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THE SITUATION ROOM
Trump Calls World Leaders, Calls Out the Media; Trump and Putin to Meet for First Time; Trump Retweets Video of Himself Pummeling CNN; Christie Caught Sunning on Beach Closed for Budget; ISIS Capital May Fall, Dangerous Civil War Continues. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired July 3, 2017 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[17:00:08] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Senator Mike Lee, thank you so much. And hope you have an inspiring Fourth of July.
LEE: Thank you. Same to you.
SCIUTTO: That's it for "THE LEAD." I'm Jim Sciutto, in for Jake Tapper. I turn you over now to Brianna Keilar. She's in for Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, beat the press. President Trump tweets a video of himself wrestling and punching a CNN logo. The president's supporters are defending his latest media takedown, but his taunting of the press is sending a questionable message to leaders around the world.
Russian relations. President Trump will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin at this week's G-20 summit. The White House is playing down expectations, saying it won't be different from discussions with any other country. Will the two leaders discuss Russia's meddling in the U.S. election?
Growing threat. President Trump reaches out to China to discuss the growing threat from North Korea as they brace for the possibility of another nuclear test. But is the president's honeymoon with China already over?
And beach day. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie orders state parks and beaches to close due to a government shutdown and then enjoys a day at a closed beach alone with his family. The governor's time in the sun has many feeling burned.
Wolf Blitzer is off. I'm Brianna Keilar. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
President Trump has been working the phones, dialing world leaders ahead of his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. And at the same time, he's been dialing up his attacks on the news media, raising new questions about what kind of message he's sending abroad, how that reflects on his presidency and also how it reflects on America.
The president of the United States tweeted a video of himself body slamming and punching the CNN logo. The altered video has been traced to a social media user with a history of posting bigoted, racist and anti-Semitic content.
Reacting to criticism of his Twitter habits, the president tweeted that his social media use is, quote, "modern-day presidential."
That comes as he prepares for this week's trip abroad, with a flurry of calls to counterparts in Europe, the Middle East, and the Far East, as well. At the G-20 summit in Germany, he's going to meet face to face for the first time with Russia's Vladimir Putin.
But administration sources say it's unlikely he'll raise the subject of Russia's attack on the U.S. election. And the president has asked China's president for more help containing the growing North Korean threat. But there are signs that the honeymoon between those two leaders may be ending.
President Xi complained afterward about negative factors affecting the relationship.
I'm going to talk to Republican Congressman Mark Sanford. And our correspondents, specialists and guests are standing by with full coverage of the day's top stories.
With his domestic agenda stalled, President Trump has been busy calling world leaders ahead of this first meeting with Russia's president Putin at this week's G-20 summit. He's still, though, finding time, plenty of it, time to attack the media.
We begin with CNN White House correspondent Sara Murray -- Sara.
SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, some people like to spend this holiday weekend having a nice family barbecue. But President Trump is clearly blowing off steam in other ways, taking aim at his favorite foil: the press.
MURRAY (voice-over): Days before a serious of high-stakes meetings with world leaders, President Trump is turning his attention to bashing the media. Trump taking to Twitter over the weekend to post a video showing him pummeling a CNN logo and using a speech honoring veterans to lob attacks at the media.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The fake media is trying to silence us, but we will not let them, because the people know the truth. The fake media tried to stop us from going to the White House, but I'm president and they're not.
MURRAY: Trump continued to air his grievances today on Twitter saying, "At some point the fake news will be forced to discuss our great jobs numbers, strong economy, success with ISIS, the border and so much else," while some say Trump overstepped with the wrestling video, White House security advisor Tom Bossert insists it didn't go too far. TOM BOSSERT, WHITE HOUSE HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISOR: I hope no one
would perceive that as a threat. I hope they don't. But I do think that he's beaten up in a way on cable platforms that he has a right to respond to.
MURRAY: But more members of Trump's own party are sounding the alarm about a toxic tone toward the press.
Republican Senator Ben Sasse accused Trump of trying to use distrust in the media as a weapon to undermine American freedom.
