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President Donald Trump Invited Putin To Come To Washington For A Meeting At The White House; FBI Has At Least One Recorded Conversation Between President Trump And His Former Longtime Attorney Michael Cohen; Trump Administration Is Rolling Back Obama Era Regulations On Coal Ash; Former Cardiologist For President George H. W. Bush Is Gunned Down While Riding His Bicycle. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired July 21, 2018 - 16:00   ET


[16:00:16] ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN HOST: You are in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Alex Marquardt back with you for Ana Cabrera this afternoon.

We begin at the White House. Silent today, offering no clarity on what agreements President Trump might have made with Russian President Vladimir Putin behind closed doors in that one-on-one meeting in Helsinki, Finland. Instead it's the Kremlin that has been controlling the narrative offering up the most information on what they have called quote "very important oral agreements."

Russia's top diplomat, Sergey Lavrov, he summed up the meeting with near exuberation, calling it better than super. So if it's better for super for Russia, what did the U.S. agreed to and what did U.S. get out of it?

We in the media and most members of the senior, most senior members of the government are still waiting for answers to the questions from the White House. And while we wait we have gotten more news from Moscow today.

CNN has learned about a high--level phone call between Moscow and Washington from a Kremlin Web site. Secretary of state Mike Pompeo spoke with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov today. What did they talk about? Moscow says they discussed the so-called American initiative and what they called normalization of relations.

With all that swirling, where do we find President Trump today? He is at the New Jersey golf resort in Bedminster furiously tweet bag a secretly taped conversation by Michael Cohen, his former fixer and lawyer.

The President tweeted it is quote "inconceivable that a lawyer would tape a client."

So let's go right to CNN's Ryan Nobles who out there near the President's golf course in Bedminster.

Ryan, so much going on today, including President Trump not even a week after that summit in Finland already extending a very controversial invitation to President Vladimir Putin to visit this fall in the White House. Are they saying anything more about this? RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: You know, they are not,


Right now the White House is very vague as to exactly when that meeting is taking place, what the topics of discussion will be and why the reason that the President would even extend this invitation to Vladimir Putin to begin with. Of course this comes on the heels of us not getting all that much information as to exactly what was discussed between the two Presidents at the summit in Helsinki.

And there is a new twist to all of us important to keep an eye on, Alex. And that is how this could impact the President's legal troubles. Our Gloria Borger and Dana Bash both reporting that there are members of the Trump's legal time and his closed allies that are growing increasingly uncomfortable about the role that this Helsinki summit and then the subsequent meeting that is planned for the fall could impact his discussion with Robert Mueller and the special counsel's investigation into whether or not the Trump campaign had any ties to Russia during the election of 2016.

They are worried because this in many ways has become a PR battle, not necessarily legal battle. And the Trump team was actually very successful in discrediting Mueller's team to a certain extent with the President's frequent tweets calling it a witch-hunt and saying that there was no really there there and that the investigation should come to an end.

The fact now that the President appears to be cozying up to Vladimir Putin could complicate that narrative to a certain extent. And right now that's something that his legal team just doesn't want to have to deal with. And that is yet another layer of intrigue to this whole thing, Alex. Why did the summit in Helsinki happen in the first place? And why now is the President inviting Vladimir Putin to Washington this fall -- Alex.

MARQUARDT: Right. Questions they are not answering. I mean, all the focuses that we have heard from the President today while he is at the golf course is about the Russia probe. Meanwhile, we have all this incredible like huge questions swirling about what actually happened in Helsinki. And yet the White House has been completely mum on that. They are showing no willingness to answer questions, are they?

NOBLES: No, they are not. And you know, we reached out to the national security team today to find out something as simple as when this second meeting between the President and Vladimir Putin will take place. But you know that really is the end of the long list of questions that many have.

And it's not just journalists who are asking the questions. Members of Congress want to know as well. They specifically want to know what if any deals were cut between President Putin and President Trump, if there was some sort of negotiation that took place about arms for both countries. Did they talk about Syria? Did they talk about broader issues within Europe? All of these things. Crimea, for instance, is that one of the points of discussion. This is something leaders do not have answers to. And for some reason

the White House is reluctant to present those answers. And there are many in Washington that are very concerned that the President being the only person in that room may not be able to bring a full accounting of everything that could happen. And the fact that Vladimir Putin can give his side of the story without any kind of accounting from a third party makes this a very difficult position for the White House to be in -- Alex.

