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GOP Scrambles to Muster Support for Bill in Senate; Trump Blames Obama For Not Dealing With Russia Hacking; Raging Wildfires Spread Across Southwest; Bill Cosby's Mistrial; Early Findings In USS Fitzgerald's Deadly Collision; The Executive Branch Shifting More Power To Pentagon; California Hate Crimes; 135 People Killed In Oil Tanker Explosion; 10 Dead And 93 Missing After Massive China Landslide Aired 6-7a

Aired June 25, 2017 - 06:00   ET


[06:00:13] ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY WEEKEND with Victor Blackwell and Christi Paul.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, and we begin with breaking news. A developing situation in northern England in the city of New Castle. A car has plowed into a group of pedestrian outside the Westgate Sports Center. We know that there are emergency vehicles there on the scene.

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Five casualties have been confirmed and we do not know if they are facilitates, we do not know the nature of the injury. But police have arrested a 42-year-old woman. Now at this time they do not believe this to be a terror attack. Details however are still scarce so this is a very fluid situation so we're going to keep our eyes with this as we get more information certainly we will pass that along to you.

BLACKWELL: Now in addition two big stories this hour. First the clock ticking on the health care bill in the Senate. The GOP hoping to vote on this plan on Thursday. This is self-instructed deadline here. There's a lot of backroom wheeling and dealing going on.

PAUL: Yes. In fact, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell trying to cobble together enough yes votes obviously. So far there several GOP holdouts, though, and combined with all of the no Democratic votes right now, the prognosis for the bill does not look promising.

Meanwhile, President Trump is slamming the Obama administration when it comes to the Russia hacking allegations accusing them of not taking action to stop it and to help Hillary Clinton's presidential bid.

Now CNN's Athena Jones is following that aspect for us this morning.

Good morning, Athena.

ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christi and Victor. The president has been responding to that "Washington Post" report for the last couple of days now. It started Friday night when he sent out a tweet that seemed to acknowledge that he accepted the conclusion that U.S. intelligence agencies reached months ago that Russia meddled in the election. This after months of calling the Russian meddling story a hoax and a phony.

Now certainly it's possible that the president was just responding to the "Washington Post" report and not making a definitive statement about his own beliefs about the election, but it was noteworthy. He continued his responses to that story on Saturday with a couple of more tweets. I'll read them to you, even put them up on the screen. He said, "Since the Obama administration was told way before the 2016 election that the Russians were meddling, why no action? Focus on them. Not T." Trump.

Another tweet, "The Obama administration officials said they choked when it came to acting on Russian meddling of election. They didn't want to hurt Hillary?" That second tweet a direct reference to a quote included in that "Washington Post" article. So it's clear the president very much focused on this story and wanting to shift the blame to his predecessor and away from himself.

I should mention that he followed up those two tweets by talking about the health care bill pending before the Senate, putting pressure on Republicans to vote for the bill since it is, of course, Republicans who are standing in the way, but it's still very, very clear that the whole issue of Russian meddling remains top of mind for the president. We will have to see what he tweets today -- Christi and Victor.

PAUL: All right. Athena, thank you so much.

And we should point out Congressman Adam Schiff responded to President Trump's tweets. He -- Mr. Schiff tweeted then, "No, Mr. President, President Obama didn't want to be perceived as helping Clinton. That was his mistake. Everything since has been yours."

BLACKWELL: Let's bring in Sarah Westwood, White House correspondent for the "Washington Examiner" and Julian Zelizer, CNN political analyst and historian and professor at Princeton University.

Good morning to both of you.


BLACKWELL: So we're getting now the first sound bite out of this FOX News interview that's going to air this morning in which the president discusses this last-minute effort to get the Senate health care bill passed. Let's watch a portion of it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Came out on Facebook recently you may have seen it. He said your bill which wasn't -- not a health care bill, it's a massive transfer of wealth. It's going to harm Americans, it's mean. What do you say to the former president --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Actually that was my term, mean. That was my term because I want to see -- I want to see -- and I speak from the heart. That's what I want to see. I want to see a bill with heart. Health care is a very complicated subject from the standpoint that you

move it this way and this group doesn't like it. You move it a little bit over here. You have a very narrow path. You're talking about a very, very small, little path. It's a winding path. And honestly, nobody can be totally happy. Even without the votes. Forget about votes. This has nothing to do with votes. This has to do with picking a plan that everybody is going to like. I'd like to say love, but like.


