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California Wildfires; Cohen Claims Trump Knew in Advance of Trump Tower Meeting; Les Moonves and CBS Face Claims of Sexual Misconduct. Aired 11a-12n ET

Aired July 28, 2018 - 11:00   ET



[11:00:15] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Complete devastation, neighborhoods reduced to ash and now a race to save lives and hundreds of homes as wildfires burn parts of California.

Hello, everyone. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Thank you so much for joining me this Saturday.

Officials confirm at least two people are dead as flames scorch the northern California town of Redding. There's also a search ongoing for two young children, ages four and five, along with their great grandmother -- all who went missing after their home was destroyed.

The wildfires are forcing evacuations for 38,000 people. Some are now being allowed to return home in some parts, but for many there is nothing left.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is definitely devastating; never seen anything like it. I mean, why did my house survive and most of them on the street didn't.


WHITFIELD: Joining me right now, CNN's Paul Vercammen who is on the ground there in Redding.

So Paul -- what is happening there?

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you look behind me, Fred -- you can get a sense for just the absolute devastation throughout this neighborhood in West Redding. The fire roaring through here; as you know, about 500 homes destroyed here in this Carr Fire, another 75 damaged. And the acreage just keeps on mounting.

We drove to the west of here, saw mass devastation but house after house after house in this neighborhood unable to survive.

Let's give you a sense of what it was like when the fire roared through here.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) VERCAMMEN (voice over): Flames swirling in high winds and hot temperatures, wreaking havoc on the northern California landscape. The aptly named Carr Fire which officials say was first sparked by a vehicle has ravaged the region since Monday, doubling in size over the course of the week and is still growing.

Deadly and out of control, it has charred some 45,000 acres and dozens of structures as firefighters try to contain it. Neighborhoods scorched as smoke and fire climbed through hills, fueled by the dried landscape.

DOMINIC GALVIN, RESIDENT: I have no idea what we're going to do tomorrow. Hell, we don't know what we're going to do tonight.

VERCAMMEN: Dominic Galvin and his wife Sylvia never imagined they would see their house like this.

GALVIN: We didn't think the fire was going to come here, so we didn't really take things out. Like everybody else that was scrambling at the last minute to get out when we saw the fire on the ridge.

VERCAMMEN: Officials say more extreme temperatures are in the forecast. It will only continue to make this fire all the more worrisome. It is one of several major blazes burning across the state and one of some 89 across the country --

JONATHAN COX, CALFIRE: This is that new normal -- that unpredictability, the large explosive growth fires.

VERCAMMEN: -- leaving firefighters working to control the flames and limit the damage as residents race against the clock to evacuate their homes.


VERCAMMEN: And the Corona family -- the couple that lived here did get out alive. They did evacuate and somehow someway, the family cat was also saved. So a little silver lining there.

Back to you -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Paul Vercammen -- thank you so much. Keep us posted. >

So this task is very daunting for firefighters on the ground.

Joining me right now on the phone, deputy fire chief for Cal Fire, Scott McLean. So Chief McLean -- are firefighters getting in some way a better handle on this Carr Fire?

SCOTT MCLEAN, DEPUTY FIRE CHIEF, CALFIRE (via telephone): They continue to work very hard. This arson (ph) didn't have any extreme fire behavior. This Carr Fire is a (INAUDIBLE) so it's a constant in and out battle. We've been having to do it since the it day got started. WHITFIELD: So talk to me about how this is, you know, a constant

battle just when something bigger is, you know, depressed then a smaller, you know, fire pops up. What are your team members up against?

MCLEAN: As you said before, the triple digit temperatures, the low humidity, the topography, and especially the fuel type that they're dealing with -- that's the way throughout California. The vegetation is just so dry it is so receptive to fire.

These fires all produce spot fires out ahead of the main body of the fire by ember cast. So when those embers touch the ground out of ahead of the fire, they manage to start another fire. Those fires grow, drawing the main body of the fire into them, causing those fires to increase in speed dramatically.

Last night over the course of the night and due to better mapping, the size of the Carr Fire is over 80,000 acres.

[11:05:01] WHITFIELD: Oh my goodness. And there have been evacuations but talk to me more about the ongoing threat, the ongoing plans to put people on stand by or to evacuate new areas.

MCLEAN: The fire pretty much dictates the direction that we're going to go in, in this case right now. By that I mean the direction of the fire in relation to evacuations.

