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Rescue Workers Scramble after Chinese Landslide; Hundreds Sent to Temporary Housing after U.K. Cladding Fire Tests; Obama Knew of Russian Meddling in August 2016; SpaceX Launches Recycled Rocket; Johnny Depp Apologizes. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired June 24, 2017 - 03:00   ET




ANNA COREN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Rescue and recovery efforts underway as China's president calls for an all-out effort to find more than 140 villagers who are feared to be buried in a landslide.

Also, tapes? What tapes?

U.S. President Donald Trump tells Congress he didn't make and doesn't have any recordings of his conversations with fired FBI director James Comey.

And it was a joke but it wasn't at all funny. Johnny Depp apologizes for comments which seem to consider Donald Trump's assassination. But he's not the first Hollywood celebrity to talk that way about Mr. Trump.

Hello, everyone, Thanks so much for your company. I'm Anna Coren. CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.


COREN: We begin this hour with breaking news out of China. A family of three has been rescued alive from the rubble of a landslide. State media report the couple and their baby girl are being treated at a nearby hospital; 141 people are still missing and 46 houses were buried.

The disaster happened in a very large in Southwestern China's Sichuan province. More than 500 rescuers have responded to the scene. Chinese President Xi Jinping has called on them to do all they can to reach people trapped in the rubble.

We're getting some startling images of what this area looked like before and after the landslide. You can see here buildings before the disaster and what the valley looks like now, covered in the rubble.

For more, let's go to our Matt Rivers in Shanghai.

Matt, those images are absolutely startling. There's obviously a massive operation underway to try and find any survivors. What are we hearing?

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Those images really show you the large and very difficult challenge that the rescue operation has in trying to find the people that are buried amidst that rubble.

We know this happened around 6:00 am in a remote village called Xinmo, which is in Sichuan province. It's a very mountainous area. We know that the landslide started on the higher part of the mountain and descended into the valley where this village was.

It has blocked roads in that area; it has impacted a river, forcing it to change course and obviously it buried all those homes, 46 ,homes with people inside. Remember what time of the day this was, 6:00 am, probably meaning that many of those people would still likely be inside of their homes, perhaps even sleeping, completely unaware of what was about to happen.

Rescuers arrived on scene shortly thereafter and emergency response was declared, the highest level response by the government there in Sichuan province. We know that there's over 500 rescuers; they have heavy equipment, bulldozers, backhoes, as you can see. But they face a very, very steep challenge ahead of them.

We do know that they have spotted signs of life, as they put it, and they did manage to withdraw or take out a family of three people, who were in the rubble, including a baby girl, so that's great news.

But they still have so many more people that are unaccounted for at this point We know it's been raining over the past couple of days there and rain is in the forecast over the next few days.

Given the scale of what happened here, Anna, I think it's safe to say that this will be an operation that will go on for several days and certainly won't be easy for the hundreds of people who are there, trying desperately to get to the people as fast as they can, the people who remain buried at this point.

COREN: Yes, sadly a rescue, soon to be a recovery operation. Matt Rivers, thank you for the update.

Let's bring in our meteorologist, Derek Van Dam, who joins us now on those conditions.



COREN: Officials are moving residents of 800 homes in North London tower blocks to temporary housing. Firefighters say they cannot guarantee the safety of the buildings after tests were conducted on the cladding.

Safety checks are ongoing on buildings across the U.K. after last week's deadly Grenfell Tower fire. A local London official says she's sorry residents have been disrupted. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What we found that while the insulation was safe, the external cladding was not up to the standards that we wanted. It was not fire retardant.

Obviously, this was very disappointing. We shared that news with our residents and, on Thursday night, we had a public meeting with local residents, where they shared a number of concerns about fire safety that I hadn't been aware of. So I immediately asked the council staff and the fire services to be in those blocks making checks. At the end of today, they told us that they could not guarantee our residents' safety in those blocks.

And so I've made the really, really difficult decision to move the people living there into temporary accommodation while we do the urgent work to guarantee safety. I know it's difficult but Grenfell changes everything and I just don't believe we can take any risks with our residents' safety (INAUDIBLE).


COREN: Meantime Whirlpool is urging owners of its Hotpoint fridge- freezers to check them. London's Metropolitan Police say the Grenfell inferno started in a Hotpoint fridge made between 2006 and 2009. Whirlpool has pledged to work with authorities as they investigate the fire that left at least 79 people dead or presumed dead.

Turning our attention now to the United States. U.S. President Donald Trump is blaming the Obama administration for not dealing with Russian interference in last year's U.S. presidential election.

"The Washington Post" reported Friday that the Obama White House learned of Moscow's meddling in August of 2016 several months before the election. CNN's Jessica Schneider has the latest.