SEN. BEN SASSE (R), NEBRASKA: There's an important distinction to draw between bad stories or crappy coverage and the right that citizens have to argue about that and complain about that, and trying to weaponize distrust.
[17:05:05] MURRAY: But urging Trump to tone it down could be a futile pursuit. He defended his Twitter habits this weekend, saying, "My use of social media is not presidential; it's modern-day presidential."
Trump's attempts to tweak the media just the latest distraction from weightier policy matters. He spent the weekend and Monday prepping for his overseas trip, which includes stops in Germany and Poland, by calling the leaders of Germany, Italy, Japan, China and Saudi Arabia. The G-20 meeting in Germany will mark the first time Trump is meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin face to face.
Trump has lavished praise on Putin in the past.
TRUMP: If Putin likes Donald Trump, I consider that an asset, not a liability.
MURRAY: But the president is expected to use this meeting to focus on pressing matters for the White House, including disputes in Syria and Ukraine. What's still unclear, according to administration officials, is whether Trump will raise Russia's meddling in the 2016 election.
MURRAY: Now, as for that wrestling video, the Anti-Defamation League in its analysis drew that back to a Reddit user who has a history of posting racist and anti-Semitic items. The White House is pushing back on the notion that that's where the president got it, though, insisting that the president's video did not come from Reddit -- Brianna.
KEILAR: Very interesting. Sara Murray at the White House. Thank you so much.
There is a lot riding on that meeting with President Putin that Sara was talking about. I want to turn not to CNN chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto. And Jim, CNN has learned that the president is planning to focus on Syria and to focus on Ukraine during this meeting with Putin, rather than on Russia' meddling on the election. What else are you finding out about this? SCIUTTO: Listen, there's certainly a great deal to talk about that's
urgent about Syria. You have U.S. and Russian forces, as well as Kurdish forces, a whole host of others zeroing in on, really, the power center of ISIS in Syria, their de facto capital in Raqqah. They're getting in very close quarters. That increases dangers, but it also brings up questions about what happens after ISIS falls? They've lost Mosul, effectively, now Raqqah. What happens next? Who's going to be in charge? Will Assad go? There are many key questions there.
On Russian meddling, however, you'll hear, even from a lot of Republicans, that it would be a missed opportunity for the president not to bring that up as an issue in the president's eyes.
Remember, the last high-profile meeting that the president had with Russians, the Russian foreign minister, the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak. It was in that meeting the president ended up talking about why he fired James Comey, even end up -- ended up sharing classified intelligence, apparently supplied by the Israelis, something that they did not want revealed to anyone, other than the United States.
So if the president wants to change the focus from that, this would be the opportunity here, but again, at least administration officials are saying no plans to do that at this point.
KEILAR: And Jim, the president talked to the Chinese president, Xi this weekend about North Korea, even though there have been some tensions between the U.S. and China. How important, knowing that there is this tension, is this relationship when it comes to dealing with North Korea?
SCIUTTO: There's really no more important relationship with North Korea than China. China has the most influence there. The big question is how much? But they have the most, because China has expressed its own public frustration with Kim Jong-un, the nuclear program, et cetera. But no one has more.
And you remember Donald Trump early in his administration, said, "I'm going to work with China. China's working with us." They put the squeeze on North Korea.
But very quickly that narrative has change from the White House, the president saying, tweeting, of course, publicly that he's disappointed with Chinese efforts. If that's where U.S.-China relations are now, that poses real questions as to what the international response is going to be to North Korea. And also, how much closer it brings the U.S. to taking its own action. And we know that among the options for the U.S. president is military action, though full of its own risks, very severe risks.
It is a -- it is a dangerous path right now that the world is on regarding North Korea. And if the U.S. and China aren't working together, it's a real question about how there is a positive resolution.
KEILAR: Yes. You have a lot of experience, having covered China, as well. Jim Sciutto, thank you so much for that.
Joining me now is Republican Congressman Mark Sanford of South Carolina. I have so much to talk to you about, including these foreign policy issues.
I want to begin, though, with the president's recent attacks on the media. We still don't know exactly how this video made its way to the president's Twitter account. We know, though, as you may have heard in our report, that it was originally created by a Reddit user who has an extensive history of posting racist, anti-Semitic and other bigoted content on the website.
