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Senate House Intelligence Confirms Putin Meddled to Help Trump Win 2016 Election; Scott Pruitt Suggested Replacing Jeff Sessions to President Trump; Thai Cave Rescue Attempts on Hold; Mom Confronts EPA Chief Pruitt at a Restaurant. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired July 4, 2018 - 10:00   ET


[10:00:00] ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Appreciate it, thank you.

The next hour of CNN NEWSROOM begins right now.

Good morning. Thanks for joining us, spending part of your Independence Day holiday with us. I'm Erica Hill in today for Poppy.

Just days after President Trump cast doubt on Russia's meddling in the election here in the United States, a key Senate panel publicly disagreeing. The Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee says after nearly 16 months of its bipartisan investigation, it found extensive proof that not only did Moscow interfere in the 2016 race, but that it was done specifically because they wanted Donald Trump to win.

CNN's Sara Murray is live in Washington. So, Sara, this report, too, not only goes against obviously what we've heard for months from the president but it also contradicts the House report which was released earlier this year.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. And that's what makes this so interesting. Look, remember, last January the intelligence agencies put out their conclusion that they believe Russia meddled in the 2016 election and they did it with the goal of trying to help Donald Trump's presidential campaign and to hurt Hillary Clinton. And so both the House Intelligence Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee began digging into these findings to see if they agreed with those assessments.

They say, look, what the intelligence agencies concluded is sound. They said there was no kind of political pressure to push analysts and researchers to reach that conclusion. They said when there were disagreements, those were debated, they were transparent. And basically they agreed with these findings that Putin was trying to help Donald Trump in his meddling in 2016. Now that is certainly not the Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee said. They concluded that there was a significant -- there were significant intelligence trade craft findings when it came to intelligence community's assessment that Putin meddled to try to help Donald Trump.

So that means you now have Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee and Donald Trump as sort of these lone wolves and disagreeing with the idea that Putin did it to help Trump. As you pointed out just last week Trump tweeted, "Russia continues to say they had nothing to do with meddling in our election." Now that may be the view of the president, but it is not the view of his own intelligence chiefs who say they also agree that Russia meddled to help Trump.

HILL: All right. We'll continue to see what the reaction is to that report throughout the day. Meantime, though, I do want to ask you about embattled FBI agent Peter Strzok who of course worked on the Russia investigation. We're learning now his attorney says he may actually ignore a subpoena from the House?

MURRAY: That's right. He's been subpoenaed to appear in front of the House Judiciary Committee. His attorney is casting doubt on whether he's actually going to show. Listen to what his attorney had to say.


AITAN GOELMAN, ATTORNEY FOR PETER STRZOK: My client will testify publicly soon, somewhere, sometime. We just got this subpoena today so I don't know whether or not we are going to be testifying next Tuesday in front of these two particular House subcommittees.

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


MURRAY: So this calls into question whether Strzok, this controversial figure, is actually going to actually appear again in front of the House Judiciary Committee. Worth noting, he did already appear for 11 hours behind closed doors to answer lawmakers' questions -- Erica.

HILL: Sara Murray, appreciate it. Thank you.

Let's dig in a little deeper now with Renato Mariotti, CNN legal analyst, and Samantha Vinograd, CNN national security analyst.

I want to go back for a minute to the Senate intel here and what we're learning from the Senate Intelligence Committee in terms of these findings. They did point out here the committee heard consistently that analysts were under no politically motivated pressure to reach any conclusions. All analysts expressed that they were free to debate, object to content and assess confidence levels as is normal and proper for the analytic process.

So is there anything we should read into that, the fact that they're pointing this out?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I think they're pointing out that the ICA, or intelligence community assessment, was conducted appropriately and the only people that really disagree with that are President Trump and some House Republicans. And there's been a lot of comparison between the House report that came out on this ICA and the Senate report. We're comparing apples and oranges. The House committee report did

not have Democratic backing and was published solely by Republicans which means that there wasn't consensus, which means that the House Republicans did not take the time necessary to conduct all the relevant interviews, to review the thousands of pages of documents that were really necessary so determine at the end of the day whether the ICA was appropriate.

