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Trump Tweet Says He Fired Flynn for Lying to FBI; Who is Michael Flynn?; Hawaii Restarts Tests of Nuclear Warnings Sirens; Uncovering Libya's Slave Auctions; On Moscow's Real Intentions in Dealing with Michael Flynn; President Trump's Anti-Immigrant Stance Forces Tech Workers to Leave U.S.; Aired 4-5a ET

Aired December 3, 2017 - 04:00   ET

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


[04:00:10] GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR: A tweet from the U.S. president's account is raising troubling new questions. We'll take you behind the scenes of our exclusive CNN report, exposing slave auctions in Libya. And watching and waiting in Bali for a potential violent volcanic eruption.

Live from CNN world headquarters in Atlanta, we want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. I'm George Howell. CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.

4:00 a.m. on the U.S. East Coast. Around the world. Good day to you. A tweet from the U.S. president's personal account raises a stubborn and haunting question -- what did the president know and when did he know it?

The focus is on his fired national security adviser Michael Flynn. The tweet reads as follows, quote, "I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the vice president and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide," explanation point, from U.S. President Donald Trump.

If true this tweet is explosive. It means Mr. Trump knew Michael Flynn had broken the law when he asked the then FBI director James Comey in February to drop the investigation into Flynn. Here's what the president said Saturday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What has been shown is no collusion, no collusion. There's been absolutely -- there has been absolutely no collusion. So we're very happy. And frankly last night was one of the big nights.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE) Michael Flynn, sir?

TRUMP: We'll see what happens. Thank you, all very much. Thank you very much. Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL: The president there saying no collusion. But again there are other questions here on top of mind. There are other things on top of that. New information that contradicts the White House claims that Flynn was acting alone when he spoke with the then Russian ambassador to the U.S.

CNN's Boris Sanchez has this.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The Russia investigation and the dismissal of former national security adviser Michael Flynn likely the last thing that the White House wanted to be talking about just hours after their first major legislative victory in passing tax reform. But with a swift tweet, the president has raised serious questions about what he knew and when he knew it.

In this tweet, the president suggests that part of the reason that he fired Michael Flynn as national security adviser was because he knew that he had lied to the FBI. That raises serious questions possibly about obstruction of justice, if after all the president as has been reported asked former FBI director James Comey to get rid of the investigation into Michael Flynn.

Further, it also raises questions about the White House's efforts to distance themselves from Michael Flynn. At first on Friday calling him a former Obama administration official and also making the case that President Obama approved of Michael Flynn's conversations with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, to discuss sanctions.

The reaction from Democrats was swift, including this tweet from Adam Schiff, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee. He responded to the president's initial tweet writing, quote, "If that is true, Mr. President, why did you wait so long to fire Flynn? Why did you fail to act until his lies were publicly exposed? Why did you pressure Director Comey to let this go?"

The White House has a series of questions before them, clearly something that is not likely going to go away anytime soon. Specifically because now there is a new "New York Times" report that indicates that several key figures within the Trump transition and within the administration were briefed on Michael Flynn's conversations with Sergey Kislyak before and after their meeting and so this investigation likely will explore where that goes.

And as more information continues to leak out during this investigation, it really hangs a cloud over this White House as they continue moving forward with their legislative agenda.

Boris Sanchez, CNN, in New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOWELL: Boris, thank you.

The White House says journalists are just reading too much into the president's tweet on Flynn. John Dowd, an attorney with Mr. Trump's private legal team, tells CNN the following, quote, "The tweet was a paraphrase of Ty Cobb's statement yesterday. I refer you to Comey's testimony before Congress about FBI view of Flynn's answers," end quote.

Ty Cobb is special counsel for the White House. In his statement on Friday, after Flynn pleaded guilty, did not mention lying to the FBI as a factor in Flynn's firing.

[04:05:06] Joining me now to talk more about this is CNN legal analyst Areva Martin.

Areva, it's good to have you with us this hour. Let's talk about the president's latest tweet. What do you make of it?

AREVA MARTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, George, you know, the tweet is really interesting because the tweet suggests that Donald Trump knew that Michael Flynn had lied to the FBI. And it raises the question as to if he knew that at the time that he asked James Comey to let Flynn go.

