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New Jersey Governor Relaxes on Beach He Closed to Public; Senator Warns of "Weaponizing Distrust" After Media Attacks; Pope, Trump Offer Support To Parents Of Dying Baby; Senator Mike Lee Writes Book On People Left Out Of History. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired July 3, 2017 - 16:30   ET



BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: There is really no incentive for Putin to change his view about his support for the Syrians.

He stays there, he's got a toehold in the Middle East. And it doesn't really look like there's anything at this point the U.S. is going to do to make him back off. He will be there whether Raqqa is taken or not, Jim.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Barbara, you mentioned how close-quarters U.S. and Russian forces are in Syria. We were just showing some pictures earlier of those U.S. artillery units that are on the ground inside Syria.

Are those communications, the sort of hot line backup between U.S. and Russian commanders, for the very reason of avoiding armed -- whether accidental or otherwise, armed conflicts in Syria?

STARR: That's absolutely right.

The communications are up and running. They have had some very difficult moments where, for public consumption, the Russians have said we have cut it off. But we know, behind the scenes, they are continuing those communications.

The Russians are not looking by any stretch for a direct encounter with U.S. aircraft, with U.S. forces, so there is this so-called deconfliction line. What that means is both sides talk to each other on the phone. They don't say exactly where they are or what they're doing, but they give each other a guideline of the areas where they're operating.

It has worked up until now. But we're now coming to this point when everybody is moving closer to Raqqa, closer into Eastern Syria. There is a lot of concern that you are going to have the U.S.-backed forces, the regime forces, the Iranian-backed forces, the Russian-backed forces operating at very close proximity.

All indications are Russia and Moscow want to avoid a direct confrontation, but this may be something that President Trump and president Putin have to sit down and talk about. SCIUTTO: No question.

Closer proximity, lots of less time to think.

Barbara Starr, thanks very much.

To the national lead now, and the series of photos stirring outcry really in New Jersey. State-run beaches are closed this long holiday weekend. But that did not stop Governor Christie and his family. All of them seen relaxing on a stretch of sand closed off to the public, closed off to everybody else, but him and his family, in the name of public safety.

With the government shut down, state-employed lifeguards are on furlough. Chris Christie is pushing back against the uproar, today tweeting a photo touting crowded open beaches. Sure, city and township waterfronts are accessible, but a reminder, it's the state- run parks, the ones you might he as governor runs, that are not.

CNN's Polo Sandoval, he's live at Liberty State Park, one of those parks, another site closed to visitors.

Polo, how else is the governor defending the optics, really the horrible optics of this on a holiday weekend?


It's not just the governor, but also his spokesperson who offered an explanation today, saying that that residence along with the surrounding properties is for the governor to use whenever he wants to. That includes amid the shutdown.

We took that explanation to not only people trying to get to the beaches, but also parks like this one that have been closed for three days now. We found that explanation is not sitting well.


SANDOVAL (voice-over): New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is not backing down after criticism of his decision to spend a day at the beach.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: They caught me doing what I said I was going to do with the people I said I was going to be with.

SANDOVAL: But these photos show the governor and his family soaking up the sun outside the governor's official residence in a park just days after he shut down nonessential state services, including parks and beaches during an ongoing budget battle.

CHRISTIE: This government is not open because I cannot constitutionally let it be open. I don't have any money.

SANDOVAL: A reporter asked Christie about his sunburn earlier later that afternoon.

CHRISTIE: I didn't get any sun today.

SANDOVAL: The photos published in "The Newark Star-Ledger" late Sunday tell a different tale, showing Christie sitting on a lounge chair on an empty stretch of beach, prompting this response from Christie's office.

"He did not get any sun. He had a baseball hat on."

That only added to the frustration for families who were turned away from state parks.

CHRIS LOVELACE, NEW JERSEY: If the parks are shut down in New Jersey, he shouldn't be able to enjoy them either.