HILL: And to your point from the very beginning, as we were talking about both of these investigations, the Senate, because they were conducting it in a more bipartisan manner, because we weren't hearing about it quite as often, that was given a little bit more credence in the run-up to these findings.

But, Renato, as we look at these findings, do they really have any teeth? I mean, what's the impact of this? What actually comes of the Senate's report?

RENATO MARIOTTI, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think it really should end any debate about whether or not the Russians were behind the attack on our election. Hopefully we can turn this into a more non- partisan issue because, frankly, a foreign adversary trying to interfere in our electoral process should be a non-partisan issue.

[10:05:09] And I think as Americans we should applaud the way that the Senate committee, the Senate Intel Committee, came together. You had, you know, Senator Burr and the Republicans and Senator Warner and the Democrats, you know, doing this in a bipartisan fashion. As Sam mentioned, you know, you have a conclusion here that everyone can feel confident in.

And I think, you know, the real question is, how is this going to affect U.S. policy? We have, you know, a meeting between the president and Vladimir Putin coming up. Will the United States protect ourselves against further attacks? Will we take any action to try to dissuade the Russians from doing this again?

I mean, we have electoral systems that were penetrated in the last election. We obviously have effort to try to deceive the American public by the Russian government. That's serious stuff. And it's something we should come together as Americans to fight.

HILL: Look, part of this is definitely going to stand out to people as they're looking at this. Are the varying degrees of competence, so different confidence levels that we see between the different agencies, the NSA, the FBI, the CIA.

Sam, is there anything that we should read into that, that it sort of -- I think it's moderate high confidence versus moderate confidence in terms of what they both found? How much of a difference is there when we use those terms?

VINOGRAD: I don't think that we shouldn't read into it. That's often the case when we have these intelligence community's assessment and the Senate committee, again a bipartisan committee, found that this was appropriate and that the judgment at the end of the day, that Vladimir Putin did prefer President Trump, was an appropriate judgment.

And it's worth noting that the Senate actually has a history of bipartisanship when it comes to this issue. Republicans and Democrats aren't united on a lot of front these days. But the Senate did vote 97-2 to pass sanctions against Russia for their activities in the 2016 election, and they even voted 97-2 to enlarge NATO whose primary enemy is Russia.

So I think the Senate has shown that when it comes to Russia's interference in 2016, Russia's ongoing interference, that they are willing to come together on this.

HILL: They are even speaking out on it. Some Russians -- some Republicans in Russia right now, among them Senator John Kennedy, talking about how --


HILL: How Russia did meddle. Interesting to see if the president will take a listen to that ahead of his meeting.

Really quickly, before we let you go, Renato, I just want to get your take on what we're seeing in terms of Peter Strzok and the fact that we're hearing from his attorney. He may just ignore this subpoena all together. He said from the beginning he wants this testimony to be public. What are the ramifications if he does in fact decide to ignore that subpoena?

MARIOTTI: Well, he has a Fifth Amendment right obviously not to testify if he wants to. He also could try to jeer them to enforce this subpoena in court. You know, he could be held in contempt of Congress if he just ignores it, but, you know, they'll have to try to enforce that. You know, ultimately, I think his attorney's expressing frustration because the man testified for many hours and offered, you know, presumably detailed explanations of these tweets and what happened was there was a lot of leaks from the Republican side but they refused to release the transcript.

And I think all of us just with some common sense know that the transcript was helpful to the president and the House Republicans, that they would have released it. But presumably it wasn't so they cherry-picked some parts. And I'm sure it's frustrating to represent a client who is not being treated fairly. I think, you know, if you testify, you generally want the full story to come out.

HILL: Renato Mariotti, Samantha Vinograd, appreciate you both joining us. Happy Fourth.

VINOGRAD: Happy holiday.

HILL: More troubles for embattled EPA chief Scott Pruitt. Pruitt's job security may be inching forward to the tipping point. That coming from a senior administration official who tells CNN, there are growing concerns the EPA chief's ethics scandals could star in future political attack ads by Democrats, all of this as we're also learning Pruitt lobbied the president to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions so, guess who, he, could run the Department of Justice.

