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U.S. Warship Collides with Merchant Ship Near Japan; London Fire; Baseball Shooter Had List Including Republicans; Russia Investigation; Trump Unveils New Restrictions on Cuba. Aired 2-2:30a ET

Aired June 17, 2017 - 02:00   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): Collision off the coast of Japan. An American destroyer is badly damaged and seven crew members are currently missing.

Also, this --

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VANIER (voice-over): Grief turns to anger. Protesters in London demand answers after the Grenfell Tower fire that killed at least 30 people.

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VANIER (voice-over): Plus, a rethink on Cuba. Donald Trump reverses parts of Barack Obama's Cuba policy. It will become harder for Americans to travel to the island.

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

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VANIER: We want to start the show with this news near Japan, where it's about 3:00 pm local time. It was just over 12 hours ago that a U.S. warship collided with a merchant ship, right about here, 56 nautical miles south of Yokosuka, Tokyo. It puts us at about this region here, where the collision took place.

The damage on the U.S. Navy ship, the U.S.S. Fitzgerald, is very significant. The ship has around 333 crew members. Seven of them are now missing. In fact we're going to show you one of the medical evacuations, there were three of those, three people having to be flown out, including the ship's commanding officer.

All the people who were evacuated are now said to be in stable condition. We don't know what happened to the missing at this stage. It's possible they were thrown off the ship. The U.S. Navy and the Japanese Coast Guard sent assets to look for

them. Here you're seeing water pumped from the ship that was damaged both above and below the water line. That makes it dangerous for the vessel.

We also want to show you the cargo chip in the collision. It also appears to have been damaged and it has been identified as the Philippine merchant ship AFX Crystal.

For more on all of this I'm joined by -- from Tokyo by journalist Kaori Enjoji.

Kaori, what do we know about the search and rescue effort at the moment?

KAORI ENJOJI, JOURNALIST: Well, Cyril, we don't have a whole lot new on the search operation for the seven missing in this major collision that took place off the waters of Japan about 12 hours ago.

What we do know from the U.S. Navy is that the ship itself, the U.S.S. Fitzgerald, the flooding has been stabilized, according to the U.S. Navy. You're looking at pictures earlier of the damage the ship incurred during this collision.

A lot of the damage that we are able to see is above water. But the U.S. Navy says that the major damage is below the surface of the water. So not really visible to us from this vantage point.

But he said that that has been contained and the ship is now moving back towards Yokosuka, which is where the U.S. 7th Fleet is stationed. And this is the major naval port here in Japan.

However, we don't have any new reports on the whereabouts of the seven who are missing. These are crew members on board the warship and there were about 300 others on board the ship as well.

We do know that this accident occurred about 2:30 am local time, so in the middle of the night, with a container ship that belonged to the Philippines but is now being chartered by a Japanese shipping company.

What we do know -- and if you look at the map, it's fairly clear to see that where the incident occurred is a very heavily congested area in terms of traffic. And the U.S. kolsoi (ph) agency has said there have been a number of incidents in the past in this area -- Cyril.

VANIER: Earlier we had a naval official tell CNN that the ship was essentially dead in the water but we also understand it's still operating under its own power.

Is it able to get itself back to Yokosuka at present?

ENJOJI: No, we have heard and we have confirmed from various sources that it had to be tugged along, both by U.S. tugboats and also Japanese tugboats from the coastal guard.

So even if the mechanism were in place to move the vessel, it needed the assistance of the tugboats to be taken back to Yokosuka, which it originated from.

We know that it left Yokosuka port on Friday and they were conducting what they call routine operations. We don't exactly know the circumstances under which this collision occurred.

But as I was mentioning earlier, this is a heavily trafficked area. There are a number of islands off the Izu Peninsula, which is that area that juts out into the Pacific Ocean, not just the maritime ships and the naval ships but there's a lot of commercial traffic as well, such as this vessel that was involved in this collision.

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ENJOJI: This ship was apparently moving from the western side of Japan, from the Nagoya area back to Tokyo. As you may know, the ports of Tokyo and Yokohama are the two busiest ports in Japan.

