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CNN Responds To Trump's Attacks: CNN Does Not Lie; Trump Claims NBC "Fudged" 2017 Interview; Bikini-Clad Mayor Balloon Given OK To Launch. Aired 12m-1a ET

Aired August 31, 2018 - 00:00   ET




JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): This is CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles.

Ahead this hour, the U.N. warns, a perfect storm is gathering over Idlib and Syria as the Assad regime prepares for what could be the final military offensive in the seven-year civil war. Millions of civilians are now trapped in the kill zone.

The wonderful world according to Donald J. Trump, where the Robert Mueller investigation is illegal. It's not.

And that interview when he admitted firing the FBI director over Russia?

The tapes, he said, were fudged. But they weren't.

And the Catholic Church in Australia accepting almost every recommendation from a royal commission into child sexual abuse but stirs controversy when it insists confessions remain off limits. A bond between a priest and a parishioner, it says, cannot be broken.

Hello and welcome to our viewers all around the world. I'm John Vause. NEWSROOM L.A. starts right now.


VAUSE: To start with what could be the beginning of the end of Syria's long and brutal civil war. A military buildup is the latest sign of what could be a looming government and Russian assault on the city of Idlib, the country's last major rebel stronghold.

And whoever wins, there is no doubt, civilians will be the losers. Some 3 million people live in the province and the U.N. special envoy warns, an offensive could lead to a most horrific tragedy.


STAFFAN DE MISTURA, U.N. SPECIAL ENVOY TO SYRIA: There is a perfect storm, based on warning, counterwarnings, which is gathering around and due to the dilemma, which is a true dilemma, on how to defeat terrorists in Idlib and, at the same time, avoid affecting a huge number of civilians.


VAUSE: And there are fears rebels, terror groups and the Syrian forces may actually use chemical weapons during this offensive, which is leading to both Russia and the U.S. warning each other and their proxies against any chemical attacks. CNN's Fred Pleitgen has more now from Moscow.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It certainly seems as though tensions are ratcheting up around the whole Syrian conflict, not just with an offensive possibly looming in and around the Idlib area, the last place in Syria still held by opposition forces, but also between the two major military players in the Syrian conflict, the United States and Russia.

Now the Russians on Thursday announced that they plan to hold large- scale naval and air force exercises off the Syrian coast. They say some 25 warships will be involved in those exercises and also strategic bombers from the Russian air force.

Now of course, all of this as some people that an offensive on Idlib could be imminent, the Russians will have a lot of military hardware in that area if, in case, such an offensive does kick off.

We've also been hearing that Syrian government forces have been amassing troops on the border with Idlib. There has been some cross- border firing. Of course, organizations like the United Nations but then also countries like the U.S. fear that there could be a massacre in Idlib if, indeed, an offensive does kick off.

Now on Thursday, Syria's foreign minister, Walid Moallem, was here in Moscow. He had talks with the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, and he said that the Syrian civil war appears to be in its final stages.

At the same time, ahead of this possible offensive in Idlib, both the United States and Russia are trading accusations about possible looming chemical attacks.

The Russians say they believe that rebels are planning to stage what they call false flag attacks to try and draw the U.S. into the conflict and make it attack the Syrian military. There was a staunch warning from Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov. Here's what he said.


SERGEI LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): Another such provocation is being prepared in order to hinder the anti- terroristic operation in Idlib. And we, having our facts on the table through our defense ministry and foreign ministry, clearly and firmly warned our Western partners, don't play with fire.


PLEITGEN: Of course the U.S. has a very different opinion and take on what is going on, on the ground in Syria. They say that, while they don't have concrete information, they fear that the Assad government could possibly be getting ready to conduct chemical weapons attacks on areas in Idlib province and has already warned there certainly would be a strong reaction if that is the case.

The U.S. has also warned Russia that if indeed there was some sort of offensive, that the Russians certainly need to take care or need to try to at least shield the civilian population that's on the ground there -- Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Moscow.


VAUSE: CNN military analyst Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona joins us now from Oregon. He's a retired U.S. Air Force officer and --


VAUSE: -- a former U.S. military attache in Syria.

Col. Francona, good to see you again. We have some reports out there, some suggesting that the fate of Idlib kind of depends on these talks currently under way between Turkey, which backs the rebels, the Russians, who are a major ally of the Assad regime.

