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North Korea to Release American Detainees; Giuliani Reveals New Details on Hush Money; Trump Denies Knowing About Payment to Stormy Daniels; CNN Report Exposes Child Labor in Cobalt Mines; Daimler to Audit Supply Chains After CNN Child Labor Investigation; Nine Killed in a National Guard Plane in Puerto Rico; Southwest Airlines Flight Makes Unscheduled Landing with Cracked Window; Federal Officials Investigate Cracked Window on Southwest Airlines Flight; Southwest Airlines Deals with Safety Issues on its Planes; Cambridge Analytica Shuts Down; Trump Celebrates Pompeo's Swearing in at U.S. State Department; U.S. Officials Head to China for Key Trade Talks. Aired 12-1a ET
Aired May 3, 2018 - 00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[00:00:00] CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR: Imminent release: a source tells CNN that Kim Jong-un could soon free the last remaining American detainees held in North Korea.
How did U.S. president's high profile loyalist contradicting his client over the details of a hush money payment to a porn star. Also later in the show, we'll be talking to Australia's Environment and Energy Minister about new plans to help save the Great Barrier Reef, we'll see about that.
Live from the CNN Center here in Atlanta, I'm Cyril Vanier, it's great to have you with us. So it appears that North Korea will soon be releasing three American detainees, that comes to us according to an official with knowledge of the negotiations who spoke to CNN and says their release is imminent.
Here are the three men: Kim Dong Chul held since October 2015, Tony Kim held now for more than a year and Kim Hak-song who's been in prison since last May. This is happening of course just weeks before potentially historic face-to-face meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump.
And actually, a little while ago, Mr. Trump teased this on Twitter, he said, "as everybody is aware, the past administration has long been asking for three hostages to be released from a North Korean Labor Camp, but to no avail. Stay tuned!"
So just for some perspective on that, keep in mind that Tony Kim and Kim Hak-song were detained after President Trump was inaugurated last year. Our Alexandra Field joins us now from Seoul with the latest on this.
Fill us in on the details, Alexandra, what do we know?
ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Cyril, look, the president right there says stay tuned, and certainly the family members of these three men are well tuned in, they are not going to believe that anything is a done deal of course, until they see their loved ones stepping off a plane.
You're talking about three Americans who are being held in North Korea, but certainly there seems to be positive and optimistic developments that are happening here. You've got the president himself alluding to it with that stay tuned message.
He also came out earlier this month, saying that the administration was fighting for all three of these men, and that these have come a long way between the U.S. and North Korea.
You've also now got one official who has some knowledge of these negotiations speaking to CNN's Will Ripley, saying that the release of these men was a topic of discussion when the North Korean Foreign Minister traveled to Sweden two months ago to talk about the release.
But at that time, U.S. officials made it clear that the release of these men could not be tied in any way to the main issue which is of course denuclearization. But this is a moment that has been a right opportunity for dialogue between these two sides really to an unprecedented level when you consider the fact that we're all preparing for this historic sit-down between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump.
So you do have high level administration officials in the U.S. making no secret of the fact that they are doing everything in their power to get these hostages, these detainees released.
You have the National Security adviser John Bolton who was asked about the circumstances over the weekend, asked whether the detainees would have to be released before this summit could happen.
He essentially said that it was something that North Korea should be looking at very seriously. We also have the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who made that secretive trip over Easter weekend to Pyongyang to sit down directly with Kim Jong-un.
The topic of that conversation was of course denuclearization, but he came back and said that they also discussed the potential for the release of these three detainees. So the administration making it very clear that they have continued to fight for these releases, and now you got that out at source saying that this is something that could in fact be imminent.
But really we don't have a timeline here, Cyril.
VANIER: Yes, so we don't know when the detainees are going to be released or are we going to be allowed to fly back to the U.S. or at least leave North Korea.
