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Russia Meeting; Trump to Meet with France's Emmanuel Macron; The Fight for Raqqa; Earth's Sixth Mass Extinction. Aired 12-12:30a ET

Aired July 12, 2017 - 00:00   ET



SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: This is CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles.

Ahead this hour --

Donald Trump, Jr. is fighting back after releasing e-mails that show he agreed to a 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer offering evidence to damage his father's political opponent.

Plus an exclusive CNN report from inside the de facto ISIS capital of Raqqa as American-backed forces close in there.

And later, a dire warning from scientists. The earth is entering its sixth mass extinction even and humans are to blame.

Hello and welcome to our viewers all around the world. I'm Sara Sidner.

NEWSROOM L.A. starts right now.

Donald Trump, Jr. is defending his meeting with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 presidential campaign saying he just wanted to hear what she had to say. But criticism has been harsh and swift.

The President's son met with the attorney in June of 2016 after he received an e-mail, promising incriminating information about Hillary Clinton. Trump, Jr. released the e-mail chain Tuesday via Twitter only after the "New York Times" planned to do so.

The e-mail said the information being offered to Trump, Jr. was part of, quote, "Russia and its government support for Mr. Trump". Trump, Jr. talked about the e-mails and the meetings just a few hours ago.


DONALD TRUMP, JR., PRESIDENTIAL SON: Things are going a million miles an hour again, and hey, wait a minute. I've heard about all these things but maybe this is something. I should hear him out. This was again, just basic information that was going to be possibly there. I didn't know these guys well enough to understand, if it's a talent manager for Miss Universe, you know, had this kind of things.

So I wanted to hear him out. In retrospect, I probably would have done things a little differently. Again this is before the Russian mania. This is before they were building it up in the press.

For me this was opposition research and they had something, you know, maybe concrete evidence to all the stories I've been hearing about that were probably under reported for years, not just during the campaign. So I think I wanted to hear it out.

But really it went nowhere and it was apparent that that wasn't what the meeting was actually about.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: Did you tell your father anything about that?

TRUMP, JR.: It was such a nothing, there was nothing to tell. And I wouldn't even have remembered it until you start scouring through the stuff. It was literally just a wasted 20 minutes, which was a shame.


SIDNER: President Trump has weighed in. He is praising his son's transparency, as he put it, in releasing the e-mail chain even though Donald Trump, Jr. only did so after the "New York Times" said it would publish them.

Late Tuesday, President Trump tweeted, My son, Donald, is a quote, 'great person' who loves our country.

CNN's Jim Acosta has more on the reaction.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The e-mails are astonishing. Released by the President's own son, Donald Trump, Jr. the messages reveal top level officials with the Trump campaign met with a Russian lawyer who an intermediary suggested was offering support from the Kremlin.

The e-mails, first reported by the "New York Times" promised quote, "very high level and sensitive information that would incriminate Hillary Clinton".

The messages between Trump, Jr. and an acquaintance, Rob Goldstone, outlined how a Russian pop singer Emin Agalarov whose father is tied to the Kremlin wanted the President's son to meet with attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya, a meeting that also included former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Mr. Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner.

Goldstone: Emin asked that I schedule a meeting with you and a Russian government attorney who is flying over from Moscow for this Thursday.

Trump Jr.: How about 3:00 at our offices? Thanks Rob. Appreciate you helping set it up.

Goldstone: This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but it's part of Russia and it's government support for Mr. Trump. Trump, Jr.: If it's what you say, I love it, especially later in the summer.

The President's son tweeted photos of the e-mails along with a statement that reads "I first wanted to just have a phone call but when that didn't work out, they said the woman would be in New York and asked if I would meet. I decided to take the meeting."

The woman, as she has said publicly, was not a government official. She had no information to provide.

Goldstone in his own statement says the lawyer had apparently stated she had some information regarding illegal campaign contributions to the DNC which she believed Mr. Trump, Jr. might find important. I reached out to Donald Trump, Jr. and he agreed to squeeze us into a very tight meeting schedule.

The attorney in question told NBC she doesn't work for the Russian government.

