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Turkey marks one year since attempt to oust Erdogan; At least eight people at controversial meeting in Trump Tower; Veteran attorney Ty Cobb joins Trump legal team; All-girls Afghan robotics team is in US for international competition. Aired 2-2:30a

Aired July 16, 2017 - 02:00   ET


NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Turkey waves the flag with throngs of people to mark the one-year anniversary of aborted coup.

The US president adds a high-powered Washington lawyer to its team as the Russia investigation twists and turns.

Plus, an all-girls robotics team from Afghanistan has arrived to the United States after President Trump intervened. We'll have their story.

Thanks for joining us. I'm Natalie Allen in Atlanta and this is CNN NEWSROOM.

Massive crowds have turned out across Turkey to mark one year since a failed coup attempt against Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Mr. Erdogan made appearances in Istanbul and Ankara and slammed those, he says, betrayed the country. In Ankara, he took aim at Fethullah Gulen, the US-based cleric, he says, was behind the coup.

Turkey has called on the US to extradite Gulen. And Saturday, Mr. Erdogan appeared to mock the cleric and his followers.


RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN, PRESIDENT OF TURKEY: Hey, Fethul (ph), is there anywhere you can safely go? Is there anything you haven't done to damage this nation? Is there any doors left that you haven't knocked at?

You have been allocated some land in Pennsylvania to you. Now, you are governing these traitors from there.


ALLEN: Rallies were also held in Istanbul to mark the failed coup. Our Arwa Damon has this report about how people are remembering the event and the crackdown that followed.


ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The bridge itself is absolutely packed. You can barely move up there. And people keep on arriving. Some of them carrying the photographs of those who died trying to stop the coup from taking place. Around 250 people lost their lives, standing up to the coup slaughters.

Turkish president's message throughout all of this has been that no one is going to divide this country. He's really been trying to rally the population around him.

But at the same time, this does remain a very polarized nation because there is growing concern about the direction that the country is going and from those who opposed the current president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

And they are very concerned about the post-coup crackdown where tens of thousands of people were jailed by their - accused of being directly involved or being members of the Gulenist movement. That is the movement that Turkey believes is behind - was behind the sordid coup attempt.

Additionally, around 150,000 government employees have lost their jobs. People that worked at ministries within the judiciary, journalists have also been jailed.

So, a lot of people, despite the show of force that we're seeing out on the streets on this day, do remain very concerned about what the future of their country is because, at this stage, no one knows exactly what is going to be happening next or what direction Turkey is going to take.

Arwa Damon, CNN, Istanbul.


ALLEN: Joining us to talk more about this anniversary of the coup in Turkey, James Jeffrey. He is the former ambassador to Iraq and to Turkey. Ambassador Jeffrey, thanks for being with us.


ALLEN: One year on, has President Erdogan cemented his power? He certainly has tightened his grip on the country. What do you think?

JEFFREY: He has cemented his power. He won narrowly a constitutional referendum that gives him much more power just in May. And he's moving forward on his agenda, which is a somewhat more authoritarian democracy, much more to his liking than the more pluralistic society that we've come to expect from Turkey.

ALLEN: Was that one of the reasons behind this coup because he had this desire to have so much power and to hold on to power there in Turkey?

JEFFREY: Indirectly, yes. But the coup was really not a coup by the military as an institution, but by an Islamic - essentially secret society within the military that had infiltrated it. Previously, had worked closely with Erdogan that felt threatened by him and decided to essentially upturn the applecart with something that had it succeeded would've turned the country into chaos. ALLEN: He certainly has tightened his grip on dissenters. He has taken this anniversary to purge more civilians and police officers from government.

Let's listen to him as he addresses the country on this one-year anniversary.


ERDOGAN: We know who is behind these terrorists. However, there is also the fact that if you do not combat and fight against these pieces, we cannot fight and overcome those who are manipulating them. Therefore, we're going to behead these traitors.


[02:05:20] ALLEN: A stern warning from President Erdogan there.

He has always blamed Fethullah Gulen, who lives in the US, for inciting this coup. Has that been proven?

JEFFREY: It hasn't been proven specifically that Fethullah Gulen gave the order. I and - not all, but many experts from the outside who are talking to independent analysts in Turkey believe that the Gulenist movement was behind it.

Typically, if a movement is behind something, the leader of that movement, particularly in the Middle East, knew all about it.

But again, there is evidence being gathered and there's an extradition request in, but no decision has been taken by the US authorities yet.

ALLEN: We value your time and your input. Former ambassador to Iraq and Turkey, James Jeffrey, thank you again.

JEFFREY: Thank you.

ALLEN: The Trump White House has added another high-powered lawyer to its legal defense team. Veteran Washington attorney Ty Cobb will help the administration navigate the ongoing probes into Russian election meddling.