CNN's Abby Phillip joins us now from the White House with the very latest. Abby, good morning.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Erica. The scandals surrounding Scott Pruitt continue to grow day by day but there is a new revelations reported by CNN's Kaitlan Collins last night that Pruitt has actually been pushing himself for another job within the administration, replacing the Attorney General Jeff Sessions who has been at the center of President Trump's ire for the last year and change.

Now according to Kaitlan's reporting, Pruitt has been talking to the president about this possibility, floating what we call here in Washington a recess appointment, which would be a short-term appointment until a full-time replacement could be named. That would allow him to then go back to Oklahoma and run for political office there. That suggestion was apparently batted down by aides within the White House.

[10:10:03] But it just goes to show how confident Pruitt was in the president's confidence in him. And now Pruitt's aides over at the EPA have given us this statement from Pruitt in response to that reporting, saying, "This report is simply false. General Sessions and I are friends and I have always said I wanted nothing more than to see him succeed in his role."

At the same time, the White House is responding to what seems like an avalanche of allegations against Pruitt. Hogan Gidley, the White House press secretary, did not say that Pruitt was on his way out, but he did say that the White House and the president are looking into these allegations. So the White House is slow walking this. But there is a sense here that nobody knows exactly what it will take for President Trump to finally be tired of some of these negative headlines coming from his EPA administrator -- Erica.

HILL: Abby Phillip with the latest for us. Abby, thank you.

Still ahead, we are in Thailand where finding those trapped young soccer players was difficult, to say the least. But now the much harder job -- getting them to the surface. We've got an update.

Plus, Republican congressman Jim Jordan now speaking out against those explosive reports he turned a blind eye to sexual abuse while a wrestling coach at Ohio State.


HILL: Another day has come and gone in Thailand. It is nighttime there. There has not yet been an attempt to bring these dozen young soccer players and their coach out of that flooded cave where they have now been for a week and a half.

Dive teams back in the cave today. The children, we're told, practicing breathing with the oxygen masks they would need if it is decided that this is the best way to bring them out, which would essentially be coming out the way they went in back on June 23rd.

[10:15:04] Reporter Jonathan Miller is there for us with the latest -- Jonathan.

JONATHAN MILLER, ASIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, as you say, that's one of the options, is bringing them out the way they came in. But there are other options being explored, Erica. I mean one of the boys, interestingly, in the cave said he heard roosters crowing and he heard the sound of chickens and children playing.

Now he might have been imagining things because after nine days in a cave on your own like that in the dark, well, you might hear anything. But it's possible that he did hear that because there are fissures and cracks and what they call chimneys going up through this limestone in the hills which you can't see but are right behind me. And, you know, if there is a possibility of somehow getting in through -- into the cave roof and extracting them that way, that would be infantly preferable to having them come out the way they came in, because that would involve them diving, learning first of all to use scuba gear, then diving with the cave divers helping them through about half a mile of submerged narrow passageways.

And it's all together, I think, around three or more, four kilometers that they'd have to make their way out. That's really, really risky. But the risks also involve leaving them in there because, you know, within a few days, that deluge of the monsoon will come down again. And that cavern system will be submerged for the next few months and they will be stuck. And it's possible that that's the safest option, just keeping them there, feeding them, making sure they're well looked off. But my goodness, what a miserable experience that would be.

HILL: Yes. Certainly not what they would want to do, one would imagine.

Jonathan Miller, appreciate it. Thank you.

With us now, Tim Taylor, who's an ocean explorer and the CEO of Tiburon Subsea. Geary Schindel knows caves as the head of the National Speleological Society.

Good to have both of you with us. Tim, we focus so much on these kids and the fact that we know some of them can't swim, how difficult it is for an adult to learn to scuba, let alone a child with no experience. But you say all of that could actually play in their favor. Why?

