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The President's Job Approval Rating Dropped To Lowest; Two Republican Senators Would Like To Hear Donald Trump Jr. Go Under Oath And Give His Version Of The Events; Trump Administration Has Repeatedly Said That The Donald Trump Jr. Meeting Was Legal And A Part Of Opposition Research; Majority Leader Mitch Mcconnell Has Pushed Back A Vote On The Bill Scheduled For This Week. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired July 16, 2017 - 16:00   ET



[16:00:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: -- we thought was with the Russian government was official campaign business?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not involved with the discussions on the lawyers on who paid what entity, and I certainly don't represent Donald Trump Jr.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: Also, calls to hear testimony from everyone at that 2016 meeting with Russians.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We need to get to the bottom of this. But the only way that we are going to do it is to talk not just to Donald Trump Jr. who has offered to cooperate for which I give him credit, but to everyone who is at that meeting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm trying to give all these people the benefit of the doubt, but it is very bothersome to me, that Jared Kushner has forgotten not once, not twice, but three times to put down this information.

WHITFIELD: And health care stalled. The vote delayed so Senator John McCain can recover from an unexpected surgery.

CNN NEWSROOM starts now.


WHITFIELD: Hello again, everyone. And welcome on this Sunday. Thanks so much for being with me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

A brand new poll out today shows the Trump administration is struggling with voters. The President's job approval rating is at just 36 percent according to a new ABC News/"Washington Post" poll. That's the lowest six month rating of any U.S. President in 70 years. The President responding today from his private golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey tweeting the poll numbers aren't that bad, and questioning their reliability. He also tweeted a fresh defense of his son's meeting with the Russian

lawyer during the 2016 campaign saying quote "Hillary Clinton can illegally get the questions to the debate and delete 33,000 emails, but my son, Don, is being scorned by the fake news media.

The President's attorney made the rounds on all of the networks today insisting nothing illegal happened.


JAY SUKULOV, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S MEETING: The President was not engaged in this, was not aware of it as far as other meetings go. But look the President has said that he was not aware of it, wasn't involved in it, and there's been no indication otherwise.

The special counsel that was based on evidence that was illegally leaked. That to me raises questions about the whole spectrum what's going on here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you are saying the when the President says witch hunt he is talking about Robert Mueller's special counsel investigation. That is part of this so called witch hunt?

SUKULOV: Yes. When he calls it a witch hunt, when he talks about the scope and nature of the investigation, he is concerned about the nature of what's going on here.


WHITFIELD: CNN's Boris Sanchez is in New Jersey where the President continues to spend this weekend.

So Boris, the President might think this is quote "a witch hunt" but lawmakers say it's likely far from over. Why?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, first and foremost, you have at least three - at least three different investigations into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians going back to about this time last year. It is going to take a long time - forgive me, Fred -- it's going to take a long time not only to gather all the documents necessary to go through with these investigations, but also to get people to testify.

And as you heard earlier, there are new calls for everyone that was in that meeting with Donald Trump Jr. in Trump tower last June, to stand before intelligence committees and give their versions of events under oath. You had lawmakers on both sides just this morning on "STATE OF THE UNION." Republican senator Susan Collins and Democrat Mark Warner both saying they would like to hear Donald Trump Jr. go under oath and give his version of the events. Here is more of what they said.


SEN. MARK WARNER (D), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I would like to hear from all of these individuals whether we will be able to gets the Russian nationals to come over and testify is an open question, with those people that the committee has jurisdiction over, the Americans, I sure want to talk to all of them.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: We should also ask for all documents, not just the emails that have been released, but all the documents that are related to any context, the bad President Trump's campaign had with the Russian government or its emissaries.


SANCHEZ: Now, specifically about that meeting with Donald Trump Jr. and Russian lobbyist and Russian attorney, Fred, some of the new polling out there from ABC and the "Washington Post" is really revealing, because we heard the President and his surrogates say that anyone would take a meeting in the heat of the campaign to try to get opposition research on their opponent. It doesn't seem like the American people agree with that. Some 63 percent say the meetings between Donald Trump Jr. and those Russians in Trump tower was inappropriate. Only 23 percent say that meeting was appropriate.

