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"National Enquirer" Sent Stories About Trump to Attorney Michael Cohen Before Publication; New Poll Amid Attacks: Approval of Mueller Probe Dropping; EPA Commissions Congratulatory Coin on Puerto Rico Hurricane Response; "Champions for Change" Spotlight on "Every Mother Counts". Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired June 22, 2018 - 13:30   ET


[13:30:00] SARAH ELLISON, STAFF WRITER, WASHINGTON POST: As you know, as a journalist, sending a story for review is not common practice. What elevates this story from something other than a media story is that the idea that Michael Cohen might have had some kind of control over the content in the "National Enquirer" or that Donald Trump could have somehow, during the campaign, been dictating coverage would have been a potential campaign violation, a federal election violation, and that's the big question that hangs over this. This practice was happening and is happening around the same time that Michael Cohen is under investigation.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Yes, they're investigating whether there was what they call an in-kind campaign contribution in the weeks before the election. American Media, the parent company of the "National Enquirer," issued this statement: "It is unfortunate and disconcerting that disgruntled and terminated ex-employees, who had no access to how editorial decisions are made and without any access to the company's top executives, have been give a platform, hiding behind the protection of being an anonymous source, to grind their ax on the back of their former employer."

What's your reaction to this statement?

ELLISON: We took very seriously the credibilities of the sources that we used for this story and we stand behind the reporting.

BLITZER: You mentioned they were investigating, the U.S. attorney in the southern district of New York, for potentially investigating in- kind campaign contributions that weren't disclosed, which could be illegal. What about the payment from American Media to a woman who claimed to have had an affair and, only weeks before the election, was paid about $150,000 by American Media?

ELLISON: Right. Explicitly, that's when Michael Cohen's office and residence were raided. One of the things they were looking for were communications related to that payment to Karen McDonnell -- Karen McDougall, excuse me -- so they are definitely interested in the communications to AMI and Michael Cohen.

What this piece does, this report that go we unearthed in the course of our work, was the question of, was there more kind of an ongoing relationship between Michael Cohen and the National Enquirer? Were his services sort of on an ongoing basis to quash negative stories that weren't simply around Karen McDougall but whether it was a negative story about Donald Trump's opponents, Hillary Clinton or Ben Carson, or were they stories not quite as flattering as he wanted about himself?

BLITZER: Very strong reporting, Sarah. Thank you very much.

Sara Ellison, at the "Washington Post."

There's more news we're following. Are the president's attacks against the special counsel, Robert Mueller, working right now? What the brand-new CNN polls are showing about the American public's opinion of this whole Russia investigation.

Plus, more than 4,000 people estimated to have died and the Trump administration still being criticized for the response. But now the government commissioning a congratulations coin on Puerto Rico. You're going to hear why.


[13:37:26] BLITZER: In a new CNN poll, most Americans believe Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election is important. And 55 percent polled say it's a serious matter, 35 percent say it was an effort to discredit President Trump.

But it also appears the constant criticism of the special counsel, Robert Mueller, is taking its toll. And 41 percent of those polled approve of how Mueller is handling the Russia investigation, but that's down from March where it was 48 percent. Now 39 percent disapprove, while in March it was 35 percent. And 21 percent are unsure, up from March when it was 17 percent.

Let's discuss this. I'm joined by CNN legal analyst, Jack Quinn, a former White House counsel during the Clinton administration, and CNN chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.

It looks like the strategy of the Trump supporters to discredit Mueller is working.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: It is working. And it's supported by the inspector general's report, because they believe the I.G. report shows that, at the onset of the investigation, there were people there who hated Donald Trump, quite frankly. And so both his attorneys, and you see the spokesman, Rudy Giuliani, out there every day, talking about this, and the president saying it's a witch hunt. And you have Bob Mueller saying absolutely nothing at all, so you can really see the impact in those numbers.

BLITZER: What do you think, Jack?

JACK QUINN, CNN LEGAL ANALLYST: I think Gloria has it exactly right. There's no doubt these attacks are taking their toll, but we have to remember, this is a law enforcement investigation. We don't do law enforcement, we don't prosecute people on the basis of public opinion. Robert Mueller has a job to do, and I think he's doing it carefully. And as Gloria said, he's not in a position to respond to these

attacks. Let's remember, after all, what James Comey did in the handling of the Clinton e-mail investigation. It didn't serve him well to be explaining what he was doing at different stages of the investigation. So while this may take its toll, I really believe that at the end of the day, it's going to depend on what he has to say, what he finds, how he justifies it and what action he takes, one, to protect our democracy, and, two, to ensure that any crimes he comes across are prosecuted or vindicated.

BLITZER: Gloria, in our CNN poll, 42 percent of Americans -- we can put the numbers up on the screen -- say President Trump should be impeached and removed from office. So 42 percent, four out of 10. What makes this remarkable is that he's on par with President Richard Nixon who, back in 1974, March 1974, a Harris polls had 43 percent of Americans saying Nixon should be impeached. He, of course, was never impeached. He resigned just before he would have been impeached.

[13:40:26] BORGER: Wolf, that is a high number. But I went and looked at the internals of these numbers. As you can imagine, it breaks down completely along party lines. Only 9 percent of Republicans believe that impeachment is a good idea, 77 percent of Democrats and 38 percent of Independents. So that's where you get that large number. Clearly, the president's base, as we've been saying on and on, is with him on this issue, and that number just reflects a divided country.

BLITZER: The country is very divided right now.

QUINN: And that's how he's chosen to run his presidency. From day one, he never made an effort to run a bipartisan government. He never reached out to Democrats to legislate together. He circled the wagons with his Republican colleagues, and most importantly, with his base. And, you know, that will either work for him, or I think at the end of the day, he will rue the day that he chose to be such an incredibly -- never in history, I think, have we seen a president so partisan, so ready to take on, you know, the other side. And by the way, it's reflected in the way he's run his foreign policy. He takes on America's allies. He undermines NATO. He throws out TPP. And he embraces Putin, Erdogan, and other autocrats. It's nothing we've ever seen.

BLITZER: Good analysis from both of you guys. Thank you very much.

President Trump's administration still under fire right now for their hurricane response last year. The death toll in Puerto Rico is still unclear. Despite that, the EPA is spending thousands on a coin commemorating its response. We have details, next.


[13:46:44] BLITZER: Here in Washington, the Environmental Protection Agency is under fire right now over a coin. The agency commissioned challenge coins, as they're called, to congratulate the response to national disasters back in 2017, and that includes the hurricane that ravaged Puerto Rico. A recent academic report commissioned by Harvard University found that the death toll in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria could be as high as 4,600.

Our correspondent, Sara Ganim, is with me right now.

It's pretty jarring in light of that report from Harvard to commission a coin congratulating everyone for their response.

SARA GANIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. This is certainly something not sitting well with advocacy groups or environmental groups that did not see the EPA's response to Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Maria in Puerto Rico as something to celebrate. There were reports of widespread illness, reports of bacterial contamination in Puerto Rico. After Maria, there was a boil-water advisory for most of the island. People were even getting their water from a superfund site that was not properly locked down by the EPA.

Keep in mind, it's the EPA's job to make sure there's a plan in place for drinking water, clean drinking water in emergencies like this. And also in Houston, there was massive flooding, unprecedented flooding from Hurricane Harvey. It damaged a superfund site, causing it to leak. The EPA initially declared that site safe before having to later reverse itself. Now, it's still unclear to this day how much of that waste was leaked out into surrounding areas. So you can sort of understand why there's some eyebrow raising over why the EPA would spend $8,500 on coins that say things like "response excellence" and "protecting human health and the environment."

The group that obtained these documents, American Bridge," points out this is another example in a long list of Scott Pruitt's EPA self- congratulating in the last months.

The EPA, of course, has a different take on this. In a statement they told CNN, "This is not news," and they pointed out the coins are awarded by agencies throughout government. It's true, the military has historically handed out award coins after certain events. It is a little bit different for civilian agencies to be doing it, but we have been seeing a lot of that in the past couple months.

[13:49:00] BLITZER: Good reporting, Sara. Thank you very much.

Just in, there's drama unfolding on the House floor as one congressman refuses to stop his speech criticizing the president over the separation policy involving children. You'll see what happened.


BLITZER: One every two minutes, that is how many women die during pregnancy or child birth. This week, we're sharing inspiring stories of truly extraordinary people and organizations in a special series called "CHAMPIONS FOR CHANGE."

And in today's story, CNN's Kate Bolduan highlights champions working to ensure that every mother and baby have a fighting chance at life.




BOLDUAN: There's our friends.


BOLDUAN: Have a good day.

Uh-oh. Are we going to make it? This way. This way. This way.

Every mother will tell you there's no such thing as work/life balance. It doesn't exist.

