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White House Declines to Refute Putin's Claims on Trump Meeting; White House Fails to Refute Claims That Trump Agreed With Russia Over Meddling; Russia Ramps Up Spying in U.S.; Trump's Conflicting Messages on China; On the Front Lines in Fight Against ISIS in Raqqa. Aired 5- 6p ET

Aired July 8, 2017 - 17:00   ET


[17:00:47] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM. Thanks for spending some of your weekend at least with us. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York.

We began this hour with a he said/he said following President Trump's meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. We just heard from some of President Trump's top White House advisers. Right now they are all aboard Air Force One. Now, they are flying home with the President after his trip to the G-20 Summit. Two of those advisers were asked three times to knock down Putin's claim that Trump accepted his word that Moscow did not interfere in the U.S. election.

Now, those advisers flying on Air Force One simply deflected the repeated questions. Meanwhile the President did not hold a press conference to share his own version of the meeting. Something Putin and many other world leaders did this morning.

I want to bring in White House correspondent Athena Jones. Athena, set it up for us what we're about to hear from Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin as he spoke to reporters about aboard Air Force One.

ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Ana. That's right, Secretary Mnuchin was one of those three administration officials who did not take an opportunity after given multiple opportunities to correct the record about these competing and contradictory readouts coming out of the U.S. and the Russian side after that two hour plus meeting, first meeting, that President Trump had with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

We know that both sides agree that President Trump brought up early on the issue of Russian meddling in the U.S. election. We heard from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that this was a somewhat extensive discussion. But we also heard from the Russians from Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and from the President Putin himself that they believe that President Trump took Putin at his word when he denied any Russian meddling in the U.S. election.

That of course is not the conclusion that the U.S. intelligence agencies came to. Now, a senior administration official told my colleague Jim Acosta last night that that is not what happened in the meeting, but today during this gaggle aboard Air Force One on the flight home, as you mentioned, those three administration officials, Gary Cohen, economic advisor, national security advisor HR McMaster and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin were asked repeatedly about this and didn't decide to set the record straight. Listen to part the exchange with Secretary Mnuchin.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Another country making a statement about the President of the United States. Do you not want to respond to that and correct the record if it is wrong?

STEVE MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: I won't make comments about what other people say. President Trump will be happy to make statements himself about that. But the President Trump handled himself brilliantly. He is very clear he's made his position felt and after very substantive dialogue on this, they agreed to move on to other discussions and I think it is very clear that they have opened the dialogue, that it's important to have a dialogue.

As we said, they focused on a cease-fire on Syria, focused on making sure that we have a cyber-unit to make sure that Russia and nobody else interferes in any Democratic elections and we focused on the issue of North Korea which is a major concern to us and all our allies.


JONES: So there you heard Secretary Mnuchin dodging that question and you also heard him say that President Trump himself will be happy to make statements about this. Well, Ana, as you mentioned, the President left Europe without holding a customary press conference to wrap up his days at this summit to talk about what he believes he accomplished. So, there hasn't been an opportunity to hear directly from the President himself after that meeting.

The last time we heard the President speak about this whole issue of Russian meddling in the election was on Thursday in Poland the day before he sat down for that meeting with Putin. And in that statement he was not at all definitive about his belief that Russia meddled. He said that yes, he believes Russia did some meddling, but maybe other people and other countries did, as well. And so a lot of critics are clamoring for a much more definitive statement from the President on this matter of Russian meddling. And so far we haven't gotten it -- Ana.

CABRERA: Athena Jones at the White House for us. Thank you.

[17:05:04] Now, the Russian president is revealing new details about his views on President Trump after their big face-to-face meeting. Putin speaking out about Trump bringing up Russian hacking in the US election. Watch.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through a translator): The U.S. president raised this question and we discussed it. It wasn't just one question. There were lots of them. He devoted a lot of time to this issue. Our position is well-known and I repeated it, there is no basis for thinking that Russia interfered in the election process. What is important is that we agreed that the uncertainty on these matters cannot exist especially in the future.


