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Trump Tower Meeting Examined; Russian Collusion Investigation Heightens; Possible Second Trump-Putin Meeting; Japan Facing Typhoon Jongdari; Report on California Wildfire. Aired 2-2:30a ET

Aired July 28, 2018 - 02:00   ET


CYRIL VANIER: Donald Trump hits back. The U.S. President denies his former attorney's claim that he knew in advance about his son's 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer. Plus deadly wildfires continue in California. We'll take you to one of the neighborhoods left in ruins. And in a rare celestial event, the longest total lunar eclipse of the 21st Century.

We're live from the CNN Center here in Atlanta. I'm Cyril Vanier. It's great to have you with us.

U.S. President Donald Trump is fighting back against the latest accusation from his former attorney, Michael Cohen. On Friday the president again denied that he had had prior information about a 2016 at Trump Tower between his top campaign advisors, namely his son, and Russians. According to our sources, Cohen says the president did know about this meeting. If Cohen is telling the truth, it could become very problematic very quickly for the White House.

This meeting took place almost two years ago so it's easy how the whole story unfolded. It's also easy to forget how the Trump camp has repeatedly changed its story about what happened that day. Here is CNN's Randi Kaye.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: On June 3, 2016, in an email from publicist Rob Goldstone, Donald Trump, Jr., is promised incriminating information about Hillary Clinton. His response, if it's what you say I love it especially later in the summer. Six days later, Don, Jr., met with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya at Trump Tower. Joining him Trump's campaign chairman at the time, Paul Manafort, and his son in law, Jared Kushner. When the "New York Times" broke the story last year about the secret meeting, Don, Jr., didn't initially disclose the intended purpose of the meeting. Instead he said the purpose was to discuss the adoption of Russian children. But the very next day when the "Times" broke the news that the president's son was promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton, Don, Jr., issued a statement saying, "The woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were supporting Mrs. Clinton." He also said the lawyer changed the subject to adoption.

Two days after the story broke, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders denied the president had any prior knowledge of the meeting.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: When did the president learn that that meeting had taken place?

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


KAYE: The next day on "Fox News" Don, Jr., told Sean Hannity his father was unaware of the meeting.


SEAN HANNITY, FOX ANCHOR: Did you tell your father anything about this?

DONALD TRUMP, JR., SON OF DONALD TRUMP PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. It was such a nothing, there was nothing to tell.


KAYE: That narrative worked until it didn't. The story would soon unravel. The morning after Don, Jr.'s denials on "Fox News" the president's lawyer, Jay Sekulow, told CNN this:


JAY SEKULOW, PRESIDENTIAL LAWYER: The president was not aware of the meeting, did not attend the meeting and was only made aware of the emails very recently by counsel. I wasn't involved in the statement drafting at all nor was the president.


KAYE: A week later a strong denial from the president himself during this taped interview with the "New York Times."


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Did you know the time that they...

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No I didn't know anything about the....

But you know it must have been very unimportant - it must have been a very unimportant meeting because I never even heard about it.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: No one told you (inaudible).

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


KAYE: If that's true and the president didn't know anything about it as he says how does he explain what happened next. "The Washington Post" reported last July that the president himself decided to say the meeting was about adoption and dictated the misleading statement Don, Jr., gave "The New York Times."

The paper said the president dictated the statement aboard Air Force One the day the story first broke on his way back to Washington from the G20 Summit in Germany. Then in January of this year, the President's lawyer Sekulow, suddenly contradicted earlier claims he and the White House had made that the president was not involved in drafting his son's statement. In a letter to Special Counsel Robert Muller, Sekulow said the president dictated a short but accurate response to the "New York Times" article on behalf of his son, Donald Trump, Jr.

After reports emerged that President Trump had actually drafted his son's statement, Sarah Sanders went into damage control mode because of her own earlier statements about the timing of the president's knowledge of the meeting.


SANDERS: He certainly didn't dictate but you know he, like I said he weighed in, offered suggestion like any father would do.


KAYE: Still the denial about whether the president knew continue. In September of last year when Don, Jr. was asked by the Senate Judiciary Committee if his father knew about the Trump Tower meeting in advance, he told Senators, "No, I wouldn't have wasted his time with it."

And that might be true and chances are Robert Mueller wants to find out. Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.

VANIER: With me now is political analyst Michael Genovese, author of "How Trump Governs." Michael Cohen appears to be sending signals. He proved this week that he has secret recordings of the president and then he makes this explosive allegation. So he's sending signals but who are they for?