NATALIA VESELNITSKAYA, RUSSIAN ATTORNEY (through translator): It's quite possible that maybe they were looking for such information. They wanted it so badly.

ACOSTA: At an off-camera briefing, White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders read a brief statement from the President about his son.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: "My son is a high quality person and I applaud his transparency."

ACOSTA: The White House also responded to a question about whether Trump Jr. and members of the President's team could be brought up on charges of perjury or even treason.

SANDERS: I think those new words are ridiculous.

ACOSTA: But the e-mail shattered past denials of any contacts with the Russian's from the Trump team.

From the President's son --

TRUMP, JR.: It's disgusting. It's so phony.

[00:05:03] ACOSTA: -- to the Vice President --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just to button up one question. Did any advisor or anybody in the Trump campaign have any contact with the Russians who were trying to meddle in the election?


ACOSTA: -- to the President, himself --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir -- could you state --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- Mr. President-elect --

TRUMP: Go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- can you state categorically --

TRUMP: Let them give a question --

ACOSTA: -- who once refused to answer whether his associates had contacts with the Russians and has repeatedly rejected the story as fake news.

TRUMP: But the entire thing has been a witch hunt. And there is no collusion between, certainly myself and my campaign. But I can always speak for myself and the Russians -- zero.

ACOSTA: Now, Mr. Trump's advisers are defending the President's son's actions as something campaigns do.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They wanted the dirt.

SEBASTIAN GORKA, WHITE HOUSE COUNSELOR: -- which is what political campaigns do.

ACOSTA: It is unclear just when the President will respond to his son's e-mails on camera. The White House has released his public schedule for Wednesday and once again for the third day in a row there are no public events on the schedule.

Jim Acosta, CNN -- the White House.


SIDNER: Joining me now from Los Angeles to discuss all this -- senior political analyst Ron Brownstein. Thank you so much for being here.


SIDNER: For those of us who have read the e-mail chain, which I'm sure you have --


SIDNER: -- Trump, Jr. tweeted. This is what stood out to many of us as the most potentially problematic in the exchange between Donald Trump, Jr. and Rob Goldstone, who was setting up the meeting with that Russian lawyer.

Goldstone, we should remind people, is a British music publicist and a former tabloid journalist. He wrote in part, "This is obviously very high-level and sensitive information but it's part of Russia and its government support for Mr. Trump."

And this is what stood out and Donald Trump, Jr.'s response. He said in part, "seems we have some time and if that's what you say, I love it, especially later in the summer".

I wanted to first ask you, is this the first hard evidence that someone in the Trump campaign, Donald Trump, Jr. at least, sought to collude with the Russians?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. Look, I think it speaks, you know, the thing speaks for itself. You zero in correctly I think on the central line in this exchange. When someone writes an e-mail to Donald Trump, Jr. saying that he has information that is part of the Russian government effort to support your father, the candidate, he doesn't write back what are you talking about? What is this? He doesn't raise alarms.

He is really kind of unfazed by it. And, you know, immediately he begins thinking about how they can leverage this to maximum full of advantage talking about perhaps, you know, desiring the meeting later in the campaign season. It doesn't seem like a totally alien idea to him.

There's nothing in his response that indicates even surprise, much less dismay or displeasure at the idea of the Russian government and not only individuals trying to support his father.

So I think that points toward the obvious question of why was he so blase about this. What else had happened and certainly whether there is more to come.

And I do have a way. I think that is the single, most important thing out of these e-mails. It's just a reminder that much as the President wants to say this has been explored and done and it's fake news. There's a lot we don't know and there's a lot more we are going to know before it's over.

SIDNER: Just out of curiosity, and this just came to me as you were pointing out some of these important points. Is this sort of a situation where Donald Trump, Jr. could say look, I'd never been in politics. Like, I didn't realize that this might be a problem? Can he get away with that?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think, you know, he can certainly get away with saying that he didn't know the details of the campaign finance law on the prohibition on soliciting funds or anything of value from a foreign national. Of course, ignorance of the law is no defense.

But I think anyone, really any American citizen receiving an offer that is framed as coming from the government of Russia as part of its campaign to help your father, it you know, would react with surprise at the least and concern, I think.

