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Russia Investigation; Trump White House, North Korean Threat; Russia Cuts U.S. Diplomatic Staff In Response; U.S. VP Pence: Trump Will Sign "Very Soon"; Trump Silent On Moscow's Diplomatic Expulsions; Lawsuit: Fox News And White House Made Up Seth Rich Story; White House Denies Involvement In Seth Rich Story; Serena Williams Demands Equal Pay For Black Women. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired August 2, 2017 - 02:00   ET




JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello and welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm John Vause.

ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): And I'm Isha Sesay, live in Los Angeles, where it's just turned 11 o'clock on the West Coast. This is NEWSROOM L.A.

VAUSE: Well, the ever-changing story about Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with Russian lawyer leaked to the Kremlin last year changed again. First he said it was about adoption. Then he 'fessed up, saying he was promised dirt on Hillary Clinton.

SESAY: The president's attorney said Donald Trump had nothing to do with the misleading explanation but now a different story from the White House. CNN's Jeff Zeleny reports.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN SR. WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): New questions tonight for the White House over President Trump's hands-on role crafting an explanation of his son's Russia meeting during the heat of the 2016 election.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president weighed in, as any father would, based on the limited information that he had.

ZELENY (voice-over): The White House acknowledging for the first time the president helped write a statement about a meeting that his son, Donald Trump Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner and campaign chairman Paul Manafort had with the Russian lawyer and four others in Trump Tower.

Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, responding to "The Washington Post" report that said the president dictated that misleading statement.

SANDERS: He certainly didn't dictate but you know, he, like I said, he weighed in, offered suggestions like any father would do.

ZELENY (voice-over): But those words directly contradict the president's own lawyer, who insisted Mr. Trump didn't help write the statement, saying the meeting was about Russian adoption, but no mention of accepting dirt on Hillary Clinton's campaign.

JAY SEKULOW, ATTORNEY FOR U.S. PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I wasn't involved in the statement drafting at all, nor was the president. I'm assuming that was between Mr. Donald Trump Jr., between Don Jr. and his lawyer. I'm sure his lawyer was involved. That's how you do it.

ZELENY (voice-over): Attorney Jay Sekulow, who's representing the president in the Russia investigation, said it again and again last month on television. The president had no role.

SEKULOW: I do want to be clear that the president was not involved in the drafting of the statement and did not issue the statement. It came from Donald Trump Jr.

ZELENY (voice-over): The statement was drafted aboard Air Force One on July I think as the president flew back to Washington from the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, initially the meeting was described like this in a statement to "The New York Times."

"We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular. But it was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no followup.

Yet only days later, the real purpose of the meeting became clear, when Donald Trump Jr. released emails showing it was part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump. From officials trying to take down the Clinton campaign. The president's son replied, "If it's what you say, I love it."

Tonight, it's the latest case of conflicting signals as the White House tries to move beyond the cloud of the Russia investigations but the questions put the new White House press secretary back on defense.

SANDERS: The statement that was issued was true and there were no inaccuracies in the statement. I think what the bigger question is, everybody wants to try to make this some story about misleading. The only thing I see misleading is a year's worth of stories that have been fueling a false narrative about this Russia collusion and based off phony scandal, based on anonymous sources.

And I think that is, if we're going to talk about misleading, that's the only thing misleading I see in this entire process.

ZELENY (voice-over): Leading Republicans see it differently on Capitol Hill, where two investigations are underway into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), S.C.: I don't what role the president played, if any. Here's what I would suggest, that when you put out a misleading statement, it's going to be hard to convince people to stop looking into other things. ZELENY: Now that is Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, speaking what many Republicans here are saying that it erodes the credibility of the White House, all these changing stories on Russia, the president's lawyer saying that the president was not involved in crafting that statement; the White House press secretary saying he was involved in some respects, a different day, a different story.

But the White House now saying the president was involved, trying to deflect all of this, saying there's simply nothing to see here on the Russia investigation. Of course, that congressional investigation in both the House and the Senate as well as the special counsel will have the final word on all of that -- Jeff Zeleny, CNN, the White House.


VAUSE: Well, joining us now, CNN political commentators, Democratic strategist Dave Jacobson and Republican consultant, John Thomas.

Good see you both.

John, let's start with you. So here we go. The "Father Knows Best" defense. But you know, when I used to watch "Father Knows Best," Jim Anderson, he taught Betty, Bob and Kathy the difference between right and wrong, why it was not a good thing to lie and why you should release your tax returns.

In this case, did Donald Trump teach Junior how to shade the truth?



PHILLIPS: -- all the Trump family, they've run their real estate development company. It was a family operation. It was clear that they all kind of -- you know, it was one brain. I'm not surprised. In fact, the earlier explanation, earlier July, that the president wasn't involved in crafting a statement seemed strange to me, especially the way the president likes to try to control the message from his top-down --


VAUSE: That's the only thing that seemed strange to you?