As you said, the context really important here within this flurry of diplomatic activity around this potential meeting. Is the U.S. -- you touched on this, is the U.S. giving anything in exchange for this release? FIELD: But if you're North Korea, and you're taking into consideration the fact that the U.S. president has said that he is willing to come to the table to sit down with Kim Jong-un himself, it certainly seems that North Korea is in a position where they're getting a lot of what they've asked for.
In exchange, we have seen some good faith efforts it seems from North Korea. You have this highly successful on the face of its summit between North Korea and South Korea. You have these commitments that were made toward total denuclearization and to achieving a formal peace treaty.
You've had commitments made by Kim Jong-un to stop the missile testing, to shut down a nuclear test site and even to make smaller adjustors like shutting off the propaganda speakers that boy, are across the DMZ into South Korea.
So certainly North Korea does seem to be taking a number of steps to act in good faith in advance of a meeting that they very much want to have and a sit-down that could happen as soon as the end of this month.
[00:05:00] So certainly, there's a lot for them to get out of it as you would put it --
VANIER: Yes --
FIELD: Cyril. The question of American detainees is obviously a high priority for any U.S. official who is going to engage in these kinds of talks with the regime.
VANIER: Yes, absolutely, it's hard not to read, this is a win for both sides. For the White House, it is getting the detainees back, and potentially as you said for North Korea, which is should be getting in the near future face time with the U.S. president.
Alexandra Field reporting live from Seoul, South Korea, we'll be keeping you busy over the next few hours, thanks for the details. Now, I want to bring you back to the U.S., there's a been a big development for the White House.
Donald Trump's new attorney Rudy Giuliani has revealed a major development in the Stormy Daniels saga, let's get into that. He says the president reimbursed his personal lawyer Michael Cohen the $130,000 of hush money.
Now, remember, that's the money that Cohen paid to Daniels to keep her silent about her alleged affair with Mr. Trump. Cohen has admitted that he paid the adult film star just before -- days before the 2016 presidential election.
Until now, the president has always denied two things: he denies that the affair is true and he denies knowing anything about this hush money. Well, joining me now from Los Angeles, CNN political commentators, Democratic strategist Dave Jacobson and Republican consultant John Thomas. Gentlemen, I want you to first listen to Rudy Giuliani, he was on "Fox News'" show a while ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY: Having something to do with paying some Stormy Daniels woman $130,000, I mean, which is going to turn out to be perfectly legal.
That money was not campaign money -- sorry, I'm giving you a fact now that you don't know. It's not campaign money. No campaign finance violation, so --
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: They funneled that through a law firm.
GIULIANI: Funneled through a law firm and the president repaid it.
HANNITY: Oh, I didn't know that he did it.
HANNITY: There's no campaign finance law.
HANNITY: So the president --
GIULIANI: This is like every -- Sean --
HANNITY: So what this --
GIULIANI: Sean --
HANNITY: Decision was made by --
GIULIANI: Everybody was nervous about this from the very beginning, I wasn't. I knew how much money Donald Trump put into that campaign -- I said $130,000, he's going to do a couple of checks for $130,000.
When I heard Cohen's retain was $35,000 when he was doing no work for the president. I said that's how he's repaying -- that's how he's repaying it with a little profit and a little margin for paying taxes to Michael.
HANNITY: Well, as -- did you know the president didn't know about this? I believe that's what Michael said --
GIULIANI: He didn't know about the specifics of it as far as I know. But he did know about the general arrangement that Michael will take care of things like this, like I take care of things like this for my clients.
I don't burden them with every single thing that comes along.
(END VIDEO CLIP) VANIER: OK, gentlemen, I want to go to you first. What we just heard
from Rudy Giuliani; the newly appointed lawyer on the Trump team contradicts things that the president has said and things that Michael Cohen has said.
So did Rudy Giuliani just slip up in a major way or do you think this might be calculated?
JOHN THOMAS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think it absolutely was calculated, and it marks really more of a it wasn't a surprise to anybody, everybody knew that the president made the payment whether it was through the Trump organization or the president directly.
I don't think anybody --
VANIER: Wait, hold on, everybody knew that who made the payment?