Do you a think the American people deserve to know where the president has found this material?
REP. MARK SANFORD (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Not particularly. I think that, you know, bad stuff is bad stuff, regardless of who it came from. And I think that that's a bigger issue, is why would you retweet something that, I think, by its very nature is inflammatory; by its very nature, in essence, says violence is not as wrong a possibility?
[17:10:24] And you know, I think that's that bigger question. And I think that's the question that ought to be focused on. I've said consistently that the president needs to back off with regard the tweets. They are, at minimum, a distraction to his legislative agenda, because it -- it has the -- we're sitting here talking about it right now rather than health care or taxes or a whole host of issues that are awfully important to people's daily lives.
KEILAR: Does it -- does it change your perspective of it all, knowing that this was something that was on Reddit, and then somehow it was reformatted -- we don't know by who -- and then he tweeted it out.
So in a different medium. And there's this question about how this -- how did it really get through what you would expect would be filters of content to the president?
SANFORD: I don't think his Twitter account is particularly filtered, the last time I checked. I mean, you know, just a couple days ago we were talking about the firestorm that came as a result of his commentary on Joe Scarborough and his wife, or soon-to-be wife. I'm not exactly sure where things stand there. But -- but you know, you had commentary on Mika and Joe. Now we've got commentary on the CNN.
But I just go back to the basic. The basic is, one of the differentiating elements in the American civilization has been a free and vibrant press. And, you know, I've gotten my share of bad stories over the years. If there's anybody would have a reason to dislike the media, it would be it. But I'm a big fan. It's for this simple reason. One of the checks on power that was built into the First Amendment is this notion of free and vibrant press.
And this notion of any of us in elected office going out, though we may not like certain stories, and we may, in fact, prove certain stories wrong, as a whole-scale measure to say that they're out of line or dangerous for our society is at odds with what the Founding Fathers laid out. Therefore, it matters what Ben Sasse, Senator Ben Sasse, said today of this notion of sort of institutionalizing distrust. It's something we've got to watch out here on -- in the eve of Fourth of July.
KEILAR: So how did you see this tweet of this video? Because the president's homeland security advisor, Tom Bossert, said that, quote, "No one would perceive the tweet as a threat." He said he hoped no one would.
Did you see it as a threat?
SANFORD: Again, we're going too far down in psychological terms. I just think that it's strange, weird or different. I don't think it is conventional by any measure. I don't know of any former president that would be retweeting something along these lines.
I mean, again, I was in executive office...
SANFORD: ... for eight years of my life. You cannot respond to every detractor out there, because if you do, you will, again, at minimum, give people reason not to focus on the legislative agenda that you want to move forward.
KEILAR: Well, and to that point, I mean, the White House has said it wants the media to focus on its agenda. It wants the media to just be talking in very clear, kind of straightforward "just the facts, ma'am" way about what they're doing, and yet the president then overshadows the message with the tweets. How much of a problem is that for Republicans in Congress?
SANFORD: It's big, because you know, I think it was last week it was supposed to be Energy Week and the week before that was supposed to be Infrastructure Week, or it may have been vice versa. I don't remember. But it sure was not what we were talking about. That was supposedly going to be the talking point coming out of Washington, D.C., but instead we're talking about Joe and Mika or we're talking about this now.
Again, what we need to get back to are the basics. I did office hours this morning in front of the Publix grocery store in Mount Pleasant, North Carolina. I had a number of people show up, and they were talking about the issues that impact their lives.
And if we're not talking about that, whether Republicans or Democrats, again from Washington or from our home districts, we've got a problem going. And we've got a real problem going right now, because we're talking about this stuff still rather than, again, health care, taxes...
KEILAR: That's right.
SANFORD: ... the budget and the other things that impact people's lives. KEILAR: And health care is such an issue that you want to be
discussing as you -- as certainly in the Senate, Republicans are trying to figure out how to move forward.
The president did not tweet about health care this weekend, despite the fact that this plan is, you know, near stalled in the Senate, really needs a boost in public support. What do you say to that?