The other night the fire -- one of the first nights of the fire was -- the second night -- 6,700 acres. The next morning by 4:00 in the morning it was 20,000; 28,000 that afternoon; following morning 44,450 acres; and then this morning -- looking at the stats -- 80,906 acres.

It just explodes and makes those runs like it did last night. So the firefighters continue to arrive, more resources continue to arrive. National Guard is engaged and they will be more so engaged as the days continue. So we're pulling in a lot of resources, including air.

WHITFIELD: All right. All the best, Cal Fire deputy chief Scott McLean -- thank you so much. >

Intense heat is making a very tough job nearly impossible for many of the firefighters on the ground. Some even captured what looks like a firenado whipping flames into a frenzy.

Let's bring in CNN meteorologist Allison Chinchar. So Allison -- explain how this happens.

ALLISON CHINCHAR, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Right. So basically how it works is those fires, they are incredibly hot. So it's taking that air; heat rises, we know this. Well, as that heat and hot air goes up new air has to come into replace it. As it does, you get that swirling effect. That's why it ends up looking like a rotating tornado would.

Here's the problem. It acts very similar to a tornado in that it is picking thing up. It picks up debris, including other embers. So as that firenado say crosses roads or crosses over areas of land, it can trigger new fires in places where the fire didn't really exist prior to that. So that's going to be a concern.

Another phenomenon that takes place is what's called pyro-cumulus clouds. Take a look at this imagery where you can see the smoke and the clouds really start to billow up. It's caused by that intense heat from those fires. You can even also get them caused by volcanoes as well.

The question now becomes the forecast for these fires. What are the conditions that are taking place? Unfortunately the temperatures, especially around the Carr Fire area are expected to remain in triple digits for at least the next three to five days.

In addition to that you have very locally-gusty winds. Again, that cannot only spread current fires but create new ones as well. And even moderate drought, very low humidity, and Fred -- even worse there is just simply zero rain in the short term forecast.

WHITFIELD: And that is part of the biggest problem here, the dryness there.

All right. Allison Chinchar -- thank you so much. >

All right. Still ahead, Michael Cohen's contradiction -- the President's former lawyer is willing to testify that Mr. Trump did know about the infamous Trump Tower meeting in advance. We'll talk about that next.

Plus, allegations of harassment, intimidation, and sexual misconduct -- six women accuse CBS chief Les Moonves of abuse and perpetrating a culture of impunity across the network.


WHITFIELD: Deny, deny, deny -- how the President and his team are adding yet another denial to the running list arguing that then- candidate Trump had no knowledge of the infamous 2016 Trump Tower meeting where Russians were expected to offer the Trump campaign dirt on Hillary Clinton.

This latest denial coming after Trump's long time lawyer and loyal friend Michael Cohen claims Trump knew in advance about the meeting, according to sources. And those sources tell CNN Cohen is willing to make that assertion to special counsel Robert Mueller.

CNN's White House reporter Sarah Westwood joins us live now from Berkeley Heights, New Jersey near the President's Bedminster Golf Club where he is spending the weekend. So how is the White House handling this today?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well Fred -- President Trump is settling in for a weekend here in Bedminster with unanswered questions still surrounding that 2016 Trump Tower meeting involving his son, Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer. Leaving the White House yesterday, President Trump refused to answer questions about those claims from Michael Cohen, his former attorney that Trump had advance knowledge of the meeting, something Trump and his legal team have continued to deny.

Now, Rudy Giuliani, Trump's current attorney is going after Michael Cohen, attacking his credibility in the wake of CNN's reporting about what Cohen is prepared to testify.

But take a listen to just how dramatically Giuliani's tone has shifted when it comes to Trump's former fixer.


RUDY GIULIANI, TRUMP LAWYER: He doesn't have any incriminating evidence about the President or himself. The man is an honest, honorable lawyer.

I expected something like this from Cohen. He's been lying all week -- he's been lying for years.


WESTWOOD: Now, Trump is also wading into this controversy on Twitter, denying that his son gave him a heads up about the meeting and suggesting that Cohen is lying about the sequence of events in order to extricate himself from legal trouble.

And this is also a remarkable shift in tone for Trump who earlier this year was vocal in his defense of Cohen and confident in Cohen's loyalty.

And of course, this is all coming against the backdrop of an otherwise successful week for President Trump. He was able to tout robust economic growth numbers on Friday. And earlier in the week he had that breakthrough in trade talks with the European Union.

