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Russia Investigation; Wounded U.S. Airman Honored at ESPYs; Venus Williams Chasing History. Aired 2-2:30a ET

Aired July 15, 2017 - 02:00   ET




NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): From Paris straight to New Jersey. President Trump is back in the U.S. amid new revelations about his son's meeting with a Russian lawyer.

And at the Wimbledon women's finals, Venus Williams chases another dramatic career record.

Plus: he survived severe injuries in Afghanistan and, this week, a new honor for Master Sgt. Israel Del Toro. We'll have his moving story.

These stories all ahead here live from Atlanta. I'm Natalie Allen and this is CNN NEWSROOM.


ALLEN: U.S. President Donald Trump returned home to the United States on Friday after a whirlwind trip to Paris for Bastille Day. But, in his absence, the political firestorm over Russian election meddling grew even larger.

At the epicenter, that controversial June 2016 meeting with the president's oldest son and a Russian lawyer, who supposedly had dirt on Hillary Clinton. It turns out twice as many people were at that meeting than previously disclosed. Here's the latest now from CNN's Dianne Gallagher.


DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This man, a Russian-American lobbyist, who one senator has accused of being in Soviet counterintelligence, has been thrust into the center of the Russia investigation.

Rinat Akhmetshin now tells the Associated Press and other outlets he, too, was in the controversial meeting with the president's son at Trump Tower in June of 2016.

Until now, Donald Trump Jr. had said the only people in the meeting were the Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya, the president's son- in-law and presidential adviser Jared Kushner and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX HOST: So, as far as you know, as far as this incident is concerned, this is all of it?

DONALD TRUMP JR., SON OF PRESIDENT TRUMP: This is everything. This is everything.

GALLAGHER: But tonight CNN has learned as many as eight people were in the room, including Akhmetshin, a translator, a representative of the Russian family that initiated the meeting and Rob Goldstone, the music publicist who set it all up.

In one of the e-mails released by Don Jr., Goldstone writes to him, quote, "I will send the names of the two people meeting with you for security when I have them later today."

No names were included in the released e-mails in which Goldstone promised, quote, "some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father."

Akhmetshin is a Russian-American registered lobbyist for his Veselnitskaya's organization focused on overturning an American law that sanctions human rights abusers in Russia, according to lobbying records.

In an April letter to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley described Akhmetshin as a Russian immigrant who, quote, "been acting as an unregistered agent for interests and apparently has ties to Russian intelligence."

Akhmetshin denied any of those ties to "The Washington Post," saying: "I never worked as a Russian government. I served as a soldier for two years. At no time have I ever worked for Russian government or any of its agencies. I was not an intelligence officer, never."

The new disclosure represents yet another version of who was in the room and adds to a growing list of questions about why the story keeps changing. Sources close to Kushner's legal team tell CNN his lawyers and White House aides started coming up with a strategy about how to manage the disclosures of the e-mails back in late June.

Kushner amended his security clearance to include the Trump Tower meeting after his team discovered the e-mails preparing for his congressional testimony. President Trump maintains he did not know about the meeting until just before his son released the e-mails and continues to defend him.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As far as my son is concerned, my son is a wonderful young man. I think from a practical standpoint, most people would have taken that meeting.

GALLAGHER: But a White House official tells CNN the top advisers know it's not good that the story keeps changing -- Dianne Gallagher, CNN, Washington.


ALLEN: While the president's own family has been caught up in this controversy, Mr. Trump was apparently kept in the dark. Here's what his attorney told CNN.


JAY SEKULOW, ATTORNEY FOR U.S. PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: So I think we're trying -- the meeting was not an issue until what?

E-mails were released. Here's the legal issue.

What law was violated by that meeting?

And your experts have said it, too: nothing. And at the end of the day, that's what this is about.



ALLEN: Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, joins us now from Charlottesville, Virginia.

Larry, thank you for joining us. This is an issue that seems to keep evolving.

Now that we know that a Russian lobbyist was in that now infamous or not infamous meeting, why would the Trump team lie about it?

Who was there?

His lieutenants even praised Donald Trump Jr. for his transparency this week when now we know he wasn't being transparent. He was covering up.

LARRY SABATO, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: He certainly was. And I think --


SABATO: -- the underlying premise was they hoped this would never be discovered.

And, of course, the irony is Donald Trump Jr.'s brother-in-law, Jared Kushner, is really the source of all of this since he had to update his papers for security clearance.

Look. This violates the basic rule of scandals that we've talked about really since the beginning of the Trump administration. Drip, drip, drip. Dribble, dribble, dribble. That's what you always avoid.