Keep in mind the President is finishing out the weekend here in New Jersey before heading back to Washington, D.C., taking part in several events to try to highlight made in America week, which is set to bring attention to not only products made here in the United States, also companies that invest in the American worker. Likely this week will be overshadowed by more details to come in this Russian investigation, Fred.

[16:05:09] WHITFIELD: All right. Boris Sanchez, thank you so much for that.

So the Trump administration has repeatedly said that the Donald Trump Jr. meeting was legal and a part of opposition research. So when one of the President's lawyers Jay Sukulov appeared on CNN's state of the union, Jake Tapper asked about the ethical question surrounding the meeting. Here's part of that interview.


SUKULOV: The legality was the meeting and what took place, legal or not, we, of course, as almost every legal expert says it's not illegal. And then you are trying to put a moral, ethical aspect to it. And it's easy to do that in 20/20 hindsight. But not when you are in the middle of a campaign. And again, I'm not a campaign lawyer, I wasn't the campaign lawyer. But meetings were taking place as Donald Trump Jr. said, 15, 20 minutes apart, this one went even shorter. So I think everybody that is looking backwards and say, would have, should have, could have. And Donald Trump Jr. said he would have done some things differently. But to go back a year later and say, this is what should have happened, when the meeting itself was 20 minutes and a series of meetings that took place for days and days and months, I think -- I don't think that's fair to Donald Trump Jr., to Jared Kushner or to Manafort for that matter because no one was in a situation of that kind of campaigning in the middle of a Presidential election.

TAPPER: Donald Trump Jr. Was asked this week if he met with anyone else from Russia, this is his answer. Take a listen. DONALD TRUMP JR., PRESIDENT TRUMP'S SON: I probably would met with

other people from Russia, and certainly not in the context of actual a formalized meeting or anything like that, because why would I?

TAPPER: Don Junior saying, I probably met with other people from Russia, what other meetings or communications with Russians have not been disclosed yet?

SUKULOV: None that I know of. But I represent the President of the United States. But Donald Trump Jr. said not in the context of formal meetings. He said he may have met with Russian people. A lot of people meet with Russian people. That's not unusual.

TAPPER: He also said -- back in March, he said that there were no meetings at all in the auspices of the campaign, now we know that's not true.

SUKULOV: Yes. And you know, I thought about that, because you and I talked about that the other day on your weekday broadcast. I thought about that. And again, I go back to and look at, Jake, in the context of a meeting, and the meetings in the series of meetings that were taking place during the campaigns. There were dozens of meetings every day. Hundreds of meetings every week. This meeting lasted what, they are saying 15 minutes?

It was short, nothing was produced. It never went any further. And so it wasn't ever discussed again. But let me say one thing that's important here. The President, and this has been (INAUDIBLE). He was not aware of the meeting. He did not attend the meeting. So I want to be clear on that. But with regard to Donald Trump Jr. did say he may have met with other Russian people, but not in the context of a formal meeting.

TAPPER: The Trump campaign paid $50,000 to Donald Jr.'s Trump's lawyer. They paid this a day after one of the CNN reporters that was working on the story called to say what can you tell us about this meeting? Is that an acknowledgement that the meeting with the Russian lawyer that he thought was with the Russian government was official campaign business? The fact that the Trump campaign paid 50 grand to Trump Jr.'s attorney?

SUKULOV: Well, I'm not involved in the discussions with the lawyers on who paid what entity. And I certainly don't represent Donald Trump Jr. But look, in a situation like this if this is not an unusual situation where the individual that's being questioned or subject to questioning, Donald Trump Jr., retains council. It involved in an incident that involved in email campaign in a meeting when he was working, doing work for the campaign. So that to me is not an unusual scenario or unusual setup at all.


WHITFIELD: All right. Joining me now to discuss all of this, Richard Painter, top ethics lawyer during President George W. Bush's administration. Also Mike Shields, CNN political commentator and former chief of staff to current White House chief of staff Reince Priebus. Good to see both of you.


WHITFIELD: All right. So Richard, you first. You know, how are nepotism laws being challenged here with all of this?

