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Parents Fighting for Terminally Ill Baby; New Jersey Governor Relaxes on Beach He Closed to Public; President Trump Stirs Controversy With Video Slamming CNN; Where Did Wrestling Video Trump Shared Come From?; Trump Prepares for First Meeting with Putin. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired July 3, 2017 - 16:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Rocky vs. Drago didn't have this much hype.

THE LEAD starts right now.

One former national security official says he's expecting an Olympian level of macho when President Trump meets Vladimir Putin for the first time as president. But will Mr. Trump even mention dirty Russian hacking during the election?

Here's one good way to get a good spot on the beach on Fourth of July weekend. Close all the beaches to the public, Governor Chris Christie under the sun and now under fire for this move.

Plus, the baby whose plight has captured much of the world's attention -- why the pope and now President Trump are both weighing in.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jim Sciutto, in today for Jake Tapper.

And we begin with the politics leads and President Trump from his golfing weekend outside New York laying the groundwork for a very important week ahead, including his first face-to-face meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Today, he was working the phones, talking with the leaders of Italy, France and Germany, ahead of his trip to the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, while also taking the time to keep up his attacks on the media, doubling down, despite backlash over his provocative tweet in which, you have likely heard by now, he pretends to slam CNN in a professional wrestling match.

CNN's Ryan Nobles is at the White House today.

Ryan, White House officials backing off from defending the president's social media rant?


In fact, administration officials are arguing it's the media focusing on the wrong things, and despite the president's controversial tweets, he's still getting the job done. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NOBLES (voice-over): President Trump tonight is dialing up his no- holds-barred attacks on the media, punctuated with the sharing of a video showing the president attacking a person whose head was replaced by the CNN logo.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The fake media tried to stop us from going to the White House, but I'm president, and they're not.


NOBLES: The Twitter assault of the press comes just days away from a crucial overseas trip where he will meet face to face with Russian President Vladimir Putin..

TRUMP: We will discuss health care.

NOBLES: And domestically he's trying to help the Senate Republicans shepherd through a health care bill. His lack of a public focus on those major issues has even Republicans concerned.

SEN. BEN SASSE (R), NEBRASKA: There's an important distinction to draw between bad stories or crappy coverage and the right that citizens have to argue about that and complain about that and trying to weaponize distrust.

NOBLES: The White House argues that the media is spending too much time on the president's tweets instead of his other priorities.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: They don't cover the substance of the issues. Look, I know it's a heck of a lot easier to cover 140 characters here or there or what the president may be saying about the media here or there than it is to learn the finer points of how Medicaid is funded in this country.

NOBLES: Meanwhile, the president is gearing up for the G20 summit in Germany. He spent the morning on the phone with the leaders of Germany and Italy after weekend calls with the leaders of China, Japan and Saudi Arabia.

But the face-to-face meeting with Putin will likely get the most attention. Administration officials say among the topics on the table, the conflict in Syria and the growing tensions in Ukraine. What is not as clear, according to administration officials, is whether the president will raise the Russian hack of the U.S. election.

REP. JIM HIMES (D), CONNECTICUT: Trying to predict President Trump is a fool's errand. I have very little confidence that the president will bring up the Russian attack on our voting system last November.

NOBLES: This all comes as the president himself defends his use of social media as a way to talk directly to the American people and vowed to continue his war on the media. TRUMP: The dishonest media will never keep us from accomplishing our

objectives on behalf of our great American people. It will never happen.


NOBLES: And it's important to keep in mind that the president's Twitter feed is one of the few places that we hear directly from him. He grants very few interviews and he hasn't held a full press conference since February -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Ryan Nobles at the White House today.

I want to bring in former CIA operative, also 2017 presidential candidate Evan McMullin.

Thanks for taking the time and happy Fourth to you.

EVAN MCMULLIN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Happy Fourth to you, Jim. Good to be with you.

SCIUTTO: As you're aware, the president will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit this week.

Administration sources are telling CNN that the president is at least not likely to even raise the issue of Russia's meddling with Mr. Putin. I wonder -- you have been in the CIA. It was part of your job to read how countries react to moves by the U.S.

Is Trump, if he doesn't mention this, signaling to Russia that he does not consider election meddling a major issue?

MCMULLIN: Well, absolutely he is.

But he's already sent that signal loud and clear, so I actually don't think it's anything new. It just reinforces the extent to which President Trump will not stand up to Russia if he can avoid it at all.


But I think there's something else that is important that is happening here, Jim. And that is by not raising this issue which, of course, needs to be raised, he sends a signal back to the American people, and more specifically to his base.

