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Senate House Intelligence Confirms Putin Meddled to Help Trump Win 2016 Election; Scott Pruitt Asked Trump to Replace Jeff Sessions by Him; Thai Cave Rescue Attempts on Hold Until at Least Tomorrow. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired July 4, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:04] ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning on this Fourth of July and Happy Independence Day to you. I'm Erica Hill in today for Poppy.

This morning a Senate committee led by Republicans is breaking with the president saying not only did Russia in fact meddle in the 2016 election but they specifically wanted Donald Trump to win. The nearly 16-month bipartisan investigation from the Senate Intelligence Committee also in stark contrast to the highly partisan findings from the House which align with President Trump's repeated denials of Russian meddling.

CNN's Sara Murray is live in Washington with more.

Sara, good morning.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Erica. Well, what we saw this Senate committee do is really uphold the intelligence community's assessment that Russia attempted to meddle in the 2016 election and they were trying to do it with the goal of helping Donald Trump's presidential campaign and hurting Hillary Clinton.

So what the Senate found is that these assessments from the intelligence community were sound. That they were not politically motivated. That when there was disagreements among the various intelligence agencies they were transparent about it, they discussed them in the open, and they disclosed the fact that there were occasional disagreements along the way but this is interesting because it's different from what Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee found.

They criticized the intelligence community's assessments and said there were significant intelligence trade craft failings. But Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee are really on their own in this assessment except when you consider the president. He is the other person who continues to throw cold water on this idea that Russia meddled to help him. In fact, just last week he tweeted, "Russia continues to say they had nothing to do with meddling in our election."

So while House Intelligence Republicans and the president don't necessarily agree with this conclusion, we've now seen bipartisan committees in the Senate agree with it, we've seen intelligence agencies agree with it, we've also seen the president's own intelligence chiefs agree with this assessment that Russia meddled to try to benefit Donald Trump.

HILL: Sara, we're also learning a little bit more about embattled FBI agent Peter Strzok who of course worked on the Russia investigation and now his attorney saying he might actually ignore the subpoena from the House.

MURRAY: That's right. Remember Peter Strzok was the former number two counterintelligence guy at the FBI. He's come under a lot of criticism because he exchanged a number of disparaging messages with a former FBI lawyer about Donald Trump when he was working on these very sensitive investigations. Well, now he's been hit with a subpoena to appear in front of the House Judiciary Committee.

And this is what his lawyer had to say about whether he's going to comply with that subpoena.


AITAN GOELMAN, ATTORNEY FOR PETER STRZOK: We have come to the conclusion -- we've forced them to conclusion that this is not a search for truth, it is a chance for Republican members of the House to preen and posture before their most radical conspiracy minded constituents.

From our experience with the committee thus far it's obvious that they don't want the truth. They don't want to hear what he has to say.


MURRAY: So you basically see Strzok's lawyer there saying look, we don't know if we're going to comply with this because we're afraid that the committee is just going to use it to do more grandstanding. And it's worth noting that Strzok did testify for 11 hours behind closed doors in front of lawmakers but it will be interesting to see how the latest part of this saga plays out -- Erica.

HILL: We'll be watching for that. Sara Murray, appreciate it. Thank you.

Scott Pruitt's job security may actually be inching forward to the tipping point. That's from a senior administration official who tells CNN there are growing concerns the EPA chief's ethics scandals could make for political attack ads by Democrats. All this as we're learning Pruitt asked the president to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions so he could run the Department of Justice. Never a dull moment even on a holiday.

CNN's Abby Phillip is at the White House with the very latest for us this morning.

Abby, good morning.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Erica. It seems like the Scott Pruitt story is never ending. Day after day, controversy after controversy we are still only inching towards the tipping point here. There's a sense of uncertainty at the White House about what exactly it will take for the president to cut him loose after all of these scandals and now we're learning from CNN's Kaitlan Collins that Pruitt over the last several weeks or months has talked to President Trump about firing another Cabinet official, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has been at the center of the president's ire over the Russia investigation.