And by the way, of course, it is not Donald Trump, Jr. who is on this e-mail chain. Ultimately he forwards the e-mails to, you know, his brother-in-law as well as the campaign manager. So they are part of this as well.

And Paul Manafort, the campaign manager has been doing this for a very long time. Now people around him have suggested anonymously today, well he didn't really read through the e-mails. But at the least once he was in the meeting, he knew what they were discussing. And no one felt any need to inform the FBI, to inform anyone and in fact, as Jim Acosta pointed out, persisted in claims to the contrary for months that they have had no contact with anybody from Russia.

SIDNER: Let me ask you lastly. Do you believe the claim that Donald Trump, Jr. has stated publicly that, oh no, I didn't bother telling my father about this.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, I -- no I don't have an opinion about that. I mean we don't know.

[00:10:02] And I go back to my first point, you know, these are the accounts that we are receiving in statements people are making to the media on "Hannity" or just, you know, kind of like going on Pravda for the Trump administration to, you know, rebut allegations of Russian interference.

Ultimately ever one involved is almost certainly going to be answering questions under oath. And they're going to be answering questions under oath probably in multiple venues, in front of Congress and in front of the special counsel. And they're going to be answering questions under oath after more documentation has been produced.

And my guess is that the story about this meeting and any other meetings, whether ultimately there's criminal charges or not is going to look very different at the end of that process than it does today.

SIDNER: Senior political analyst Ron Brownstein -- we appreciate your time in going through that with us. Very important and certainly there is no chance that the Russia story is going to get dropped any time soon.

Now let's move on this.

The Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, who met with Donald Trump, Jr. says she does not work for the Kremlin but she does have a history of lobbying against placing sanctions on Russia.

She spoke with CNN's Matthew Chance in Moscow.


VESELNITSKAYA: When it was suggested that I meet with Donald Trump, Jr. I met him in a private situation. It was a private meeting, not related at all to the fact that he was the son of a candidate.

And the whole story which I had was spelled out. It was the same for everyone including Donald Trump, Jr. who, having listened to my story didn't understand based on our conversation how he could help me.


SIDNER: CNN contributor and former Moscow bureau chief Jill Dougherty is joining me now, live from Seattle. You are very familiar how the Russians operate. You have reported from there for a very long time.

Have you seen or heard of any evidence that does suggest that this Russian lawyer who says she is not connected to the Kremlin is indeed connected in some way.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know, Sara, it's very hard to say connected or not directly because in Russia, you know, personal relationships, family relationships, marriages, what a person does are all a lot more, let's say, movable objects. They're not quite as objective as they would have been in the United States certainly.

So I don't think that you can definitively say that she is a Kremlin lawyer even though she was depicted that way. But what you could say is she is very much an insider, very well connected. She also was connected and did a lot of work in Moscow, the Moscow region in government and that's a very powerful government in Russia.

Moscow is a place where all the money from all over the world; all sorts of deals are done essentially in Moscow. It's a very rich area. And when you're doing real estate deals and all of that, you can bet that you'd have to be very well connected in order to do that.

And then we also know that her thing was trying to get rid of, as Matthew mentioned, get rid of these sanctions and especially the Magnitsky Act which was that act that essentially created a blackness for Russians who were involved in human rights violations and it angered President Putin so much that he, in turn, the Russian government, outlawed adoptions by Americans -- of the children of Russian heritage.

And that, it seems, not connected. But there was so much anger in Moscow that that is exactly what happened. And that's what she apparently wanted to talk about in the meeting with Trump.

SIDNER: Right. That's what Donald Trump, Jr. said that she didn't really have -- she didn't have information on Hillary Clinton. She was trying to talk about adoptions.

I do want to lastly ask you how the Russians are reacting to what is happening here.

DOUGHERTY: You know, it's very interesting. I did check some of the sites and you would be surprised at the lack of coverage. You know, normally Trump news, you just get on a site, Google the name "Trump" and you knew it would get a hit.

There is not a whole lot. I mean it's being covered but it's the number one story. And even when it is, for example on RT which is the (inaudible) they were mentioning they were quoting Trump saying it's inane nonsense. So they're pretty much batting the story down even as they report on it.