SANFORD: I'd say that major change requires executive branch leadership. The nature of a legislative body is a degree of, you know, disagreement. I mean, that's the beauty of the American system.
KEILAR: Do you think, though, by his Twitter behavior, then...
SANFORD: And so what you need, though, is...
KEILAR: ... that he's not providing that executive leadership? So is that -- is that what you're saying, that based on his Twitter behavior that's not an executive issue?
[17:15:02] SANFORD: Any legislative body can focus on one or two things, maybe three at most. And if you give them a reason to be distracted by something else or having to deal with something else, oftentimes they will. And so what I'm saying is for a major change -- and we're talking major change with regard to health care in this country, it's going to require not only legislative action, but it's going to require a president and executive branch leadership.
And I'm just saying the tweet like the one we're discussing is a distraction from that focus that has to be on a change as major as we're talking about with regard to something like health care.
KEILAR: Yes, you certainly have your plates full there on Capitol Hill. We have much more to talk with you about, Congressman Mark Sanford. We're going to talk about foreign policy and the president Trump meeting later this week with Vladimir Putin. More in just a moment.
[17:20:14] KEILAR: President Trump is preparing for this week's overseas trip. It includes his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, even as his Twitter rants raise new questions about how he's perceived abroad.
We're back now with Republican Congressman Mark Sanford of South Carolina, and we should mention that he is a member of the Oversight Committee there on the House side.
So Congressman, we know the president is expected, when he talks to Putin at the G-20 summit this week, to focus on the meeting -- focus the meeting on Syria, to focus on Ukraine but not on Russia's meddling in the 2016 election. Do you think that that is the wrong move? Do you think he should focus on meddling?
SANFORD: I wouldn't say focus. I mean, you know, what's happening in Syria is frightening. I mean, aid from the standpoint of just deconflicting the different forces that are in play in that country, I think, is important. I think it's important in terms of sending an absolutely clear signal with regard to the use of chemical weapons and its implications going forward in the civilized world. I think that what's happening in Ukraine is equally important. A hundred and twenty-eight soldiers -- people are not focused on this -- 128 Ukrainian soldiers have died since the beginning of the year, based on, you know, the conflict that's taking place there. And you could go on up to, you know, the Baltic states and talk about a lot of things happening.
So I think that there is a lot of other things to talk about, but I think it would be equally important to include, obviously, Russia's meddling in our elections. Now, that doesn't mean there was collusion. It doesn't mean that the Trump administration or, you know, participants in the campaign were colluding with the Russians, but it's unequivocally clear that they've tried to have an impact in a whole host of different countries around the globe, and America is on the list, as well.
And so to not bring it up, I think, would be strange. I think it would be a missed opportunity. I think it would be important to bring it up.
KEILAR: Would it send a message to other countries or even to folks here in the U.S. if he doesn't make an issue of it, if he doesn't mention it?
SANFORD: Yes. I mean, I think that, you know, I think they're both alpha males. And, you know, the question of this meeting is who's going to out-alpha who? And if you don't even bring up an issue that everybody knows about, but we can just hide it in the back den, it would seem a little bit strange. And it would seem, at least at some level, deferential to Putin, which I don't think fits with the Republican base. Nor does it fit with may of the folks who are detractors or believe in conspiracy theories in terms of what might or might not have happened with regard to Russian collusion.
KEILAR: Out-alpha. I might...
SANFORD: So I think that, from both sides of the political spectrum -- what's that?
KEILAR: I said I might steal that. Out-alpha. I think that's really interesting.
I mentioned that you sit on the House Oversight Committee, and that's because I want to ask you about something that Trey Gowdy, the new chairman of the committee, says. And he's saying that he doesn't want to pursue an investigation into Russian meddling, into election interference. He doesn't want to explore questions about potential obstruction of justice by President Trump, as well.
Do you agree with that decision to not pursue that probe, especially considering it was Trey Gowdy who seemed fine to pursue a Benghazi probe when there was several probes just in Congress already under way; and now he's essentially saying there is too many, not another one is needed when it comes to Russia?