These two groups plan to sit down for a meeting about a week from now. Iran will be there.

That seems like a fairly lengthy period of time. A lot could happen between now and then. It just doesn't seem realistic that the Syrian government, which can now smell blood and see an end to this war, will actually be convinced to put that offensive on hold.

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I agree with that assessment. I don't think we're going to see any delay at all.

In fact, the Russian announcement that they're going to conduct exercises in the area, that set off alarm bells throughout the intelligence community because anytime the Russians announce they're going to have exercises, you always wonder why are they amassing those forces.

And it's just too coincidental that this is about the time they're going -- the Syrians with the Russian support are going to launch this offensive in Idlib. We know it's going to happen. We actually know how it's going to end, we know where it's going to end. We just don't know the exact timing of it.

There's no question as to what's going to happen. The Syrian government is going to reassert control over Idlib. The question will be, at what price and what weapons are they going to use.

VAUSE: Well, as -- his name escapes me right now -- says, he always says the enemy also has a say on how this plays out. And the jihadi group in Idlib is a group which was once linked to Al Qaeda. They're vowing not to surrender, to fight to the death.

I guess the reason would be because there's not a lot of incentive to do anything else.

FRANCONA: John, there's nowhere else for them to go. If you look at the series of offensives that the Syrians have mounted over the last two years, very effectively -- of course, a lot of that's due to Russian and Iranian support -- you know, they've taken these enclaves and they surround them. They lay siege to them.

And when you think it's about over, they say, OK, well, here's a reconciliation offer. You can surrender or you can relocate. But we don't want to destroy the infrastructure of the cities.

This is a good thing. So what they did was basically turn Idlib into a dumping ground. They relocated all of these fighters up there, so now what we've got is the end game. There's nowhere else for them to go. Everybody that needs to resist, everybody that wants to fight, is in Idlib.

If the government starts that attack, there's nowhere else to relocate them. They're either going to have to surrender or they're going to have to die. And. John, I think, the Al Qaeda derivative, they're going to fight.

VAUSE: They will fight and they'll be fighting amid civilians. Idlib has doubled in size over the last couple of years. You know how the Russians operate. You know how the Syrians operate when civilians enter the mix.

Are there any rules of engagement?

FRANCONA: No. You know, we often -- we've seen this in the past. We know how the Syrians and the Russians do this. It's almost, you know, a template. The first thing we're going to see is they're going to hit a lot of civilian facilities.

These are going to include hospitals, markets, residential areas because they're going to want to sap the will to fight. It's been very effective in the past. The problem is the people that they're going after here in Idlib are not the fighters.

The people that live in Idlib -- the civilians I'm talking about, not the relocated fighters -- they are victims of circumstance. They didn't ask for this.

These fighters were dumped upon them and now they're mixed in with the population. And I'm afraid that they're the ones that are going to pay the price here. So if the Islamists want to fight, if the opposition still wants to fight, it's the civilians that are going to pay the price. We're looking at a major humanitarian crisis.

VAUSE: Yes, this is -- the fear, of course, is that this is going to be Aleppo times 10.

FRANCONA: Absolutely. VAUSE: We should have learned from Aleppo. Colonel Francona, thank you. Appreciate it.


VAUSE: President Trump attacking his own Justice Department during a campaign rally in Indiana. The event was to help a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, who is trying to unseat a Democratic incumbent.

He talked about the economy, he talked about his trades pass and also talked about his efforts to put coal miners back to work, going after the Democrats, the media, his former opponent, Hillary Clinton, and even what he called "bird-killing" windmills. But the president had biting criticism for his own Justice Department.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But our Justice Department and our FBI have to start doing their job and doing it right and doing it now because people are angry. People are angry. What's happening is a disgrace.

And at some point I wanted to stay out. But at some point if it doesn't straighten out --


TRUMP: -- properly, I want them to do their job. I will get involved and I'll get in there if I have to. Disgraceful.



VAUSE: Joining us now political analyst Michael Genovese, president of the Global Policy Institute at Loyola Marymount University and the author of "How Trump Governs."

Is it out on Amazon?

Can we buy it online?

MICHAEL GENOVESE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You can buy it anywhere in stores all over the country. It makes a great gift. Ask for it by name.

