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Former Labor Secretary Perez Elected DNC Chief; Tom Perez Elected to Steer Democratic Party; Republicans Face Angry Voters at Town Halls; Trump's War on Journalists Intensifies; Building Underground Network of Safe Houses to Hide the Undocumented; Oscar Night Previews. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired February 25, 2017 - 17:00   ET



[17:00:30] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour, you are live in the CNN NEWSROOM, I'm Brianna Keilar in Washington.

And breaking today, the Democratic National Committee picking a new leader as the left struggles to take on President Trump's agenda with the united front. Former Labor Secretary Tom Perez right there, beating out narrowly Congressman Keith Ellison for the top spot. But that he then appointed Ellison as his deputy who is sparking the praise of former President Obama and words of caution from Senator Bernie Sanders to different views there.

We're going to have more on that in a moment. But first we're learning more about communication between the White House and officials in charge of investigating President Trump's ties to Russia. CNN was the first to reveal that the FBI and the White House discuss reports of contact between Trump campaign staffers and senior Russian officials and now the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee says he also had contact with the White House on this story and he also engaged with reporters on it.

I want to turn now to White House correspondent Athena Jones. Athena, I want to go through the details with you on this. But before we go to that, we actually have some breaking news from President Trump. This is what he just tweeted. He said, "I will not be attending the White House Correspondents' Association dinner this year. Please wish everyone well and have a great evening."

Okay. Break this down for us Athena. Because I think there was a suspicion this might happen. There were, you know, obviously this is an event where you have so many celebrities who go and you had a lot of them saying, we're not going this year because of President Trump and there was a, I think an open question about whether this event was going to end up being completely different than it had been in the past.

ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Brianna. I don't think this comes as a huge surprise, you talk about the celebrity saying they may not come. Also some of the big parties of that weekend, the host of those parties said that they were not going to be hosting the parties. We're talking about a dinner taking place, scheduled to take place the end of April. It's a scholarship and awards dinner. A dinner that the President, whatever president, has traditionally attended. That the President traditionally giving a pretty funny speech. Sometimes poking fun at himself as well as the media.

That's generally the approach. But this is a president who said early on, I think that that speech at the CIA, right after his inauguration, that he was at war with the media. We know that his chief strategist Steve Bannon, has called the media the opposition party. And the President just in the last several days has been tweeting and talking about the media as the enemy of the people. So I don't think it's a huge surprise that he doesn't want to be part of this kind of celebration I guess in some ways of the media.

KEILAR: Yes. And I actually just spoke in the commercial break with Jeff Mason, he is the President of the White House Correspondents Association, he is rather busy right now as you can imagine, responding to this, but he is going to come out and be live on CNN as soon as he can. So we are looking forward to that.

Athena, I want to turn to Russian now with you back to this topic. Because you have a committee official who says Congress, who is saying that Donald Trump did nothing improper. Tell us what's going on.

JONES: That's right. So we've talked about the CNN's exclusive reporting from earlier this week that the White House chief-of-staff Reince Priebus, talked with the FBI and asked the FBI to weigh in on the, to try to knock down some of these reports about Trump aides, Trump campaign aides having contacts with Russian officials during the campaign. The FBI refused to get involved. And so the White House reached out to others, among them, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. That's Chairman Devin Nunez.

And we have a statement from the communications adviser to the Intelligence Committee. I want to read what it says. It says, "Chairman Nunez did nothing inappropriate." This is a chairman who did end up reaching out to the media. "He made inquiries into the allegations published by The New York Times" and couldn't find evidence to support them." So he told that to multiple reporters. And then a White House aide asked if he would speak to one more. So he spoke to that reporter as well. Telling that person the same thing he told the other reporters. So Devin Nunez, the chairman standing by this, that there was nothing inappropriate about him talking to reporters, of course critics disagree -- Brianna.

KEILAR: They certainly do. We'll keep following this.

Athena Jones, lots of news breaking there this weekend at the White House. Thank you.

And I want to turn back to the news that we learned just moments ago. The President deciding he is not going to attend the White House Correspondents' Dinner.

[17:05:05] Joining me to talk now about this, we have CNN political commentators, Ryan Lizza, he is the Washington Correspondent for The New Yorker. We have a former chairman of the Democratic Party in Washington, D.C. -- actually, no, we don't. Sorry, I'm looking at you guys. No, we don't. We have CNN political commentator, Alice Stewart as well, a Republican strategist.

