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U.S. Warship Collides with Merchant Ship Near Japan; London Fire; Russia Investigation; Trump Unveils New Restrictions on Cuba. Aired 0-0:30a ET

Aired June 17, 2017 - 00:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): A nighttime collision off the coast of Japan leaves the American destroyer U.S.S. Fitzgerald badly damaged and seven crew members are currently missing.

Anger in London: protesters want answers in the wake of the building fire that killed at least 30 people.

Plus Donald Trump reverses parts of Obama's Cuba policy. It will become harder for Americans to travel to the island.

Thank you for joining us, everyone. I'm Cyril Vanier from the CNN NEWSROOM in Atlanta.

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VANIER: And we start the show this hour with breaking news near Japan. It's 1:00 pm currently local time in Japan. It was 2:30 pm when a U.S. warship collided with a merchant ship. Here's 2:30 am, when it collided.

And this is roughly the area where it happened, 56 nautical miles south of Yokosuka. So it puts us roughly in this area, early in the morning, middle of the night really.

We'll show you pictures of the Navy ship. The damage is very significant, as you can see. That ship carries about 300-330 crew members, seven of them missing at the moment.

Let me show you the medical evacuation. Three people had to be evacuated from the boat. We don't know yet what happened to the missing. It's possible they were thrown off the boat at this stage and the U.S. Navy and the Japanese Coast Guard sent assets to look for them.

You saw some of the -- we're going to see some of the water being pumped because of the damage happening above and below the water line. And also the we want to show you the merchant ship that entered into that collision. Currently no sign of damage on that ship, at least on that picture.

Let's go straight to our reporter in Japan, journalist Kaori Enjoji in Tokyo, and see what we can find out.

What do we know, first of all, about the search and rescue efforts for those who are missing?

KAORI ENJOJI, JOURNALIST: Cyril, there's still a lot of uncertainty surrounding this collision that happened in the middle of the night involving the U.S. warship, the U.S.S. Fitzgerald, and a container ship. It's been about 11 hours since the incident.

We don't know the fate of the seven missing people who were on board the U.S.S. Fitzgerald. We do know that three were injured, including the commander of the U.S.S. Fitzgerald, Commander Bryce Benson, who was flown to the naval hospital in Yokosuka and the U.S. Navy has told us that he is in stable condition.

The Japanese Coast Guard deployed several vessels and some helicopters as morning broke near the -- in the waters. And they have said that they are assisting possibly some of the missing who may have fallen into the ocean.

Now we know that the U.S.S. Fitzgerald, when you look at the pictures, as you saw earlier, severe damage on the right side of the ship; whereas the commercial vessel, which was from the Philippines, there's been some damage, some scraping you can see alongside this left-hand side of the container ship, but no injuries reported among the 20 people who were reportedly on board that vessel.

Now just to let you know, the Coast Guard has said that this area where the incident apparently occurred at about 2:30 am in the middle of the night Japan time, is a very, very busy area.

If you can look at the map, you can see that it's very close to the port of Yokosuka, which is home to the U.S. 7th Fleet, which is what the U.S.S. Fitzgerald belonged to.

And if you're entering the port of Tokyo, if you're entering the port of Yokohama, which are the two busiest ports in Japan, you'd always have to go through this route.

And the Japanese Coast Guard has said there are plenty of other commercial vessels that travel predominantly west to east along the coast of Japan, along the Pacific Coast of Japan.

And this area, they said, has been notorious for a number of incidents in the past, although they wouldn't say when the latest casualty has taken place.

So although it's been nearly 12 hours, we still don't know the fate of the seven people missing here, who were on board the U.S.S. Fitzgerald. I think it's still early hours since this incident occurred. But whenever you have an incident involving the U.S. Navy or the U.S. military here in Japan, it --

[00:05:00] ENJOJI: -- tends to open up debate within Japan about the role of the U.S. military and the heavy presence of the U.S. military here in Japan. And that has been a point of contention after many incidents such as these in the past.

But as I say, still early hours. We do know that, among the three injured, as I say, the commander, Bryce Benson, is in stable condition but has been flown to a naval hospital in Yokosuka.

We don't know the exact positioning right now of the U.S.S. Fitzgerald. But there have been shots, visuals showing that tugboats were pulling the vessel towards -- I believe toward Yokosuka, which is its home base.

There were also reports that the vessel was -- the warship was taking on water but the Coast Guard had said that there was no concern of the destroyer actually sinking.

So right now we know that they are heading back, possibly to Yokosuka base, and the other vessel involved, the container ship from the Philippines, possibly heading to another bay.

So this is an incident that occurred in the middle of the night. We're waking and although it has been nearly 11 hours since this, we don't have whole a lot of new updates on the seven people who are missing.