CABRERA: Joining me now from Moscow, senior international correspondent Matthew Chance. So, you have obviously interviewed Vladimir Putin twice as we have discussed previously, Matthew. What is the reaction there in Russia to this much anticipated meeting between the two leaders?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's been a euphoric reaction as typical to describe in another way. Because the expectations were so low here that this meeting wasn't going to turn anything up because of the fractious relationship between Russia and the United States right now and of course the political pressures on Donald Trump particularly surrounding the toxic Russia issue was so great that, you know, people here didn't think there was any chance of them even agreeing to anything substantial at all.

In fact, the Russian state media were saying, look, you know, if they even agreed to have an another meeting, that would be considered a success. So, you know, we look at that backdrop and he say that this meeting went on for two hours and16 minutes and they discussed this wide range of topics at the heart of this U.S.-Russia relationship and even had agreement in several areas of that relationship.

So obviously on the Russian point of view, this is seen as a major step up, a major victory. And of course it's restored some faith in Russians amongst Russians that Donald Trump is indeed the U.S. president that sees, you know, the world from a similar point of view that their leadership does. And it's restored their faith that he is somebody who is going to be able to do deals so use Donald Trump's own terminology with the Kremlin. And so, I think that there is a renewed sense of hope that this could be a transformational moment in the relationship between the United States and Russia.

CABRERA: One of the things that this Russian president said before the cameras today was that he had a lot of good things to say about President Trump, he talked about how he really felt they connected during the meeting. He sang his praises. Is that typical in terms of being out of his playbook after meeting with past U.S. administrations?

CHANCE: You know, I mean, it's typical that the chemistry between Vladimir Putin and the new U.S. president, whoever that is, is usually quite strong. I mean, Vladimir Putin is very accomplished at making a good impression on people he needs to make a good impression on. I mean, who can forget the 2001, you know, moment when George W. Bush peered into Putin's eyes and got a sense of his soul, I think is what he said, isn't it? President Obama likewise in 2009 was very impressed according to his officials by Putin when he first met him back then. And so there was no surprise --

CABRERA: So, was Putin impressed with those administrations as he seems to be with President Trump?

CHANCE: No, that is what I was coming on to. What I do think is unusual is that President Trump should praise so highly in public in such a, you know, a formidable way what he thinks of Donald Trump, what he thinks of the U.S. leader. Normally he's a bit more tight- lipped and it's the other ones that do the praising. But this time he's being quite gushing, he is talking about how he sees him as a good partner. He used some other, you know, faces to describe him as well. And so I think Putin sees him as somebody that he can really into do business with?

CABRERA: Interesting. Matthew Chance. Thank you so much. I want to talk more about this new development the White House declining to knock down Russian President Vladimir Putin's claims that President Trump accepted Putin's word that Russia did not interfere in the U.S. election.

And joining me now, Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu, a member of the House Judiciary Committee from California.

Congressman, thanks you so much for being with us. This is coming from key White House players who were giving a briefing aboard Air Force One. National Security advisor HR McMaster, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who were asked multiple times about whether the President rebuts the claim that he agreed with the President of Russia that they did not meddle in the election. What is your reaction?

REP. TED LIEU (D), CALIFORNIA: Thank you Ana for your question. I have read the classified intelligence report. I've attended classified briefings. And Vladimir Putin is lying when he says Russia did not meddle in U.S. elections and it's highly disturbing that the White House and President Trump has not contradicted Putin's assertion because it shows that the American president seems to be believing Putin a former KGB agent over American intelligence officials and that is not acceptable.

[17:10:20] CABRERA: So let me play devil's advocate here. Is it possible President Trump is playing a long game here trying to set the stage with Putin allowing the U.S./Russia relationship to move on perhaps to an agreement on North Korea or Syria? Could that be the reason he is staying quiet?

LIEU: The problem is, if you don't confront Putin and you accept his word, then this incentivizes the Russians to hack America again. Now, other countries out of a variety of issues, and it's okay to have a disagreement and talk about other issue, but the President needs to confront Putin and not accept this KGB agent's word because the evidence is very clear Russia hacked America last year.

CABRERA: Why do you think the President then isn't coming forward and rebutting the claims from Putin? LIEU: That is a question many people are asking. I can't answer

that. But it does appear that the President acts in many ways as if Putin has something over him. And I don't know why that is. But this meeting certainly did not help to make those perceptions go away.