So to you first, Alice, what do you make of this? Maybe not the biggest surprise Athena Jones said.

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's not. Actually you look at how Trump has expressed his opinions about the press over time. And it's really not a surprise. You look at Trump's tweet that you just referred to, I went back and looked right after you reported this. The last tweet from the White House Correspondents' Association was yesterday. Just after the dust-up with Sean Spicer bringing in certain media outlets back into his office and excluding CNN and "The New York Times" and Politico, and a handful of others.

The Correspondents' Association was very vocal about that. And said they're looking into the matter and will continue to talk with the White House about that. So clearly there's some back and forth and frustration amongst the association that really represents all the press and the Trump White House. Look, I'm a former journalist, I have been in political communications for quite some time. I think it's not appropriate to have an ongoing war with the press. I think the press's responsibility is critical in our democratic society.

It's important to have the check and balance of the press. That's why they're called the Fourth Estate. Keeping a close eye and being a watchdog for the public on what happens in government. I think it's critical and very important. But it's not a mistake. Donald Trump has been very clear throughout the campaign and in the White House, that he does not have a lot of respect for the press. And continues to call them out and I think the comments about fake news and critical comments repeatedly is not appropriate.

But this is something that he has always done from throughout the campaign. It energizes his base, every time he speaks, he did it just yesterday at CPAC, it energizes his base to have a war with the media. And I don't see it changing. Unfortunately as we're seeing, it just continues to get even hotter.

KEILAR: And now we have the chairman of -- former chairman of Democratic Party Washington, D.C., A. Scott Bolden with us. We appreciate you being with us. You hear this news, maybe not the biggest surprise, but do you think this is a big deal?

A. SCOTT BOLDEN, FORMER CHAIRMAN, DC DEMOCRATIC PARTY: Well, I think it's sheer entertainment quite frankly. I think Donald Trump tries to play the media. And the media responds to it. I'm not surprised it's not going to the Correspondents' Dinner. I mean the enemy of the people, the Fourth Estate, it's covered and protected. The press is in the constitution. This whole war against the media borders on the nonsensical and it's really got to stop. Because, you know, what are we going to do? We're going to continue to cover him anyway. If CNN isn't going anywhere. Unless you have a media-out day and not cover him at all. And that's not going to happen. What's going to be interesting is with the White House Correspondents'

Dinner, what happens there. What entertainers come. What other politicians come? And what they do as an alternative to the centerpiece for that event, with the absence of Donald Trump. We'll have to closely watch and see what happens. It's going to be entertaining though, no matter what. Maybe they'll have "SNL" come and do a skit instead of Donald Trump being there.

Well, but Sarah Westwood, the White House Correspondent for the "Washington Examiner," now the question is, and maybe we'll find this out shortly. Because Jeff Mason from "Reuters," who is the head of the White House Correspondents Association is about to come out with a statement from the association. We're going to talk to him live. I think now the question is, if the President doesn't go to this event, does it even happen?

SARAH WESTWOOD, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Well certainly the focus of the White House Correspondents' Dinner, part of it is supposed to be to celebrate the correspondents themselves and the work they do and the President's attendance was a way to sort of put aside the adversarial part of their relationship and break bread together with administration officials, that's usually the purpose of the President's attendance at the White House Correspondents' Dinner.

It will be interesting to see whether the administration sends another high-profile person in President Trump's place. Would we see Vice President Pence come as a proxy for President Trump? Would we see another high-level cabinet official make an appearance and Trump himself might stay away from the dinner? It will be interesting to see if the administration wants to participate in it at all or if President Trump has instructed everyone to stay away from the dinner to send an even more powerful message about how the administration views its relationship with the media.

KEILAR: So, that is a really good point if someone else would come in his stead, and if they don't. And Ryan Lizza, I mean, you've gone to this event. Not we, but it has been nicknamed the nerd prom. Right. It's this collision.


Even though, and Sarah points this out. She says this is a chance for sort of the grudge to be set aside. Between the media and the administration. But it has become this giant sort of show. It's almost this carnival where Hollywood collides with Washington. But the real reason for this is actually for scholarship winners, right? I mean, that is at its heart and some people would argue that that gets lost in it. So, is it a possibility that maybe this just gets taken back to the real purpose for the White House Correspondents Dinner?