THOMAS: But it -- so this revelation, the only thing that seems damning is that they changed their story. I don't think the fact that Donald Trump was involved in crafting the message with his son isn't any big deal.

SESAY: Dave, so just (INAUDIBLE) John, the White House saying there's nothing to see here, is that in itself is damning?

DAVE JACOBSON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It's totally disingenuous from what Trump's lawyer said to multiple media outlets. Look, it's not America first, it's Trump first. And I think this is a president, obviously loves nicknames.

We ought to really call him by a new nickname, which is Trump, the Donald Trump -- sorry, Donald the Devil. This is a guy who embraces political cannibalism. This is a guy who lies through his teeth repeatedly to the American people.

And that's why you're seeing this rift within the Republican Party. Today Lindsey Graham criticized the president for this obviously. And then you've got Jeff Flake, who put out this expose, talking about how we -- Republicans really shouldn't be doubling down on Donald Trump.

So I think you're going to see more of this in the weeks ahead.

VAUSE: Look, the question, though, John, whether or not he weighed in, that's debatable at this point. What was in his mind; how much did he know, we just don't know quite.

But if you look at the reporting from "The Washington Post," it was pretty clear that the president did not take the advice of those around him and did not take the advice of his lawyers or his communication team. He thinks that he knows better than everybody else and that's causing a lot of problems right now for the president.

PHILLIPS: That's the issue that's plagued his administration. He doesn't take advice well from his coms team. They've all been awash through. We'll see if he takes the advice of General Kelly.

But you're right. "The Washington Post" article said -- I believe it makes sense that his -- all of his team was saying you just got to come clean, just --


PHILLIPS: -- because eventually it's coming out because there are so many leaks. And that's what you should have done. You should have hung a lantern on the problem.

VAUSE: Did Reince Priebus leak this story?

PHILLIPS: I would -- look, I don't have it on good authority but it makes perfect sense, within 24 hours of him being fired, all of a sudden, somebody at a high level who happened to be privy of what happened here.

SESAY: Yes, again, I'm sure it will come out. There are no secrets in Washington these days.

But Dave, it also begs the question, the president's intervention in the situation, as reported by "The Washington Post," as to whether he truly understands the magnitude of the legal jeopardy he could potentially be facing here.

Does he get it?

JACOBSON: I don't think that him purely dictating the statement is necessarily breaking the law. But the question that Robert Mueller's going to investigate is the intent of potential corruption at the highest level of our government and he's going to tie this to the Comey firing and everything else related to the potential obstruction of justice. And I think this fans the flames. And I think that's what really hurts the president. I don't know that he understands it


PHILLIPS: And I don't think President Trump believes he's in any legal jeopardy. I think that is part of the problem because he looks at it, believing, well, I didn't collude with Russia. I would know so therefore I didn't do anything wrong. Now it's just a public relations fiasco. We got to clean that up.

JACOBSON: Optically, it begs the question why did you mislead the American public and not tell people about the so-called secret meeting with Vladimir Putin?

That's another that exacerbates this issue.

VAUSE: There's a whole lot of issues out there when it comes to credibility for the president. "Politico" obtained a transcript with (INAUDIBLE) Donald Trump did with "The Wall Street Journal" last week and the president talked about that much-criticized speech he delivered to the Boy Scouts. Some people say it was inappropriate. It was political.

But this is what the president told "The Journal."

"And I got a call from the head of the Boy Scouts, saying it was the greatest speech that was ever made to them and they were very thankful. So there was -- there was no mix."

VAUSE: The problem is that no one from the Scouts has actually said they made that call and in a statement to CNN, they told us, "The Chief Scout Executive's message to the Scouting community speaks for itself."

in other words, the criticism of Donald Trump's speech stands as it is.

John, who is the president talking to?


PHILLIPS: It could have been a donor to the Scouts. I feel like the president might be going like this when he says, well, somebody from the Scouts. But look, I believe somebody made the call, it just wasn't the head of the Scouts, especially because they such a bold step to rebuke him publicly.

JACOBSON: Here's the problem. Donald Trump's credibility has been flushed down the toilet. And that's a real issue for the American people because when something serious happens, when there's an act of war or we need to go to war or perhaps defend our allies abroad and he has to go before the cameras and make a compelling case to the American public, they're not going to believe him. That's the issue here.

SESAY: John, is that the case among Trump supporters or is this wishful thinking on the part of -- ?

PHILLIPS: No, it think there are so many daily back-and-forths between the media, between the Democrats and Trump --


PHILLIPS: -- it's all -- it's getting blurred. It's hard for us to keep up with it.

How is the average person...?

I think while the Democrats certainly are ingrained that the president can't be trusted, I don't think the base at this point cares or even is keeping up with it.




VAUSE: This is when the president was introducing John Kelly as his new chief of staff. Listen to this.


TRUMP: As you know the border was a tremendous problem and now close to 80 percent stoppage and even the president of Mexico called me. They said their southern border, very few people are coming because they know they're not going to get through our border, which is the ultimate compliment.