CABRERA: Remember going into the meeting there were a lot of questions whether the President would even bring up election meddling as part of this conversation. Should President Trump get credit for indeed bringing this up?

LIEU: Yes. He does get credit for bringing it up, but I think he just made the situation worse by not denying that he accepted Putin's word that Russia did not medal in U.S. elections last year. That is just false. And in fact it is so false that Nikki Haley went on CNN earlier today and said everyone knows Russia meddled in U.S. elections. So we clearly need to get the President on the same page.

CABRERA: That is right. She is going to be on state of the union tomorrow and there was an interview clip we have played here on our show as well from a portion of her interview. Let me ask you about some other takeaways from the Putin-Trump, they seem to get along pretty well. They say they're looking forward. They're working together on some issues like Syria, can a positive working relationship with Russia be a good thing?

LIEU: Yes. I don't have an objection to having the U.S. improve relations with other countries including Russia. My objection is that the White Houses and President seems to not have taken the Russia interference in U.S. elections last year seriously. That was a really big deal. We don't want that to happen again. But on other issues, we absolutely need Russia to cooperate with the U.S. more in Syria, on Iran and also in North Korea.

CABRERA: All right. Congressman Ted Lieu as always, thanks for being with us.

LIEU: Thank you.

CABRERA: And by the way, we will be talking with a Republican lawmaker later this hour. Congressman Francis Rooney, so stay tuned for that.

And in the meantime, I want to talk with former U.S. ambassador to Russia Thomas Pickering. He served in both Democrat and Republican administrations.

Ambassador, thanks again for spending time with us. Vladimir Putin is now claiming during this meeting between him and President Trump that President Trump agreed Russia did not interfere in last year's election. Three separate times today, White House officials declined to refute this. Can you think of the reason why they would do that?

THOMAS PICKERING, FORMER UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR: I think Ana one can only can trip to that, that it happens to be true and they don't particularly care to admit it but they are not interested in provoking a crisis in U.S. Russian relations over this issue by a personal confrontation between President Putin and President Trump over this question.

CABRERA: So, let me read you what former secretary or the State Department rather spokeswoman Jen Psaki had to say about the Trump- Putin meeting. And I quote, "You don't get a lot of shots at pressure in diplomacy and after you've let your adversary off the hook, you certainly don't get to apply that pressure again. As far as the Russians are concerned, the public case is closed. You know the Russians and how they operate. Do you think Putin feels like he is off the hook?

PICKERING: I can't tell you that. And that is obviously a personal conjecture on anybody's part. What I can tell you is that Sergey Lavrov yesterday when he said in fact that President Trump had let President Putin off the hook was clearly exploiting an opening that had taken place in the meeting. He's not a foolish man and he's not given -- he may be given to exaggeration but he's not given to fabrication.

And so, in that regard there is probably something that Russians believe they had good reason to think that they were off the hook. The fact that the White House then immediately countermanded it but now has gone quiet is an indication that the fact is, I said to you a moment ago that they're not interested in making this a centerpiece of future conflict between the United States and Russia. They are interested as your recent guest here just said, in seeing whether we can make some progress and I think that is important.

Whether this issue will remain put it this way, front and center or not, I have no idea. It is not an issue that will be resolved until former FBI Head Mueller responds and provides the information and the evidence. And I would look forward to that to seeing in fact what it is that he as I think a really first class individual and man of both courage and probity has to say about what in fact really took place here. And who in what way is responsible and at fault. My own sense is that the 18 U.S. intelligence agencies are not involved in the fabrication business on an issue of this importance.

And I believe they have strong reason to feel that way. The Putin challenge that show me the evidence is clearly a fishing expedition to see in fact whether the U.S. would reveal information inadvertently or otherwise about sources and methods that are extremely important to the United States and I would strongly object to seeing them do anything as foolish as that. Despite the public interest in this particular problem.

So, I think that the situation now is that Mr. Mueller will have to provide us I hope with a final answer and maybe Congressional Committees will also investigating. Let's hope that we have a single answer and a single view and a single conclusion and then we can move on because I don't know that what is going to undo what has been done or reorganize the United States around the past as important as this is as an attack on our democracy has been.