VAUSE: OK, at all quality bookstores. OK, let's get back to this theme for Thursday attacking the Justice Department by Donald Trump. Before that rally and before that warning, that ominous warning he ought to get involved, Trump said the Russia investigation headed by Robert Mueller is essential -- essentially illegal.

This is the reporting from Bloomberg. When reporters asked if he would comply with a subpoena from Mueller, Trump said I'll see what happens, adding, I view it differently. I view it as an illegal investigation.

The point though here is that so far every legal challenge to Robert Mueller's authority in this matter has been knocked down by every court and most recently by a judge, a federal judge appointed by Donald Trump. This has no basis in reality as so many things often don't have a basis in reality when it comes to President Trump.

GENOVESE: And I think this is the fifth time a judge has in one way or another legitimized investigation. But the president's acting like a wounded caged animal and he's asking like he's desperate.

And if you think it's bad now, next week remember Bob Woodward's book is coming out. That is just going to -- it's frightening the president, it's going to cause all kinds of ripples in the White House.

VAUSE: So we need to reset our clocks by the release of you know, various tell-all books I guess. You know, the president also told Bloomberg that the beleaguered Attorney General is whipping-boy Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III will still have a job at least until the midterm elections this November.

Trump has made no secret of the fact he blames a lot of his legal problems with the Russia investigation because Sessions in the early stages recused himself of all things Russia. That led to the appointment of Robert Mueller and this is what the president said to Bloomberg.


TRUMP: I'd just like to have Jeff Sessions do his job and if he did I'd be very happy. But the job entails two sides, not one side.


VAUSE: The president's definition of what's equal and what's both side, I mean there should be only one side really here and that is what is -- you know, the right side of the law. But we just got a very gigantic clue there from the president that midterm elections in November 6, Sessions will have his job; November 7, he's gone.

GENOVESE: Yes, he probably ought to start packing now because that was not what you'd call a ringing endorsement. I mean, that was -- that was a very clear signal but he sent that signal for weeks even months.

The problem is if you appoint the new attorney general, could that person be confirmed. That's very doubtful because to elicit a yes vote even from some Republicans, you would have to make some promises that the president doesn't want you to keep.

VAUSE: And he's making this move now it seems to be ramped up lately because what he seems to have a lot more support from Republican Senators to get away with this and so he's been lobbying behind the scenes? GENOVESE: I think there's a weariness on the part of a number of

Senators and they're finally saying let's just give in to it, he's going to do it, so why not just make the best of it. But I still think it will have a backlash.

I still think that -- you have to remember, attorney general Sessions has been actually quite effective at implementing Trump strategy better than almost any of his other appointees. But he gets under the president's skin that he won't save the president's bacon because of this inquiry.

VAUSE: This is a little bit out of left field but I kind of think it says a lot about where the president is are on his priorities because it was bad news on Thursday for federal workers in the U.S. The president has scrubbed a pay increase, it wasn't a big increase but have been negotiated and agreed to.

Donald Trump says it's because the company -- the country rather can't afford. Here's part of the letter he wrote to Congress.

"We must maintain efforts to put our nation on a fiscally sustainable course. The federal agency budgets cannot sustain such increases."

Just put that in context. This pay increase would have cost the budget $25 billion this year. The president also this year signed off on a record $716 billion defense spending bill.

His wall is estimated cost anywhere between $20 and $70 billion and then there is the tax cut which went mostly to the very, very wealthy at a $1.4 trillion to the deficit over the next 10 years. So they can't afford $25 billion for hundreds of thousands of federal government employees but all these other things, they're good to go.

GENOVESE: Well, he seemed to become a fiscal conservative at last and this would be a small dip in the bucket compared to all of these spending. And he's cut taxes increase spending and the math doesn't work. But you also have to remember that for some reason he sees the federal employees as an enemy --

VAUSE: Right.

GENOVESE: -- as he sees the deep state and most people who read. And so I think you know, in this case the president finds that he can dig into people who he thinks are digging into him. It's a cheap shot but it's the president taking one.

VAUSE: Yes, OK, well you know, the only thing Donald Trump hates more than those fake news stories it seems is actually paying for those fake news stories. You have a report coming up on this.