[16:05:00] MARQUARDT: Yes, what little we have heard hasn't been from the President himself. It was from secretary of state Mike Pompeo at the U.N. yesterday. He talked very broadly about how the two men have discussed the situation in Syria, the ongoing crisis over refugees, talked about denuclearization. But really very few details.

Ryan Nobles near the President's golf course in New Jersey. Thanks very much.

Now joining us this afternoon is CNN political commentator and former Trump campaign adviser Steve Cortes and former CIA official Evan McMullin.

Thank you, gentlemen, both for being with me this afternoon.

Evan launched a third party run against Trump in 2016.

But Steve, I want to start with you. Now, by staying quiet, does this White House, is this White House letting Russia control the narrative, because all the details that we have heard have really come out of Moscow.

STEVE CORTES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. No, I don't think they are letting Moscow control the narrative. And I would say this too. You know, you mentioned I think in the previous segment or lead up to this why would they have the Helsinki summit? Why would we have another meeting between the Presidents?

I will tell you the number one reason that is to me is pretty obvious are you have two countries in the world that can destroy the world through nuclear power. Isn't it great thing for us to be in constant dialogue? And I think the fact that the President is trying to on the one hand by the way pursuing iron fisted tough policies against Russia, whether it is in Syria, in the Ukraine, with sanctions, et cetera. But at the same time reaching out an olive branch and saying we need to be in dialogue.

And as the two greatest powers in the world militarily, we need to try to get along it's best to get along. It is best for our country. It is best for the world. So that's the reason for them to get along.

But then also, diplomacy often involves confidentiality. For example, Secretary Pompeo when he was CIA director made a secret trip to North Korea that began what I hope is a lasting re-preachment (ph) and detente on the Korean peninsula. But nobody in the public that I know of knew that he went there.

So confidentiality is often part of diplomacy. And I think it is with Putin.

MARQUARDT: But Steve, normally, when you have these high level summits, you go in with an itinerary of sorts. You are going in a list of things that you are going to address. And we don't even know what was discussed in these meetings. So, shouldn't they be coming out saying all right, we talked about a, b and c. And the reason we need this follow up summit in Washington is to address those issues and continue working on other issues. Because right now it just like -- looks like we -- they went to Helsinki for a bit of a photo-op. We know abroad strokes, not even from Washington, but from Moscow not Washington what was discussed. And now, this is just like -- looks like we are going to set up another meeting for the sake of it.

CORTES: Right. Listen, I do agree with you, Alex. I think more specificity would be welcome and I hope and expect will be coming. Yes, I agree. I think it is fine in Helsinki we didn't get the specifics. I think it was fine to get generalities. But for the next meeting particularly if we are going hosting at our White House, at the people's house, let's be more specific on exactly the agenda and the outcomes after the fact.

MARQUARDT: Yes, I think we all agree on that.

Evan, because there's been such little silence, so much silence rather, from the White House about what exactly transpired this and talk about subpoenaing the interpreter, Marina Gross, who was in that room with the President and presumably taking notes. That seems to have gone away because Republicans would block it.

What are the chances that this meeting was being recorded? What are the chances that the Russians recorded it? The Finns record to it. That the U.S. side recorded it.

EVAN MCMULLIN, FORMER CIA OFFICER: Boy, I think the chances are reasonable. I mean, we just don't know. It's always a possibility. You have to go into a meeting like that with the Russians assuming that they are doing that.

But let me just say, that, look. It's absolutely vital that the U.S. government provide some sort of portrayal of what happened in those meetings. The reason why is an absence of that, while the Russians are doing their own framing and their own messaging subtialgates (ph) the United States in that relationship to the Russians. That's what happens. That's why that messaging is really, really important.

And so, now we are sort of through the President playing the subservient role in the relationship with the country that has the economy of size of Mexico's, who has no real allies in the world. No ideas that anyone cares about.


MCMULLIN: And all of a sudden, we are playing the subservient role in the relationship because we are unwilling to say what happened in the meeting. MARQUARDT: And journalists -- hold on one second, Steve. But this

isn't like us pounding our fist on table saying we demand to know more.