SANDOVAL: Christie's office answering to criticism of the photos.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Why would he say that, I didn't get any sun? Well, that was before the photos came out.


BRIAN MURRAY, SPOKESMAN FOR CHRISTIE: Because he had 45 minutes on the beach and then he got back to work.

SANDOVAL: And the governor himself went on the offensive in a phone interview with a local morning show.

CHRISTIE: I said last Monday, a week ago today, that no matter what happens, we were coming here as a family this weekend. This is where we live, one of the places we live.

And so what a great bit of journalism by "The Star-Ledger." They actually caught a politician being where he said he was going to be with the people he said he was going to be with.

SANDOVAL: Back at the parks, New Jersey residents say they're more concerned about their own vacation plans, not the governor's.

ROBERT BARCA, NEW JERSEY RESIDENT: It's ridiculous. Just figure it out. We pay you guys to figure it out. Figure it out.



SANDOVAL: That's the kind of frustration we have seen now for three days in a row at the entrance to the park that continues to be closed off.

We have seen people from around the world come to the gates of this park and they get turned right back around, Jim. Is there a solution in sight? At this point, we do understand that the third day of the special session that's been going on in Trenton has produced little to no results. However, the governor is expected to call back legislators again to see if they can finally find a solution to this ongoing budget battle -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Full disclosure, I'm going to borrow that baseball hat excuse whenever necessary.

But what about the Fourth of July plans already scheduled for many of these parks, fireworks, et cetera? Do those things still go on?

SANDOVAL: Well, you know, there is a massive celebration that takes place at this park every Fourth of July.

However, Jersey City officials have decided to move that out as a precaution to another nearby common area, they said. Of course, they still don't know whether or not this park will be open come tomorrow. But they don't want to take any chances.

Fireworks, though, they will still go on as planned. Really, the major convenience though for those folks who maybe want to access Lady Liberty from the Jersey side, they're having to go right back to Manhattan Island and get to the Statue of Liberty that way.

SCIUTTO: Polo Sandoval, thanks very much.

Who is baby Charlie Gard and why is President Trump tweeting about him? Stay with us and we will tell you the whole story.



SCIUTTO: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Certainly lots to talk about today with my political panel.

I want to begin by talking about our own reporting, and this coming from administration officials, that the president is not expected to even mention Russia's interference in the U.S. election when he meets for the first time with Vladimir Putin. That certainly will anger some of his own party pushing new sanctions against Russia right now.

Kirsten Powers, why? Why does the president resist this both in his public comments, but it appears now in a private meeting with the leader of Russia?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN COMMENTATOR: Well, as far as we can tell, he thinks any time this is brought up that it's somehow undermining his win, that it somehow feeds into the idea that he didn't win legitimately and so he doesn't want to talk about it.

But, of course, the reality is, is that the Russians could go after anybody. It just -- it happened to be Hillary Clinton. You know, next time, it could be a Republican. It could be somebody else. And so in order to take -- you know, to fix this problem, he does need to be raising it at the highest levels, I think, and also within his administration, frankly, people need to be showing a lot more curiosity than they have been showing about the topic.

SCIUTTO: Amanda, I wonder how much wiggle room the president has here.

The president is enormously powerful in international relations, but then there's the political question really of how far he can go with, for instance -- there's been talk that the return of the diplomatic compounds that were taken away from Russia as part of the Obama administration's response to the hacking, the possibility of that in some sort of exchange.

All this happens not in a political vacuum. How far can President Trump push the limits, despite the fact that many Republicans want to get tougher, not weaker, on Russia?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Here's what I'm concerned about Trump going into this meeting, is not so much his lack of an agenda.

My concern is what are the Russians going to get out of this exchange. We know that Trump talks very loosely. Look at that secret meeting he had with Russian officials in which he talked about why he fired FBI Director James Comey, called him a nutjob, said it relieved pressure from the situation.