VAUSE: It seems that Donald Trump and his former lawyer, now convicted felon Michael Cohen, were working to try and buy all the dirt which has been gathered on him by the scandal rag the "National Enquirer." And seems there may have been a lot it an entire vault, in fact, only the parties never reached a deal.

CNN's -- Brynn Gingras -- sorry -- has all the details. Having one of those nights.


BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, "The New York Times" reporting that Donald Trump and his former personal attorney Michael Cohen once discussed a plan to buy all stories the "National Enquirer" had collected on Trump going back to the 1980s.

That discussion was strongly hinted at in a secret audio recording made by Cohen and released exclusively to CNN by his lawyers in July.


GINGRAS: On that tape, Trump and Cohen heard discussing setting up a payment system to American Media, Inc., the "National Enquirer's" parent company.

COHEN: I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend David.

GINGRAS: David is David Pecker, the head of AMI.

Pecker had a cozy relationship with Trump. And to protect him, Pecker would dig up the dirt on Trump, often paying for the stories and then bury them in a practice called catch and kill. The Associated Press reports unsavory stories were kept in a safe at AMI.

And according to "The New York Times," that safe contained decades of material on Trump, like his marital woes and lawsuits, lists of sensitive sources and tips about alleged affairs.

Cohen and Trump even discussed a backup plan just in case Pecker, the holder of the secrets, was no longer around.

COHEN: it's all the stuff.

TRUMP: Yes, I was thinking about that.

COHEN: All the stuff. Because -- here, you never know where that company -- you never know what he's...

TRUMP: Maybe he gets hit by a truck.

COHEN: Correct.

GINGRAS: Trump and Cohen also mentioned Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg in their plans to pay for the information.

COHEN: And, I've spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up with...

TRUMP: So, what do we got to pay for this?


COHEN: ... funding.

GINGRAS: "The Times" reports that Trump never did buy all of the stories from AMI.

But in his guilty plea last week, Cohen admitted to working to buy the silence of Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, two women who alleged affairs with Trump. Cohen also said the payments were directed by then candidate Donald Trump. Trump denies those affairs.

Both Pecker and Weisselberg helped the government with its case against Cohen in exchange for immunity. With the immunity deals, it's unclear what other secrets they may now be sharing with federal prosecutors.


VAUSE: Thanks to Brynn Gingras for that report.

But, Michael, back to you. I kind of want to juxtapose all this dirt and scandal surrounding Donald Trump in another major story on Thursday and that was the memorial service for the late Senator John McCain.

And especially the tribute he had -- he received from the former vice president, Joe Biden. Here was some of it. Listen to this.


JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It wasn't about politics with John, he could disagree on substance, but there are underlying values that animated everything John did.

Everything he was, he could come to a different conclusion. But where he'd part company with you, if you lacked the basic values of decency, respect.


VAUSE: You know, a lot of people made the observation that he was speaking directly to Trump.

But what I'm curious about, what does it say about this Republican Party, a party which has embraced the values of Donald Trump while rejecting it the values of John McCain?

GENOVESE: It speaks very poorly I think to where they are and to the quality of character of their leadership. We've seen editorial after editorial by Republican saying, let's bring back the soul of the party -- let's reclaim the soul of the party.

But Donald Trump has managed to sweep in and utterly dominate. And I think, you know, you see the contrast and when Biden didn't mention Trump's name but the contrast is breaking. Especially, without mentioning his name because you see a man who had -- who -- he was deeply flawed. But McCain really lived a life for others.


GENOVESE: And you see it -- you know, that the president -- you know, it's the kind of thing if you're talking to your son you say, that's the kind of man you should try to be like.

VAUSE: That's right.

GENOVESE: Not this guy.

VAUSE: McCain, also admitting a mistake or a fault, whatever was a strength. Trump's sees that as a weakness.

GENOVESE: Well, I think his sort of house of cards would collapse if he admitted any fault, any mistake any error. He is very weak, I think quite fragile and that's why you see him so rattled and so shattered by what's going on.

He's had a terrible summer and as I mentioned, the Woodward book coming out next week. I think, is just going to blow the lid off.

VAUSE: Yes, this is a guy with credibility. It's not like a Michael Wolf book which has questions. Very quickly, Trump was asked -- you know, about his reaction over the last couple of days to McCain's passing and if he missed a chance to unite the country. This is what he said.