TIM TAYLOR, OCEAN EXPLORER: Well, they're young. And as anybody that has kids know, they're fearless. And they'll take the risk. That being said, it is a complicated thing that they're trying to do. And under the best conditions, diving is still a new skill they're going to have to learn and be comfortable with. You can train people to use the equipment. It is done in resorts in a day. But you can't train experience and what you need in this type of situation is that kind of experience. A lot can go wrong if you don't do it exactly right.

HILL: A lot can go wrong. There are not a lot of options, though, as we point out. As Jonathan just laid out for us there. Geary, when we look at not only the nature of these caves, you know,

we're told there are sharp turns and the water goes up and down, it is dark, it is murky. It is difficult for even the most experienced divers in there. There is talk about could they perhaps drill in from above. How much of a challenge would that avenue be?

GEARY SCHINDEL, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL SPELEOLOGICAL SOCIETY: Well, drilling into a cave, I've worked on projects where we've done exactly that. Drilling into a cave is difficult. You know, the terrain above the cave is quite rough. I'm not sure if there are any roads up there, you can get a drill right with, you have to clear off and drilling pad, and then of course you've got about 800 meters, about 2400 feet of rocky overcome and you've got the monsoons coming on. So drilling into the cave would be a long, difficult process.

HILL: So when looking at that option, not an easy option there either.

Tim, as we think about the kids, you know, the beauty of not really having any fear at this point is one part of it, but there's also a lot psychologically they're going through. We know that there are kids singing at the mouth of the cave, they're trying to get a phone line down there. All of those would also be important steps to having these kids in their right mindset if they were to try to bring them through the dive.

TAYLOR: Correct. Correct. And so I guess that is important, mindset. But I don't know -- I would imagine if I was on location doing this, you'd be exploring all avenues and progressing along those lines as well.

HILL: There's also -- you know, we're looking at the water. And they're trying to pump water out so they can go potentially, you know, get them to come out the way they came in because this cave filled up so quickly.

When water levels are changing like that, how much of a challenge is that for the divers, as well?

TAYLOR: Well, obviously it is water flow. When you get water coming into caves like that, there's now just water flowing and it changes the whole dynamic of a dive because there's more water to go through or less water to go through.

I would say on that, if rain is coming, all right, that is a clock ticking in a lot of ways, that help them -- will drive decision making. So if you're pursuing taking these guys out on scuba and taking them out diving, or keeping them in there, you're racing the clock.

HILL: Yes.

TAYLOR: And that is -- decisions would have to be made, whether they're good decisions or bad decisions, they may be the only decisions left to make is to take them out.

HILL: They're difficult no matter what.

TAYLOR: Right.

HILL: Looking at those decisions, and to your point about more rain, this is only the beginning, Geary, of course, of the monsoon season.

[10:20:02] When we look at areas of the world like this and you're looking at caves that have to deal with this enormous influx of rain for months upon end, how can that also change the structure of these caves, meaning that what we see today in terms of a pathway could very well change because of the water? Is that a concern?

SCHINDEL: Well, there is in the sense that the, you know, water drains and flooding can bring in debris and move sediment around, certainly tear up dive lines and other issues. So it wouldn't structurally probably damage the cave. That'd be unlikely. But it certainly can alter the dynamics. You know, as Tim has said, the (INAUDIBLE) in the water, you know, in some of the tight spaces can greatly increase and make it very difficult for the divers to get through.

HILL: In terms of the structure there, we've heard these reports, and Jonathan was just talking about them, one of the boys reportedly we heard some -- I believe it was one of the Dutch divers who was down there saying that one of the boys said he could hear a rooster. And then there was some discussion, could there have been perhaps a hole or an air pocket, something for that sound to get down to them in the cave. Would that be possible in an area like this?

SCHINDEL: Well, there's certainly a possibility of finding another entrance. And my understanding is that they basically exercised all options that they've had concurrently. So they've done what appears to be just a fantastic job trying to manage an incredibly complex situation. Unlikely, I would suspect that what they may be hearing is the water lapping against the wall of a cave as maybe the water levels have dropped a little bit and air pockets have opened up. Your mind, especially if you've been sitting in the dark for a long period of time, will play, you know, tricks on you sometimes.

HILL: Geary Schindel, Tim Taylor, appreciate you both joining us with your expertise this morning. Thank you.