VAUSE: (INAUDIBLE) compliment indeed. But after those comments from Mr. Trump, the government of Mexico issued a very brief statement.

"President Enrique Pena Nieto has not been in recent communication by telephone with President Donald Trump."

And, John, if this was a one-off it probably wouldn't matter. But this is a trend which began before inauguration, when the story came that Trump wanted a military parade and they denied it. They said it wasn't going to happen.

And then there's the Freedom of Information Act, which said, yes, the Pentagon freaked out because Donald Trump wanted a military parade the day of inauguration. They lie about things they don't have to lie about.

PHILLIPS: Yes, it was the inauguration crowd size and things --

(CROSSTALK) PHILLIPS: -- pick and choose your battles.


PHILLIPS: What I just don't understand about that is Trump's right. Illegal immigration is --


VAUSE: -- it's pathological, in a way, isn't it?

SESAY: And that being said, you used the word pathological, Dave, it brings it back to General Kelly. It's one thing to manage the Twitter. It's one thing to manage the scripted speeches and keeping the president reading from prompter but also cue (ph).

But then you have the off-the-cuff moments.

How do you guard against that?

JACOBSON: I don't think you can. That's the problem. And this was like helpful during the campaign. It worked during the campaign but it's something entirely different when you're governing. And this is the problem with Donald Trump.

The last time he met with Mexican president was at the G20 meeting, I believe, where right in front of the Mexican president he said that Mexico was going to pay for the border wall. This is emblematic of how he's eroding our relationship with our allies across the globe. It's a real issue.

PHILLIPS: There's no permanent fix to this solution. But I think if you're General Kelly, what you do is you try to minimize the distractions that do get the president off message and that means end the leaks. Create powers the chief of staff, yourself, so you control what gets to the flow, that gets to the president.

And every good chief does that to the president. Right now, before General Kelly, people would just go to Trump and he was putting out fires himself in 100 different places.


VAUSE: -- pretty specific.


SESAY: Absolutely. That is a very specific...

VAUSE: Is there another president --


PHILLIPS: -- president's going to be perfect. But if you limit the number of things --


SESAY: You mean don't have him speak to the press?

PHILLIPS: No. No, no. I'm not saying to limit his communication, I'm saying limit what the information, what gets to the president, you might be able to control the message.


JACOBSON: -- truth to what you're saying, John, but I also think there's no way to tame the beast. At the end of the day, he's going to read "The New York Times" in the morning at 6 o'clock. The chief of staff is not going be there and he's going to tweet. And no one's going to be able to control that.

VAUSE: (INAUDIBLE) basically the president continues to be distracted in a way by many of his own self-inflicted wounds. (INAUDIBLE) try and minimize that. But that is what is causing increasingly unhappiness within the Republican Party, among Republican lawmakers, Senator Jeff Flake, he's taking both to task. He's written this new book.

It's called, "The Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle."

He's one of the more critical lines.

"I've been sympathetic to this impulse to denial as one doesn't ever want to believe that the government of the United States has been made dysfunctional at the highest levels, especially by the actions of one's own party."

John, the message in the book to Republicans in Congress it seems to grow a spine and stand up to this president. This book is damning.

PHILLIPS: He also needs to sell books.


PHILLIPS: So he has say something that's going get us to talk about his book.


PHILLIPS: And there are members, you're right. There are members within the party that think that they should stand up to the president. I think as long as the president retains his base of support, the members are going to get in line behind the president.


SESAY: But is this going to take the scab off things and maybe encourage others to come out and start speaking -- ?


PHILLIPS: You would think that John McCain and Lindsey Graham and Susan Collins would have caused some of that to happen but --


JACOBSON: At the end of the day, like Jeff Flake knows that voters are going to hold Republicans' feet to the fire when it comes to 2018. He's up for reelection obviously. He's one of the most vulnerable Republicans in the upcoming election. And at the end of the day, like Republicans haven't delivered anything meaningful in terms of legislation, in terms of big victories through the Congress. And so at the end of the day, when you've got this continued chaos and this friction within the Republican Party, it hurts all these folks who are going to be on the ballot.

VAUSE: You say while Trump still has the support of his base, then the rest of the --


VAUSE: -- GOP will fall in line. Nixon has support of --


VAUSE: -- Republicans on the day he resigned from office.

So the base and the Republicans are not going to desert a Republican president. It's going to -- if something is going to be done about this president, I guess it's (INAUDIBLE) you, Dave, then the Republicans in Congress will have to lead (ph) first and not worry about what the --

JACOBSON: Right, there's 70 House seats that are going to be targeted by the DCCC and the Democrats this coming cycle. We only need to pick up 24 seats. And so all those folks increasingly, as we get close to the election, if the generic ballot test still has Democrats leading by double digits, they are going to get spooked and they're going to start moving away and creating distance from the president.

SESAY: John, you believe that?