TRUMP: We had our disagreements and they were very strong disagreements. I --


TRUMP: -- disagreed with many of the things that I assumed he believed in. But with that being said, I respect his service to the country.


VAUSE: I mean, just to wrap it up here, what do you think of that?

GENOVESE: Very little, very late, didn't seem sincere. I think the previous several days, his silence and his anger spoke volumes. This was what he had to say what he should have said from day one. It's humiliating to the United States.

VAUSE: Michael, thank you.

GENOVESE: Thank you, John.


VAUSE: We have more now on Senator John McCain. He left his beloved state of Arizona for the last time a few hours ago, arriving at Joint Base Andrews near Washington.

The onetime Republican nominee for president and American war hero will now lie in state at the U.S. Capitol, beginning three more days of ceremonies and funeral services for the late Republican senator. Former Vice President Joe Biden, a rival Democrat and McCain's longtime friend, here's more of that emotional eulogy he delivered on Thursday.


BIDEN: Now John's going to take his rightful place in a long line of extraordinary leaders in this nation's history, who, in their time and in their way, stood for freedom and stood for liberty and have made the American story the most improbable and the most hopeful and most enduring story on Earth.

I know John said he hoped he played a small part in that story.

John, you did much more than that, my friend. To paraphrase Shakespeare, "We shall not see his like again."





VAUSE: To the sound of amens and gospel music, thousands are saying a final goodbye to the Queen of Soul.


VAUSE (voice-over): A tribute concert was held in her hometown of Detroit, where her body is lying in repose at the church where her father once preached, where she started an unforgettable career six decades ago. Ms. Franklin died earlier this month after a battle with cancer. A private funeral will be held on Friday.


VAUSE: And CNN will have coverage of Aretha Franklin's funeral. We'll say farewell to a legend Friday at 3:00 in the afternoon in London, 10:00 pm in Hong Kong.

Moving on now, the Catholic Church in Australia has refused to require priests to report --


VAUSE: -- child abuse if they learn about it through confessionals. The country's top Catholic body says it accepts 98 percent of the recommendations made by a government report. But the seal of the confession, it says, is non-negotiable.

CNN's Alexandra Field covering this story from Hong Kong.

Why is it the church is refusing to accept this one recommendation in particular?

Because it does seem to have created some controversy across the country.

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It certainly has created controversy and a lot of reaction at this point. They are saying, to do less, to accept this recommendation would infringe on religious liberty.

And they're going so far as to say it would actually make children less safe to allow priests to report instances of sexual abuse that they had learned about in confession.

Essentially they're saying they need to protect the sanctity of confession in order to allow more people to come forward. They say if people lose trust in the confession process, priests would learn of fewer instances of sexual abuse and they would no longer be able to encourage people to self-report once they had learned that.

The archbishops in Australia also went on to say that people should see it as no surprise that the church would not follow this recommendation.

It does come as a surprise to some in Australia, though, who are railing against it with shock and anger, including one children's advocate, the CEO of Care Leavers Australia Network says this.

"I think it's appalling that the Catholic Church is not putting the safety of the Australian children as their number one priority."

The church went on to say in its response today that since the scale of sexual abuse within the church has been learned, there have been times when the church has been too slow or timid to act but they say they are changing. They are learning and that they have learned -- John.

VAUSE: Alex, thank you. Alexandra Field there, with the latest on the report coming out of Australia. Thank you.

We'll take a short break. When we come back, the world that Donald Trump sees, it's kind of different from what most other people see. We'll look at what happens in the president's mind.




VAUSE: Everybody. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I'm John Vause with the headlines this hour.

(HEADLINES) VAUSE: Well, the U.S. president went on another of his early morning Twitter tirades, lashing out at the usual suspects, fake news media, the fake Russia investigation. And those who follow Donald Trump know a thing about this, they say this has been what he's been doing for years.

But Brian Todd reports now, it's all getting a little worse since he became president.


TRUMP: We have greater things to discuss.

TODD (voice-over): Even for President Trump, this was a prolific tirade. In the past 24 hours, more than a dozen tweets, his angriest ones targeting the media.

Quote, "I just cannot state strongly enough how totally dishonest much of the media is. The hatred and extreme bias for me by CNN has clouded their thinking. Whatever was left of CNN's credibility is now gone."