As you rightfully pointed out, there were about 300 to 330 people possibly on board this warship. And I think many people in Japan are familiar with this warship because it was the one that was deployed to the Sea of Japan several months ago when the tensions were escalating in the peninsula, in the Korean Peninsula -- Cyril.

VANIER: All right, Kaori Enjoji, in Tokyo, thank you very much. We'll get updates from you in the coming hours. Thanks a lot.

Let's get more on all this with Dave Larter (ph) in Washington. He's a staff writer at the "Navy Times."

Dave, seven crew members missing. We're out in the open sea here. The obvious explanation is they possibly could have been thrown into the water.

Is there any other possibility?

DAVE LARTER (PH), "NAVY TIMES": One of the things you're not seeing in the images is that there appears to have been some extensive damage underneath the water line.

And what you're going to find there is some of the crew berthing spaces. And the reporting that I'm seeing is that the -- at least two of the berthing compartments were flooded out in the incident itself.

So it's too early to tell what happened to those sailors. Obviously, the hope is that they'll be identified and brought to safety soon.

VANIER: If they are in the water, just what are the odds of survival?

LARTER (PH): Well, that just depends on anything from atmospherics to, you know, the water temperature to how cold it is outside.

In any situation like this, they are going to be doing a pretty active search and rescue. And my understanding is the Japanese Coast Guard has been very helpful with that while the Navy tries to attend to, obviously, the serious needs of the Fitzgerald right now.

VANIER: So how does a collision like this happen?

We're talking about a U.S. destroyer, which has all kinds of precision, you know, measurement tools and radars.

How does it just collide into another ship?

LARTER (PH): You know, this is something that's going to be the subject of months of inquiry, I'm quite sure. The Navy is going to look at this very closely.

You know, I'm honestly at a loss for how it could have happened. There's a watch standing team on the bridge, which is the -- it's one of the highest points on the ship. You can see in most directions and there's bridge wings on either side of the ship. You can see those in the pictures.

So they usually have lookouts and a bridge watch team that mans it 24/7. It happened in the middle of the night. But even without the visuals, they have radars that are running. They have several radars, a surface search radar and then a backup radar that they're monitoring on the bridge. So it's hard to know how this could have happened.

VANIER: And you have about 300 to 330 crew members on a ship like this. We're talking the middle of the night.

Is that a factor possibly?

LARTER (PH): You know, that's one of the things that I would honestly be the most concerned about, because of the indications where things that were flooded, that the fact is that that would have happened.

I mean, 2:30 in the morning, anybody that's not on watch and, you know, that's a good number of people, would probably be in the berthing. So I am very concerned about that.

VANIER: All right, Dave Larter (ph), staff writer for the "Navy Times," thank you very much.

LARTER (PH): You're welcome.

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VANIER (voice-over): The mood in London has shifted from shock to anger. Residents are asking how a fire came to envelop their apartment building as quickly as it did. And many are wondering who to blame. Protesters in Central London converged on British prime minister

Theresa May, who was visiting nearby. She was rushed away in her car. Ms. May has come in for criticism since the fire.

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THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I think we were all, when we --

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MAY: -- saw the horrific scenes of what had happened at Grenfell Tower, we all were deeply affected by that. It's absolutely horrifying. And I've been hearing stories today from people about their experiences. I've also been hearing from the local community about the issues and concerns that they have.

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VANIER: And Queen Elizabeth and Prince William visited the area as well, meeting with victims, first responders and community leaders. Police have examined the apartment where the fire started. They say there's no evidence it was started deliberately.

However, there is a criminal investigation underway into the circumstances of the blaze. And remember, at least 30 people were killed. That number still expected to climb much higher. Emergency workers say there's no way to know exactly how many people are still missing.

And demonstrators are calling for answers and justice. And the longer those answers take, the more tensions continue to rise. Oren Liebermann reports.

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OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Anger boils over as the city grieves. Residents, friends and family protesting over how they say their concerns were ignored, over how they say they are being treated after this tragedy. Near Grenfell Tower, the feeling is similar.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So this is classic. This is profit over people.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): Pictures of the missing, each one an unanswered question the lack of answers fueling the frustration.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The people at the top floor, elderly, have no chance, not 1 percent chance of surviving.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's to make you look pretty --

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- surrounding people and areas (INAUDIBLE) --

(CROSSTALK) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- and let's not focus on the human lives inside the building.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): The fire has become far bigger than one community. It's resonated around the city, echoes of grief and anger growing louder.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why wasn't enough done to prevent this?