MICHAEL GENOVESE, PROFESSOR AND LEGAL ANALYST: Well there are multiple audiences. The southern district of New York is the first, Mueller is the second, but I think the ultimate one is Donald Trump where he's trying to position himself so he can get the best deal from one or two of those sources. Obviously the best deal with President Trump would be to get a pardon but Rudy Giuliani, the president's attorney today, may have put a nail in that coffin because he just kept on repeating well having said two weeks ago that Mr. Cohen is an honorable man, now he's saying he's a liar, he's a habitual liar, so I think in a way Rudy Giuliani has declared war on Cohen so that's going to make him perhaps go further.

And so the question is does Cohen have anything to support his accusation? It's not just his word because if it's a he-said-he-said, you've got two people who are known dissemblers, which of the two dishonest people do you believe. But if Cohen has other people who could also testify to this and he suggested he does, and if he has some paper trail, something that might indicate that there's a deeper association with President Trump and the president would then be in that widened circle that started with Don, Jr., in the June 9 meeting where he was told we have dirt on Hillary, we'll get it to you. He said I love it but we didn't have the president linked to that too closely.


GENOVESE: But this might make this link possible.

VANIER: No the fact that Michael Cohen has shown no evidence. I mean he showed evidence with the audio tape right? But on this particular accusation he hasn't backed up his claim. What does that tell us? Is that ammunition for later or does that maybe fuel Donald Trump's defense that it's actually a lie?

GENOVESE: Well if I were Michael Cohen I would release things very carefully and he has one of the best lawyers in Washington, Lanny Davis, so I would think they have a strategy that they've already got in place and they know the tactics involved and step by step they want to do something. So it's hard to see him making such a bold accusation without something to support it. And so I think it's one of those things you just have to wait and see what he's going to produce. If he produces nothing, the president is pretty good shape.

VANIER: And if he does produce something, what are the risks facing the president?

GENOVESE: The risk is that his oft repeated claim of no collusion gets blown out of the water because if he did know about it beforehand and knew it was about dirt on Hillary and knew it was from the Russians, there's your collusion. Now collusion of course is not a crime but what it does is it undermines him in the view of public opinion and might have some legal implications as well.

VANIER: What about his son, Don, Jr.?

GENOVESE: Don, Jr. seems to be in some trouble because the paper trail. Remember he denied that he had this meeting, denied everything and then when the emails came out he said, OK I did have the meeting and his story kept changing. We know now that he not only was approached by the Russians, told of the dirt, but when he said, and this is a quote, "I love it," that's pretty close link to collusion if not a legal definition, but it certainly is circumstantial enough and people would judge him I think very harshly on that.

VANIER: Yes, if you start looking at all the circumstantial evidence, then you also have throw in the fact that I think it was two days before the meeting Donald Trump announced he would be giving the following week a rally where he would reveal everything that went on, the mis-deeds of the Clintons and then he ended up after the meeting turned out to be a dud not making such a speech.

GENOVESE: That's right. That suggests that maybe he knew before him what the - that there was going to be dirt and then was disappointed when there wasn't and then had to just cancel the press conference.

VANIER: Michael Genovese, thank you very much. I appreciate it.

GENOVESE: Thank you.

VANIER: Where and when will the leaders of the U.S. and Russia meet again? Apparently neither Donald Trump nor Vladimir Putin can answer that question right now. The informal initiations have been exchanged but there remains this sticky issue of the investigation. It's a Russian interference in the U.S. election. Matthew Chance is in Moscow.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Will they meet or won't they? The back and forth continues over when and where the U.S. president will stage another one-on-one summit. Speaking at an economic summit or gathering in South Africa. President Putin of Russia said he understood why a recent invitation to the White House was postponed until next year referring to the political situation in the United States. And now the White House is saying that they're open to a meeting in Moscow after Vladimir Putin revealed that this is something that he has already discussed with President Trump.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: (through interpreter) We are ready for such meetings. We are ready to invite President Trump to Moscow to be my guest. He has such an initiation; I told him that and I'm ready to go to Washington. I repeat once again if the right conditions for work are created.

CHANCE: But it's unclear when those conditions will be right when the political climate in the United States will become less hostile to another U.S. - Russian meeting. The Kremlin though has become increasingly unenthusiastic about a second summit fearing a political backlash in the U.S. after critics of President Trump condemn his performance next to Vladimir Putin in Helsinki as overly differential earlier this month.

Vladimir Putin though still found grounds to praise his U.S. counterparts and remember campaign on a platform of building a better relationship with Russia.

Trump's great virtue Putin told journalists in South Africa is that he always wants to keep his election promises. Matthew Chance, CNN, Moscow.

VANIER: Ne data shows the U.S. economy grew at its fastest rate since 2014. In the last three months, the U.S. GDP grew 4.1 percent over the same period last year. That surge is a result of a number of factors. Business investment rose as companies invested some of the money that they saved thanks to tax cuts. Consumer spending and government spending also increased and counter-intuitively perhaps, concern over a trade war actually helped the economy. U.S. exports rose as foreign buyers were stocking up on American products before they anticipated they would be hit with tariffs.