Was he intentionally trying to obstruct justice? That's a big issue in this Robert Mueller investigation. What did Trump know, when did he know it, and why didn't he act on it earlier? But you know, something interesting that's happened over the course of, you know, the last 12 to 14 hours and that's the White House is now trying to distance Donald Trump from his own tweet. They're suggesting that he didn't write the tweet, but that it was written by his personal attorney and that personal attorney is now somehow apologizing for the tweet.

So it's all very interesting, but clearly it's going to catch the attention of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

HOWELL: It is very interesting. It's important also to note CNN cannot back or confirm that reporting at this point, but certainly does raise a lot of questions about the nature of that tweet.

Areva, let's talk about that because obstruction of justice, the president, the White House saying there is no obstruction. They say that the Flynn case specifically relates to Michael Flynn, but the question here as the specter of obstruction of justice comes into focus, what are the legal ramifications?

MARTIN: Well, you know, the White House has been trying to put the most positive spin on everything that has been happening with respect to the special counsel. Even going as far as to suggest that the entire investigation will be wrapped up by the end of the year. But that seems to be a very naive perspective on the part of the president and the White House.

What we know about the guilty plea that Flynn entered into is that that wouldn't happen unless he had some very, very vital information to give to the special prosecutor in exchange for him getting what essentially is a slap on the wrist.

We know that Flynn was facing a plethora of charges. And only to be charged with lying to the FBI really suggests that he in his cooperation with the special counsel is giving information about Donald Trump's inner circle.

Now we don't know if he has given information pertaining to Jared Kushner, Donald Trump, Jr. or the president himself, but it surely looks like Robert Mueller is getting closer to Donald Trump and his inner circle with this recent plea deal by Flynn.

HOWELL: All right. Areva, let's talk about what we do know at this point. The timeline of events, we do know now that Michael Flynn lied to the FBI in January. He was subsequently fired in February and a day after he was fired, the president tells James Comey to drop the investigation.

Just given that timeline of events, Areva, what does it tell you?

MARTIN: Very troubling timeline, very troubling for the White House, and we know that Special Counsel Mueller is looking at this. And obstruction of justice has always been on the table. Ever since Donald Trump went on national television, talking to NBC where he basically said he fired James Comey because of the Russia investigation.

Now we know Trump's story about why he fired Comey has changed multiple times. But it doesn't look good for the White House, for us now to see this tweet, where he's admitting that he knew that Flynn lied to the FBI and to know that he also asked James Comey shortly thereafter to lay off Michael Flynn. So why would the president ask the FBI director to lay off Michael Flynn? That is a really big question.

HOWELL: Areva Martin, thank you so much for your perspective.

MARTIN: Thank you.

HOWELL: During the 2016 presidential election, Michael Flynn stood alongside the U.S. president as one of his most loyal strident supporters. Loyalty, very important to this president.

Our Tom Foreman looks at their history.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MICHAEL FLYNN, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: The next president of the United States, right here.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the campaign trail, Michael Flynn seemed a true fan of Donald Trump and the admiration mutual as the candidate courted votes from the military community.

TRUMP: We have tremendous military support, unbelievable military support. And having, as you know, General Flynn here and having so many of the generals at our side. In fact, we have -- where is General Flynn? He's around here someplace.

FOREMAN: Flynn was once a member of Barack Obama's team and a top military intelligence officer. Then he fell out of favor. He was fired. [04:10:02] By the summer of 2015, he had done an odd about-face and

began talking to Republican candidates. And when he met Donald Trump, "I knew he was going to be president of the United States."

FLYNN: For Donald J. Trump to be the next president of the United States.

FOREMAN: Flynn began advising the campaign in early 2016. By the time of the Republican Convention that summer, he was leading the chants against Democrat Hillary Clinton.

FLYNN: Lock her up, that's right.

CROWD: Lock her up. Lock her up.

FLYNN: If I did a tenth -- a tenth -- of what she did, I would be in jail today.

FOREMAN: On Twitter, Trump praised Flynn's book on "How to Defeat Radical Islam." And 10 days after winning the election in November, he chose Flynn as his national security adviser. Flynn took the job in January after the inauguration.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, SENIOR ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Yes, General Flynn does enjoy the full confidence of the president.

