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Pruitt is Out Amid Scandals; Rescuer Loss his Life Saving Kids; Trump is Back to Insulting Opponents; Mom Reunited with Daughter After 55 Days. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired July 6, 2018 - 03:00   ET



GEORGE HOWELL, CNN HOST: Another White House cabinet official out. The embattled EPA chief resigns after months of scandal and ethics probes.

Pressure on Mike Pompeo, America's top diplomat back in Pyongyang right now seeing proof that North Korea is committed to denuclearization.

Also, ahead this hour, the dangerous mission in Thailand. What a rescue diver's death means for the efforts to save 13 people trapped there in a cave.

Live from CNN world headquarters in Atlanta. We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. I'm George Howell, the CNN Newsroom starts right now.

At 3 a.m. here on the U.S. East Coast we start with another high- profile departure from the Trump administration. The head of the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, has resigned under a cloud of controversy. Scott Pruitt was at the White House Wednesday, the Fourth of July, for celebrations there. His resignation comes amid a long list of alleged ethics violations.

You see some of them here. It's a long, extensive list. Pruitt, the subject of at least 14 separate investigations. Among the claims, trying to use his position to secure a job and a restaurant franchise for his wife.

President Trump has been hesitant to take action, instead, praising Pruitt, deregulation efforts in that agency, on Thursday, he tweeted this. "Within the agency, Scott has done an outstanding job and I will always be thankful to him for this."

In an exclusive investigation, CNN has uncovered the latest Pruitt scandal. Our Drew Griffin has details for you.




last straw. An EPA insider turned whistleblower, alleging Scott Pruitt and his inner circle were keeping a secret calendar, hiding meetings with industry insiders and others from the public. Scrubbing federal records, possibly in violation of the law.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Scrubbed, yes, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Of the official EPA administrator's schedule.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely. Which happens quite a bit.


GRIFFIN: The exclusive report detailed over two dozen meetings, calls, and events with industry insiders and others missing from Pruitt's public calendar. Kevin Chmielewski said the secret calendar all done under Pruitt's direction. Thursday morning two Democratic congressmen demanded a federal investigation of that report.

Within hours, Pruitt resigned. In his resignation letter, Pruitt never mentioned any scandals he was associated with. Only this. "The unrelenting attacks on me personally, my family, are unprecedented and have taken a sizable toll on all of us." What's unprecedented the sheer volume of allegations against Scott Pruitt.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is mind-boggling how long the list of potential ethics violations are.


GRIFFIN: His scandals ran the gamut, a CNN report that Pruitt proposed ousting Jeff Sessions so he would be appointed attorney general. Leasing a D.C. condo from a lobbyist's wife below cost. Spending tens of thousands on office furniture, a soundproof phone booth, spending tax dollars on first-class travel and weekend trips home.

Handing out jobs and pay raises to political aides. Using staff to run errands. Trying to get his wife a six figure job. Trying to get his wife a six-figure job, trying to get his job a Chick-Fil-A restaurant franchise.

At least 14 separate probes, underway involving Pruitt. His former deputy chief of staff says Scott Pruitt was warned several times to stop but refused.


KEVIN CHMIELEWSKI, FORMER EPA OFFICIAL: Phone booth is one thing. The flights, the first-class flights, the Delta flights. You know, the living in the lobbyist's house, we all knew about this. And, we expressed concerns, we expressed issues with it. Going home every weekend. Having the taxpayers, pay for his trips back home to Oklahoma. We expressed this stuff including Ryan Jackson, he's got over, over a -- overruled by administrator Pruitt.


GRIFFIN: In the past few weeks even Republicans began questioning Pruitt's judgment.


SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R), LOUISIANA: I know some are allegations. Some of them are facts. He is acting like a moron. And he needs to stop it.


GRIFFIN: In the end, Pruitt relied on his personal almost divine like connection to Donald Trump as revealed in his letter of resignation. "I believe you are serving as president today because of God's providence," Pruitt wrote to Trump. "I believe that same providence brought me into your service." That service, under the weight of 14 federal probes came to end Thursday.

Drew Griffin, CNN, Atlanta.

HOWELL: Drew, thank you. And as for the man who will replace Pruitt critics are already speaking out about him.

[03:05:01] Andrew Wheeler is a former coal industry lobbyist, his former firm's clients include, Murray Energy which calls itself the largest coal mining company in America. Wheeler was also a staff member for Republican Senator Jim Inhofe, Inhofe of Oklahoma. The climate change skeptic, once brought a snowball into the Senate floor to prove that global warming wasn't real.

