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Crisis in Venezuela; China is Home to Biggest Floating Solar Farm; Rapidly Shifting Accounts of Trump Jr Russia Meeting; UAE Calls Qatar Hacking Allegation "Not True"; Reports of Infighting over Brexit in May's Cabinet; "Winnie the Pooh" Partly Banned by Chinese Censors. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired July 18, 2017 - 02:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[02:00:00]

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ISA SOARES, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): This is CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. Ahead this hour:

JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): A White House in crisis as allegations of Russia collision continue to swirl. The U.S. president was in a fire truck promoting buy America week.

SOARES (voice-over): Plus a call to strike: an opposition group in Venezuela steps up the pressure on President Nicolas Maduro.

VAUSE (voice-over): And government tensions in China, working overtime and now they have Winnie-the-Pooh in their sights.

Hello, everybody, great to have you with us. I'm John Vause.

SOARES (voice-over): And I'm Isa Soares. NEWSROOM L.A. starts right now.

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VAUSE: The questions about Russian involvement in the U.S. election continue to grow and the Republican effort to repeal ObamaCare is floundering.

SOARES: But that the White House all the talk was made in America week. Even so, as Jeff Zeleny now reports, President Trump cannot keep the Russia investigation off his mind or, in fact, Twitter.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SR. WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There was no fire at the White House. But this fire truck is one way President Trump and his aides are urgently trying to change the subject from the Russia investigation overshadowing their agenda.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Beautiful, Wisconsin (ph). All right. ZELENY (voice-over): The president kicking off what the administration is calling Made in America Week, showcasing products from every state in the country from the South Lawn of the White House to the state dining room inside.

The salesman in chief spent the afternoon promoting American products instead of using his bully pulpit on the Republican health bill floundering in the Senate, where a vote was delayed once again this week.

The president also made clear it's Russia that's this at the top of his mind, tweeting, "Most politicians would have gone to a meeting like the one Don Jr. attended in order to get info on an opponent. That's politics."

But that is not what Christopher Wray, the president's nominee to lead the FBI, said last week at his confirmation hearing, when he told senators the meeting with Russians should have raised alarm.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR NOMINEE: Any threat or effort to interfere with our elections from any nation state or any nonstate actor is the kind of thing the FBI would want to know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY (voice-over): The president, insisting there was nothing wrong with the Trump Tower meeting in June 2016, when his oldest son, Donald Trump Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner and campaign chairman Paul Manafort met with the Russian lawyer after being promised damaging information on Hillary Clinton.

The latest "Washington Post"/ABC News poll shows that 36 percent approve of Mr. Trump while 58 percent do not. It's the lowest rating for a president at this point in polls going back 70 years.

At the same point of their presidencies, Barack Obama and George W. Bush each had a 59 percent approval rating; Bill Clinton's 45 percent.

Another warning sign on the horizon, Trump detractors feel more passionate about their views than his supporters: 48 percent strongly disapprove of his performance while only 25 percent strongly approve.

This is a level of disdain never reached by Clinton or Obama and only in the second term of Bush's presidency, according to "The Washington Post"/ABC News poll.

His low approval rating is one of the factors complicating the effort to repeal and replace ObamaCare. Again this week, the Senate is delaying a vote on health care. Senator John McCain, recovering from a surgery for a blood clot, at home in Arizona.

TRUMP: We hope John McCain gets better very soon because we miss him. He is a crusty voice in Washington. Plus we need his vote. ZELENY (voice-over): Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell postponed action until McCain's return, needing every Republican vote he can get.

Back at the White House, the Made in America theme shining new light on how much of the Trump brand is made outside the USA. White House press secretary Sean Spicer, brushing aside question of whether the president and his daughter should stop making their products overseas.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESPERSON: In some cases, there are certain supply chains or a scalability that may not be available in this country. I'm not going to comment on specific products.

ZELENY: So the White House, during this Made in America Week, taking time to defend Ivanka Trump for having most of her clothing line and accessory line made outside of the United States as well as much of the products that President Trump's own companies made.

But that shows you the lengths to which this White House wants to change the subject from Russia. They are happy to answer questions about where their products are made -- Jeff Zeleny, CNN, the White House.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Joining us now, Democratic strategist Caroline Heldman and Republican strategist, Austin James.

Good to have you both with us.

Let's start with the president's latest offense, that meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and others --

[02:05:00]

VAUSE: -- and the lawyer from -- linked to the Kremlin in Russia. Donald Trump saying this is just business as usual. It is all about politics.

What do politicians say?

Let's listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: You were told that a lawyer wanted to share information with you as part of the Russian government's effort to help you get elected, how would you respond?

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R-MAINE), MEMBER, SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Well, I would respond in the negative.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), S.C.: Anytime you are in a campaign and you get an offer from a foreign government to help your campaign, the answer is no. MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: The president today said that anybody in politics would have taken a meeting that his son took with a Russian lawyer.

What's your reaction to that?

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KY: I think that doesn't include me.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: Would you have taken the meeting?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, absolutely not.

POPPY HARLOW(?), CNN ANCHOR: Is there any scenario under which you would accept that meeting?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely not.

GRAHAM: With all due respect to President Trump, the answer is no, you don't take meetings from foreign governments to help you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: Well, Lindsey Graham got two bites of the show.