And among his base, Republican voters, I'm sad to say, that an increasing number of them see Russia and see Vladimir Putin in a positive light. In March, about 38 percent of Republican voters thought that Russia was either friendly or an ally. That number is way too high already. But just in May, that poll was done again by Morning Consult and Politico. It showed an 11-point increase in the number of Republican voters who new view Russia as either an ally or friendly.

That is very 49 percent, to be specific. This is very concerning. But how they engage, how President Trump engages with Putin at the G20 summit will have a impact, a continued impact on how Republican voters view Russia altogether.

SCIUTTO: The president likes to portray Russia as a purely partisan issue, Democrat vs. Republican, but the fact is Republicans in the Senate overwhelmingly supported a new measure imposing new sanctions on Russia, exactly for election meddling, and in fact putting provisions interest that would not allow the White House to change those sanctions.

But that bill is now stalled in the House. Some Democrats accusing GOP members of stalling that sanctions legislation until the president gets a chance to meet with President Putin.

You have worked on the Hill. Does that sound like a plausible explanation?

MCMULLIN: Well, I think it probably is the reason they're stalling, but I think there are more fundamental concerns here.

When half of the Republican base doesn't view Russia appropriately as an adversary, in fact, when half of the base views it as a friend, then it hampers the ability of especially the House, given that members in the House are all on two-year election cycles. They're much more vulnerable to popular changing sentiment.

The Senate, of course, is insulated from that, given that they're on six-year staggered election cycles and they also have broader electorates representing their states.

So, there's this issue. But I would raise, Jim, also another that has come up. Pete Sessions, a representative in the House, who is the chair of the powerful Rules Committee, is now raising concerns about these sanctions, saying that he thinks that if these sanctions go forward, they will hurt American companies, especially energy companies in his district in Texas.

And so we're going to have to make a decision about whether defending our national sovereignty, our ability to choose our own leaders is worth some sacrifice on the business side, which none of us want to make, but I think for this, defending our ability to choose our own leaders without infringement, without interference by a foreign adversary, I think is worth it. But this is a troubling development I think in the story line.

SCIUTTO: Evan McMullin, please stick around, because there is a lot more to talk about Russia and elsewhere affecting the president.

And we're going to have Evan back after a short break.

President Trump's relationships to other world leaders in Germany at question this week at the G20 summit. That's coming up right after this.



SCIUTTO: Welcome back.

And we're back with our politics lead and my guest, former presidential candidate, frequent antagonist of President Donald Trump, Evan McMullin.

Mr. McMullin, you were in the CIA, of course. The world is aware of the many controversies surrounding this president. As he heads to a major summit with leaders this week, does this kind of erratic behavior here affect how world leaders there see him at a summit like this?

MCMULLIN: Well, I think absolutely.

And I think they're going to be very concerned about what kind of erratic behavior or his lack of judgment in that context. In fact, I know that they have that concern. And it's something that American citizens should be quite concerned about obviously as well.

But I will say that Donald Trump does have an opportunity here, yet another one, to demonstrate or to earn the confidence of those leaders in Europe and the American people, I think, by standing up to Vladimir Putin. I think that would go a long way for European leaders.

SCIUTTO: Again, as a CIA guy, and your experience on the Hill, if you saw a leader of another Western democracy in such a constant internal battle with the media, other institutions, would you make any conclusions or at least raise questions about the stability of that country?

MCMULLIN: Well, yes, of course you would.

When leadership falters, then it has an impact on the entire country. And, by the way, it is having the exact impact that I think Vladimir Putin would have wanted, this destabilizing effect that we see in our politics. We're more polarized. We have violence cropping up and threats of violence here and there related to politics.

All of these things are damaging to a country, and they signal great weakness. And for our adversaries, that's an opportunity. And so I think that's exactly what our adversaries around the world are seeing.

SCIUTTO: In response to the adolescent video, really, that the president sent out, you tweeted the following.

You said: "And this happens as most Republican leaders watch silently. Those who do speak up do so only softly and for a moment."

And I have to say, that was my reaction as well, even to the whole Joe and Mika thing last week, that you had a slightly larger handful of Republicans come out with critical public statements, but, again, a very small minority of lawmakers, and then the thing just sort of seems to blow over and move on to the next thing.

[16:15:04] So, tell me why. Why are we not hearing from more Republicans who, in private, will express this kind of criticism, but not in public? MCMULLIN: Well, I frankly think that we have a leadership crisis in

this country that extends beyond Donald Trump. I'm sad to say it, but I think too many of our leaders now, and it's on display at least on the Republican side, for partisan reasons, and for good old patriotic reasons, I think the Democrats are doing a better job.

But I'll tell you that I think at least on the Republican side now, as I said, it's on display, we have leaders who lack courage and who are not putting the country first. They're protecting their own seats, especially in the House. They're worried about offending Donald Trump's popular base among their primary voters, and because of that, I think they're putting the interests of the country second.