No, no, no. We are hoping that hope the message has been transmitted to the highest levels of government, you know you got DNI Coats saying I haven't heard anything after the meeting. The Pentagon hasn't said that they learned anything after the meeting. And meanwhile, Moscow is talking about military agreements.

MCMULLIN: That's absolutely right. Now, Steve mentioned there needs to be privacy in the meetings and secrecy in these meetings. That actually is true to a degree. Some things are not meant for the public eye. And that's perfectly fine.


MCMULLIN: But when we come out of a meeting like this and we hear nothing that our government doesn't even frame the discussions, doesn't say really anything about what happened there? That's when we run into a problem.

But your point is absolutely right. In order for the government to function James Mattis has to know what happened. Coats has to know what happened. Every senior people or cabinet level officials need to understand what happened in that meeting. And they do not. And that's sort of underlies this disconnect that we now have where you have the rest of the government trying to defend U.S. interests and President Trump in my view selling out to the Russians.

[16:10:22] MARQUARDT: Steve, do you disagree.

CORTES: You know, no, I agree with some of it. I disagree on the subservient point.

And listen, I am going to first to say, I said so on air. I wrote an article about this. I thought the President -- the optics were poor. I think he did poorly in the presser. He seemed too deferential in my view to Putin. But I don't care as much about what the President says as what he does and what the United States does. And on that score, this President and our country is being incredibly tough on Russia. And to me --.

MCMULLIN: No. That's not true. Steve.

CORTES: It is true. Arming the Ukraine, harsh sanctions against Russia, but most of all the fact that just this year in Syria our forces annihilated hundreds of Russian troops. They are there acting at mercenaries but effectively Russian troops. That's not the act of somebody who is subservient to Moscow or who is beholden to Moscow in some way.

MCMULLIN: Listen. Our government, thankfully staffed with honorable men and women and continue to serve the interest of the country. They are in Syria. They are elsewhere around the world. They are here at home. But the reality is that President Trump singing from a different tune.

He has another agenda for whatever reason. And in that agenda, he has done nothing but carry Putin's water all over the world.


MCMULLIN: Attacking -- Steve, I'm going to finish. Attacking the alliances that have kept us safe. Attacking, the very alliance that stood up with us after 9/11, that people like me and others fought with in the Middle East and South Asia. He is attacking those alliances. Those alliances that is keep us safe, our largest trading partners. He is dividing us with you know racial -- trying to stoke racial divisions in the United States.

CORTES: Oh God, now we bring racism into it.

MCMULLIN: This is what Putin does and now Trump doing the same.

MARQUARDT: But Steve, let's leave that aside for a second.

But to that point, is this not an issue where, as you mentioned, you have got very strong sanctions. And the Trump administration has been praised for the action that has taken against the put Putin regime, the sanctions that has taken, praised by someone like Bill Browder who is arguably one of the biggest enemies of Putin. But at the same time you have a President who is very reluctant to criticize President Putin. So in essence, you have what appears to be two parallel or at least two Russia strategies.

CORTES: Sure. And by the way they can co-exist. I think it's somewhat like Teddy Roosevelt speak softly but carrying a big stick. And we are carrying that stick in Syria. We are doing it by proxy in the Ukraine. So the stick is very real and it is lethal as a matter of fact to Russia. But sometimes the words are far more benign.

But I also just say this. Look, I think that this constant fixation which Evan mentioned of we don't know why he is acting this way. You know, look. There is a constant assumption on the left that somehow some way Trump is compromised by Russia. And to some people not just compromised, but actually --.

MCMULLIN: It's hardly an assumption of the left Steve. Come on.

CORTES: Actually -- no, it is of the left.

MCMULLIN: No it's not.

MARQUARDT: DNI Clapper talking about it as well.

CORTES: OK. He is not from the left.

MCMULLIN: It's not the assumption of the left, Steve.

CORTES: It's the birtherism of the left and is based on (INAUDIBLE).

MCMULLIN: It is not. Are you going to compare a racial conspiracy to something that is open for all of us to see?

CORTES: I'm sure.

MCMULLIN: Russia interfered with our election and the President continues.

CORTES: This is the birtherism of the left.