THOMAS: The President Trump whether it was through the Trump Organization --
VANIER: No --
THOMAS: Or the president himself. I understand the president's statement. But I'm saying average people that are watching this saga play out --
VANIER: OK --
THOMAS: Kind of figured that's what happened.
VANIER: Hold on, I'm sorry, I can't give you a pass on this. Let's listen, the president was asked this very question a month ago, did he know about this payment? Listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels? And why did Michael Cohen (INAUDIBLE).
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: That is Michael Cohen, Michael Cohen is my attorney, and you'll have to ask Michael.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you know where he got the money to make that payment?
TRUMP: No, I don't know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VANIER: OK, John, let's go back to the beginning of your answer. No, everybody did not know that Mr. Trump made the payment because he denied it.
THOMAS: Yes, but everybody who is watching this thing play out -- and I think what the president did there on it looked like Air Force One was essentially -- knew once the truth. He doesn't know exactly how Michael Cohen made the $130,000 payment. That could mean, he doesn't know where Michael Cohen fronted the money to make the payment.
But what -- the bigger story to me tonight is it's a shift in the president's legal strategy. That's what this appears to be. Because if Cohen in fact did not violate a campaign finance law that he might be under serious pressure for by the state of New York or more.
That might be less pressure that Cohen has on him to break the attorney-client privilege and say something he shouldn't about the president.
[00:10:00] VANIER: John, your take on this, I can only assume the critics of the president are going to have a field day with this.
DAVE JACOBSON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yes, let me translate what John was saying, when he says everybody knew, Donald Trump was lying through his teeth on April 5th, on Air Force One when he said that he didn't know about this.
Of course, he knew about it, absolutely, that's a huge sum of money for his lawyer to front on behalf of the president. And this, Cyril, was an egregious and illegal campaign finance violation. Whether it was the fact that Michael Cohen fronted the money and it wasn't reported as an expense benefitting Donald Trump's campaign, it's no different from Michael Cohen paying for TV ads to benefit Donald Trump's campaign.
This took place as hush money payment of --
THOMAS: Well, that's not --
JACOBSON: Hundred and thirty thousand -- John, let me finish my point, John, let me finish my point. A $130,000 days before the general election in November of 2016 benefitted Donald Trump's campaign.
The fact that Donald Trump reimbursed Cohen still should have been reported on FEC reports, that is required by federal election law and he neglected to do that.
THOMAS: Dave, you can make that same argument about any employee or any person who got paid by the Trump organization to do anything prior to the election.
Yes, you can, you can because a Trump --
VANIER: Hold on, hold on. How is paying $130,000 to silence somebody who is making allegations against you the same as paying the salary of a campaign employee. How is that the same?
THOMAS: No, it's not, no, I'm not saying it's the same as a campaign employer. I'm saying anybody who worked for Trump's private organization, he had lots of private payments that Trump made directly, and one can make the same argument, Dave, oh, so you know, so somebody else in the Trump organization was helping him, was scheduling and they didn't report that as a -- or as a contribution as a personal loan.
I mean, I think --
VANIER: I still don't see how you -- I don't see the parallel.
THOMAS: Well, I'm saying when Trump is making business expenses personally, that does not necessarily constitute a campaign contribution.
Is an independent group -- no, versus the argument before, was essentially that Cohen was acting like a Super PAC, like an independent expenditure that took $130,000 out of his own pocket to potentially influence an election.
That was the argument before. Trump's shift in rhetoric now shows that it's Trump's money, and that it wasn't an outside contribution.
VANIER: So --
JACOBSON: But it was to benefit his campaign, right? Like because if Donald Trump, the billionaire decided to use his own money to buy TV ads just to promote himself and perhaps the Trump Organization, perhaps not Trump for America, the 2016 campaign, that's the same argument that you're making, right?
Like even he can do whatever he wants because it's a business expense. If it was a business expense and he was using that money to promote his business, but not his campaign, it would basically equate to what you're saying on the Michael Cohen front.