SANFORD: Well, I mean, in fairness to the incoming chairman, you know, I think that when you have a whole host of investigations, which is what's presently the case, and you have, you know, on both the House side and the Senate side, you know, committees at work from the standpoint of investigation, then you've got independent and you've got, I mean, a variety of different looks at the situation, I think it makes sense to be sequential. To say let's let them do their work, come out with whatever they come out with, and if there are a lot of red flags raised, or if it seems murky or smoky, then let's go back in and delve in. But I think, you know, the idea of looking at it in sequential form is probably something that makes sense.
KEILAR: All right, Congressman. Thank you so much.
SANFORD: That would not be the case...
KEILAR: That would not be the case, you said, what?
SANFORD: That would not be the case if they weren't doing those investigations presently, but they are.
KEILAR: All right. Well, Congressman, thank you so much for spending part of your holiday weekend with us. A happy Fourth to you. Congressman Mark Sanford joining us.
SANFORD: As well to you. Thanks.
KEILAR: And coming up, how media bashing fits into President Trump's long-term and short-term goals.
Plus, why New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's weekend visit to an uncrowded beach is kicking up lots of political sand today.
KEILAR: Instead of talking specifics about the high stakes fight over health care reform or his upcoming meeting with Russia's Vladimir Putin, President Trump used a big speech over the weekend and his Twitter account to bash the news media.
I want to talk about the short and long-term political impact with our specialists here. We have Chris Cillizza, Bianna Golodryga, and Phil Mudd with us.
And I wonder what you thought, Chris, as you looked at these attacks. Because President Trump attacking the media, it's nothing new, but was this one different?
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS EDITOR AT LARGE: Sort of, I suppose. I do think that so soon after Sarah Huckabee Sanders saying the president has never condoned violence, to have an edited clip of him giving -- I don't even know how to describe it -- Vince McMahon, the founder of the WWE, with a CNN head, a clothesline. I guess that's the most decorative term. Having that be tweeted out is not exactly consistent. So different in that -- there it is. So different in that way.
[17:30:17] Not different, though, as you pointed out, Brianna, with Donald Trump's longer-scale attack on the media. I hold that, if you look at day one of the Trump campaign, which was June 16, 2015, until today, the through line, right, the connective tissue there is anti- media. That should have been the one always consistent thing he has returned to in good times and especially in bad.
So I don't think we should be surprised that he's doing this. The implication of this tweet struck me and sort of the -- after the whole debate about was he presidential or not with the Mika Brzezinski and the Joe Scarborough attacks, the timing was off. But we shouldn't be surprised...
CILLIZZA: ... that Donald Trump is dismissive of the media.
KEILAR: And Chris, you mentioned that just a few days ago Sara Sanders says, you know, that he hasn't done this; he hasn't encouraged violence.
And Bianna, I wonder what you think of that, not just in terms of that happened three days ago, but when we look over the last two years, we find several examples of things that Donald Trump has said in this vein. Let's watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP (via phone): Maybe he should have been roughed up, because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing.
(on camera): So if you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of him, would you? Seriously. OK? Just knock the hell -- I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees, I promise.
We're not allowed to punch back anymore. I love the old days. You know what they used to do to guys like that when they were at a place like this? They'd be carried out on a stretcher, folks. I'd like to punch him in the face, I'll tell you.
Get him out. Try not to hurt him. If you do, I'll defend you in court, don't worry about it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: So is this, Bianna, just more of the same, or is this slightly different? Clearly, we shouldn't be surprised by it.
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, YAHOO! NEWS: Well, I think we should get over this notion that the president is going to change or that he's going to be more presidential. I mean, he's 71 years old. If there's one thing that has been consistent, it has been his sort of attitude towards the media as a campaigner and, obviously, as the president.
You know, I was struck by something that Kellyanne Conway once smartly said, where she said there's a difference between what offends voters and what affects voters. So I think now that he is president and continues to offend people, and many people, including, obviously, us in the media.
But I think a lot of people that you talk to, even Trump supporters, even Republican congressmen like you just spoke with, Congressman Sanford, I think going past that, once you're president, you have to start focusing on what's going to affect people. And people are really now focused on health care. People are focused on tax reform. People are focused on infrastructure. People, I mean, other than the president of the United States, who's not talking about it nearly as much as he's talking about bashing the media.
