Return to Transcripts main page


Whistleblower: Pruitt Meetings Scrubbed From Calendar; As New Scandals Erupt, How Does EPA Chief Still Have Job?; Nearly 60 Percent Disapprove Of Trump's Immigration Handling; Putin's Close Relationship With Actor Steven Seagal; Two Mayors Assassinated In The Philippines In Past 48 Hours. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired July 3, 2018 - 15:30   ET




DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): What is missing? Meetings with energy industry officials, lawyers, Washington insiders who could potentially benefit from a friendlier EPA.

(on camera): So, he would meet with an industry lobbyist, somebody from industry itself and decide later that that was not going to look good, so let's scrub it off the calendar?

KEVIN CHMIELEWSKI, FORMER EPA OFFICIAL: Sometimes later, even before, we would always put on the schedule meeting with staff. That was the default button was meeting with staff.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Want some examples? Internal e-mails show that in April 2017, Pruitt has a briefing and attends a dinner at Trump International Hotel with coal company executive, Joseph Pratt. It is not listed on the public EPA calendar.

September 2017, the official schedule shows Pruitt met with former senator turned energy industry lobbyist, Trent Lott. But left off that the meeting included the CEO of a shipping company and discussion of ships and their fuel source.

In October 2017, a staff briefing appeared on Pruitt's official calendar. E-mails show the actual meeting was with private attorneys representing a water district over a super fund site.

CHMIELEWSKI: We had at one point three different schedules. One of them was one that no one else saw besides three or four of us.

GRIFFIN: Two government experts tell CNN altering, sanitizing official government records to protect the boss could lead to legal trouble.

LARRY NOBLE, FORMER GENERAL COUNSEL, FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION: If somebody deleted, changed, scrubbed a federal record with the intent of deceiving the public or anybody, it could very well be a violation of federal law. GRIFFIN: The most controversial deletion of all according to Chmielewski came after Pruitt's $120,000 taxpayer funded trip to Rome in June 2017. That trip included extensive interaction with Catholic Cardinal George Pell, who was charged with multiple historical charges ever sexual offenses a few weeks later to which Pell pleaded not guilty. But this itinerary shows a tour with Cardinal Pell, it is not on Pruitt's official calendar, also missing is a lunch with Cardinal Pell.

CHMIELEWSKI: All of our time at the Vatican was spent with Cardinal Pell. Cardinal Pell was basically our host.

GRIFFIN: Yet, none of those tours, dinners and lunches appeared later when Scott Pruitt released his official calendar. Chmielewski says that was intentional.

CHMIELEWSKI: Once we came back and the cardinal was actually charged with these offenses, I alerted them and that is when it was basically taken off the schedule that we met with Cardinal Pell.

GRIFFIN: Chmielewski says he was fired from the EPA after raising 2questions about Scott Pruitt's extravagant spending. He supports Donald Trump and Donald Trump's pledge to drain the D.C. swamp. He says keeping Pruitt at EPA makes no sense.

CHMIELEWSKI: If there is something, I don't care if it's Republican or Democrat, right is right and wrong is wrong. And what he is doing right now is completely wrong.


GRIFFIN: CNN, of course, reached out to EPA multiple times seeking comment for this report. Scott Pruitt and his staff somewhere chosen not to respond. Drew Griffin, CNN, Atlanta.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Drew, thank you. For reaction, David Chalian is with me, CNN political director. I mean, David, there have been many corrupt cabinet officials in the past, but how high up the list is this guy on the list of worst offenders?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Pretty darn high when it comes to sort of swamp behavior. You'll recall that Donald Trump ran against this. It was one of the things he really found -- he was able to tap into a current with voters about how much they can't stand exactly this kind of behavior, Brooke.

And yet here is Scott Pruitt doing everything that if you were writing a book to a cabinet secretary how to avoid controversy and problems and corruption, you would go down this list and be like don't do any of these things.

BALDWIN: Don't do any of these things.

CHALIAN: Exactly. Including possible violations of the law when it comes to asking people in their government function to do non- government work, whether that is getting your wife a $200,000 a year job or working out some rent with a landlord that you're having a dispute with. These are not actual taxpayer job descriptions.

BALDWIN: Yet he still has his job.

CHALIAN: Because he is following through on an agenda that President Trump wants implemented.

BALDWIN: I want to ask you about the new Quinnipiac numbers, 58 percent disapproval of the president. What is your read of that number?

CHALIAN: This poll has been taken with all of the information out there, nonstop coverage about the issue at the border and children being separated from their families, the president reversing course with that executive order. This is not working for the president.

[15:35:09] The numbers have gotten worse here on his handling of immigration as you noted, Brooke, it is actually slightly worse than his overall approval rating. So, this is a negative issue for him and I would note also in the same Quinnipiac poll immigration has gone to the top of the most important issues impacting how someone will vote this fall.

More than the economy and more than health care right now showing that this news coverage of this moment in time is definitely seeping into people's thinking. And just look at the president's actions when he reversed course a couple weeks ago.

He knows that he was on the wrong side of this issue trying to get to the right place, but I have to remind folks, the United States government is still not -- has not united all of these families.

And in this Quinnipiac poll, some six in 10 Americans think it is a human rights violation to separate them and 83 percent in this poll, 83 percent, Brooke, believe it is the U.S. government's responsibility to reunify these families.

BALDWIN: David, thank you.

Coming up next, President Trump's commerce secretary that no matter what impact new tariffs have another U.S. economy, we won't be seeing a change in the Trump administration's tariffs. We'll discuss what that means for your money.

Also, two mayors assassinated over the last 48 hours in the Philippines. Details on the attacks and the manhunt ahead.



BALDWIN: The president's trade war suddenly getting real. Canada striking back. The E.U. threatening nearly $300 billion worth of new tariffs on cars in retaliation. Even one Republican senator says there is nobody in favor of this. But despite all of that, the president's commerce secretary says even if markets tank, the president will not surrender. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILBUR ROSS, COMMERCE SECRETARY: There is no bright line level of the stock market that is going to change lass fallacy. The president is trying to fix long term problems that should have been dealt with a long time ago.


BALDWIN: Political commentator, "Washington Post" columnist, Catherine Rampell, is with me. Is Secretary Ross right?

CATHERINE RAMPELL, OPINION COLUMNIST, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I will say he is right on one particular point, which is that the White House should not be crafting policy with the explicit goal of maximizing the Dow despite the fact that Trump himself has indicated that he believes in the past that the Dow is the optimal measure of his administration's success.

So, I don't think that the Dow should be the end all be all measure of whether policy is good. That said, stock markets do have some information, including as to whether the business community investors believe that this trade war is good to businesses. As Trump seems to claim that it is.

And clearly it is not look, they just got this enormous corporate tax break. Their statutory top tax rate is down something like 30 percent. Stocks should be up for the year. They are not. The Dow is actually down for the year on net.

And that is because what Trump is doing both in terms of raising costs for U.S. companies that buy stuff that we have now placed tariffs on or that are trying to sell stuff to countries abroad, they are suffering. And it is because ever these very ill-advised measures that Trump has been taking.

BALDWIN: Speaking of tariffs, let's talk about your column in the "Washington Post" where your headline tongue in cheek essentially the notion that the president would cut more taxes sort of like a 2.0 of what we saw in the fall. You're saying you agree with him sort of, but it is like I agree with him, but it should be these tariffs, steel, aluminum, solar.

RAMPELL: Yes, Trump says he wants to cut taxes further because the first tax cut was so wildly politically successful, which it was not, but that aside, if he really wants to cut taxes further, he should start with the idiotic taxes that he himself has imposed over the last six months that have been raising costs for U.S. businesses, that have been putting job at risk and raising costs for consumers.

Again, these are taxes. Tariffs are taxes. He doesn't seem to have realized that point, that this is raising costs for consumers and the middle class, but if he actually wants to help the middle class by cutting taxes, he should start by rolling back the taxes he himself has imposed. BALDWIN: Catherine Rampell, thank you very much. Next, Republican senators in Moscow just days before President Trump meets with Vladimir Putin. We will talk about the strange history of meetings between the Russian president and Hollywood celebrities.



BALDWIN: With the Trump/Putin summit now just days away, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke on the phone today with Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov to discuss the formal sit down that is set for July 16th in Finland.

Some Republican senators also meeting with Lavrov in Moscow. Louisiana Senator John Kennedy called the talks, quote, "brutally frank," saying he asked his counterparts not interfere in upcoming elections.

Earlier, Alabama Senator Richard Shelby struck a different tone seeming to offer an olive branch.


SENATOR RICHARD SHELBY (R), ALABAMA: We come here realizing that we have a strained relationship, but we could have a better relationship between the U.S. and Russia because there are common interests around the world that we can hopefully work together on. We could be competitors, but we don't necessarily need to be adversaries.


BALDWIN: While those U.S. senators are in Moscow looking to improve relations with Russia, it turns out some Hollywood celebrities have already spent extensive time in Russia. An NPR report out today profile Bob Van Ronkel (ph), the Hollywood broker credited with linking many celebrities with Russia's rich and powerful including Vladimir Putin himself.