[17:10:39] RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. Look, I think President Trump has done everyone a favor here by not going to the dinner. My own view of this, "New Yorker" was not planning on going this year. I've been a member of the White House Correspondents' Association since 2001 and been to most of the dinners since then. But that dinner, there's a moment in that dinner where everyone gets up and actually toasts the presidents. And I personally don't see how the White House press corps can get up and toast a president that is calling us the enemy of the American people.

Someone that in a speech at CPAC this week, seemed to mock the First Amendment or reporters citing the First Amendment. This White House is at war with the press. And my own view is it wouldn't have been appropriate to have the President at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner this year. So, frankly I think Trump did everyone a favor and made it a lot easier for people to make that decision. The White House Correspondents Association, the purpose of that dinner is a fundraiser for its scholarship program. That is an extremely important. It's the, is the one event where they basically make all of the money that they need to run the White House Correspondents Association.

So they are in a little bit of a catch-22, I mean, you can talk to Jeff when he comes on. They need the dinner to fund what they do and what they do is very important work. And at the same time, the tradition is to have the President at that dinner. And yet this president does not have a healthy respect for what we do as journalists. So my own view is it would have been inappropriate to attend. And that Trump has, has done everyone a favor by not going.

KEILAR: Yes. The White House Correspondents' Association fights many occasions, and for access there at the White House. And there's an accountability that really ends with the White House Correspondents Association speaking as this unified voice for the press there and what is such an important role. I'm glad you pointed that out, Ryan Lizza.

Thank you so much to all of you and again, we are awaiting a moment with the White House Correspondents Association, President Jeff Mason of "Reuters," to talk to us about this new development and what it's going to mean for the association and for the dinner and for the relationship between President Trump and the press corps.

Plus, we'll have this ahead -- screaming mad, supporters of Congressman Keith Ellison lash out after former Labor Secretary Tom Perez wins the battle narrowly to lead the Democratic Party. Now President Trump is weighing in.

And town halls gone wild. Angry protesters target more Republican lawmakers in their home districts. One congressman now saying that these events diminish democracy. We're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


[17:16:44] KEILAR: The Democratic Party has a brand-new elected leader.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: American Mr. Tom Perez.


KEILAR: Former Labor Secretary Tom Perez, who got the most votes from delegates gathered this weekend in Atlanta. The press immediately named the man who trailed him not too far I should say in votes, Congressman Keith Ellison as his deputy chairman.


TOM PEREZ, NEWLY ELECTED CHAIRMAN OF DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Because we were always united in our values. And we'll always continue to be united in our values. And we are united in our love for the Democratic Party. Our love for the diversity of the Democratic Party. Our love for the robust discussions that occur in the Democratic Party.


KEILAR: And this just a few minutes ago, a tweet from President Trump. He writes, "Congratulations to Thomas Perez, who has just been named chairman of the DNC, I cannot be happier for him or for the Republican Party."

CNN's Ryan Nobles is in Atlanta where the DNC delegates are gathered this weekend. Okay. So it sounds like not quite the most sincere congratulations there. But it actually sounded like Donald Trump had been rooting for Keith Ellison and to peg the more liberal wing of the Democratic Party as its leadership really as its face, right?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think there's an argument to be made there, Brianna. Certainly if Ellison had won here, it would probably signal a bit more disarray, with at least the Democratic establishment that they lost control of the party. And maybe in a position where they need to start from square one a bit more than they do with the election of someone like Tom Perez.

But you know, Perez and Ellison came right out of the gate firing, you know, you remember that during this campaign for DNC Chair Keith Ellison actually called for the house to begin impeachment proceedings on Donald Trump. He felt there was enough evidence there to begin that process. Now Perez was asked if he felt the same way. He stopped short of going that far. But he did say that he's going to be keeping a watchful eye on these investigations that are starting to pop up in the Congress. Take a listen.