[06:05:02] BLACKWELL: Sarah, the president at the top of that sound bite referencing the word he used, mean, in describing the House bill. But as we look to the Senate, how much sway, how much weight does the president have in trying to get this over the finish line considering that this was the Senate bill that the working group put together and the president signed on late in the process?

SARAH WESTWOOD, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: It's the same basic sort of dilemma that the president faced when the legislation was working its way through the House. At that point the House leadership sort of unveiled revealed the American Health Care Act and then the White House Legislative Affairs team and the president himself got involved in whipping individual House members. And it's the same basic problem that Republicans in the Senate are facing which is that there is such a diverse group of Republican lawmakers who oppose the bill in its current form that it's difficult to find the middle ground where that bill could find broad support.

On the one hand you have centrist members like Senator Dean Heller who opposed the bill based on the fact that it cuts Medicaid too deeply. And on the other hand you have very conservative lawmakers like Senator Ted Cruz who oppose the bill because the cuts don't go far enough. So President Trump is actually right in that the path for that bill to find sufficient support is very narrow and it's hard to see how you reconcile those two kinds of objections.

BLACKWELL: You know, Senator Rand Paul comparing it to what he calls Obamacare-lite.

Julian, to you, the president said there that this has nothing to do with votes. This has everything to do with picking a plan that everybody is going to like. So this is a fight to get votes. But everybody here, one would assume, the American people. What this president is not doing is what we saw President Obama do in the push for the Affordable Care Act, town halls, one-on-one interviews about the specifics of the deal.

As we go into the final stretch, what role does that lack of specificity play in the president's sales pitch?

ZELIZER: Well, it's very debilitating to the legislation. Part of the problem here is this is not a popular program so the president might be correct but he has a problem on his hands. He doesn't have the votes and right now there's not a piece of legislation that Republicans can sell to their voters and the president isn't doing a lot of the work that you're talking about, trying to use the bully pulpit to sell this plan. And so that leaves Senate Republicans not having a lot of trust that they can count on the president to change public opinion and that's why you see the fracturing of the Senate vote right now, leaving McConnell in a very tough place.

BLACKWELL: So, Sarah, we heard from Americans for Prosperity. This is the PAC that's run in part by the Koch brothers. They plan to spend $300 billion to $400 billion -- million dollars, I should say, in the 2018 election. But we know that in the run-up to the House bill that eventually didn't get a vote and then came back amended, they promised to set aside a fund to support GOP congressmen who voted no on that health care bill. They do not like the one in the Senate.

How much does this outside money influence what's happening in the Senate? Because the Koch brothers said they wanted a no vote on the House bill, that eventually passed.

WESTWOOD: There are conservative Republicans who are concerned that groups on the right are going to hammer them if they do support this legislation. So that's part of the equation that particularly the conservative members are taking into account when they are objecting to this bill on the basis that it doesn't do enough to dismantle Obamacare. I mean, certainly they are going to find pressure from the White House to accept a compromise that maybe doesn't do as much to repeal Obamacare as they were hoping to initially.

The president sort of hit on it in that interview which is that no one is going to love this bill. That was sort of the sentiment that we saw in the House. There were very few Republican who are actually excited about the bill. They sort of acquiesced to the fact that politically they had to pass something and that's the kind of reality that they are going to hope will shepherd the bill through the Senate.

BLACKWELL: Quickly, Julian. There is a school of thought, a couple of op-eds out this weekend that McConnell really doesn't want this to pass, that he wants to get this done and move on to tax reform. What is your view of that?

ZELIZER: Well, I don't think that's impossible. In fact, I think there's many Republicans who might be hoping that this issue goes away for now, that it's defeated, they could blame Democrats for being obstructionists, quote-unquote, and they can move on to taxes.

Look, I do think Republicans want to deliver on this promise but I don't think they have a bill right now that's going to work and I think they have a bill that if it actually passed might cause more problems for them politically than it would bring benefits. So I don't think it's a wild speculation to suspect that Senator McConnell might be OK if at the end of the week he accepts defeat and moves on to some winning issues.

BLACKWELL: All right. Julian Zelizer, Sarah Westwood, thank you so much.

ZELIZER: Thank you.

WESTWOOD: Thank you.