You try to get it all out as quickly as possible and actually be transparent because, if you aren't, you're going to pay for it, just like Donald Trump Jr. and the Trump administration are paying for this now. ALLEN: David Gergen, who has worked for Republican and Democrat White Houses, said this could be the most incompetent cover-up in history.

So why, after many months in office and seeing how relentless the news media is to get to the truth, why wouldn't the Trump team think, well, let's get ahead of this, let's be transparent, let's try things differently?

SABATO: Well, first, David Gergen is absolutely correct. This is incredibly incompetent.

Look, why isn't it happening?

Because I don't think there is anybody in the White House, maybe even his family members, who can really talk turkey to President Trump. No one wants to give him bad news and, when they do, he ignores it.

Sometimes apparently they have sat him down and explained the facts of life as it applies to his administration, to Washington and the scandal. But either he's not interested in listening or he listens and then, at first opportunity, changes course.

So I don't know what you do about that. You can change lots of things in the White House but you can't change the person in the Oval Office.

ALLEN: Now though, that this president has lawyers speaking out for him and trying to explain this, when you somehow wonder if Sekulow knows all the facts, trying to explain away this meeting and the mishaps and the missteps surrounding it with his lawyers now beefing up around him due to the Mueller investigation, one would think maybe they could have an impact with this president.

SABATO: Again, the report is, at least, maybe it's true, maybe it isn't. But the report is that the lawyers also can't contain the president. They do, as is their legal responsibility, they outline the facts for the president. They recommend actions.

They think he's accepted those recommendations. And then it will be an hour or two or a day or a week or it will show up on Twitter that, in fact, he's reversed course.

ALLEN: And what of Jared Kushner, his son-in-law, his adviser and some saying that his security clearance should be revoked after he for some reason forgot to mention this meeting and another on the forms he had to fill out?

SABATO: Well, apparently the president is effectively the only person who can revoke that security clearance. And I don't think that's going to happen.

ALLEN: No, I don't think so.

SABATO: Lot of different reasons. But it will continue to be an issue simply because Trump will not revoke it. There are many people, mainly Democrats but now some Republicans seem to be having questions about whether Kushner should have that security clearance. ALLEN: Larry Sabato, thank you.

SABATO: Thanks, Natalie.


ALLEN: A controversial case in the U.K. is raising questions about quality of life, government overreach and the rights of parents when it comes to their children. At the center of it all, a terminally ill child named Charlie Gard.

The judge has ruled a U.S. physician can examine the baby next week. That is a possible breakthrough for his parents. Our Erin McLaughlin is in London with the story.


ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Eleven-month old Charlie Gard lies in a London hospital. He can't move his arms or his legs. He can't breathe on his own. His brain damaged, doctors say.

Charlie has an extremely rare and fatal genetic disease called mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome. In June, the U.K.'s Supreme Court cited the hospital caring for Charlie and ruled experimental treatment is futile. It's in Charlie's best interest to die. A heartbreaking decision and a ruling his parents reject.

CONNIE YATES, CHARLIE GARD'S MOTHER: He's our flesh and blood. We feel that it should be our right as parents to decide to give him a chance at life.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): Now the judge has agreed to hear new evidence that experimental treatment could help.

A key question is Charlie's brain damage reversible?

Because without that, what sort of life could Charlie lead?

MCLAUGHLIN: A New York-based medical expert testified that new research shows with treatment, there is a small but significant chance of improvement in Charlie's brain function.

And so in light of this new research, the judge has asked all sides, the experts, the hospital, the parents to get together to try and reach a consensus on what's best for Charlie.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): It's a case that sparked international interest. The tweets from Pope Francis and President Trump, a powerful U.S.-based anti-abortion organization and a controversial reverend now working with Charlie's parents.

REVEREND PATRICK MAHONEY, DIRECTOR OF THE CHRISTIAN DEFENSE COALITION: The help of putting a campaign together, getting petitions. We're in constant contact with the White House.

MCLAUGHLIN: Things at times have become heated. Anonymous threats made against the hospital and the judiciary. But the judge in this case insists he will not be swayed by tweets. He wants to see new and concrete evidence Charlie's life can improve. Otherwise, the original ruling stands -- Erin McLaughlin, CNN, London.


ALLEN: And we'll have more news right after this.






RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN, PRESIDENT OF TURKEY (through translator): They are asking how many people are dismissed from work, how their needs will be met from now on. Let them work in the private sector.

Why should we care?

Will we think about them?

Let them work in the private sector.

Will the state look after them?

The state looked after them and they betrayed the state.


ALLEN: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaking there about a purge of government workers. Turkey is marking one year since a failed coup to end his rule. There are reports that more than 7,000 police, academics and civil servants have just been dismissed.