PEREZ: You can't have the Attorney General who was out on the stump for the President, doing that investigation. That's disrespectful to all foxes, to call it the fox guarding that house. And we have to make sure that it is fair and if the tables had been turned and Hillary Clinton had won the presidency, with the help of Donald Trump, with the help of Putin -- I confuse Putin and Trump, because they're so similar -- and the help of all this hacking, the Republicans, you know, how many Benghazi hearings did they have? Fifteen? I mean, this would have been articles of impeachment filed already. (END VIDEO CLIP)

NOBLES: I think you got a glimpse there into the type of attack that the Democrats might be starting to maybe get on the same page with their Brianna on a number of different fronts. First invoking the treatment that Hillary Clinton got from House Republicans during the Benghazi phase of her time as secretary of state. And perhaps saying that they should treat Donald Trump the same exact way. But that also the fact that they're going to point out, that there needs to be an independent look into these investigations, involving the Russian hacking. That it's not just enough for the Trump-led through Jeff Sessions, Justice Department to do that. That's going to be a big call for Democrats I think over the next couple of weeks and months, to try and get as an independent look into that situation as possible -- Brianna.

KEILAR: And Perez said at first, he said you don't hear Republicans calling for a special investigation. That actually is not true. He then went on a little later to say -- it's good to hear some Republicans saying it. Because what you know, you know this, Ryan, Darrell Issa, Republican is now saying actually it's not appropriate if you have Jeff Sessions or even his deputy, who is just a political appointee, to do this. He said there needs to be a special investigation, but you know, is that something that we're hearing a lot from Republicans? Because it seems like that gives them cover to say this is something we need to look into. But I don't know how widespread are we hearing that from?

[17:21:09] NOBLES: Yes. I mean, you're right, Brianna, and that there are some Republicans calling for a special prosecutors. But there isn't a lot of Republicans calling for that. And you know, Issa is one. You know, John McCain and Lindsey Graham have kind of toyed with that idea. But maybe not going quite that far. I mean, I think the desire of most Republicans is to have as independent of an investigation of this through the Congress. You know, the Intelligence Committee starting that process right now. But you know ranking Democrat Mark Warner is a little bit concerned about the way that Richard Burt from North Carolina is conducting himself in that process.

So, you know, it really is a matter of just how Independent Republicans can look at this situation, as we see as to how this whole thing plays out. Because you know that Democrats are not going to try to take advantage of any crack in this situation. And expose it and Tom Perez demonstrated that here today.

KEILAR: I always want to point out in these moments that it was a special investigation that Bill Clinton acquiesced to. That investigated the whitewater land deal initially and then ultimately led to his impeachment. So you can kind of see some of the reticence there on the part of the White House as well in that regard.

All right. Ryan Nobles in Atlanta. Great reporting today. Thank you sir so much. Republicans under fire, protesters storm town halls to rage against GOP lawmakers on everything from President Trump's tax returns to ObamaCare. And now one congressman says, scenes like this, quote, "diminish democracy." Details, ahead.




[17:26:25] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 20, 20, you're gone!


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My husband has dementia, Alzheimer's -- multiple other things. And you want to stand there with him and expect us to be calm? Cool, and collective? Well, what kind of insurance do you have?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am troubled to hear the President of our country say complete falsehoods and I'd like to know what you plan to do and how you will mobilize the other Republicans to push back against this man when he makes delusional statements.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe that when the President misstates, as for example --

CROWD: Lies! Lies! Lies! Lies!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will you support a bipartisan investigation of the Trump administration's dealings with Vladimir Putin and Russia?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not sure that an investigation, which would take up an awful lot of bandwidth in the Congress is -- --


KEILAR: Well, those scenes that you just watched, that is what Republicans have been facing at town halls across the country here in recent days.

I want to bring in CNN's Sarah Ganim. She is joining us live. And there have been more town halls today. I understand. What are we, what are we hearing from those, Sara?

SARA GANIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Brianna. We're seeing a wave of anger at town halls across the country in the last couple of weeks. Making for some pretty contentious moments, and just this morning, Republican Congressman Gary Homer was booed in his own home district in Alabama following a question on climate change. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, why are you doing this? Why are you not giving --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because the Science is not decided on it.



GANIM: It's moments like these, Brianna that are making some lawmakers reconsider holding town halls at all. New York Congressman Peter King said on Friday, he won't hold town halls if they're just going to devolve into quote, "A screaming session" saying that angry town halls trivialize and diminish democracy, but it's not just Republicans who are backing off the traditional meetings with constituents.

Some Democrats, particularly those in states that went for Trump in 2016, who are in vulnerable positions, up for re-election in 2018 are also shying away from town halls. To avoid possibly contentious situations. And there's another reason that some Democrats might want to hold off on a town hall right now. I talked to one political strategist about why.


LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA'S CENTER FOR POLITICS: I think they are avoiding stepping on the anti-Republican story. Because it is the Republican town halls that have become very controversial. And it's video clips from those town halls that have made it onto the national news, night after night. So if, if a Democrat has a town hall and it turns messy, that steps on the story. That makes it a bipartisan story. Probably less interesting or less potent politically.


[17:30:00] GANIM: So you heard that stepping on the story. It's a little bit of a strategic move.

Now to be fair, many are holding public events, just not the traditional town halls. For example, Senator John Tester in Montana opted for a Facebook live town hall, which is more controlled environment. Democratic strategists are telling me that the traditional town halls are just simply too risky right now. They see no upside in putting these lawmakers in positions where an exchange with an angry protester could end up going viral. And we're watching it here on CNN.

KEILAR: Yeah, we sure are. And you know the ones, moments that go viral, they have the courage to do it, and the ones who don't, they don't have the moment that goes viral. That's how they see it.

Sara Ganim, thank you so much. You've been following this so closely and we appreciate it.

We have a quick programming note. CNN is going to host a town hall with Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham on Wednesday March 1st at 9:00 p.m. And our lovely chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, is going to be the moderator. It will be a great event. Tune in to that.

It's a new, darker chapter into the White House war on journalist. The White House administration banning certainly journalist organizations, including this one, from the briefing room. Trump said he will not be attending the White House Correspondents Associate Dinner.

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


KEILAR: A new salvo in the Trump administration's war on journalists. The president a short time ago tweeted he's not going to attend the annual White House Correspondents Dinner. This coming after CNN and other news outlets were barred from an off-camera White House briefing. That move is not only unprecedented, it looks like an escalation.

That began earlier on Friday, when the president mocked and disparaged the news media at the annual gathering of conservatives at CPAC.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have to fight it, folks. We have to fight it. They're very smart, they're very cunning and they're very dishonest. So just to conclude, I mean it's a very sensitive topic. And they get upset when we expose their false stories. They say that we can't criticize their dishonest coverage, because of the First Amendment. They always bring up the First Amendment. And I love the First Amendment. Nobody loves it better than me. Nobody.



[17:35:22] KEILAR: Well, joining me to discuss the relationship between the news media and the Trump White House is CNN media analyst, Bill Carter, the author of "The War for Late Night: When Leno Went Early and Television Went Crazy." And also, CNN political commentator, Alice Stewart, a Republican strategist.

Bill, to you first.

Some people look at this and say whatever, reporters, the president isn't going to your big party that you throw every year. But this is, a data point in a bigger trend, I think. Which is just that -- there's this big divide and that the press is being demonized by President Trump in ways that you know, he's being dishonest himself about some things when he's talking about the news being fake and that reporters are lying. And that they're making up sources.

BILL CARTER, CNN MEDIA ANALYST: Well it's an extreme position that he's taking. Republicans always criticize the media. This has reached the point where it's over the top, actually. Any story that's critical of him now becomes fake. And I think the fact that he's bowing out of this dinner. The dinner has many reasons to criticize. The dinner has become a sort of excessive show. But it has a little of the quality if you can't fire me, I quit. Because you know I think a lot of people would have dropped out of this dinner, would have protested him, the language that he's been throwing at the press. And also, I think following Obama, who has been brilliant at these dinners, he would have gotten a lot of criticism. That would not be his crowd. He likes to have his crowd at rallies. He likes to have sort of paid applauders when he goes to various things, he would not have been well received. The whole thing would have been fraught for him. This is sort of snow-flaking to back out of this.