MCMULLIN: And the President encourages that and continues to praises Putin and carries his water in here and in Europe. I mean, this is -- don't compare an attack -- our response to an attack against our country, an effort to defend the core of our democracy, our ability to select our own leaders and then hold them accountable, with some silly damaging, racial conspiracy theory that Donald Trump pushed against a former preponderate.

MARQUARDT: Evan if you believe --.

MCMULLIN: Those things are not the same.

CORTES: If you believe that Russians decided the presidency in 2016 not mid-western workers in places where I am right now, western Pennsylvania and Ohio and Wisconsin and Michigan then I almost feel sorry for you because that's a derangement if you can't come to terms with what actually happened. It was voters who had twice voted for Barack Obama who flipped and decided to vote for Donald Trump. It was not because of Russians. It was not because the vote was.

MCMULLIN: There were many frustrated voters certainly, Steve, out there. They had a reason for wanting change in Washington. And desperately, they cast a vote for Donald Trump. That doesn't mean there was no Russia interference. And it certainly does not mean the President didn't encourage it, didn't perhaps play a role.

CORTES: OK. Now, there you go. You are trying to conflating --

MARQUARDT: Why can't the President agree that there was meddling.


MARQUARDT: And also that he was voted into office by a very strong base of support.

CORTES: Exactly right.

MARQUARDT: He can't seem to get past himself.

CORTES: Right. It's a mistake when the media does it. It is a mistake when the President does it conflating those two things because they can both be true. I agree. Of course, Russia tried to interfere in our elections, among many nations by the way. But of course they did. At the same time --.

[16:15:03] MARQUARDT: Well know, the (INAUDIBLE) isn't saying many nations. The intelligence community is saying specifically Russia. And that's what they have the problem with the President going out and saying it could be other people. They have repeatedly, very specifically said it was Russia.

CORTES: Russia. And he said also doesn't mean other nations, for instance, we know the Ukraine interfered as well because of its interests. Are you telling me China didn't have some interest in?

MCMULLIN: That's absolutely non-sense.

CORTES: It's not non-sense.

MCMULLIN: Look the conflation of collusion with Russian interference is done by the President not the media.

CORTES: It's done by both.

MCMULLIN: He is the one that combines the two. And by the way, we ought to ask ourselves maybe the President knows something about collusion and Russian interference that causes him to combine the two. Maybe he knows they are one in the same. He treats them that way. Maybe there is a reason for that.

CORTES: Here you go again with the supposition. And that's why I think you have joined the Alex Jones of the world in chasing down wild conspiracies. There is zero evidence that this President was ever compromised. There is zero evidence that there was any collusion between our campaign and Russia. And to say so based on circumstantial evidence because you think he is too nice to Trump. That's birtherism. That's hysteria.

MARQUARDT: You mentioned -- well, all right. Gentleman, I'm sorry that's all the time we have. It's a very worthwhile discussion. A very heated discussion. And thank you both for joining me this afternoon.

Steve Cortes, Evan McMullin, thank you so much.

All right. As the White House reveals plans for a second meeting between President Trump and Vladimir Putin this time at the White House in the fall, new questions over the consequences of the President waiving privilege on secret recordings of him and his lawyer Michael Cohen. We will talk to a Democratic congressman on the judiciary committee and get his view.

That is coming up next.


[16:20:50] MARQUARDT: Welcome back.

We are talking about a second possible summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Washington this time.

Taped conversations between then candidate Trump and his lawyer concerning paying off an alleged former lover, it's a lot to process this afternoon and then there is politics of it all.

So I want to bring in Congressman Ted Lieu. He is a Californian Democrat who seats on both the judiciary and foreign affairs committees.

Congressman, thanks so much for being with me this afternoon.

REP. TED LIEU (D), CALIFORNIA: Thank you, Alex.

MARQUARDT: Now, let's begin with this second proposed summit, the invitation for Putin to come to Washington for a meeting at the White House. In your view, should Putin be coming here right around the midterm election? We don't know what side of the elections it would be but either way do you think it's appropriate?

LIEU: Absolutely not. I served on active duty in the U.S. military. And for me to watch the U.S. commander in-chief go onto foreign soil and disrespect American intelligence agencies and attack U.S. institutions while standing next to Vladimir Putin was disgraceful. It was an embarrassment. And I can't believe the President wants to do that again and invite Putin onto U.S. soil. That's completely not acceptable.