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A new report reveals Russian president Vladimir Putin gave direct orders to defeat Hillary Clinton and help elect Donald Trump as president.

According to a bombshell report by "The Washington Post," the Obama administration knew Putin was directing cyber attacks during the 2016 campaign three months before the election.

Intelligence obtained from deep inside the Russian government was couriered by the CIA to the White House in August and it detailed Putin's direct involvement in the hacking meant to disrupt and discredit the presidential race.

TONY BLINKEN, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: When you go back, this was a moving picture. It's not like we had an immediate clear snapshot of what the Russians were up to. It evolved over time.

At first we thought they were simply trying to do what they always do, which was pull information, see if they could get something that they could use later down the road. Then it looked like they were trying to basically interfere in the election mostly by creating doubt about our institutions.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Former deputy national security adviser to President Obama Tony Blinken defended the administration's strategy to keep the information quiet.

BLINKEN: As we were deliberating this, we thought, the more we play this up in public, the more we play their game. We actually create even further doubt by making this into a big public matter.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): But a former senior Obama official felt differently, telling "The Post," "It is the hardest thing about my entire time in government to defend. I feel like we sort of choked."

President Obama reportedly issued a stern warning to Putin at the G20 summit in China in September. And "The Post" details Obama's authorization to plant cyber weapons, so-called "digital bombs," in Russia's infrastructure that could be used to retaliate. But Obama --


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): -- left office before the planning was complete.

Lawmakers are questioning why more wasn't done to stop the Russians or alert Americans.

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: I greatly admire President Obama. I wish that he and the administration would have acted differently here. But what's important now is we know what they did.


COREN: Jessica Schneider reporting there.

President Trump responded to "The Post" report on Twitter, asking why the Obama administration did nothing about the election meddling. To be clear, then President Obama did retaliate against Moscow; 35 Russian diplomats were expelled and two Russian properties in the U.S. were closed.

Mr. Trump ended his saga on possible tapes of his talks with former FBI director James Comey right where he started it, on Twitter. And the White House is letting that explanation stand as its official statement to congressional investigators who had asked for any recordings if they existed. Our Sara Murray has more from the White House.


SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump may have come clean about the existence of tapes from his conversations with former FBI Director James Comey.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So you never know what's out there, but I didn't tape. And I don't have any tape.

MURRAY (voice-over): But he's showing no sign of regret over his original message.

TRUMP: My story didn't change. My story was always a straight story. My story was always the truth. But you'll have to determine for yourself whether or not his story changed. But, I did not tape.

AINSLEY EARHARDT, FOX AND FRIENDS FIRST CO-HOST: That was a smart way to make sure he stayed honest in those hearings.

TRUMP: Well, it wasn't very stupid, I can tell you that

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth.

MURRAY (voice-over): Comey testified earlier this month. The President's tweet prompted him to share memos detailing their conversation, in hopes of spurring a special counsel investigation.

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I needed to get that out into the public square.

MURRAY (voice-over): The Justice Department named former FBI Director Robert Mueller special counsel for the Russia probe last month, a move that came after the President's dismissal of Comey. Now the President is raising questions about Mueller's tie to Comey.

TRUMP: Well, he's very, very good friends with Comey, which is very bothersome. But he's also -- we're going to have to see. I mean, we're going to have to see in terms. Look, there has been no obstruction. There has been no collusion. There has been leaking by Comey.

MURRAY (voice-over): The President also accused Mueller of hiring partisan to staff the investigation.

[17:05:03] TRUMP: I can say that the people that have been hired are all Hillary Clinton supporters.

MURRAY (voice-over): Despite those concerns, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that today's briefing, where cameras were again band, that the President has no plans to remove Mueller from his post.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Nothing has changed on that in terms of his position on it. While he retains the authority and he want to serves at him I believe. Steve and I had a healthy exchange with -- but that he has no intention of doing that.

MURRAY (voice-over): And after earlier this week saying he didn't know if the President believes Russia interfered in the election. Spicer today said Trump quote, think it was Russia.

SPICER: He's concerned about any country or any actor that wants to interfere in elections. I confirm that he stands by that. MURRAY (voice-over): And the Russia cloud hangs over his presidency, Trump is trying to turn the focus (ph) to his agenda. Today, signing of bipartisan reform to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

TRUMP: We've done a lot. This is a big one. We have a lot of good ones coming.

MURRAY (voice-over): The President is also praising the GOP push to appeal and replace ObamaCare underway in the Senate, talking up prospects for the draft proposal just like early opposition from at least five Republican senators.

TRUMP: It's a very complicated situation from the standpoint. You do something that's good for one group but bad for another. It's a very, very narrow path. But I think we're going to get there.