FOREMAN: Then it all unraveled. Flynn admitted he misled the Trump team about his Russian communications.

SEAN SPICER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: At some point, that trust eroded to a point where the president did not feel comfortable.

FOREMAN: Still, even as Flynn was given the boot and the Russia investigation swirled, the president seemed reluctant to let him go.

TRUMP: When I looked at the information, I said, I don't think he did anything wrong. If anything, he did something right.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOWELL: All right, Tom, thank you. Of course we'll continue following the Russia investigation.

Moving on now to Israel, some top U.S. officials and foreign diplomats tell CNN the White House could announce that the U.S. recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, an announcement that could come as early as Tuesday.

The State Department has been warned to prepare for possible violent protests because of it. President Trump is also expected to sign a waiver keeping the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv for another six months. But our sources believe Mr. Trump will announce plans to move the embassy to Jerusalem in the future. They also expect the U.S. will specify west Jerusalem as the capital because Palestinians want to claim east Jerusalem as their own seat of government.

Syria says that one of its military sites was hit by an Israeli missile strike on Saturday. Syrian state media say it happened near the city of Damascus and the site was damaged. Israel didn't comment on the report, but hours later took aim at a Syrian ally on Twitter. In a video Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu game this warning to Iran. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: So let me reiterate Israel's policy. We will not allow a regime held bent on the annihilation of the Jewish state to acquire nuclear weapons. We will not allow that regime to entrench itself militarily in Syria as it seems to do for the expressed purpose of eradicating our state.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL: All right. That statement there from the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. This after reports that his country had just launched missiles into Syria.

Yemen's former president is offering to open talks with Saudi Arabia. Ali Abdullah Saleh says that if the Saudi-led coalition stopped dropping bombs on rebel bases and if it allows food and supplies into the country, then he'd be open to turning the page in the ongoing war in Yemen. But Saleh's own allies, Houthi rebels, disagree. They're rejecting the possibility of talk with the Saudis. The latest sign of splintering rebel factions in the conflict that's killed thousands of civilians.

A week after Honduras went to the polls to pick a president, it's still unclear who won. Next details on the violent protests, a mandatory curfew and allegations of voter fraud.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

2[04:17:43] HOWELL: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell. In Honduras, the opposition is condemning a mandatory curfew as a government power grab. The curfew was imposed after violent protests over voter fraud allegations. The opposition is accusing the incumbent president of manipulating the results from last week's presidential election.

The president denies the allegations. He and the opposition candidate have both claimed victory. Honduran election officials are reviewing the ballots for any irregularities there.

Protesters in Germany clashed with police as the country's anti- immigration party appears to be leaning further into the far right. That party, the Alternative for Germany Party, the AfD, as it is known in that nation, elected a right-wing nationalist as their new co- leader.

Alexander Gauland said that Germany should be proud of what their soldiers accomplished during the two world wars. The AfD is now the third largest party in the German federal parliament and is hoping to gain more political ground in regional elections next year.

A U.S. official says the missile launched by North Korea on Tuesday probably broke up in re-entering the atmosphere. Pyongyang claimed the missile could strike the entire U.S. mainland. It also says that the Trump administration is, quote, "begging for nuclear war." All of this as the U.S. is set to start a military drill with South Korea come Monday. The U.S. National Security adviser said on Saturday North Korea represents the greatest immediate threat to the United States.

H.R. McMaster told a defense forum the potential for war with Pyongyang is, quote, "increasing every day, which means that we are in a race, really we are in a race to be able to solve this problem," end quote.

The U.S. state of Hawaii is preparing for the worst when it comes to the situation with North Korea. On Friday, it restarted monthly tests of its nuclear warning sirens. The system hasn't been used in decades.

CNN's Sara Sidner reports it still could save lives.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

[04:20:02] SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the sound of a test Hawaii hasn't done since the Cold War era. The attack warning siren once used because of Russia's nuclear capabilities, now reintroduced because of North Korea's.

LT. COL. CHARLES ANTHONY, HAWAII DEFENSE DEPARTMENT: You could see where they were going with their development and we want to make sure that we got ahead of that.

SIDNER: Officials in Hawaii watch closely as North Korea's capabilities increase rapidly. And as rhetoric escalates between leader Kim Jong-un and President Donald Trump.