RICHARD PAINTER, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE ETHICS LAWYER UNDER GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, we certainly have had nepotism with the appointment of Jared Kushner and Ivanka. I think that unfortunately, the President's family to this situation has clouded his judgment in dealing with it. This is clearly collaboration with the Russians. I mean, that's set forth in the email to Donald Trump Jr. And then Jared Kushner was brought into this. And they attended the meeting.

And I don't think they can get around this meeting being collaboration. I mean, that is what's documented in the emails and that's why the campaign is reimbursing Donald Trump Jr.'s legal costs. But it's very unfortunate to have the President's family tied up into this. And then he is tweeting this morning, irrationally once again which isn't making this any better.

This administration needs to stop lying about the contact with the Russians. There had been repeated lies going all the way back to Michael Flynn's lies about his (INAUDIBLE) with the Russians of receiving money from the Russians. They need to get the facts on the table. Tell the American people what's going on. Tell Congress what's going on. Let this investigation take its course, so we can get about the business of this country. But this drip, drip, drip, there's a new revelation every week or two is destroying this administration and destroying the credibility of Congress, when Congress seems to be incapable of doing anything about it.

[16:10:45] WHITFIELD: And Mike, then what does it say in your view, when you have the attorney for the President going on all the talk shows today, and then very clearly separating himself, representation of Donald Trump Jr. to un-representing the President of the United States?

SHIELDS: Well, lucky because he is a lawyer. He can only talk about his client. And I think Donald Trump Jr. has an attorney, and the campaign has to hire attorneys, everyone involved in this, at some point. If you are going to be questioned or think someone is going to ask you for documents, you have to get legal counsel. And so, some of that is pretty routine, I don't think that's unusual. And we have seen that in the past administrations in both parties that once you heard that there's going to be a special council, there is an investigation, that people have to go out and hire attorneys to sort of prepare themselves and make sure that they are complying with things that are being asked of them, both from the special counsel and from the congressional committees.

And I think, you know, the important thing to remind everybody is, just because someone is paying a lawyer, doesn't mean they are guilty of anything. It doesn't mean anything's been proven. And you know, these investigations have been going on for months and months now. And we still haven't found any actual evidence of anyone doing anything illegal. And we have multiple people in Jared Kushner, Donald Trump, Jr. everybody saying, I will go testify in Congress and tell you everything I know.

And so I think we need to make sure as we are talking about all this, we are not jumping to conclusions and say this is clear evidence of anything, when we don't actually know what the investigations are showing, and that people are willing to testify. And we need to make sure we understand just because you are hiring a lawyer and paying a lawyer, doesn't mean you have done anything wrong because you hired a lawyer.

WHITFIELD: Overall, it is seemingly very concerning for a number of members of Congress, this is the Senate intelligence committee vice chair Mark Warner this morning talking to Jake Tapper.


WARNER: There seems to be a convenient pattern where all of the senior officials in the Trump campaign forget about their meetings with Russians, don't put it on their forms until evidence comes out, and then they have to amend. It's a little bit unbelievable that neither the son nor the son-in-law ever shared that information with their dad, the candidate.

I'm not sure why we take anyone in this senior level of the Trump administration at their word. That's why it's so important we are going to get a chance to question these individuals and try to actually nail down the truth.


WHITFIELD: And so, Richard, while this may be separate people, while we are talking about the President versus Donald trump Jr., you know, Jared Kushner, I mean, it all boils down to, you know, one consortium of a mess. So it's a real challenge for any lawyer representing any number of these players here.

PAINTER: Well, yes. And we do know that something has happened that it is illegal repeatedly. It is lying to the government. The False statement statute. They (INAUDIBLE) 1001. We have General Flynn lying at the government about contact for the Russians and money received from the Russians and from other government. We had the attorney general of the United States if testimony on his confirmation hearing. Then we had Jared Kushner repeatedly failing to disclose contacts with the Russians on his security clearance parts. These are not the types of things you forget about.

Russia's been in the news since this election. And now we have Donald Trump Jr. with two or three different stories about his own contacts with the Russians at this meeting. The administration has repeatedly lied about collusion with the Russians.

This is collusion. The lies have to stop. The lying is illegal in and of itself. So I don't want to hear people say nothing illegal has happened. It clearly has. And it's got to stop.

WHITFIELD: So to Mike, if it is a so called witch hunt, then why are there so many secrets and mysteries?