The fact of the matter is this was an absolute violation of campaign finance election law because this hush money was used to silence a porn star Stormy Daniels just days before the 2016 election to prevent her story from coming out which would have no doubt -- I don't think you disagree, would have had a massive earthquake-like effect on the 2016 election, potentially, determining or resulting in a different outcome.
That payment silenced her, preventing her from doing that and thus, benefitting Donald Trump's 2016 campaign and propelling him to the White House.
VANIER: All right, gentlemen, there's a lot more to talk about especially questions, I've got questions for you about Michael Cohen, with Mr. Trump saying a while ago that Mr. Cohen hardly ever worked for him, Rudy Giuliani seems to first confirm that and then say the exact opposite.
So we've got to continue this conversation, we'll bring you back next hour, and thank you both for now. Thanks. THOMAS: Thank you.
VANIER: And still to come on the show, CNN discovers children mining cobalt, a key mineral in car batteries. And now big name, automakers say that they're taking action to stop it, we'll talk to them. Plus, Southwest Airlines is dealing with another safety problem, this window cracked during a flight.
How bad was it? How dangerous was it? We'll get some answers.
[00:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
VANIER: So if you're a regular viewer of CNN, you know that the CNN freedom project means a lot to us, and this is the follow-up on what's been another piece of great investigative reporting by CNN's Nima Elbagir just hours after a CNN exposed child labor in the cobalt mines of Congo.
Well, the industries that use those materials are now taking action. Car maker Daimler has announced a major audit of its supply chains after CNN found the cobalt used to power electric car battery is often being mined by children.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We arrived at the Musonoie River Mine where the cobalt ore is washed to grind it down. Although, we've been given permission to film here, as soon as they see us, officials begin to scare the children away.
Not all of them though are fast enough. Some work on -- one young boy staggers under his load, his friend sees the camera and he drops his sack. They clearly been warned.
A mining ministry official spot this boy carrying cobalt has been captured by our cameras. His response is brutal. Later, we asked him why he struck the child, he refused to answer.
We now witnessed for ourselves that children are working here, that they are involved with the production of cobalt and we've seen the products of that child labor loaded on to a variety of different vehicles.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VANIER: Daimler says it has explicitly forbidden child labor for years, but it admits that it's difficult to verify the source of its cobalt. So the company says it will work with 1,500 suppliers worldwide to stop any violations.
The head of supplier quality at Mercedes which is owned by Daimler says "we actively create transparency in the supply chain right down to the mine if necessary." CNN has asked several car companies to explain how they stop child labor from being used to mine their cobalt. BMW says it makes every effort to ensure standards are high, but admitted that it could do more.
Volkswagen announced that new rules for its suppliers would be put in place in December or they announce new rules in December and they say will stop dealing with them if those rules are broken.
As for French car maker Renault, it says that it might also reconsider some of its relationships after its own supply chain audits. General Motors says it has a zero tolerance policy on child labor and is helping train its suppliers in high risk regions.
And Tesla says that it carries out audits to the best of its ability, but the company did not respond when we asked them to confirm that its cobalt was a 100 percent free from child labor. And they've admitted in the past that it's hard to know for sure.
You can find out more about our investigation into cobalt mining in Congo, it's one of our many reports on modern slavery on CNN.com/freedom.
Nine members of Puerto Rico's Air National Guard are dead after their military plane nose-dived and crashed shortly after takeoff near Savannah here in Georgia.
[00:20:00] The aircraft was on its last flight heading to Arizona where it was scheduled to be decommissioned. The plane involved in Wednesday's crash was at least 50 years old, there were no injuries on the ground.
And another aviation mishap I have to tell you about, not connected to this first one. The Southwest Airlines flight was forced to make an unscheduled landing after a window cracked mid-flight. A passenger sent this picture to her son.
The flight from Chicago to Newark, New Jersey was diverted to Cleveland. The Federal Aviation Authority is investigating the cause of this. Now, this is the second time in less than three weeks you might recall that Southwest Airlines is dealing with the safety of its planes and their fourth passengers.