PHILLIPS: Yes, Dave's analysis is right. I just think Trump will probably do better than people think in the midterms.

VAUSE: Very, very quickly, do you know who's happy right now, who is really, really happy?

Look, at this, Spicey, Sean Spicer, he is thrilled. He is grinning. (INAUDIBLE). There he is, oh, there's a happy man.


VAUSE: Because he doesn't work at the White House.

JACOBSON: He's not looking in the rearview mirror. No, thank you.

VAUSE: He could return as spokesman. (CROSSTALK)


SESAY: Maybe his will be the next book we're discussing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wouldn't be surprised about that.

VAUSE: OK, David, John, thank you.

SESAY: Yes, thank you.

VAUSE: Well, up next, facing an escalating threat from North Korea, the U.S. says it is willing to talk to Pyongyang but one U.S. senator is raising the possibility of all-out war.

SESAY: Plus a lawsuit alleges that FOX News fabricated the story with oversight from the White House. The Trump administration responds -- just ahead.






SESAY: Welcome back, everyone.

The White House says all options are on the table in dealing with North Korea's nuclear program. And that includes military action.

VAUSE: Senate Republican Lindsey Graham put that possibility in a very stark terms.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), S.C.: There will be a war with North Korea over their missile program if they continue to try to hit America with an ICBM.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every military expert says there is no good military option.

GRAHAM: They're wrong. There is a military option to destroy North Korea's program and North Korea itself. He's not going to allow President Trump the ability of this madman to have a missile to hit America. If there's going to be a war to stop him, it will be over there.

If thousands die, they're going to die over there and they're not going to die here. And he's told me that to my face.


VAUSE: Philip Yun joins us now from San Francisco. He's the executive director of the Plowshares Fund and a former advisor on North Korea to U.S. President Bill Clinton.

Philip, good to see you. Keep in mind the statement from Senator Lindsey Graham, that the president considering military options to destroy North Korea. A few hours after that the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, made a rare appearance in front of reporters and said this.


REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We do not seek a regime change. We do not seek the collapse of the regime. We do not seek an accelerated reunification of the peninsula. We do not seek an excuse to send our military north of the 38th Parallel.

And we're trying to convey to the North Koreans, we are not your enemy, we are not your threat. But you are presenting an unacceptable threat to us and we have to respond.


VAUSE: Two very different statements, in both tone and substance.

Which one will be heard loudest in Pyongyang?

PHILIP YUN, PLOWSHARES FUND: Well, I think it's not clear which one they'll hear and that's part of the confusion here. You've got mixed messages and in an area that a miscalculation could be catastrophic, that's not good.

Lindsey Graham is a smart guy. He knows that the military option would be catastrophic. He said that himself. And I just now think that it's a realistic option. I don't think that the South Koreans, who are going to be essential to any kind of unilateral attack or preemptive strike would stand for it.

So and certainly Lindsey Graham is almost -- is drumming or -- drumming Donald Trump's message, which is to try to put pressure on China to do something and the problem is I don't think China's really going to do anything because it's just not credible to them.

VAUSE: There's a lot of focus as you mentioned on China to try and rein in North Korea. U.S. president lashed out at Beijing over the weekend. And the administration is now expected to announce some punitive economic measures to force China to do more.

So with that on the one hand, on the other hand, again, we have Tillerson, with a very different take. This is what he said.


TILLERSON: We've been very clear with the Chinese. We certainly don't blame the Chinese for the situation in North Korea. Only the North Koreans are to blame for this situation. But we do believe China has a special and unique relationship because of this significant economic activity to influence the North Korean regime in ways that no one else can.


VAUSE: He's kind of saying the same thing but, boy, the tone and the delivery is just night and day compared to the president.

YUN: No, I think that's absolutely right. And I think what they're trying to do here is, as I've said, the Chinese are -- have been playing good cop in this game, in this high-end stakes standoff. The United States has been playing bad cop and that really works if you two -- if the two are coordinated.

In fact, they are not. So what has to happen is the United States and China have to really talk and get some understanding about what the future of the Korean Peninsula is going to be, what it looks like.

And then if they were able to do that, what can happen is the United States is serious about solving this problem and not just containing it, what's going to have to happen is the United States is going to have to get much more benefits, more carrots and then the Chinese will agree, knowing that it's not really regime change that we're, the United States, is pushing for, they'll be willing to use more sanctions and more sticks to us get hopefully a solution and a freeze.

VAUSE: And finally here, some questions have been raised about just how successful North Korea's missile launch was week. "38 North" is reporting maybe it didn't have the range or the payload capability initially thought. This is their conclusion.

"While North Korea's ambitions reach beyond the West Coast f the United States to places like Washington, D.C., if they want to accomplish that with this missile, they will have to change the design substantially.

"This missile's design may not stretch that far without breaking but North Korea may try anyway. If so, they probably won't this year or next."

So what's your take on that?