So what are the Russians trying to get out of this meeting? And at this point, we know he's not going to bring up the meddling. I think in the media, when we have a chance to ask Trump about it, we need to be more straight up about it. Do you think the Russian interference in the election helped you? Not accusing you of collusion, but are you not taking action because you think it's politically beneficial?

Because it's the time to ask these questions. If you're a prosecutor and you don't go after crimes, at some point you're enabling it for some kind of purpose, and that's a crime in itself.

SCIUTTO: That's a remarkable point.

Just to remind our viewers, this is coming from Amanda Carpenter. She worked for Ted Cruz. This is often seen as a Democrat vs. Republican issue.

Olivier Knox, much of the president's base, though, backs him on this friendlier approach to Russia. We had Evan McMullin on a short time ago, and he was noting polls that show that many Republicans view Russia positively.

Why is that? Why is that, based on what we know about how Russia acts in contradiction to U.S. interests, whether it's in the election or even on the ground in Syria?

OLIVIER KNOX, YAHOO! NEWS: Well, in large part because he does, in large part because he speaks very positively about Russia and they take their cues from him.

This meeting, there are a lot of other asks on the table. They want to talk about Syria, they want to talk about North Korea. There are a lot of other things that these two leaders have to discuss. I don't think that Donald Trump's base particularly cares about these

other issues so much because they're taking their cues from a president that they still support very, very strongly six months in.

SCIUTTO: Let's set Russia aside for a moment.

The president is going to the G20 summit. He is going to meet many U.S. allies, the leaders of France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy. They're certainly aware of the controversies going on here. They're aware of the president's Twitter addiction, et cetera.

I'm curious, Kirsten Powers, how much does this affect the way they view him as the leader of America, as the leader of one of their closest allies?

POWERS: I mean, it can only affect them. It can only make him seem like a less serious person. I mean, there is just no getting around that and there are certainly reporters who cover international affairs who have said as much.

They're talking to at least European leaders that this is what they're hearing, that they're as perplexed as many people in this country are by the ways -- the types of tweets that he sends out.

And it's also just common sense. I think we could just say I think -- I do think people who aren't his actual supporters, who aren't completely in the tank for him recognize that his tweets even prior to the one that you're showing right now were highly problematic.

You know, there was a "PBS NewsHour" poll that came out -- 70 percent of the people asked find them, I think, destructive -- or distracting, distracting.

[16:45:05] And, you know, and so even among Trump supporters, you didn't even get over 50 percent support for his tweeting. So this -- and this was prior to what you just showed, prior to the Mika and Joe tweet. So I think it does make people not seem as serious.

SCUITTO: I want to play something that Republican Senator Ben Sasse said to our Jake Tapper on the "STATE OF THE UNION" this weekend. Again, I remind our viewers, a Republican Senator here. We're not -- we're not talking about the liberal left that are criticizing the President. Here's Senator Sass.


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. The first amendment is the beating heart of the American experiment, and you don't get to separate the freedoms that are in there.


SCUITTO: Weaponizing distrust. I mean, he's really pointing out what is a pattern here. It's not just about CNN or MSNBC or attacking The Times or the Washington Post. It's about questioning the accuracy of the CBO, questioning, really, the loyalty even Republicans who criticize him undermining anyone who questions him as somehow not to be trusted. That is not healthy for a democracy. Amanda?

CARPENTER: Yes, and I think it's problematic and even ties into the upcoming -- you know, global discussion that Donald Trump will weigh in. The American press is special, it's unique. We are the exception in the world where we have a vibrant press that can criticize leaders. Many other hassled countries would like to shut that down. Look at Russia, they have state-run propaganda. That is usually the norm. And so, when Donald Trump goes on TV, on Twitter, demonizes our vibrant system, he's essentially handing a weapon to some of our enemies who would rather us (INAUDIBLE) to a more propaganda-like network that they have in which they can negotiate with a leader like Trump to get the coverage they desire. So it's dangerous on a lot of levels.

