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U.S. Conducts Airstrikes in Yemen Overnight; Sessions/Russia Controversy Overshadows Trump Agenda; Angela Merkel to Meet Trump March 14; Pence Used Private E-mail White Indiana Governor; CNN's "Believer," Rituals, Peculiar Practices of Some Religious Sects in India. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired March 3, 2017 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: This, as the Pentagon is working to locate and monitor hundreds, now, of individuals possibly connected to the terror group. Those names were part of the intelligence retrieved during the raid in Yemen in January where one Navy SEAL was killed along with many civilians.

Let me bring in, and have more discussion on this, Colin Kahl. He's a former deputy assistant to President Obama and national security advisor to Vice President Biden.

Colin, it's great to see you. Thanks for coming in.


BOLDUAN: We talk about the leadup to approve this raid. Now, after the fact, this news that hundreds of contacts were uncovered with links to Sand that the administration is now working to track them down. How big a deal is this, in your view?

KAHL: I think we don't know. There's a lot we don't know about the raid. Obviously, I'm not privy to the details because it wasn't briefed to us before the administration handed it over to the Trump administration. You've seen conflicting accounts. Some accounts suggested there could have been a high value target, even the AQAP chief. More recent accounts suggest it was moth an -- suggest it was an intelligence gathering exercise. It's hard for me to evaluate.

That said, this group, AQAP, is a significant threat to the United States. The Obama administration prosecuted a ruthless air campaign against them, to include strikes like we saw last night. So it would be good news if the Trump administration continues to go after this group.

BOLDUAN: And of course, outside, looking in. But I mean, from your view, do you think -- and there are three reviews, after action reviews going on into this raid. Do you agree with the view of the White House at this point that the mission was a success?

KAHL: I think it's really hard to say. Obviously, Sean Spicer said there are a number of reviews going on, both about the raid itself, about the downing of the osprey aircraft, about the civilian casualties. We'll have to wait to see what those reviews say. I do think, the other night we saw in the president's speech this tremendously emotional standing ovation for Chief Owens and his widow, I think they deserved every second of that and more, but they also deserve an investigation, Owens' father has asked for that. Frankly they are also owed by the Trump administration a more deliberate process moving forward than the one that authorized this raid in late January.

BOLDUAN: You think it was faulty, the process?

KAHL: I think the process was faulty, because it didn't involve a kind of careful, deliberate process that would have brought in the intelligence community, the State Department. It was essentially decided over dinner. Maybe it was the right thing to do, but if you run a bad process you're likely to get people killed.

BOLDUAN: Colin Kahl, thanks so much for coming in. Colin, good to have your perspective.

KAHL: Thanks.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, it started with a widely praised speech and ended with a recusal from his attorney general. Did President Trump's team just overshadow his attempt at a reset? We'll discuss.


[11:37:05] BOLDUAN: A week of newfound discipline for President Trump. But it comes as a new storm is brewing that could easily overshadow his agenda. The week began with the president's well- reviewed prime-time address to Congress but ends with the specter of Russia again looming over the White House as Attorney General Jeff Sessions recuses himself from investigations into Russian contacts by the Trump campaign. So what could be next?

Joining me now, Bill Press, host of "The Bill Press Show"; and a John phillips is here, CNN political commentator, and talk radio host; and Alex Burns is here, CNN political analyst, national political reporter for "The New York Times."


Bill, this is the game today, good week, bad week. You get a first stab at it. On the one hand, you have the president's newfound discipline, his big speech, he's curtailed much of his extracurricular tweeting. So good week?

BILL PRESS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Started out as a good week, ended as another bad week, would be my quick assessment. He gets good marks on the speech, even though it was substance-free. Then quickly this disarray at the White House over Sessions, first of all, Donald Trump admits he didn't even know about those meetings until he read about them in "The Washington Post." then he says he shouldn't recuse himself. Sean Spicer says the same thing. Then Sessions steps up and recuses himself. Now we have a meeting with Jared Kushner and the ambassador, meetings with two other top aides to then-President-elect Trump and the ambassador. They're nowhere on the Muslim ban. Oh, we're going to do it Wednesday, no, we're not. They're nowhere on tax reform. Front-page article in Alex's paper today, they're nowhere on climate change.


BOLDUAN: OK, OK, Bill Press, you've laid it out enough.

PRESS: You get my point.


BOLDUAN: John phillips, so, bad week, then?

JOHN PHILLIPS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, any week that ends with me being on with the three of you is a good week.


BOLDUAN: Stop sucking up. It works every time.