YUN: Well, I have a -- I'm inclined to agree. I think that the key takeaways over the last three tests, one in May and two in July, is that they're getting better at it. And clearly --


YUN: -- the capabilities, where they're able to shoot it much higher and for a much longer period of time, that, at some point, it will happen. In certain cases, it doesn't really matter whether it's going to be two years from now, three years from now, five years from now. The bottom line is the status quo, if we keep on doing what we're doing, which is more sanctions and nothing else, they will eventually get to where they will be able to hit the United States.

They will be able miniaturize and make a nuclear device onto this missile that'll eventually hit the United States. That's something we have to work on. We have time. That's the key thing and we've got to move forward to keep them from getting that threshold capability.

Just as a perspective, under the grandfather, Kim Il-sung, he did only 15 tests. Under Kim Jung- il, the father, he did 16. Under this -- under the grandson, who's only been in power now for five years, he's done 80 tests. And depending on how rapidly they do this, they could do -- reach progress a lot sooner than any of us think. And we have to be aware of that. So time is not on our side.

VAUSE: And it's not on our side here, either. We're out of time. I want to know who's helping the North Koreans. But maybe that's a discussion for another time.

Philip, as always, great to have you with us. Thank you.

YUN: Thank you.

SESAY: Well, Donald Trump says U.S. is holding Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro personally responsible for the health and safety of two prominent opposition leaders. Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma were taken from house arrest in the middle of the night and thrown into jail.

The pro-government supreme court says they were planning to flee. The men had publicly opposed the election Sunday over new pro-Maduro assembly that could rewrite the constitution.

All right. Time for a quick break here. "STATE OF AMERICA" with Kate Bolduan is next for our viewers in Asia.

VAUSE: And for everyone else, what's taking the U.S. president so long to sign those new sanctions on Russia? Details in just a moment.


[02:30:16] JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: 11:30 here on Tuesday night. Welcome back to our viewers in United States and all around the world. I'm John Vause.

ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Isha Sesay. This is CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles.

Now, the White House says President Trump still intends to sign off on tougher sanctions against Russia. He just hasn't done it yet. The bill passed. Congress would need unanimous support. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence has been housing the bill on stall of former Soviet Republics.


MIKE PENCE, U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: And in a further sign of our commitment, very soon, President Trump will sign legislation to strengthen and codify the United States' sanctions against Russia.

The president made it very clear that very soon he will sign the sanctions.

In a sign of our commitment, very soon, President Trump will sign legislation to strengthen and codify the United States' sanctions against Russia.


SESAY: Well, let's head to Moscow where we find CNN's Clare Sebastian. Clare, good to have you with us. How are Mike Pence's comments and his trip in general being viewed there in Moscow?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Isha, I think from Russia's point of view, certainly his itinerary in itself speaks volume. He's been to Estonia, it's the NATO country on Russia's western border. He was in Georgia yesterday. An aspiring NATO member, his membership, Russia strongly opposes. Pence said he strongly supports. That was yesterday.

And today, he's in Montenegro which barely two months ago became the newest member of NATO. So certainly, this sets up what is really, you know, an old traditional conflict with Russia, the expansion eastward (ph) of NATO.

But it's not just where he is and his actions and his words as well. He used this opportunity right on Russia's doorstep to launch a tirade against Moscow perhaps what he called destabilizing activities in Ukraine and support for, again, what he called rogue nations like Iran and Syria.

And he said that the recent diplomatic actions by Russia in expelling or, you know, cutting the U.S. personnel in Russia by about 60 percent and closing two diplomatic properties that that won't deter the U.S. from its commitment to its security and to other what he called freedom loving nations.

And I think, you know, these are coming at a time when the climate is so tense. It's certainly being watched here in Moscow, the Kremlin (INAUDIBLE) told us that they don't mind if the U.S. forges bilateral relations with its neighbors as long as it doesn't lead to the expansion of alliances, clearly a point at which the two guys feel very differently. So certainly, it's -- you know, it's coming at a very tense moment in this relationship.

SESAY: Yes. Well, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson travels to Manila this weekend where he's expected to meet with Russian Foreign Secretary Sergei Lavrov. What are the expectations of that meeting, what more can you tell us? SEBASTIAN: All right. Well, we got the five comments from Rex Tillerson himself on these recent retaliatory measures that Russia has taken as I said the cutting of the diplomatic personnel in Russia by about 60 percent and closing of two diplomatic compounds. Those compounds were actually seized as of yesterday.

We saw the trucks of the diplomatic states leaving so clearly (ph). The drawdown has already started. He said that the cuts of personnel makes the work of the mission more difficult and he does plan to raise this with Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, when they meet on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit set to start this weekend.

But as to how these measures are going to affect the mission, we don't know. As of yet, it's up to the U.S. side to decide who gets cut. They have until September 1st to do that. But whether or not Rex Tillerson will make any difference in this, it seems very unlikely the process has already started, Isha.

SESAY: Clare Sebastian joining us live from Moscow. Clare, thank you.