Just days ago, it was revealed that the president's eldest son held a controversial meeting last year with a Russian lawyer on the pretext of obtaining damaging information about Hillary Clinton.

Details about that meeting keep changing, including how many people were there. It now appears at least eight people were present.

Earlier, I spoke with CNN legal analyst Paul Callan about the possible legal jeopardy facing the White House.


PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: There hasn't been a lot of evidence of an actual crime being committed, i.e. colluding with or conspiring with the Russians to actually tamper with the election by, say, breaking into a computer system.

But lying about who was at a meeting or how many people were at a meeting in connection with that investigation could be characterized as a cover-up.

If you lie to a federal investigatory authority, if you lie to a - at a congressional hearing, those are crimes. And I think that's where the danger lies as this goes forward with members of the Trump administration.

They may trip and fall and bumble into criminality by simply not being straight about precisely what happened.

ALLEN: Do you think that's why perhaps the Trump team has brought in Washington lawyer Ty Cobb to head up their responses and head up the response to the media because of all of this drip, drip, drip?

CALLAN: I have no doubt that that's why they're lawyering up and they are bringing in heavyweight lawyers who many of them have a lot of Washington experience.

The Trumps seem to be approaching this like it's some kind of a real estate business deal. And they may be accustomed to business being done in a certain way, but politics and governing are done in a very, very different way.

And when you get to this point where you have a federal investigation by a special counsel going on, you have to be very careful and very accurate in the statements you make.

And to date, we have seen nothing but inaccurate statements coming out of the Trump administration. I really find it to be shocking.


ALLEN: Well, one of the people at that meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and the Russian lawyer was a Russian-American lobbyist, who had once served in the Soviet military.

Our Ivan Watson has more on him now from Moscow.


IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Rinat Akhmetshin is one of at least eight people who was in the room at a meeting with Donald Trump Jr. in June of 2016, a meeting that came about after he was offered, in an email, help from the Russian government to help elect Donald Trump in the 2016 election.

So, what do we know about him? He was born in the Soviet Union. He served - he did his conscript service in the Soviet Red Army. He has been in the US for more than 20 years. Became a naturalized US citizen in 2009.

According to a document he submitted to a New York District Court in 2012, his business is strategic communications. In his own words, "Some of my clients are national governments or high-ranking officials in those governments."

Now, a letter from the Senate Judiciary Committee to the Department of Homeland Security asked for information "regarding Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian immigrant to the US, who has been accused of acting as an unregistered agent for Russian interests and apparently has ties to Russian intelligence."

More recently, Akhmetshin has denied any links to the Russian government or to Russian intelligence. And the Russian government, the Kremlin, has also denied knowledge of this man.

[02:10:00] And we know that he lobbied in the past, that he was linked to opposition groups working against the regime in the former Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan. We also know that he lobbied actively against the Magnitsky Act. That's US legislation that sanctions Russian entities or individuals implicated in human rights abuses or corruption.

We also know that in those efforts, he worked alongside a Russian lawyer named Natalia Veselnitskaya. She was one of the lawyers in the room with Donald Trump Jr. at that meeting in November of 2016.

Both of them have denied that they were in the meeting to try to help the Trump campaign. Veselnitskaya has told CNN she was not bringing kompromat, as Russians say, compromising material, even though that is what a British promoter specifically wrote about in his letter to Donald Trump Jr. in his email.

And Donald Trump Jr.'s response to that was, if it's what you say, I'll love it.

Ivan Watson, CNN, Moscow.


ALLEN: US senate leaders are delaying a key vote on a major Republican promise - that of repealing and replacing Obamacare.

The vote will be postponed until after Republican Senator John McCain recovers from surgery to remove a blood clot. Republicans need Mr. McCain's vote to even begin debate on the revised healthcare bill.

And all-girl robotics team from Afghanistan is now in the US, thanks to a last-minute intervention by President Trump. The girls' visas to enter the US had been denied twice before Mr. Trump stepped in to help.

They were greeted on Saturday by the US State Department and the Afghan ambassador to the United States. The team is in Washington to compete in an international robotics competition. They made their own robot in just two weeks.

The decision to allow the girls entry comes as President Trump is embroiled in controversy over his travel ban order, which restricts people from six predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States. Afghanistan is not one of the countries affected by the Trump ban.

Disney has unveiled the lead cast member for its live action film Aladdin. Relative newcomer Mena Massoud has been given the title role. The announcement comes just days after reports claimed Disney was having trouble finding a star for the film.

Moviegoers were transported to a whole new world when the animated version was released back in 1992. The live action remake of Aladdin is set to begin shooting next month in London.

Thanks for watching CNN NEWSROOM. "Marketplace Africa" is next. See you soon.