Until Putin acknowledges that he attacked American elections in 2016, he should be nowhere near the United States.

MARQUARDT: What about keeping your friends close and enemies' closer? What's wrong with trying to repair unbelievable damage between the U.S. and Russia, the relationship sinking to you know the lowest point since the cold war? What's wrong with trying to warm that up with back-to-back meetings?

LIEU: I don't have any problem -- I serve on the house foreign affairs committee -- in terms of increasing diplomacy and increase of relation with other countries. My problem is that Russia engaged in an attack on U.S. elections in 2016. The President of the United States is refusing to hold Putin accountable. He is the one that ordered the attack. And for Putin to come here at the invitation of the President just sends a signal that the President of the United States is going to let Putin do this again and again.

We need to stand up to what Russia did in 2016. Doesn't mean we can't work with Russia on other issues. But we do need to hold Russia accountable for their attack on American elections.

MARQUARDT: There is a fear from people on both sides of the aisle in Congress, from people in different parts of government that the President could have agreed to various things. And now you and your colleagues and others in government don't know what they are. We haven't heard anything from the White House. We have heard a few things from Moscow. What could the President have agreed to that is binding or that he would have unilateral power over that Congress would have no say in?

LIEU: What's so dangerous is no one has any idea what happened in that two-hour private meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. And to keep that meeting secret, not just from the American people but from his own director of national intelligence, from his own secretary of defense, it's very, very disturbing. Putin is a former KGB official. Who knows what sorts of sources or

methods he may have gotten Donald Trump to say in that two hours. He could have asked Trump all sorts of questions knowing not only the President would know about certain issues because of certain for example source and spies and so on. So it was very dangerous for America to have this happen. We don't know what happened in that meeting. And again, I think we need to subpoena the interpreter who is in that meeting.

MARQUARDT: Do you think that's likely? Do you think that is appropriate? Because there have been a number of people -- I have spoken to a number of people in the diplomatic community who say that the interpreter job was only there to be an extension of the President, was only there to translate. She is not a political official. She is not versed in the nuances of foreign policy. So do you think it's appropriate that she should be subpoenaed to reveal what she heard or turn over her notes from the meeting?

LIEU: Yes and first of all -- yes. First of all, there were bipartisan calls for this to happen. We could also do it in a classified setting. And we are not asking their interpreter for the opinion. We are simply asking her to recount what she heard, what her notes are. Because at the very least, we don't know if Donald Trump said something inappropriate or if he threw America under the bus because he did so publicly. We want to know if he did so privately as well.

[16:25:06] MARQUARDT: All right. Congressman, let's switch gears for a second to these -- the news of this tape. The news that has been leaked. The tape hasn't been leaked. But that is of a conversation between Trump and his former attorney and fixer Michael Cohen discussing payments to silence in essence a former Playboy model over an alleged relationship with Trump. How big a deal are the tapes?

LIEU: They are a very big deal. Earlier this year congresswoman Kathleen Rice and I asked FBI to investigate this very issue. We are former prosecutors and this large payment looks like a felony violation over a campaign finance laws. And now the tapes show that Donald Trump himself was directly involved.

I'm also mystified as to why the White House would waive attorney- client privilege. But now that they have done that, the House Judiciary Committee should absolutely subpoena those tapes and we should hold an investigation and the American people should know what the President say on those tapes and did the President commit a felony.

MARQUARDT: All right. Congressman Ted Lieu, live with us from Los Angeles. Thank so much for joining us.

LIEU: Thank you, Alex.

MARQUARDT: And we will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [16:30:40] MARQUARDT: Lordy, there are tapes. We now know that the FBI has at least one recorded conversation between President Trump and his former longtime attorney Michael Cohen. The recording was made by Cohen. And in it, the two men discuss this woman, Karen McDougal. She is the woman the President allegedly had a months-long affair with right around the time that his wife Melania Trump was giving birth to their first son, Baron.

Now here is what we know about the recording. It was made in September just two months before the 2016 election. It's around 90 seconds long between 90 seconds and two minutes. And in it, Cohen and Trump discuss buying the rights to Karen McDougal's story about the alleged affair.

Now, this recording was taken by FBI agents when they carried out three searches on Cohen's home, hotel and his office. It had been deemed as privileged information. But that privilege was waived by Trump and it's unclear why.