You know, gentrification, you know, in terms of making this building look pretty so that all the other sort of new builds and those that invest in the capital can feel happier but at the cost of human life, it's unacceptable and someone needs to be held accountable.

LIEBERMANN: This is one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in London. We're just a short distance away from multimillion-dollar homes and porches, residents of the Grenfell Tower a short distance behind me, say they live in a different world, ignored, invisible, they say, to the officials who are supposed to represent them. They say that fire would never have happened right here.

JOE DELANEY, NEIGHBOR: I'd love to know how much of that $10 million actually went on making the outside look nice.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): Joe Delaney lives next to Grenfell Tower. He watched from the very beginning. In many ways, he speaks for the community.

DELANEY: I tell you what, it may have been an eyesore but it certainly wouldn't have killed anyone.

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LIEBERMANN (voice-over): There is a tremendous amount of gratitude here. But it's for the volunteers, who have packed supply vans with donations, and for the firefighters.

The government has ordered a public inquiry and a criminal investigation has been launched. Still, the anger evident and residents are shouting for accountability.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We want justice! We want justice!

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): Those cries growing louder with each passing hour -- Oren Liebermann, CNN, London.

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VANIER: And stay with CNN. We're back right after this.

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VANIER: Welcome back.

A list of names, including some Republican members of Congress, was found on the body of James Hodgkinson. He opened fire at a congressional baseball practice near Washington on Wednesday.

A law enforcement source says it's not clear that that was an assassination list and that none of the wounded were on that list. Congressman Steve Scalise was shot in that attack and does -- and remains in critical condition.

U.S. President Donald Trump has added another attorney to his legal team. Lawyer John Dowd is perhaps best known for investigating former Major League Baseball player Pete Rose.

Hiring Dowd is one more sign that the investigation into Russian election meddling is weighing heavily on the Trump administration, including on the president himself. Here's Jeff Zeleny with the latest.

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JEFF ZELENY, CNN SR. WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump saying publicly for the first time today that he is under investigation as the probe of Russia's influence in the 2016 election expands.

He also assailed the integrity of the Justice Department official overseeing the investigation.

"I am being investigated for firing the FBI director by the man who told me to fire the FBI director," the president said. "Witch hunt."

That man is deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, who made the decision to appoint a special counsel to investigate whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia. Only a month ago, Rosenstein, a veteran of the Justice Department, received the president's praise.

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DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's highly respected. Very good guy. Very smart guy. The Democrats like him. The Republicans like him. He made a recommendation but regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey.

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ZELENY (voice-over): But it's the firing of FBI director James Comey that investigators are now exploring to determine whether the president was trying to obstruct justice.

In the Oval Office today, the president huddling with his aides before traveling to Miami to announce new restrictions on travel and business with Cuba.

TRUMP: We will enforce the embargo.

But the president's agenda overshadowed by the Russia investigation, as he's lashing out on Twitter.

"After seven months of investigations and committee hearings about my collusion with the Russians, nobody has been able to show any proof. Sad."

A White House official told CNN the tweets were less spontaneous than a strategy by the president of taking matters into his own hands.

"This is a political fight and he's going to fight it," the official said.

But the Russia cloud threatening to engulf the president is far more than political. CNN has learned members of the Trump transition team received a memo, urging all volunteers and aides to preserve any records relating to Russia, Ukraine or investigations into top Trump campaign officials in the inquiry.

All this comes two years to the day after Mr. Trump jumped into the Republican primary.

As he returned to the White House tonight, now six months into his term, questions not even imagined back then weigh on his presidency.

ZELENY: President Trump also adding a new high-powered lawyer to his legal team. John Dowd, who led the Major League Baseball investigation into Pete Rose, also defended Senator John McCain in the Keating Five scandal so many years ago. He'll be joining the president's own legal team.

But so many of those lawyers have been advising the president not to tweet, not to talk about this investigation.

So why is he doing it?

A person close to him told me, he's simply trying to discredit the investigation -- Jeff Zeleny, CNN, the White House.

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VANIER: Larry Sabato joins us now. He is the director of the Center of Politics at the University of Virginia.

Larry, it looks like after some hesitation, Donald Trump has decided to do what he's been doing since the beginning and what works for him best, which is fight this thing.

Fight this cloud, the whole Russia investigation, every new piece of information that comes out, fight it hard and hope that he's going to come out on the other side vindicated.

LARRY SABATO, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: You're quite correct there. He believes in fighting anybody who opposes him and, after all, potentially, if this develops in the right way, it could be an arrow through the heart of his presidency.

So in a sense, he has to fight. He enjoys that. And it has a practical political impact.