CNN's issued a strong statement saying, quote, "Make no mistake, Mr. President, CNN does not lie."

Now, those who have chronicled Donald Trump for years, say they believe he's feeling enormous pressure after a series of body blows in the Russia probe.

MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, AUTHOR, THE TRUTH ABOUT TRUMP: It's obvious that the President feels cornered. I think he feels besieged. When the President is cornered -- and certainly, this was true of him in business -- he did lash out angrily. He would use whatever means were at his disposal to attack and diminish those he considered to be enemies.

TODD: It's a trait that biographers say Trump has long had going back to his days at military school, but which was sharpened by a ruthless mentor, a legendary New York lawyer known for his brawling style.

MARC FISHER, CO-AUTHOR, TRUMP REVEALED: Learned this lesson from his mentor, Roy Cohn, who told him, never let others set the stage for you. Always be out there. If you're hit, hit back a hundred times harder. If you're under pressure, feeling cornered, you need to be viewed as the aggressor.

TODD: But biographers say they believe trump is now worse than ever in this regard because of his isolation in the White House, to the point where he's embracing new conspiracy theories. One of Trump's new tweets slams NBC, "When Lester Holt got caught fudging my tape on Russia. They were hurt badly." A reference to an interview last year after Trump fired James Comey.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it. And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.

TODD: There's absolutely no evidence that NBC's tape was doctored. Asked to explain, the White House offered no evidence. The President has done something similar in the past. Take the Access Hollywood tape.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.

TODD: Even though he admitted and apologized for his remarks --

TRUMP: This was locker room talk.

TODD: The New York Times later reported Trump told a senator, we don't think that was my voice. So it begs the question, is the President inventing his own reality?

D'ANTONIO: Either he is losing touch with reality and is no longer reliably present in the real world, or he is cynically manipulating both his followers and the rest of us to consider something that is patently untrue.

FISHER: He wants to sow some doubt among his followers, at least make them question could this really be true? Maybe it's not true. It dissipates the impact of the material that has him feeling cornered in the first place.

TODD: Trump biographers are now worried about the future consequences of these tirades, especially ones where the President might distort the facts or outright lie.

They say if he pulls that during a terrorist attack or another national emergency, it could hurt Americans' ability to get the real and crucial facts about that situation, at a time when Americans are going to desperately need the facts. Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


JOHN VAUSE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Los Angeles Times Columnist, Michael Hiltzik, joins us now from Seal Beach in California. Yes, the boy who cried wolf, huh? It's unbelievable.

MICHAEL HILTZIK, COLUMNIST, LOS ANGELES TIMES: That's always been the danger that his lies would catch up to him at a very inopportune moment for all of us.

VAUSE: You know, the world according to Donald J. Trump is a very different place to where most of us live. Here are a few examples. I'm crossing, you know, a number of different topics. So, on Monday, for example, when talking about the trade deal with Mexico, here he is. Listen to this.


TRUMP: This is one of the largest trade deals ever made, maybe the largest trade deal ever made. And it's really something very special. The two countries were able to come together and get it done.


VAUSE: Yes, except it's not. And then there was this tweet on North Korea. You remember this. He put this out a few months ago.

Just landed a long trip and everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office. There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea. Meeting with Kim Jong-un was an interesting and very positive experience. North Korea has great potential for the future.

OK, well, that all went, you know, up in flames. And then there was a tweet, you know, where he was claiming an overall approval rating of 52 percent, which is non-existent and not true. And then, of course, he was answering this question about White House Counsel Don McGahn. Thirty hours of testimony he gave to the Russia investigation, it's a doozy. Listen to this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any concern about what he said to the Mueller team?

TRUMP: No, not at all. I knew he was going also. I had to approve it. We didn't -- we didn't claim executive -- no, I don't have to be aware. We have -- we do everything straight. We do everything by the book, and Don is an excellent guy.

VAUSE: We do everything by the book, and he said it with a straight face. So, look, does he believe this stuff? I mean, it's one thing to spin. What's this?

[00:35:01] HILTZIK: I think the potential that people have for self- delusion is very strong, and when you are President, you are in a bubble, anyway. A normal president -- traditional president knows to surround himself with people who will challenge him from time to time and try to keep him tethered to reality.

We don't believe Trump has anybody like that. In fact, the reports we're getting are that he's got fewer and fewer people around him of any character.