PAUL: Do you know that there are more than 800 firefighters still battling a series of wildfires that are blazing across the southwest?

[06:10:02] We are talking about 18 large fires burning across half a dozen states. They are threatening homes, businesses, and part of it is a result of a record-breaking heat wave. The state of Arizona, in fact, has declared a state of emergency, then you've got Utah. Nine communities evacuated there.

We are following the devastation and the angst that this heat wave has already caused. Take a look.


PAUL (voice-over): Two massive wildfires in southern Arizona and Utah are threatening homes, properties, and lives. The so-called Brian Head Fire in Utah has already expanded to more than 40,000 acres and it's only 8 percent contained. Nearly a thousand firefighters are trying to save communities and while some spots have cooled off enough for residents to return for a short time --

SHERIFF DANNY PERKINS, GARFIELD COUNTY: We will all go in and get what they need for about 15 minutes, and we're all going to come out together.

PAUL: Others gathered at this community center.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is where the fire started was there.


PAUL: Are still waiting to go behind fire lines.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We got out there last night about 1:00 and we could see the flames up over the top.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sleepless nights. We have 20 years of memory on that mountain.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So no go to go up there, they said. So we can't get in.

PAUL: Residents are relying on burned maps to see if their property is damaged. Officials are urging people who can't get back to please be patient.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's heart-wrenching. I get it. You know? There is cabins up there that are generations old. With the cabins we've lost and that is heart-wrenching. It could have been much worse.

PAUL: In the meantime, Arizona's governor has declared a state of emergency as crews battle the Fry Fire northeast of Tucson. That fire was sparked by a lightning strike. It's burned more than 35,000 acres and is 29 percent contained.

Despite the frustration for so many in both states, one woman just wants to get on with the cleanup.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just hope I can go back to rotten food in the freezer and the refrigerator stinks.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know? Yes. It would be nice if those things are still there to have to deal with.


PAUL: You hope that's the last of the worries when you hear that woman say 20 years of memories on that mountain. Wow.

We're going to continue, obviously, to follow what is happening out west and we will bring you the latest when we get it.

BLACKWELL: For a message to President Trump from more than 200 mayors across the country. Act responsibly. Why they say they are frustrated.

PAUL: Plus, disturbing images of a burned Quran filled with bacon found near an Islamic center in California. Details of a possible hate crime.

BLACKWELL: And later this hour, Bill Cosby drawing criticism for planning town halls on sexual assault and the law. Is it a good idea? Well, his publicist will be here to share their thinking behind the potential tour.


[06:17:02] BLACKWELL: President Trump now criticizing the Obama administration's response to Russian meddling in the run-up to the 2016 election. Valid question. But another valid question, what is the current White House doing to prevent Russia from inferring in future elections?

Let's bring in now Scott Olson, former FBI agent and Russian counterintelligence expert.

Scott, good morning to you.

SCOTT OLSON, FORMER FBI AGENT: Good morning, Victor.

BLACKWELL: Let me put up on the screen a tweet from President Trump in which he wrote yesterday. "Since the Obama administration was told way before the 2016 election that the Russians were meddling, why no action? Focus on them. Not T." The president referring to himself as T there. He could have said me.

Let's talk about first the Obama administration, what the president is pointing out here. The "Washington Post" criticized what they -- characterized what they found about the Obama administration's response as deliberate and cautious, hoping not to make things worse. You say that was the wrong approach. OLSON: Yes. That's a huge concern that the Obama administration was

taking this deliberate and cautious approach with the goal to not to make things worse. That failed with Russians. Russians don't respond to threats and they don't respond to half measures. They respond to affirmative action.

I think a good model here that we have to go back in time to see is President Kennedy during the Cuban missile crisis. To deal with the Russians you need to be deliberate, courageous, and predictable. The stop or else message just confirms to a guy like Putin that his plan is working.

BLACKWELL: Yes. Scott --


OLSON: And that's not what we need.

BLACKWELL: What allowance do you make for what we're hearing from some Obama administration officials since the "Washington Post" reporting the "if we knew then what we know now" justification that they say that their 2016 decisions are being judged in a 2017 framework with a 2017 context?

OLSON: Yes. And there's a certain amount of legitimacy there in the FBI. There is always extreme deference given to the agent on the street in the situation. But I think what we also have to have in the mix here is, you know, being president of the United States is not easy. It's hard. And if you don't have the courage of convictions, if you're playing to not make things worse, that means you're going into the championship game playing not to lose.