Well, one year later a state of emergency remains in Turkey and as we've just heard, the crackdown against perceived government opponents has not let up. Some 150,000 people have been detained. They include teachers, judges and soldiers.

About one-third of them, some 50,000, have been arrested and at least 179 media outlets have been shut down. That is since the coup of July 2016.

Events to mark the failed coup anniversary are planned across Turkey. A national unity march is set for later in Istanbul, despite the country's political division. And our Gul Tuysuz now has the story of a mother who defied soldiers when they were trying to overthrow the president last year.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) GUL TUYSUZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Few people knew Sophia Bayat (ph) before this moment. She led a seemingly quiet and simple life. But this conservative mother of two surprised even herself.

During the coup attempt last year when she stood up to tanks and soldiers, she said she made a split-second decision that night when she turned on the TV, that she would go out to confront the soldiers trying to topple the government of Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

She says, as a woman, she thought she might be able to stop the soldiers and appeal to their conscience.

"But they only had anger and violence in return," she tells us.

She says when she wouldn't leave, they threatened to shoot her.

"I told them I wasn't afraid of them," she says. "They roughed me up but I kept saying, 'I am not afraid,' and that they could shoot me if they wanted to."

When soldiers begin firing on the crowd, Bayat (ph) says she was shot in the leg while trying to carry away the wounded. A strong supporter of Turkey's president, Bayat (ph) is glad to see those who she believes are responsible for the coup behind bars.

And while many in Turkey are united behind Turkey's president, for others, the post-coup Turkey has become an intolerably oppressive place.

TUYSUZ: Since the coup attempt, the government has declared a state of emergency.


TUYSUZ: More than 100,000 people have been detained or arrested. Tens of thousands of workers, including civil servants, teachers and journalists have been dismissed from their jobs.

Critics of the government say that the post-coup crackdown has turned into a cleansing of all voices of dissent, with both the coup and the crackdown leaving scars on an already fractured nation -- Gul Tuysuz, CNN, Istanbul.


ALLEN: Our next story is from California. There was a poignant moment at this week's ESPY Awards in Los Angeles. The event typically brings together the world's greatest pro athletes.

But it was this U.S. service member who received a standing ovation. United States Air Force Master Sgt. Israel Del Toro accepted the Pat Tillman Award for service. Del Toro's vehicle rolled over a roadside bomb in Afghanistan in 2005. Third-degree burns covered more than 80 percent of his body and doctors gave him only a slim chance of survival. But Del Toro fought through. In 2010, he became the first fully

disabled airman to reenlist in the Air Force. Here's what he said after accepting his award.


MASTER SGT. ISRAEL DEL TORO, USAF, PAT TILLMAN AWARD RECIPIENT: Receiving this reward is still strange for me. I don't see myself as someone special. I just did what any other service member would do, make things better for the guys that follow them and to take care of teammates.


ALLEN: Del Toro also spoke with CNN's Jake Tapper about the significance of the award.


DEL TORO: It was strange. It really was, because, you know, like I said in my speech and I don't see myself as anyone special, you know, I was just doing my job.

So to be honored especially by you know, Marie Tillman of the Tillman Foundation for this award is just -- it was an amazing feeling because he's someone -- Pat Tillman was someone I admired, you know. He was like players of old that gave up his career to go serve his country, you know, the true meaning of search for self.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Yes, it kind of reminds you of like, how people in World War II would leave their very famous careers at home and then go fight, I agree.

In 2012, you talked to CNN about the moment that your son saw you after the blast. You worried that he would be afraid of you. Thankfully, that didn't happen.

It has been almost 12 years since that horrific ambush.

What's been the hardest part of your recovery?

DEL TORO: You know, I think the hardest part is maybe I can't really play baseball with my son like I wanted to. I was a big baseball player and yes, I could do what I can with him, but it just -- it sucks I can't really play catch, you know, especially everyone thinks of Father's Day.

Father's Day is when you're out in the backyard playing catch with your dad and you know, I really can't do that. He throws it back at me but throws it at my feet so I can stop and then I pick it up and throw it back at him. But you know, I think that's probably the hardest part out of anything of you know, since my injury.

TAPPER: I'm sure that game of catch is pretty special, even if it's not what you want it to be. You have re-enlisted and you're now serving as an air force training instructor. What is the message that's most important to you to get across to your

fellow airmen whom you now mentor?

DEL TORO: Well, you know, my thing is -- you know, don't let little things bug you. You know, as long as you stay positive and clear in your head, you can accomplish anything, you can overcome any obstacles no matter how hard it may seem. Y

You know, just find that spark, find that fire. Like you know, everyone has a different one. Mine was my son. You know, he was my fire, he was my spirit. So that's what I try and tell -- you know, all my airmen, all the cadets there at the Air Force Academy that -- you know, I know it may -- it may suck right now, but just stay positive and you'll get through it.