Let's talk more about this now with political columnist for City A.M. in London, Kate Andrews. A pleasure to have you on the show to talk.


HOWELL: Good to have you. This seismic news, really. Scott Pruitt resigning. He never mentions the numerous scandals against him. Only citing the pressures on him and his family. The reasons he says for leaving. But, what do you make of him stepping down and what do you make of the person who will replace him?

ANDREWS: Donald Trump said that he was going to drain the swamp, that cat phrase got a lot of traction during the 2016 election. And, of course, what we have seen with Scott Pruitt is that the swamp can come in all shapes and sizes. And it can actually be within the Republican Party as well.

And when you have what is essentially a bureaucrat, in a nonelected position, spending taxpayer money on first-class flights and soundproof, soundproof phone booth in their room. Living for cheap with lobbyists and brings, I mean, it's hugely questionable to say the very least. Which is why you have all of these outstanding complaints and investigations against him.

And, at some point, I think probably, quite a while back now, you know, that -- that, switch sort of flipped. And the president should have said, you know, we can't have this in the party, especially within the Environmental Protection Agency. Because, what Donald Trump is doing there is quite controversial to many. It is a very sensitive subject.

So if you have somebody whose personal character is called into question. It's obviously then going to reflect on what happens politically and what happens in that department.

HOWELL: So, let's talk about the people that the president is considering for the U.S. Supreme Court. We know more about them now at least, one woman being considered all very deeply conservative with their backgrounds. With regard to concerns about the future of LGBT rights and abortion, what do you make of these picks?

ANDREWS: Yes, Amy Coney Barrett at the top of the list it seems as a potential candidate. She is a circuit judge. She is deeply conservative. She is favored amongst many of the conservatives. And I think it goes to show, really how political the Supreme Court has become. It's always been our goal to keep the Supreme Court away from politics and to let them analyze the Constitution, as they see fit.

But of course, that's not how things plan out in real life. That's really not criticism of the court, but rather the way that politicians treat the court and their appointees.

I know there's a lot of worry over LGBT rights, but specifically over Roe v. Wade. And this speaks to the fact that, you know, well, I'm personally am pro-choice and I think it's very important that women retain that right to their own health care, that decision was always made on very shaky ground constitutionally.

So, the fact that the court may now swing conservative, potentially for decades because Donald Trump is looking at young appointees in order to hold the court for a longer period of time. I think it really calls into question, you know, how our rights are maintained, how they're sustained, and if they're going to be decided on shaky ground on the Constitution maybe Congress needs to step up to the plate and actually legislate more.

HOWELL: All right. And Kate, I also want to talk about what we heard from the president on stage recently. Criticizing the Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren with a derogatory slur that he's used before. And also, mocking the Me Too movement. Let's listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Pocahontas, they always want me to apologize for saying it. Let's say I'm debating Pocahontas, right, I promise you I'll do this. I will take it, you know, those little kits they sell on television for $2. Learn your heritage. We will take that little kit and say, but we have to do it gently. Because when the Me Too generation, you have to be very gentle.

And we will very gently take that kit and we will slowly toss it, hoping it doesn't hit her and injure her arm.


HOWELL: All right. Kate, several things to dissect with that. Let's first get the response from Senator Elizabeth Warren who basically pushed back against the president. Saying that he should focus more on other issues rather than focusing on this Pocahontas slur that he's used before.

But the question I have for you given the outrage certainly from basically mocking the Me Too movement. This coming from a president by the way who faces several sexual misconduct, you know, allegations himself.

ANDREWS: Well, to the derogatory slur first. You know, I don't know what Donald Trump thinks he is doing. But when he uses that against Senator Warren, what he is actually doing is insulting the Native American community.

[03:10:04] And he thinks he is poking fun at her for, you know, questionably using affirmative action to her favor. But what he is really doing is attacking a large group of people, you know, who are very often marginalized in American society already.

It's so inappropriate. I can't imagine Ronald Reagan or even George W. Bush ever speaking in this way. It's so unpresidential to the point about the Me Too movement.

I mean, again I disagree with it coming out of the president's mouth. I think he needs to be better than this. There are certainly questions for I think us in the political commentary arena to ask about where the Me Too movement has gone. What started out as a very organic movement I think to highlight sexual assault, very quickly became hijacked potentially by less serious complaints. A

And so I think there are questions to be asked about the nuances of Me Too on where it started and where it is going. Coming out of the president's mouth in that way, again, just deeply inappropriate. It's not -- he is supposed to be above all of this. He is supposed to be representing America. He is supposed to take the higher ground. Once again, unsurprisingly, George, we've seen him go a different direction.