VAUSE: An explosive new lawsuit claims Fox News works with the White House a fake news story allegedly as a distraction from the Russia investigation. Those details next right here on Newsroom L.A.


[02:37:19] SESAY: Hello everyone. Fox News is faking a lawsuit that claims it worked to the White House and a wealthy Republican donor to make up a fake story.

VAUSE: The state also claims the story was department effort to distract from the controversy caused by the ongoing Russia investigation. CNN's Brian Stelter has details.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a possibility this is a guy who provided two WikiLeaks all those DNC e-mails.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A false story peddled by Fox News could have fingerprints that reached all the way to the White House. A new lawsuit filed in federal court claims Fox concocted a story about the murder of 27-year-old DNC Staffer Seth Rich and claims the White House had oversight.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: If it was true that Seth Rich gave WikiLeaks the DNC e-mails, wouldn't that blow the whole Russia collusion narrative that the media has been pushing out of the water?

STELTER: That is part of this pro-Trump conspiracy theory. Rich's family says his death has been exploited by right-wing media. At the center of the story is Ed Butowsky, a wealthy Republican donor.

Tuesday's suit followed by Rod Wheeler, a Fox News contributor, claims Butowsky and Fox were in cahoots contriving a link between Rich and WikiLeaks. Wheeler worked with Butowsky investigating Rich's death.

ROD WHEELER, PLAINTIFF: It's very consistent for a person with my experience to begin to think, well, perhaps there were some e-mail communications between Seth and WikiLeaks.

STELTER: Rich's family says that's not true and D.C. police believed his killing was a bust robbery, nothing politically motivated. But that didn't stop Fox.

JAY SEKULOW, TRUMP'S PERSONAL LAWYER: It sure doesn't look like a robbery. It looks like a murder.

STELTER: After days of coverage back in May, the network retracted the story. Now, months later, Wheeler's explosive lawsuit says he was misquoted, defamed by Fox. And his suit goes much further claiming Butowsky coordinated the phony story with the White House, why "to shift the blame from Russia and refute collusion claims." Butowsky named as a defendant in the suit strongly denies the allegations.

ED BUTOWSKY, TRUMP SUPPORTER AND REPUBLICAN DONOR: The lawsuit is absolute crap. There's nothing to this lawsuit that has any in there whatsoever.

STELTER: This text message from Butowsky to Wheeler is one of the suits most eye-popping claims. "Not to add anymore pressure, but the President just read the article. He wants the article out immediately. It's now all up to you, but don't feel the pressure." Butowsky now says he was just kidding around.

BUTOWSKY: I was just joking with the man. And that's all that was.

STELTER: The White House pushed him back as well.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRES SECRETARY: The President didn't have knowledge of the story. The White House didn't have any involvement in the story.

[02:40:03] STELTER: But there is a link to the White House. Butowsky and Wheeler met with then Press Secretary Sean Spicer a month before the phony Fox story came out. Spicer said it was just a 10-minute courtesy meeting and the White House had nothing to do with his story.

But the suit claims that Spicer asked to be kept addressed of developments. As for Fox it calls the accusation that it published the Seth Rich story did detract from the Russian collusion issue, "completely erroneous".


VAUSE: And Brian is with us now from New York. You know, Brian, it took Fox a week to retract this particular story after it was published. But the network they've been -- they were hammering this bogus story long before that and creating their selves narrative. It wasn't the Russians in fact the DNC it was Seth Rich and this ultimate example of fake news its living on to this day. STELTER: It is. It's a counter narrative that is popular amongst some Trump voters who do not accept the U.S. intelligence community's conclusion that Russia interfered in the U.S. election. That is of course partly predicated on the WikiLeaks release of DNC e-mails, e- mails stolen from the DNC.

There's a lot of other evidence involving Russian interference, but the DNC e-mail is one piece of the puzzle. And the Seth Rich conspiracy theory suggests are actually asserts. No, it wasn't Russia. It was this DNC staffer who stole the e-mails and then got them over to WikiLeaks and he was killed for doing so.

Imagine the heartache that this has put those Rich's family through. They say this conspiracy theory is bogus, but it's been an increase source of amount pain for the family that is already grieving for the loss of their child. Now they have to see these kinds of story all over the place and Fox perpetuated it.

VAUSE: And they had beg for weeks asking the network --

STELTER: That's right, yes.

VAUSE: -- to stop putting to it and, you know, for whatever reason it took a considerable amount of time. You mentioned WikiLeaks. According to the lawsuit, the Fox News reporter attributed two fabricated statements to Wheeler define at here.

Here are those statements. "My investigation up to this point shows there was some degree of e-mail exchange between Seth Rich and WikiLeaks". And that the other statement, "My investigation shows someone within the D.C. government, Democratic National Committee or Clinton team is blocking the murder investigation from going forward. That is unfortunate. Seth Rich's murder is unsolved as a result of that."

Now, this is what Wheeler said was his first reaction when he saw those bogus lines attributed to him.


WHEELER: The reporter from Fox News Malia Zimmerman she wrote that story. I immediately challenged her and I said, "Malia, that's just simply not true. You and I both know this isn't true". And she said, well her boss has told her to leave those quotes in there. And I said, "Why would you leave something in an article that you know is not true?" And that's why we're here today.


VAUSE: So Brian, the court filing Wheeler alleges, "That's how the President wanted the story". We don't know if that's true. At the very least, though, can we say the White House did nothing to kill the story which it knew to be totally false?

STELTER: I think of it on the Fox News side the ethics of Fox's behavior here are -- they're lacking to say the least. The idea that the boss is wanted this out there. They're pushing this story. It's a survey. And from a journalistic ethics point of view, this is a disaster for Fox News. They retracted it. They said they're still investigating. Who knows what will happen.

But on the White House side, I think it's murkier. I think it's unclear exactly how much involvement there was at the White House. We know Sean Spicer had this meeting with Wheeler where it talked about the investigation. Spicer suggested there weren't any other conversations after that. The lawsuit contradicts him and says Spicer wanted updates on what was going on.

Now, the lawsuit also says Steve Bannon was in touch in some way with the GOP donor who was pushing this. So it's murky. And I think there's more reporting that needs to be done on the White House piece of this.

VAUSE: You know, we don't know if these allegations are true. We don't know how much involvement there was from the President of the United States. Did he work with Fox News to fabricate the story? But it comes just out after "The Washington Post" reported that Donald Trump dictated a false story about his son's campaign meeting with a Russian lawyer.

You know, these accusations would lead devastating for any president. But it seems especially so for a president who complains almost daily about fake news.

STELTER: And this is a false news story. What Fox was pushing at may was a false story. And it came at a terrible time for President Trump. Terrible time, meaning he had just fired James Comey. He had shared top secret information with the Russians in the Oval Office. He was at that moment. The low point is presidency, his gone lower since.

But at that time, it was the low point in his presidency. And what did Fox do? It touted this story to made him look in some ways good and give a counter narrative to all the Russian collusion questions.

[02:45:02] So this was for Trump. It was a story he needed at that moment. Does that mean the White House was involved in someway? As you said, we don't know. We need to have more reporting on this. Maybe the lawyers will be able to get more through the discovery process in this lawsuit.

VAUSE: Very quickly last question here. Wheeler, he is claiming he was forced to correct the record that goes un-repairable (ph) harm to his reputation and career, but how reliable is he and how reliable is his testimony?

STELTER: I have questions about that because he was at Fox by the time he was saying some of the stuff on the air at the time. Now he is telling us somewhat different story. It is unclear, you know, why he's had this change of heart. I have questions about that that I would like to ask him.

But the bigger issue here as you've been hearing on John, is the White House, is the Trump White House and its deceptive nature "The Washington Post" story being the most recent example. And then you hear about this, the idea that Fox and the Trump White House are working together in order to concoct this story.

The reason why I'm taking it seriously is because of the Trump White House's credibility crisis. And because of its past behavior trying to influence and interfere in news coverage.

VAUSE: And of course, in all of these a complete and total disregard it seem for, you know, what the parents of this young man have been going through --


STELTER: At the status protocol.

VAUSE: Yes. Brian, good to speak with you. Thanks so much.

STELTER: Thanks.

SESAY: Time for quick break now. And Serena Williams is slamming the gender pay gap, coming up. The tennis superstar says that's in part truth than what black woman earns compare to their white counterpart.


ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN WEATHER CORRESPONDENT: This is CNN Weather Watch. I'm Meteorologist Allison Chinchar. A couple of big stories across areas of the United States.

We're still dealing with some scattered showers and thunderstorms across areas of the south, especially into Florida. Emily has really started to pull away from Florida but even with that said, enough moisture is still being brought in there to add to very heavy amount of rain which they've already even had adding to the threat of flooding.

We're also talking record heat and not just a couple of degrees above the record, we're talking all time record breaking. Now, in terms of Emily, I mean, the storm really is not expected to do much more in terms of its forward track. It's really just going to die over the next couple of days out over the open Atlantic. But in the short term, still expected to at least provide enough lift to add some more showers and thunderstorms into areas of Florida.

More of your scattered thunderstorm type that you get in the summer time for areas of the Midwest and also in to the southeast. But out west, we are talking incredible heat, 28 for the high on Wednesday in Los Angeles, 29 in Vancouver. We're talking about 32 for the high in Denver, but it's along the West Coast.

This is where we're seeing the extreme heat. We have excessive heat watches, warnings, and heat advisory, though, for several of these areas. And in some cities like Portland, we're talking temperature 10 degrees above average.


[02:50:27] SESAY: U.S. tennis superstar Serena Williams is demanding and end to the gender pay gap. In an essay in Fortune Magazine, Williams highlights how black women pay even worst than their white counterpart right here in the United States. They earn just $0.63 for every dollar a white man make and also makes 17 percent less than their white female.