SHIELDS: Well, you know, I think Senator Warner is talking about how can someone forget something? He needs to go ask his colleague Claire McCaskill who categorically said she never met with the Russian ambassador. And then later on was discovered she did meet with the Russian ambassador. And then minority leader Nancy Pelosi in the House did the exact same thing. Has she met with Labrov? Yes, actually she has met with him.

And so, look. These things can be misremembered. I think they are paying a price for it right now for not remembering what they did. And now, it's all coming out. And so I don't think they would chose to handle it this way (INAUDIBLE).

[16:15:05] WHITFIELD: But Mike, a lot of forgots. I mean, we are talking not just about one instance, but you know, reportedly as we see things rides to the surface, I mean, it's one after another. And isn't that strange?

SHIELDS: I think it's all being covered and that's why they are going to testify. They will actually get to the truth. But just because someone doesn't remember something doesn't mean that they are not guilty of something. And I think that is one of the things we have to stop jumping to these conclusions and realizing that some of this is also a push back from them because they just see the incessant cover of this and the drip, drip, drip, without actually reaching a conclusion. And so, they are sort of, sometimes too swift to say, this isn't true, when they should maybe take a beat. Make sure that he got everything written down the campaign itself.

Let's go back to June of last year. This was not a sophisticated operation at this time. This meeting took place the same week that were changing out campaign managers. They clearly weren't vetting people properly. They weren't keeping notes of the meetings they were in. This was not a typical campaign. This was an outsider campaign, which by the way is why they won the primary and why they ended up winning the White House. It was a campaign driven by Donald Trump.


SHIELDS: He was a candidate and he was the person in-charge of the entire thing. And so, just didn't look like a typical campaign structure. And it makes a mistake which they acknowledge.

WHITFIELD: And if that latter part you just said he is in charge of the whole thing, then thereby, a lot more questions about how much did he know about this meeting, when he just said that he didn't know anything about it. At least the representation that he just learned about it a few days ago. But we will soon - maybe, you will soon find out a bit more about all of these unanswered questions.

Richard Painter, Mike Shields, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

All right, coming up, U.S. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell temporarily hitting pause on the health care bill. We will tell you why, next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:20:55] WHITFIELD: A critical week for the future of a new health care bill, but the revised GOP plan is running into a series of unexpected delays. Majority leader Mitch McConnell has pushed back a vote on the bill scheduled for this week, so that John McCain will have a chance to recover from eye surgery. The delay will also give McConnell extra time to find the needed votes to pass it, perhaps.

CNN has also just learned the congressional budget office will not release a much anticipated score on the bill tomorrow. It's unclear when that CBO score will be released. The GOP's plan to repeal and replace Obama care could be in trouble.

On this morning's talk shows, two Republican senators spoke about their opposition to the current bill.


COLLINS: We should not be making fundamental changes in a vital safety net program that's been on the books for 50 years. The Medicaid program, without having a single hearing to evaluate what the consequences are going to be. That doesn't mean that there aren't problems with the Medicaid program that need to be addressed, it doesn't mean that the ACA doesn't have serious flaws. It does. But that's why we need to go through the normal committee process and get input from people on both sides of the aisle. That's what would produce the kind of legislation that we need.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: We promise the voters for four elections, they elected us to repeal Obamacare, and now we are going to keep most of the taxes, keep the regs, keep the subsidy, and create a giant bailout super fund for the insurance companies. I just don't see it.


WHITFIELD: All right. Let's discuss this with our panel. Ben Ferguson is a CNN political commentator and Ellis Henican is a political analyst and a columnist for the "Metro" paper.

Good to see both of you, gentlemen.

All right. Ellis, let me begin with you. Susan Collins also said today, eight to ten Republican senators have serious concerns with this bill. If the GOP loses one more senator, the bill is dead, Ellis. So could this bill be saved?

ELLIS HENICAN, POLITICAL COLUMNIST: It could be saved I guess. I mean, they are all a little nervous right now, nobody wants to be the only one to kill it because Mitch McConnell will come down on them with swift brutality. But I think they all understand, this thing is a turkey. The senators don't like it. The people don't like it. There doesn't seem to be anybody really who defends it. I mean, I know people want to trash talk Obama some more. But nobody really thinks this makes anything better for the American people. I think it's inevitable that it is going to fail.