HOWELL: Well, you know, he is speaking with his base there. And this is red meat, I suppose for the base. Kate Andrews, thank you so much for the insight and perspective today.

ANDREWS: Thank you.

HOWELL: China has just accused the United States of starting the biggest trade war in economic history. This is because tariffs on $34 billion of Chinese goods went into effect just about three hours ago. More than 800 products have been targeted. Those Products include industrial machinery, they include mechanical devices, and auto parts. China says the U.S. is simply a trade bully. Let's listen.


GAO FENG, SPOKESMAN, CHINESE MINISTRY OF COMMERCE (through translator): It is the United States who initiated this trade war. We don't want it. But when necessary we will take countermeasures to safeguard the interests of our country and people. China will never fire the first shot. But if the U.S. imposes additional tariffs on Chinese imports, China will have to take countermeasures.


HOWELL: Now Beijing hasn't provided any details of its retaliation but previously said it would impose tariffs on U.S. goods including airplanes, meat, whiskey, and tobacco.

This clash with China comes as the Trump administration is locked in trade disputes with Canada, with Mexico, and with the European Union. Tariffs on steel and aluminum saw trading partners, propose their own tariffs on billions of dollars of American exports.

Now, it is early morning here in the United States, Friday, and today marks the first deadline for the U.S. government to start reuniting migrant families. Today officials have to make every child separated from their parent, they have to find a way to get in touch with them. To reach out, connect with their moms or their dad.

But it is -- easier said than done in this case. Especially when the numbers they keep changing. The government is struggling to keep count of how many children are detained, apart from their families. Just days ago they said it was just more than 2,000 kids. Now, they're saying it's just under 3,000. So what's the number? Still unclear.

But the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services wants to make this one point clear. Let's listen to this.


ALEX AZAR, SECRETARY OF THE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: First again I want to be really clear. A couple of you have said the word 3,000. I want to be clear it is under 3,000. I want to give you an outer bound, under 3,000. And that is the maximum set. It will not be 3,000, it will not be close to 3,000. It will be under 3,000.


HOWELL: His fuzzy numbers, though, don't help the families that want their kids back. Whatever the number is of children thousand of parents and kids have been waiting, long days to be reunited.

Here is the story of one mother who finally got her wish. Angelica Gonzalez Garcia was reunited with her daughter after 55 along days. But it wasn't because of the U.S. government. The American Civil Liberties Union helped her file a lawsuit that describes, quote, "unmitigated cruelty."

It says an officer told Gonzalez Garcia, happy Mother's day after saying her daughter would be taken away and she would never see her again. Fortunately, that did not come to pass. Take a look.




HOWELL: As a parent, one could only imagine. Gonzalez Garcia says reuniting with her daughter makes her the happiest woman in the world.

We'll be right back after the break.


DON RIDDELL, CNN SPORT ANCHOR: Hi there. I'm Don Riddell with your CNN world sport headlines.

We are just hours away from the quarterfinal matches of the World Cup in Russia. And what compelling drama lies ahead. Of the eight teams in the tournament four are previous world champions. The tournament hosts are still in it and also some of the top names in the game.

On Friday, it's Uruguay against France. And later, Brazil take on Belgium. Uruguay have looked very dangerous in the competition so far. They've only conceded one goal all year. And they dispatch Cristiano Ronaldo in Portugal in the round of 16.

But one of their star strikers, Edinson Cavani is a major doubt. He scored three times in the tournament but hobbled off with a calf injury in the last game against Portugal. After intensive treatment, Cavani returned to training on Thursday. But it's not clear what kind of role if any he will be able to play against France.

We are only four days into the Wimbledon tennis championships. But it's been carnage so far for the top seeds. In the women's draw, six of the top eight ranked players are already out. Including the defending champion Garbine Muguruza. Very few would have seen this coming. Muguruza was toppled by the world number 47. Alison Van Uytvanck in three sets. The Belgian into the third round for the first time.

That is a quick look at all your sports headlines, I'm Don Riddell.

[03:19:57] HOWELL: Welcome to CNN Newsroom.

In northern Thailand rescuers have lost one of their own while trying to save a youth football team. The officials say this former Thai navy SEAL died hours ago after running out of air. The diver had just brought oxygen to the flooded cave system where that team is trapped.