But the Russia investigation and Michael Cohen's cooperation with investigators is continuing to distract from his economic message -- Fred.

[11:15:00] WHITFIELD: All right. Sarah Westwood -- keep us posted. Thanks so much.

All right. So how did we get here?

Let's go back to the week this all happened back in June of 2016. Here are the facts.

We know the publicist, Rob Goldstone, the man who helped orchestrate the meeting, e-mailed Donald Trump Jr. to offer incriminating information on Hillary Clinton. Then, just a few days later, then- candidate Trump offered up this message just two days before the Trump Tower meeting.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am going to give a major speech on probably Monday of next week, and we're going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons. I think you're going to find it very informative and very, very interesting.


WHITFIELD: All right. So that planned speech set for that Monday would fall right after the scheduled Trump Tower meeting, but the speech never happened.

Team Trump has changed their narrative on this meeting multiple times. First they said the meeting was just about adoptions, and President Trump dictated the initial misleading response to the story, saying the meeting was just on adoption.

Then e-mails between Donald Trump Jr. and Rob Goldstone show that dirt on Clinton was offered and Trump Jr. responded "I love it". Then later Team Trump argued the meeting doesn't matter because no information actually came from it.

So the big question -- how much did Donald Trump know and when did he know it? Team Trump has denied time and time again that Donald Trump knew anything.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When did the President learn that that meeting had taken place?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I believe in the last couple of days is my understanding.

JAY SEKULOW, TRUMP LAWYER: One key point is this is not a situation where the President was involved in this meeting, was not aware of the meeting, did not attend this meeting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He really never -- he didn't know about this meeting until a few days ago?

SEKULOW: Yes, that's correct.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you tell your father anything about this?

DONALD TRUMP, JR., PRESIDENTIAL SON: It was such a nothing, there was nothing to tell. I mean, I wouldn't have even remembered it until you start scouring through the stuff. It was literally just a wasted 20 minutes which was a shame.

MICHAEL SCHMIDT, NEW YORK TIMES: Did you know at the time that they had a meeting?

TRUMP: No, I didn't know anything about the meeting. It must have been a very unimportant meeting because I never even heard about it.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, NEW YORK TIMES: No one told you a word, nothing.

TRUMP: Nobody told me.


HABERMAN: I know we talked about this on the plane a little bit.

TRUMP: No, nobody told me. I didn't know that. It's a very unimportant -- sounded like a very unimportant meeting.


WHITFIELD: All right. Joining me right now -- CNN national security analyst Mark Mazzetti and CNN political commentator David Swerdlick. Good to see you both.


WHITFIELD: All right. So David -- you heard the, you know, initial denials but how much potential legal trouble would the Trump team be in if Cohen's claims are true that Donald Trump, then-candidate, did know about the meeting before it happened?

SWERDLICK: Yes, good morning -- Fred. So there's political trouble and legal trouble. Legally Michael Cohen has not been indicted of any crime yet even though he is being investigated. And President Trump right now is not the subject that we know of criminal charges or criminal investigation.

But at a minimum, if what Michael Cohen is reportedly saying is true that means that the entire White House narrative that President Trump knew nothing in advance about that Natalia Veselnitskaya meeting with Trump, Jr., with Jared Kushner, with Paul Manafort -- then that would change everything that they've been saying for months now.

Whether that would ultimately lead to criminal charges remains to be seen but it would totally discredit the White House's posture on this throughout the special counsel investigator's investigation.

WHITFIELD: And Mark -- despite that it has been revealed that, you know, Michael Cohen would record conversations, sources tell CNN that Cohen does not have audio recordings to corroborate this claim that Trump knew.

So how would Bob Mueller verify this? Is it a matter of who else was in the room? Michael Cohen sharing that information and then the interviews would then take place?

MARK MAZZETTI, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Sure. I mean the big question right now is how does Cohen know this? And why has the story changed? Did he tell congressional investigators or not? And would Mueller have other means to establish this information?

Presumably he does. He would have call records. He has interviews with other witnesses. You know, the significance is potentially enormous, right. The big question after all of these denials, after all these changing stories is, of course, did President Trump know about the meeting. There was a blocked call from Don Jr. to a number that we don't know who he called. So, you know, if Cohen's information is accurate then it would be significant.

WHITFIELD: And, you know, David -- you know, Cohen has represented Trump for years. They certainly came across, you know, publicly as being very tight, even Cohen saying he would take a bullet for Trump.