What we need is a president who has the courage of conviction to do what is necessary and then explain it afterwards. And so I think getting involved in the politics of the situation was a mistake.


OLSON: And I think everybody gets it.


OLSON: You have to be cognizant of politics but dealing with Russians, you need to focus on the outcome first.

BLACKWELL: All right. Scott, I want you to listen to counsel to the president, Kellyanne Conway, and what she told CNN's Alisyn Camerota. Watch this.


[06:20:05] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: My question for you is, what is the White House -- what is President Trump now doing to prevent Russia from doing this again?

KELLYANNE CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE COUNSELOR: This report is new and we'll discuss it with him later. But he has been very clear on the record that he believes in any type of numbers of measures to make sure that democracy flourishes and that voter integrity is intact.

CAMEROTA: Such as?

CONWAY: In fact he has an entire commission on that.

CAMEROTA: I mean, against Russia, what is he doing specifically to try to stop this?

CONWAY: Look. Alisyn, I realize that we just like to say the word Russia, Russia to mislead the voters, and I know that CNN is aiding and abetting this nonsense as well.

CAMEROTA: Kellyanne --

CONWAY: But you've asked me the question three times now and I've answered it.

CAMEROTA: And you're not answering it, Kellyanne.

CONWAY: Yes, I am. He's the president of the United States.

CAMEROTA: And what's he doing?

CONWAY: He has --

CAMEROTA: Kellyanne, I don't understand what you're doing in terms of trying to talk about collusion --

CONWAY: I've answered the question four times.

CAMEROTA: You haven't told us what action is the White House doing to stop Russian interference in election?


BLACKWELL: So what the consequence of what you just watched, the lack of a stern condemnation and warning to Russia?

OLSON. The conversation that we just saw is a political conversation. The focus there is on how it looks. What we need is President Trump to focus on the outcome and the consequence and that does take courage, not recklessness. It takes courage. And I think what President Trump is going to struggle with is being predictable. He is very good at being unpredictable and keeping people off balance, but as long as Trump remains unpredictable, Putin, in my view, is going to continue trying things.

As soon as Putin understands that his behavior is going to get a solid predictable response from this administration, he's not going to stop.

BLACKWELL: Well, President Trump has said that that is one of his greater qualities, the flexibility and unpredictable you say in this arena, it isn't so much.

Scott Olson, good to have you this morning.

OLSON. Thank for having me, Victor.

BLACKWELL: All right.

Well, some groups are calling it outrageous. Comedian Bill Cosby's plans to hold town halls about sex assaults and the law. Two of his publicists will join us with the insight behind that plan.

PAUL: Also new video coming into NEW DAY this morning. A devastating oil truck explosion in Pakistan. More than 130 people have died. We'll tell you what we're learning this morning. Stay close.


[06:26:36] BLACKWELL: Well, it could be a pivotal week for health care. The Republican bill sitting in the Senate with the GOP hoping to vote on the plan on Thursday.

BLACKWELL: Now this could be a turning point in the Trump administration as the president looks for a win. President Trump spoke to FOX News about moving his agenda forward. Watch.


TRUMP: As an example the health care bill that you are reporting on and everybody is reporting on. It would be so great if the Democrats and Republicans could get together, wrap their arms around it, and come up with something that everybody is happy with.

It's so easy. But we won't get one Democrat vote. Not one. And if it were the greatest bill ever proposed in mankind, we wouldn't get a vote. And that is a terrible thing. So there is -- well, look. Their theme is resist. I've never heard of anything like this. Resist.


PAUL: As of right now, the Senate's health plan is in jeopardy. Senate Majority Leader McConnell trying to cobble together enough yes votes but Democrats and five Republican senators say they are not going to vote for it.

BLACKWELL: Now of course this comes as the president blasts his predecessor over the handling of Russia's interference in last year's election. He tweeted this. "Since the Obama administration was told way before the 2016 election that the Russians were meddling, why no action? Focus on them. Not T."

PAUL: Yet more fallout surrounding Bill Cosby's plan to host these town halls on sexual assault and how to avoid being accused of it.