WHITFIELD: So Ben, Mitch McConnell, you know, he is delaying the vote on this bill. Want John McCain recovers. And the CBO score has also been delayed. So how does this help or hurt the process?

BEN FERGUSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, first, we knew this was going to be a tight vote from the very beginning because you knew that basically every Democrat in the Senate was going to be against it. You look at the Republican margin. It's a slim margin. It is a very slim margin. So the idea that this was somehow going to be a cake walk was never a reality. And for people to imply that somehow this is, you know, anything different than what it actually is.

It's a very tight vote. And it always was going to be a tight vote. But here is the thing, 11 percent of Americans said they want to keep Obama care and the latest "USA today" poll. Forty-two percent of Americans said they wanted to repeal or they wanted to replace it with significant changes in Obamacare, 44 percent said they wanted an entire and total repeal of Obamacare. So there has to be a change.

The American people, Republicans and Democrats are realizing that Obamacare is imploding. You look at -- just last week, two other states said they basically have no plans that they are going to be able to offer and most of their major cities. Most cities are already down to one single plan if they can even find one provider next year. So if you don't do it now, it's going to be a disaster by the fall. I think you are going to get the votes there. I understand why they delayed it. My thoughts by the way are with John McCain as he recovers from eye surgery and his family. He is a tough guy. You have to vote this tight. It makes good sense to delay until senator McCain comes back. And I said this personally, I wish him well.

[16:25:03] WHITFIELD: Yes. We're all wishing senator McCain well.

Just counter some your numbers though, Gallop poll though is saying, roughly six in ten Democrats and a third of independents strongly prefer Obamacare. Only 43 percent of Republicans strongly prefer the party's proposal.

FERGUSON: I mean, in the six in ten number is the one that stand out to me because 40 percent of Democrats are saying that they don't want Obamacare. That's a massive number.

WHITFIELD: But the majority say they do like it.

HENICAN: Hold on a second.


FERGUSON: Is what got Obama elected you could argue. Obamacare was the signature plan that Obama campaigned on. And now 40 percent --


(CROSSTALK) WHITFIELD: The majority of Republicans don't like the GOP plan. So I mean, -- you know, the bottom line is, you know, there is a consensus that there need to be some repairs done. But we are still in this juncture right now where there is very little agreement. Even Republicans are having a hard time getting everyone to support the plan right now. In fact, it was the subject of the White House. And its op-ed today calling the CBO report - again, there has been a delay in the relief, but now criticism of the CBO report saying that the methodology is fundamentally flawed.

So, you know, Ellis, how do these preemptive strikes kind of help or hurt a process?

HENICAN: Well, there's only one answer here, right. It is Republicans and Democrats that get together and improve Obamacare, right? Solve the problems that had been so hot under the color. Let's take them one by one and improve those realities of people on the ground. Because by and large, most elements of the program are hugely popular. You are not going to get rid of them, even Republicans won't do it. And until this thing finally crashes down and Republicans are frankly forced, because they don't want to do it, but forced into negotiating a plan that all Americans can live with, that's the answer. Does anyone doubt that?

FERGUSON: Here's the thing, though. Show me a Democrat that's genuinely been willing -- in the Senate. Let's just for a second -- even when Democrats had a much better standing with Barack Obama in the White House, they refused to deal with the problem --

HENICAN: How do you know?

FERGUSON: And there were more problems than Obamacare.

HENICAN: How do you know? You wouldn't start. You wouldn't let him in the room. No, you wouldn't let him in the room. Paul tried.

FERGUSON: Democrats refused to move on Obamacare to change anything to it because it was their signature bill. And Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid at the time didn't have any conversation --



WHITFIELD: It's hard to hear both of you because just a little over modulated. But I mean, but we are talking about, Ben, seven years in which an effort has been made on Capitol Hill, led mostly by Republicans. The repeal unsuccessfully and all that time in which to come up with something so that both Republicans perhaps and Democrats can agree on. But you know, here we go, you know, with seeing how this week unfolds, whether there's a plan that everyone maybe can agree on?