(BEGIN VIDEO) MONICA MEHTA, MANAGING PRINCIPAL AT SEVENTH CAPITAL: There was definitely a big give me in there for Donald Trump which came in the form of a one-time advance with a lot of companies that are fearing trade war that rushed to push exports now before tariffs come in in July. The reason that they're rushing to export is because they're expecting demand for U.S. goods to go down from China once the 25 percent tariffs hit


VANIER: If the economy grows at 3 percent for the entire year, it would be the highest growth since 2005. Now let's compare that with previous administrations. We're comparing quarterly growth numbers here. All right, past three administrations, George W. Bush hit a 6.9 percent growth rate in 2003. Then the Obama Administration reached 5.2 and if you look all the way left on your screen, that's Bill Clinton's era back in 2000. He hit a 7.8 growth quarter.

Massive wildfires rage in California reducing entire neighbors to ash. We'll have more on that when we come back.


VANIER: Japan is bracing for a powerful typhoon that could dump up to 500 millimeters of rain in 24 hours. Typhoon Jongdari is threatening to unleash its heaviest rainfall probably around the region of Tokyo I could also hit in western Japan which already saw deadly flooding earlier this month with death tolls of up to 200 people. Let's get the CNN meteorologist, Derek Van Dam. Derek.

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, this really the last thing that Japanese residents want to hear right now because it is going to impact not only transportation but also their livelihoods because we're talking about an area that is extremely saturated from two weeks ago when we had the excessive flooding across the area specifically central and southwestern Japan with more rain on the way, this just could exacerbate the problem. 160 Kilometer winds right near the center of those circulations. There's actually an eye located on the satellite at the moment. Typhoon Jungari making its way just to the south of Tokyo but again, with that counter clockwise rotation with these typhoons in the northern hemisphere, we'll see some of those outer rain bands and stronger winds and heavier rain bands making way across this area. I want to show you something here.

Look at the population density across this region. We are going to talk about anywhere between 800 to 1,500 people per square kilometer, the mainland of Japan, roughly a population of 130 million people. So we are going to see hundreds of thousands if not millions of people being impacted by this typhoon. But as we talk about the mountainous areas of southwestern Japan, this is the area that I'm concerned about because additional rainfall to that area means the potential for flash floods exists once again and that is the last thing we need because we know there were several dozens of people that were killed a couple of weeks ago from the excessive flooding.

Look at the rainfall totals from our computer models, in excess of 250 millimeters to the south and west of Tokyo. You can see other areas Asaka, Kochi, and the Hiroshima region also being impacted by the storm through the course of the weekend. Cyril.

VANIER: Derek Van Dam reporting from the CNN Weather Center. Thank you very much. And there has been a lot of extreme weather stories that we've been reporting on in the last few weeks. Greece was one of them this week and now Greece's prime minister is saying he's anguished about the way his government handled the wildfire that killed dozens of people this week.

Alexis Tsipras says he is taking full political responsibility. Critics say the government failed to set up adequate evacuation plans that could have saved more people. Officials expect the death toll to rise as the days go on. Firefighters and volunteers are still looking for missing people and let's hope some possible survivors.

And wildfires also making headlines here in the U.S. Thousands of firefighters are battling 89 blazes in 14 states. This here is the car fire in Northern California. The fast-moving flames have killed two people and forced 38,000 residents to evacuate. Paul Vercammen reports at this out of control fire rages on.

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Flames swirling in high winds and hot temperatures wreaking havoc on the northern California landscape. The aptly named Car 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 it's 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 climb through hills fueled by the dried landscape.


DOMINIC GALVIN, RESIDENT OF FIRE RAVAGED REGION: 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'd 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. It's like everybody else that we're scrambling at the last minute to get out when we saw the fire on the ridge.


SIMON: Extreme temperatures are in the forecast and will continue to make this fire all the more worrisome. It is one of several major blazes burning across the state and one of 89 across the country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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. Paul Vercammen, CNN, Redding, California.

VANIER: North Korea says it has returned remains of U.S. troops killed during the Korean War. What will Pyongyang expect in return? We'll discuss when we come back.


VANIER: Decades after their deaths dozens of U.S. troops could finally be headed home. On Friday North Korea returned 55 cases containing the possible remains of U.S. forces killed in t he Korean War. But as CNN's Will Ripley reports, Pyongyang's good will may soon give way to demands.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Just one week after his Singapore summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, President Trump made this triumphant announcement.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We got back our great fallen heroes, the remains. In fact today already 200 have been sent back.