OK, Austin, are they all just being wise after the fact or are they not telling the truth?

What's the deal here?

AUSTIN JAMES, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes, listen, I think it's a little political jockeying. I think the president still has a bit of a grace period where you think the recent poll had 90 percent of self- identified conservatives saying, we still support him.

And so part of his appeal is that he isn't a politician. I do not know how far that goes. I think it's anyone's guess but these are career politicians. And they don't get to say the same talking points and I think you're seeing that now.

And this is also playing out in health care with a breakdown of conservative leadership.

SOARES: But let me ask you this. And Caroline, this is more directed at you. We've heard, if you saw there in that snippet, so many indignation. I've been hearing that for the past nine days, yes, I wouldn't go to this meeting. Of course, none of us would do it. Where we do go from here?

Where does this take us from an investigative point of view?

Does this have legs?

Can this go any further?

CAROLINE HELDMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, it certainly has legs. It's a potential violation of campaign and election laws, right, we are not allowed -- if you're in a campaign you are not allowed to get something of value from a foreign national or from a foreign government or anyone with ties.

And so at the end of the day, oppo research, even so that's how they're trying to spin it, right, that is something of value. I worked in D.C. for years. When we gathered opposition research, we sold it. There's a value to that, even if it's not something that is bought or sold; it's something that could potentially influence an election.

So this is something for Mueller to look at. This is potentially something for a criminal investigation. Its; certainly something for a congressional investigation This is the fire. There has been a lot of smoke around Russiagate, as the Left is calling it. This is actual fire.

VAUSE: So now this is all about opposition research and the debate is that politics is normal, is this out of the ordinary?

What's Sean Spicer, the White House spoke -- he did not get the memo today. (INAUDIBLE) change. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SPICER: The president's made it clear through his tweet. And there was nothing that, as far as we, that would lead anyone to believe that there was anything except for a discussion about adoption and the Majinsky (sic) Act. But I would refer you back to counsel on that one.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: Even Donald Trump Jr. abandoned the adoption line last week. Here we go.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP JR., SON OF PRESIDENT TRUMP: For me, this was opposition research. It had something maybe concrete evidence to all the storied I'd been hearing about. But they were probably underreported for years, not just during the campaign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: Austin, has Sean Spicer been in a coma for the two weeks --

(CROSSTALK)

JAMES: I want to back to something that Caroline said. I haven't spent many years in Washington as well. So this is still a lot of smoke. Show me where this breaks down. Show me where they've broken the law. I still think --

(CROSSTALK)

VAUSE: -- just very quickly about Spicer, though, this is the problem about the communication, the message that there are so many different --

(CROSSTALK)

JAMES: Listen, and this is a tough position to be in. I come on here many times -- I always tell Caroline, she has the easy job. And so I think there is --

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

JAMES: #fakenews.

SOARES: Let me ask you this, how much, listening to what we heard there from Sean Spicer, do you really believe he didn't know?

The narrative was print (ph) or was he trying to mislead us?

How can you not think from the same hymn sheet as a communications director?

JAMES: I think it's a good question. I think there is a breakdown in leadership. My contacts that I know in the White House and back in D.C., there really are multiple factions all doing their own thing. And we're seeing that play out.

I cannot speak for Sean Spicer but I think the sad fact is that if he had just watched the clip that you just showed, I think he may have been on the same page.

VAUSE: But Caroline, so the question of whether or not any laws have been violated, that is obviously the special prosecutor or counsel, Robert Mueller, to determine, or at least one person who will be determining that, but there are questions here about whether or not finance, campaign finance laws have been breached at the very least.

Maybe obstruction of justice as well.

HELDMAN: It is quite possible. What we're seeing here is a pattern of lying, right. Dishonesty from top to bottom with Manafort, with Trump Jr., on down the list with Kushner, with Jeff Sessions, who was dishonest to a Senate committee.

So what are you hiding?

Why are so many people coordinating their --

[02:10:00]

HELDMAN: -- lies about meeting with Russians?

We now know that it is not just a matter of meeting; it was also a matter of meeting to discuss something that could influence the outcome of the election. This is a whole new ballgame. And certainly people know this. And if you look at polling, two-thirds of Americans believe that there

was some collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia and folks know that Russia interceded in our election because 17 intelligence agencies said so.

VAUSE: OK.

SOARES: I want to play some sound from Michael Caputo, who is former Trump adviser. This is his explanation from Manafort's presence at that meeting. Let's take a listen.

MICHAEL CAPUTO, TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: I also know at that time he was getting upwards of 500 email messages a day. He called -- probably did not read all the way down several inches into the string of them, e-mail. He received a meeting request for the president's son.

And his job at that moment was to say yes and to go.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SOARES: Do you buy that?

Who doesn't read through a string of an e-mail exchange?

HELDMAN: I actually do buy it. However, you would not have to read into the e-mail. It was in the subject line. It said, "Clinton Russia confidential." There you go. You don't have to read past the subject line.

But with that said, yes, 500 emails a day, I could see how he might be thumbing through it and not really paying attention.

VAUSE: Very quickly, to Made in America Week at the White House. Once Donald Trump was promoting Made in America; a couple hours later, the whole health care bill in the Senate collapsed because the number of Republican senators voiced their opposition to it.

