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President Trump Fuels Feud with Florida Congresswoman; Trump Says He'll Cover Legal Fees for Staff; Schumer Asking Trump to Appoint CEO for Puerto Rico; Aired 6-7p ET

Aired October 22, 2017 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:00]

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Miss Kitty Weston.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's not about coming in first, second, or third. It's always about finishing. Every time I get on my bike, I win.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour now on this Sunday. I'm Pamela Brown in New York in this weekend for Ana Cabrera.

Well, Washington is embarking on a brand-new week. Republicans are preparing to tackle the budget, tax reform, maybe even health care. So one might wonder why President Trump is adding fuel to his feud with a Florida congresswoman who accuse the president of disrespecting the family of one of the soldiers killed in the Niger ambush.

Well, the president tweeting this morning, "Wacky Congresswoman Wilson is the gift that keeps on giving for the Republican Party. A disaster for Dems. You watch her in action and vote R."

Now the congresswoman meanwhile firing right back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. FREDERICA WILSON (D), FLORIDA: This is going to be this administration's Benghazi. This is going to be Trump's Benghazi, Trump's Niger.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: So as the president and congresswoman continue to exchange words, barbs, one thing we still don't have answers to, the answers we want, is why these Americans, these four Americans, why they were killed and why the body of one of them, Sergeant La David Johnson, wasn't recovered for 48 hours. Of course he was found a mile away as we have reported.

I want to get straight to CNN's Boris Sanchez live right outside the White House.

And Boris, Republicans have a lot on their plates this week. There are still unanswered questions, though, about this Niger attack. What reason does the president have to keep this feud going?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is really just who President Trump is, right? We've never known Donald Trump to back down from a fight whether with Democrats, Republicans, or even other Gold Star families. You'll recall the feud that he had with the Khan family after their appearance at the Democratic National Convention last year where they went after President Trump. That did not leave the news cycle for quite some time.

And really with the comments from Representative Wilson today comparing the situation in Niger to Donald Trump's Benghazi, it is likely this fight is not going away anytime soon either. The White House has not commented on these latest exchanges between the South Florida congresswoman and the president.

But the president was on FOX News earlier today talking about his combative style and why it's one that he favors. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARIA BARTIROMO, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Even your supporters said, you know, he's got fantastic policies. We want to see this through. But the bickering and the feuding actually gets in the way. So obviously the feuding with Senator Corker, I think there's a personal thing going on between you and Senator McCain.

Do you worry that this bickering and feuding gets in the way of your agenda?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. And sometimes it helps to be honest with you. So we'll see what happens in the end. But I think actually sometimes it helps. Sometimes it gets people to do what they're supposed to be doing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: A bit of a side note now, Pamela. Congresswoman Wilson actually is now demanding an apology from Chief of Staff John Kelly after he compared her to an empty barrel and mischaracterized some statements that she made during a speech to law enforcement several years ago.

Earlier today the Congressional Black Caucus came out in defense of Representative Wilson, saying that they were appalled by Kelly's statements.

This is a sensitive issue for the chief of staff. Of course his son was killed in action in Afghanistan. He is a Gold Star parent himself. He has not yet commented, though, on Representative Wilson's latest comments or her being backed up by the Congressional Black Caucus -- Pamela.

BROWN: We'll have to wait and see what happens. Meantime there was this phone call that took place today between the president and GOP lawmakers. What can you tell us about that? SANCHEZ: Yes, it took place this afternoon. A Republican source that

was briefed on that phone call told me that House Speaker Paul Ryan made it clear to members of the Republican House contingent that he wants the Senate's budget with some House modifications passed this week because that would give them the best shot to pass tax reform before the end of 2017.

I'm told that President Trump along with Vice President Pence were on that call. The president reiterating that idea, saying, quote, "We are on the verge of doing something very, very historic." The White House is putting an a full-court press on right now to get tax reform done.

Well, the president actually had an op-ed in today's copy of the "USA Today" saying it was time to reignite what he called the middle class miracle. He's also set to meet with Republican senators on Tuesday at Capitol Hill and that is likely to be an interesting exchange.