A passenger died last month when an engine exploded, a window was shattered and she was partially pulled out at 30,000 feet. Let's bring in CNN safety analyst David Soucie. How serious, David, is it to have one window cracked like what we just saw?
DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: Well, it's very serious, it's important to remember there's many layers to this window, and these are just one of the many layers that was broken. However, it was very serious and serious enough that they came back and shortened the flight and made not an emergency landing, but they did divert from their original flight though.
VANIER: As you said, there are many layers to the window. If one layer cracks, is the plane still safe?
SOUCIE: Yes, it is. It's part of what people refer to as triple redundancy. So if one part of it cracks, then you've got two backups from there. But it does look very serious, it looks like at least two of those layers were damaged with this window crack and there's some delamination in it.
So it very much could have been much more serious than it was.
VANIER: How does this happen? How do -- what makes windows crack? I mean, is it weather? Is it extreme temperatures? Does it mean there was a maintenance problem?
SOUCIE: Well, it's difficult to say, I wouldn't say that anything hit it or struck it in flight. I don't think there's any connection between this window and what had happened before when the engine had ruptured a few weeks ago and broke that window out which resulted in a fatality.
But this is a much different scenario, so it must have either had some damage to it before or there's been some problems with delamination with windows. Many years ago, I went to London to Pittsburgh Plate Glass where they do this lamination of the windows because they had a problem.
But we haven't seen that happen for years. So it's going to be interesting to find out exactly why this occurred.
VANIER: And when that happens on a flight, the plane has to do an emergency landing and re-route or can a plane pretty much go to its destination?
SOUCIE: Well, it's difficult to say, I don't think I would take that risk with this nor did the pilots feel they wanted to. Because at this point, you've lost two layers of safety, you're working on your turfs, so the best thing and the best action is the one that they took which was to land as soon as possible.
So I would not have continue to fly it, no.
VANIER: What's the danger? I mean, one layer cracks, I guess the danger is that other layers might crack, well, what could happen?
SOUCIE: Yes, well, you've got 12 pounds per square inch differential between the inside and the outside of that airplane. So you talk about 12 pounds per every square inch to that window, and that's what's pushing on the window if it goes out.
So it's structurally built for one of those layers to go for sure. The second is just precautionary, the third if it goes, you're talking about a massive decompression of the aircraft and as what happened before with Southwest Airlines, the person who was sitting in that seat was literally pushed or sucked out at that window and died from that.
So it's a very serious situation, should that other window crack, so they were right on the verge there and they did the right thing by landing as soon as they could.
VANIER: So now we've seen two almost back-to-back incidents with Southwest Airlines. One of those was deadly, cost one human life. Would you think twice about flying on an airline which has this kind of track record or are you thinking, well, you know, this is sort of, you roll the dice and occasionally one in a million you have a problem.
SOUCIE: Well, one in a million is only one in a million if you're not the one. So you have to think about those things. As far as anything systematically wrong with Southwest Airlines, I don't see that it is too early to tell whether the two things are related right now.
But as far as the engines go and the inspections on the engines, Southwest is diligently, they have 693 aircraft to inspect for those engines where the turbine fan came apart. So they're inspecting those and they're getting that done as quickly as they can.
But that's going to take 60 days or so to get that done, and they're going through each of the aircraft to make sure that they're getting inspected. But right now, they're doing everything that they can.
[00:25:00] But there's a lot long ways to go as well, and it's important to note too that Southwest is not the only airline that flies those engines. Those engines have been safe, they've been around for a long time.
And so try and say that there's something systematically wrong and that I wouldn't fly, no, I would still fly.
VANIER: OK, all right, good to have your insights on this, David Soucie, thank you for joining us on the show, appreciate it.
SOUCIE: All right, thank you.
VANIER: Embattled U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief already faces questions about his expensive travel, now new details are emerging about who planned two of Scott Pruitt's trips and went along with him. Stay with us.
VANIER: Welcome back or welcome if you're just joining us, I'm Cyril Vanier, I want to give you an update on the headlines this hour. The release of three Americans detained in North Korea is imminent, and that's according to an official with knowledge of the negotiations.