BLACKWELL: Cosby's sex offense case ended last week in a mistrial. Women's groups are now blasting the town halls as outrageous. We've heard some describe them as disgusting. And the attorney who represented accusers, Gloria Allred, called them offensive and dismissed them as a publicity stunt.


GLORIA ALLRED, VICTIMS RIGHTS ATTORNEY: This is a very transparent and slick effort potentially by the Cosby defense team or its supporters in order to try to confuse the public to try to suggest and advance the theme that Mr. Cosby has been falsely accused. But that is not what the jury in the first trial found. They didn't acquit him nor did they convict him. There is a mistrial. There was a deadlock. He is going to be tried again. And most women underreport rape and sexual assault.


PAUL: I spoke with Linda Kirkpatrick who claims Cosby drugged and assaulted her back in 1981. She's furious over the idea of Cosby himself hosting these town halls, even compared him to a convicted murderer who notoriously killed and ate his victims.


LINDA KIRKPATRICK, ACCUSED BILL COSBY OF SEXUAL ASSAULT: Only 2 percent of women that claimed to have been raped are false accusations. 2 percent. 70 percent of perpetrators are known to the victims. It could be a family member, a neighbor, or a hello friend, to victimize what were we wearing, what do we think was going to happen? Women have a right to drive, we have a right to vote, we have a right to wear whatever we want to wear, and we have a right not to be raped.


PAUL: She actually had compared him to Jeffrey Dahmer saying that Bill Cosby going on a tour about sexual assault is like Jeffrey Dahmer giving somebody cooking lessons, so to speak.


So two of Bill Cosby's publicists are joining us now. Ebonee Benson, Andrew Wyatt. We appreciate you both being here.

Ebonee, I wanted to start with you. Strong words from one of the women accusing Bill Cosby obviously of sexual assault. What is your reaction to what Linda Kirkpatrick had to say?

EBONEE BENSON, BILL COSBY'S PUBLICIST: I think Ms. Kirkpatrick is entitled to have her opinion about this issue. But first I just want to be clear. The town hall meetings are not about sexual assault. I will repeat. These town hall meetings are not about sexual assault.

This went way beyond a comment made from an interview by my colleague a couple of days ago when we initially talked about the town hall meetings, it was about restoration of legacy, much to what Mrs. Cosby spoke on in statement is the sensationalism brought on by the media. This is another example of that to take something that was meant to talk about the restoration of this man's legacy that was destroyed by the media before he even had the chance to step into the courtroom, that is what this is about.

This is about education. This is about teaching that the revolution begins in the home. We also said that if people wanted to ask Mr. Cosby about his situation, that he would speak on it because it is an open panel discussion. But within whatever parameters his legal team has set for him.

PAUL: OK. So, Ebonee, just so we understand this. What you're saying is the intention is not necessarily to educate people about sexual assault --


BENSON: The intention is not about sexual assault at all.

PAUL: It is to restore his legacy.

BENSON: Absolutely.

PAUL: It is to revive Bill Cosby's image. Is that right?

BENSON: It is about continuing on with what Mr. Cosby started 50 years ago when he began in the entertainment business which is importance of community, importance of education.

PAUL: OK. So when you, Andrew, say that this is going to be an educational town hall, what are you going to be educating the audience about?

BENSON: This town hall is about the restoration of legacy.

PAUL: I'm sorry. Ebonee, I wanted give -- Ebonee, I'm sorry. I wanted to give Andrew a chance to speak. Thanks.


PAUL: No, that is OK. I know, sometimes it's hard. Andrew, go ahead.


PAUL: Good morning.

WYATT: It's about the restoration of legacy as Ebonee spoke on and also Mr. Cosby's mantra has always been the revolutions in the home and not blaming yourself as becoming a victim. Education has been his key to success and his speech throughout the years. Talking about personal development, talking about cleaning up your neighborhoods, asking for safe passage and creating relationships in the community with the police department and gang members to try and clean up the community.

It has nothing to do with sexual assault. I think the media took it up on themselves to turn it into a sexual assault conversation because what happened, a question was asked what happens if Mr. Cosby receives a question about his criminal case and about sexual assault, would he be able to answer those? And we said that we will vet those questions --

PAUL: But truly you know that he's going to be asked about those questions because as I understand it he's going to be taking these town halls to possibly five to seven stops in cities like Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia. It's happening sometime in July. And you are taking questions from that audience. So you would expect that audience to ask him questions about what is in the news right now, particularly since there is going to be another trial, most likely. Yes?