So, and, of course, this is really a danger because he's in a very important position, and we want him tethered to reality. Not only that, we want him to have credibility with the American public because the time will come that he needs to exercise that credibility for everybody's good, and he doesn't seem to really have any desire to build up that credibility among people who are not in his base.

VAUSE: The thing which I thought is kind of amazing is that you can brag about a trade deal and call it the biggest ever, and you can debate it. There are, you know, objective facts which you can't really debate, but he does. Like, listen to this. This was him with the interview with Lester Holt on NBC News last year, explaining why he fired the director of the FBI.

TRUMP: He made a recommendation. But regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it. And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.

TRUMP: And then he tweets this out. A baseless allegation first against CNN, but then says Lester Holt got caught fudging my tape on Russia. They were hurt badly. That never happened. I mean, this is provable stuff.

HILTZIK: Yes. I think you put your finger on a certain pathology here. Pathological liars -- and I'm not necessarily saying that Trump falls into that category. You know, our viewers can make that decision for themselves. But as a -- as a species, pathological liars often lie about things that are provably false and that everybody listening to them knows is false. And they lie anyway. There's some other impulse at work.

And the fact that he would go ahead and start raising questions about a videotaped interview that everybody can look at for themselves, is certainly odd, and it should be a matter of concern for all of us. But he does that whether he's doing it as a defensive step or for some other reason. We really just don't know.

VAUSE: You know, it seems maybe when you look at some of these tweets, if you actually read them with the exact opposite meaning, it kind of works out. Like, for example, when he put this out, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner had nothing to do with the so-called pushing out of Don McGahn. The fake news media has it purposely so wrong.

So maybe we should read it, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner had everything to do with the so-called pushing out of Don McGahn. The honest news media has it so right.

When he tweets, the only thing James Comey ever got right was when he said that Donald Trump was not under investigation. Maybe that should say, the only thing James Comey ever got wrong was when he said the president was not under investigation. You know, could we apply this formula to pretty much everything Donald Trump says?

HILTZIK: Well, I think that's probably the way to bet, but, I think what we have to keep in mind is that when -- if you want to take the most charitable, rational explanation, what he's trying to do is create a narrative for his base.

The core delusion that he's operating under may be that his base is large enough to prevail -- to prevail if he runs again in 2020, to prevail for Republicans in November, what have you. But he's creating a narrative that they can -- that his core followers can keep a grip on.

So he's satisfying them. Now, once again, thinking about traditional presidents, they tend to know when they come into office that their task is to expand their base beyond the core base that got them elected so that they have popular support for the policies that they want to pursue and the legacy that they want to create for themselves.

Trump has done exactly the opposite, since we're talking about opposites. He's -- not only has he focused on that base that got him elected, but he seems to be doing a lot to shrink that base. So that's not -- political scientists will tell us that that is not really a wise thing for a president to do if he wants to get his policies passed.

VAUSE: Yes. It's like bizarre, world but he will (INAUDIBLE) Michael, as always, thank you so much.

HILTZER: Thanks for having me.

[00:40:10] VAUSE: Coming up here, first, there was the Trump baby blimp. Now we have the successor ready to launch, and this one is pretty much just as creepy.

Also, the British prime minister has gone there again, and by there, we mean, the dance. No. Please. Why, Theresa May? Why?


VAUSE: If you like the Donald Trump baby blimp, well, get set for the sequel. The London mayor bikini blimp is set to launch. The 29-foot balloon will fly over the streets of London this weekend. Protest organizers say our Mayor Sadiq Khan has not done enough to prevent violent crime.

More than 3,000 supporters are on board for this, donating 58,000 pounds to fund this giant, ugly, creepy-looking, weird balloon.

Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Theresa May is embracing the awkward, busting out -- yes, more of those distinctive dance moves. This time, she is in Kenya.



VAUSE: Yes, there she is, getting down and groovy with a group of guides and scouts. So (INAUDIBLE) trying out includes a special version of the robot. It's hard to tell the difference, now being called the Maybot. We have good news, the Prime Minister is on the final leg of a trade trip to Africa.

So, maybe, we will never see that again.

Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles. I'm John Vause. Stay with us. "WORLD SPORT" with Patrick Snell is up next. You're watching CNN.