VANIER: All right, Kaori Enjoji, thank you very much. We'll be crossing back to you in Tokyo over the coming hours. Thanks a lot.

And earlier I spoke to Dave Larter, staff writer at the "Navy Times." I asked him how a collision like this could possibly happen.

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DAVE LARTER, "NAVY TIMES": 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: 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 berth. And so I am very concerned about that.

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VANIER: Dave Larter there, a staff writer at the "Navy Times."

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VANIER: 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. You can see protesters in Central London converging 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 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: Queen Elizabeth and Prince William visited the area as well, meeting with victims, first responders and community leaders. And police have examined the apartment where the fire started and they say there's no evidence it was started deliberately.

However, there is a criminal investigation underway into the circumstances of the blaze; remember at least 30 people were killed. Many are still missing. We don't know exactly how many.

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) --

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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.

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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: The company that manages Grenfell Tower has also come under heavy criticism since the fire broke out. CEO Robert Black is rejecting accusations that corners were cut during the recent refurbishment of the tower. He says his company didn't ignore residents' safety concerns. He spoke earlier to CNN's Richard Quest.

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ROBERT BLACK, CEO, KCTMO: Procured the contractor so the team will -- was given the money by council in Chelsea and then we procured it through an or due (ph) process and then that was checked on criteria, which usually is quality and a value for money. That's sort of basic similarly across the sector.

RICHARD QUEST, CNNMONEY EDITOR AT LARGE: And the idea of not installing a sprinkler system -- I understand it's pretty difficult in a 1970s building, if not impossible to suddenly put a second staircase in.

But not installing a sprinkler system, which experts say would have doused the fire?

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BLACK: And that's first of all, why I said is this is part of the thing that's come out is a bigger picture.

There is --

QUEST: But did you consider a sprinkler system?

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BLACK: The vast majority of the buildings in London high-rise do not have sprinkler systems. And that is because a number of reasons. And in terms of did we look at the beginning, I can't remember because it started in -- I think 2013-2014.

So one of the things as we go through these investigations and questions, we'll be able to say, did we look. But the reality is actually that the mass majority of the local authority's housing station (ph) don't have sprinkler systems.

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VANIER: And Black went onto say that his company complies with the law and building codes and is regulated through audits.

OK, we're going to take a short break. Stay with us. We're back after this.

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VANIER: 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 --

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VANIER: -- on Wednesday. However, a law enforcement source says it's not clear that that was an actual assassination list and that none of the wounded were on the list. Congressman Steve Scalise was shot in that attack and he remains in critical condition.

U.S. President Donald Trump is hiring more lawyers to handle the ongoing federal probe into Russian election interference. It's one more sign that the investigation is weighing heavily on the Trump White House, 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. 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 --

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VANIER: -- 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.

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VANIER: 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 nations. Details after the break.

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VANIER: Protesters have flooded the streets of St. Paul in Minnesota after the police officer who fatally shot Philando Castile was found not guilty. Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted of second degree manslaughter and other charges after shooting Castile during a traffic stop last year.

Yanez that he says he fired because Castile reached for his gun, despite being told not to do so. Castile's girlfriend says he was just reaching for his identification.

The case gained widespread attention and led to nationwide protests, partly because Castile's girlfriend broadcast the shooting's aftermath on Facebook Live.

Now Cuba is denouncing U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to impose tighter restrictions on tourism and business dealings with Havana.

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VANIER: It calls the move a setback to U.S.-Cuba relations but also insists it's open to dialogue. Patrick Oppmann is in 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: Former U.S. basketball star Dennis Rodman is now in China, following his five-day trip to North Korea. He arrived at Beijing's airport a short time ago and he was surrounded by reporters. He is not disclosing details about what he did while he was in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital.

But he has told CNN that he will offer more information next week. This is Rodman's fifth trip to North Korea. He's told CNN that he wants to bring sports to that country and "open the door." That's the quote. All right. Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Cyril Vanier. I'll be back with the headlines in just a moment.

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