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Trump to Name Supreme Court Pick; U.S. Newspaper Shooting; Comedian Pranks U.S. President on Air Force One; Thailand Cave Search; Hundreds of Puerto Rican Hurricane Survivors to Lose Housing Assistance; Syrians Flee to Southern Border. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired June 30, 2018 - 03:00   ET




GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The U.S. president says he will bring up the issue of election meddling with Russian president Vladimir Putin when they meet in Finland.

The question, will President Trump press him or concede to Russia's denial?

Plus sadness hangs over the U.S. state of Maryland after a gunman kills five newspaper employees. The suspect apparently had a long grudge with the paper.

And seven days in the dark. Time is running short for the teenage soccer team trapped in a cave in Thailand. We'll have that story.

Live from CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta, we want to welcome our viewers around the world. I'm George Howell. The CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.


HOWELL: Around the world, good day to you. The U.S. president says he has five finalists in mind for the U.S. Supreme Court, filling an opening that could reshape the nation's highest court for decades to come.

Donald Trump is expected to start interviewing nominees this weekend. He says he will announce his choice on July 9th. Our Boris Sanchez has this report.


BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: President Trump making headlines on a number of topics during a short gaggle with reporters on his way to Bedminster, New Jersey, for the weekend, notably talking about a possible replacement for Justice Anthony Kennedy, who announced earlier this week he's retiring from the Supreme Court.

The president saying that he has whittled down a list of 25 names to a possible five candidates, two of them including women. The president also making news saying that he plans to interview one or two of these possible candidates over the weekend here in Bedminster.

But among the topics of conversation, their stance on abortion will not be discussed. President Trump saying he'll not ask these possible candidates their stance on Roe v. Wade, a very controversial issue, one that Justice Anthony Kennedy was previously known for creating a lot of controversy over.

Here's more from President Trump on what he plans to talk to these candidates about.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you looking for somebody who would overturn Roe v. Wade?

TRUMP: Well, you know, it's a great group of intellectual talent but we really, you know, they are generally conservative. I'm not going to ask them that question, by the way. That's not a question I'll be asking. But it is a group of very highly talented, very brilliant, mostly conservative judges.

SANCHEZ: President Trump also saying he does not plan to ask these possible candidates about their stance on LGBT issues.

The president also made news on several other fronts, including suggesting that he plans to talk to Vladimir Putin about election meddling, telling reporters there should not be election meddling anywhere in the world.

There has been some discussion previously, even among those in his own party, that President Trump has been weak when it comes to confronting Vladimir Putin over this. In previous meetings, the president seeming to accept Putin's version of events and denials, saying Russia had nothing to do with meddling in the 2016 election.

Just on Friday, the president tweeted that assertion before pivoting to attacks on Democrats, the FBI and his own Department of Justice. Lastly the president also made news on the topic of his chief of staff, John Kelly, and reports that Kelly was planning to leave the White House as early as the end of summer.

The president suggesting that he did not know anything about those reports and that they were fake news.

However, sources have told CNN previously that President Trump has been talking to allies and advisers, polling them on possible replacements over the course of the last few months.

So we know from those sources that this, in fact, has been something on the president's radar for some time -- Boris Sanchez, CNN, traveling with the president near Bedminster, New Jersey.


HOWELL: Now to the U.S. state of Maryland. A sad day there as hundreds of people came together, united in grief, mourning five journalists who were killed in their offices doing their jobs.


HOWELL (voice-over): Friends and family reflected on the victims. Many carried the front page of Friday's paper, which detailed the horrific attack.

Others sang while the sound of a bagpipe played in the distance. A memorial pays homage to those killed outside the office building where the "Capital Gazette" newspaper is located.

Also on Friday the suspect appeared in court and we now have more details about this attack. Our Tom Foreman has more.


TIMOTHY ALTOMARE, ANNE ARUNDEL POLICE CHIEF: The fellow was there to kill as many people as he could.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The attack was planned, the newspaper a specific target, the weapon a pump-action shotgun. That's what police said even as the suspect, Jarrod Ramos, was denied bail on five counts of first-degree murder.

President Trump, a frequent and harsh critic of the media, weighed in too.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Journalists, like all Americans, should be free from the fear of being violently attacked while doing their job.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The glass shattered. I turned around to see it.


FOREMAN: But amid recollections of the horror, police and folks at the paper are also sharing stories of that 38-year-old man's apparently simmering rage and years of warning signs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was going down our newsroom, starting from the front. And the -- yes, just continually shooting people.

FOREMAN: People at the paper say it started when "The Capital Gazette" covered a criminal harassment claim against him by a woman in 2011. He was convicted and tried to sue the newspaper for defamation.

After a relentless campaign to keep his claim active, it was thrown out, but, by 2013, police say he was routinely raging online against the newspaper.

TOM MARQUARDT, FORMER EDITOR AND PUBLISHER, "THE CAPITAL GAZETTE": I alerted my staff to call 911 if anybody resembling him came into the room.

FOREMAN: Threats, hints of violence, furious obscenities.

ALTOMARE: You have all looked at the social media platforms. There's clearly a history there. FOREMAN: Detectives had talked to the newspaper staff, but:

ALTOMARE: "The Capital Gazette" did not wish to pursue criminal charges. There was a fear that doing so would exacerbate an already flammable situation.

FOREMAN: And yet police say he bought a shotgun anyway, legally purchased about a year ago. And that's what he used to storm through the open newsroom, where some escaped, some hid and one was shot trying to open a door the alleged shooter had barricaded.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The person is still shooting.

FOREMAN: When police found the suspected gunman, he was hiding under a desk.

Intern Anthony Messenger describes the scene.

ANTHONY MESSENGER, SURVIVOR: There's chaos. The office was kind of in shambles. Unfortunately, we saw -- we had to pass two bodies of our colleagues, which was something that nobody should have to stomach.

FOREMAN: Now, amid questions of how all of that played out begins the long morning by families and friends of the victims.

Robert Hiaasen, assistant editor and columnist, known as Big Rob, not just because he was tall.

CARL HIAASEN, BROTHER OF VICTIM: He was just this big, generous, gentle guy.

FOREMAN: Gerald Fischman, editorial page editor, quiet, reserved, with an encyclopedia knowledge of everything.

John McNamara love sports and history, a jack of all trades and a fantastic person.

Rebecca Smith, sales assistant, kind and considerate and willing to help.

And Wendi Winters, editor, reporter and columnist, her life was a gift to everyone who knew her. Despite their grief, the surviving staff is doing what journalists do, reporting on what happened, with one big difference. The first editorial page after the shooting was blank.


HOWELL: Tom Foreman, thank you for the report.

President Trump spoke about the shooting. Here's what he had to say.


TRUMP: I'd like to address the horrific shooting that took place yesterday at "Capital Gazette" newsroom in Annapolis, Maryland. This attack shocked the conscience of our nation and filled our hearts with grief. Journalists, like all Americans, should be free from the fear of being violently attacked while doing their job.


HOWELL: In that instant, setting aside his disdain for the press.

The White House is giving some insight into what could be called a mile-high security breach. A comedian posing as a U.S. senator said he got President Trump to call him back from Air Force One.

The comedian's name, John Melendez, also known as Stuttering John on the Howard Stern radio show here in the States. He posed as Senator Bob Menendez, a Democrat from the state of New Jersey, and he was able to get a message to the president that he wanted to chat and he got to chat. Listen.


TRUMP: Hi, Bob.

JOHN MELENDEZ, COMEDIAN: Hey, how are you?

TRUMP: How are you?

Congratulations on everything, we're proud of you. Congratulations. Great job. You went through a tough, tough situation and I don't think a very fair situation.


HOWELL: It is important to note the real Senator Menendez has been charged, he had been charged with corruption, which ended in a mistrial.

So how could this type of breach have happened?

The White House had this to say, "The president wants to be accessible to members and likes engaging with them and wants them to have the opportunity to connect. The downside of that is that sometimes the channels are open too widely and mistakes like this happen."

The U.S. government ends its temporary housing program for hurricane survivors. And now some Puerto Ricans are left with a great deal of uncertainty.

Plus rescuers, they refuse to give up hope in Thailand. The very latest on the search efforts there to find a missing youth football team. Stay with us.





HOWELL: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell.

People across Thailand are praying for miracle, hoping that 12 boys and their football coach, that they can still be found alive. The team has been missing for a full week now. It is believed they are trapped in a flooded cave.

But worshippers are not giving up yet and neither are the rescuers. At this point, they're still scouring the jungle. They're searching for alternative ways to get into this mountain that you see here. They're looking to drill into it.

They've rappelled down a shaft and even dropped food and water, hoping that the boys and their coach will be able to find those supplies. Let's bring in CNN's New Delhi bureau chief, Nikhil Kumar, following this story live for us.

And Nikhil, rescuers optimistic about this new entry into the cave system.

NIKHIL KUMAR, CNN NEW DELHI BUREAU CHIEF: They're certainly not giving up. It's been one week exactly, last Saturday is when the youth football team went missing; 12 boys within the ages 11 through 16 plus their coach, who is 25 years old.