We saw Donald Trump on a fire truck today.

But, Austin, very quickly, Trump tweeted out a short time ago, "Republicans should just repeal failing ObamaCare now and work on a new health care plan that will start from a clean slate. Dems will join in."

Obviously that is going to be a disaster, I think, as far as you're concerned, Caroline.

But, Austin, should the president spend his time maybe trying to get the votes in the nate, get support for the health care bill, rather than playing on a fire truck?

JAMES: And I'm going to sound like a broken record but I think this is part of him not having a lot of experience in Washington. I think this is also part of some of the blunders he may have made when he's kind of off-the-cuff and so they are trying to keep him out of the public spotlight when it comes to this.

I think it's time for him to step up and say we're not going to pass this massive health care bill. What we're going to do is we're going to take one, two, three pieces that we do not like. We're going to get those pushed through.

I think he, with the Russian stuff, I think you're right. I think it's starting to become very reminiscent of Hillary Clinton and the Clintons in general and this is the one thing that he was very definitive about, that he wasn't going to be.

So I think it's time that he also says, listen, I want all the intelligence. I'm going to come forward with all of this. I'm going to put my arms around that.

I think there's some real opportunity to show some leadership here.

SOARES: And Caroline, what is your take on what he -- what Trump had to say in the tweet today?

HELDMAN: Well, I would be concerned if I were the GOP because if you repeal it entirely without putting something into place, you're looking at 30 million uninsured Americans. The last CBO score said 22 million Americans for the health care bill currently on the table and only 12 percent of Americans support it.

It's wildly unpopular. It is going to be a disaster in 2018 for the GOP in the election. So I do not think that will actually happen. I think that it is just an off-the-cuff tweet.

JAMES: OK, the last thing I'm going to say --

(CROSSTALK)

JAMES: -- there is a lot of talk about his approval ratings as president. I think the Democrats have -- I think it was 37 percent of the people think that -- or actually believe that they have an agenda and a plan.

More than that think they're just in opposition to Donald Trump. So I think it is I think is a mess for everybody, not just Republicans.

VAUSE: OK. Caroline and Austin, thank you very much.

JAMES: Thank you.

HELDMAN: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SOARES: Now up to North Korea's missile launch, its nuclear tests and growing threats. South Korea has a new message for Pyongyang. Let's talk.

VAUSE: The South Korean president Moon Jae-in's new government is extending an invitation to its northern neighbors to try and calm tensions. The South has offered military talks on Friday at the Truce Village of Panmunjom in the demilitarized zone.

South Korea's Red Cross also proposing a restarting of North and South family reunions.

SOARES: Our David McKenzie is covering the South Korean offer from Seoul. He joins us now.

And, David, I imagine to this point, we haven't heard from North Korea. We haven't heard from Pyongyang.

But let me ask you this, you know the South Korean president had previously said that he would talk to North Korean leader -- and I'm quoting him here -- "at anytime and anyplace."

How is this invitation being received by people in Seoul?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well certainly there's a feeling, maybe not of optimism but hope, perhaps, to ease attention in the Korean Peninsula. When he did say that anytime, anywhere, place comment recently in Germany, he did also say under the right conditions.

So that all depends on, A, whether the North Koreans want to talk and respond and, B, if they put conditions that are unacceptable to the talks, which might include them making strong statements about the nuclear program.

But certainly, this is a move by South Korea to try and extend and olive branch. Here's a government minister.

[02:15:00]

CHO MYOUNG-GYON, SOUTH KOREAN MINISTER OF UNIFICATION (through translator): Talks and cooperation between the two Koreas to ease tension and bring about peace in the Korean Peninsula will be instrumental for pushing forth a mutual virtuous cycle for inter- Korean relations and North Korea's nuclear problem.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCKENZIE: It certainly has been a vicious cycle up to this point with an increase in their frequency of missile testing as well as multiple nuclear tests over the years.

So there really is a sense that this could be a small chance, an opening as it were, to try and ease tensions between the two sides. But it's too early to tell.

SOARES: And Seoul has had softened its stance toward Pyongyang with its Sunshine policy, as it was called.

How similar is this to that? . And has there been work in previous occasions?

MCKENZIE: Well, it obviously didn't work completely because you still have the missile program working at an accelerated pace and no real reconciliation between the North and South. The countries are still technically at war, as there's armistice even rather than a truce between the two sides.

So the previous attempts didn't work. There were periods of course, over the years, of easing of tensions, of hope that maybe this situation between the North and South could be figured out.

But it is something that has been in cycles and currently with the new president, he is certainly, as you said, had a softer stance. He might not see it as softer but more a kind of diplomacy-focused stance towards North Korea.

But in some ways, it does make a break with their very strong U.S. allies, who have been looking mostly towards sanctions in recent weeks and have not really been pushing for direct talks as much anymore -- Isa.

SOARES: Yes, on that point, I know we today from the U.S. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who basically says he wants to increase sanctions on North Korea and he wants to add it to the Russia sanctions bill on Friday.

How do you think this will impact President Moon's diplomatic efforts?

MCKENZIE: Well, it can't necessarily help because, on the one hand, you have South Korea pushing for at least low-level talks and on the other hand you have the U.S. and the White House making a lot of talk about sanctions.