WYATT: Well, look I don't -- first I think it's not going to be another trial. I think Kevin Steele, the district attorney, you know, he had -- he ran a Willie Horton-style campaign and said, if you elect me I will bring Bill Cosby to justice after the former D.A. Bruce Castor 12 year ago told Mr. Cosby he would never be criminally charged.

If you were at the courtroom, Mr. Cosby has always said, I do not want anyone to proclaim my innocence or guilt. I want them to come to the courtroom to see and hear the truth. And that is what happens.

You saw the inconsistencies in Ms. Constand's statement. And also you see now inconsistencies with the jurors. The jurors are saying when we first got in there we had a full acquittal for Mr. Cosby and now you have jurors saying that it was 7-5, 5-7 in favor of Mr. Cosby and that's why they had two deadlocks.

PAUL: There are a lot -- there are a lot of different -- there was one juror who said it was 10-2. Ten who wanted to convict. Two who would not. And he -- this juror came out and said, listen. We believe what Andrea Constand had to say. We believe what happened but we didn't understand the charges and the verbiage of those charges and how we were supposed to proceed. So definitely there is no doubt...

WYATT: But, Christi, first off --

PAUL: ... that there was some confusion in that jury room, but when we are talking about -- I want to listen real quickly here to some sound about sexual assault. Let's listen.


WYATT: Talk to young people because this is bigger than Bill Cosby. You know? This issue can affect any young person, especially young athletes of today.


And they need to know what they are facing when they are hanging out and partying, when they are doing certain things that they shouldn't be doing. And it also affects, you know, married men.


PAUL: So that was you, Andrew, talking to a local TV station earlier this week. And you were saying that there was going to be a conversation about sexual assault in these town halls, Andrew.

WYATT: No, but you didn't play the whole interview.

PAUL: Go ahead.

WYATT: I think, you didn't play the full interview. The full interview was she asked the question. She said so what happens if that question comes up? How are laws changing across the country?

PAUL: Mm-hmm.

WYATT: And what I said, I said that laws are changing across the country where there are -- in the statute of limitations and that, you know, people do need to be educated on the new laws that are changing. That's how you --


PAUL: Is that what you're talking about when you're talking about being an educational tour?

BENSON: That is where the confusion came in. The tour is about that versus people in this country in general needing to be educated on these laws, that's where the confusion is coming in.

PAUL: OK. But let's listen here. I want to actually read a portion of the deposition that was used in court against Mr. Cosby because again there is no doubt that he is going to be asked about this because this is what is happening right now in these headlines.

He admits that he gave women Quaaludes, that these were women he wanted to have sex with. When you know that you're going to go into a situation with an audience who is going to ask about sexual assault, is he the right messenger to talk about that issue? It's going to come up. You know it's going to come up.


BENSON: I don't think we can project -- I don't think we can project what the audience will ask, especially when we are coming in there to talk about restoring his legacy. If -- again, if these questions are brought up, he can speak on his personal experience and that is simply what we have been saying.

WYATT: And, Christi, let me go -- Christi, let me go --

PAUL: So, Andrew, who you expect is going to fill the seats of these audience? Who are you expecting to be in this audience?

WYATT: Christi, let me go to this -- you brought up -- Christi, you brought up a deposition that he did, his own free will.

PAUL: Mm-hmm.

WYATT: He agreed to do the deposition. And if you explore the entire deposition, one of the women in the deposition, if you read her deposition, asked him for Quaaludes, do you have it? And then he provided them. Now that was a deposition talking about what took place in 1976 when that was the culture of the time. If you go and talk to any artist or any person who was in that era that was the culture.

Quaaludes were called disco biscuits. You cannot just depose (ph) Quaaludes with him given someone Benadryl. And I think that's where CNN has done a great job of when this thing first started with these alleged accusers you guys went and ran with it and took in and saw the depositions in Quaaludes and try to juxtapose...

BENSON: And didn't get any facts.

WYATT: ... and that was cleared up in the courtroom. No, it's cleared up in the courtroom.

BENSON: Absolutely. And if you guys were there present all of those things were cleared up.

PAUL: OK. All right. Can you understand, however, why this seems so insensitive to people? We have got advocacy groups, support groups who are saying, this is victim blaming. How is he going to explain sexual assault without it seeming like it is victim blaming?