Ben, Ellis, thank you so much. Good to see you both.

All right. Up next, the Trump effect on the state level, why more governors are breaking with the administration and stepping up their own international outreach.


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN NEWSROOM SHOW HOST: All right, welcome back. As part of his America first pledge, President Trump turned that slogan into action by pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord. He has also abandoned the TPP trade deal and is threatening to do the same with NAFTA and other trade accords. These moves have spurred several governors to take on a more international profile.

Among them, Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson says his tour of Europe last month was to reassure business leaders there. Same with the Virginia governor, Terry McAuliffe, and the governors of Vermont and Nebraska have made multiple trips to Canada to talk about continuing trade between the countries.

So, to talk more about this, I want to bring back Ben and Ellis. You thought I was saying goodbye, brought you back, different topic though. All right, so Ben, you first, is this a big departure for governors and lawmakers too, but particularly governors to kind of out front on the international side.

BEN FERGUSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's not, yes, it's not. It's a smart move for many governors that are doing this. Lok, there are several governors that have been really proactive when it comes to going overseas and trying to do deals with different industries and businesses specifically to keep jobs in America or even bring manufacturing into this country.

Alabama for example and Mississippi were two that actually both of their governors have done a great job working with people like Nissan and Mercedes to bring massive plants to their state. And so I think what you're seeing is other governors are realizing that if they go around the world and meet with different people directly and have a direct conversation aligned that we're open for business in our state, it's good for their state and their constituents.

So, I think you would see this regardless of the TPP deal, how it plays out, governors are realizing they've got to be proactive and fight a bunch of other states to get people working in their states and smart move.

WHITFIELD: And Ellis to you, NAFTA has been a big talking point for the president. And he says that if he doesn't get, you know, changes favorable to the U.S. then he would withdraw. NAFTA, you know, has its supporters especially among states near the border with Canada and Mexico, so, how influential potentially could governors be?

ELLIS HENICAN, COLUMNIST, METRO PAPERS: A lot. And Ben is right. I mean it is smart for them and it flies right in the face of this harsh anti-trade rhetoric that we've gotten out of the White House, in fact, all the way back to the Trump campaign. The truth is we live in a global world.

[16:35:00] If you try to do things to stop it, it's going to end up being more expensive than trying to foster, promote it and encourage it and make sure that all the players get treated decently, you know. Technology is so much of the reason that all these jobs have disappeared in places like the manufacturing sector, but I got to tell you, we cannot put up a big wall around America and hope for the best thing. (INAUDIBLE) the governors are out there making that case.

WHITFIELD: So Ben, what about on climate change? You know, at least two different Republican governors plus several Democrats have pledge their support for the climate agreement. I mean, how can members of Congress or even governors buck the president's position.

FERGUSON: The governors are always fighting for press over their senators and congressmen and obviously Donald Trump and the White House. So any time a governor can say they support something which by the way is meaningless because a governor would have absolutely no say so or impact on these climate agreement.

WHITFIELD: But you don't see the tenor as being different this go around?

FERGUSON: No, I don't. I think it's governors who are trying their name in the headline for possibly either re-election or running for a bigger job and make themselves standout from the crowd. I don't blame them for that but for a governor to somehow, you know, to come out about a climate agreement that's international, they will have no bearing on it. It's not like any one of these meetings is going to say, hey, a governor in the United States or somebody in another country said they supported this.

It's completely meaningless. It's just trying to insert yourself into something where honestly you have no business being there and you have no bearing on the issue, but, you know what, good for you if you think that's what the constituents in your area want to hear and you think they're going to like it, respond to it, then knock yourself out.

WHITFIELD: So Ellis, the White House, you know, runs -- really taking a big risk by saying well, we need some of these governors, we need some of these members of Congress and it's to help push our agenda, hence health care through. Do they really want to run the risk of criticizing governors who are making an imprint on the international stage?

HENICAN: You're right, there is a little bit of a disconnect there. And you know what, the governments previously have not had a president like this who was thumbing his nose at some of these international deals. And he governors are saying hey, you know what, we don't sign on to it. In fact, in many cases, they really can pass their own environmental regs, have their own stricter standards.