I don't know whether even after we find out the truth here much more is going to be done or can be done to deal with the issue. One can seek obviously further conflict with Russia and demand apologies and things of this sort. Putin is seeking obviously deciduously now to avoid that.

CABRERA: All right. Ambassador Thomas Pickering, thank you very much for joining us.

PICKERING: Thank you, Ana.

CABRERA: Coming up, Vladimir Putin says he thinks President Trump agrees that Russia didn't meddle in the U.S. election. Top White House advisers are not disputing Putin's account. So what is going on here? We get reaction from Republican Congressman Francis Rooney, next.


[17:21:53] CABRERA: The White House is refusing to deny Vladimir Putin's claim that President Trump appeared to accept his word that Russia did not meddle in last year's election. Putin made the claim earlier today while talking to the press. Later on Air Force One, White House officials were asked three separate times about Putin's remarks. Each time they declined to answer.

Joining me to discuss, Republican Congressman Francis Rooney of Florida. Congressman, thanks for being with us.


CABRERA: You served on the Foreign Affairs Committee. Are you concerned that White House officials won't come out and say Putin is lying?

ROONEY: No, I'm really not. I think we need to put this thing into some perspective. You know? It appears that Russia tried to conduct espionage against our election process but weren't successful and until we hear some kind of facts other than cyber-attacking the DNC successfully, I think we need to keep perspective on this issue. You know, I wouldn't expect President Putin to do anything different than try to capitalize on it. This is espionage and disinformation is one of the primary tricks of the trade.

CABRERA: So, you are not surprised about what Putin said, but are you surprised and concerned that the President is not refuting what Putin said?

ROONEY: No, I'm not. Because I think that we need to move on. I think the comments that were made by Secretary Tillerson that they decided not to re-litigate the past and move on to try to figure out, to improve our common enemy, our fight with our common enemy, ISIS and how to see if we can engage Russia in North Korea is a whole lot more important since we have an ongoing investigations can solve it anyway, it's a whole lot more important than -- back and forth about who said, who didn't say in the world with espionage.

CABRERA: Are you telling me you are not concerned about Russia meddling in the U.S. election?

ROONEY: Espionage is conducted all over the world all the time. Just remember, Bush's first term, we kicked out 50 Russians that we said were spies and they never confirmed it. So, I say, yes, they can try. Evidently from what I've heard, they didn't get very far and you never know where we may be getting around the world doing other text. It's a rough business.

CABRERA: So you're not worried about Russian entities, people, bots we've heard that they used to deploy during the past election being able to do more in future elections if we don't get to the bottom of it?

ROONEY: Well, sure you it's concerning, but all kinds of espionage and operations are concerning, but we have to be manned up enough to fight it back. You know --

CABRERA: How do you fight back --

ROONEY: Well, I think that we have pretty strong cyber-capabilities. And I think that there are many efforts under way in the Congress to beef those up to make sure that we can repel any Cyberattack no matter how forceful. You know, a bot is just a modern version of a leaflet drop.

CABRERA: We have heard from former administration officials and current intelligence officials who have testified before the different committees who are investigating Russia's meddling in the U.S. election, who has said that they believe the Russians will strike again, they have not been deterred. What is your response?

ROONEY: Well, I'm sure they will. I'm sure they are striking all the time. You know, this business is relentless. The pursuit of classified information and penetration of other countries security parameters is a relentless game played all around the word and we're pretty good with at it ourselves.

CABRERA: So, let me play for you what the President said about Russia's meddling one day before his meeting with President Putin. Listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Mistakes have been made. I agree I think it was Russia, but I think it was probably other people and/or countries and I see nothing wrong with that statement. Nobody really knows. Nobody really knows for sure.


CABRERA: Congressman, how can the President publicly question the Intel community's unanimous conclusion that Russia hacked our election on the world stage is questioning is, and then expect to have credibility when he confronts Putin about it 24 hours later?

[17:26:01] ROONEY: Well, I guess the other way you could look at this is you can say they tried to do some things and penetrate some security barriers and were unsuccessful. So, in some ways that is a victory for us.

CABRERA: Well, they were unsuccessful, you're right, in throwing the election or at least changing any votes. We have heard from the intelligence officials that that did not happen.