They went missing and since then rescuers have been trying to get in to find out where they are and to rescue them. The cave complex itself, the area it's in Northern Thailand, it's a forest area and it's been hit by heavy rainfall in recent days.

And that's complicated the rescue effort because it means that the normal points of entry into this cave complex have been flooded. In fact, pumps that are ordinarily used to help Bangkok with flood waters have been moved up to this area to help with the rescue efforts.

Yesterday a team managed to rappel down a shaft to about 40 feet and no luck yet. But they're hoping to drill from the top into the cave. The reason they're thinking of doing this is because the normal entrances have been flooded. And it's not possible to get in that way.

The entire country has been transfixed by this. The prime minister of Thailand was there earlier in the week, taking stock to make sure the rescue is continuing. So nobody's giving up yet -- George.

HOWELL: The fact that the entire country is transfixed, surely the world is paying attention to this, Nikhil. But the question I have for you, the government also offering a warning of sorts for people about covering around this very incident.

KUMAR: That's absolutely right. So Thailand's department for mental health has issued an advisory for people in the country, saying they should regulate the amount of coverage that they watch.

People up and down the country have been glued to their television screens. This has been on the TV, on the front pages of newspapers. People have been glued, waiting for updates on this rescue effort, which is not very broad. There are more than 1,000 rescuers involved, most of them Thailand but there's also U.S. military teams and some British cave experts.

They're all trying to get in, try and find this team and rescue them. And people have been transfixed. So the government has said people shouldn't watch more than one hour of covering at a time so that they don't become, quote, "overly obsessed" with this case.


KUMAR: So there has been a warning because everyone in that country is waiting for news and, as you say, not just in that country but around the world, as we are now in the seventh day -- George.

HOWELL: No one waiting more than the families involved. Nikhil Kumar, thank you so much for your time and reporting. We'll stay in touch with you.


HOWELL: All right, back here in the United States, the island of Puerto Rico, for the past 10 months now, survivors of that island's deadly hurricanes have faced an uncertain future. New nearly 1,800 of them are struggling once again.

On Saturday, they are to leave the hotels, the hotels where they've been living for some time. The government program that provided for two weeks of shelter and had been extended repeatedly, well, now that program is ending after thousands of people who used it used it as permanent housing.

That leaves the remaining victims scrambling, hundreds of people will end up in homeless shelters now.


HOWELL: Let's talk more about this now with Jennice Fuentes, Jennice a Democratic strategist, joining this hour from Washington.

A pleasure to have you on the show with us today. Let's start by talking about the situation, because, look, there's people all around the United States who have been relying on FEMA for transitional shelter.

They will be forced to leave their hotels; at best, they can reportedly get counseling and then maybe a one- way ticket back to Puerto Rico, your thoughts?

I know, -- it adds insult to injury to this more than 1,600 families, all U.S. citizens because it's important that our audience watching understands that Puerto Ricans are born U.S. citizens.

In this case, the refugees of Hurricane Maria, a category 5 hurricane that destroyed the island from coast to coast, where the grid failed and where, even today, nine months out, there's still not reliable electricity throughout the island.

And there's entire communities, 10 percent of the population still does not have electricity or access to reliable electricity in the entire island. So the 1,600 families that are in different parts of the United States are being let down by FEMA and the U.S. government because they are U.S. citizens.

They should get no different --


FUENTES: -- treatment than if the tragedy occurred in Texas or in Puerto Rico, where it did happen.

HOWELL: Let press forward on that a bit more. We have seen house Democrats sending letters to FEMA, pressing the administrator, Brock Long, on why the agency has not established a disaster housing assistance program, that essentially provides temporary housing vouchers to hurricane victims to extend beyond this deadline.

Keeping in mind, FEMA denied the island's governor a similar request for the same program.

FUENTES: Exactly. I think it's an interesting question for FEMA to answer. HUD and FEMA collaborate together on that. And remember, George, these are people who have really had to flee. They have been traumatized already once.

And then twice by having to live in a hotel for months to no end and now what a horrible weekend is this, not knowing, where are you going to sleep after tomorrow night?

And all you want, when you are a refugee of any kind is to have stability and to be able to provide a roof over your shoulder and your head, to you and your kids, especially with kids that have disabilities, kids who have been traumatized.

So everyone wants stability and that was the little comfort that FEMA ,working together with HUD, could provide the 1,600 families who we're talking about at least 3,000 people.

HOWELL: Democratic senator Bill Nelson also pushed for an extension of Florida. He pushed for an extension but the move was blocked by his Republican counterpart, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.

But this does play into the optics that you talk about here. The government offering more time and more support for survivors of other storms, like Hurricanes Rita and Katrina, and less support, less time for victims from Puerto Rico, which is a U.S. territory.

FUENTES: Absolutely. I think you raise a very good point. In Texas, for example, those U.S. citizens in Texas benefitted beyond nine months. By statute, I believe it's 16 months and they did an extension over 24 months. They had this assistance.

If you look at the facts in terms of from meals provided, from water, from tarps, from personnel, from helicopters, from presidential tweets, from presidential visits. There's a very, very big contrast between the attention that this administration has paid to Puerto Rico and the U.S. citizens that live there and the people that lived in Texas, after Katrina, Rita and Harvey.

So the facts speak for themselves. And I think I'd like my country to do better. I'm a U.S. citizen, like all Puerto Ricans.

Why aren't we taking care of Puerto Ricans, of U.S. citizens, the way we're taking care of other U.S. citizens in different states?

It puzzles me and it really is a letdown.

HOWELL: Jennice Fuentes, we appreciate your time and perspective. Thank you.

FUENTES: Thank you, George.


HOWELL: 2018, this could be a banner year for the world's tallest mountain. A record number of people repeatedly reached the 8,800- meter summit and every journey to the roof of the world, it is a personal one.

As climbers face weeks of dangers, look at what they experience there. CNN followed two British adventures, who crossed the deep crevasses and suffered through fierce storms. The worst nightmare came in the so-called death zone, when their oxygen failed. Listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My mask is blown (ph).





UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You still get some in bonus (ph).


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, what do you suggest?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's your plan?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE). HOWELL (voice-over): You can watch, "The Challenge: Everest: in three different parts exclusively on this network. It starts at 8:30 this evening in Hong Kong and that is 1:30 pm in London, only here on CNN.

Moving on now to the situation in Syria; as that nation's civil war rages on more and more people leaving their homes to try and escape the fighting there. One aid group says in the last 10 days alone, almost 22,000 people have been displaced from the southern Syria city of Daraa.

That's where the government launched a new offensive against rebels. The Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations says at least 157 people have been killed so far.

Those escaping the fighting are huddling into a tent city along Syria's border with Israeli occupied Golan Heights. CNN has obtained video from one of the camps that has sprung up there. Israel has provided some aid. But it is the end of the line for many of these refugees.


HOWELL: Our Ian Lee reports for us.


IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The latest wave of human suffering in Syria shove what they can, a life's work of possessions, crammed into a truck. Kilometers away, the Syrian regime bombards the Daraa region, in the country's southwest corner.

The familiar black smoke of this civil war, more buildings, more towns and villages reduced to rubble. Tens of thousands have fled, most towards Jordan. Others to the frontier separating Syria from the Israel-occupied Golan Heights.

A new life on the run, family in tow without electricity or clean running water.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We fled because of the indiscriminate bombings that never stop. Every day there is a massacre in Daraa. The situation is so terrible. We've been here for a week and we have seen zero help. No water, no food. It's a catastrophic situation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We have no shelter from the sun or the cold. We can't go back and get anything because of the heavy bombing.

Where are we supposed to go?

There are no tents here. There is nothing here. And we have been like this for a year.

Where are we supposed to go? Do we go back to the bombing and shelling?

LEE (voice-over): On the high ground, Israel watches for new arrivals, thousands so far, gathering at the fence. Thursday night an Israeli army convoy opened the wire and delivered tents, food, medical supplies and clothing.

Over several years, Israel has treated thousands of injured Syrians but the Assad regime's latest offensive creates a new crisis and Israel is adamant it's not going to open the gates and let refugees in.

Crossing on foot would be dangerous, too. Leftover mines span this frontier.

LEE: Standing here on this side of the fence we are relatively safe, although we have heard some gunshots. But just a couple of meters down the road, for those Syrians fleeing that fighting, their future is uncertain.

LEE (voice-over): Tonight the war will be in the distance. They'll get some sleep they've lacked for days. But who knows what tomorrow will bring -- Ian Lee, CNN on the Golan Heights.


HOWELL: Ian, thank you.

Now a story about a woman in Saudi Arabia, who's dropped a new music video, rapping behind the wheel of a car that she can now legally drive. Watch.



HOWELL (voice-over): Lisa A posted this video on June 24th, the day Saudi Arabia lifted its ban on women driving. She's steering her car, singing about how she doesn't need taxis anymore or anyone taking her anywhere anymore. She can do it herself.


HOWELL: And thank you for being with us for CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell. The news continues right after this.