The 12 boys and their coach have been stranded now for 13 days. More rain is expected which could flood the cave even more. The death of the diver highlights the dangers that they face, especially if they use scuba gear to try to escape.

Let's go live to the scene. CNN's David McKenzie is on the story. And David, what more do we know at this point about how this former navy SEAL lost his life?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, George, it seems he was traveling through those very tight spaces, trying to deliver oxygen to the cabin where the boys are, on the way back from delivering the oxygen, it appears he ran out of air himself and passed out.

There is a real sense of tragedy and loss amongst the specialist divers here. But, you know they know they have a job to do. If you look behind me over there that's some of the staging ground of the various teams. Both international and Thai that have used all of their technique and experience to try and figure out how to get these boys out.

And it really underlines just how difficult it will be to get them out. That this experienced diver who was a former sergeant they called him ironman by his friends, super fit, well-specialized. Had his training in check and he passed away.

So how are their going to get the weak boys, some of them they can't swim out through the tunnels. I spoke to a Finnish diver who specializes going into wrecks across Asia. And he said the diving here is so much more difficult. But they just have to get it done.


MCKENZIE: What is the mood like right now, now that we have learned that this one diver has died?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Definitely, you can feel it. That it has an effect. But we are moving on. Everybody is a professional so we are trying to put it away. And avoid it never happen again.

MCKENZIE: And everyone is focusing on getting the boys out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody is focusing getting them out. Keeping them alive, or getting them out.


MCKENZIE: Well, you can see a large group of the Thai military coming in behind me. This has become a Herculean effort. Both in terms of getting the boys out, and of course, of just keeping the rescuers happy, motivated and optimistic that they can actually do the job.

You know we joined, CNN joined, a group of national parks, officials, deep into the jungle. This exclusive video showing how they're looking for the tunnels, possibly leading into the ground. The sink holes as they call it or the chimneys. They might be some kind of access point.

They're saying in one case six climbers down from southern Thailand as much as 300 meters, George, but, they finally reached the dead end. And it's kind of like looking for a needle in a haystack to try to find some other access point. It could be with the rain sporadic today that they just take the decision that they have to get the boys out before the caves flood again with the monsoon. That will be an incredibly hazardous journey as we found out earlier today. George?

HOWELL: And David, you mention the weather there. Certainly the concern is more heavy rain is on the way as those crews are doing their very best to proceed on with the, you know, this operation. David, we'll stay in touch with you. Thank you for the reporting today.

Now the next few days will be critical for these rescuers.

CNN's Tom Foreman has a breakdown of exactly what's at stake here.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The race here is very simple in theory, but devilishly complicated in practice. What the rescuers are trying is get enough water out of this two and a half mile stretch of tunnel. Basically cave from the entrance up to where the boys are more than a half mile down to maybe open a brief path to bring them back out.

But, here's the issue. They're pumping about as fast as they can right now. Somewhere around 435,000 gallons per hour. That's enough to fill two-thirds of an Olympic swimming pool every hour. And yet they feel like they're still just on the edge of maybe getting this done. Maybe.

And look at the reality that they're facing here. What they've been pumping out of the hole has been the water that went in before the boys went into the cave and since then. All that in blue there. And look at that area in the middle. That's where they have been working where there's been less rainfall. And now in the gray you see what's coming.

So, unless they get ahead of it right now right away there is going to be a whole new challenge there. The flooding could start all over again and all their progress could easily be lost.

[03:24:56] We do know a little bit more about what they are dealing with underground by the way. More detailed maps are emerging from people who have been down there. And you can see that now, what we are talking about are actually some areas that are almost like lakes in a sense. That they would have to fall or rivers under there. We don't know how deep it is. We don't know how hard to get through. We do know some of the boys can't swim well.

Some narrow flooded part where they actually would have to dive through unless they can get a lot more water out. We don't know how long those are but we also know some of these areas are very, very tight and hard to get through.

How difficult is this. Well, here's one measure. Professional divers who are going in to try to make this rescue happen are spending six hours, just getting from the entrance to where the boys are. And five hours just to get back. HOWELL: Tom Foreman, thank you very much. And in Southern Thailand,

rescue efforts are underway for dozens of people missing after two boats capsized in separate incidents. Now this happened off the resort island of Phuket during severe thunderstorms and high waves there.

Police say one boat was loaded with Chinese tourist. More than half have been rescued at this point. The Thai navy, marine police and local fishermen are also helping with the rescue efforts.

Still ahead, a top U.S. diplomat is on a mission to North Korea. We'll tell you exactly what commitments the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wants from Kim Jong-un.