SCUITTO: You know, almost under the radar. I mean, last week before the CNN video when everybody was talking about his attacks on Joe and Mika at MSNBC, you had that week -- you know, in effect, the travel ban or this partial travel ban going into effect after the Supreme Court allowed that to happen. You had the passage of two anti- immigration bills. You now have talked that Senator Mitch McConnell is going to take another crack at health care. He may be scoring -- you know, going to the CBO to score some amended versions of what failed to pass before the break. I mean, Olivier, are we missing here, or not paying enough attention to the fact that the President is getting a lot of his agenda through as he's sort of creating these meaningless distractions elsewhere.

KNOX: At the risk of (INAUDIBLE), yes, we are missing it. We're missing the fact there's a very powerful shift in regulatory rollback by this Congress and this President. We didn't pay all that much attention to the new V.A. -- Veterans Bill. We are missing the fact that right now he's about to go on a foreign trip for one of the most central points he's going to make. He's going to ask allies to contribute troops to this new strategy in Afghanistan. So there is a real issue of getting sidelined by the -- by the tweets and missing the underlying policy stuff. You know, a lot of Americans woke up in the last couple days to find local papers discussing in some length the local impact of the new Republican Health Care Bill. That's the stuff that really -- that really affects most Americans, not really the President's tweets.

SCUITTO: And will have lasting impact. No question. Olivier, Amanda, Kirsten, thanks very much and happy Fourth to all of you.

POWERS: Same to you.

CARPENTER: Thank you.

SCUITTO: he is only 10-months-old but he's got the attention of both Pope Francis, now President Trump, the baby's heartbreaking fight that much of the world is now watching. Stay with us.


[16:50:00] SCUITTO: Welcome back. President Trump taking a short break from bashing the media today to tweet about a sick little British child who is also getting the Pope's attention. The President tweeted this morning, "if we can help little Charlie Gard as per our friends in the U.K. and the Pope, we would be delighted to do so." For our viewers who don't know, Charlie Gard is a 10-month-old boy who has a rare and deadly genetic disease. Doctors in London want to take him off life support now because they say there's no more hope but this is against the wishes of Charlie's parents. The White House said the President has not spoken to Charlie's family, but he still wants to offer his help, and sincerely.

Let's bring in CNN's Diana Magnay from London. So, Diana, many of us here in the U.S. had not heard about the baby until President Trump tweeted about him today.

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, but he has -- his story has been widely covered here in the U.K. press, and it's such a painful story, Jim. It pitches the country's top pediatricians against two desperate parents, all of whom have Charlie's best interests at heart but have very different ways of looking into how to protect them.


MAGNAY: The tubes that keep him alive will be turned off soon. His parents' last hope to take him to the states for highly experimental medical treatment blocked by the British and European courts. Their last wish refused to take him home to die.

CHRIS GARD, CHARLIE'S FATHER: He's a little trooper and he's a soldier. He will fight -- he'd fight to the very end and he's still fighting. But we're not allowed to fight for him anymore. Our parental rights have been stripped away. We can't even take our own son home to die, we have been denied that, do you not think we have been put through enough?.

MAGNAY: Little Charlie Gard was born healthy but diagnosed the following month with a rare genetic disorder, a form of mitochondrial disease which has left him, doctors say, with irreversible brain damage.

[16:55:09] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're still fighting!

CROWD: We're still fighting!


CROWD: Save Charlie Gard!

MAGNAY: At the weekend, protests in London against the decision to turn off life support. And after the Pope sent a message to the parents from the Vatican saying he was praying for them in the hope that their desire to accompany and care for their own child until the end will be respected, now Donald Trump has weighed in, too. "If we can help little Charlie Gard as per our friends in the U.K. and the Pope, we will be delighted to do so."