FERGUSON: Sure, they can in their states but not internationally. They're not going to have a say though --

HENICAN: But, no. They're pushing back against the national policy that frankly most Americans don't agree with and has made us a kind of ridiculed in a lot of places around the world.

WHITFIELD: All right, we'll leave it there. Ellis Henican, Ben Ferguson, always fiery. Thank you so much. Appreciate it.

All right, we've got so much more straight ahead in the "Newsroom," but first, in Los Angeles, hundreds of at-risk youth look to one man to help them find the right path. His name is Harry Grammer and he is this week's CNN hero.


HARRY GRAMMER, CNN HERO: The bottom line is, everybody in this room including myself, we got a story to tell. And you're going to tell the world about who you are. I want to see what you have inside of you that wants to come out.


GRAMMER: We need to listen to our young people. We need to find out what it is that they're longing for, what they want.


WHITFIELD: And you can watch the story right now at and while you're there, nominate someone you think should be a 2017 CNN Hero.


WHITFIELD: Columbia University has settled a lawsuit with a male former student over an art project that portrays him as a rapist. A female classmate accused Paul Nungesser of sexually assaulting her in 2012. A university investigation later cleared him.

But his accuser gained nationwide recognition as "Mattress Girl" for photos of her carrying a mattress around on campus, a protest over what she calls Columbia's lack of action. These images were also the focus of her senior thesis.

Joining me now to discuss the case is CNN's Polo Sandoval and CNN legal analyst and criminal defense attorney Joey Jackson. So Polo, you first, give us the background here, what prompted Nungesser to file this lawsuit?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it was initially here a defamation lawsuit, Fred, and that's basically how we got here. Paul Nungesser suing the University of Columbia here in New York claiming that it allowed his fellow student together, Emma Sulkowicz, to able to call him or at least label him a serial rapist through this art project that you see here.

There's also a thesis carrying a mattress around the campus, leading up to her 2015 graduation, it was her way of protesting which she believed was a flawed way of handling some of these sexual assault cases on campus particularly the one she was bringing against her fellow student, where eventually though two concurrent investigation, one by Columbia University, another one by law enforcement.

Eventually, it resulted in no action against Nungesser. So as a result, he filed this defamation lawsuit, about four years after these initial allegations surfaced, Fred, where we have the settlement that's now been reached against Columbia University and Mr. Nunguesser.

WHITFIELD: And what's been the response thus far to the settlement?

SANDOVAL: We actually reached out to the young lady in the middle of this, Emma Sulkowicz. CNN did speak to her very briefly. She simply said that she has no comment at this time. As for Columbia University, they're not really disclosing the particulars on this settlement, but they released a fairly short statement. I want to read that for you here.

The university is saying that it, quote, recognizes that after the conclusion of the investigation, Paul's remaining time at Columbia became very difficult for him, and not what Columbia would want any of its students to experience. The rest of that statement also reiterated those findings by the Columbia University disciplinary panel, which is that in this case, Mr. Nunguesser was not responsible for these allegations.

WHITFIELD: All right, then

[16:45:00] Joey, you know, the lawyers of Nungesser, you know, claimed the university had violated his rights, the student's rights under title nine, the law which prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded schools like quote, abetting the woman's gender-based harassment. So, generally, how difficult is that to prove?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it was difficult to prove and in this particular case, of course the complaint was dismissed twice, OK? He moved forward under the theory that they were aiding and abetting her. She uses a senior thesis, the ability to put all the school on notice that he violated her even though he was cleared as Polo Sandoval noted, by law enforcement in addition to the school. And so he did not take likely to that.

A judge however said, you know, your claims are misplaced, then he never saw the light of day. We should let viewers know there was no jury trial. He didn't proceed with his lawyers to have a situation where there was a verdict ever rendered. The judge said you don't get that, because you raise no claim here.

Nonetheless, he said well, you know what, judge, we disagree with you, and we're going to take it to the next step which is the appellate division. That's the beauty of law. There are many layers. And the school said OK, stop, no. And you know, I should point out, this speaks to the broader issue of colleges throughout the country. There has to be of course, a sensitivity to investigating and pursuing and to determining whether these instances of violations and abuse of victims take place.