Plus, a shipping route is at the center of an oil dispute between Washington and Tehran. Now, Iranian officials threaten to block the Strait of Hormuz.

Around the world and in the U.S., you are watching Newsroom.


HOWELL: Coast to coast across the United States and live around the world this hour. You are watching CNN Newsroom. It is a pleasure to have you with us. I'm George Howell with the headlines we're following for you this hour.

The head of the U.S Environmental Protection Agency, the EPA has-



[03:30:00] GEORGE HOWELL, CNN NEWSROOM SHOW HOST: Coast to coast across the United States and live around the world at this hour. You are watching CNN Newsroom. It is a pleasure to have you with us. I'm George Howell, with the headlines we are following for you this hour.

The head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the EPA has resigned under a cloud of controversy. Scott Pruitt is the target of at least 14 separate ethics investigations. Investigations in his resignation letter, he blamed unrelenting attacks on himself and on his family.

A former Thai navy seal has been killed during efforts to rescue a youth football team trapped in a cave system. Officials say the volunteer diver died from lack of air. He had been delivering oxygen tanks to replenish the oxygen in the boys cavern. The 12 boys and their coach have been trapped there for 13 days.

China has accused the United States of starting the quote, biggest trade war in economic history. As $34 billion in U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods now goes into effect. Beijing says it has no choice, but to strike back.

The top U.S. diplomat is in Pyongyang for nuclear talks with North Korea. Mike Pompeo is under a great deal of pressure to deliver results after the lofty promises of denuclearization from that summit that took place in Singapore. Pyongyang has yet though to provide any firm details or even a timeline of how it plans to get rid of its nuclear program. Recent U.S. Intelligence reports suggest, North Korea has no intention of giving up its weapons. CNN's Barbara Starr now has a look at what is at stake for this trip.


BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo under tremendous pressure to get North Korea to denuclearize. North Korea did destroy entrances to underground tunnel used to test nuclear bombs, but Pompeo now has to deliver much more.

JOSEPH YUN, FORMER U.S. ENVOY FOR NORTH KOREA POLICY: He is under tremendous pressure. I think what we have seen from Singapore is rather an empty, empty joint statement. And now, he has to make something out of it.

STARR: President Trump sounding optimistic last month.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They stopped all nuclear testing. They stopped nuclear research. They stopped rocketry. They stopped everything that you would want them to stop. And they blew up sites where they test.

STARR: But so far, no sign Kim Jong-un has given up his nuclear weapons, defense officials say. Commercial satellite imagery continues to show potential activity, at the Yongbyon nuclear research facility. The U.S. is keeping sharp watch across North Korea.

GORDON CHANG, AUTHOR OF NUCLEAR SHOWDOWN: There has been these reports about increased production (inaudible) material. The completion of a construction on a facility that, that North Korea makes its, its ballistic missiles, all sorts of things.

STARR: Pompeo publicly remains hopeful, tweeting, looking forward to continuing our work toward the final fully verified denuclearization of DPRK as agreed to by Chairman Kim, but it is an uphill climb given White House expectations.

AMB. JOHN BOLTON, WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: The Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, will be discussing this with the North Koreans in the near future about really how to dismantle all of WMD and ballistic missile programs in a year.

STARR: North Korea has to agree the time lines for dismantlement, plus verification and inspection of facilities. Kim isn't moving fast. Even on the promise to transfer remains of potentially 200 American troops, killed during the Korean War. Something President Trump said has already happened.

TRUMP: We got back our great fallen heroes, the remains, and in fact, today already, 200 have been sent back. But so far only temporary caskets have been moved to the DMZ in case the North Koreans carry out the promise. STARR: The state department is pushing back on the notion it is

softening its position just to get a deal with Kim Jong-un. The State Department press secretary saying, nothing could be further from the truth. Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.


HOWELL: Barbara, thank you. President Trump talked about North Korea during a campaign rally in Montana. On Thursday night, he says Kim Jong-un sees a very bright and different future for his country.


TRUMP: I got along very well with Chairman Kim. I got along very well. That is a good thing that I got along well. Now what hasn't happened in eight months? In eight months. First of all, we got our prisoners back before I even went, right. It was a very smart deal for North Korea. Good will it's very important, but we signed a wonderful paper. Saying they're going to denuclearize their whole thing, it is all going to happen.