Pruitt has suggested to the president that he could replace Sessions as an interim appointment for a matter of several hundred days before leaving that post to go back to Oklahoma and run for office. Now all of this happening as Pruitt is under an avalanche of controversies. Reports just this week alone indicate that he tasked his aides at the EPA to find a job for his wife. He also reportedly asked staffers on the EPA to pay for his expensive travel with their personal cards and failed to reimburse them, and that's just a few of the many scandals that we've heard from -- about Pruitt in the last several weeks. At the same time, here is what the White House has to say about all of this.

[09:05:02] White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley said yesterday, "The president feels as though Scott Pruitt has done a really good job with deregulating the government to allow for a thriving economy. That's important to him, but these things matter to the president as well and he's looking into these."

That's not exactly -- Gidley saying anything about Pruitt's fate but suggesting that perhaps the president is still looking into it. And I should say also about the allegations that Pruitt talked to the president about taking Attorney General Jeff Sessions' job. After CNN reported that story yesterday, the EPA at first declined to comment but then they issued this statement from Pruitt himself saying, "The report is simply false. General Sessions and I are friends and I have always said I want nothing more than to see him succeed in his role." Erica.

HILL: All of that playing out as of course we are awaiting the president's big announcement on Monday about his pick for the Supreme Court. He actually met with some more candidates yesterday, right, Abby?

PHILLIP: Well, he had a few phone calls with some candidates according to the White House. He talked to three people yesterday in addition to the four people he interviewed at the White House on Monday in some fairly lengthy in-person interviews. Now we're up to, according to -- according to that about seven potential candidates. Added to that is the revelation that the president spoke by phone to Utah Senator Mike Lee who has been pushed by some Republicans in Congress to be considered for the Supreme Court post.

Lee confirmed that the president interviewed him on Monday. The White House will only say the president spoke to him by phone. Mike Lee is also on the Senate Judiciary Committee so there is a little bit of uncertainty about how much of a candidate he is for this job but this search continues and the White House says we can expect more interviews this week -- Erica. HILL: Abby Phillip with the latest this morning. Abby, thank you.

Joining me now, CNN Political Analyst, Ryan Lizza, National Political Reporter at RealClearPolitics, Caitlin Huey-Burns, and CNN Contributor and Law Professor at the University of Texas, Steve Vladeck.

You know, a lot to get to on this July 4th. Let's start off with Scott Pruitt here. Interesting that Laura Ingraham tweeting -- of FOX News of course tweeting, quote, "Pruitt is the swamp, drain it." That was last night. It's the second time, Ryan, that she has called for Pruitt to be fired. Apparently there's starting to be some concern that maybe these ethics issues can be used in political attack ads.

Does she actually, though, Ryan, need to say this on air for the message to start getting through to the White House?

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: First of all, Happy Fourth.

HILL: Happy Fourth.

LIZZA: You know, I don't know. I think sometimes we can exaggerate how much a single FOX News host, how influential they are. It does show a little bit of cracks among Trump's most vociferous supporters, I suppose, and kind of amazing that it took this long for people who support President Trump to see Pruitt as a liability. I mean, that graphic that Abby put up during her shot there with the list of scandals against Pruitt, I don't think any of us on the panel could actually remember them all. There they are.

HILL: And that's a snapshot.

LIZZA: There are 10 just there and that's like a week's worth of news in Pruitt's scandal world. I know I'm a little bit facetious. But so -- and I don't understand this argument that Pruitt is so important to the administration because he's deregulating -- he's helping deregulate at the EPA. It's pretty much a standard Republican position, any Republican president and any EPA administrator would basically be doing what Pruitt is doing and that is, you know, rolling back a lot of the Obama-era environmental regulations and frankly, politically --

HILL: So then what more --

LIZZA: Yes. Go ahead.

HILL: Well, just to your point then, what more do you think is behind it then?