SCHINDEL: Great. Thank you.

HILL: Scott Pruitt joins the list of administration officials confronted by protesters, not while he was at work, though. Is it going too far? Is civility now officially dead?


[10:25:27] HILL: It is, of course, the Fourth of July, Independence Day. Americans across the country celebrating the many freedoms that this country offers. And among them is freedom of speech. It's something we hear a lot about these days, and something that we hear about especially in terms of politics from both sides. Listen, it's great that we live in a country where we can confront

elected officials. Yes, American taxpayers pay their salaries, they are allowed to ask questions about how they're doing their job. Recent events, though, have a number of people asking, what exactly we're accomplishing in some of the ways that's being carried out? Events like this moment. Take a look.


KRISTIN MINK, CONFRONTED SCOTT PRUITT IN RESTAURANT: We deserve to have somebody at the EPA who actually does protect our environment, somebody who believes in climate change and takes it seriously for the benefit of all of us, including our children. So I would urge you to resign before your scandal push you out.


HILL: That is Kristin Mink confronting EPA chief Scott Pruitt at a restaurant earlier this week. She joined Kate Bolduan last night to talk about why she decided to talk to him.


MINK: We pay these administrators' bill via taxes. They are our employees. Their job is to serve the public. If they are 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.


HILL: Joining me now, CNN political commentator, former press secretary for Bernie Sanders campaign, Symone Sanders, and former presidential writer for George W. Bush, Ned Ryan.

Good to have both of you with us.

Look, let's be honest here. These types of moments are red meat for both sides, especially depending on who it's happening to on which day. Yes, Scott Pruitt should be able to eat in peace. Yes, taxpayers have a right to ask -- well, he's not an elected official obviously but they have a right to ask officials what they are doing if they have questions.

Have we gotten to a point, though, where this is ineffective, at best, Ned?

NED RYAN, CEO, AMERICAN MAJORITY: Well, first of all, I would say all for free speech, all for accountability. I think we have to remember where we need to draw the line. When we start to have political harassment over political differences and we're harassing public officials in their private time, I think we need to draw the line and say that's not how we settle our differences here. Obviously we have to have civil disagreements. But if you disagree with the policies that are being implemented, we

settle them at the ballot box. And so I think that we can't normalize this kind of behavior. I think it will lead to even further bad behavior. And so we have to say again, like with Maxine Waters and her comments, I was very appreciative of Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi calling her out. That's not how we settle our differences here. We can have hopefully rational conversations about policy differences and settle them at the ballot box.

HILL: We should point out, listen, when we approached Scott Pruitt she was very respectful. She wasn't yelling at him, she wasn't right up in his face.

Symone, though, it does beg the question, can you wait until the ballot box? Because there are a lot of people on the other side who will say, I can't get answers, period. This is the only way that I can get somebody to pay attention. Is that enough of a reason?

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I just wonder if there's ever been an acceptable form of protest in this country. If someone -- if students do a walk-out, it's disrespectful. If a woman walks up to someone from the government in a restaurant holding her baby, calmly explaining her piece and asking him questions, it's out of order.

There's never been an acceptable form of protest in this country. And, you know, again, I'd say that, again, give me an example? All I'm saying is this, that in these times, I do believe that folks should strive to be non-violent in their confrontation, if you will, but they should not strive to be non-confrontational.

Power concedes nothing without a demand. And throughout our history change has not come about because the folks sitting in the precipices of power have just decided to do things differently. They had to be pushed and that push often comes from being uncomfortable. And so if elected officials, if Trump administration officials are a little uncomfortable in their Mexican restaurants, well, you know, I would challenge them to make different decisions and create policies that don't cause them to be protested at the restaurants. I mean, I don't have any sympathy for the folks like Scott Pruitt or DHS Secretary Nielsen. I just don't.

RYAN: That's absurd. No. This is absurd. You're now saying that public officials who people have policy differences with, and I understand that, now are free to walk into restaurants and harass them while they're trying to have dinner? That is not normal. It is not acceptable and I would disagree. I think there have been plenty of peaceful protests --