KEILAR: Alice, I know you've been critical of Donald Trump and his message for the media. This would have been a tough thing for him to go to, right? Because Hollywood is so prevalent at this event. Hollywood generally speaking, the vocal parts of it, don't really like Donald Trump. "vanity fair" was saying we're not going to have this party we normally have. And you had a lot of people who certainly feel they don't have respect for Donald Trump. They're not going to come even to show respect to the institution. So maybe of the presidency. So maybe this isn't a surprise?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's not a surprise. We've already had many of the news outlets as you mentioned, indicate they're not going to have parties for whatever reason. And a lot of it is because a lot of the bigger parties are attractions for people were because celebrities were there, Hollywood types were there. And they're not coming clearly. Those in Hollywood, the left, those on the left, aren't supportive of Donald Trump. But you have to go back to the campaign. When Donald Trump first campaigned, he has always been critical of the media. This is not anything new, he truly believes when something is whether is factually accurate or not, he is always going to speak against the media. That is simply what he does. Because whether it's factually incorrect or he doesn't like it, that's what he does. It energizes his base, that's something that he will continue to do. And that being said, today we had several stories about Russia again leading the headlines, many stories on Russia. The Democrats are having a good day with Tom Perez being elected the chairman of the DNC. Good news for them, not great news for the administration. And Donald Trump crazy and smart like a FOX. Throwing something else out there that distracts from these other two headline-grabbing stories. And now the media is talking about this.

KEILAR: I know you said he's always felt this way about the media. Now he's calling the media the enemy of the people. Do you see this as an escalation? Do you see this as something that could while it energizes his base, how do you feel -- especially with your background? Were you a former broadcaster. You were a reporter in Arkansas. What do you feel about what this does -- I'm not talking about the dinner? I'm just talking about the general environment between Donald Trump and the media. What does this do for the Democratic process.

STEWART: Big picture here -- clearly as you indicate, this energizes his base, they like seeing the enemy. And every Trump event I've ever been to, that is clear, you can cut the tension with a knife. That being said, the media has a very important role in a free, Democratic society. They are the fourth estate. They are there to be a check and balance and be the eyes and ears of the public on what's going on in the government. And what's going on with our elected officials, keeping them open and transparent. It's a critical part of our society. And they need to be allowed to do the job they're doing. Unfortunately, with some of the things that we're currently seeing, some of them as we saw yesterday, some of them being excluded from a briefing in a set of gaggle, that inhibits the media to do what they're here to do, that's unfortunate. Hopefully, there will be conversations and things will smooth out, iron out. I think it's important for there to be a check and balance on the administration. I think facts are extremely important. That goes for those in the administration, elected officials and with the media. So, I think both sides can really come together and hopefully find a little common ground.

[17:40:47] KEILAR: Let's hope. We may be hoping and hoping.

Alice Stewart, Bill Carter, thank you so much to both of you.

STEWART: Thank you.

KEILAR: President Trump is going to make his first address before Congress this Tuesday. You can see the speech live. And of course, there is, as there always is, is the opposition response this year the Democratic response, and reaction from across the country. This begins at 8:00 p.m. eastern here on CNN.

We'll be right back.


KEILAR: President Trump using an appearance at CPAC to tout his crackdown on undocumented immigrants. Let's listen.


TRUMP: As we speak today, immigration officers are finding the gang members, the drug dealers, and the criminal aliens, and throwing them the hell out of our country.


TRUMP: And we will not let them back in. They're not coming back in, folks.


[17:45:17] KEILAR: It is just the latest comment from the president to make the immigrant community fearful. And that's actually driving some to build an underground network of safe houses to hide the undocumented.

CNN's Kyung Lah taking a look inside.


KYUNG LAH, CNN CORERSPONDENT (voice-over): Pounding, sanding, laying the groundwork at this secret home in Los Angeles.

(on camera): How many families would be --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It would be about three families that we can host here.

LAH (voice-over): Pastor Ava Valiente (ph) walks us through one safe house for the undocumented running from immigration officers, an underground network.

(on camera): Essentially, what you're doing is you're trying to hide people. Is that right?

VALIENTE (ph): That's what we need to do as a community.

LAH (voice-over): On the other side of L.A., another safe house in this man's home. We're not naming him or telling you where he lives, because of what's at stake.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's hard as a Jew not to think about with all the people who did open their doors in their homes and take risks to safeguard Jews in moments where they were vulnerable.

LAH: This is beyond sanctuary churches. We've seen at this Colorado church offering refuge for an undocumented woman. Federal agents don't enter religious houses.

TRUMP: I Donald J. Trump, do solemnly swear --

LAH: But faith leaders believe it will change under President Trump. Private homes fall under Fourth Amendment protection and need a warrant before authorities can enter.

ZACH HOOPER, REVEREND: Something sort of like this.

LAH: Reverend Zach Hooper says faith groups across Los Angeles county could hide 100 undocumented immigrants today and that number could soon be in the thousands.