We are told that North Korea's Foreign Minister proposed their release two months ago. But at the time, U.S. officials insisted the release should not be related to the ongoing issue of denuclearization.
Rudy Giuliani, a member of Donald Trump's legal team says the president reimbursed his attorney Michael Cohen for the $130,000 in hush money that Cohen paid to Stormy Daniels.
Cohen has admitted paying the adult film star to keep quiet about an alleged affair with Mr. Trump. The president has denied any affair or any involvement.
The data firm Cambridge Analytica says that it is shutting down after losing all its customers. The company which did work for the Trump campaign denies any wrongdoing, but it has been accused of misusing the personal data of tens of millions of Facebook users.
U.S. President Donald Trump made his first visit to the U.S. State Department on Wednesday. He went there to celebrate the installation of Mike Pompeo as U.S. Secretary of State. Pompeo was officially sworn in a week ago, but Vice President Mike Pence administered the oath a second time.
Wednesday's ceremony allowed Pompeo to be seen with the president and vice president at his side. Pompeo said the administration was committed to the diplomatic challenges ahead, and that includes denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE POMPEO, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF STATE: We are committed to the permanent verifiable, irreversible dismantling of North Korea's weapons of mass destruction program, and to do so without delay.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VANIER: A team senior U.S. officials is in China this week, hoping to tamp down fears of a possible trade war with America's biggest trading partner. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and other high level U.S. officials will hold two days of talks on Thursday and Friday.
But the Chinese government is downplaying the meetings and warns not to expect any big agreements. CNN's Matt Rivers joins us from Beijing with details on this. Matt, the American delegation is going to China to say what exactly?
[00:30:00] MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well we know that they're going to be meeting with their Chinese counterparts later this afternoon. They are all ready here in Beijing and they're going to be going over to the Diaoyutai Guest House for meetings this afternoon and then again tomorrow morning.
In terms of the message that they're bringing here, you know Steve Mnuchin in an interview with CNN a couple of days ago said they they're going to have frank discussions to try and make meaningful progress on trade. In terms of what the problems are with the U.S., we know a lot of about how much the administration or what issues the administration has the most problems with.
So you can talk about intellectual property theft, you can talk about counterfeiting, you could talk about force technology transfers that the U.S. companies are forced to engage in, in order to do business here in China and maybe perhaps more than any of those we know the President himself, really talks a lot about the trade deficient which is higher than it's higher than its every been, well north of $350 billion at this point. But what will the American delegation expect from China in order to
change that? Are they going to say - ask Xi Jinping to give more details on his recent pledge to allow more market access for American companies.
Are they going to ask for some sort of credible substantive pledge by the Chinese to buy more American imports, that would bring down the deficient, those are the details in terms of what exactly the Americans want that we don't have quite yet Cyril.
VANIER: And do we know if the Chinese are at all prepared to make any concessions on this?
RIVERS: Well the Chinese would say that they have all ready made concessions, you know I talked about those pledges that Xi made earlier this year about market access. He also was specific in talking about how they're going to lower auto import tariffs, currently around 25 percent here in China, that's been a sticking point for the administration in the U.S., though no details have been given by the Chinese side in terms of when those tariffs will be lowered.
But clearly that's not enough, the President has said himself at that rally in Michigan a couple days ago, that Xi Jinping hasn't done enough yet. That there are still lots of trade problems and what you've seen the U.S. engage in, is trying to use the threat of tariffs as leverage to force the Chinese to give some concessions in the areas in which they have problems.
The U.S. has threatened a $150 billion in tariffs so far but the Chinese don't seem to be backing down yet. Publically they've been extremely combative in terms of saying, we're not going to let these tariffs change our trade strategy and the Chinese have threatened $50 billion worth of tariffs on U.S. imports on their own.
So that is the situation that these negotiations are taking place under and whether there will be some grand bargain struck in a matter of days seems - I mean that's the question that we're trying to answer Cyril and we're not sure what the answer will be.