[03:35:00] HOWELL: Let's bring in CNN's Andrew Stevens, following the story live in Seoul, South Korea. Andrew, we just heard the President there just a moment ago talking about the status of these negotiations. Rosie picture he paints of good will, of, of -- good deed. Good paper that was signed. Between he and the North Korean leader, but the truth of the matter here intelligence agencies of the U.S. government tell a very different story that is raising concerns.

ANDREW STEVENS, CNN NEWSTREAM ANCHOR: That is right, George. We saw the report from Barbara Starr. Indicating that, that the, not one, but multiple arms of intelligence services in the U.S. are expressing concerns about what's going on, is the, are the North Koreans actually continuing to a rich (inaudible) materiel, uranium to be used in nuclear weapons. We know that there is a site in Yongbyon which does just that, but there is now suggestions there are two other secret sites which are also doing that as the well.

It is also -- there is also concerns about, the North Koreans, ramping up production on these solid fuel rocket system, these are small, mobile, rocket engines. Which can be attached to an intercontinental ballistic missile. They're much smaller, much easier to move. They're portable. Which makes more difficult to detect. So these are issues rumbling out in the background as we hear Donald Trump saying that he can do business with Kim Jong-un, that he likes him.

In fact, Mike Pompeo echoing that as the he flew to Pyongyang just to, a few hours ago. He sent this tweet, George, saying the President told me, when the President was aboard Air Force One, the President told me that he believes that Chairman Kim sees a different brighter future for the people of North Korea. We hope that is true.

And we now know that Mike Pompeo, he has arrived, he is on the ground in Pyongyang. He met Kim Yong-Chol, who is the right hand man of Kim Jong-un. They had lunch together at a guest house. And, we understand now that the first meeting between these two is under way. It is expected to go for a few hours too, George. And their suggestions we don't know this, because there has been very few details given out, but there has been suggestions that if the, this meeting is initial meeting goes according to plan, that Mike Pompeo may then move on to meet with President Kim.

But certainly, as you say, there is, there is concern. There is skepticism in the intelligence community that North Korea may be trying to deceive the U.S. in its nuclear program. And at the end of the day, there are real concerns, doubts, which have always been the case. Over whether North Korea is indeed fully committed to denuclearization to giving up its weapons program. In the same sense that the U.S. expects it to do.

HOWELL: Two questions coming from this. You point out, North Korea looking to deceive the other question is the U.S. administration going soft given, you know, its desire to have good optics around this? David McKenzie, -- rather, I am sorry, we will stay in touch with you. Andrew Stevens, in South Korea. Thank you. So much for the time to day.

Tensions are rising between the U.S. and Iran over the issue of oil. Iranian officials have threatened to close the Strait of Hurmuz, this after a major shipping route for the Persian Gulf nations. In was in response to the Trump administration. An official who promised to get the number of countries importing, Iranian crude oil down to zero. Tehran and interpreted that as the U.S. intent to stop Iranian shipping.

In the meantime, the Iranian President is in Vienna trying to salvage his country's nuclear agreement after the U.S. backed out of it. Let's bring in CNN Money's emerging markets editor, John Defterios, live in Abu Dhabi. John, how crucial is this being with tensions ratcheting up between Washington and Tehran?

JOHN DEFTERIOS, CNN EMERGING MARKETS EDITOR: Well, George, let us say a pivotal day. And I think the pressure, that squeezes on the Europeans and the pressure is coming from both Tehran and Washington right now. In that Vienna meeting you will find all of the signatories of the nuclear agreement minus the elephant in the room and that is the United States. As you suggest they'd pulled out of the deal in May.

Hassam Rouhani, the President of Iran and his Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif has been touring Europe all weeklong finishing in Vienna for this meeting on Friday. And they had been pushing saying to the European's, you have to go beyond the nice platitudes and come up with actually concrete economic measures. In fact, Rouhani had a call with his counterpart in France, President Macron suggesting that what they see so far is not strong enough in terms of support for economic growth in Iran to stay engaged.

Now, I talked to a European diplomat who said that Europeans want to stay engaged in the nuclear agreement. The only way to have leverage over Iran and its activities, and at the same time, to buffer the influence of Russia and Turkey who remain very involved in the energy sector, but they're looking weak to the outside world.

And this is why this meeting that is taking place in Vienna is so important. We know the U.S. position, George, there is a tweet graphic coming from Mike Pompeo while he was on his way to Korea. Looking at state terrorism, alleged terrorism, by the Iranians in Euro specifically going back to 1979.

[03:40:11] The message is clear from the United States to the Europeans, don't go weak, don't divorce the nuclear agreement from other activities of Iran, we want them to be joined up, in the future. And why this meeting is so crucial today, George.