HOOPER: People will be moving into a place so that ICE can't find them. So, they can stay with their families, so they can be with their husbands. So, they can avoid being detained and deported.


LAH: The idea comes from leaders across all faiths in Los Angeles, just days after the election, pledging opposition to Trump's immigration orders.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not going to stop until we get to the place that god is telling us to.

LAH (voice-over): People had may not agree with you would look at what you're doing and saying, you're simply aiding and abetting the violation of federal laws. HOOPER: I'll speak for myself. I feel convicted that I answer to

god. At the end of the day. Like that's who I'm going to see when I die and I hope that you know we can live up to our, I hope we can live up to who we are.

LAH: Pastor Valiente (ph) is clear-eyed about the risk.

VALIENTE (ph): We're trusting in God that he would help us guide us to make the right decision.

LAH: It doesn't mean it's an easy choice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's some element that I don't totally know what the consequences are. But the moral consequences for me if we don't act this is a moment not to be standing idly by.

LAH: Kyung Lah, CNN, Los Angeles. (END VIDEOTAPE)


KEILAR: And there will be, we should talk about ahead, some glitz and gold and probably some political speeches, if past is prologue with these awards dinners. Oscar preps under way as we get closer to Hollywood's biggest night. The favorites for the top awards coming up.

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


[17:50:58] KEILAR: Well, the Daytona 500 is kicking off the NASCAR season tomorrow. If you're looking to get closer to the action, in Charlotte, North Carolina, visitors can suit up and experience the thrill of racing firsthand.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome to Charlotte. This is NASCAR's headquarters.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The NASCAR racing experience is our program where people can come out, take a ride or a drive in one of these stock cars here at Charlotte Motor Speedway. A lot of people say it's kind of their bucket list to come out here and when you take that ride, you can really feel the banking and the speed out here at the racetrack. It's real important that you wait for your instructor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our customers are a little nervous coming in but after we put them through the training, we instruct them through the radio. Almost every rider or driver has a huge smile on their face.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Charlotte is a face-oriented area. A lot of the background of stock car racing comes from this area.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think you have to be a NASCAR. I think we all drive a car that some of our vehicles are pretty mundane. Getting in a car like this just makes you feel alive.



KEILAR: Tomorrow, the red carpet will be rolled out for Hollywood's biggest night, the 89th Annual Academy Awards.

Stephanie Elam takes a look at the favorites to bring home Oscar gold.


[17:54:41] STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORERSPONDENT (voice-over): Musical romance --

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: I was standing with you.

ELAM: -- family drama, and extraterrestrial life all competing for Oscar.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: We keep running into each other.

ELAM: "La La Land" is the film to watch with 14 nominations, tying "All About Eve" and "Titanic" for the most nods in Oscar history.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Very, very exciting.

ELAM: The musical up for best picture, along with "Arrival," "Fences," "Hacksaw Ridge," "Hell or Highwater," "Hidden Figures," "Lion," "Manchester by the Sea," and "Moonlight."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People think "Hidden Figures" could eke out in the end but I think in the end, "La La Land" will prevail.

ELAM: Emma Stone is up for best actress. Ruth Negga in "Loving." And return winners, Meryl Streep and Natalie Portman. But Stone is the frontrunner.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Emma Stone has potentially won every single award you can win.

ELAM: The race for best actor, though, is tight. Andrew Garfield in "Hacksaw Ridge," Ryan Gosling in "La La Land" and the star of "Captain Fantastic" are all up for the honor. But the moment is with Denzel Washington for "Fences" and Casey Affleck for "Manchester by the Sea."

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Everyone will be on the edge of their seat for that competition.

JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE: Do you know who is hosting the Oscars this year. I'll give you a hint. He's touching your face.

ELAM: Jimmy Kimmel is taking on Hollywood's most notoriously challenging role. The late-night host will emcee the Oscars for the first time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He really is going to rely on his relationship with the actors in the room to try to make them comfortable and relax.

ELAM: Although a few will probably be excited and emotional after striking Oscar gold.

Stephanie Elam, CNN, Hollywood.


KEILAR: Stephanie Elam, thank you so much for that.

We have more on today's breaking news. The DNC picks a new chief as the Democrats struggle to launch a united effort against President Trump. While President Trump launches a new attack against the media and says he will not attend the White House Correspondents Dinner.

You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM.