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AT THIS HOUR

Rescue Teams Weigh Options To Get Boys Out Of Thailand Cave; Thai Cave Rescue Attempts On Hold Until At Least Tomorrow; CNN: Pruitt Lobbied Trump To Fire Sessions; GOP Representative Jordan Denies Turning Blind Eye to Alleged Sexual Abuse while a Wrestling Coach. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired July 4, 2018 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[11:00:07]

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. And thank you for joining us for a special July 4th edition of AT THIS HOUR.

The elation and relief, now the impossible choice. Families overjoyed that their sons are alive after being missing for more than a week in pitch black and flooded cave. Just as rescuers are now scrambling to figure out how to bring the boys home.

We're going to show you this new video right here from Northern Thailand showing the 12 young boys, their soccer coach, wrapped in blankets. They say they are healthy. They say they are very thankful.

But make no mistake, their order is far from over. Each option to extract them from the still flooded cave system brings its own risk.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLAUS RASMUSSEN, THAI CAVE DIVING ASSOCIATION: We can cross our fingers, we can hope, if everything goes well, they can be out tomorrow, if not, the day after. If the weather goes bad, we might actually have to live in there for four months option that they are talking about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: From tomorrow to four months from now. Mother nature is not on their side. Joining me right now to set the stage, correspondent, Jonathan Miller, he has been at the scene for all of this.

Jonathan, the new video coming in is really incredible seeing those boys, the coach, inside the cave. How are they doing right now?

JONATHAN MILLER, CNN ASIA CORRESPONDENT: Well, the only evidence we've got, Kate, is what we actually see in those videos. They tried to put a communications link in yesterday, a telephone. But there was some problem with it and it hasn't been established yet.

So, the boys haven't even managed to speak to their moms and dads yet. The moms and dads have been watching this video as well and reading into it all the stuff that we try to read into it as well.

They gave that traditional Thai greeting. They were very courteous. They smiled, and they cracked a few jokes. They seem to be in pretty good shape considering that they have been underground in this cavern, without food, in pitch blackness for nine days before they were found.

So how are they doing? Not too bad under the circumstances, but they must be as anxious as everyone else up here about what's going to happen next.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Any details that you're hearing on what they did during those nine days in pitch blackness before they were found?

MILLER: In a word -- no. For the same reason, we haven't really had the chance to sort of get any sense of debrief from them. I mean, you know, I guess they're very resilient. They're fit soccer players. They have obviously got great camaraderie.

In fact, I met one of the teachers from their school, an English teacher, and he was telling me that they -- you know, even in the classrooms, if one child needs help, they all help out. There is a real sense of looking after each other.

It's something you really find in this society, in Thailand. There is a real sense of sort of like coming together in moments of crisis. They will have looked after each other. But one of the interesting things that happened, we learned today, in fact from a CNN interview from one of my colleagues, Anna.

She heard from this diver that one of the children heard the noise of roosters crowing outside. Now if that is the case, it is possible that there might be a way to get them out through the cave chamber up on to the mountain ridge above. That could be a far less risky way of extracting them.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. But, you are kind of where everything is staged and where all the supplies are coming in and a lot of preparation work is happening, where you've been able to be. Do you know yet how they eventually make the call, when is the right time to bring the kids out and how?

MILLER: I mean, it's a decision from hell. I mean, I really don't envy the people who have to make that call because essentially the window is closing, and it is a weather window. Because when the monsoon rains here, it rains. It is torrential. That cave system will totally flood.

Now they've been managing to pump out a lot of water. They've got 120 million liters of water out and the water levels have significantly dropped which means that it is easier to take them out.

But, you know, they're still going to have to dive through these narrow passageways. That's going to be very tough for kids who can't even swim, let alone use scuba gear. When they decide? I don't know but it has to be pretty soon. BOLDUAN: Jonathan, thank you so much. Really appreciate your eyes and ears on the ground there. The mystery continues. The questions mount. But thank God they're alive still.

Let's get a closer look at what the rescuers are up against right now, as Jonathan was hinting at there. Tom Foreman has a closer look.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Kate. Darkness, cold, rushing water and time, rescuers have to grapple with all of those elements that if they want to bring these young people back into the sunlight, and right now, it's not clear how they are going to do that.

Let's look at the mountain and cave to see what the challenges are. This is where the young people went in. They traveled more than a mile through winding trails and now they are more than a half-mile deep.

[11:05:02] We don't have any good maps to show us the interior of the cave, but let's take a hypothetical cross section of "a" cave to show you why they can't get out and why the rescue is so complicated.

If the kids went in down here and they're climbing up and down, making their way through the cave and finally wind up down here, what happened was the floodwaters came in behind them and effectively made portions of this cave impassable.

We don't know how many areas are like that, how big they are. Long as a house, a football field, longer? We don't know. But we do know that rescuers are having a hard time getting from here to there.

If they want to bring the boys back out that way, there are big challenges. One of them, many of these boys are unable to swim. Now, yes, a diver could simply grab a kid and drag him back through the water, but the kid would still have to survive the whole time breathing on scuba gear which could be very unsettling and difficult especially since this water is very murky.

There is limited visibility. They are heavy currents and cramped passageways to go through. All of that together could easily lead to panic, which could present a threat to both the rescuer and the young men being rescued.

So, what are the alternatives? Well, these people could do what folks did in Chile back in 2010, they could try to drill through the side of the mountain to reach the kids, who are roughly at the same depth as the miners were back then.

But, remember, that took three different drill holes before one broke through -- and more than two months before these happy reunion scenes occurred. What else could they do? They could try to move the kids to a higher ledge inside the cave, a little bit safer.

They could bring them supplies and try to wait out all the water, but that is even a longer process. Monsoon season has just started, and it could go on for months -- Kate. BOLDUAN: Tom Foreman, thank you so much.

Joining me right now for some more perspective, Anmar Mirza, a cave rescue expert, national coordinator for The U.S. Cave Rescue Commission. Thanks so much for coming in.

ANMAR MIRZA, CAVE RESCUE EXPERT: You're quite welcome.

BOLDUAN: So, what do you make of the challenges ahead for these teams to get the boys and their coach out?

MIRZA: Well, obviously, we've been discussing the three primary options, and none of them are equally bad -- they're all equally bad, none of them are equally good. So, the decision-making process I think one of your earlier guests said, the decision from hell, it's very true.

Because the weather and the ability of the boys to handle the potential for scuba diving, all these things come into play. And as a professional rescuer, I trust the people who are on the ground and under the ground to make the best decision that they can make at the time based on the conditions that they're dealing with.

One of the things that I like to point out is that, in rescue, we do a lot of contingency planning, trying to plan for every possible contingency. Even if they decide to shelter in place based on the decision that they make at a time, continuing to try to train them to utilize the scuba equipment and to be comfortable with it and familiar with it gives them options in the future.

It also helps the kids have a hand in their own rescue. It gives them a psychological boost.

BOLDUAN: Yes, that is fascinating. Let me play for you how one of the divers involved in the effort described it to me last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BEN REYMENANTS, ASSISTING WITH CAVE RESCUE: We dive caves every day. We do cave exploration. We wouldn't dive this cave in any conditions at all. That's why there is not fix lines in there because it is only being done when it is dry and safe. Diving this cave is a Mt. Everest of cave diving, having to lay fixed lines for about 1-1/2 miles into the cave, then the hardest job of all, connect the live line with the kids.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: I mean, just reinforces once again just how terrifying this whole thing sounds. What does it sound like to you?

MIRZA: That's exactly what I was picturing when the first divers broke through in there. I know the reputations of the dive teams that are there. I know how hard the Navy SEAL divers for the Thailand government have trained. And I trust their judgment when they say that this was an incredibly difficult operation. And it continues to be an incredibly difficult dive, even with the dive lines laid. It is not a simple process, and every single trip that they go in and out carries risk for the rescuers.

BOLDUAN: That's a great point. What is the biggest risk, do you think, trying to get the boys out? If the decision is made that it needs to be done through a dive?

MIRZA: The decision to make that dive is going to be based on what the diver masters feel that if they are ready or not. If they feel that they are ready, the risk is a lot lower.

