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New Questions on Carter Page's Russian Contracts Over Years; Dow Plunges for 2nd Day; Senators Warn Trump on "Bloody Nose Attack" on North Korea; Is Pence Plotting Olympic Jab Against North Korea; White House Won't Pledge Trump Will Sign Democratic Memo; Airstrikes Force Syrians into Freezing Temps in Escape to Lebanon. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired February 05, 2018 - 13:30   ET



[13:31:05] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: The fallout from the Republican memo on the FBI is dividing Washington. And now we're learning more about the man in the center of the report. We're talking about Carter Page, former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser. New reporting is raising questions about Page's contacts with Russian government over the years.

Let's go to our justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider, who is working the story for us.

Jessica, what have you learned?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, "Time" has just obtained a letter written by Carter Page in 2013. In that letter, Page brags about his connections with Russia, calling himself an adviser to the Kremlin. He wrote in that letter, "Over the past half year, I've had the privilege to serve as an informal adviser to the staff of the Kremlin in preparation for their presidency of the G-20 summit next month where energy issues will be a prominent point on the agenda."

The timing of that letter is significant because, just two months earlier, the FBI warned Page that he was targeted for recruitment as a Russian spy. In 2014, the FBI began surveilling Page's communications under a FISA warrant. And fast forward that to two years later. In 2016, Page was named as a Trump adviser in March 2016. Of course, just months later, in July, Carter Page traveled to Moscow to give a lecture. Around that same time, former British spy, Christopher Steele, the author of the dossier, he shared with the FBI information about what he was learning doing opposition research for the firm that was hired by opponents of Trump, and as part of that research, we now know Steele believed Page was participating in collusion with the Russian government. Carter Page, though, denies that. Now go to September 2016, that's when Carter Page left the Trump campaign amid the Russia reports -- amid reports as well about his ties to Russia. And then it was one month later, in October 2016, that the FBI got a new warrant to monitor him on the basis of some information from the Steele dossier, plus other intelligence and evidence that was obtained by the FBI. So the FBI questioned Page back in March of last year. That was in the midst of the Russia probe, but that was before Robert Mueller was named as special counsel.

So Carter Page is now at the center of this Republican memo, part of a conservative effort to discredit the FBI and the Russia investigation. However, it was a much different tune than the past year when Trump aides and associates worked to minimize Page's role. Take a listen.


SEAN SPICER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Carter Page is an individual who the president-elect does not know.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, SENIOR TRUMP ADVISOR: He's not part of our national security or foreign policy briefings that we do now at all.

CORY LEWANDOWSKI, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN CHIEF: To the best of my recollection, I do not know Carter Page. To the best of my knowledge, Carter Page never had a e-mail address, had no formal role in the campaign that I'm aware of.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't think I've spoken to him. I don't think I've met him.


SCHNEIDER: Again, Carter Page did leave the Trump campaign in September 2016.

Carter Page issued a statement on Friday saying that the FISA warrant on him was an unprecedented abuse.

Page has testified before the House Intelligence Committee. That was in November. He said then that he alerted several campaign officials about his July 2016 trip to Russia when he was working with the campaign -- Wolf?

[13:34:23] BLITZER: Jessica, good report. Thanks very much.

This just in, Republicans expected to approve the release of the Democratic memo that counters the Republican one. But will the president and the White House, what will they do? So far, they're refusing to say whether they will release this memo. They've got five days once they formally receive it.

Plus, the Dow plunging 434 points right now. That's more than a thousand points between Friday and today. What's behind this dramatic selloff? We'll discuss that and more when we come back.


BLITZER: The Dow Jones is plunging once again for a second day now. Trading down 472 points right now. This, after a drop of more than 666 points on Friday. A more than 1100-point drop between Friday and so far today. The White House, so far, not commenting, saying only this, "We're always concerned when the market loses any value but we're also confident in the economy's fundamentals."

Let's go to CNN's Alison Kosik. She's joining us from New York right now.

Why are investors so spooked?

[13:40:49] ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's all about inflation. Just going back to the number of points we've seen the market lose between Friday and today, 1100 points. The last time we saw the Dow lose 1100 points was back in 2015 when the market was concerned about an economic slowdown in China. So it's been a number of years since we've seen a selloff between Friday and today. And it is about inflation. It's a continuation of what investors learned on Friday, that wages grew at their faster pace since 2009. That's great news for the American worker, it's great news for Main Street, but the way Wall Street sees it, it's a big flashing red sign of inflation. Because inflation means that the Fed could likely step in and go ahead and aggressively raise interest rates after slowly raising them last year -- Wolf?

BLITZER: The president and first lady have now arrived aboard Air Force One in Cincinnati. The president will be delivering an economic speech later, talking about the tax cuts that went through the Congress that he signed into law, the tax reform. The first lady has a separate assignment on opioid addiction. She'll be doing that separately in Cincinnati before they both return to Washington in a few hours. We'll have coverage of all of this, of course, coming up.