So, it's part electoral, it's part confronting that base, and then also it's part just not wanting to deal with bullying from Donald Trump. But either way, it's not an excuse. Our leaders must have the courage to stand up for our country and for its voters.

SCIUTTO: I hear you, Evan McMullin, courage. A lacking quality these days. Good to have you on as always, and happy Fourth to you.

MCMULLIN: Happy Fourth to you, Jim. Thanks.

SCIUTTO: The White House won't say where it got the doctored wrestling video and that's raising questions in itself. Stay with us.


[16:20:37] SCIUTTO: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

And sticking with politics -- as offensive as it was in itself, there was serious questions about the origins of that wrestling video that the president shared over the weekend in which Mr. Trump appears to pummel a person whose head is a CNN logo.

I want to bring in CNN's Tom Foreman. He's been taking deeper dive into that video.

So, Tom, where do we know about where this video originated on the Web?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jim, the White House will not say where the president got the video, but a senior White House official said today it was not from Reddit, which is a popular Internet messaging board.

The problem is we and other major outlets who have searched can't find any evidence of it existing anywhere but Reddit before the president picked it up. Now, why does that matter? Because if he got it from that source, a whole bunch of new questions about racism, bigotry and violence come into play.


FOREMAN (voice-over): The video shared by President Trump to his 33 million personal Twitter followers and then to 19 million more on his presidential account was apparently first posted by a Reddit user who goes by this online name and also has laid claim to it.

That user of Reddit's online message board reacted enthusiastically. Wow, I never expected my meme to be retweeted by the god emperor himself. I am honored.

But others are worried, including the Anti-Defamation League, which surveyed the user's post and found a consistent record of racism, anti-Semitism and bigotry: This individual traffics an online hatred and at times violent rhetoric.

And the ADL seems to call out the president saying: When those on the fringe of society feel they're mainstream is getting mainstream attention, that should raise alarms.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The fake media is trying to silence us. But we will not let them, because the people know the truth. The fake media tried to stop us from going to the White House, but I'm president and they're not.

FOREMAN: It all comes as the president is raging away at the media, with a fiery speech and a Twitter attack on two MSNBC hosts that was so coarse, members of his own party were stunned.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: For the president of the United States, the greatest country of the world, the person who is representing our country to use that kind of language, it's just so inappropriate.

FOREMAN: For many critics, it harkens back to the campaign when Team Trump was at times accused of sharing material promulgated by racists -- whether on purpose or precariously is unclear -- and inciting violence.

TRUMP: I like to punch him in the face, I tell you.

FOREMAN: The campaign always denied the accusations, especially those about violence and as Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders did it again just last week.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president, in no way, form or fashion, has ever promoted or encouraged violence. If anything, quite the contrary.

FOREMAN: And CNN's response to the new video, however, the network said: Clearly, Sarah Huckabee Sanders lied.


FOREMAN: And we should note that this video does not appear to be exactly the one posted by that Reddit users who noted online some edits were done to both the pictures and the sound, even as he laid to claim to it. That raises question about who made those changes, and again, with the White House saying the president didn't get it from Reddit, how did it wind up in the president's hands and was he aware of its origin?

We've asked the administration. No answers yet, Jim.

SCIUTTO: And let's be frank. The administration has had questions of credibility like this before.

Tom Foreman, thanks very much.

Will Chris Christie get burned by his day at the beach? The New Jersey governor defending his decision to soak up the sun on a state beach that he closed to the public.


[16:28:41] SCIUTTO: Welcome back to world lead now.

A critical stage in the war on ISIS in Syria. U.S.-backed forces are now inside Raqqa, Syria, the terror group's de facto capital. This comes as President Trump is set to meet face to face with Russian President Vladimir Putin for the first time, and administration officials say that Mr. Trump plans to focus that conversation heavily on the conflict in Syria.

CNN's Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon.

So, Barbara, from what you're hearing there, what is likely to be on the table when these two discuss the fight against Syria?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, we should start by saying we don't know exactly what they're going to discuss. The White House isn't revealing that.

But Vladimir Putin is going to have plenty on his mind because right now, by all accounts, he is essentially in the catbird seat. He is continuing to support the Assad regime. That is the simple fact.

He is -- his forces are conducting strikes. They're moving around the battlefield. But it's coming at a very difficult time for the U.S., because as everybody gets closer to Raqqa, the U.S.-backed forces, the Russian-backed regime forces will be encountering each other.

And right now, the key issue President Trump may have to address is a very awkward one for the U.S. No longer is the U.S., you know, every day as it used to calling for Assad's removal. So, as long as Assad is there and the Russians are backing him, there is really no incentive for Putin to change his view about his support for the Syrians.