ROONEY: But at the same time, intelligence officials said that they did successfully hack.

CABRERA: Yes. But we haven't heard any results that they accomplished out of it. They didn't change any votes. They actually exposed their hand. I've said before to CNN that I think that they were more interested in making sure that the world knew they could than they were in trying to influence the election.

ROONEY: Kind of sounds like you don't care. It kind of sounds like you don't care about Russia's meddling in the election at all.

CABRERA: No ma'am, I care a lot. I just think we have to keep it in perspective of the nature of the world that we live in and the fact that espionage and cyber-attacks are conducted constantly all around the world and we have to just keep it in perspective. This is one thing, it's not the only thing. There is an investigation going on by Director Mueller. And now we need to focus on the bigger picture issues that the United States and Russia bilateral relation demands.

All right. Congressman Francis Rooney, we appreciate your take. Thanks for coming on.

ROONEY: Thanks for having me.

CABRERA: Coming up, Russia ramping up spying on the U.S. nearly 150 operatives now believed to be in the country. A brand new CNN reporting, next.


[17:31:46] CABRERA: President Trump's meeting with Vladimir Putin may be grabbing all the headlines, but we have new information now suggesting Moscow has ramped up its spying efforts since Trump was elected. Multiple current and former senior U.S. intelligence officials say that they have detected an increase in suspected Russian spies entering the U.S. Those intelligence officials believe Russians now have nearly 150 suspected intelligence operatives here in America.

And I want to bring in CNN's crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz.

Shimon, what are you learning from your sources about this uptick in Russian espionage?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME & JUSTICE REPORTER: A couple things happening here, Ana. Certainly, since the election, we're told, the U.S. intelligence started seeing an uptick in some of these activities. Back in December, when Obama expelled the 35 Russians alleged spies and the compounds were closed and they were forced to leave the other country -- this country, since then, the Russians have been trying to replenish them, bring more people back into the country here that they can use for spying reasons.

The other issue here is, we're told, the political climate. President Trump's reluctance to accept that Russian meddled in the election and the lack of response to the intelligence threat by then-President Obama, and now the slow response by the Trump administration to respond to some of this has emboldened the Russian activities.

And we're told that the State Department continues to grant visas to people the U.S. intelligence agencies suspected are Russian spies.

And in the middle of all this, Ana, the FBI is still continuing to do their work as part of their counterintelligence efforts. They conduct surveillance on people that they suspect who might be here working for other governments, whether Russians or others. All of that is still ongoing in the middle of all of this.

CABRERA: Shimon, do we know what the focus is of the new Russian spies, what are they trying to accomplish?

PROKUPECZ: We're told it's some of the obvious stuff. It's to build relationships with business leaders, people who can provide them information. We're told there is a lot of concern that a lot of them are trying to get access to people who may be able to obtain classified information, people who work in the government or some contractors or other maybe energy companies, who have access to really sensitive information that they can somehow gain knowledge about or work with people, build relationships to get some information that they can then report back to Russia. There is also a concern within education institutions and sort of the businesses and financial institutions.

CABRERA: All right. Shimon Prokupecz, interesting stuff.

Thank you very much.


[17:39:34] CABRERA: Coming up, President Trump praises China for its help with North Korea days after slamming Beijing for not helping enough. So which is it? And will we see more cooperation? We'll discuss.


[17:45:11] CABRERA: Before leaving Germany and the G-20 summit a short time, President Trump met with the president of China. It's a relationship that, if you only read President Trump's tweets, ranges from frustration to mutual good friendship.

Trump tweeted this today, "Leaving Hamburg for Washington, D.C. and the White House. Just left China's President Xi where we had an excellent meeting on trade and North Korea."

This was just three days ago, quote, "Trade between China and North Korea grew almost on 40 percent in the first quarter. So much for China working with us. But we had to give it a try."

CNN's global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott, is with us now. Also with us, the man who runs the East Asian Nonproliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Jeffrey Lewis.

Elise, first to you.