But perhaps the strategies here might be -- I do not know the level of coordination between the two sides -- might be to sort of threaten sanction and hopes that the North Koreans come to the table.

But there is a kind of ironclad stance by the U.S. and others that there must be at very least a freeze of the nuclear and missile program. And that's something that Pyongyang has -- leadership has repeatedly said is not going to happen.

They see this, from their perspective, as a way to guarantee that their regime stays in power -- Isa.

SOARES: Yes. David McKenzie there for a wait word from Pyongyang, thanks very much, David.

VAUSE: We shall take a short break. When we come back, how the pro- Trump media is keeping up with the ever-changing reasons for Don Jr.'s meeting with that Russian lawyer linked to the Kremlin.

SOARES: Plus what President Trump has threatened to do if Venezuela's president continues with plans to rewrite the constitution.

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(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[02:20:00]

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SOARES: Now President Donald Trump says the United States will not stand by as Venezuela crumbles.

VAUSE: And he's warning a strong economic actions if President Nicolas Maduro moves forward with the plan to rewrite the country's constitution.

Donald Trump says Mr. Maduro is a bad leader who dreams of becoming a dictator.

Well, the U.S. is also Sunday's symbolic referendum against President Maduro.

VAUSE: The opposition says millions of Venezuelans rejected Mr. Maduro's plan to invert it in favor of new national elections before the president's term ends in 2019.

We get details now from Rafael Romo.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RAFAEL ROMO, CNN SR. LATIN AFFAIRS EDITOR: The Venezuelan opposition is now calling for a 24-hour strike on Thursday to increase pressure on President Nicolas Maduro. They are also calling for the formation of an alternative national unity government.

Although it's not clear if they intend for this government to run the country parallel to the current administration. These actions were announced after more than 98 percent of people voted Sunday to reject Maduro's plan to rewrite the Constitution in a nonbinding referendum.

More than 7 million people participated, according to the opposition. The White House weighed in on the landslide victory Monday, urging free and fair elections.

Spokesman Sean Spicer condemned the increasingly volatile situation in the South American country.

SPICER: We congratulate the Venezuelan people for the huge turnout in the referendum yesterday and the unmistakable statement that they made and that they delivered to their government.

We condemned the violence inflicted by government thugs against innocent voters in efforts by the government to erode democracy in Venezuela.

ROMO (voice-over): Meanwhile, President Maduro called the referendum illegal. He says he will still go ahead with a July 30 vote to pick a special assembly to rewrite the current constitution.

Nearly 100 Venezuelans have died in more than three months of violent antigovernment protests -- Rafael Romo, CNN

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SOARES: Well, Latin American analyst Nicolas Albertoni joins me now.

And Nicolas, I know you saw what President Trump had to say.

How would you think those comments will be received in Caracas by Nicolas Maduro?

NICOLAS ALBERTONI, LATIN AMERICAN ANALYST: First of all, we are talking about a regime, you know, that and for many years is fighting against a democratic institution. So I think, you know, it is important as an international reaction coming from the U.S. But again, I think it's too late.

We need more international reactions for a government that, for many years, is fighting against democratic institutions.

SOARES: And you think what we've seen thus far from the international community hasn't been enough, hasn't gone far enough?

ALBERTONI: Absolutely and, first of all, the regional neighbors -- and we have to see that Maduro is in power since 2003 after almost 10 years old of President Chavez, who was a founder of Chavista and regime. So we are talking about a country of like almost 18 years with the same regime.

And you know, the min problem is that that what we see nowadays are basically human rights violations. And this is a clear example, is Venezuela, that democracy is not just electoral votes, it's freedom of expression and many other things that go beyond the electoral vote.

SOARES: Let's look at what is happening inside. We saw the proposed 98 percent of people supported -- rejected the proposed constitution or assembly. Their voice clearly very loud and very clear.

We know what Maduro said, he calls it meaningless.

How does the opposition take this?

How does the opposition take this and run with it?

What do the moth (ph) need to do now?

ALBERTONI: First of all, with the accent (ph) isn't enough. We are talking again as so many years of this regime. So now the next step, I think, is in the side of the regime, is not just for the opposition, as doing all that they can do to go against the government.

Basically the regime would have to say it's basically that we don't have these constitutional referenda that want to rewrite the constitution of 1999. And the second is to now have more in prisons, you know, and political prisons in (INAUDIBLE) in the -- in Venezuela.

So these are the two main points that we have to change soon. And also they need general elections with international observers. That has to be independence, you know. And so many people who say that these people is in power because they win the elections, but elections they're not allowed international observers.

[02:25:00]

ALBERTONI: So this is not transparent, you know.

SOARES: Of course, the MUD (ph), basically the opponents of Maduro, they're calling for a strike, a 24-hour strike, urging workers to stay at home, businesses to stay shut. I want too -- they're calling I think a zero hour. I want to listen. I want you to listen to what one of them lawyers had to say about this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We call on the entire country this Thursday to hold a massive protest and without violence a national civil strike for 24 hours as a mechanism of pressure and preparation in leading up to next week and to challenge constituent fraud and manifest a restoration of constitutional order.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SOARES: Does this weaken Maduro?

Does this weaken his hold on power?

That was Freddy Guevara, the opposition lawmaker, speaking there.