Charlie's case is extremely complicated. The treatment that the U.S. is offering is called nucleoside bypass therapy, and it's never been tested on a strain of the disease as rare as Charlie's is. And even the specialist who's offering it says he thinks it's unlikely that it will be able to reverse Charlie's brain damage. And that's why the British courts ruled the way that they did. They said, they didn't want Charlie to be the subject of medical experimentation if there was no chance of him getting better, that his right to die with dignity must come first. But that's not the way his parents see it. Sadly for them, the pleas of a Pope and the President already too late.


MAGNAY: Of course, from the parents' point of view, any chance of some slight improvement in Charlie's condition, they will seize that, and who can blame them? But in this country, if there is a conflict over the care of a child between the parents and the doctors, then it goes to the courts. And we've seen this process go all the way through the courts, and the courts have always sided on the doctors' side, i.e., that it is in his best interests to have the life support turned off. So whatever Donald Trump says, he does not have authority over the courts in this country, Jim.

SCUITTO: It is remarkable and quite a difference than I think many Americans are used to. Diana, the family was supposed to say goodbye to their son on Friday, actually, but doctors delayed that. Any word on what the parents will now have to go through if that is the final result, really the hardest moment I think any of us could imagine?

MAGNAY: Absolutely. And Great Ormond Street which is where he's being treated and has been for the last nine months, haven't told us why they were meant to turn off life support on Friday. They're now saying they're giving the parents a little bit more time to be with him, but these are his final hours. Jim?

SCUITTO: Goodness. Our hearts certainly go out to them. Diana Magnay, thanks very much.

More now on our "POLITICS LEAD," as the nation is set to celebrate the Fourth of July, we often commemorate the founding fathers. But we rarely hear about those who made crucial contributions during the early days of our nation including women, slaves, and Native Americans. In a new book, Written Out Of History, The Forgotten Founder Who Fought Big Government, Senator Mike Lee of Utah. He pays tribute to some of the unsung heroes. Our Jake Tapper spoke to Senator Lee about his new book.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: So, Senator, in the book you write about founding fathers that there aren't musicals about, that we haven't heard about. Some of the people you feature include Aaron Burr. I guess most people have heard about him because, of course, he killed Alexander Hamilton in that duel. But there's also a Native American Chief, a drunken lawmaker, a female playwright, a slave. Tell me the common theme and why do you think they were forgotten?

SEN. MIKE LEE (R), UTAH: The people I describe in my book, Written Out Of History, all eight of them are people who to one degree or another have had their stories forgotten, neglected, or written out of history. In one way or another, they don't fit our modern, historical narrative. In some cases, as was the case with Canasatego, the Iroquois Indian Chief who taught Benjamin Franklin about federalism. I think we forgot about him because we've forgotten about federalism. For the last 80 years, we've allowed power to be concentrated in our nation's Capital rather than allowing most power to remain close to the people as it was under the Iroquois Confederacy and as it was always intended to be under the constitution.

TAPPER: As we look ahead to the Fourth of July weekend, this book is very timely, of course, because it's a celebration of our country. What message do you want to send to the American people at a time when it seems like division in this country is at such a high level, especially as it relates to these forgotten founding fathers and mothers?

LEE: Having division among us is not uncommon in our history. One of the ways that our founding fathers decided we could deal with those divisions would be to allow for more people to get more of the kind of government they wanted and less of the kind of government they didn't want by allowing many decisions in government to be made regionally, to be made along state and local lines rather than all of them concentrated in Washington. As their increase calls for civility right now, I point this as a solution for civility, as one of the ways we could achieve civility by allowing more Americans to govern on a local basis. If people from Vermont want a single payer health care system, let them do that. They could do that more effectively, efficiently and quickly if we didn't have to make every decision in Washington.

TAPPER: All right, Senator Mike Lee, thank you so much and hope you have an inspiring Fourth of July.

LEE: Thank you. Same to you.


SCUITTO: That's it for THE LEAD, I'm Jim Scuitto in for Jake Tapper.