[11:20:01] But now the President's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, is calling Cohen a liar; and that's after first calling him very honest, et cetera. So what is going on? How much does this reveal about either how nervous Donald Trump is or people around him might be?

SWERDLICK: So that seems to be the strategy right now from Mayor Giuliani and others to try and discredit Cohen. We don't know if what he says or has reportedly has said is true.

But look at it this way. Just like Michael Cohen's credibility will be evaluated by prosecutors all the way up to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and eventually potentially by Congress, so will the credibility ultimately of the President and some of his spokespeople be challenged or called into question.

Mayor Giuliani, you played that clip of him saying months ago that he thought Cohen was an honest, trustworthy individual. All of a sudden now shifting to this idea that Cohen has been lying for days, wait years. Similarly you played that clip with Sean Hannity and Trump Jr., where he said no very quickly and then he didn't really emphasize the denial, but said there was nothing to tell from this meeting, focusing on that, rather than the fact of whether or not President Trump or then-candidate Donald Trump knew about the meeting.

So credibility will be an issue. Of course, Cohen may have other information that can corroborate this. But ultimately it will be about the believability of the people involved.

WHITFIELD: And Mark even if nothing came from that meeting, I mean Donald Trump Jr. calling it a nothing burger. Is that really, you know, secondary to the real intent being enticed with there's dirt and then responding with "I love it".

MAZZETTI: I mean here's the significance of this meeting, right. For all of the statements time and time again, you know, there was no collusion between Russia and the campaign, setting aside whether there's a crime inclusion, right.

The meeting is significant because it shows that the Trump campaign -- the senior members of the Trump campaign wanted to collude. They wanted to get this damaging information from people they were told represented the Russian government.

So whether it was nothing burger or not, whether it was disappointing, the fact is they clearly were interested in the information that was offered.

WHITFIELD: And, you know, the Trump administration, the President namely, is clearly very annoyed at the ongoing questions about all of this. His relationship with Michael Cohen, if this was betrayal.

And on the day that the President actually tweeted out saying, you know, it would be a betrayal for an attorney to be recording anything, then we know now the President has found a way to lash out at journalists who are asking the questions, right?

So David -- we know that people who work with the President have said that he has been looking for a way in which to punish journalists, you know --


WHITFIELD: -- who are annoying. And our Kaitlan Collins was a pool reporter this week asking these questions which were really precipitated by some of the thoughts that the President had already shared earlier via tweet.

Take a listen.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Did Michael Cohen betray you -- Mr. President?

TRUMP: Thank you, everybody.

COLLINS: Mr. President -- did Michael Cohen betray you?


TRUMP: Thank you, everybody.

COLLINS: Mr. President, are you worried about what Michael Cohen is going to say to prosecutors?

TRUMP: Thank you, Kaitlan. Let's keep going.

COLLINS: Are you worried about what's on the other tapes -- Mr. President?

TRUMP: Keep going. Thank you all. Keep going. Thank you -- everybody.

COLLINS: Why has Vladimir Putin not accepted your invitation?


WHITFIELD: As our pool reporter, you know, she's persistent as is required, you know, and expected of any pool reporter -- David. But you know, who if anyone, can really step in here to help make sure that that kind of freedom of asking of questions by a White House press corps can carry on?

SWERDLICK: Sure. As you say, Fred -- our colleague Kaitlan Collins was just doing her job as a reporter, trying to get answers to important questions in an opportunity with the President of the United States.

For viewers, you know, it is worth reminding that she was there as a pool reporter, as a representative of all the broadcast networks; there's also print pool reporters there at the same time. And she's doing there what reporters do, asking tough questions.

To your question, Fred -- about whether or not there's someone who can make sure the President and the White House respect the First Amendment and freedom of the press, the answer ultimately I have to say is the voters and, at least until we get to an election, Congress.

But there has to be a trust between the press corps and the White House communication shop. And President Trump I think has to understand better than he has in the past that unlike his past career as a businessman and a TV figure, the media is not there to do tough stories about him. He is the people's representative and the press, on behalf of the people, ask those tough questions.

WHITFIELD: Yes. So Mark -- you know, the press is an extension of the American people, having the access to ask the question, to demand transparency, you know, from the leader of this country, the leader of the free world. But is it your feeling that this is just the beginning?