ALBERTONI: Yes, basically we're in a polling now that's in what's the international community need to see said. They have responsibility to protect, you know, because and if you -- if we don't denounced indeed the opposition, and that's renounce these kind of things, they almost involve in this kind of situation.

So this and we need more people denouncing these kinds of situations and again in from international fury in perspective, we would win these like the responsibility to protect and saying, OK, what do we see are human rights violations.

SOARES: Is what Latin -- what does Latin American leaders, what are they doing?

Are they going far enough?

Because is merkerseur (ph) happening this week?

Is it this week?

(CROSSTALK)

ALBERTONI: Yes, this week --

SOARES: Are they trying to alienate in some way Venezuela?

And is that going far enough?

Is that having any impact on Maduro? ALBERTONI: I don't think it's going to have impact because it's too late, you know. We're talking about now Venezuela is currently suspended of -- in this summer (ph) because of this political crisis. But again, it was suspended last year after so many --

(CROSSTALK)

ALBERTONI: -- so, yes, of course, they don't care about -- and again, they do so many things that go beyond this situation. So, in the end, we could not expect that these summer, that, of course, this is this week, we have many facts in this political crisis.

SOARES: Nicolas Albertoni, unfortunately, I have a feeling that we'll be talking about this for some time. Thank you very much.

ALBERTONI: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: And we'll take a quick break. "STATE OF AMERICA" with Kate Bolduan is up next for our viewers in Asia.

For everyone else, defending the White House when the story keeps changing What seems to be an increasingly difficult job for our friends over at FOX News.

SOARES: Plus Brexit negotiations meet in a few hours for another day of talks. We'll hear what the London mayor wants, what business ethnicity (ph).

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[02:30:09] JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM, live from in Los Angeles. We're into the homestretch. I'm John Vause.

ISA SOARES, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Isa Soares, with the headlines for you this hour.

(HEADLINES)

VAUSE: The drip, drip, drip of revelations about Donald Trump Jr's meeting last year with a Kremlin-linked lawyer has been a constant evolving narrative from the White House. At first, outright denials of contact with Russia, became denials of collusion, became, hey, who wouldn't want all that direct on your opponent, it's just politics.

And over at Trump-friendly FOX News, this has meant an ever-changing, head-spinning narrative as well. When the story first broke, well, nothing to see here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIT HUME, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, FOX NEWS: I'd have to say this. Again, much ado about not much. This meeting was apparently a fiasco. Donald Trump agreed to meet with this person whose identity he say UNIDENTIFIED FOX HOST: Jr.

HUME: Yes, that was Trump Jr, excuse me. And because, apparently, it information claimed about Hillary Clinton that could be useful to the Trump campaign. It turned out that he'd been conned.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: But then Trump Jr. released his e-mails confirming the meeting happened, but it was a waste of time, he said, because the promised dirt on Hillary Clinton never came through.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN HANNITY, FOX HOST, HANNITY: So as far as you know, as far as this incident, this is all of it?

DONALD TRUMP JR, SON OF PRESIDENT TRUMP: This is everything.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: There was a lot more to come, including word a formal Russian counterintelligence officer was at the meeting. And then, somehow, President Obama was to blame.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GREG GUTFELD, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: The fact is, the media focuses on certain parts of the story, but not others. They scream about Russians in this meeting while ignoring who let one of them in. It was President Obama's people who allowed a woman with no visa into this country. And then she ends up meeting Donald Trump Jr? That is fishier than the dumpster outside Red Lobster.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: So now echoing the president, meeting with foreign governments for opposition research is just how politics is done.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEANINE PIRRO, FOX HOST, JUDGE JEANINE: Now, as someone who has run for office five times, if the devil called me and said he wanted to set up a meeting to give me opposition research on my opponent, I'd be on the first trolley to hell to get it. And any politician who tells you otherwise is a bald-faced liar.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: Carlos Maza from the liberal opinion Web site, Vox, says this is an attempt by FOX to normalize what is far from normal.

CARLOS MAZA, VOX: The real reason this talking point is scary is because it is downplaying a gross violation of democratic norms.

TUCKER CARLSON, FOX HOST, FOX NEWS: I've never seen liberals so mad. You would have thought someone lit a cigarette in a restaurant or scotched recycle. I mean, that level of rage.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT & CNN HOST, RELIABLE SOURCES: FOX is training its viewers to roll their eyes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The mainstream media's obsession with Russia continues. But do you, the people, even care about that?

MAZA: They treat collusion as just another Democratic talking point.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: And Carlos joins us now from Washington.

Carlos, good to see you.

MAZA: Good to see you, too.

VAUSE: OK, just to follow up on that editorial by Judge Janine Pirro, from Sunday, she interviewed President Trump two months ago. Here's a clip when she asked about Russia.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PIRRO: You are convinced you did nothing and --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm -- I'm not convinced. Clapper is convinced.

PIRRO: The DNI.

TRUMP: Other people are convinced.

PIRRO: Yes.

TRUMP: Everybody is convinced.

PIRRO: Everybody says the same thing.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: They say there's no collusion --

(CROSSTALK)

PIRRO: -- get it out of the White House.

TRUMP: They're all saying there is no collusion, there is no collusion.

PIRRO: Precisely.

TRUMP: Well I'd like it to move fast, if possible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: So how do you go from that interview back in May to the editorial on Sunday. Is that common over at FOX news?