VANIER: Again these talks avert a full blown trade war between the U.S. and China, Matt Rivers we've got more questions for you back this hour, we appreciate it, you're reporting live from Beijing and China, thank you. The man President Trump chose to head the environmental protection agency, the EPA, has been mired in controversy from the start. Sara Ganim reports on the challenges facing Scott Pruitt.
SARA GANIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: All ready facing almost a dozen different probes, related to allegations of unethical behavior, new details are emerging about EPA administrator Scott Pruitt expensive international trips. Once again his close ties to lobbyists are mixing with official ETA business.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT PRUITT, EPA ADMINISTRATOR: I've met with stake holders across the country on these issues, people that we regulate, that their voices have not been heard for many years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GANIM: CNN has learned Pruitt's controversial December trip to Morocco was arranged by this man, Richard Smotkin, a lobbyist and long time friend of Pruitt's, now also registered as a foreign agent making a hefty $40,000 a month to promote Morocco's interest according to a Washington Post report.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can't for the life of me imagine why an EPA administrator would be over there promoting energy sales.
GANIM: Smotkin occupied Pruitt on the four day trip, which costs tax's payers more than $100,000 the Post reported. Pruitt said he went to help negotiate a free trade agreement.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRUITT: We were there in December to negotiate the environmental chapter, that was the focus of the trip.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GANIM: But the focus of his trips don't tell the whole story. Another example, Pruitt's international trip to Italy in June was also arranged by a Pruitt friend, activist Leonard Leo, the head of the Federalist Society. It cost $120,000.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRUITT: The trip to Italy was a G7 trip, occurrence a week after the (Pharis) decision.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GANIM: An EPA spokesperson said the office of international and tribal affairs organized the trip, attempts to reach Smotkin and Leo were unsuccessful. Despite the controversies, Pruitt's policies have been popular with his supporters but now House Republicans are moving forward with their own investigation.
Among the items for them to look into the New York Times reports that lobbyist Steven Hart was e-mailing recommendations for an EPA science board while his wife rented Pruitt a $50 per night apartment in Washington.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. TREY GOWDY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: We've got documents Friday, we are scheduling witness interviews, we're going to interview those witnesses and we got permission Friday to start scheduling those.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GANIM: Two of Pruitt's more controversial staffers, his head of security and his long time banker from Oklahoma who is running the EPA's program to clean up super fund sites, both left the agency abruptly this week. They have become wrapped up in bad Pruitt headlines, especially the security chief, Nino Perrota, who over saw the expansion of Pruitt's security team and justified more than $200,000 in first class travel for Pruitt.
New information continues to come out about the way that Scott Pruitt is spending money, democratic law makers now say they have information that he wanted an EPA office in his home town of Tulsa, Oklahoma. A secure facility with a sounds proof booth where he could work and make phone calls, the EPA says that it didn't end up happening but it's these kinds of requests that have people concerned about his priorities while leading this agency. Sara Ganim, CNN Washington.
VANIER: Now one of the seven national wonders of the world will be getting some measure of relief, when we return details of Australia's ambitious effort to protect the Great Barrier Reef, stay with us.
VANIER: The Great Barrier Reef, is considered one of the seven natural wonders of the world and it's the largest living structure on the planet. This is what it looks like, well that's what it looked like, but scientist say heat waves caused by global warming killed off and damaged a record amount of coral in 2016 and now Austrailia has pledged $380 million U.S. dollars to help preserve and protect it from future damage.
It's the largest single reef investment in the countries history, let's talk about this with our guest, we're very happy to have him on the show, Josh Frydenberg joins us now from Meldrum. He is Australia's minister for the environment and energy, so, stretches of the reef are all ready dead. Scientist, we just mentioned just that - have said that was irreversible, we're not bringing those back. So what's the plan?