But here to give some perspective and possible answers is CNN legal analyst Michael Zeldin who is a former federal prosecutor.

Michael, thanks so much for being with us this afternoon.


MARQUARDT: Now, we saw the President lashing out today amid all this controversy about not saying anything about the Helsinki meeting. But he is talking about the tape, saying that the idea of Cohen recording him is inconceivable and possibly illegal.

So I want to start with a basic question. Why would an attorney record a conversation with their client without their knowledge?

ZELDIN: Because he wants to lose his law license. Alex, it makes no sense. It's impermissible. He shouldn't do it. He can't do it under the ethics rules of the state of New York. Why did he it maybe is because he didn't think he was acting as a lawyer and that he thought perhaps he was entitled to do that under New York law which permits the recording of a conversation between two people if one agrees.

MARQUARDT: One party, yes.

ZELDIN: But honestly -- yes, one party consent they call it. But it makes no sense in practical terms or in protection of one's legal license to practice law.

MARQUARDT: And given how many recordings we know that Cohen made and had been seized, there has to be more than one. We would imagine there is more than one with now President Trump, no?

ZELDIN: That's the assumption. But if we take a step back and as you reported what happened in this case was Cohen's office gets raided. Documents are seized, including tapes. The special master Jones reviewed them and determines which are privileged and which are not. The ones which are privileged go back to the privilege holder which was President Trump in this case. It doesn't go to the FBI, unless there is a contest over it. Then according to the reporting Trump or Giuliani inadvertently decided to waive the privilege because the theory is they thought the tape was somehow exculpatory. I don't see it as exculpatory. But if they do and Trump knowingly decided that he wanted to waive that privilege it's his prerogative and here we have a "New York Times" story reporting on the contents of the communication.

MARQUARDT: Yes, you have Rudy Giuliani saying its exculpatory which essentially means it's favorable if for his client. And then you have Lanny Davis who is representing Michael Cohen tweeting that it is advantageous to his client. So which is it?

ZELDIN: Well, we have to listen to the tape. But the lawyer in me says were I counsel to the President I would not waive privilege as to the contents of the communication because the scope of the waiver is not clear. It doesn't necessarily mean that it's just that tape as to which the privilege is waived. It may be all the underlying communications and documents which relate to the communication on the tape that also gets waived.

So I think the gambit here was very dangerous legally speaking for the President. And we have to see why was done ultimately.

MARQUARDT: And there has been a lot of discussion about whether Michael Cohen could possibly flip. How does this tape impact all of that?

ZELDIN: Well, it appears that Michael Cohen and his counsel, and he has got two lawyers, are advising him to cooperate with the -- with the southern district of New York, the prosecutors in this case, in order to obtain a favorable deal for himself.

Now, Cohen didn't release this tape. It would appear that Trump released this tape. So this doesn't portend what Cohen will do in the future but it may portend the type of evidence that Cohen has amassed over the years, which may be reflective of some bad behavior on his and/or his client's and business partner's part. So that's also to be determined, Alex.

[16:35:25] MARQUARDT: The latest twist in this incredible story.

Michael Zeldin in Washington. Thank you so much for joining us.

ZELDIN: My pleasure.

MARQUARDT: All right, still to come, the new head of the environmental protection agency made his first major move since taking over from Scott Pruitt. So what has the former coal lobbyist actually done? He has relaxed regulations on the coal industry.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I did work for a coal company. I'm not at all ashamed of the work that I did for the coal company.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MARQUARDT: We will take you back inside the swamp. That's next.


[16:40:31] MARQUARDT: The Trump administration is rolling back Obama era regulations on coal ash. That is the waste that is created by coal plants. Instead, it won't be the government regulating the coal industry, it will be the states and the coal industry regulating themselves. The move was announced by the new head of the environmental protection agency. His name is Andrew Wheeler. He is a former coal lobbyist and he had previously tried to get rid of those regulations.

Here is CNN Dr. Sanjay Gupta with the look at why those regulations were first implemented by Obama and what the roll back could mean, not just for the environment, but for your health.


DANIELLE BAILEY-LASH, WALNUT COVE RESIDENT: It's quiet. It's safe. It's a family atmosphere.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Danielle Bailey- Lash grew up in Walnut Cove, North Carolina. The tranquil town of just over 1,000 people sits right along the picturesque (INAUDIBLE) lake.