MURRAY (voice-over): Sara Murray, CNN, the White House.


COREN: Earlier, I spoke to political analyst Larry Sabato about how Trump's latest moves are affecting the investigation into his campaign as well as his reputation.



COREN: Well, Larry, thank you so much for joining us. The president has come out and said there are, in fact, no tapes of his conversation with James Comey.

Why string the country along for so long?

LARRY SABATO, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: It's pretty clear that Trump was trying to put Comey back on his heels. He was trying to unsettle Comey before his testimony.

What he actually did was set up a chain of events that resulted in a special counsel investigating him, Trump. So this backfired in a major way on President Trump.

COREN: Well, it seems that the House Intelligence Committee investigating the Russia probe has said that Trump's tweet of no tapes is not sufficient. They want it in writing.

Could there, in fact, be tapes?

SABATO: I think it's highly unlikely. I don't think there ever were any tapes. This was simply, again, his way of needling Comey.


SABATO: Now it is true that, when Trump was a businessman, before he started running for president, he did occasionally tape visitors to his office. So he can do it. He knows how to do it. And of course, it's easy for anybody to do it with iPhones and other

similar devices. But I really don't think there ever was a tape. This was simply his way of keeping everybody uncertain and helping himself along the way.

COREN: So how has this affected the investigation?

SABATO: It's raised questions, again, about Trump and his tweets. It's obvious that he wasn't telling the truth and suggesting that there were tapes, just as he wasn't telling the truth when he insinuated early in his presidency that President Obama had taped him or others in Trump Tower.

All of these things have proven to be false, many other things besides.

So this is all creating an image of Trump, essentially, that his word cannot be trusted.

COREN: And why would he want this?

SABATO: I don't think he's very strategic. I think he's tactical. He gets up every morning. He's angry about something and he tweets about it.

And, finally, some of his staffers are adjusting to this and they've arranged now for telephone calls to Trump very early in the morning, from his lawyers, trying to shape what he's going to tweet rather than let him simply tweet out of the blue and possibly get himself in more trouble.

COREN: But it would seem, Larry, that, despite this advice, despite the advice of counsel and of his lawyers, that he doesn't seem to be taking anyone's advice. He still does whatever he wants.

SABATO: He doesn't take his staff's advice. He doesn't even take his family's advice because he believes he became president, they didn't. No one else did. Everyone else said he couldn't do it. He did it. And so he's going to do his presidency his way.

But in the end, it's going to hurt him. These things come back to haunt anyone in high office. And Trump is more careless than any president I can recall.

COREN: Well, Larry, we certainly appreciate your insights. Many thanks.

SABATO: Thank you so much, Anna.


COREN: Coming up, scenes of horror in Pakistan.


COREN (voice-over): Who may be behind a wave of deadly blasts near the end of Ramadan?

That's ahead.

And when Hollywood and Washington collide, Johnny Depp becomes the latest celebrity to stir controversy with a bad joke about Donald Trump. But it's no laughing matter for the White House.





UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Five, four, three, two, one.

COREN (voice-over): The privately owned company SpaceX has successfully launched and landed a recycled booster rocket --


COREN: -- for a second time. It took Bulgaria's first communications satellite into orbit on Friday. SpaceX plans a weekend double-header; another launch is set for Sunday.

Bombings in Pakistan have killed almost 40 people. Police say two bombs struck a market in the northwest of the country, killing 27 people. Another bomb attack in Quetta killed 11 people near a police station. Andrew Carey has more.


ANDREW CAREY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Smoke billowing from a local market in the town of Parachinar near Pakistan's border with Afghanistan. Two blasts have just gone off within minutes of each other.

It happened around 6:00 in the evening, as people are shopping for food to break their daily fast during this holy month of Ramadan. According to local officials, dozens of people were killed, more than 100 others injured, many critically. Authorities expect the death toll to rise.

Rescuers searched through the rubble for survivors, some of whom were rushed to local hospitals. Hundreds of kilometers away in Quetta, authorities say a suicide bomber blew up his explosive-rigged car near the office of the chief of police.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): As soon as I got out to check the number of persons on duty, I saw a car pull up from the square in front of us. As our men tried to stop it, the car exploded.

CAREY (voice-over): The mangled remains of the car scattered along the road show how powerful the blast was. Several police officers are among the dead. A local affiliate of ISIS, as well as a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the attacks, calling them cowardly and saying they are a sign of growing frustration of terrorists and extremists, who have even targeted innocent civilians during the holy month of Ramadan -- Andrew Carey, CNN.


COREN: Saudi Arabia says it foiled an attack near Islam's holiest site. A suspect reportedly planned an attack at Mecca's Grand Mosque and blew himself up in a nearby home instead.