But there also needs to be the recognition that if someone's falsely accused there needs to be some sensitivity to that also, which is a timely discussion considering our current secretary of education is looking into just that. WHITFIELD: All right, Joey Jackson, Polo Sandoval, thank you so much.

Appreciate that. And we'll be right back.


WHITFIELD: Another teen has fallen victim to the stunning online trend that is urging young people to take their own lives most recently a report of 15-year-old Isaiah Gonzalez who was found lifeless by his father after an apparent suicide. This is just the latest tragedy that seems to be linked to the horrific Blue Whale Challenge. CNN's ___ N sat down with another family battling the heartbreak of sucide.


KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: She was young beautiful and playful. Her family wants to share the teen's story but asked us to conceal her identity.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A friendly girl who likes to make silly faces or how we say the puppy face when she wants something.

HARTUNG: She was a talented artist, talented enough to hide secrets in her paintings.

What's the story behind these paintings?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, these are paintings that she drew and were displayed at an art show at school. At first look you don't think anything of it, you just think of an abstract painting.

HARTUNG: But there were clues that even her brother didn't see. Not until the 16-year-old took her own life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you were to Google what a skeleton of a blue whale looks like, it has a tremendous resemblance.

HARTUNG: Blue whale is described as an online suicide game. It reportedly started in Russia two years ago and has been linked to teen suicides all over the world. The thing is, it's not clear if the game actually exists or whether it's an internet rumor that caught the attention of vulnerable children and teens.

Players are supposedly given 50 daily tasks by an anonymous administrator and must submit photo evidence to prove each task is complete. On the last day they're allegedly told to commit suicide.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Otherwise(ph), one of the pictures is from our roof and it's something called the game mask.

HARTUNG: Originally from Bulgaria, the family has been in the U.S. for 15 years, unaware of any communication the teenager had outside of the country if any.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And this is basically saying good-bye as well with the blue whale. HARTUNG: And this is in Russian?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is in Russian. It's not in Bulgarian, yes.

HARTUNG: Did you know that she knew Russian?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. We had no idea.

HARTUNG: While authorities aren't clear if the so called game is real. It's caught their attention. Warnings about blue whale circulate in parts of the country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I lost my sister to it or at least part of it. I would say by the looks of everything that we found, it's a major part of it. Hence, there needs to be awareness.

HARTUNG: Mental health experts say it's critical for parents and children to be aware of the internet's impact when it comes to teen suicide.

JANE PEARSON, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF MENTAL HEALTH SUICIDE RESEARCH: If you can imagine another trend may come up at any time, so instead of trying to catch every trend, a better approach might be to try to improve our social media literacy to help kids understand how to manage it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These children and these parents need to know. They need to know and watch.

HARTUNG: As law enforcement investigates the circumstances of the suicide, the family continues to search for evidence hoping their tragedy will prevent others from falling prey to blue whale.

How will you remember her?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Happy and as my little sister that I loved and I miss.


WHITFIELD: Oh, my gosh, so tragic and sad. So CNN's ___ is with me now. So, where does this investigation -- it has to be sizeable to go from here?

HARTUNG: Well, the teen suicide was originally ruled just that, a suicide by the county sheriff. But now the Georgia Bureau of Investigation has gotten involved and this could turn into a criminal investigation if they are able to find evidence that one of the so- called administrators assisted the teen in her suicide. Fred, that's the family's hope now.

WHITFIELD: And how do they go about getting that kind of evidence?

HARTUNG: So, if you're looking for evidence of communication, you would need the communication device, and in that case, that's the teen's cellphone. Now, the family has encountered really surprising difficulties trying to break into that phone even with the help of a professional data recovery service.

[16:55:00] Investigators now have possession of that phone. And as this investigation continues, the family just wants to raise awareness across the country for this, and we're seeing that effort across the country by other outlets. The Charleston police department this week put out an alert to parents about the game. I talked with a mental health professional in Baton Rouge who told me she has consulted with teens who have gotten involved in the game in high schools there or discussing it with their student --

WHITFIELD: Knowledge is power for so many families to be able to recognize and help and intervene hopefully. Thanks so much, Kaylee. Appreciate it.

All right, and thank you so much for being with me. I'm Fredericka Whitfield. We have so much more straight ahead in the "Newsroom" right after this.