The lake that was a big reason to move in this area.

BAILEY-LASH: Dream location. It had everything that we needed and the price was right.

GUPTA: The price was right because just over the trees is the Belews Creek steam station. One of duke energy's largest coal burning power plants and one of the realities of the plants is that you need a place to dispose of the waste. And that traditionally meant coal ash ponds like this.

It may look like a beautiful lake, but it is basically an unlined pit in the ground with millions of tons of ash. Mercury, cadmium, arsenic, contaminants associated with cancer, right in Danielle's backyard. In 2009 Danielle began experiencing headaches.

BAILEY-LASH: And I went to the hospital and they told me I had a brain tumor. And they weren't lying. They said it was the size of a drink box right over here.

GUPTA: Can I take a look again?


GUPTA: She was diagnosed with stage three astrocytoma brain cancer.

What do you think caused this?

BAILEY-LASH: I'm 100 percent sure I know what caused it. That's duke energy.

GUPTA: Of course that is impossible to know for certain. Her doctors can't say. There have been too few studies to make conclusions.

But I wanted to see the water myself. This is the beautiful Catawba River. These waters travel from the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, some 400 miles out to the coast of Charleston, South Carolina. All along the way you are going to see these coal power plants as this one you see right over here behind me here. Some have called this river the most electrified river in America as a result. And with those plants you see the coal ash ponds. That's a concern because if there is seepage from these coal ash ponds into the river or the river becomes inundated with contaminants because of the break in the dam that would devastate the drinking water for some two million people living in this area.

River keeper Sam Perkins gives me is giving a tour of what he calls the capital of coal ash.

SAM PERKINS, CATAWBA RIVER KEEPER: You are looking up at about 100 feet that has built up other the years holding back the ash.

GUPTA: How safe is it?

PERKINS: That's earth. You have freezing, thong, expansion, contraction. And you have dam safety issues.

GUPTA: In fact, in 2008, a break-in the dam at a Tennessee valley authority power plant inundated the surrounding area with over a billion gallons of ash and sludge. In early 2014 a corroded pipe at the duke Dan River station here in North Carolina released up to 39,000 tons of coal ash into nearby waters. More than three years later the state warns against eating some of the fish because of the high mercury levels.

ERIN CULBERT, DUKE ENERGY: We quickly sprang into action to not only address what was happening at that particular site.

GUPTA: I met up with Duke Energy's Erin Culbert at one of their sites.

CULBERT: We also set up an entire task force to review the facilities and make sure we didn't have that risk anywhere else.

GUPTA: And can you say for sure that you do not?

CULBERT: We can't say for certain we have every pipe, but I can say for certain that we have grouted many, many, many pipes that would be allow any chance of risk from the basins.

GUPTA: You don't know where all the pipes are. We don't know what's risky, what's not risky.

CULBERT: We can chase pipes all day long. But the ultimate way of making sure that we have safe closure is to remove the water and close these basins in a way that's federally approved by the EPA and that's what we are really working to do here.

GUPTA: In 2015, the EPA did finally take action and began requiring straightforward measures. Test the ground water. Close contaminating coal ash ponds. Place future waste in basins with lings, measures that Murray Energy lobbied against back in 2017. Murray's lobbyist, the new acting EPA chief, Andrew Wheeler.

[16:45:21] ANDREW WHEELER, ACTING EPA ADMINISTRATOR: I did work for a coal company. And I'm not at all ashamed of the works that I did for the coal company.

GUPTA: According to documents and photos obtained by CNN, Wheeler arranged a meeting between his boss Bob Murray, CEO of one of the largest coal mining companies and energy secretary Rick Perry. They presented the secretary with an action plan for quote "reliable and low cost electricity, a plan that included rewriting coal ash regulations. That same plan was also sent to the EPA, the organization Wheeler now runs.

FRANK HOLLEMAN, SOUTHERN ENVIRONMENTAL LAW CENTER: The EPA is in a rush to do things that will benefit the coal ash utilities. Purely because of the influence that the trade associations and lobbyists.

GUPTA: And this week the first set of proposed rule changes were finalized. Among the changes, ground water no longer needs to be monitored if the plant can prove that it is not polluting the water.