As you know, Pamela, he has feuded with several Republican senators including John McCain, Jeff Flake, and Bob Corker. So their interactions will likely be watched closely.

[18:05:08] BROWN: That's certainly right. It's going to be a very busy, perhaps lively week in Washington.

Boris Sanchez, thanks for bringing us the latest from the White House.

And just a few minutes ago, you heard Congresswoman Wilson say that she thinks the Niger ambush will be President Trump's Benghazi. Well, today one of the central figures of the Benghazi investigation is calling for Congress to do the same with Niger.

Former lawmaker Jason Chaffetz writes, quote, "Congress investigated Benghazi and extortion 17. Congress should also investigate the deadly attack in Niger, #truth."

Let's discuss this with CNN political commentator Robby Mook -- Mook, I should say, and Scott Jennings. Robby is a Hillary Clinton's former campaign manager. Scott is a former special assistant to President George W. Bush.

Thank you both for coming on, gentlemen.

ROBBY MOOK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Thanks.

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Thank you.

BROWN: So, Scott, I'm going to start with you. Should Republicans who wanted answers about Benghazi be just as intent on getting answers about Niger?

JENNINGS: Sure. I think we should get answers about what happened. But I think we need to do so under the framework of understanding that we have a lot of personnel in Africa. It's clear that the fight against ISIS, al Qaeda, and other terrorist elements is moving into the continent of Africa probably more than we know right now. I think there's a lot of sensitive national security issues at play,

and one of the things Donald Trump talked about during his campaign was not telegraphing to the enemy what we're doing and where we're doing it. So I think as we seek answers here, we have to be careful that we're not exposing our personnel in Africa to harm's way.

BROWN: Do you think that's fair, Robby?

MOOK: Well, first of all, I think we'd both agree our condolences go out to these families for their loss. And I think it's unfortunate how politicized this issue has become. You know, honestly I don't like comparisons to the Benghazi hearing because I don't think we learned anything out of it. I think it was a politicization of loss. And so yes, we need to investigate, but not what happened with Benghazi.

BROWN: So let me just ask you this, though, Robby. You know, you were on the Clinton campaign. You managed the Clinton campaign. You're well aware that there are some Americans who hold Clinton personally responsible for Benghazi. I imagine you disagree with them in doing so. But is it fair then to call the Niger ambush Trump's Benghazi? Do you think that's just too premature?

MOOK: Well, I don't -- I don't think we know enough to make any pronouncements about this. Like I said, I think this needs to be looked into. But it shouldn't be politicized. And I don't want to see the death of Americans in combat turned into some sensationalized partisan fight. If something happened here that was wrong, we need to find that out. I'm glad that Congressman Chaffetz is calling for this. I think there are other things that needed to be investigated as they pertain to -- to the current Republican administration.

I wish he'd speak out on those matters as well. But let's handle this the right way. Let's give the respect that's due to these families and then find out if anything could have been done differently so that this doesn't happen again if it was preventable.

BROWN: So, Scott, to Robby's point, you know, the bottom line is four U.S. service members died. That's what matters. Do you think both sides just cut it out, the White House, Congresswoman Wilson, this back and forth, and just focus on these four service members and what happened in Niger?

JENNINGS: Yes, I don't like the politics of this. These families are grieving and we're having a political debate going on several days now about who said what to who and how it was said and how it was taken. I don't think this serves the families well at all. I don't think the White House gains anything from it. And frankly, I don't think the Democratic Party or Congresswoman Wilson gains anything by coming out today and saying, oh, this is Trump's Benghazi.

I just think she doesn't know enough to make that pronouncement. And if she does make that pronouncement, is she admitting that Benghazi was the failure that Republicans said it was? This analogy breaks down on a number of fronts, and it also just breaks down the discourse around the concept here that we have a nation grieving for the loss of four soldiers. That's all anybody really ought to care about. We'll get to the facts in due time, but I just think this back and forth, as Robby said, the politicization of it is frankly pretty disgusting.

BROWN: All right.

MOOK: And Pamela --

BROWN: Go ahead. Yes.