HOWELL: How much of this, though, has to do with oil. And the snap back of sanctions on Iran by the U.S.?

DEFTERIOS: I think, it is hard to say, this is how we got to the boiling point as you suggested in your lead in there. They are trying to wipe out Iran's exports entirely by November. It is pretty radical leaning on China, India, Turkey, Korea to reduce those imports right now.

That is why the Strait of Hormuz is back in play here by Iranians, they are threatening to block it. It is not the first time they have done so in history. But it is the first time in the last few years. (Inaudible) handles a third of all sea born crude traffic. So, it is vital right now. And why the pressure is on. U.S. Central Command has even weighed in here, George, as well, saying, they will stand ready to ensure the freedom of navigation, but I think the subtlety, this time around is that that order to shut the strait, at least threaten to shut the strait came from President Rouhani, he has consider the moderate in those whole play, it wasn't led by the military. And the military like what they heard? Perhaps a way to build Rouhani's credentials back at home as he tries to negotiate the nuclear agreement in Vienna today.

HOWELL: John Defterios, thank you so much for the reporting.

The reappearance of a deadly nerve agent in the British countryside has residents there on edge. The latest in the Novichok poisoning mystery.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A great shame. And yes I am concerned. But, it's not going to stop me doing anything that I need to do and I don't think it will anyone else either. They say it is low risk. I don't think it is low risk at all. It's really worrying that it is just happened all of a sudden again, months later again. So it is quite concerning.


[03:45:10] HOWELL: You get a sense of the (inaudible) nerves and sense of Deja Vu in the British countryside as investigators are trying to track down the source of a deadly nerve agent. The poisoned two people on Saturday. Police say, the couple are fighting for their lives this after handling an item that contained contaminated rather by Novichok. That is the same substance that was used in the failed assassination attempt on a former Russian spy and his daughter just month ago. CNN's Nic Robertson is in Amesbury, England, following the story. And Nic, certainly a lot of people there in that town and around that area must be very concerned with another couple fighting to survive after coming in contact with this poison?

NIC ROBERTSON, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CNN CORRESPONDENT: And that is really what makes the police investigation right now so crucial. Because what the police are trying to do is figure out precisely what contaminated this pair. What was it they picked up? What was it that touched? Where precisely did they find it? What time did they find it? And crucially where is it now? So the house behind me which is where the couple were picked up by ambulance from a separate time, Sunday afternoon, is now the, is now one of the areas of the police investigation. The police currently have five different properties between here, Amesbury and the town of Salisbury, eight miles away, which is a town where the Skripal's were poisoned back in March.

So the focus says on those known site where these pair visited between late Saturday night and Sunday afternoon when they were taken to hospital where they remain in critical condition. Trying to scour those sites to find this point of contamination. Because unless the police can find that, then they're going to find it very hard to assure the public that they're safe. And the public very concerned, because they, they, the impression that is being created right now is, although the police and authorities have decontaminated four sites, and, from the, you know the investigation into the Skripal's poisoning in March.

And a couple of sites remain under police investigation, or at least remain closed off to the public, although they have decontaminated four sites. An item of contaminant remains out there. The police have said that this couple were, accidental victim. That they weren't intentionally targeted. That they weren't connected with the Skripal's, and they are also saying that the sites that the couple visited don't include those sites that the police had decontaminated from the Skripal investigation.

Which, again, plays into the public's concerns. Areas outside of that original investigation for the original poisoning in March. Are areas now where it seems that, a contaminant and Novichok contaminant was lying around for these couple to have picked up and discovered? So, this is urgency in the police investigation. Not just treating the couple in hospital, but finding out, precisely, very much in the Skripal case, as you said, Deja vu. What contaminates them? How, and precisely where, when? George.

HOWELL: A lot of uncertainty for sure. International diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson live for us. Thank you for the time and reporting. We will keep in touch with you.

Still ahead. 90 million people in North America are under heat advisory. As temperatures continues to soar. And in some cases kill. [03:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOWELL: Welcome back. The singer, Chris Brown was arrested Thursday night after a concert in Florida. He was wanted on an outstanding felony, battery warrant from last year. Brown was released from jail after he paid $2,000 bond. The 29-year-old singer has had a number of brushes with the law including pleading guilty to assaulting then girlfriend Rihanna back in 2009.