Our request to interview administrator Wheeler was declined. In a statement provided by the EPA, he said quote "our actions mark a significant departure from the one size fits all policies of the past and save tens of millions of dollars in regulatory costs. Duke Energy is steadfast that testing has shown that none of the coal ash contamination has reached public ground water.

CULBERT: Testing continues to demonstrate that coal ash operations are not impacting private wells.

GUPTA: It's something Danielle heard before. But when you live next to a coal plant and an ash pond, even ifs it your dream home, you are always living in a bit of fear.

BAILEY-LASH: It was the dream. We are still paying for that dream unfortunately. But I will have to dream somewhere else.

GUPTA: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, Charlotte, North Carolina.


MARQUARDT: Our thanks to Sanjay Gupta for the fantastic report.

Coming up, a former cardiologist for President George H. W. Bush is gunned down while riding his bicycle leaving police searching for answers. The mystery police are trying to unravel, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [16:51:47] MARQUARDT: Police in Houston are on the hundred for a suspect who shot and killed a cardiologist who treated former president George H. W. Bush. The police were saying that Dr. Mark Hausknecht was biking to work at a Houston hospital when he and the shooter passed each other riding in opposite directions.

Here is CNN correspondent Polo Sandoval with more.


POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Police in the Houston searching an area near Texas medical center for a murder suspect after cardiologist Mark Hausknecht was gunned down Friday while riding his bicycle to work. Police say the doctor was riding north when he passed a shooter also on a bike going in the other direction.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The suspect was on a bicycle as well. Drove past the doctor, turned and fired two shots. The doctor immediately went down.

SANDOVAL: A private ambulance passed by the scene and EMTs stopped to help before the Houston fire department arrived.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have seen somebody flagging us down. I said, you know, something is wrong and I drove up a little further and I have seen the gentleman sprawled out on the floor with blood all over him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We stopped and rendered aid to the best of our ability.

SANDOVAL: Authorities said investigators don't know if the shooting was targeted, random or cause by road rage. A few people may have witnessed the attack and police are looking at the surveillance video.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our homicide investigators are interviewing people. Not a good thing about our medical center. As you know, there is a lot of cameras so we are hoping that we can get some footage of this.

SANDOVAL: Dr. Hausknecht was a well-known cardiologist. One of his patients, former president George H. W. Bush who is spokesman issued this statement.

Mark was a fantastic cardiologist and a good man.

President Bush said in a statement, I will always be grateful for his exceptional compassion of care. His family is in our prayers.

A Houston Methodist hospital spokesman said not only was he revered by his patients but Mark was highly regarded among his peers and colleagues. He was recently recognized as a super doctor.

Polo Sandoval, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE) MARQUARDT: Very Sad. Our thanks to Polo.

Now caught on tape, Trump's longtime lawyer Michael Cohen's secret recording of the now president. Now the FBI has it. How many more tapes does Cohen have?


[16:58:19] MARQUARDT: Many a true word is spoken in jester or so the saying apparently goes. Comedic truth expressed through sketch and improve comedy is the focus of this week's CNN original series, "the history of comedy."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I once took of a improve class and I remember a woman in their class coming up to me after and saying, hey, you are really good at that, you know. And I went home. Hey, I'm good at improve.

I also hate memorizing lines. And so that combination of not wanting to memorize lines and also do improve interested me. And that was sort of the beginning of curb your enthusiasm.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jesus Christ, are you crazy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Out of nowhere. Right in my face spritzing me. What is what? What a violation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know what? They will usually go away though if you just wave him away. Did you wave him away?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I often find myself a little bit annoyed when people refer to curb your enthusiasm as being partially improvised when in fact, it's almost all improvised.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was no script. Basically Larry would say what has to happen which is I'm going to show you the wire that has to be dropped down. You are going to say, somehow, I can do that if you can get me to meet Julia Dray fuss.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know what? I'm more than happy to call her up. I can't guarantee.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's hard to get anything absolutely guaranteed. It sounds like you want to get married. You don't know it if guaranteed.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As trite as it sounds sometimes they write themselves. And so, if you have good juicy ideas, you don't really need a script. You can just wing it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have moved past the tightly scripted comedy. The improve of verb gives it a raw on these (INAUDIBLE) that audience is really seeking I think the comedy if they watch --.