SIDNER: Jill Dougherty, we thank you. Our former Moscow bureau chief, giving us some insight into the story that everyone is talking about -- at least in the political world. We appreciate it. Now President Trump is getting ready for a trip to Paris where he could be asked publicly about his son's meeting with a Russian lawyer. Mr. Trump will have a joint press conference with French President Emanuel Macron on Thursday.

[00:15:03] The two leaders disagree on various issues such as climate change, for example. But during the U.S. President's visit to Paris, they're expected to try and find some common ground.

Our senior international correspondent, Jim Bittermann is joining us now, live from Paris.

Now the last time we saw this two men together, there was this sort of unforgettable, strong handshake. What do you think will be the top of the agenda this time?

JIM BITTERMANN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Indeed Sara -- there'll be a lot of concentration this time on the atmospherics that go on to see whether there's any kind of inkling of that strong handshake that we saw the first time that the two met.

But I think it's going to be a fairly positive 24 hours in Paris because that's really all that Donald Trump was going to be here. Emmanuel Macron has got a big show -- the grandeur of France is going to be on display because they're going to have the military parade for the Bastille Day, the Bastille Day -- the commemoration of French independence as they parade down the avenue behind me.

And Donald Trump will be a guest of honor because this year marks the 100th anniversary of America's entrance into World War I. That was something that was planned long in advance of the presidential elections in the United States.

So this really doesn't have much to do with Trump except that he's going to profit by his presence here. And Macron has decided that he's going to take him on Thursday night to one of the best restaurants, or at least that has the best view in Paris, the Jules Verne Restaurant in the Eiffel Tower for a sumptuous dinner, all of which is meant to impress Trump but also to kind of make him feel like he's not being backed into a corner internationally; that Donald Trump is not the odd-man out -- Sara.

SIDNER: Jim Bittermann -- thank you so much for that insight from Paris.

Now to Syria. There's little time for celebration after the liberation of the Iraqi city of Mosul from ISIS. Now the international coalition fighting the terrorists is focused on defeating ISIS in its other stronghold of Raqqa.

A coalition-supported alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters -- the SDF -- has encircled the city and breached its ancient wall. And CNN was the first news agency to get inside.

Here's our Nick Paton Walsh from Syria.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is where it ends. ISIS' twisted idea was built from claiming their own state.

For now, ahead of us, there's just a few square miles of old city streets and urban sprawl left of their capital Raqqa.

The major threat on the street we're being told is from snipers although these Syrian, Arab and Kurdish forces have pushed further inside the old city and now have positions past this historic old port.

A few day earlier, surgical coalition air strikes punched holes through these 1,300-year-old defenses. They say that they move forward in daylight because of ISIS snipers but here they are literally 20 meters away from the historic old city wall of Raqqa, a milestone in the war to rid the Middle East of ISIS.

American Special Forces providing precision fire power from (inaudible) down the road. At the mark (ph) here, where civilians were traps perhaps as human shields.

Some days ISIS is cut off and everything, he says. They told him to stay inside. If you go out, they'll slaughter them.

We're the first journalists they take in.

Over this side they say they're safe from sniper cover. And there is -- they're all sitting all right there.

Some English (inaudible) throughout the town we hear, targeting ISIS positions deeper inside Raqqa.

They are the foot soldiers in a global fight against ISIS. Fueled by hope of U.S. support for a Kurdish homeland nearby and afterward.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Donald Trump. Donald Trump.

WALSH: They didn't vote Trump here, but the White House had let this assault gather pace, whisking (ph) through three miles of Raqqa's outskirts in as many weeks. But here, it is eerily empty.

The one civilian we do see further out, unable to speak. There's a story within her blood (inaudible) ties. At least 50,000 other stories of loss and horror are now encircled inside Raqqa, hostage to the question when does ISIS' (inaudible) resolve (ph) to die. Finally a break.

Nick Paton Walsh, CNN -- Raqqa, Syria.


[00:20:02] SIDNER: Coming up, scientists warn that a huge chunk of the world's species could disappear in the coming centuries, maybe one in our lifetime. Is it a hopeless situation or is there a way to avoid this crisis. We'll ask an expert coming up next.