And if I could say one more thing about the media, I think it was very wise and needed to hear from Senator Sasse and from Congressman Sanford, to talk about the importance of the media and the importance of journalism in a democracy. But I think they preface it too many times by saying, "Yes, there could be bad stories or inaccurate stories, but you still can't bash."
I think for the most part, the media has done an incredible job of fact checking, of vetting, and those that haven't obviously paid the consequences, as we've seen with your own network, as well. So we have to be careful about how we preface this issue at the forefront.
KEILAR: And Phil, Senator Sasse brings up this concern about the idea of weaponizing, right? Weaponizing words against the media. The president's homeland security adviser says no. No one would perceive this wrestling tweet as a threat. No one should. Do you perceive it as a threat or is it lesser than a threat?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I mean, the senator is half right on this. Look, we have an overweight, out of shape 71-year-old with a security detail from Manhattan who hasn't seen violence since his lunch box was stolen in fourth grade, and that's a threat? You've got to be kidding me. I'd be happy to mud wrestle that guy.
Here's the problem, though. And as someone who's spent more than half of my career dealing with threat information seriously, the other half of this is, this is a numbers game. If you have tens of millions of followers on Twitter and one out of 10,000 of them looks at this and says...
CILLIZZA: That's right.
MUDD: ... "The president is validating my anger against somebody at a demonstration or somebody who's a Democrat or somebody who's a liberal," the problem is not whether the president threatened somebody. He doesn't have the capability to threaten somebody.
The problem is whether there's a tone and that's -- that's, I think, the serious conversation here where followers say, "I'm validated to go hit somebody with a baseball bat at an event that I attend." That's where I'd be concerned if I were back at the FBI, because I'm sure there are people who are thinking like that. [17:35:04] KEILAR: It -- Chris, it defies reason for so many people
why the president does this -- and I know this happens all the time and we talk about this -- but especially when there is so much on the table right now with Russia and this meeting coming up, health care, you know, near stalled in the Senate; and the White House complaints the media covers the president's tweets instead of their agenda.
And yet it seems like he doesn't really give the media a choice when he's making what are official White House statements from his Twitter account that are so outrageous.
CILLIZZA: Correct. You make the exact right point, Brianna. The White House has said these are official statements. You don't get -- you don't get the good that Donald Trump gets from his Twitter feed, which is adulation, which is energy and intensity within his base, as he says, a way to end-run the media, and not take the bad, which is we take these tweets seriously.
What else should we do? Should we assume every one of them is a joke? How would we decide between what's a joke and what's serious?
This is the thing -- Phil Mudd cuts it; he's exactly right. This is what I find frustrating. The idea that everyone knows that Donald Trump is joking. Because in all those clips that you played, the "knock the hell out of them and I'll pay for your legal fees," the explanation always was, "He's kidding; everyone knows he's kidding." Did they talk to every single person at the rally who knew he was kidding, because I saw lots and lots of video out of the last election of people giving the finger to reporters, people yelling at reporters. Now luckily, not a lot of actual physical violence, but the point is I don't -- this assumption that everyone knows he's joking, particularly when you have a Twitter feed of 30 million-plus people, I'm not sure you can go and make that claim.
KEILAR: Yes. All right, you guys, stick around for me, because I want to talk to you about what is really this weekend's glaring example of -- what can we call it, questionable political stagecraft? If you're going to close a public beach due to a budget fight, you know, maybe you don't want to lounge around on that same uncrowded beach. We'll talk about that next.
[17:41:37] KEILAR: A budget standoff in New Jersey has led Governor Chris Christie to close state parks and beaches, but while the public is locked out for the long July Fourth holiday from those areas, the governor was spotted basking on one of them; and it was an otherwise deserted state beach.
Let's go live now to CNN's Polo Sandoval. He's in New Jersey.
What's the latest with this story of what seems to be just a major political misstep by the governor?
POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. The optics here obviously quite bad here, especially the latest information that's, coming from the spokesperson for Governor Christie who says that that is one of two residences, that beach house is one of two residences that the governor can use whenever he wants, and that includes during a state partial shutdown.