Kaitlan Collins, you know, was told by the White House not to be in attendance for the rose garden question and answer period later. Is it your feeling this is just the beginning of the White House making more concerted efforts to ban certain correspondents' access?

It could be part of a new strategy. It isn't the first time. In the first months of the administration there was a concerted effort to kick some news organizations, including New York times, out of a press briefing with Sean spicer. We have seen instances of this. Of course, the whole backdrop of the rhetoric about the press being the enemy of the people continues throughout the Trump administration which is obviously very disturbing and harmful, so it is certainly possible that they're going to try to have a more aggressive strategy, picking and choosing reporters about who can attend, who cannot attend. Hopefully that's not the case.

Thanks to you both. Appreciate it.

Thank you. >

Still ahead. Stunning allegations from six women against CBS and the man in charge, les moonves.

She alleged in this case he backed her against a wall and said this has to stay between us, and she was very frightened, but more significantly she then gets fired.

Sexual misconduct, harassment, intimidation, and a culture of covering it all up.



FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: He is one of the most powerful men in television. Now CBS president and CEO, Les Moonves, is the latest high-powered media executive to face allegations of sexual misconduct. An investigation by "The New Yorker" details allegations by six women of harassment, intimidation, and retaliation.

CNN has not independently confirmed the allegations, and Moonves denies them. One of his accusers in that article, actress, Eliana Douglas, described a meeting in 1997 while she was working on a pilot for CBS.

Here's an excerpt from the "New Yorker's" account. "In a millisecond, he has one arm over me pinning me, she said. Moonves was, "violently kissing her, holding her down on the couch with her arms above her head."

The "New Yorker" recounts a similar claim from writer, Janet Jones, during a work meeting. Quoting now, "He came around the corner of the table and threw himself on top of me. It was very fast. Moonves, she said, began trying to kiss her. Jones says she struggled and then shoved Moonves away hard yelling quote, what do you think you're doing?"

In a statement, Moonves says, quote, "I recognize that there were times decades ago when I may have made some women uncomfortable by making advances. Those were mistakes and I regret them immensely, but I always understood and respected and abided by the principle that no means no, and I never misused my position to harm or hinder anyone's career."

The "New Yorker" article was written by Ronan Farrow. He also detailed allegations of rape and misconduct against Hollywood producer, Harvey Weinstein. In an interview with CNN, Farrow describes the atmosphere or power and intimidation behind these latest allegations.


RONAN FARROW, WRITER, "THE NEW YORKER": You're dealing with both an individual who is at the top of his game and on whom many, many other powerful people depend for their livelihoods, and also a corporation that is at the apex of our culture, that shapes our news, that shapes our fiction that we consume.

As it turns out within this, and many facets of the company, careful not to overgeneralize, but we do say that there are a string of examples manifested in litigation and complaints inside the company where people said this happened to me, too.

This wasn't just Les Moonves, it was a culture of protecting powerful people. That was the feeling of several of these women, that this seemed practiced. They all continued to fear retaliation.

Janet Jones, the writer, you just mentioned, describes him calling her afterwards and threatening her, saying things that seem to be cliches to us, but obviously, coming after a work meeting and after an alleged assault like this are very, very serious and frightening, like you're never going to work again.

And she and these other women were still frightened to come forward, but said they were doing so because wanted to expose what they appeared was a culture of impunity.


WHITFIELD: All right. Let's get some insight now from our guests, CNN medial analyst, Bill Carter, and CNN legal analyst, Areva Martin. Good to see you both. All right. So, I am wondering in general, Areva, how much of a role does this "Me Too Movement" play in these latest allegations coming to the surface and you know, being -- people feeling more comfortable to be public and even identify themselves with these allegations.

AREVA MARTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. I think you're right, Fred. Since we have seen so many high-profile actors come forward, and tell their story, women have become emboldened. They'd become more courageous about telling their stories because there's a bit of shift in the culture.

I have been litigating sexual harassment cases for over 15 years and 10 years ago so when women came forward, they weren't believed and were often shamed, they were called sluts and promiscuous. We saw this culture begin to shift.

Over the last six or nine months or so, now women can tell their stories and they are received and well received. We saw women on the cover of "Time" magazine. There's been this huge shift in the culture where now women can tell the stories and there's a different way that those women are perceived.

Not just in media, but I think it is changing the way these cases are even being litigated, how courts see these cases, how jurors see these cases. We're starting to see legislators talk about eliminating nondisclosure agreements, eliminating binding arbitrations and the way that these matters have traditionally even been litigated.