MATT LOPRESTI, HAWAII STATE REPRESENTATIVE: You know, we're stuck between inflammatory and off the cuff rhetoric by two relatively unstable leaders that put us all at risk.

SIDNER: In 2016, Hawaiian Emergency Management officials began revising plans to get the public prepared in the remote chance of an attack. For Hawaii timing is everything.

(On camera): How much time do you have once North Korea launches?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From launch to impact is 20 minutes.

SIDNEY: What do you say to skeptics who say plan, no plan, we have 20 minutes, nothing is going to save me?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're wrong. If they know what to expect and what to do they can save themselves.

SIDNER (voice-over): In Hawaii, experts estimate that more than 90 percent of the population would survive a nuclear tack outside of ground zero. Even though experts now believe North Korea possess a warhead 10 times more powerful than the bomb the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. So far there is no evidence North Korea could launch a nuclear warhead that far.

Hawaii is taking no chances. Deep inside the Diamond Head crater of the National Guard and Emergency Management Agency make critical decisions.

(On camera): How long ago was this built?

ANTHONY: All of the complexes inside Diamond Head Crater were built before World War II. It's part of the coastal artillery defense of the entire island.

SIDNER (voice-over): The public can't get in here but they used to have official fallout shelters. That was 30 years ago.

(On camera): What are the big problems with the fallout shelters that exist today?

LOPRESTI: Well, most of them aren't labeled. Most of people don't even know the -- where they are. And it's important to know where they are not only for survival but for extrication after an event.

SIDNER (voice-over): It was the nuclear fallout that killed the majority of people in Hiroshima. Mitsuko Haedtke survived the horrors of that bombing 72 years ago.

MITSUKO HAEDTKE, HIROSHIMA SURVIVOR: We see people coming all burned or skinned, you cannot even tell man or woman.

SIDNER: She now lives in Hawaii and is beside herself that it's even a possibility again.

HAEDTKE: Really scare me. Yes. For -- not for just myself but for my children, my grandkids. Not only mine, everybody's.

SIDNER: Sara Sidner, CNN, Honolulu.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOWELL: Italy's president is reacting to CNN's exclusive reporting on slave auctions in Libya. Exposing the modern-day buying and selling of African migrants.

The president of nations says the brutal images show how slavery is still present around the world and he says all forms of slavery are, quote, "an aberration. It can't be tolerated." He released a statement to mark the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery and to reaffirm Italy's commitment to the fight against that trade.

That CNN exclusive report is also sparking global shock and outrage after revealing African migrants auctioned off as slaves.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Four hundred. Seven hundred. Seven hundred? Eight hundred. The numbers roll in. These men are sold for 1200 Libyan pounds, $400 apiece.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL: Now our senior international correspondent Nima Elbagir and her team are recounting what they went through to uncover this story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ELBAGIR: Once we arrived in Tripoli, it was essentially a waiting game. We knew that there were a number of these auctions going on in a variety of different locations. And we knew that they happened once or twice a month. It was I think probably the longest few days -- among the longest few days of my life waiting to hear whether this was actually happening.

We needed to push to try and get access to those people. There are one to two of these auctions every month and that there's one happening in the next few hours. So we're going to --

I don't honestly know what I was expecting going in. I think I couldn't figure out how you could mentally process selling other human beings and then when I heard them -- when we heard them speaking about these people that they were selling as merchandise it made sense because you need a certain degree of cognitive dissidence. You have to dehumanize someone.

Finally, it's time to move.

[04:25:04] RAJA RAZEK, CNN PRODUCER: You still have a job to do. So it distracts you a bit from what you just witnessed, but when we were actually sitting there and watching the auction, it felt like everything was going in very, very slow motion.

ELBAGIR: There were all the things that we knew we needed to hit as journalists. Getting him to use the word auction on our audio to confirm that it's an auction. Getting the auctioneer to confirm that they had sold 12 people that night. Having all of that as evidence.

ALEX PLATT, CNN SENIOR PHOTOJOURNALIST: I remember being outside in the car park of the detention center. So I went around the corner and there was this massive room and the front was open to the elements. And extensively it was a cage. Right? It was a wire cage and people were looking at you from the other side. And I remember thinking, you know, if it was a single gorilla in there, people would think how sad. He hasn't got a lot of room. And then it turns out there were over a thousand people in there.

RAZEK: Every day in an environment like that counts. Not being able to take a shower, sitting there and not having the food you need, being thirsty, so every hour counts. Leaving them behind in an enclosed space like that and not being able to help because you can't help one of them. You'd have to help all thousand plus because you can't just go to a few people and be like, how can I help you? You really need to help them all.

ELBAGIR: There was a point where Alex and I were interviewing (INAUDIBLE), the 21-year-old who'd been enslaved, and I was overwhelmed because (INAUDIBLE) was overwhelmed. His dream was to be a designer. He wants to come to Italy and work as a stylist and maybe one day work with Dolce and Gabbana, and it was such a relatable dream.

PLATT: And why not? Because he's African?

ELBAGIR: And why not? Exactly. I think this is the first story in a long time where I had nightmares. There was just something really fundamentally heartbreaking about people's dreams being exploited in that way. I think we were all thinking that, you know, we just hope we can do justice to this.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOWELL: This week's CNN Freedom Project looks at how African migrants get caught up in this dark web of human trafficking when they risk their lives to find better lives.

On Monday, Arwa Damon speaks to a young Nigerian woman from Benin City. That's where thousands of people have been trapped with false promises of safe passages to Europe. It is the first piece in our in depth five-part series. 2

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You trusted him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, very much. I trusted him. Most of the times I don't even -- yes, sometimes I tell him, I don't tell my parents.

DAMON (voice-over): Sandra is talking about her deputy pastor who told her he had a vision from God that she traveled overseas. Then he said his sister in Russia could get her a job in a hair salon. When she arrived in Russia, it was more than she ever could have imagined.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But the first she did she took away my passport. Unless I finish paying money for $45,000.

DAMON (on camera): $45,000?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. Yes. That is what she said.

DAMON (voice-over): And the only way to pay that off was prostitution.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL: Tune in to CNN on Monday to see the rest of this woman's story. The story at 8:00 a.m. in London, 3:00 a.m. here on the U.S. east coast, only on CNN.

Still ahead here on CNN NEWSROOM, a closer look at Michael Flynn's guilty plea and what it might mean for Donald Trump's future.

You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Atlanta, Georgia, this hour, simulcast on CNN U.S. here in the states, CNN International worldwide. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:32:28] HOWELL: Welcome back to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. Thank you for being with us. I'm George Howell with the headlines we're following for you this hour.

A tweet from the U.S. president Donald Trump says that he fired Michael Flynn as national security adviser in part because Flynn lied to the FBI. OK, so if true, that tweet alone, it means Mr. Trump knew Flynn had broken the law before asking the then fired FBI director James Comey to drop the Flynn investigation.

President Trump is telling reporters the new Republican tax reform plan is spectacular. His comments came after the U.S. Senate passed the overhaul. Democrats railed against the measure, which will reportedly add $1.4 trillion to the deficit over the next decade.

Syrian state media say that Israel launched missiles at a military site near Damascus on Saturday. Israel didn't comment on the reports, but hours later issued a warning to Iran about troops in Syria. In a video tweet, the prime minister of that nation, Benjamin Netanyahu, said that Israel won't let Tehran have a military presence in Syria.

Back to the Russia investigation that we're following, we've heard reaction to the Flynn plea deal here in the United States, but what about the reaction in Russia?

CNN's Brian Todd looks at Russia's intensions and the lengths that they went to reach them.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On Russian state sponsored TV and recent days, Sergey Kislyak, Russia's former ambassador to Washington, the man at the center of Michael Flynn's legal troubles, had some great laughs with this host as they mock the Mueller investigation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (though translator): If it's not difficult, can you list those with whom you met and spoke on the phone so that we know who will soon be going to jail? Or at least be summoned for questioning, Flynn, Sessions, who else?

SERGEY KISLYAK, FORMER RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO U.S. (through translator): There are two problems here. First, I will never do this. Second, the list will be so long that I won't be able to tell you in 20 minutes.

TODD: It carries a sting as we get new information from court filings about Flynn's urgent backchannel calls with Kislyak last December. President Obama had just ordered sanctions to retaliate for Russia's meddling in the elections. After Flynn consulted with a top Trump aide at Mar-a-Lago, he called Kislyak and asked for Russia not to escalate the situation.

A source told CNN, Flynn told Kislyak the Trump administrations would revisit U.S. sanctions and look favorably on Russia if it didn't retaliate. A key question now, what were the Trump's team and Flynn's motives for reaching out to Kislyak?

[04:35:07] SARAH MENDELSON, FORMER SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The larger Trump team wants a better relationship with Russia. I think that for Flynn, his motivation had to do with what he saw is the main threat against the United States which is not Russians interfering in our elections and trying to undermine our democracy but a world view that sees Islam as the real threat. And I think that Flynn thought he could make some kind of bargain or arrangement with the Russians on this.

TODD: Soon, Vladimir Putin's surprised response to Flynn's overture, no retaliations at least for now. Trump tweets his appreciation.

"Great move on delay by V Putin. I always knew he was very smart."

What was Putin's motive for making that deal?

MENDELSON: One is he wants to see whether or not there is possibility of having a better relationship. Two, sanctions are hurting Russia. They are biting. And they biting at an entourage around Putin. And three, Putin hates the Magnitsky Act. And for sure that that is a piece of them trying to figure out if there is a strategy to roll back.

TODD: The Magnitsky Act is an American law which sanctions individual Russians close to Putin. Putin is furious over it. In these deals, Michael Flynn was the perfect messenger for both sides. U.S. intelligence intercepts found Russian intelligence bragging that they had cultivated a strong relationships with Flynn and believe they could use him to influence Trump.

BEN JUDAH, AUTHOR, FRAGILE EMPIRE: We know that Flynn was present at a gala dinner sitting next to Vladimir Putin and was certainly friendly enough with him to be seen joking and laughing with him in that context.

TODD (on camera): Did Vladimir Putin get what he wanted from those early dealings with the Trump team? Well, in some ways he hasn't. Sanctions against Russia are still in effect and another round is about to kick in. The Magnitsky Act is still in place.

But on the other hand, Putin hasn't been punished by President Trump as much as he might have been by Hillary Clinton. And analysts say since Trump took office, America's image abroad has been tarnished. Its leadership in Europe and beyond thrown into question. All of those developments, they say, are victories for Vladimir Putin.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington. (END VIDEOTAPE)

HOWELL: Brian Todd, thanks for the reporting.

Now let's bring in Scott Lucas to talk more about this. Scott, of course, professor of International Politics at the University of Birmingham, live for us in Birmingham, England.

It's good to have you with us this hour. Let's talk about the president's tweet because it certainly does open a Pandora's box of questions. What did the president know, when did he know it. What is your take on this tweet, Scott?

SCOTT LUCAS, PROFESSOR OF INTERNATIONAL POLITICS, UNIVERSITY OF BIRMINGHAM: This tweet breaks down an important firewall. And that is, up to now, the idea was is that when Donald Trump approached James Comey in February of this year, said drop the investigation into Michael Flynn, he did not know the extent of what Flynn had done with his testimony to the FBI.

This tweet makes the connection. And that is that Trump knew that Flynn had possibly committed a felony offense, yet asked Comey to go ahead anyway and halt the investigation. And that, of course, is possible obstruction of justice. What compounds this, we now find out is, is this tweet was apparently drafted by one of Trump's lawyers, John Dowd. So this is not just a case of Trump tweeting off the top of his head, the White House team has gone ahead with this unusual strategy to somehow distance itself from the Flynn investigation while actually compounding its difficulty.

HOWELL: And Scott, just to point out a matter of technical importance, that reporting that you're talking about from CBS News, CNN has not confirmed or verified the information there, but, again, certainly that reporting is out there and it raises questions about the nature of the tweet.

The White House has described Flynn as someone who acted alone, of course, despite the fact that he was one of the president's most vocal supporters. But there is a reporting for "The New York Times" that we want to talk about, reporting that contradicts this, showing that Flynn was, in fact, in close touch with other senior members of the Trump transition team before and after he spoke with the Russian ambassador. What are your thoughts on that?

LUCAS: I mean, the curtain has been raised on what we thought was the drama anyway. And that is when Michael Flynn, on December 22nd, approached the Russians about getting a U.N. resolution blocked which was considered to be anti-Israeli, he did so on the instructions of a very senior administration official who reportedly is Jared Kushner.

A week later on the Russian sanctions question, Flynn made the calls, five calls, to Sergey Kislyak after he spoke with KT McFarland. Now KT McFarland later was deputy national security adviser so she worked underneath Flynn.

[04:40:00] So who was KT McFarland speaking for when she told Flynn, look, let's tell the Russians that we will work with them basically against this sanctions measure. That's an open question.

But let me add one more thing to you, George, on this. When KT McFarland went to Flynn, she had just written an e-mail that acknowledged that Russia had interfered in the U.S. election. So in other words, if all of this is connected up and if all of it is confirmed, the Trump team was approaching the Russians knowing full well they had interfered in U.S. elections, knowing that Barack Obama had just imposed sanctions because of that interference, but that they were going to work with Moscow and assure them that the sanctions might be eased. That is where we are now.

HOWELL: All right. So with that, KT McFarland e-mail, Scott, one thing that is of important note and I'd like your thoughts here, you know, whether she believed that, you know, Democrats would portray it that way or whether that was her belief specifically, that's unclear. But, still, the information alone on the face of it, what does it say to you?

LUCAS: Well, in fact, if you look at what the sentence is from the McFarland tweet, it doesn't say Democrats believed this, it doesn't say according to Democrats. It says Russia tipped the scale in favor of Donald Trump.

Now the White House is now spinning it, oh, she was just saying that the Democrats think that, we didn't necessarily think that. That's a bit of a strained reading. At the very least, at the very least, the Trump team knew that it was possible that the Russians had interfered, yet they still went ahead with this approach to Moscow and they did so not because of one person, Michael Flynn, but as a team.

HOWELL: Scott, there are a lot of moving parts to this. We appreciate you helping to kind of parse it out, break it down, because I'm sure a lot of people are trying to follow the details and just the details come wave after wave so again, thank you for taking time.

LUCAS: Thank you.

HOWELL: The U.S. tech industry relies heavily on immigrant talent, but some skilled workers are returning to their homelands because the president's anti-immigration stance is in an impact. Details next.

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[04:45:34] HOWELL: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell.

The United States says that it will no longer take part in the Global Compact on Migration. It's a U.N. effort to address the worldwide migrant crisis. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley issued a statement saying this in part. Quote, "America is proud of our immigrant heritage and our long-standing moral leadership in providing support to migrant and refugee populations across the globe. But our decision on immigration policies must always be made by Americans and Americans alone. We will decide how best to control our borders and who will be allowed to 2enter our country."

The United Nations Refugee Agency says the world is seeing the highest levels of human displacement on record. Tens of millions of people have been forced from their homes over the past few years.

In the meantime, a federal judge has ruled the Trump administration cannot delay an initiative to admit foreign entrepreneurs into the country. That program allows foreigners who launch certain startups to live in the United States legally. In the meantime, President Trump's anti-immigration stance is leading some in the United States tech industry to leave, to return to their homelands.

Our Matt Rivers reports from Beijing.

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MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's tough to get a meal like this in the United States.

(On camera): Did you miss this? 2

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Of course I did.

RIVERS (voice-over): Though as tasty as Chongqing noodles can be, it's not why 28-year-old Xie Ke moved back to Shanghai from San Francisco earlier this year.

XIE KE, FOUNDER, GUILIAN: You kind of feel you are pushed out of the door and people are closing doors to you?

RIVERS: Xie used to work for Twitter as a data analyst, but decided to start his own company.

XIE: So here's my app.

RIVERS: He is developing an app called Guilian. It's a messaging program that relies exclusively on video.

XIE: Hi, James. Say hi.

RIVERS: He'd planned on developing it in the U.S., even applying for his green card last year but then things changed.

TRUMP: We have taken historic steps to secure our border.

RIVERS: The Trump administration's decidedly anti-immigration stance has spooked many in the U.S. tech world, an industry that relies heavily on immigrant talent. Trump's travel ban back in late January was the first omen for many, but the more relevant move could deal with visas called h1bs.