[11:10:05] But of course, in any situation like that, when you are in a body-sized passage and you're breathing through equipment, if anything were to happen to that equipment, it may be difficult or impossible to fix it in time before you can no longer breathe.

Also, if they panic in there -- panic is incredibly likely, especially if they have to do an evacuation very quickly before the boys have had sufficient amount of training. If they have to do that evacuation because the -- where they are might flood completely, then it is a very, very high risk.

And that panic itself will kill somebody because they will not be able to move, they may lose their air supply, they may damage the equipment.

BOLDUAN: Given the risks of everything you've laid out -- training with, the fact that some of the boys can't swim, even though, it's not required of you being pulled out, but given all the risk of the dive, do you think waiting it out for four months then becomes the safest option at this point?

MIRZA: Well, again, in cave rescue we say it always depends on the situation. In this case if they are able to shelter them in place, in place that is safe in the cave from rising water due to the increasing rains, then sheltering is probably the better option.

If they are in a place in the cave that's not safe and cannot be brought to a safer place in the cave, then the risk of the dive is a better option. A point that I like to make, and keep pointing out, is that whatever decision gets made, these are some of the best people in the world making these decisions.

And it's really not up for us to second-guess the decisions that they're making simply because we don't have the information that they do. And they are under incredible amount of pressure because now the entire world is watching them. So, they're under a microscope.

If there is anything but a perfect outcome, their decision process will be second-guessed at every single step. And it is really not fair to them to put them under that amount of stress because then, in turns, it puts rescuers at risk trying to do the separation.

BOLDUAN: Making the best call they can in just incredibly impossible circumstances. When that diver said the Mt. Everest of cave dives, just kind of blew me away for people who never thought about attempting such a thing. Anmar, thanks for coming in. I really appreciate it.

MIRZA: You're welcome.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, inching forward to the tipping point. That's a White House official on embattled EPA Chief Scott Pruitt. So, after over a dozen allegations of ethical misconduct, what finally got the president's attention?

Plus, denied entry and denied answers. Why a Republican Congressman with a turned away from the migrant detention facility. He's my guest.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:16:14]

BOLDUAN: President Trump is spending the fourth of July holiday at the White House. Right now, getting ready to host military families for a White House picnic. But the president may also be weighing the fate of one of his cabinet members.

No, not Jeff Sessions, though not unrelated. It's Scott Pruitt, the embattled EPA chief. The White House is showing its first signs, if you will, that the president's confidence could be waning calling the latest report of alleged misconduct, quote, "troublesome."

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House with more on this. So, Kaitlan, what else is the White House saying?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, they are saying that they are troublesome, and they are looking at these reports, Kate, but they also said that back in April, months ago. So, raises the question of what is different now?

We also have new reporting that Scott Pruitt earlier in this spring went into oval office, met with Trump and proposed this plan of firing Jeff Sessions and putting him, Scott Pruitt, in charge at DOJ, at least temporarily under the Vacancies Reform Act, for about 200 days or so.

Then he told the president he would go back to Oklahoma and run for office. Now, Kate, aides quickly shut down this idea explaining to the president why it wouldn't be a good idea. But it goes to show how the president's been willing to overlook the number of ethics scandals against Scott Pruitt.

Because in the months after that meeting, the president weighed quite openly replacing Jeff Sessions with Scott Pruitt, to his aides and advisors, and knows that he speaks with. So, we have that going on, but the White House says they are looking at these latest reports that continue to come out by the day.

They say that they are troublesome, even the president has acknowledged what the bad optics are. But Kate, it does raise the question, where is the tipping point for Scott Pruitt?

A senior administration official says that Scott Pruitt is getting closer and closer to that, but it raises the question of actually if they will do anything and what scandal will it be that causes them to do something about Scott Pruitt.

BOLDUAN: It's kind of just a wait and see. Kaitlan, great to see you. Thanks so much.

Joining me right now, let's decide what the tipping point is right now. Chris Lu is here. He is the former assistant to President Obama. He also was deputy secretary of labor. Also, here is Steve Cortes, a CNN political commentator and former Trump campaign advisor. Great to see you both.

OK, Steve, you are not the only two people working, it seems, in the last 24 hours. It is great to see you again. Now topping a list of things facing Scott Pruitt is a leak about a private conversation that he had with the president.