The president's mixed messages, what is going on?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Ana, I think since he took office, he's been hoping to build up the relationship with President Xi. You saw that meeting at Mar-a-Lago. He was going into that meeting talking tough but then came out of the meeting hoping they could have a better relationship. He hasn't seen the progress that he wants. But I think he doesn't have a choice but to work with China on trying to get some cooperation on North Korea. And I think it will be a mixture of carrots and sticks. You saw out of the meeting they agreed for more defense cooperation. China is going to join some U.S. military drills in the Pacific. And they will have some visits by the defense ministers. But on the other side, I think President Trump is really using trade as a weapon. He wants to see China decrease its trade with North Korea. And he is promising a better trade deal if that happens. But if China does not cooperate, he is threatening worse trade conditions and also sanctions against Chinese banks and companies that are doing business with North Korea. But he really has no choice because all roads to North Korea lead through Beijing.

CABRERA: So, Jeffrey, how optimistic are you that the president's conversation today with the Chinese leader turned the tide on North Korea?

DR. JEFFREY LEWIS, DIRECTOR, EAST ASIAN NONPROLIFERATION PROGRAM, JAMES MARTIN CENTER FOR NONPROLIFERATIOIN STUDIES: I'm not optimistic at all. I think the reason the president keeps talking about China is because he doesn't really have a strategy for dealing with North Korea. So it's easy to imagine that somehow the Chinese will get us out of this problem. But I think when it really comes down to it, the fact is that the Chinese are happy to make nice noises to the president and they are happy to talk about helping him out, but I don't think that they have the kind of influence that he hopes they have. And ultimately, the U.S. will have to get out of this problem itself.

CABRERA: So, Elise, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin -- you alluded to some of what he told reporters regarding the conversation between the two presidents. We hear the president's talk was very direct towards the president of China and that Trump said that he is ready to make progress on North Korea. You talked about some of the different areas in which China could do more. But what would the measuring stick be for saying they are doing something different than in the past?

LABOTT: Well, I agree with Jeff that Chinese kind of political and diplomatic influence is limited. But China is North Korea's largest and primary financial backer. And so that is why I think the U.S. is threatening financial actions against China to put that pressure on North Korea. They want to see decreased trade. We saw in that tweet from President Trump. One thing I've been told is that Trump has really been surprised at the amount of trade between North Korea and China. So they want to see reduced trade. They want to see China continue and strengthen banning of coal exports, other types of things that are denying the North Koreans that kind of financial money to keep building up their programs. Because really, China is really only going to do it if it's in their interests.

Aside from the diplomatic pressure, China has its own interests for not wanting to push the regime too far. And so I think it's about putting maximum pressure on China to cooperate and getting China to put maximum pressure on North Korea to get it to cooperate.

CABRERA: What is the best way to deal with China, do you think, Jeffrey? Is it the carrot or the stick approach? Because we keep hearing so many nice things the president is saying after he meets directly with the Chinese president. It seems like maybe he's trying to be strategic and playing nice.

LEWIS: Well, I think the president is overthinking it. At the end of the day, the Chinese don't have the same set of interests that we do. And ultimately, the Chinese have a different approach to try and deal with the North Koreans. The way they try to influence North Korea is to try to build up people in North Korea that support them. And North Koreans actually don't like that very much. I think one of the reasons that you saw that Kim Jong-Un had his half-brother murdered was he felt like, because he was living under Chinese protection, that he was somehow a Chinese agent of influence and represented this Chinese participation in North Korea's governance.

So, you know, at the end of the day, the Chinese want to be nice to North Koreans because they think that that is the way that they have influence. But again, I think the Chinese and people in the United States both dramatically overestimate, when push comes to shove, how much the Chinese can do.

[17:45:28] CABRERA: Elise Labott and Jeffrey Lewis, thank you both.

Coming up, a CNN exclusive, "The Last Stand for ISIS in Raqqa." U.S.- backed forces fighting to retake the de facto capitol. A rare look from the front lines, next.


[17:49:57] CABRERA: I want to show you the seen in northern Iraq today. Celebration.




CABRERA: These are Iraqi soldiers in high spirits as news that nearly all of the city of Mosul has been liberated from ISIS. An Iraqi army spokesman, a general, says the fighting is not completely over, but that ISIS fighters have been pushed all the way to the banks of the Tigress River with Iraqi troops advancing. These are civilians, the families caught in the cross-fire in Mosul. Media reports say Iraqi troops killed several dozen ISIS fighters and freed hundreds of these civilians in Mosul.