TAPPER: You were honored at the ESPYs, of course, because of your connection not only to service but to sports. Athletics has become a huge part of your life. Tell us about that.

DEL TORO: Yes, when I was going through my recovery, most of us are very --you know, guys that get wounded, you know, most of us are athletic and we sometimes think we can't play sports anymore. And that's what I thought also, but when they're introducing me to the adaptive sports out there at (INAUDIBLE) at the center of the -- yes -- CFI --

TAPPER: Whatever it is, it's OK.

DEL TORO: There you go, Center for the Intrepid. Sorry, you get blown up, you forget things, you know.

TAPPER: I understand.

DEL TORO: But -- and they start introducing you to these things, these new sports. I never did track and field, so they said, you can do this, you know, you can do shooting, sitting volleyball, you know --


DEL TORO: -- air rifle, precision shooting.

And I'm thinking, how am I going to do air rifle and precision shooting?

You know, if you look at my hands, I'm like -- I'm missing a couple fingers. They said, no, it gets all adapted. And you start feeling like yourself again. And it was, it's a big part of my recovery to get back out there, face the world and start living my life with my family.


ALLEN: Israel Del Toro, what an inspiration.

After a quick break, Venus Williams takes Centre Court at Wimbledon. What makes this final so special for her after such a decorated career?

We'll tell you next.




ALLEN: For 20 years after her debut at the All England Club -- 20 years, can you believe that?

Venus Williams is back at Wimbledon and it should come as no surprise. She will be playing for the coveted grand slam title in just a few hours from now. She will have to get through a rising star, though, in Garbine Muguruza. But as our Christina Macfarlane reports, Venus is chasing history.


CHRISTINA MACFARLANE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At 37, Venus Williams is back on top. Striding into Centre Court Saturday, hoping for her sixth Wimbledon singles title, she's poised to become the oldest women's Grand Slam champion in the open era, ready to silence the skeptics who mused that she would be too old to win again.

VENUS WILLIAMS, TENNIS PRO: I feel quite capable, to be honest, and powerful. I have an opportunity to bank on experience in having dealt with those sort of pressures before.

MACFARLANE (voice-over): Perhaps it's that experience that has allowed Williams stay focused on her game, despite considerable emotional turmoil heading into the tournament.

In June, Williams was involved in a tragic car accident in Florida that led to the death of 78-year-old Jerome Barson. His family, filing a wrongful death lawsuit against the tennis champion.

The initial police report found Williams at fault for the accident but surveillance video caused police to revise their findings, ruling instead that Williams acted lawfully.

Williams shared her sadness about the crash on her official Facebook page.

"I'm devastated and heartbroken by this accident. My heartfelt condolences go out to the family and friends of Jerome Barson and I continue to keep them in my thoughts and prayers."

When asked about the incident following her first round Wimbledon win, she broke down.

Williams regained her composure, channeling her energy onto the court, beating much younger opponents, three of whom were born the year she debuted at Wimbledon.

It's not the first time Williams has had to transcend pain to compete. After years of battling debilitating fatigue that affected her ability to play at the elite level, Williams was diagnosed with the autoimmune disease Sjogren's syndrome in 2011. Many thought it meant the end of her tennis career.

But Williams vowed to do whatever it took to return to the game.

WILLIAMS: When you don't feel well and things are taken away from you, it's hard to stay positive. But for me, it's not an option to get negative or to feel sorry for myself.

MACFARLANE: Defying the odds, Williams reached the finals in two Grand Slam tournaments this year for the first time since 2003, losing to sister, Serena, in the Australian Open in January.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: On the court, we're mortal enemies. But the second we shake hands, it's -- we're best friends again and --

MACFARLANE: Serena's bombshell announcement --


MACFARLANE: -- that she won the match while expecting meant there wouldn't be a chance for a rematch between the sisters at Wimbledon.

WILLIAMS: I just wish she was here and I was like, I wish could do this for me. I was like, no, this time you do it for yourself.

MACFARLANE: Serena, due to give birth in late August-early September, will have to cheer her big sister on from afar, joining millions who tune in to see whether 37-year-old Venus Williams will become a champion once again.


ALLEN: And we'll know later today if she does.

Some interesting news, though, to tell you about Wimbledon this year. The winners that pay out will be down a bit by about $100,000 compared to last year.

The reason?

It's all due to exchange rates after the 2016 Brexit vote sent the British pound plummeting. But the top prize of $2.8 million will still be handed out to someone.


ALLEN: Thanks for watching us and we'll be right back with our top stories.