He's asked to fire Sessions and let him take over as A.G. for a time. If nothing else, does this the fact that this leaked out, does this now spell trouble for Pruitt?

STEVE CORTES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it does. I hope he didn't leak it, who knows who did. But, unfortunately, I think Director Pruitt has to go. He is acting like the swamp. I think that we ran exactly against this kind of behavior, the things he's done, sweetheart deals with lobbyists, trying to curry financial favors for his wife, putting on aides responsibilities that should be on him, lavish trips.

All the things he's doing, I think, unfortunately just reek of the swamp. You have to be cleaner than clean on these issues when you run against the swamp. He's not. He's become an unnecessary distraction and so I think he has it to go.

BOLDUAN: What do you think, Steve, of this idea that he came up with, that the president didn't go along with, but that he came up with fire Sessions, I'll be AG for a time, and then I'll be out of here. That's his idea of a graceful exit. What do you think of that?

CORTES: I do actually like that idea. There is lawyer in the cabinet. They don't have to go through confirmation and they can take over Sessions' job, temporarily. Because quite frankly, I do want Sessions out as well, but I don't want him replaced with Pruitt.

2To me, Pruitt and Sessions is like asking, do you want to be punched or kicked? I'd like neither quite frankly. I think Pruitt needs to go. Sessions also needs to go because Sessions has been totally inadequate.

I would make this, though, to different between the two. Sessions has been ethically honorable, just terrible at his job. Pruitt is the exact opposite. [11:20:08] I think he's great at EPA. He's done incredible things on policy there. It is really a shame that he hasn't avoided these personal corruption pitfalls that he continues to fall into.

He's been great in my view at really making the EPA sensible again because the administrative state that's been built up over decades in this country used the EPA as a weapon against business and growth in this country particularly small business. So, I love what he's doing there, but he's too tarnished.

BOLDUAN: Chris, you were cabinet secretary to President Obama. The mere fact that we now know that the head of the EPA essentially was sighing fire the other guy, so I can take over. What's the next cabinet meeting going to be like?

CHRIS LU, FORMER ASSISTANT TO FORMER PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, look, these cabinet meetings have already taken a surreal quality. There's something ironic about a person being investigated at least 14 different ways wanting to be the chief law enforcement officer of the United States.

But what I think might be actually leading to this tipping point in the administration right now for Pruitt is that we've now gone from improper conduct, which is spending and first-class travel, to potentially illegal contact, potentially enriching himself personally by helping his wife get a job, retaliating against whistleblowers, doctoring his schedules to hide people he's meeting with.

And the fact that these allegations aren't coming from career civil servants. They are coming from his chief of staff, his former deputy chief of staff, and they are being investigated by the House Oversight Committee in a bipartisan way. One of the few bipartisan investigations. So, all of these things suggest that things are going to get much, much worse for Scott Pruitt.

BOLDUAN: But that also -- I mean, maybe that's the answer to my question though, Chris, which was what's the difference between allegation 14 and allegation 4 against Scott Pruitt at this point? I mean, he survived this long, what is it that's inching him towards the exits?

LU: There's also the irony, which is this is actually helpful to Democrats. Look, we don't like Scott Pruitt's policies, but the truth of the matter is, he is such a great -- message point in the mid-term elections about the culture of corruption. Every one of his policy ideas becomes colored through all of these scandals.

BOLDUAN: You and Steve are in agreement on that.

LU: Well, and it is exactly right. The irony is that there is a number two at EPA, who is a former coal lobbyist who would likely continue all of Scott Pruitt's policies without all of the scandals. So ironically, the president is trying to stay strong by sticking by Pruitt, it's actually detrimental to his policy agenda.

BOLDUAN: Steve, I want to play for you -- I spoke with a mother who confronted Scott Pruitt at a restaurant. Spoke with her last night. Here's how she responded to what Sarah Sanders had said which is that no matter what you think, people -- essentially saying people should be able to eat in peace. Listen to what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KRISTIN MINK, CONFRONTED SCOTT PRUITT IN RESTAURANT: We pay these administrators' bills via taxes. They are our employees. Their josh is to serve the public. If they're doing their job properly, if they want to be doing their job effectively, then they should want to hear from us.