MAZA: Yes. We are watching FOX News syndrome in action. And I have had the distinct pleasure of having watched a lot of FOX News over the past three years, and this is actually that unusual. FOX News has always kind of been the network of the Republican Party and a network for conservatives. So it's a network that's not particularly tied to a set of principles or from ideology. Ideology has always been, what the Republicans do, we defend, and what Democrats do, we oppose. And that's created some examples of hypocrisy and waffling before.

I think what is unique about this is just the sheer speed at which those positions are changing. The evolution of the Donald Trump Jr story has required some of FOX's hosts to change positions within sometimes weeks of their previous positions.

And I think something that's different about it is just the extent to which Fox anchors are having to go to make this seem like it is not a big deal and that is all pretty normal. It's kind of pushing the network's willing to defend Republicans to its logical extreme at this point.

[02:35:35] VAUSE: How successful has FOX News been at defending the president? Presumably, they're only talking to his base, right now, right?

MAZA: It depends on how you measure success. It's successful that the network has kind of cornered the market on a very specific subset of viewers, and those are heavily Republican voters, older, typically white, and especially Trump supporters. Trump supporters, a huge chuck of them get their information exclusively from FOX News when it comes to national news. That is good for the network because it means that a lot of those viewers are never going to change their opinions and go to some other network. The drawback is that it means that FOX can basically never abandon the line that it has taken, which is Trump is always right and his opponents are always wrong. And that means you get weeks like this past week where FOX News has had to go to the logical extreme of its arguments to defend a White House that is getting tougher and tougher to defend.

VAUSE: The president's TV lawyer, Jay Sekulow, he did the rounds on the Sunday talk shows. At one point, he raised the question about Don Jr's meeting during the campaign at Trump Tower. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY SEKULOW, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, I wonder why the Secret Service -- if this was nefarious, why the Secret Service allowed these people in. The president had Secret Service protection at that point. That raised a question with me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: The Secret Service issued a statement saying Donald Jr, at the time, was not under protection at that point.

Sekulow should have known that or should have found out before going on national television. Is this an attempt to muddy the waters, to create confusion and doubt?

MAZA: I think it is. Something that's interesting about him, specifically, is that if you haven't watched FOX news, he probably seems like the guy that came out of nowhere. But Sekulow has been on FOX, making around for many, many years. He's kind of been the ridiculous conservative lawyer who will say whatever to defend his client. He is an example of FOX Derangement syndrome gone wild. He just now happens to be tied to the administration so he's been making those really ridiculous arguments on other networks. But he, too, is not someone who is acting in good faith. He is a conservative, I would say, Republican operative who is disguising himself as a lawyer to defend the Trump administration that is, again, requiring him to make arguments that seem more and more ridiculous and more and more dishonest as time goes on.

VAUSE: Clearly, the Trump family strategy is to appear almost exclusively on FOX news, especially "FOX & Friends," I think. Long term, though, does that have risks for FOX. I mean, does the audience have a memory at any point?

MAZA: Yes, I think it doesn't really pose a risk for his core base of supporters, the people who think that Trump is a response to political correctness and the liberal elite. Sort of the core of FOX's constituency will never really abandon him and can live very happily in the echo chamber. I think the risk that it does poses is that a huge chunk of Americans, the majority of Americans do not live in that bubble. And as time goes on, you see that sort of the more middle-of- the-road, more moderate, even conservative-leaning voters are starting to find some of the FOX News spin harder and harder to tolerate. You might be a typical FOX viewer but if you hear FOX saying it is not a big deal to collude with Russia to influence an election, there are going to be some voters who, over time, are going to thank, is this ridiculous and maybe it's just all ridiculous. And once that bill gets punctured for some of those voters, I think it's going to be really tough for them to buy back into the Fox theme of everything Republicans do is right and everything their opponents do is wrong.

VAUSE: Carlos, it was good to speak with you. Thanks for coming in.

MAZA: Thanks for having me.

SOARES: Still to come on CNN NEWSROOM, the latest developments in the Qatar crisis, with Doha accusing the UAE of cyber terrorism. We'll explain after this short break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[02:41:17] SOARES: The United Arab Emirates is denying orchestrating the hack which triggered the Persian Gulf's worst diplomatic crisis in decades. Several gulf states cut ties with Qatar lost month after the emir was quoted by the state news agency praising Iran as well as Israel.

VAUSE: Qatar says hackers planted those quotes. And U.S. intelligence sources, cited by "The Washington Post," say the UAE held a meeting to plan that hack. But UAE's top diplomat says that's false.

We're joined by Lisa Daftari, Middle East expert and editor-in-chief of the "Foreign Desk."

Lisa, thanks very much for being here.

What did you make of that "Washington Post" article. That's pouring more fuel on this diplomatic crisis.