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SABATO: It solidifies that big base of his. It's not a majority. But it's in the 40s someplace, low to mid-40s. And as long as he keeps his base, he's happy. He doesn't want to expand it. He's not going to expand it.

VANIER: And also apparently he settled once and for all the debate on how he should be doing this. He settled it; he is his best spokesperson so nobody else is going to do this for him.

SABATO: Well, can you imagine what a nightmare it must be to be his spokesperson?

You never know what he's thinking at any given time. So, yes, those early morning tweets of his set the day's agenda. And most of his key aides read the tweets, as the rest of us do, online. And then they know what they're going to be talking about the next 10 or 12 hours.

VANIER: But you know what, I hear that and the president's conduct generally described as reckless. I mean, you hear it a lot.

But then you go back and you look at Bill Clinton and his troubles and impeachment proceedings. And he managed to divorce that cloud and those questions hanging over his presidency from his actual agenda, from his politics.

He managed to maintain if not gain in popularity during that time. So maybe Donald Trump is just taking good advice.

SABATO: Possibly, but there's a big difference. Bill Clinton had Republicans in charge of both houses and they beat up on him constantly and they had the power to beat up on him.

Donald Trump has a Republican Congress in both houses. It's a very different dynamic there. And he's not listening to the people running Congress, his own Republicans. They are as unhappy about him privately as the Democrats are publicly.

VANIER: What about his underlying argument?

He's under investigation, reportedly for potential obstruction of justice. But all his tweets are essentially screaming out, yes, but they're obstructing. Meanwhile, they're obstructing my agenda, my politics.

What do you think of the argument?

SABATO: I wonder daily whether he's crazy like a fox or just crazy. I don't know which it is and I suppose it changes from day to day. Essentially, he's trying to make Democrats the target.

But again, they're in the minority in both houses. His party is in the majority, in the House and the Senate and yet they still can't get anything passed. Where's the responsibility?

VANIER: Tell me now about his latest tweet.

Donald Trump seems to feel that his deputy attorney general is part of the witch hunt. Let me just read that tweet again.

"I'm being investigated," tweeted the president, "for firing the FBI director by the man are who told me to fire the FBI director. Witch hunt."

So he apparently feels that Rod Rosenstein, the number two at the Department of Justice, is part of that witch hunt against him.

SABATO: Yes, and there's a little paranoia in there, although, as they always say, sometimes people are paranoid because people are out to get them.

But in Trump's case, I think, really, what he's doing is either preparing the way to fire the special counsel, Bob Mueller, and maybe Rosenstein as well or to make people think he might do it, which, in turn, keeps them on edge and makes them perhaps more hesitant to do the things they'd do otherwise.

Again, who knows. It's all in Donald Trump's mind and he doesn't tell people.

VANIER: Larry Sabato, thank you very much for coming on the show. Always a pleasure.

SABATO: Thank you, Cyril. Thank you so much.

VANIER: And American travelers may soon find it more difficult to visit Cuba. U.S. President Donald Trump is rolling back parts of the Obama administration's overture to the island nation. Details when we come back after the break.

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VANIER: The Trump administration is imposing new restrictions on Cuba. The U.S. president announced he was canceling the, quote, "completely one-sided" deal that his predecessor, Barack Obama, made with the island. Patrick Oppmann has details from Havana.

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PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: President Donald Trump delivered a tough message directed toward the Cuban government from a Miami theater full of anti-Castro Cuban exiles. Trump said that he was making good on a promise to undo the Obama

opening with Cuba. President Obama perhaps had enacted some of the most significant changes in Cuban-U.S. relations since the 1959 revolution.

President Trump said he was going to rip up that deal. A lot of what President Trump said was much tougher, though, than his actual policies, which will keep in place such Obama-era changes, like having full diplomatic relations with the island allowing U.S. flights and cruise service to return to Cuba and as well working with the Cubans on a number of issues like drug trafficking.

But what Trump said he will do is that he will make it much tougher for Americans to travel the island, much tougher for Americans to do business here and that's really targeting the Cuban military, which controls a lot of the tourism sector here.

All the same, though, Americans will continue to be able to travel here. They may face an audit. They may have to come in groups now, not be able to self-license and come on their own, as they have over the past two years.

But travel to Cuba will still be permitted under those restrictions. The changes, though, are worrying some Cubans, who rent out their homes and have opened up restaurants, trying to take advantage of the boom in American visitors coming to the island.

For the Cuban government's part, though, officials have told me that they have endured 60 years of these kinds of sanctions and they don't think what President Trump has announced in Miami will have much of an impact. I'm Patrick Oppmann in Havana.

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VANIER: That's it from us at least for now. Thanks for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Cyril Vanier. I will be back with the headlines in just a moment. Stay with CNN.