Alison, getting back to you right now, 1100-point drop so far in two days, Friday and today, it's causing a lot of folks out there to be deeply concerned. They're wondering, is this a good time to start selling?

KOSIK: I think the selling is happening as we speak. And you talk to traders, you talk to analysts, you can expect more selling to happen.

But I want to show you how far the market has actually come. Some traders and analysts believe the market has come too far too fast. Just last year, the Dow made 70 record highs. The Dow gained 5,000 points just last year. And if you look at what happened since the 2016 election, we saw the S&P 500 up 30 percent. The NASDAQ, the Dow up 40 percent since the election. If you look at a 10-year span, this is the longest and strongest bull market that we've seen without having any kind of major pullback. So any market watcher kind of has been thinking it was only a matter of time that a pullback like this could happen, because it's something that's healthy for the market. You don't want the market to get overheated. You want it to have these pull-backs so it can kind of have a timeout, a cooling-off period, so then it can kind of reset and start back up again. That's what many believe is happening here. They're not counting out a correction. Keep in mind, a correction would take us down another couple thousand points at least, even more on the Dow -0 Wolf?

BLITZER: The president greeting some folks over at the airport. I wonder if we can hear what he's saying.

Let's listen in.

Unfortunately, we can't. But we can see a picture, and clearly, he's pleased. He'll be

delivering his speech on the economy and the tax plan that went through the House and the Senate that he signed into law. Once again, the first lady, a separate event on opioid addiction in Cincinnati before they both return to Washington. We'll have coverage of that coming up.

Meanwhile, a group of Democratic Senators writing to President Trump warning him that he has, quote, "No legal authority to launch" what's called a "bloody nose strike" against North Korea. I'll speak to one of those Senators.

Also, the president calls the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee a liar and a leaker. We're talking about Adam Schiff. This, as he gets ready to design whether to declassify that Democratic House Intelligence Committee's counter-memo.


[13:47:51] BLITZER: Democratic Senators are warning President Trump not to launch what's called a "bloody nose strike" against North Korea. "The Washington Post" says 18 Senators so far are sending a letter to the president telling him he lacks the authority to carry out such an attack.

Senator Chris Van Hollen, of Maryland, is one of those Senators who signed the letter. He joins us live from Capitol Hill.

Senator, thanks for joining us.


BLITZER: What's your biggest concern about the possibility about this preemptive so-called "bloody nose strike" against North Korea?

SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN, (D), MARYLAND: Wolf, as you know, we're now more than a year into this administration. The Trump administration has not yet nominated an ambassador to South Korea, even though that is the top hot spot for national security policy right now. And Victor Cha, who was under consideration to fill that spot, penned an op-ed recently indicating that he was -- he believed that he was overlooked or passed over because he was objecting to this so-called "bloody nose" strategy. A "bloody nose" strategy would be a preemptive, preventative U.S. first strike on North Korea, with huge costs to both American and South Korean lives and others. And the president has no authority to launch that kind of first-strike, preventative-war strike without authorization from Congress, which has the power to declare war. That would clearly be an act of war.

BLITZER: A lot of presidents over the years have disagreed with that legal interpretation. They say the president, as commander-in-chief, if he feels U.S. national security is endangered, he has the authority to launch a preemptive strike. Your response?

VAN HOLLEN: Wolf, there are a whole range of different possibilities and scenarios here, from striking a terrorist target to essentially launching preventative war against North Korea. I think, in anybody's book, an attack on North Korea, a first attack, a preventative-war attack constitutes an act of war, which is contemplated under the congressional authorities within our Constitution. We can argue about other cases, but this seems to be a very clear-cut case. You have two state actors -- South Korea and North Korea -- you would have a preventative strike on North Korea. So we should be focused on trying to make sure we maximize our pressure, especially economic pressure, on North Korea. I don't think this administration has exhausted the sanctions enforcement, which is why Senator Toomey and I have introduced legislation that has passed unanimously out of the Banking Committee and is pending on the floor of the Senate to really ratchet down more on firms in China and elsewhere who are facilitating the North Koreans.

[13:50:37] BLITZER: The Vice President Mike Pence is leaving Washington today. He'll represent the United States at the Winter Olympics Games in South Korea beginning later in the week. And North Korean athletes are taking part in these games. But a White House official says the vice president will reject attempts at normalizing North Korea in those games. What's your reaction to that?

VAN HOLLEN: I think that's right. I don't think the vice president should use the occasion to meet directly with North Koreans. But it is a sign of the dysfunction in this administration's foreign policy generally and with respect to Korea. The South Koreans, President Moon, began their overture to North Korea without any communication with the United States. We were caught by surprise when South Korea responded to North Koreans' overtures with respect to the Olympics. Whether or not that turns out to be a good idea or a bad idea to have North Korea participate more in the Olympics, it's a sign that the South Koreans don't trust us, that they didn't include us and coordinate those decisions with us.

BLITZER: As you know, later today -- this is a different subject -- the House Intelligence Committee is expected to send to the White House, to the president, the Democratic response, the Democratic memo responding to Devin Nunes' memo. The president has five days to declassify the 10-page memo. Do you think the president will declassify it? We know several Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee will vote in favor of sending it to the White House.

VAN HOLLEN: Well, the president should declassify this in the interest of full disclosure. But this whole episode should have been avoided. Devin Nunes really committed a gross abuse of power by using his position on the House Intelligence Committee to cherry pick and manipulate data, according to our own FBI, leading out really important parts, and essentially releasing that with the vote of Republicans and the OK of President Trump. Having done that, it's important that at least the other side of the story be told. But this is no way, Wolf, to operate the House Intelligence Committee, the House of Representatives on these really important issues to our national security.

BLITZER: You served in the House of Representatives before becoming a U.S. Senator. So you understand what's going on over there in the House Intelligence Committee. A marked difference than what's going on in the bipartisan cooperation in the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

VAN HOLLEN: Good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Chris Van Hollen, of Maryland.

Meanwhile, families freezing to death as they try to escape the violence in Syria in brutally frigid temperatures. A live report from the region, next.


[13:55:35] BLITZER: The fighting and airstrikes are prompting Syrians to make a very dangerous decision. They're risking their lives to brave freezing temperatures to try to cross the border into Lebanon.

CNN's senior international correspondent, Ben Wedeman, went to get their story.

We have a warning, his report contains graphic images.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Nishan (ph) tries to distract his 3-year-old daughter, Sada (ph), who is recovering in a Lebanese hospital. Sada (ph) is all his he has left. The rest of his family, his wife, Lenal (ph), and 5-year-old daughter, Hiba (ph), froze to death along with 15 other Syrians while crossing the mountains into Lebanon in a snowstorm at night.

Nishan (ph) has been working in Lebanon for last two and a half years.


WEDEMAN: They were dropped off by a car on the Syrian side, he says, and were supposed to walk for half an hour into Lebanon and then be picked up by another car. But it was dark, snowing and the smugglers abandoned them.

Nishan (ph) shows me on his phone pictures he downloaded of his wife as she was found cradling their daughter, Hiba (ph), his mother, and his brother's family, all frozen to death.

Sada (ph) has just come out of an operation on her frostbitten face. She doesn't know her mother, sister and grandmother are dead.

We went back to the mountainside where they died. They were just a few minutes from the nearest house.

(on camera): The snows have melted but this is the spot where the bodies were found. There are still rubber gloves here used by those who took the bodies away.

This is a valley frequently used by Syrians trying to sneak into Lebanon.

And their deaths here underscore just how desperate they are to reach safe ground.

(voice-over): It's safer in Lebanon, but life for the nearly one million Syrians who fled here is hard, ever harder in winter in these makeshift camps.

Farhan's (ph) wife, Fatima, is ill.


WEDEMAN: Sickness is but one of the perils in their leaky, cold shelter. Vermin, another.


WEDEMAN: "There's everything here," says Farhan (ph), "Things I have never seen before. Rats, mice, everything."

Mona crossed into Lebanon with her son. Her husband went missing five years ago.

"We were afraid," she recalls. "We walked for four days over the mountains after paying $700 to smugglers."

Some have returned to Syria, but others continue to come, says Mike Bruce, of the Norwegian Refugee Council.

MIKE BRUCE, NORWEGIAN REFUGEE COUNCIL: Walking across the mountains and taking days to cross in winter are a testament to the fact that Syria isn't safe. Until Syria is safe and until there is a lasting peace, people should not be going back to Syria.

WEDEMAN: And in this cold, wet, bleak existence, the day when Syria is safe again seems an eternity away.


BLITZER: Ben joins us now from Beirut.

What an awful, awful situation. How has the Lebanon government responded to this refugee crisis, Ben?

WEDEMAN: Wolf, the Lebanese have been struggling with the crisis, which began with a trickle of refugees in 2011, which turned into a flood. This is a country with a population of six million people. They are dealing with one million Syrian refugees, hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees, and Iraqis and Yemenis and others. They are struggling. They're short on resources. The Lebanese have, for instance, begun afternoon shifts in the public schools for Syrian students. But it's a huge drain on their resources. And much like Europe, to a certain extent, the United States, refugees have become a political hot potato here. Because it was the presence of Palestinian refugees that set off the Lebanese civil war in 1975. The worry is that Lebanon's delicate sectarian balance could be thrown out of whack by so many Syrians in the country -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Awful situation, indeed.

Ben Wedeman reporting for us from Beirut. Ben, thank you for that report.

That's it for me. I will be back at 5:00 p.m. in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

For our international viewers, "AMANPOUR" is next.

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