JOSH FRYDENBERG, AUSTRAILIAN MINISTER FOR ENVIRONMENT AND ENERGY: Well those no secret that the reef is under pressure. I was seeing successive bleaching events in 2016 and 2017, we've also seen the insidious impact of the crown-of-thorns starfish, which eats away at the coral. And we've also had a terrible cyclone, cyclone did (inaudible) a lot of damage. But the scientists do tell us that we can breed more resilient coral to aid stress and to (inaudible). So investing in the science we can tackle the issue's of water quality and we're working with farmers to get better farming practices, to reduce the sediment, the nitrogen and the pesticide runoff into the reef.
And we are working traditional landowners and the indigenous rangers to go and collect these Crown-of-thorns starfish and to help save the reef for generations.
VANIER: So, there's one thing in your answer that surprises me. You did not mention climate change as one of the - if not the major factor that's endangering the reef.
FRYDENBERG: Well, climate change is the single most important factor as a threat to the reef and, indeed, to reefs --
VANIER: How do you fight that?
FRYDENBERG: -- the world over. Well, we are participating in the collective global effort under the Paris Agreement to tackle climate change. Australia has an ambitious target of more than 50 percent on a per capita basis, to reduce our emissions by 2030 on 2000. And five levels, we're taking action in the land sector or in the transport sector we're working on in a (built) environment.
And we're seeing a decline in successive quarters in the emissions and the electricity sector as more renewables come online. So, as one 1.3 percent of the world's emissions, Australia does have a role to play, but we can only tackle climate change as part of a collective effort. That's why we strongly support the Paris Agreement.
VANIER: So, Minister, you must know what your critics say, I don't think this will come as a surprise to you. They feel that, while you're trying to help on the one hand, you're governments also subsidizing the coal industry, which is part of the problem. What do you say to that?
FRYDENBERG: Well, we're not subsidizing the coal industry. What we do rollout, in Australia, is the legal extraction of resources. That's subject to very tight, rigorous, environmental approval processes.
Now, Australia is one of the largest coal exporters in the world, together with gas exports, together with iron ore exports. It creates tens of thousands of jobs, particularly, in regional communities. For indigenous communities, it's an important source of export income.
So, we'll continue to play a vital role in providing the energy security to our regional partners. At the same time, we adhere to the strictest environmental and scientific protections that we have put in place through legislation.
VANIER: But as the Environment Minister, does it concern you, does it raise questions for you, personally, that you might be, both, helping and hurting at the same time. I'll give you a specific example and I'm sure you've heard this before. I understand your government is open to a - to the possibility of a coal mine in northern Australia, which would add to the stress that is put on the coral reef.
FRYDENBERG: Well, there is a major mine that is proposed called the Carmichael Mine. In the Galilee Basin, so it's 300 kilometers inland from the Barrier Reef, in the dry dusty part of that state.
But, at the same time, our coal continues to be used around the world. So, I think that what we need to do is be part of a collective effort to reduce our carbon footprint. And Australia's emissions on a per capita and GDP basis are now at the lowest in 28 years.
So, I think we are doing our part and we'll continue to invest in that. But, at the same time, we can take localized actions and this $500 million investment is the single largest investment ever in re- perspiration (ph) and management in Australia's history.
And it builds on our $2 billion reef, 2050 plan. Which is a 35 plan that we're partnered with the state government in Queensland, to invest in improvements to the Barrier Reef. And we're being praised by the World Heritage Committee for the work that we've been doing in that regard.
We're not complaisant and we recognize that the Great Barrier Reef is the largest living ecosystem in the world. We have a great responsibility to protect it and preserve it for future generations.
VANIER: Yes, and almost every year, since I've been doing this job, we've been reporting, pretty regularly, on the deterioration of the coral reef. So, we're happy to report this year that there is unprecedented effort done towards - that goes towards saving it or, at least, improving it or preventing further deterioration. Mr. Minister, Josh Frydenberg, thank you, very much, for joining us on the program. We appreciate it.
FRYDENBERG: Nice to be with you, thank you.
VANIER: Thank you and thank you for watching CNN Newsroom, I'm Cyril Vanier. We've got world sport right after this.
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