And here I am, telling him how I feel. That's exactly how it should go. If they don't want to be called out in public, then they shouldn't make decisions that harm the rest of us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Steve, is she right?

CORTES: I think she is, actually, yes. Look, if you make yourself a public figure, and particularly when you are paid by the public, I think you have to be ready to interact with the public. But interact in a respectful way, which that woman did, and I commend her for that.

She made her point but did so respectfully. That's very different from what happened to Sarah Sanders, Kirstjen Nielsen. There you really have mob intimidation. That's what Maxine Waters, by the way, called for. That's a very, very different story.

But respectfully disagreeing with public figures? Yes, I mean, that's part of the game. I'm not the level of cabinet secretary, but I get complete strangers coming up to me usually with negative comments about my defense of President Trump. But I made myself a public figure, my choice, and that's part of the deal.

BOLDUAN: Great to see you both. Chris, Steve, not angry on this fourth of July. Just firing fireworks right at the camera, Steve says.

CORTES: That's right.

BOLDUAN: Great to see you both. I really appreciate it.

Let's turn to this, though, some serious allegations and a vehement denial. Republican Congressman Jim Jordan, he is defiant and he's unequivocal denying accusations that he turned a blind eye to sexual abuse while he was a wrestling coach at Ohio State University years ago.

Jordan telling "Politico" in a new interview overnight this, quote, "It's not true. I never knew about any type of abuse. If I did, I would have done something about it." He goes on to say, "if there are people that are abused, then that's terrible and we want justice to happen." CNN's Jean Casarez is joining me right now with more detail. Jean, Jordan also said that he has never been contacted by investigators about this. But investigators, investigating all of these accusations against the doctor at Ohio State, they say something different.

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. Independent counsel, the attorneys, have told CNN that they actually reached out via e-mail and phone to Congressman Jordan's office and got no response.

[11:25:10] They wanted him to participate in an interview in this massive investigation that is under way right now at the university. But Jim Jordan's office told CNN last night, "We have searched all of our communications. We find nothing from you."

So, this supposed communications, send it to us. Let us know when you send it and we are ready to assist you. But there is a massive investigation at Ohio State University going on right now about the team doctor, now deceased, but he was there for over 20 years.

He allegedly molested and sexually abused male athletes during his time at the university. And it's 14 different sports that they are interviewing witnesses and former athletes from, including football, baseball, soccer, gymnastics, and wrestling.

And that's where Jim Jordan is sort of intertwined, because he was an assistant coach during some of the time that this doctor was at Ohio State University. Well, I spoke with a former wrestler that was there at the time at Ohio State who says Jim Jordan was there as assistant coach.

And he knew Jim Jordan says in response though that he never saw any abuse, never heard about any abuse, and never had any abuse reported to him during the time as a coach at Ohio State." Michael Disabato, a former wrestler, speaks differently. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE DISABATO, FORMER OHIO STATE WRESTLER: It's just not true. I think the congressman may be playing semantics with the word. Again, I don't think Jim and/or a lot of folks -- coaches, administrators really understood that, you know, touching a man's genitals without the need to do so is the definition -- is a definition of sexual abuse and sexual assault.

Again, in the mid '80s, that term wasn't necessarily used. However, to now say, to now know that the word does apply to what was happening to us at the time is -- is just -- it's surprising to me, given the fact that Jim has -- this isn't the Jim Jordan I know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CASARAEZ: I asked Disabato what exactly did Jim Jordan say back to you when you told him about what was happening to you then? He didn't have an answer. He didn't have specifics, but he said that just everybody knew in the wrestling department, and that's where it stands. We'll see if Congressman Jordan has another reply today. He a he set for a live event in Ohio.

BOLDUAN: The scope of the investigation, when you listen to how many sports it is and how many interviews they've already done, it is really shocking.

CASAREZ: And how many coaches, how many academic advisors, how many presidents of the university were there during that time. It's massive.

BOLDUAN: Jean, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

Coming up next for you -- the government says it is no longer providing updates on the kids who have been separated from their families. A Republican congressman went to get some answers. What did he find out? He joins me next.

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