LISA DAFTARI, MIDDLE EAST EXPERT & EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, FOREIGN DESK: Absolutely. We know that whenever Middle Eastern leaders want to make a point, they will make that point, pretext or no pretext. We have now a justification for why Saudi Arabia, along with their Arab friends, went after the Qataris. Obviously, there is a lot of history here. There is a lot of nuance and a lot of different layers. The Saudi Arabians, they had two goals in mind, and that's been for as long as --

(CROSSTALK)

DAFTARI: It's to keep terror outside of their borders and to curb the activity of the Iranian regime, which is the Shiite sphere of influence. Both those goals, both those agendas lead back to Qatar and their activities in the region, their funding of different terror groups in the region, funding of the Muslim Brotherhood, funding of the Taliban, housing "Al Jazeera" inside their country. I think what they wanted to do was to tell the Qataris that they cannot have it both. The Qataris are very well regarded by all the -- they are the piggy bank of all the different terror groups. And they are equal opportunity. They don't say no to the Sunnis or the Shiites. And they've been playing it both ways. And Saudi Arabia, fueled by this support by Donald Trump's visit in May, they figure this is the best time to strike. Whether or not those they were hacked or those quotes were placed there by the Qataris or by a third party, this is what is the justification that went behind it.

SOARES: The diplomatic crisis is still ongoing.

DAFTARI: Absolutely.

SOARES: People not seeing eye to eye. What is the solution? Because we saw U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, he really didn't achieve much in his mission.

DAFTARI: Right away, when the Arab countries said they were going to boycott and cut ties with Qatar, Donald Trump came out said, absolutely, we have to do this, we have to cut the sponsors of terror globally. But we saw that at the State Department -- Heather Nauert came out, the spokesperson, and Rex Tillerson, who has been the force behind keeping all of our short list of friends in the Middle East, keeping them as friends, knowing that the Qatari, as well as the Saudis, are our friends in the fight against ISIS. And for Tillerson, that is the main show is the fight against ISIS. So you see Tillerson making a trip to the region, going to Qatar, trying to strike a deal with them with, a separate side deal on counterterrorism. Meaning, he is saying we're not going to be dragged into the fray on false pretenses if we do not have a reason to cut ties with Qatar ourselves. We have assets there. We have a military base there. Qatar has been as guilty as Saudi Arabia and the other gulf nations in sponsoring terror. I think that's an important point to make as well.

SOARES: Would regime change please the Saudis?

DAFTARI: What would please the Saudis would not be regime change in Qatar, but it would be influence change in the region. And they're seeing that. Meaning, we've seen eight years of a more Shiite- friendly foreign policy, which was steered by President Obama, giving the Iranians all the money, giving the Iranians the nuclear deal, and kind of turning out backs on the Saudis and a lot of Sunni nations. Now we see a reset of that. I think the Saudis are totally exploiting that and taking advantage of this opportune moment to say we have the reset and we want this to be a Sunni reset.

[02:45:28] SOARES: The fear, Lisa, is you see regional fragmentation. Who wins from there?

DAFTARI: Right. Who wins from this? I think we should say who -- right now -- as far as the foreign policy stands right now, the Iranian regime is winning in all of this. When you look at Yemen or Lebanon, you see their hands in Iraq and in Syria. You look back at home at the human rights violations going on in Iran, day in and day out. We gave them all this money. We have a deal with them. Another American has been detained in Iran. It's a free-for-all for that country. I think the Saudis have a lot to lose. When you see the sphere of influence by Iran growing, the Saudis want to curb them. And the West has allowed Iran to march on with their Shiite agenda in the region, and the Saudis are now saying we're going to curb that. If Qatar is the way to curb the Iranian regime, we will go through Qatar.

SOARES: And we don't know where it will lead with the Gulf Cooperation Council. It's just so much to talk about.

DAFTARI: So many layers.

SOARES: Lisa Daftari, thank you very much.

DAFTARI: Of course.

VAUSE: Brexit talks are on their second round but infighting has reportedly gripped the senior ranks of the British government. The Brexit negotiations resume in the coming hours with the priorities being rights of E.U. citizens living in the U.K. and British citizens living in the E.U., British financial obligations to the union, and the prospect of a hard border separating Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The E.U. wants these issues settled before trade talks begin.

Here's Britain's Brexit minister, David Davis.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID DAVIS, BRITISH BREXIT MINISTER: It's incredibly important now that we make good progress. We'll negotiate through this and identify the differences so that we can deal with them and identify the similarities and reinforce them. And now it is time to get down to work and make this a successful negotiation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: And London's Mayor Siddiq Khan tells CNN, more than anything else, business wants certainty, and to ensure they get it, he's going to a two-year transitional period after Brexit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SADDIQ KHAN, LONDON MAYOR: We need two years from -- from the date when the negotiations are supposed to end for a transitional period. (INAUBLE). We're supposed to negotiate an exit within two years. What the government is now talking about, and I welcome this, is a transitional period of two years to give people certainty before we enter the new arrangement with the European Union. Look, I think we've got a great future.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: London's mayor is trying to protect London's position as the continental's main tech hub. This is the Silicon Roundabout, the cities mini Silicon Valley. Paris and Berlin all trying to lure the best talent away from the British tech industry.

SOARES: Still ahead, he's everyone's favorite honey loving bear, so why is Winnie the Pooh being censored in China? We'll explain after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[02:50:01] (SINGING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: That's the Chinese-language version of "Winnie the Pooh" or "Winnie Little Bear." His friends are Piglet and Roo. He doesn't wear pants. And his optimism and happiness means he is loved all around the world, except China.

SOARES: Winnie has, it seems, fallen afoul of Chinese government censorship and has been blocked after images were being used to compare him -- and you can see that -- to President Xi Jinping.