LIZZA: You know, Trump is loyal to people who are loyal to him. And -- you know, I do -- there's always a tipping point with Trump. Right? He does tolerate Cabinet members and White House officials who have all kinds of stuff going on that in previous administrations would have led to them disappearing but if it becomes such a public issue, if we're talking about it frankly in the media all the time, that's what gets Trump's attention and then he gets frustrated and gets rid of people. HILL: What's fascinating is we've been at this point, Caitlin, for

some time where we're talking about, where we're continually looking at this list. I mean, you know, as you point out, Ryan, that's really just a partial list, that one is a snapshot. So why, Caitlin, would it be that now we're being told we're inching toward a tipping point? Is this really about concerns over political attack ads? Because the meat for that has been there for a while.

CAITLIN HUEY-BURNS, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, REALCLEARPOLITICS: These have been there for a while. I think one thing to consider, too, is what a confirmation fight would look like for a replacement for Scott Pruitt. Remember, the margins in the Senate are razor thin. We're already seeing that in the Supreme Court fight which is going to really take the whole entire summer so to get someone confirmed in this Congress is just an uphill battle and we've seen that before.

[09:10:06] I think another thing to consider, though, is the, you know, utter shamelessness that we've been seeing from Pruitt, headline after headline after headline, and especially the reporting from Kaitlan Collins was so revealing about Scott Pruitt and the stature that he feels at least that he has with the president so I think those are some things to consider.

And I also note that I've been talking to Democratic strategists who have been trying to make corruption centerpieces of various congressional campaigns, and they think they have a lot to work with in terms of Trump himself, of course, but the Pruitt element is a huge part of that. They are waging kind of their own drain the swamp campaigns and this really fits well into their narrative especially since it is just so utterly swampy.

HILL: There is so much to talk about this and not just obviously on cable news. Not just among analysts but among the American public as well. We know that a woman confronted Scott Pruitt the other night and she actually spoke with Kate Bolduan last night.

Here's what she had to say about why she did what she did.


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Should Scott Pruitt be able to eat in peace?

KRISTIN MINK, CONFRONTED SCOTT PRUITT IN RESTAURANT: Listen, I'm not surprised that that's what they want to talk about is the where and the when as opposed to the issues. It's a distraction. We pay these administrators' bills via taxes, they are our employees. Their job 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. You know, 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) HILL: Look, there is a legitimate question about the where and when, and civility among the public, among politicians, but if we do put that aside for a minute, Steve, as we look at more of what's happening out there with the public weighing in, does that really tend to move the needle at all?

STEVE VLADECK, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know, I think we'll see. I mean, I think the real moment is going to be the elections in November because as we've been having this whole conversation about Scott Pruitt, we've been noticeably quiet about Congress. When there have been scandals in the past with executive branch officials who have been the subject of so many overlapping ethical investigations, we've usually seen a fair amount of pressure even from the same party in Congress for that person to be fired, to step down for meaningful oversight investigations from Congress.

I think the question here is not so much whether the Democrats can make this about Scott Pruitt per se but whether they can make it about just how indifferent congressional Republicans have been to the many, many ethical scandals of this administration even as they promise to drain the swamp, even as they try to shift the conversation to uncivil at least some of the Democrats are.

HILL: Which, you know, is interesting and also plays into a little bit of what you were talking about, Caitlin. You're talking Democratic side to this but interesting that there's -- you know this is across the board.

I want to move on to the Senate intel report here because, A, the findings are very interesting, right, and they're in line with what we've heard from the intelligence community for months upon months upon months, but what else is fascinating here, Ryan, is the timing. You drop this report on July 3rd when Congress isn't even in Washington to begin with. Why are they trying to hide it?

LIZZA: You know, what I found recently talking to a lot of Republicans on the Hill is there's not much appetite for any policy or any proposal that makes the president look bad. You know if you look at some of the stuff that's going on with tariffs and this issue to try and force a vote on tariffs that opposes the president and this report, Republicans who want to put something out, who want to say something that in some way defies Trump, they kind of do it on the sly now because there is this view among Republicans on the Hill that they are tied to Trump in these midterm elections, and you don't do anything that angers him or embarrasses him.