So, I think this story today is definitely being told because of the women that have been brave enough to come forward and tell their personal stories.

WHITFIELD: And Bill, you know, this Moonves statement says a lot. I mean, he touches on a lot of things, you know, from he and CBS saying, quote, "They have consistently found success elevating women to top executive positions across our company."

And also saying that he recognizes there were times decades ago when I may have made women uncomfortable by making advances. Those are mistakes and I regret them immensely, but I always understood, respected and abided by the principle no means no. I never misused my position to harm or hinder anyone's career.

So, covering a lot of bases, does that in any way kind of insulate him or even CBS from any say potential legal challenges as a result?

BILL CARTER, CNN MEDIA ANALYST: It certainly does. Can't say it insulates them. I think he is trying to put distance between these events and what his behavior is now with other examples of this kind of behavior. It doesn't mitigate the event.

The event (inaudible) themselves and really the part that is questionable I think going forward is the part where he says he never interfered with anyone's career. That part of it gets to be really dicey if there are women who come forward and you try to say he made a pass at me, and I said no, then my career went downhill.

I mean, that's kind of hard to point out with some actresses because maybe they weren't as popular, got older, people have ageism against them, but it is an uncomfortable situation.

For CBS it is really a disaster because this guy is the entire company. He is vita and he has been very successful there. You have to give him credit for that, but this is clearly a very dark day for them.

WHITFIELD: You know, and Areva, these allegations really span a lot of stuff. You know, it's inappropriate behavior, sexual misconduct, sexual assault, you know, from the alleged threats to alleged groping, alleged forceful kissing, and I bet there are many more that you even, you know, cited from there.

But when you hear now from these testimonies as well as from people, who are witness to the accounts, you know, they heard it first person, et cetera, it shows that this is systemic or at least they're trying to establish this was a systemic problem, part of the CBS culture.

So, how does this end up becoming maybe even Moonves' defense? If he says, you know, kind of everybody was doing it, or it was pervasive. It was everywhere, how does that assist him?

MARTIN: Well, definitely it doesn't benefit anyone that's been accused of sexual harassment to say that other people in the workplace were engaged in similar conduct. That's not a defense. I think something that is happening also as individual women are coming forward and telling their stories.

They're not just identifying one individual, they're talking about this culture that exists in the workplace. As a civil rights attorney, I think that's a positive move in terms of the "Me Too Movement" because it is going to allow companies hopefully to look at the way they do business and look at how they change their culture to make the workplace safe for all women.

WHITFIELD: And if it is not specifically everyone was doing it, you know, the inference is there were people who knew, heard of these accounts, and there were complaints made, but then nothing was done to stop it. It will be interesting to see what happens now. Areva Martin, Bill Carter, thank you so much.

All right. The U.S. just logged its best economic performance since 2014, but the threat of new trade tariffs is still hanging over the economy. Straight ahead, a former U.S. ambassador to China weighs in on whether this could become an all-out trade war.

Don't miss an all-new history of comedy with animation. A comedian's only limitation is imagination. Follow the progression of animation from theater, trailers, to Saturday mornings, primetime tv to the web. "History of Comedy" tomorrow at 10:00.



WHITFIELD: Welcome back. The U.S. economy is roaring. The latest numbers show it grew at 4.1 percent in the spring, that's the biggest growth spurt since 2014. Combine that with a near 18-year low in unemployment, factory orders on the rise, and surge in exports, and that gave President Trump something to crow about.


[11:45:06] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Once again, we are the economic envy of the entire world. When I meet leaders of countries, the first thing they say invariably, Mr. President, so nice to meet you. Congratulations on your economy. You're leading the entire world.


WHITFIELD: I want to bring in Max Baucus, former U.S. ambassador to China and a former Democratic senator from Montana. Good to see you, Senator and Ambassador. Let's begin with the economy. How much credit do you believe the president does deserve for this surge in economic growth?

MAX BAUCUS, FORMER AMBASSADOR TO CHINA: I think he deserves some. Essentially the United States is a strong country, we have a strong economy, the tax cuts clearly have helped. Fewer regulations have helped a little bit. The president is probably responsible for that. Basically, Congress and the country, we're lucky we're Americans frankly. We're a strong country and that will continue indefinitely.