VAUSE: David Kaye is professor of international law at the University of California, Irvine. He's also the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression.

Thanks for coming in, David.

We should first highlight that this is not a total ban. It tends to be sporadic on Winnie the Pooh. But it also began back in 2013, came up the next year when comparisons were being be made between Japan's - then in 2013 with Xi and Obama. 2014, Japan's prime minister and China's president, Winnie the Pooh and Eeyore. And then in 2015, probably the most sensitive picture of the year was this one showing President Xi in his car alongside Winnie the Pooh in his car.

Is this just the government is overly sensitive to ridicule?

DAVID KAYE, PROFESSOR OF INTERNATIONAL LAW, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, IRVINE & U.N. SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON PROMOTION AND PROTECTION OF THE RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF OPINION AND EXPRESSION: You know, it is clear that they are. And there has been an increase, I think, really, in the level of repression and expression on the Internet in China. And I think that, you know, it is very easy for us to focus on this particular case involving Winnie the Pooh because Winnie the Pooh is cute.

(CROSSTALK)

KAYE: Right, exactly. But I think if we focus too much on this particular case we're missing the broader picture, which is the level of repression is extraordinary right now.

VAUSE: And it seems to be a lot higher at the moment because of the death Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel Peace Prize winner --

KAYE: Right, exactly.

VAUSE: -- and human rights activist. And we also have a very important political party meeting coming up in several months, the Community Party conference. And this is a particular time when the government is especially sensitive.

KAYE: Yes. I think that is exactly right. And you mentioned Liu Xiaobo. So last week, in the wake of Liu Xiaobo's death, we saw extraordinary levels of censorship, not just of censorship of social media aspects of images and discussion of his death, but also in one- on-one chats. An organization at the University of Toronto Citizen Lab describes this in an important report. And I think what we are seeing is an increase in that kind of censorship.

VAUSE: And as this goes on, it seems that China is no longer even defensive about the censorship that goes on with the Internet. They call it the Golden Shield. They're getting better at it. And it seems that the Internet, which was once seen as a place of freedom, almost rebellion, if you like, but now, in China, it's being used for surveillance and oppression.

KAYE: I think that is true. And I think it is important to realize that, on the one hand, the Internet in China is still a place where there is a certain amount of communication and discussion, and occasionally, discussion sometimes symbolically, of political issues. And it is pretty clear that the government is really set on restricting the amount of that kind of political discussion, particularly, as you say, in the context of big political events that come up, deaths of leaders, commemorations of things like the Tiananmen Square protests.

VAUSE: And this sort of model for the Internet, this is being seen as a model for other repressive governments around the world.

KAYE: Absolutely. There is a little bit of a kind of back and forth of learning from each other, right? So around the world, but particularly in Asia, particularly in Southeast Asia, we see government's repressing any kind of insults of their leadership. And now we see that also happening in China. So there is a lot going on right now in which I think, to a certain extent, China's idea of an unmanaged Internet is a model that it would like to see extended around the world.

VAUSE: Users in China have been quite cleaver over the years. They use euphemisms to work around government censors, like in 2009, it was a fictitious grass mud horse. Look at this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: All of this involves the very complicated nature of the Chinese language both it's written and spoken. In Mandarin, certain characters can be pronounced almost exactly the same, but depending on the inflectional tone, can have a totally different meaning. So, for example, ma means horse. Well, ma means mother. Now we're getting to the part where grass mud horse is an insult to government censors. And it involves their mothers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: OK, so that was a few years ago. We should note we've just being blocked out on mainland China, by the way. Our bureau chief in China just told us that, which is not uncommon.

Will there come a time when even that kind of cleaver, funny workaround for the censorship won't even be possible?

[02:55:22] KAYE: It's a good question. I think one of the interesting things over the last 10 years, really, has been this kind of cat-and-mouse game where the people online are inventive, creative, and finding new ways to talk about issues that the government, the party does not want them to talk about. So that cat-and-mouse game will continue. I think one of the problems we see right now is the government is not only extending its repression in terms of limiting keywords that can be stated but also an area of VPNs, for example. Anybody's access, even to jump over the great firewall, essentially, is being limited. That is going to have an effect on businesses, on the economy, on innovation, which maybe over the medium-term will have a kind of feedback that is negative for the government and for the party. I doubt that. But there is that potential.

VAUSE: The funny thing is it works. They control the information on I remember the 30th anniversary of Tiananmen Square, I colleague of mine saw a live shot, the person on China television saw the reverse image in the feedback coming and saw "Tank Man." And had no idea. So all the video coming out of Tiananmen Square, they had no idea it had that. So obviously controlling information to a certain extent. KAYE: Well, that's what they're good at. That's what they're trying to do. There's, again, cat-and-mouse. There's this effort to sort of avoid that.

But I think all of this we need to put in the context of this broader repression of any kind of dissent in China right now.

VAUSE: OK. David, good to speak to you. Thanks.

KAYE: Thank you.

SOARES: You are watching CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles. I'm Isa Soares.

VAUSE: I'm John Vause.

The news continues with Rosemary Church. She is in Atlanta. And she'll be with you after a short break.

You're watching CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[03:00:06] ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Made in America. Not quite. President Donald Trump is pushing for USA-made products even though many Trump branded --