PHILLIPS: His speech was a big home run to begin the week. And I think that that carried over and his poll numbers are going to jump up. Any time your poll numbers jump up, you have more capital with Congress. Deputies are clearly obsessed with Russia. They think this is politically a winner for them. But I would be hesitant to do that if I were them because I think the Republicans made a huge mistake in 2012 and beyond when they focused so heavily on Benghazi. A lot of the bad details of Benghazi were out before the election and the voters reelected President Obama anyway. They should have dropped it after that. A lot of the allegations we're hearing about Russia's meddling in the election and Trump's ties to Russia were out before the election. So voters were aware of this when they elected Donald Trump as president. So if Democrats are going to continue to beat on this dead horse, I don't think it's going to do them any favors electorally.

[11:39:57] BOLDUAN: One bone of contention, though, my friend. A lot of this stuff with Russia coming out was not known before the election, hence why it's news now.

PHILLIPS: Exactly.

BOLDUAN: But I digress.

Alex, it's either a good bad week or a bad good week.

Let's talk about Obamacare and Rand Paul's treasure hunt that he took throughout Capitol Hill with a copier, as I failed to point out earlier. House Republicans are preparing to move things forward next week. Rand Paul doesn't like it. Some other conservatives don't like what they've seen so far. How is this going to play out?

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The only honest answer, Kate, is we don't know. Obviously, the Russia stuff has overshadowed the end of this week. Even on Tuesday night, which was a really good night overall for Donald Trump.

BOLDUAN: An important one.

BURNS: There were a lot of Republicans were hoping he would use that pulpit, use the platform and power of the presidency to really shove that process forward, right, because they're having a lot of trouble as a party coming to any kind of consensus about a plan for getting rid of Obamacare, replacing it with, as Donald Trump would say, something terrific, right? And absent some kind of leadership from the president it's still really hard to see how they put the pieces of the puzzle together. Even at the high point this week, there were reasons for skepticism that this would work for Donald Trump.

BOLDUAN: It was just announced that Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel will meet with Donald Trump at the White House March 14th.

Control room, tell me if I got that wrong.

March 14th, which is a very big deal, Alex. If we remember, that relationship has been an interesting one. She was -- Donald Trump in the campaign, she was the best leader at one point, then very critical of her, then when he took office, he said Chancellor Merkel and Vladimir Putin were on the same footing.

BURNS: Which is an extraordinary statement for an American president. And Chancellor Merkel responded to Donald Trump's election with this extraordinary statement saying that Germany valued its relationship with the United States but that that relationship was based on a set of values. And she listed the values she certainly seemed to comply those values were challenged by Donald Trump in the campaign.

BOLDUAN: Interesting. That will be one of those meetings we'll all be listening to.

John phillips, the "Indy Star" reported that Vice President Mike Pence used a personal e-mail for state business while governor. 29 pages of e-mails from his account released from a Freedom of Information Act request. An unspecified number of e-mails were not released because, according to the "Indy Star," quote, "The 'Indy Star' considers them confidential and too sensitive to release." And the account was also hacked at one point.

Not a private server, John phillips, but the irony is a little rich.

PHILLIPS: Oh, yes. I'm sure we'll be hearing comparisons to Hillary and her e-mail server all day. Here's the difference. When you're the governor of Indiana, you're e-mailing about hog futures.

BOLDUAN: Those are very important.

PHILLIPS: Not things that put the country at risk. There is a world of difference between what he was e-mailing about and what Hillary Clinton as secretary of state was e-mailing about.

PRESS: Kate.

BOLDUAN: Bill, he has a point. I do not think Mike Pence had security clearance when he was governor.

PRESS: No, he didn't. But actually, some of the e-mails were about terrorist threats to the state of Indiana that he was talking to his security people about. Was this illegal? No. Was this a great big deal? No. But the irony is juicy. At the very least we need an FBI investigation and 15 hearings in the House just to level the playing field.


BOLDUAN: I just fell off my chair. I don't think I started sweating thinking about 15 more hearings on Capitol Hill.

Both you, thank you, guys, for pointing out, this isn't going to change anything, right?


BOLDUAN: But do you think that maybe this could move us in the right direction, Alex, of maybe elected government officials using the proper e-mail for the proper reason once and for all?

BURNS: Anyone at this point who isn't following normal pretty conservative e-mail protocols is really just asking for it. You do think the big picture on Mike Pence's e-mails, we've seen now a number of times, Trump and Pence and Republicans and Congress run into the reality that they raised the bar on certain issues of ethics and transparency in the campaign against Hillary Clinton and that bar is now being applied to them.

BOLDUAN: You've got to love the bar.

Great to see you guys. Thanks so much.

BURNS: Thank you.

[11:44:28] BOLDUAN: All right, guys.