And that's my basic theory of why this was sort of, you know, dropped when they knew that the news -- everyone would be on vacation and it wouldn't blow up too much. I think that's why they did it quietly. Because it does counter a lot of things that the -- President Trump has said and some of the House Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee.

HUEY-BURNS: I think there might be another way to think about this, too, which is the backdrop of the president getting ready to meet with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. Remember, the Senate committee on this has been largely bipartisan, they've been very transparent in their work, and the president has repeatedly tried to either deny all together or, you know, tamp down the way in which Russia meddled in the election.

And so putting this out there could provide an important context or at least maybe perhaps a pressure point as the president prepares for that meeting, and also I think it's important to consider that while the president continues to deny this, his whole administration has issued sanctions against Russia for meddling, so I think that's also an important component here.

HILL: And this was also just brought up. There are, of course, Republicans in Russia. This was just brought up by John Kennedy, who said specifically, "we can't ignore what is happening here in Russia."

Steve, all of this comes into play. That being said, it's not clear that the president will, A, pay attention or, B, bring any of this up with Vladimir Putin?

VLADECK: No, I mean, I can't imagine that any of the meeting between President Trump and Vladimir Putin is going to be about Russia interference in the 2016 election.

But I do think - I mean, Ryan made an important point, which is let's not lose sight of whose names are on this report. This is not just the Democratic minority of the Senate Intelligence Committee, it's not even just the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr.

These are eight Republican senators including John Cornyn, the majority whip, this is the establishment in the Senate, all basically saying we agree with the intelligence community's assessment; if anything, we think the assessment didn't go far enough.

And so, I think it's going to be hard for the White House and for the president specifically to run away from that assessment. I think what we're going to see instead is they just try to sweep it under the rug, pretend it didn't exist, keep putting out this conspiracy theory that this is all really a witch-hunt.

HILL: Go ahead real quick.

LIZZA: Just quickly to follow-up on Caitlin's point about this influencing this summit with Putin, I think that's a really important point. I think Republicans want that to be known.

I was interviewing Lindsey Graham last night just before this report came out. He was actually in Iraq, but he told me, for instance, that that summit with Putin will be a failure unless Trump - or rather, flip it around, he said it will only be a success if Trump pushes him and make it clear that Russia did indeed meddle in the elections.

I think Republican senators and congressmen who care about that issue do want to put some pressure on him.

HILL: We will see where that pressure goes. Ryan, Caitlin, Steve, thank you all and Happy Fourth.

Still to come, rescuers are facing mounting obstacles as they try to save that youth soccer team and their coach trapped more than half a mile underground. This, as we're getting a new look at the kids and their coach. We are live in Thailand this morning.

Plus, did he know? GOP congressman Jim Jordan denying accusations he ignored sexual abuse accusations while a coach at Ohio State.


HILL: It will be at least another day before rescue teams in Thailand attempt to bring 12 young soccer players and their coach out of the cave where they have been trapped now since June 23rd.

Video taken by Thai Navy SEALs shows the group in remarkably good shape. Food, first aid and blankets being brought in.

In the two days, though, since they were first reached by two British divers, the obstacles to rescue have not gotten any smaller.

Reporter Jonathan Miller is there on the ground. So, I understand at this point as there's still discussion about how to get them out. The boys have actually been practicing with scuba masks?

JONATHAN MILLER, CNN ASIA CORRESPONDENT: I mean, it is quite a remarkable thing to think that these teenagers, some of whom can't even swim, are now being trained how to use scuba apparatus, which is sort of like the oxygen masks and the tanks and the divers' masks.

Now, this has been going on today. We've had some photographs in, stills from the Thai Navy SEALs who have been doing this training 3 kilometers or 4 kilometers underground.

And this is a massive challenge which they now have, not only technical, but risks-wise it's off the scale because what they're going try to attempt here - and, look, one thing that has been really good today on day 11 is that the rains have held off.