BENSON: Again, I think it is important for the media people in your position with your platform to distinguish facts from sensationalism.


BENSON: I have given facts throughout this interview that this is not about sexual assault so there shouldn't be any outrage or outcries about town hall meetings discussing the restoration of legacy and bettering our community.

PAUL: So he -- was this his idea to have this town hall that would...


PAUL: ... revive his image and his status among people who may see him differently because of all the accusations that have come up? Whose idea was it for these town halls?

WYATT: Christi, we received -- Christi, we received after -- we did not get the acquittal that we want but we got what we needed and that was a mistrial. After that, we received -- it was hundreds and hundreds of supporters outside that courtroom. When we got back to our offices and our phones were ringing off the hook, hundreds of calls we received from civic organizations, church groups saying we want Mr. Cosby to come out and speak to us about education. We want him to come out here and talk to our young people.

I understand that you might be trying to make a headline and sensationalize a headline. That's not the case. The case is talk about education, self-development, personal development, cleaning up the community. I'm pretty sure questions are going to come at him. We will vet those questions and if he can answer those questions about his personal experience, he will do so. Within the parameters of how he can answer based on what his lawyers give him the guidance of. But to make the headline and keep trying to make the headline...

BENSON: About sexual assault.

WYATT: ... about sexual assault it has nothing to do with that.

PAUL: OK. But in all due respect, your answer on that local TV station then confused a lot of people about what the intention was for --



BENSON: And that is why we are here. That is why we are here.

PAUL: And I understand that.

BENSON: That's why we are here in this position...

PAUL: And thank you for --

BENSON: ... in order to be able to clear up any misunderstandings and have people understand that that is not our intent. And the further it is pushed that is our intent goes back to Mrs. Cosby's statement about this sensationalism.

PAUL: OK. So the intention of this town hall tour is going to be to revive his image in the public.

BENSON: Restore his legacy.

PAUL: We appreciate it so much. Ebonee Benson, Andrew Wyatt, we thank you both for being here.

BENSON: Thank you, guys.

PAUL: Sure.

WYATT: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: All right. U.S. military officials give CNN information about that fatal collision at sea. Seven American sailors were killed aboard their destroyer last weekend. We have got new details on the investigation.

PAUL: Also, empowerment versus accountability. Why the president is drawing fire for giving military commanders more operational control? CNN's military expert Colonel Rick Francona standing by to give us his perspective.


BLACKWELL: Fifteen minutes to the top of the hour now. We are learning more about the collision of an American Navy destroyer and a container ship.


Defense official says five of the seven sailors were killed pretty quickly, pretty soon after the impact. The "USS Fitzgerald" and a container ship smashed into one another last Saturday tearing a giant hole into the destroyer.

Here's CNN's Pentagon reporter Ryan Browne.

RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON REPORTER: U.S. Navy investigators are starting to learn some new details about the collision between a cargo ship and the "USS Fitzgerald" which cost the lives of seven U.S. Navy sailors. Now again, this investigation is ongoing, in addition to investigations by the U.S. coast guard and Japanese authorities. But some of the additional -- initial details beginning to merge is where the collision took place on the starboard side of the "Fitzgerald" impacting directly into the sleeping quarters, the birthing areas aboard that ship and as well as hitting the communications node forcing sailors aboard the "Fitzgerald" to use satellite cell phones in order to communicate with their higher headquarters as they attempted to keep the ship afloat immediately after the collision.

Now investigators are most interested in finding out how this collision could have taken place without any of the crew aboard the "Fitzgerald" being able to detect the incoming cargo ship and avoid the collision. Now they are going to be reviewing radar data from the sophisticated Aegis weapon system aboard the "Fitzgerald" as well as other data and information from the cargo ship in an effort to find out exactly how such a tragedy could have taken place that cost the lives of seven U.S. Navy sailors. Back to you.

PAUL: All right. Thank you so much.

It's been happening since President Trump took office. The steady transfer of power from the executive branch over to the Pentagon. The White House says it helps the military move quickly and more efficiently on a tactical level. Critics say the move allows the president to duck responsibility from controversial decisions.

So let's talk about it with the Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona. He's CNN military analyst and former U.S. military attache in Syria. Lieutenant Colonel, thank you. So good to see you.