WHITFIELD: And then there are some economists say that bump may be temporary as farmers rush to ship products before new trade tariffs kick in and effects of the tax cuts wears off. Most of the tariffs are from China which has targeted U.S. farms in retaliation for new U.S. tariffs imposed by the president. You've been ambassador to China. Do you think that they will back down?

BAUCUS: I do not. Frankly, I think we're the high point with the strength of our economy. Had we had potential Federal Reserve raising interest rates in addition to that, long term the $1.3 trillion tax cuts will add to the deficit for the same amount.

If President Trump's serious another $200 billion in tariffs on Chinese products and another 200 on top of that, that will be a war. China will not acquiesce. Nationalism will be strong in China. Sovereignty will be threatened. The Communist Party will feel that their credibility is at stake.

Having said that, if the United States approach China solidly not with all of this bombast, I think we'd find an agreement with China. China wants to work with the United States.

China does not want a trade war. They're dependent upon the United States. So, we have to handle China appropriately, constructively. If we push strongly enough on the right way, I think we find a way to get ourselves of this.

WHITFIELD: And as a former senator, for a state that borders Canada, Montana's two biggest trading partners are China and Canada. There's a similar story with many northern border states. Could these trade battles cost Republicans' votes in your view later on this year or in 2020?

BAUCUS: Well, it is unclear. The election is not too far away. If we have a trade war, I hope we do not, we all hope we do not, the effects of that may not take relly effect for another couple -- three months.

It takes a while for that to work its way through the economy in the form of higher prices and fewer products bought. It takes a little while. Add to that I think a lot of the Trump supporters, some of which tends to be agriculture, are still willing to give him a bit of a pass. They're not hit too hard yet.

We're not yet at the tipping point for them, so they're willing to give him a bit of a pass. My judgment is that probably the so-called trade wars will not have much effect because they're not in effect yet on the midterms.

WHITFIELD: All right, Ambassador and Senator Max Baucus, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

BAUCUS: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Next, a disturbing theory in the mysterious shooting of a Houston doctor. Former FBI investigator walks us through the crime scene as police say he may have been targeted. That's straight ahead.



WHITFIELD: Right now, a funeral is under way for a Houston surgeon gunned down on his bicycle last week as he rode to work. The shooting happened in front of a construction site where hundreds of workers were on duty. Police say Dr. Mark Hausknecht, heart surgeon who treated former President George H.W. Bush was likely targeted.

Our affiliate, KPRC, spoke with a former FBI investigator as he tries to piece together this bizarre case.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) UNIDENTIFIED CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): One week later, to stand where Dr. Hausknecht fell after being shot --

DENNIS FRANKS, PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR, RETIRED FBI AGENT: Trained investigator and, you know, you conduct investigations without emotion, but there's some emotion just being here.

UNIDENTIFIED CORRESPONDENT: It's tough even for a seasoned investigator who spent 22 years with the FBI.

(on camera): We know the doctor across the street on his bike.

(voice-over): I walked with Dennis Franks following the path Dr. Hausknecht took. The shooting happened near a construction site on Main Street near West Holcombe. A worker who spoke to us off camera mentioned they had been using a type of nail gun to fire nails into iron supports. Something someone with sinister plans may have used to their advantage.

FRANKS: Used gun powder and a shell to fire the nails into steel. So that sound itself would sound like a gun firing. Is it coincidental? I don't know.

UNIDENTIFIED CORRESPONDENT: Then there's the precision of the shooting. Dr. Hausknecht was shot while riding his bike.

FRANKS: When the target is moving also, that takes skill.

UNIDENTIFIED CORRESPONDENT: It suggests to Franks that the shooter was someone who had training.

FRANKS: And there were three shots.

UNIDENTIFIED CORRESPONDENT: Three shots is what the medical examiner is saying.

[11:55:08] FRANKS: So, I find that very interesting. It could be that just the shooter has a certain amount of training, but that's typically a tactical training. Tactical, either law enforcement or military training. Two shots to the chest, one to the head. That's usually the training, you come out, boom, boom, to chest, boom, one to the head in that order.


WHITFIELD: All right, thanks to our affiliate KPRC for that report.

We have so much more straight ahead in the NEWSROOM and it all starts right after this.



WHITFIELD (voice-over): Happening now in the NEWSROOM, deadly wildfires ripping through Northern California. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We didn't think the fire was going to come here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You just can't believe this is happening in your community.

WHITFIELD: Tens of thousands fleeing their homes as firefighters race to get the flames under control.