This is the monsoon season and ordinarily it buckets down every day or so. And they've just had this little reprieve and there is a very small and probably closing window to attempt to rescue, but if these boys are deemed well enough, fit enough, strong enough, and able enough to make that journey out, they are going to have to negotiate about half a mile of flooded chamber in different patches on the way out.

These are narrow little passage ways often with hard rights and lefts and ups and downs. You don't even know which way you're going and it's through coffee-colored water, which is virtually zero visibility.

Challenges are enormous. And Thai people have rallied to the cause here. They are so transfixed by this story and the hopes are very, very high, even though they know the risks are high too.

Today, children from some of the schools that the boys attend came up to the cave site to show their support for the school colleagues. And it's not just in this school, it's in schools throughout the country. These kids are regarded as superheroes.

And it's a real rallying thing for this country, which is often politically divided. There are religious and political and ethnic differences. Thais have come together as one, just hoping and praying that this rescue evacuation can be successful.

HILL: There were also, Jonathan, these reports that one of the kids down there said they heard a rooster crowing and there was a lot of hope being put on that.

Is that because they think if he can hear something from the outside that maybe there is a some sort of a hole or a passage way that rescuers could use?

MILLER: Exactly. I mean, that's my understanding of it. It was a Danish diver called Claus Rasmussen who told CNN about this earlier today. And we've known that there are - you can't see it in the dark here, but there's a big mountain ridge up and behind me here.

And it's reckoned that, underneath the jungle and maybe 800 meters or up to a kilometer of solid rock lies the chamber. Now, there are fissures and cracks and shafts and chimneys all sort of like going down into this limestone area.

It's quite probable that there are little potholes going down and it's possible they could either try to extract the children through these narrow little passage ways or that they do what they did with those Chile miners eight years ago and drill down through this relatively soft rock and bore in to try to get the kids out like that.

HILL: All right. We'll keep watching for any further developments. Jonathan, appreciate the reporting as always. Thank you.

Cave rescues are dangerous. They are delicate under even the best of conditions. Conditions, though, in northern Thailand, of course, are anything but, as Jonathan laid out a bit for us. CNN's Tom Foreman has a closer look of what they're facing.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Darkness, cold, rushing water, and time. Rescuers have to deal with all those elements to bring these young name back into the sunshine and right now it's not at all clear how they're going to do that.

Let's bring in a model of the mountain that holds this cave to talk about the challenges they face. This is where the boys went in. Here. They traveled more than a mile into the mountain. More than a half mile down.

And although there are no really detailed maps of the interior of this cave, we can explain what happened in sort of a hypothetical sense with a cross section of a make-believe cave here. When the boys came in and traveled into the cave, obviously, there were sections that went up and sections that went down. Then when the water rushed in behind them, it filled in many of those gaps, some to the point where they could not be passed.

How many? We don't know. Are they as long as a house? Long as a football field? We don't know, but we know that experienced divers who are taking a lot of time to go from here to there would have to bring the boys back through it and there are several challenges.

First of all, some of these boys are unable to swim. Now, that's not necessarily a big deal because a diver could grab them and simply tow them through the water, but they would have to go for considerable periods of time of time breathing through scuba gear which could be very disorienting.

It is murky water, hard to see things in, heavy currents, there are many cramped passageways. All of that very difficult to manage, especially for kids who've been on a ledge with no food in the cold and dark.

And lastly, all of that can lead to panic, which could be dangerous for both the rescuers and those who are being rescued.

But what are the alternatives? Well, they could try to dig through the ground as they did in Chile back in 2010 to rescue those miners, you may recalls, but that took three different tunnels, one of which finally broke through and more than two months before they were able to finally have these very happy scenes.

They could take supplies to the boys sitting on the shelves down there. They could try to just keep them healthy while they pumped water and waited for rains to ease up, but that could be a very long process.

Remember, the monsoon season has just started there and it could go on for months.


HILL: Tom Foreman with a great explanation as always for us there. Tom, thank you.

Ohio Republican Jim Jordan flat out denying reports he ignored allegations of sexual abuse years ago. The wrestlers he used to coach, though, now speaking out.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can tell you right now, he's not telling the truth.