RIPLEY: But it took five more weeks for just 55 sets of remains to arrive at South Korea's Osan Air Base Friday, on the anniversary of the Korean War armistice. Pyongyang did not even approve the mission until the final hours, keeping U.S. officials guessing.


TRUMP: And I want to thank Chairman Kim for keeping his word.


RIPLEY: But few expected this relatively simple confidence-building measure would take more than six weeks raising serious questions about the far more complex and far more contentious negotiations over denuclearization.



RIPLEY: (voice over) This week Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the Senate Intelligence Committee North Korea is still producing fuel for nuclear weapons. Pompeo fresh off a disappointing trip to Pyongyang, little if any progress on key issues and a widely-perceived snub by Kim Jong-un who did not meet with him. The U.S. was later criticized by North Korea for making what they called gangster-like demands. In May North Korean officials took CNN to what they claimed was the destruction of this nuclear test site. These new images show they may also be dismantling a satellite launching station. But U.S. intelligence agencies believe North Korea is upgrading other key weapons facilities including a ballistic missile plant and nuclear reactor. Their assessment, Kim Jong-un has no plans to give up his nukes any time soon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They have not done another nuclear test so that's a positive. They haven't done another ballistic missile test, that's a positive. North Korea has played it's normal game in which it agreed to a concept of it's own definition of denuclearization whatever that means and then freezes activity to let the heat go down.

RIPLEY: An official telling CNN this week North Korea wants sanctions relief and a peace treaty formally ending the Korean War or Kim Jong- un may consider walking away from the talks emboldened by his increasingly friendly relationship with traditional allies Russia and China, both could make it nearly impossible for the U.S. to continue its maximum pressure campaign even if negotiations with North Korea break down. Will Ripley, CNN, Seoul.

VANIER: The U.S. President is threatening to impose large sanctions on Turkey if it doesn't permit an American pastor to return to the United States. Andrew Brunson is now under house arrest in Turkey. On Wednesday, he was allowed to leave jail. He was arrested in 2016 in a crackdown after an attempted coup. He says he's not guilty of charges including espionage and having links to terrorism. Now a senior U.S. official says President Trump asked Israel's prime minister to help secure Brunson's release with a prisoner swap but Turkey says they never made any kind of deal.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's been a working group that was established to address and resolve the outstanding legal issues between U.S. and Turkey and this is in regard in both the Brunson case and the Atilla case, the jailed banker in the United States. Nothing has been reached there now. So (inaudible) negotiated is being done under that working group and there has been no such deal as was reported in this newspaper and our understanding is that there's a lack of coordination between the White House and the State Department because it seems the White House's remarks were - came as a surprise.

VANIER: There is still no vote counts in Pakistan but Imran Khan and his movement for Justice Party have declared victory in the country's disputed election. Other major parties say the election was fixed though. Some are even threatening protests unless there is a new vote. Khan is a national hero from his days as a cricket star but he's also seen as the military's favorite candidate. There have been allegations of vote rigging and the European Union has also cast doubts on Wednesday's vote.

E.U. observers say there are signs of a systematic effort to undermine the governing party. They're urging any challenge to this election to be done in legal ways. CNN spoke with one of Khan's critics, author and journalist, Reham Khan who is also Imran Khan's ex-wife.


REHAM KHAN, IMRAN KHAN'S EX-WIFE, AUTHOR AND JOURNALIST: He is the ideal puppet because when he wants something so desperately and when he's been repeatedly in public compromising on ideology and this was a thing with us as well. A lot of people say why the breakup, what happened and I keep telling them that it was I couldn't compromise on principles. I couldn't compromise that you talk about anti corruption but there are corrupt people in your party. You talk about there's crony's in other parties but what's happening? You know there's Jahangir Tareen who is disqualified. The supreme court has taken the decision and you saw him even in the speech that happened yesterday. Croneyism(ph) status quo, corruption, he's let us down on so many occasions.


VANIER: WE have just had the longest total lunar eclipse of the century. It is called a blood moon. Because when the sun, earth, and moon light up, sunlight reflects through the earth's atmosphere and makes the moon appear red. Unlike a solar eclipse, no special glasses were needed. The eclipse was visible in many places but not North America. Photographers of course had a field day with this. The eclipse lasting four hours with totality taking one hour and 43 minutes, the red planet Mars was also closer to us than it's been in 15 years.

Meanwhile and real quick, in a galaxy far, far away, a rebel princess met a space pirate.





VANIER: An now, Princess turned to General Leia Organa will be back for "Star Wars, Episode 9" this despite Carrie Fisher's passing in 2016. Director J. J. Abrams announced that they would use unreleased footage shot during "Star Wars, the Force Awakens." This newest film which will conclude the Skywalker saga begins filming next week.

And that's it from us. We'll be back with headlines in just a moment.