Well, we took that explanation to some of the folks who haven't been able to make their way onto state parks like this one, and we found it's not sitting very well.
SANDOVAL (voice-over): New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is not backing down after criticism of his decision to spend the day at the beach.
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY (via phone): They caught me doing what I said I was going to do with the people I said I was going to be with.
SANDOVAL: But these photos show the governor and his family soaking up the sun outside the governor's official residence in a park, just days after he shut down nonessential state services, including parks and beaches, during an ongoing budget battle.
CHRISTIE: This government is not open, because I can't constitutionally let it be open. I don't have any money.
SANDOVAL: A reporter asked Christie about his sunburn later that afternoon.
CHRISTIE: I didn't get any sun today.
SANDOVAL: The photos, published in "The New York Star-Ledger" late Sunday tell a different tale, showing Christie sitting on a lounge chair on an empty stretch of beach, prompting this response from Christie's office: "He did not get any sun. He had a baseball hat on."
That only added to the frustration for families who were turned away from state parks.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If the parks are shut down in New Jersey, he shouldn't be able to enjoy them, either.
SANDOVAL: Christie's office answering to criticism of the photos.
KEILAR: Why would he say that, "I didn't get any sun"? That was before the photos came out.
BRIAN MURRAY, GOVERNOR CHRISTIE'S SPOKESMAN: He had 45 minutes on the beach...
KEILAR: I mean...
MURRAY: ... and then he got back to work.
SANDOVAL: And the governor himself went on the offensive in a phone interview with a local morning show.
CHRISTIE (via phone): I said last Monday, a week ago today, that no matter what happened, we were coming here as a family this weekend. This is where we live, one of the places we live. And so what a great bit of journalism by "The Star-Ledger." They actually caught a politician being where he said he was going to be with the people he said he was going to be with.
SANDOVAL: Back at the parks, New Jersey residents say they're more concerned about their own vacation plans, not the governor's.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's ridiculous. Just figure it out. You know, we pay you guys to figure it out. Figure it out.
SANDOVAL: So amid this major P.R. problem here, the governor is currently dealing with, there is still that lingering question: how long will this partial shutdown continue? When will it come to an end?
Well, I can tell you that after another day at the general assembly session, really little to no progress, but they could vote on a budget at any time.
The last time this happened, Brianna, was in 2006, the summer of 2006. It took about eight days for something like this to come to a close. So people here hopeful but, well, they're also not holding their breath that they'll be able to make their way onto this park come tomorrow.
KEILAR: Bummer of a July Fourth there. All right. Thank you so much, Polo Sandoval.
I want to bring back our specialists to talk about this. Chris, Phil, and Bianna to you. What do you think Chris Christie was thinking? Do you think he thought this was going to be fine, or do you just think he's sort of at the end of his term and didn't care?
[17:45:03] GOLODRYGA: Well, it sounds like he wasn't thinking. And then he was at a loss for words, which he rarely is, and then he sort of doubled down and stubbornly defended his decision.
And, look, this isn't that big of a deal, at the end of the day, given all of the other stories that we are covering. But he is a man who is known for talking the talk and being great with words and telling it like it is, and an apology can go a long way.
If he had just said -- listen, I screwed up, there is no reason for me to take a vacation when we're in the midst of this budget battle here. My family went outside for a few minutes. I shouldn't have joined them. I am so sorry, I know the optics are bad -- I think everybody else would have just moved along.
But I think this speaks to his high unpopularity within the state right now, and I think it's something that could have been avoided. It was just something that, obviously now, he's doubling down on in the wrong direction.
KEILAR: Chris, what do you think?
CILLIZZA: The wide shot of the beach with Chris Christie and his family on it -- I agree with Bianna, this is a story that's not a huge deal. But that wide shot, Brianna, you want to know why people hate politics and politicians? That's it.
Yes, right, there it is.
KEILAR: Right there.
CILLIZZA: That picture, right. So a huge beach with a nice house and only, you know, eight, 10 people on it. The politicians think that they don't have the same rules as us. They think they're entitled. They think they can do whatever they want.