VAUSE: Here are some of the key quotes from Williams (INAUDIBLE). "The cycles of poverty, discrimination, and sexism are much, much harder to break than the record for Grand Slam titles. Unfair pay has prevailed for far too long with no consequence. We need to push this issue to the front of conversations so that employers across the U.S. can truly understand that all male and female employees must be compensated equally."

SESAY: "Not close, not almost the same, but equally."

Here now with us is Legal Analyst and Civil Right Attorney Areva Martin. Areva, good to have you with us. You know, let me just go back to that and repeat it for all our viewers that basically black women not only make less than men $0.87 on every dollar, $0.27 cent less on every dollar.

But they also earn just to remind you, 17 percent less than their white female counterparts which really kind of brings home this intersectionality, if you will to use that word, between racism and sexism that black women face, a reality that often is overlooked and not part of the dialog.

AREVA MARTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Not part of the dialog and, in fact, people I think sometimes get offended when you bring it up. You know, we were tweeting about black women's path equity day and I got a lot blow back on social media from people saying, "Well, what about white women? What about Latino women? What about other women?"

And I was trying to make the point as you just said. These are the numbers. These are the statistics. I'm not making this up. I didn't create this reality. I'm trying to help move the needle forward so that hopefully my daughters will grow up into a world where we don't have pay, you know -- we don't have these disparities amongst any women of any race.


MARTIN: But it's a sensitive topic whenever you talk about race whether its police brutality or unequal pay for women, people get really weird about the race conversation.

VAUSE: Let be just add a little bit, but awkward here right now. And as a white male, I just want to apologize.

MARTIN: You owe us some money, John.

VAUSE: I want to check out this, OK. OK. Serena Williams, she's the highest paid female athlete in the world last year, OK. So, just show (ph) $29 million. The highest paid male athlete was Ronaldo, more than $90 million including the allegation of tax fraud.

Just to compare Serena, she comes in at number 39 and she was on the men list. OK, so -- actually she bumps at Emera (ph) which is kind of ironic there. When it comes to financial support, we know the argument. Men's football involved revenue, that's why men get paid more. Is there an argument into why women of color get paid so much less?

MARTIN: You know what's interesting about that statistic about Serena and her male counterparts? This pay equity issue that we're doing with, it just isn't in, you know, sport, professional sports or it's not just low income.


MARTIN: It's in law. It's in law. It's in law. It's in medicine. It's in the tech industry.

SESAY: It's in television.

MARTIN: It's in television. It's in a lot of industries where you think, you would think, because before are educated, they're more enlighten that we wouldn't see such wide disparities but that's not the case. It's across the board. And I think that's what caused Serena to write this very powerful and passionate letter.

But I want to point this up in this positive this afternoon. 2015 in California in asset one of the most aggressive pay equity laws in the nation and basically change the way courts in California could interpret its laws. It said that women admitted doing substantially, not the same, but substantially the same jobs had to be paid the same amount.

And that made a huge difference because before that law was passes in 2015, I could be a maid, you the janitor, but yet you make more than me even though we were cleaning the same building.

VAUSE: Because it said in 1963 Equity Pay Act that Kennedy said the same.


VAUSE: And this is substantially -- OK.

MARTIN: This is substantially similar and that makes a big difference. At it also prevented employees for retaliating against employees for talking about this hour (ph), because we know it's important. If I know you're making $2 an hour more than me, I can go to the boss --

SESAY: Without fearing.

MARTIN: -- without fear of being fired or discipline. And that wasn't the case before 2015 in California.

SESAY: Another thing I want to point out that I found interesting from days that Serena Williams uses in this article. According to survey, from Survey Monkey that she's on the (INAUDIBLE), she said they found out more than 43 percent of black men -- millennial women believe men and women had equal opportunities for promotion. What do you make of that?

[02:55:10] MARTIN: They don't know their history. It's not surprising thought to me because we've been talking a lot about politics, every day in this country. And I remember when we rated 2016 presidential election talking to millennial women about the importance of electing a female president, whether it was Hillary Clinton or anyone else just the importance of that.

And millennial women said to me, they didn't care because for them women and men had the same opportunities. So they weren't jazz about this woman being the first female president. So I think those numbers mirror that very same attitude. And unfortunately they need to go and hit the history books because if they knew how difficult the struggle has been, I think they've a different --


VAUSE: Where is the good point?

SESAY: I'm just going to say insurance (ph).

VAUSE: Right. Everyone say it's good a point and we talk about it. You need to be out there.

SESAY: All right.

VAUSE: Avera, thank you so much.

SESAY: Thank you, Avera. Appreciate it.

VAUSE: OK. You have been watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I'm John Vause.

SESAY: And Isha Sesay. The news continues on CNN right after this.


[03:00:08] ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN: Donald Trump Jr.'s initial statement about this meeting with the Russian lawyer avoided key details. And now the White House --