One in particular, actor, Steven Seagal has become Vladimir Putin's biggest fan casting doubt on the accusations of Russian election meddling.


STEVEN SEAGAL, ACTOR: For anyone to think that Vladimir Putin had anything to do with fixing the elections or that everyone the Russians have that kind of technology is stupid.


BALDWIN: OK. With me, Tim Mak with NPR, who reported on this story and I was reading this morning you had me with your headline of Steven Seagal and Vladimir Putin becoming BFFs and then reading deeper into you piece, you have the celebrities going to Russia. Tell me about this. [15:50:09] TIM MAK, POLITICAL REPORTER, NPR: OK. So, for the last 20 years this guy, Bob Van Ronkel, a link between Russia's elite and the oligarchs and billionaires in Russia and Hollywood. You know, for a long period of time, the way that the ultrawealthy in Russia showed that they had true wealth is bringing in people like Kanye West, Jack Nicholson, Sean Penn and Steven Seagal, and Bob Van Ronkel was one key ingredient in making it all happen.

BALDWIN: Is this guy a political guy at all? How does, you know -- how's the kremlin -- good look for Russia to have the connections to celebrities? What are they putting out there?

MAK: So, Bob Van Ronkel is not particularly political. He does a lot of business between Russia and the United States. He's an American who grew up in Los Angeles, California. But what he has done is help in some ways the kremlin's agenda which is, hey, we want to normalize relationships with the west.

If we can bring in celebrities this is one way to say, hey, we are not isolated. We are not set apart from the international community. We have got these folks, who you know and you like in entertainment and they're coming to Russia.

BALDWIN: Well, if people have been wondering where Steven Seagal has been, you're welcome. Tim Mak, thank you.

MAK: Thanks a lot.

BALDWIN: Just in to CNN here, new video that captures the assassination of a mayor in the Philippines. This is the second mayor to be killed there in two days. What is going on? Let's talk about that.



CABRERA: Terror on the streets of the Philippines after back to back assassinations of two mayors. The killers are unknown. The latest slaying happening today. The victim pulling out of a driveway and on to the street when someone on a motorcycle fired inside his car. Investigators say it's not clear if both attacks are connected. CNN's Erin McLaughlin has the story.


ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): These are Mayor Antonio Halili's last moments, captured with a cell phone at a flag raising ceremony. National anthem plays. The mayor in the dark suit hand over heart, the camera cuts away. You hear a single gunshot.

The shooting also caught on camera from behind. He runs to the right and then drops to the ground. Shot dead by a single bullet to the chest. Authorities suspect the shooter may have fired across the road from this grassy area. The killer got away. The motive, a mystery. But there are plenty of people that despised the controversial mayor of Tanauan infamous for presiding over the city's perps walks like this one. A parade of suspected drug dealers.

Halili insisted those paraded have confessed though many had not been formally charged. He claimed to have stopped what local media dubbed the walk of shame by the time CNN met him in 2016. Instead, Halili showed off the city's prison, its population was growing by the day. Part of the Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's infamous war on drugs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Most of these suspects I guess who what are the charges they're facing?

MAYOR ANTONIO HALILI: Most of them are drug, drugs.

MCLAUGHLIN: But the mayor once known as the "Iron Man of Tanuan" for his crackdown on crime considered a Duterte ally was most recently suspected of being involved with drugs himself. According to the Philippines news agency, the country's National Police Commission reportedly placed him on a narco list.

Authorities say they have no idea why the killer apparently targeted him. They are also looking at those perp walks as a possible motive. Erin McLaughlin, CNN.


BALDWIN: Here at home, the Maryland woman who says she was cyber stalked by the "Capital Gazette" shooting suspect is speaking out and talking about the nightmare she endured from his constant verbal attacks. She explains why she was forced to file a complaint against the former classmate.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would be afraid that he could show up anywhere at any time and kill me. I have been tormented and traumatized and terrorized for so long that it has I think changed the fiber of my being. He said f-you. Go kill yourself. You're going to need a protective order. He is very cold. He is very calculated. He is very intelligent. One thing that I do feel now is that he can no longer silence me.


BALDWIN: Meantime, CNN has learned that the suspect allegedly sent multiple threatening letters before Thursday's attack. The liters dated same day of the shooting were sent to a judge, a court and the newspaper's lawyer from the 2012 defamation case.

I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being with me here. We'll be here all week. Hope you have wonderful, safe Fourth of July. Let's go to Washington. "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper starts right now.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Brooke. A powerful congressman facing appalling accusations. "THE LEAD" starts right now.

The breaking news, conservative Republican Jim Jordan accused of turning a blind eye to sexual abuse. The political fallout from the White House to the capitol and his response ahead --