Meantime, we want to take you to the heart of the battle against ISIS in Syria where U.S.-backed rebels are getting closer to retaking the city of Raqqa. That's ISIS's self-proclaimed capitol.

CNN international correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh, got rare access to the front lines and has this exclusive report.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We are now inside the old city walls of Raqqa, the capitol of ISIS's self- declared caliphate in the territory from which they will make their final stand in Syria and really the Middle East.

That wall, a key milestone for coalition forces and the Syrian Kurds and Arabs who now control fully 200 or 300 meters inside of the old city.

Down that way, 200 meters, are ISIS's positions.

The forces here don't move around much in the daylight because of the risk of ISIS snipers. Less so in these streets. But it's at night where the majority of the movement forward is made.

We've seen U.S. forces here, not far from these positions. Anxious not to be filmed or even noticed, frankly. But you understand it's them calling in the air strikes and the artillery that's allowing these forces to move forth, frankly, so quickly.

I've been surprised how little of the city ISIS are, apparently, in right now, an area possibly one and a half to three miles in terms of size. So increasingly small terrain that they hold.

But as we saw in Mosul in Iraq, civilians, apparently, held in their midst, unable to flee because of the ISIS snipers. A real impediment for these Syrian Kurdish and Arab fighters. But still the progress here marking, potentially, the last time that ISIS can say they hold the city in Syria.


CABRERA: Incredible look there.

Thank you, Nick Paton Walsh.

This is just into CNN. The death of someone you know if you were a regular watcher of HBO's popular vampire series, "True Blood." Nelsan Ellis played a short-order cook in all seven seasons of the show. Ellis was just 39 years old. His death confirmed to CNN by an HBO spokesperson. No word on how he died. But the reactions coming in from the entertainment world. A tweet from Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer. She writes, "Just got word we lost Nelsan Ellis. My heart breaks for his kids and family." Again, "Trueblood" actor, Nelsan Ellis, dead at the age of 39.

We're back after this.


[17:57:23] CABRERA: Becoming a "CNN Hero" all begins with a nomination. Just taking a few moments to fill out a form could turn your hero into a "CNN Hero" and change their life. That's what happened for Tawanda Jones in 2013. Meet the woman and the former drill team member who paid it forward.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was attending Washington State University and I told one of my professors about the drill team and what it meant to me. And she said, oh, I think you should nominate her for "CNN Heroes."

TAWANDA JONES, CNN HERO: To know that someone in the program nominated me for "CNN Hero," it means so much more because they were a part of the struggle, they were a part of those humble beginnings. So that was a tremendous honor and I've wore it with a badge of honor.


CABRERA: To nominate your hero, just log on to

Meantime, the heat is on in the western United States with sweltering record temperatures expected to continue today. Take a look. 17 cities out west are forecasted to possibly hit record highs. Forecasts range from a record-breaking 97 degrees in Los Angeles to a near-record setting 118 degrees predicted for Palm Springs, California. This, of course, also means increased risk for wildfires. Here's a look at one of more than a dozen fires raging in California right now. This is the Winters Wildfire. Firefighters believe it may have been sparked by a blown tire on Highway 128.

Police in Florida say some new evidence has led to more questions about the fatal accident involving the tennis star, Venus Williams. There's video now that shows Williams lawfully entered a Florida intersection seconds before the fatal crash on June 9th. The Palm Beach Gardens Police say surveillance video from the guard gate of a residential community shows Williams had a green light, but she stopped in the intersection to avoid hitting a car that turned in front of her car. The light changes to green for the other traffic lanes in the interim, and when Williams continues on through, her SUV is hit. Police initially said Williams was at fault, but their new statement does not assign blame. The crash injured 78-year-old Jerome Larson (ph), who later died, and badly injured his wife, Linda (ph), who was driving. Larson's (ph) family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Williams citing negligence. On Friday, a judge ruled Williams' SUV can be searched in connection with the crash.

That's going to do it for me. I'm Ana Cabrera, in New York. I'll be back in one hour here in the CNN NEWSROOM.

"SMERCONISH," in the meantime, is next.

Have a great one.