Where is Celia? Is she in the tree? No. Oh, there you are.

Is this your lunch, C.C.?


BOLDUAN: You'll have ice cream for lunch?

Who is your mommy?

How about this?

How is your nap?

My pregnancies with both Celia and Delphine were easy.


BOLDUAN: But when it came to birth, that was when the complications started for me. Both babies were breached. If didn't have access to a great medical system, I don't even want to think about what that would mean for my babies.


[13:55:08] BOLDUAN: The happiest moment of my life was bringing these two beautiful beings into the world. And to think that that same moment for another mother could mean death is just -- it's unimaginable.

(voice-over): I heard about Every Mother Counts from a very good friend and colleague of mine. Then I also met Christy Turlington. She is a force.


When my daughter, Grace, was born, I experienced a hemorrhage. Globally, more than half a million girls and women at that time were dying from pregnancy and childbirth-related complications. And the complication that I had experienced was one of the leading causes of death. This is something that made me want to ask what I could do. So it EMC was really founded to be able to engage people on a deeper level.

BOLDUAN: Along with education, advocacy and policy work, Christy's non-profit, Every Mother Counts, helps raise funds for community led maternity health programs around the world.

(on camera): How big is the problem still?

TURLINGTON BURNS: You look at the U.S. and we were ranked 41st in the world when I became a mom and today we're ranked 47th. We're actually falling behind. And black women are three to four times more likely to die from a pregnancy related complication than a Caucasian woman, and we're just really starting to ask the question why.

BOLDUAN: How would you think a woman like Jenny Joseph, a midwife, central Florida. How is she changing the game?

TURLINGTON BURNS: When we became a foundation and started grant giving --

JENNY JOSEPH, MIDWIFE: I need to get her hemoglobin.

TURLINGTON BURNS: -- she was like the first person I said, we have to help Jenny. She has spent her entire career focused on predominantly women of color who are really struggling with our system.

JOSEPH: Are you ready?

It's compassion. It's listening.

We measure the belly and listen to the baby and check the urine like any other O.B,, but these other pieces seem to be the key to the outcome.

TURLINGTON BURNS: She makes sure no woman is denied care.

JOSEPH: Back in a week, please.

They turned a story such as, I was turned away because I was too far advanced in my pregnancy.

Doing great.

We don't turn mothers away.

TURLINGTON BURNS: I would say Jenny, to some extent, is a model for Chanel.

Chanel is also serving low-income women of color in New York.


BOLDUAN (voice-over): Chanel is the founder of Ancient Song, a center that offers women of color and low-income families doula services, which are trained birth coaches, services many of these women would otherwise not be able to afford.

(on camera): Sitting here, what more can we all do to step up and do more?

CHANEL PORCHIA-ALBERT, FOUNDER, ANCIENT SONG: Supporting women of color, black women of color-led organizations, addressing implicit advice and racial discrimination within health care. We have two moms here that go for health care, yet they're being judged based on their age.

BOLDUAN: Without a doula, where would we be?

NICHELLA BIHGIRAT (ph), EXPECTING MOTHER: It makes me feel not completely alone. For seven months, it was just me until I met her.

BOLDUAN: What has this met for you, Rochelle?

ROCHELLE JAMES, MOTHER: That's what led me to become a doula more. They need that support. I wanted to be that support that my mom didn't have.

BOLDUAN (voice-over): The only thing I've ever wished for my daughters is that they grow up to have passion, to have happiness and to leave the earth, in a small way, a better place. That's what I see with Christy, with Chanel, and with Jenny.

(on camera): These are the role models I want for my daughters.


BLITZER: Kate is joining us live.

What a truly inspiring story, Kate. Thanks so much for doing it.

To our viewers here right now in the United States and around the world, what can they do to get involved and help?

BOLDUAN: They can get involved. They can go to But they can also just understand that when it comes to maternal health, it is very basic. Every single one of us is brought into the world by their mother, by a woman. And so why shouldn't it be a number-one priority for all of us to make sure that every woman, every mother has a fighting chance at safe and healthy pregnancy and birth. The majority of these complications that can lead to death or life-altering medical issues, a majority of these complications, these problems, are preventable. We just need to pay it forward and come together and step up and make sure it doesn't happen.

BLITZER: Kate, thanks so much for doing it.

And to our viewers, you can watch the "CHAMPIONS FOR CHANGE" one-hour special, Saturday night, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.

That's it for me. Thanks for watching.