He was surrounded by security forces and exchanged fire with them before the blast. Several people were injured and at least five people have been arrested. They are suspected of helping plot the failed attack. The Grand Mosque in Mecca is the biggest mosque in the world; it also surrounds Islam's holiest site, the Kaaba.

Qatar is accusing its neighbors of trying to limit its sovereignty after the latest development in the region's diplomatic crisis. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain have given Doha a list of demands, saying they must be fulfilled if Qatar wants recently imposed sanctions to be lifted.

The demands include closing the Al Jazeera news network, stopping the development of a Turkish military base, reducing ties to Iran and cutting ties to terror groups. Fred Pleitgen has more.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It would be very difficult for the Qataris to comply with this list at face value.

The big question is, was this list something that was put forward to try and start negotiations with the Qataris?

Because one of the things we've been seeing in that sphere in the Gulf region, is that some other Gulf companies are now coming out, saying that the Qataris were the ones that leaked this list in the first place because this is not something that came out officially but that was leaked to the public.

And they say that this was something that was done to undermine any sort of negotiations. So this might have been the basis for negotiations. It's certainly something that would be very difficult to comply with in a mere 10 days.


COREN: Fred Pleitgen there.

Qatar denies it's promoting terrorism and says it's studying the demands.

Actor Johnny Depp is apologizing for remarks he made about a presidential assassination. But he's hardly the first person in Hollywood to make political comments that have ignited a firestorm of controversy. Well, here's Stephanie Elam.


STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Actor Johnny Depp knew what he was about to say to a crowd in the UK would get a rise out of people.

JOHNNY DEPP, ACTOR: When was the last time an actor assassinated the president?

I want to clarify. I'm not an actor. I lie for a living.

ELAM: For the record, the answer to his question is April 1865, when actor John Wilkes Booth killed the president, Abraham Lincoln. Critics have condemn Depp for what he said but he is far from the only celebrity to engage in these kinds of comments. Yes, Hollywood has long the tended to lean Left, but this kind of extremist talk is new.

In January, Madonna said this at the Women's March in Washington.

MADONNA, SINGER: Yes! I have thought an awful lot about blowing up the White House. But I know that --


MADONNA: -- this won't change anything.

ELAM: In Snoop Dogg's video for "Lavender," he shoots a clown version of the president with a gun.

And graphic images of Kathy Griffin, holding a mock bloodied head of President Trump, made her a target of a Secret Service investigation, according to her lawyers. It also cost her a job. CNN called the photos "disgusting and offensive" and fired her as its New Year's Eve cohost.

At issue is free speech versus security. Threatening the life of the U.S. president is a federal crime that can result in a fine or up to five years in prison or both. A lot of Hollywood stars are very public about their liberal politics, but these incidents cross a line.

JOE BEL BRUNO, MANAGING EDITOR, VARIETY: Really, there hasn't been anybody saying enough is enough. And I think that needs to come from Hollywood, from the left wing, from somebody who can say, hey, you know what, I voted for Hillary Clinton, but let's not incite violence against the president of the United States.

I might not support him, but, you know, there is a fine line that we -- you know, that we can't cross over.

ELAM: As for Depp, the White House released this statement, quote, "President Trump has condemned violence in all forms and it's sad that others like Johnny Depp have not followed his lead. I hope that some of Mr. Depp's colleagues would speak out about this type of rhetoric as strongly as they would if it were directed to a Democrat-elected official."

Now an update to the story, Johnny Depp did release a statement to "People" magazine saying, quote, "I apologize for the bad joke I attempted last night in poor taste about President Trump. It did not come out as intended and I intended no malice. I was only trying to amuse, not to harm anyone."

It is worth pointing out that it is probably not very likely that Depp will be arrested for this. But perhaps it is food for thought for anyone in thinking about speaking in public about harming the president of the United States -- Stephanie Elam, CNN, Hollywood.


COREN: Stephen Colbert, host of "The Late Show" on American TV, is famous for his parodies of Donald Trump. Now the comedian has taken his talents to another talk show in Russia. He joked about alleged Russian collaboration with the Trump campaign and after a few vodka shots, Colbert said he had his eye on the Oval Office.


STEPHEN COLBERT, COMEDIAN: I am here to announce I'm considering a run for president in 2020.


COLBERT: And I thought it would just be better to cut out the middleman and just tell the Russians myself.


COLBERT: If anyone would like to work on my campaign in an unofficial capacity, please just let me know.


COREN: CBS says Colbert is in Russia, taping material for a future broadcast of his show.

Thanks for your company. I'm Anna Coren and we'll be back with the headlines in a moment.