We hear that time and time again from voters. A lot of it is how Donald Trump got elected. This is a reinforcement of that.
Chris Christie is not going to have a political future before this beach thing and he's not going to have one after, at least in New Jersey. But it reinforces so much bad stuff that people already think, that I think most of which is wrong, about how politicians and the people who cover them and work for them do their jobs.
KEILAR: As one of the papers there in Jersey proclaimed, let them eat funnel cake. I thought that was pretty apt.
Chris Cillizza, Bianna Golodryga, and Phil Mudd, thank you so much to all of you.
And coming up, why the upcoming liberation of the city that ISIS calls its capital could make a deadly civil war even more dangerous, and a bigger flash point between the U.S. and Russia.
[17:51:37] KEILAR: Administration sources are telling CNN that President Trump plans to focus on Ukraine and on Syria, not on Russia's election meddling, when he meets with Vladimir Putin this week. The Syrian civil war is back atop the agenda, even though U.S.- backed forces may be close to liberating Raqqa, the Syrian capital. It's what ISIS calls its capital, in fact.
I want to bring in CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr. Winning the battle, ending the war there, not the same thing in this case, Barbara.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Not at all, Brianna. The U.S. could win the combat phase of the war, but it's going to open up a whole new set of challenges.
STARR (voice-over): U.S. marines in Syria firing artillery at ISIS positions. Unprecedented video, much of it shot from a drone overhead, underscoring the growing danger for more than an estimated 700 U.S. combat forces on the ground.
The U.S. war against ISIS in Syria is at a critical stage. U.S.- backed forces, including snipers, are now inside Raqqa, trying to end the Islamic State that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared three years ago this month. But tens of thousands of civilians are still at risk from ISIS and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
President Trump is about to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin for the first time, and the White House says the war in Syria is likely to be discussed. The U.S. goals?
LT. GEN. H.R. MCMASTER, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: The need to de- escalate the Syrian civil war, to defeat ISIS there and to end that humanitarian catastrophe.
STARR (voice-over): But it's all about to get a lot tougher.
COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Putin believes that he is in the catbird seat at this point.
STARR (voice-over): With the U.S. no longer regularly calling for Assad's removal, there is little pressure on Putin's backing of Assad. And this recent firing of Russian cruise missiles also an indication that Moscow support for Assad fits Vladimir Putin's own goals.
LEIGHTON: He is going to seek to enhance that Russian influence because he believes Syria is the jumping off point for further Russian activity in the Middle East. I don't think President Trump necessarily understands that.
STARR (voice-over): President Trump's Special Envoy, Brett McGurk, has just been to the outskirts of Raqqa to figure out what happens next.
Raqqa will need money, organization, and manpower, but it's not likely the Trump administration would supply that full effort.
HEATHER NAUERT, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: Once Raqqa is liberated, we believe it's critical for local officials from the area to take over responsibility and take over responsibility for post liberation security, but most importantly, governance down the road.
STARR: So if President Trump makes an offer to President Putin about Syria, or a demand, the real question will be, why would President Putin agree to anything at this point that the U.S. wants? In his view, he's in pretty good shape in Syria -- Brianna.
KEILAR: Very good point. Barbara Starr, at the Pentagon, thank you so much.
[17:54:45] And coming up, President Trump, working the phones. Calling world leaders ahead of his first meeting with Russia's Vladimir Putin. And at the same time, he's calling out the media with new attacks raising new questions about what kind of message he is sending abroad.
KEILAR: Happening now. Media smack down. President Trump's Twitter video showing him tackling and punching a CNN logo as he continues slamming the media. He calls his tweets, quote, modern-day presidential. Is his message creating a chilling effect?
Meeting Putin. The President is just days away from his first face- to-face meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Syria and Ukraine are high on the agenda, but will Mr. Trump raise Russia's meddling in the 2016 election?
[17:59:55] Laptop ban? Hundreds of airports with direct flights to the U.S. are facing a deadline to enhance counterterror measures to meet new U.S. requirements. Will this lead to an expanded laptop ban and travel chaos?