MOOK: I think the one thing that can put an end to this back and forth is the president just needs to apologize. You know he --

BROWN: That won't happen, Robby. You know that very well.

(LAUGHTER)

MOOK: He's gotten a lot --

BROWN: He's never -- he's never been one -- he's never been one to apologize. Am I right, Scott?

JENNINGS: Well, I think he thinks he's in the right most of the time as most presidents do, and I think Congresswoman Wilson thinks she's in the right. So I don't expect either of them to apologize. I expect them both to keep arguing and I expect to be disgusted by it every day this goes on. So I think Robby and I agree on that.

(LAUGHTER)

BROWN: All right. You do agree.

Let's talk about something else that perhaps there may be some disagreement on. We'll have to see.

Robby, former President Jimmy Carter, a Democrat as you well know, gave an interview to "The New York Times." And in it, he says, quote, "I think the media have been harder on Trump than any other president, certainly that I've known about."

[18:10:07] Do you agree?

MOOK: Well, I think the question is, is the media appropriately scrutinizing Donald Trump? And I think there is so much to scrutinize. I find the media often has trouble trying to prioritize what deserves the spotlight. In fact, I would argue the president and what's happened with these Gold Star families is a perfect example. He does so many objectionable, offensive things that it's hard to actually hold him accountable on the policy matters that affect people's lives.

So I don't -- I think that's the wrong question to be asking. I think are we scrutinizing Trump enough, and I think sometimes we're running into problems because there's so much. So I guess in that regard, I do disagree. I don't think anybody should be, quote, unquote, "lenient" on this president. I think he has a lot to be held accountable for and his behavior this week is another example of just how outrageous his behavior has been.

BROWN: Well, he also revealed, Robby, that he voted for Bernie Sanders, not Hillary Clinton, in the primaries. Are you surprised by that?

MOOK: You know, I voted for Bernie Sanders when I was growing up in Vermont. I was proud to do so. You know, we had a spirited primary. I'm just glad that he participated and voted and, you know, we were proud on Clinton's campaign to win by millions of votes.

BROWN: OK.

(LAUGHTER)

BROWN: All right, Robby.

Scott, to you. Last word to you. Do you think the media has been harder on Trump because, you know, some would -- could argue that we've lowered the bar? What do you think?

JENNINGS: I think the media has been incredibly difficult on President Trump, and I think we're also living in a media environment where everybody is trying to be first but sometimes at the expense of being accurate. And we've seen a number of things in this administration reported and then pulled back. But the thing that everybody remembers is what was reported. This happens on Twitter all the time. And so I think that has caused trust in the media to go down.

You can look at the Pew study that came out recently about Americans' trust in the media, and frankly it worries me because we need a news media industry in this country that is trusted by people in both parties. And right now a lot of Republicans don't trust it and frankly a lot of Democrats as we heard from President Carter don't trust it either. We need the media to be trusted because it's a critical part of what makes our democracy work.

BROWN: So then do you think that trust in the White House should be -- go down because just this past week there were several examples of untruths? The president saying that he called virtually every family of service members who were killed after he took office. General Kelly coming out, giving a mischaracterization of Congresswoman Wilson.

Do you think that the White House should be held to the same standard then?

JENNINGS: Yes, I do actually. I think the White House, whenever it speaks, whether it's the president or a staffer, should always strive to tell the truth and give the best information they can. And look, we've seen in public polling --

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: By the way, it's the media that holds them accountable to make sure those truths come out. JENNINGS: Yes, look, I think that people who have the responsibility

to govern the country and the responsibility of being on the public airwaves like we are right now have a responsibility to tell the truth. And if you go on television or walk out on the south lawn or to the podium and you knowingly tell a falsehood, that's wrong. And so I don't think people are knowingly trying to do that every day. But when it does happen, we should acknowledge it because I think acknowledging it and owning it when we don't tell the truth and when we give out things that aren't facts would actually increase public trust in all these institutions.

BROWN: All right. Robby Scott, great discussion with both of you. Thanks.

MOOK: Thanks.

JENNINGS: Thanks, