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White House Turmoil Grows; Russian Seductress: I'll Trade Info for Freedom; Life after Slavery in Libya; Banning Coal Puts Poor at Risk of Freezing. Aired 12-1a ET - Part 1
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[00:00:10] JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: This is CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles.

Ahead this hour --

The White House in chaos -- infighting among the Trump team is made public and another top aide walks out.

Plus a CNN human trafficking exclusive.


VICTORY: If I have to come here and see that again, eat with them when there is no much food to eat. So I just have to face everything on my own.


VAUSE: Freed from his captors, a Nigerian man grateful to be alive but still struggling to survive.

And break the law or freeze to death -- China's crackdown on coal to fight pollution is putting the country's poor at risk.

Hello. Welcome to our viewers all around the world. Great to have you with us. I'm John Vause.

The first hour of NEWSROOM L.A. starts right now.

We've said it before but this time it really was another tumultuous day at the White House with President Trump stunning lawmakers with calls for gun control; there was the resignation of a long-time aide; and the President renewing his Twitter attacks on Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

"The Washington Post" now reporting Donald Trump's efforts to force Sessions to quite last year are now a focus of the special counsel's Russia investigation.

Meantime one of Donald Trump's closest aides, White House communications director Hope Hicks, announced her resignation. This came the day after testifying before the House Intelligence Committee. A source says the President berated Hicks for admitting she sometimes tells white lies on his behalf.

Well joining me now for more on this Democratic strategist Caroline Heldman, Republican strategist Charles Moran and in New Hampshire attorney and professor Seth Abramson.

And Seth -- let's start with you because we have this reporting from "The Washington Post" that the special counsel Robert Mueller now asking questions about a period during last year when Donald Trump ramped up the pressure on Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Here's part of the story.

"The thrust of the questions was to determine whether the President's goal was to oust Sessions in order to pick a replacement who would exercise control over the investigation in the possible coordination between Russia and the Trump associates during the 2016 election, according to three people."

So Seth -- every member of the cabinet serves at the pleasure of the President. They could be fired at any time for any reason. But if the Mueller investigation is looking at this in the context of obstruction of justice he needs evidence of corrupt intent. And that is what it appears is what he's looking for.

SETH ABRAMSON, ATTORNEY AND PROFESSOR: Well, John -- the President can fire anyone in the executive branch for any legal reason. He cannot fire someone for an illegal reason, for instance obstruction of justice, right.

But say that at this point, the President has an illustrious and expansive scheme over a period of time, it appears to obstruct justice. His treatment of Jeff Sessions is just a small part of it.

But at this point I would say the evidence that there's a course of conduct on Mr. Trump's part to obstruct justice (INAUDIBLE) is at this point overwhelming. And I think what we're talking about tonight with Jeff Sessions is again just one piece of evidence among many.

VAUSE: Charles -- is anyone in the White House, I guess anyone who is left in the White House at this point, is anyone able to go to Donald Trump, you know, in the next couple of hours and say Mr. President, I think it's a really good idea that you should stop saying things like this?


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm disappointed with the Attorney General but we will see what happens. Time will tell. Time will tell.


VAUSE: And also maybe, Mr. President, time to lay off the tweets.

CHARLES MORAN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think what we say in the President's frustration that he expressed on Twitter again comes from a situation where he wants to see more demonstrative action from the Justice Department and the Attorney General.

It is clear that, you know, the office of the IG has a bifurcated responsibility, not only to the attorney general and the President but also to the Congress and there, you know, through this there might be a slower nature the President had always voiced his concern about the speed in which these investigations are being conducted.

The leaks that are coming out of these types of investigations, they are doing nothing but continuing to fuel the drama machine. I think that what we saw was the President really just being frustrated at the process.

VAUSE: I mean you're referring to the tweet which happened earlier Wednesday morning. And essentially what we're talking about here is Donald Trump going after Jeff Sessions for recusing himself and the implications that had over the Russia investigation. And we'll get to that, you know, tweet in a moment.

[00:04:55] But Caroline -- the "Post" is also reporting that behind the scenes, Trump has derisively referred to Sessions as "Mr. Magoo", a cartoon character who is elderly, myopic and bumbling, according to people with whom he has spoken. Trump has told associates that he has hired the best lawyers for his entire life but is stuck with Sessions who is not defending him and is not sufficiently loyal."

This is worth repeating -- we've said it before, it is not the Attorney General's job to protect the President. The attorney general pledged an oath of loyalty to the constitution, not to Donald Trump.

CAROLINE HELDMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Correct. And so Donald Trump seems to think that Jeff Sessions -- Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III -- is his personal attorney. He absolutely is not. So I think that when he put Sessions in this position, you know, Donald Trump is learning a lot about how government works and he really did think that his first job was to be loyal and to protect him.

And so what he did over the summer and what he is doing now going after Sessions can all be seen through this lens of obstruction of justice mostly because I think Donald Trump just doesn't understand what his job is.

VAUSE: Seth -- this very unhappy relationship between the President and his attorney general, as Charles mentioned, in was on very public display on Wednesday with that tweet from the President.

This is what he tweeted out there. "Why is AG Jeff Sessions asking the inspector general to investigate potentially massive FISA abuse? It will take forever, has no prosecutorial power and already late with reports on Comey, et cetera. Isn't the IG an Obama guy? Why not use Justice Department lawyers. Disgraceful."

So apparently the President at this point is outraged by comments Sessions had made a day earlier that he would essentially issues of the surveillance warrants that had been wrongfully obtained, he would refer this matter to the investigators through the inspector general. That is essentially the process here. This is what is meant to happen. It doesn't mean the investigation is underway.

ABRAMSON: Well -- and if I can just correct what was said earlier, in fact, there have been very few leaks from the OIG investigation that Michael Horowitz is conducting. And he's conducting a very complex investigation at this point that's looking into, for instance, FBI leaks to the Trump campaign during October 2016, right before the election as well as many other issues.

I'm not sure that it can be said that that investigation has gone slower than expected. I think there have just been fewer leaks than many expected and so we don't know a lot about what's going on.

But the fact is that the President wanted Jeff Sessions to order an investigation of these alleged FISA abuses. I'm not sure that there's any grounds for an investigation.

And Jeff Sessions did order that investigation as the President wanted. I think the President is concerned that AG -- excuse me -- IG Horowitz will not come to the conclusion that Mr. Trump wants.

And I think that's fairly transparent at this point as is his frustration with Jeff Sessions which stems from really not understanding what an attorney general is or what an attorney general does and who an attorney general represents which is the people of the United States, not the President.

VAUSE: And an interesting point about the IG is that yes, he was under Obama but he's also served Republican administrations as well.

ABRAMSON: Yes. I don't think we have any evidence at this point that IG Horowitz is a political actor. Again, because there have been very few leaks from that particular investigation. In fact, what I would say is that that investigation has been underreported, underdiscussed.

I'm not sure if Mr. Trump would like us to discuss it more because again, one of the major issues the IG will look at is why the FBI was leaking to Rudy Giuliani and possibly others in the Trump campaign in October 2016. We're not talking about that a lot now but we will be talking about it when that report comes out hopefully in the next few months.

VAUSE: And Charles -- if the President has such little faith in his attorney general, why not fire him?

MORAN: Well, the attorney general has offered his resignation to President Trump. President Trump did not accept it and said, you know, quite demonstratively that he wants Jeff Sessions in the job. There are going to be ups and downs.

But again, I believe that the frustration is born out of the fact that, you know, the Justice Department is the hub of a number of investigations going on right now. The FBI is lodged under the Justice Department. Clearly the IG's projects and investigations are lodged under the Justice Department as well.

So, you know, we're still continuing to see a lot of holdover from the last presidential election, the things that went into that; the Russia investigation -- these are all being housed in this one area.

And again, this process is going at a pace within -- and there are a number of leaks beyond the IG's office but with the other investigations that are going on that are doing nothing but continuing to drag on the President's leadership and his ability to advance his agenda. That frustration is very, very clear and it's very justified.

VAUSE: You know, what is interesting Caroline, at 7:35 p.m. Washington time Wednesday night, Jeff Sessions the attorney general, his deputy Rod Rosenstein, the solicitor general Noel Francisco -- all seen walking together heading to a very upmarket restaurant there in D.C. for dinner.

It seemed to be a show of solidarity -- something for the President to consider perhaps. Fire Jeff Sessions and then what? Fire Rosenstein? And then what?

This was a moment I think which, you know, sort of encapsulates, you know what the President is looking at. Should he go down that road?

[00:10:02] HELDMAN: He should not go down that road for his own sake, right. It would be a self inflicted wound to start firing people in order to stop the Mueller investigation.

And I absolutely disagree with you --Charles. I think that Mueller has an obligation and Jeff Sessions has an obligation to make sure that these investigations do go forward and that they take place with all of the due diligence and the speed that they take.

So the idea that you want to speed it up or you want to remove people so that they don't uncover things, this is the pattern of obstruction that is being investigated and it's almost as though it, you know, it doesn't matter that that's being investigated because Donald Trump is still engaging in actions which have brought this investigation upon him.

VAUSE: Another senior aide to the President is gone, communications director Hope Hicks. She quit apparently in tears after the President berated her for telling lawmakers that she sometimes tells white lies on behalf of Donald Trump.

Seth, it seems Robert Mueller has been especially interested in one comment that she made to the "New York Times" after the election, just a few days after the election. She said there have been no contacts between Russian officials and the Trump campaign. Clearly that is not accurate.

Given her position, how close she has been to Donald Trump, not just during the administration but during the campaign and before that, it would be hard to imagine that she would be unaware of that contact -- right?

ABRAMSON: I think so. I think it's important to understand first that this was the President's gatekeeper, still is until she formally resigns, and has been from day one. If you wanted to get in touch with Donald Trump via e-mail or any other meetings, you would go through Hope Hicks.

She has a lot of the basis of knowledge and basic knowledge that Donald Trump has about the events that Mr. Mueller is interested in. She said that she told white lies on occasion when representing or working with Mr. Trump and that particular statement about no Russian contact. She said her white lies had nothing to do with Russia, substantive relating to the Mueller investigation but I think that Bob Mueller appears to doubt that.

And the questions that he's asking suggest that he thinks that Hope Hicks might not have been honest consistent with his fear about her conversation with Mark Corallo over the Donald Trump, Jr. statement and her suggesting that perhaps the e-mails between Donald Trump, Jr. and Rob Goldstein would not be revealed ultimately. I'm sure he has some concerns based on public reporting about Hope Hicks being honest in that situation, too.

VAUSE: And according to the "New York Times", she told colleagues that she had accomplished what she felt she could with her job that made her one of the most powerful people in Washington and that there would never be a perfect -- a more perfect moment to leave.

Charles -- really this is a White House in crisis. You know, this is probably the worst time for the communications director to be leaving, right?

MORAN: Well, Maggie Haberman this morning in the "New York Times" said that from multiple sources that Hope had been talking about departing the White House for the last several months, corroborated by multiple sources. So this wasn't just a snap moment where, you know, she got, you know, her wrist slapped by the President and then decided to quit on the spot.

So this has evidently been a continuing conversation. She was at a White House for about 12 months, the average time span for any senior White House aide in that position. It's about 18 months so she's slightly below the bar but not outside of that zone.

HELDMAN: But she wasn't in that position the whole time.


MORAN: And she's also not quitting. She's not packing up her bags and walking out the door tomorrow.


MORAN: She's going to be -- she's going to be in her position for the next several weeks, continuing to work on behalf of the President and the American people.

But again, this is a very demanding job. It's a demanding position. There is a lot of cycling in some of these types especially in this administration. So once again, the facts don't show that because of what happened yesterday in the House hearing or what may have happened this morning with the President's conversation with her that that was cause.

VAUSE: I see.

MORAN: Once again, plenty of evidence to show that she's been thinking about this departure for a while.

VAUSE: Very quickly. We're going to go on to gun reform because there was this bipartisan meeting of lawmakers in the White House on Wednesday.


SENATOR AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA: Just viewing something on this background check issue and using that as a base and then I would like to add some of these other things we talked about, I think would make a major difference and --

TRUMP: So if you could add that to this bill, that would be great. Dianne if you could add what you have also, and I think you can, into the bill --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Joe -- are you ready?

TRUMP: Can you do that? Joe -- can you do that? Can you add some of the things -- you're not going to agree with --



TRUMP: Well no, I'll help but --


VAUSE: Who was that guy and what did he do with Donald Trump because what he's talking about there and what Dianne Feinstein was so excited about it is that, you know, she wants to include a ban on assault weapons.

So Caroline -- I'll leave you to have the last word. Maybe Charles is we have time. But, you know is this a real moment here? Do you think that there will be progress given what we saw today in the White House?

HELDMAN: Well, it's extraordinary but he promised - right. Outlawing bump stocks, domestic violence ban and national registry, the assault weapons ban. And so Dianne Feinstein is downright giddy because he sounds like everything the Democrats have been fighting for common sense gun reform.

Will it happen? No, this is the flip-flopper-in-chief. That's the first thing I would say.

[00:15:00] The second thing is a lot of this has to go through Congress. He has not been able to pass anything really through Congress that they didn't want to pass. So I think it's a lot of talk. I don't think we'll see much action.

VAUSE: Very quickly -- Charles.

MORAN: I think the President is walking the line here. I think he's earnest in trying to make a deal. I mean we just saw a President who is really trying to forge consensus here. He knows that he's going to have a fight on the right if he tries to institute some of these things. But I think he's willing to do it because he sees where the American are.

VAUSE: Ok. Charles -- thank you. Caroline as well as Seth -- thank you both for being with us. Most appreciate it.

Well, a self-proclaimed Russian seductress is offering to share all the missing pieces of alleged ties between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

It's difficult to tell if she's an opportunist or she's a scam artist. But there is one thing for certain, she has spent a lot of time with some high-profile Russians.

Here's Matthew Chance.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: She promotes herself endlessly on social media. Nastya Ribka the kind of self-styled Russian sex guru who'll supposedly teach you the art of seduction for a fee, of course.

NASTYA RIBKA, RUSSIAN SEDUCTRESS (through translator): Even if we're interacting with men who are famous actors, lawmakers, oligarchs, scientists very few of these men when they interact with a woman discuss high-brow topics with them. If you want to seduce a man like that, he needs to be hooked by his basic sexual instinct.

CHANCE: Amid snaps and titillating videos of her frolicking on (INAUDIBLE) and exotic beaches, she brags of liaisons with billionaires -- and one billionaire in particular.

These are the images that have thrust Nastya Ribka into the kind of spotlight she didn't expect. It shows her relaxing on a boat with two men. One of them is Oleg Deripaska, one of Russia's richest men. The other a senior Russian official, deputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko.

Russia's main opposition leader sees the images as evidence of official corruption -- also suggesting the two men who could be heard discussing U.S.-Russia relations may have served as a link between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign.

Prikhodko has refused to comment on the allegations. Deripaska has dismissed as a story far from any truth. In a statement to CNN his spokesperson said he is suing Ribka and her business partner because the quote, "maliciously made his private photos and personal information public".

Mr. Deripaska, it's Matthew Chance of CNN.

It's not the first time, the Russian oligarch known to be close to the Kremlin has fended off allegations of collusion. CNN confronted him last year after it was revealed Trump's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, who once worked for Deripaska offered him private briefings. Deripaska told CNN he never received any communication about it.

Didn't you give millions of dollars?

But it was after the promise of more detail, more information from Nastya Ribka who was holding one of her sex and seduction classes on this beach in Thailand that this extraordinary story appears to have a taken a spy novel turn.

She was arrested by Thai police for violating the terms of her tourist visa, managing to record this quick tantalizing message aimed at the American media that she was driven away.

RIBKA: I'm ready to give you all the missing pieces of the puzzle, support them with videos and audio regarding the connections of our respected lawmakers with Trump, Manafort and the rest. I know a lot. I'm waiting for your offers in a Thai prison.

CHANCE: They're probably just the words of a desperate woman hoping to avoid deportation to Russia. But her promise with no evidence so far to unlock the mysteries of the Trump-Russia scandal have certainly got Nastya Ribka the attention she so often craved.

Matthew Chance, CNN -- Moscow.


VAUSE: We'll take a short break.

When we come back -- he spent everything he had on a fresh start in Europe only to be sold into slavery. Now this young man is back where he started and he is still struggling for a better life.


VAUSE: Well, he left Nigeria hoping for a better life but along the way he was kidnapped and sold into slavery. And last year in a CNN exclusive our Nima Elbagir met that man in a detention camp, part of her expose on migrants being sold at human auctions in Libya.

He's now back home; the home he wanted to leave.

CNN's Nima Elbagir has the story.


NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Benin City in Nigeria is the trafficking capital of the country. It's one of the most traffic-prone departure points in the whole continent. It's where tens of thousands of young people, men and women head off for their dream of Europe. It's also where tens of thousands of them are returned to with that dream shattered and today we're hoping to meet one of those returning.

The last we saw Victory (ph), he was lying on the floor of a Libyan detention center, just rescued from slavery begging to be sent back home. Now he is back in Nigeria but has he found his happy ending?

How do you feel coming back here.

VICTORY: a lot people lost their lives there. I'm happy that I didn't lose my life. I'm back home now so I can also take another step. So I'm happy.

ELBAGIR: Victory is responsible for his mother and three younger siblings. His mother says she's too embarrassed to show her face on camera, too embarrassed to admit her family was desperate enough that her son risked everything to try and make his way to Europe.

VICTORY: I also have the children to take care of so just to see what I can do for myself. Even where I'm working now. Maybe at the end I work, three thousand naira a day, have to split it into three.

The money is not ever enough to feed us. When I go to work I don't even eat. If I eat from that money there will be nothing left for me.

Maybe if I want to eat dinner, maybe once it should be in the evening, so that is just it.

If I was to come here and eat with them, where there is not much food to eat. So I just have to face everything on my own. So let me see what I can do for myself. So I'm happy to work even though the pay is not good.

ELBAGIR: Victory is homeless, afraid to burden his mother with his presence, another mouth for her to feed. If anything, Victory says their life now is worse since his return from Libya. But that doesn't mean he's giving up.

VICTORY: Because everything I do is because of them. I believe that I have to be somebody tomorrow. (INAUDIBLE) I have to do something with my life, things will go well. I just move on with my life, that's it.

[00:25:06] ELBAGIR: After we did the interview with you in Libya, a lot of people got in touch to say that they thought that you were a hero for having survived what you survived. Do you feel like a hero?

VICTORY: I'm happy that I'm alive today to face tomorrow, to see what I can get for myself.

ELBAGIR: How many more like Victory will attempt the journey to Europe? Thousands -- maybe tens of thousands; many returning to a poverty they say is even more dehumanizing than the horrors they faced down in Libya. Victory though is convinced that his will be a happy ending. Like he did in Libya, he will again find the strength to survive. Nima Elbagir -- Benin City, Edo State, Nigeria.


VAUSE: And if you would like to help people like Victory who have been victimized by the slave trade, click on the CNN Freedom Project Web site at CNN.com/Freedom. There you will find links to groups working to help stop human trafficking including the ICRC's Libya crisis appeal which help migrants with support and to reconnect with their families.

And Nima's reporting has been honored by the World Television Society, giving CNN the prestigious Scoop of the Year award for Nima's exclusive work exposing the reality of the Libyan slave trade.

Nima's team was praised for displaying quote, "courage and enterprise on a very dangerous story". Here's what Nima said after accepting the award.


ELBAGIR: It showed that this is a story that really hit people but also, more importantly that this is a story that needed to be showcased. I think it meant an extraordinary amount.


VAUSE: So congratulations to Nima, as well as her producer Roger Rezik (ph) and photojournalist Alex Pratt -- journalism which makes a very real difference.

Ok. CNN is partnering with young people around the world for a student-led day of action against modern day slavery on March 14. In advance of My Freedom Day, we ask American rapper Rakhim what freedom means to him.


RAKHIM, AMERICAN RAPPER: To me freedom means consciousness, and awareness and understanding because to me it doesn't matter where you're physically at, it's about how you feel in your head. You can lock me up in a cell but if I'm conscious enough to understand what's going on, I could still have a sense of freedom knowing that, you know, I'm a person of mind and body. You lock my body up, my mind is still free. So to me freedom means consciousness, awareness and understanding.


VAUSE: So what does freedom mean to you? Please share your story using the #MyFreedomDay.

Still to come here, some of the dirtiest skies in the world are over in China but when the government bans burning coal to clear up the smog, it left many of the poorest struggling to stay alive.




JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Welcome back, everybody, you're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I'm John Vause. We'll check the headlines this hour:


VAUSE: (INAUDIBLE). It's a fact of life that pretty much everyone in China and coal is one of the biggest source of that pollution. The government has been trying to clean the air, cutting factory and vehicle emissions and banning coal for home heating.

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