SIDNER: 2017 has been a rough year for the animal kingdom and rough may be an understatement. Scientists warn that Earth's sixth mass extinction is already underway meaning 75 percent of all species could disappear in the coming centuries. And sadly humans are the ones to blame for it.

A study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Scientists says humans have wiped out 50 percent of the earth's wildlife in the last 40 years.

And if you take a look at this chart, you will see there have already been five mass extinctions when many species rapidly died. Also notice the line is rising at the end, which means the problem is only getting worse. So just how do we start fixing the issue?

Elizabeth Kolbert is the author of "The Sixth Extinction: an Unnatural History" and joins us now from Williamstown, Massachusetts. We appreciate you being here.

I want to talk first about something that you have certainly have been studying and you have published a book on. But also we looked into it and went to some of these places where the extinctions are happening.

I want to take people now to Africa and this, what was called the great elephant count. Let's listen in to what one of the scientists said when they went to try and count the elephants to see what was happening with them.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And, you know, I've often been from optimistic or pessimistic about the future of African elephants. And on days like today, I feel that we are failing elephants.


SIDNER: Let's talk about elephants. I know that you know, for a long time people talked about saving the whales and then elephants came into view. Is this human cause -- is this all about poaching?

ELIZABETH KOLBERT, AUTHOR, "THE SIXTH EXTINCTION": Personally the elephant story, yes, is all about poaching. I mean I shouldn't say it's all about poaching, it's also about habitat loss so people they're just encroaching on the habitat of elephants.

But the sort of crisis that we're in right now where elephant deaths just far (inaudible) the elephant births. It's largely caused by poaching for the ivory market.

SIDNER: All right. I'm going to move on to another thing that is near and dear to all of our hearts especially those of us who live alongside the sea and that is some of the garbage that has amassed in the sea and that has spread out. Our Nick Paton Walsh and John Souter (ph) went to a couple of places to show the damage that that is doing. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every single albatross you can see across this landscape has been fed plastic.


[00:25:00] SIDNER: When you see those pictures of birds filled with plastic -- I mean what is this doing to the environment at large? And these are things like plastic water bottles that all of us, to some extent, are guilty of using and throwing out.

KOLBERT: Well I think that what the problem of plastic pollution in the ocean have been, you know, people have been through very remote parts of the ocean and found tremendous amounts of plastic degree and a lot of it breaks down into these tiny little pieces which are then ingested by marine creatures and sea birds.

And what that shows is really, you know, there's no place on the planet anymore that is immune to human influence (ph). We are everywhere. There are very, very clear signs of our presence. Everywhere and that's from, you know, the remote oceans to the deep oceans, to the top of the atmosphere.

So we are really becoming, have become the dominant force on planet earth.

SIDNER: I do want to ask you when we see these pictures and we hear these stories and you talk about a sixth extinction, it sound dire. Is it a helpless -- or hopeless situation? Or is there something that if we started right now doing around the world that could actually slow this or stop it potentially?

KOLBERT: Well, there are a lot of things that we could be doing. Unfortunately, we're not doing them. And the first one does start with addressing climate change. I mean that should be really number one on our list of priorities is transitioning into a clean energy economy.

And I think the, you know, hopeful sign there is that it's increasingly technologically doable. The cost of solar panels, for example have just been, you know, falling, falling, falling. And now solar -- new solar is really competitive and other forms of energy.

But unfortunately we have created this, you know -- we are poaching, we're destroying habitat. We're warming the world. We're acidifying the oceans. We're moving species around the planet and that tends to bring species into contact that haven't been in contact for millions and millions of years so invasive species are a huge driver of extinction.

So we're setting in motion a lot of processes. And there's no one way to just say ok, well, now we're going to stop. But then on all fronts there are a lot of things that we could be doing that we, in fact, know how to do but sadly right now we're not doing.

SIDNER: All right. Thank you so much -- Elizabeth Kolbert, author of "The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History". We appreciate you coming on to explain the situation to all of us.

KOLBERT: Thanks for having me.

SIDNER: And thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles.

I'm Sara Sidner. We will be back with a check of the headlines for you.