 years old can't talk either.

He was held in North Korea for 17 months after being found guilty of committing a hostile act against the country.

Doctors say they have no information about the care Otto Warmbier received in North Korea. And his family is rejecting the country's explanation of how he was injured

CNN's Miguel Marquez has more on this story.

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MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A very difficult time for the Warmbier family in Ohio. The doctors here at University of Cincinnati Medical Center saying that they did a full body scan of Otto Warmbier, the 22-year-old.

They looked at both his bone structure and the soft tissue and they found no indication of any sort of trauma that would lead to the state that he is in now, essentially saying that the oxygen to his brain was cut off for a long enough period to do serious brain damage.

Fred Warmbier had spoken earlier at a press conference, a very emotional press conference. Hard to watch a father speak about his son who he didn't know what had happened to him, and then when he did, to find out he's in a coma and then when he finally gets his arms around him and eyes on him, he discovers his son can't respond to anything he says.

Mr. Warmbier wore the jacket that his son wore the last time that anyone saw him in good shape. He was forced -- seemingly forced to make a statement in North Korea wearing a white jacket. His father wore that jacket and said this about him.

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FRED WARMBIER, OTTO WARMBIER'S FATHER: I'm able to wear the jacket that he wore when he gave his confession. I'm not confessing. I'm speaking, but, Otto, I love you and I'm so crazy about you and I'm so glad you're home. You are such a great guy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUEZ: His father also upset about the tour company, Young Pioneer Tours, based in China. He says that they basically lured his son on to that tour in order to be taken hostage by the North Koreans. He did say that he and his wife okayed their son to go on that tour. He reserved most of his anger for the North Korean government.

He also blames the Obama administration, saying they didn't do enough to get their son out. He thanked President Trump and the secretary of state for bringing their son home.

Miguel Marquez, CNN, Cincinnati, Ohio.

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SIDNER: And thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles, I'm Sara Sidner. "World Sport" is coming up next. You are watching CNN.

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