This is coming up, another weekend at Mar-a-Lago. Soon, President Trump will be touching down in Florida where he first will be heading to Orlando where he will be speaking at a Catholic church. You can be sure he will be pushing education reforms. Then he'll head to the winter White House. Details ahead.


BOLDUAN: On all new CNN original series, "Believer," Reza Aslan traveled the world to bring us the rituals and peculiar practices in some instances of a religious sects in India. Watch this.



Maybe I'll take this off right now and then -- just thank you. OK. Thank you. Thank you.

Why are people on that side of the river so afraid of the aghori?


ASLAN: I see.

Why --



[11:50:20] ASLAN: Feels like a mistake. Maybe just somebody distracts him and I just leave.


ASLAN: I can be very polite about it.


BOLDUAN: is here with me now.

ASLAN: I love, by the way, how the camera guys cracking up.

BOLDUAN: Everyone is cracking up, and also a little scared.

Thankful you're still with us.

Stop it.

What was going on there?

ASLAN: So this is a --

BOLDUAN: What did you say that was so offensive?

ASLAN: I think it was asking questions. I was very nervous. These are aghori gurus. They reject the concept of purity in Hinduism, so they prove that by taking part in these spectacular displays of self- pollution. So they'll eat rotted corpses, feces, drink water from the Ganges, and do anything to shock the system into believing that anything you think pollutes you is pure illusion.

So I was there to learn from them. And I think this guy immediately thought I was there to be his disciple. As soon as I sat down, he was like you belong to me. You are mine. Eat this. Drink this. And so I --


BOLDUAN: Did you eat anything?

ASLAN: I -- I ate what he gave me.

BOLDUAN: Do you know what it was?

ASLAN: I do know what it was, yes. It was a piece of a -- of a corpse's brain. It was a brain. Yeah. A little piece of brain.


BOLDUAN: OK. So -- so, that's one episode.

Where could you possibly take us after this?


ASLAN: The important thing to understand is underneath those practices is a beautiful belief expressed in other ways, which is taking care of orphans, or leprosy patients, people that because of the cast system in India don't have anyone to care for. This religious group does go out and care for them. And that's really the point of this.

BOLDUAN: So you see beauty in it?

ASLAN: Every one of these episodes, you start out by knowing a religious group that may seem scary, maybe frightening, foreign. Through my journey, through my experience delving into that belief, you start to realize maybe, you know, it's not so different after all. That perhaps you even share some beliefs with them.

BOLDUAN: So you're a practicing Muslim?


BOLDUAN: Through this process, and you're curious, you're known to be very curious, through this process did it change your view of faith? Has it changed you?

ASLAN: No, what it's done is strengthen my faith. I always say that religion and faith are two different things. My faith is personal and individual. The religion that I use is how I express that faith. That's the point of this show. While these different religious groups may be speaking different languages, they may have different words for God, they may read scriptures in a different way, but underneath it all, the faith they express is not just familiar but similar. For me, this was a -- a lived experience of that truth.

BOLDUAN: Faith, of course, is at the core of some of the greatest battles and wars of all time, dating back to forever and ever. What do you hope people take from this? It seems like you're trying to find the commonalty.

ASLAN: I hope people get is that we have more in common than we don't. Religion has been responsible for wars, battles and conflict. But faith is different than that. Faith unites us. We may express that faith in a different language, but what we're expressing is often a different thing. If you can get that from this show, maybe you can apply it to the world around you. We could certainly use that right now.

BOLDUAN: Fascinating. Quite a start, too.

ASLAN: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Reza, great to see you. Thank you very much.

ASLAN: Thank you.

[11:54:14] BOLDUAN: Remember, "Believer" airs this Sunday night, 10:00 eastern, right here on CNN.

Coming up, the big question hovering over the White House, where is President Trump's new travel band? What is the hold up? Are there problems in the works? The possible new clue.

Plus, a bizarre scene playing out on Capitol Hill. One Senator tries to find the Republican replacement for the health care bill, so he goes on a scavenger hunt to look for that bill while another talks to a statue. Details ahead.


BOLDUAN: In just two weeks, we'll introduce the first "CNN Hero" of 2017. Here's how to vote.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bring it in, girl.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST, A.C. 360 (voice-over): Every week, "CNN Heroes" honors everyday people doing extraordinary work to change lives. We've crossed the globe to tell the amazing story of these heroes.


COOPER: But we can't do it without you. We need you to tell White House you think should be a CNN hero.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look how far we've come in a week.


COOPER: You can nominate someone in a few simple steps. Go to and fill in the form and tell us about your hero. It's that easy. You can help make your hero a "CNN Hero," to shine some light on their amazing work.




BOLDUAN: "Inside Politics" with John King starts right now.