The most recent example I want to point out of this is giving Defense Secretary James Mattis, recently retired four-star general, the power to set troops levels in Afghanistan. Are military members comfortable with that kind of transfer of power? Are you comfortable with that?

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes. Actually, I'm not. I think the president is the ultimate response -- has the ultimate responsibility for determining troop levels. Now he can take advice from the secretary of defense, from the chairman of the joint chiefs, from the battlefield commanders. That is all well and good. But the ultimate decision rests with him because he is the one who has to explain to the American people why we are sending young Americans into harm's way.

So I think at that strategic level you need to keep that decision making level -- power with the president. Now below that, I don't have any problem with the Pentagon receiving more authority from the president. I think that has been long overdue. So we are talking about two different levels here, strategy and tactical.

PAUL: OK. So the White House says the move in power is the military cuts out needless bureaucratic steps. Here is what President Trump though said after a raid in Yemen where a Navy SEAL died.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This was a mission that was started before I got here. This was something that was, you know, just they wanted to do. And they came to see me. They explained what they wanted to do, the generals, who are very respected. My generals are the most respected that we have had in many decades, I believe. And they lost Ryan.


PAUL: "They lost Ryan." Obviously, giving generals much credit, where credit is due. But do you get the sense that there is an avoidance of responsibility there for the consequences of that decision?

FRANCONA: No. I'm going to give the president a pass on this one. It was due to the office and all that. But this is the kind of operation that you want decided at the tactical level because the commander on the ground on scene they have to be able to react fast. I don't think that you need to go up to the president every time you want to launch a special operations raid unless it's into a sensitive area outside of the already established zones of conflict.

Now if you're talking about Yemen, Syria, Iraq, with we have ongoing operations there so you have to give the battlefield commander, the man on the ground, the decision making authority to conduct operations quickly. Where targets present themselves you have to react quickly. You have to get inside of the decision making cycle of the enemy.

If you're outside of that the targets disappear and you lose the opportunity. So in one instance I think the president needs to have the -- retain the authority for strategic but at these tactical levels I have no problem with it being pushed down as low as possible.

PAUL: All right. Good to know. Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona, always appreciate your insight, sir. Thank you for being here.

BLACKWELL: Still to come, a burned Quran filled with bacon handcuffed to a fence. One of two possible hate crimes outside of two different mosques in a northern California area.


More details on that. That's coming up next. PAUL: And the death toll continues to climb from an oil tanker truck explosion in Pakistan. Look at these new images we're getting in this morning. We'll talk about it more on the other side of the break.


BLACKWELL: This morning authorities in California are investigating two separate incidents outside mosques as possible hate crimes. One happens on the eve of the -- one of the holiest holidays in Ramadan especially. In one incident torn pages of a Quran were thrown out of a moving car in front of a mosque. This was in Davis.

PAUL: And in a second incident, a burned Quran filled with bacon was found hanging by a handcuff from a fence outside of another mosque in Sacramento. Now civil rights groups are condemning the acts.



BASIM ELKARRA, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CAIR SACRAMENTO VALLEY: They want to rip out pages of any book in, you know, in their homes, there no issue but when you try to intimidate a community, unfortunately, we're seeing a lot of these types of cases around the nation.


PAUL: The Council on American-Islamic Relations also issued a statement saying this -- quote -- "Decisive action by law enforcement authorities sends a strong message of deterrence to anyone who contemplates turning their bigoted views into acts of intimidation."

BLACKWELL: At least 135 people are dead. Dozens more injured after an oil tanker exploded -- this was in Pakistan early Sunday morning. It happened in the eastern city and (INAUDIBLE) actually came after a truck came off the road here. The villagers try to siphon off oil. The death toll we know is expected to rise.

PAUL: Also want to tell you about what's happening in China this morning. Rescue crews are working around the clock to try to find survivors at that massive landslide. Take a look at the pictures we are getting in.

Authorities have revised the death toll as well. A government press office telling CNN now 10 bodies have been recovered since recovery operations began. Chinese media says at least 93 people are still missing. Authorities believe heavy rainfall yesterday morning triggered that landslide. This is in the southwest portion of the country there.

BLACKWELL: All right. An important question as we head into the new week. Can Republican senators agree on a health care bill for Americans by this week's self-imposed deadline? We will look at where they stand that's coming up at the top of the hour.