Trump signed an executive order that called for a review and ultimate reform of the policy that allows highly skilled foreigners to work in the U.S. Critics complained it allows companies to hire cheaper foreign workers instead of Americans. Most of the 85,000 people granted the visa each year work in tech. But exactly how the president plans to reform the program isn't yet known.

MICHAEL SOLOMON, 10X MANAGEMENT: The uncertainty is what's really driving the fear because nobody is really clear on what's going to happen.

RIVERS: Michael Solomon runs 10x Management, a tech recruiting firm, and says foreigners in tech are either trying to get into the U.S. fast or figure out what to do if they're already in the country but forced to leave. He says Trump's policies and rhetoric could impact Silicon Valley's reputation as the best place in the world for tech talent.

SOLOMON: We are going to see a tarnishing of those images if we continue to have this anti-immigration sentiment.

RIVERS: Solomon also says there is just not enough qualified Americans to fill out all the jobs the tech world needs. So if companies can't find the workers they need in the U.S. --

SOLOMON: They're going to move those functions offshore. And we're going to see the jobs evaporate in a different way and probably in larger numbers.

RIVERS: And then there is people like Xie Ke back at the noodle restaurant. He started his company in China partly because this is a booming market for tech and partly because starting a company is hard enough.

XIE: I'm building a business and you're asking me to worry about my status, my immigration status, and --

RIVERS (on camera): You got enough to worry about already.

XIE: Exactly. So I think, OK, that's too much.

RIVERS (voice-over): And if Guilian takes off, the company will pay taxes in China and create jobs in China instead of doing so in the United States.

Matt Rivers, CNN, Beijing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOWELL: Coming up here on CNN NEWSROOM, waiting for the skies to clear over Bali as ash from an erupting volcano keeps flights on the ground and tourists on the island.

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[04:53:38] HOWELL: The Mount Agung volcano, Indonesia is warning residents in Bali not to underestimate its strength. For weeks now, it's been actively erupting ash clouds, steam and debris into the sky and authorities say it's still -- threatening, rather, a major eruption. Around 100,000 people have been evacuated from the villages in the immediate danger zone.

The lingering ash cloud around that -- on that volcano, it is affecting the international airport and our Derek Van Dam is here to tell us about that.

So, Derek, you know, obviously with this happening, these planes are grounded.

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. Absolutely. Specifically the airplanes flying from Australia to Denpasar, which is the main location for the international airport there. The tourists and residents have been in awe of this volcano, but also in fear of its looming eruption. There was an eruption last week, several different types of eruptions. Last week there was a medium sized eruption from Mount Agung.

They are -- experts are warning of a larger eruption that could be catastrophic for this area. That's why there is an evacuation zone around Mount Agung. And it's interesting because the flights from Australia to Bali have been canceled as of right now, but there are other flights that are still coming in and out of Denpasar as we speak.

[04:55:04] Have we talked about how volcanic ash is so dangerous for jet engines? Well, if not, listen up. This is what happens when we have the plume of smoke and ash from the volcano reach the jet engine, it can actually stall out the turbines causing a catastrophic failure in the jet engine allowing for the plane to fall to the ground. Obviously not what you want to hear about when you're traveling 30,000, 35,000 feet in the air. But that is the threat that volcanic ash has to jet engines.

Now it's all about where that smoke cloud travels. So we pay attention to the wind direction, the weather patterns, that's why we're discussing this right now. And the latest from authorities in and around Bali has raised the threat level from a 3 to a 4, which means people in and around 10 kilometer radius of Mount Agung need to be aware, beware that this could erupt at any moment in time.

Again there is the weather map showing kind of a large expansive area of wind around a tropical system that's just to the south.

Hey, really quickly, point your eyes to the sky tonight. This is Sunday evening across the world in fact. A super moon is coming. What is it? Well, it's that one moment when the moon appears about 7 percent larger and 16 percent brighter. We get this opportunity three times within the next two months. So tonight, once again, on January 1st, and January 31st. Best viewing in the morning and early evening as well.

HOWELL: That's cool.

VAN DAM: Yes, check it out.

HOWELL: Super moon.

VAN DAM: Yes. That's it.

HOWELL: Thanks for being with us for NEWSROOM. The first hour of NEWSROOM. Hour number two right up after the break. Stay with us.

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