In Quebec, Canada, at least 33 people have died during an extreme heat waves, scorching parts of the country. At least 18 deaths alone occurred in Montreal. This according to authorities. Most of the victims were men over the age of 50 who lived by themselves and without air conditioning. Deaths have been also reported in Pennsylvania and New York. Intense heat is forecast for the western part of the U.S. this weekend. It is causing concerns about wildfire. The so-called county fire in California, has charred 86,000 acres. It's likely to grow as the weather gets hotter and dryer. Hotter and hotter, that is the forecast it seems. Our meteorologist, Derek Van Dam is following it all. Derek?

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: George, the East will cool down. The West will get hotter. That brings the -- our increases the threat of fires, as you mentioned. Here is an interesting picture, this is coming out of Park County, Colorado. This is the Westin pass fire. Well you don't really see much of a fire. But you see more of a tornado. A very rare thing to happen. We have a tornado go over what was a 12,000-acre fire. And, created the scene. This is earlier today.

Here is the latest on some of the fires ongoing across Colorado. You can see the 416 fire that has been burning for several weeks now. It its 45 percent containment. One thing to take note though. We still have an exceptional drought taking place across the four corners of the U.S. In fact, over 38 large active fires burning out of control across, western portions of the United States. Breezy, low humidity. High temperatures. All fuel for the flames across this area.

The potential exists for more fire activity. And we focus in on southwestern California. Where temperatures are really going to skyrocket this week. Record heat, expected for the weekend. And into early parts of next week. As a heat dome sets up over these area. And it is not going to be just the inland region. This is going to extend all the way to the coast. Including the greater Los Angeles region. San Diego, coastal temperatures could reach 100 degrees. Inland temperatures, get this, 120. Of course, this is a very dry heat. So they don't have humidity to deal with, but none the less, we are still talking about temperatures, running 20 degrees above where they should be this time of year.

Triple digit heat for Los Angeles today. Unbelievable. Mention the cooling trend for the East Coast, great news for Quebec, as well as the New England region. Because they have been sweltering for the past seven days. We know about the fatalities, but this is what I am really excited to report on. [03:55:12] Temperatures yesterday were 95, in Ottawa. 71 degrees

today. More of the same in Montreal where the fatalities were located. 93 yesterday. 74 today. So, some much-needed, and much- welcomed relief from the extreme heat there. And that is going to extend all the way to the East Coast including the big apple. So temperatures today will feel, will be much more comfortable than what they have been for the past seven days. And we even dropped them into the upper 70s for the weekend. And we will feel noticeable difference in the humidity level as well. So, some good news, along the East Coast. Along the West Coast, we got the high fire threat and the increase in our temperatures. Back to you, George.

HOWELL: Silver lining there, but hot on the other part of the country. Derek, thank you. And we end the show this hour with the Trump baby blimp in the United Kingdom. It has been cleared for liftoff. London's mayor, who is a critic of the U.S. President has given protestors the OK, to send this satirical balloon over parliament next week. That is when Mr. Trump will be visiting the City. The blimp is 6 meters tall, that is about 19 feet. And it mocks the twitter-loving President as an infant with yellow hair and small hands, holding a cell phone. Of course, we will see if the President tweets about the Trump balloon there.

Thank you so much for being with us. From CNN Newsroom, I'm George Howell at the CNN Center in Atlanta. For our viewers here in the United States, "Early start" is next from New York. And for our viewers around the world, the news continues with my colleague, Max Foster live in London. Thank you for watching CNN, the world's news leader.


VAN DAM: Here is a sight you don't typically see. A tornado forms in Colorado. That is not so unusual. But this tornado actually moved over an open wildfire. You can see how it sucked in some of the smoke into its vortex. Quite an interesting photo, sent into CNN. Nonetheless we have very dry and hot conditions across the southwestern United States. Cold front ushering in slightly cooler temperatures for the northeast. Breaking the heat wave for New York City scattered showers and thunderstorms across the mid-Atlantic all the way to the Deep South.

We do have extreme heat warnings for Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Phoenix. That is into the early parts of the weekend. Check out the seven-day forecast for L.A. 39 today. 37 on Saturday. 34 degrees to end off the weekend. Elsewhere, temperatures will be hot. Denver, 33. Chicago, 26. Cooler, however into New York City. 28 degrees. Showers and storms, thanks to the passage of our cold front. There is the cooler temperatures. But then our daytime highs in a rebound into the second parts of next week. We will see the mercury and thermometer climb once again into the lower and middle 30s for the big apple. We have wet weather today, New York, Philly all the way to the nation's capital, we have a flood watch in effect. You can see rainfall totals within these region. Could, accumulate over the course of the weekend in excess of 50 to 75 millimeters.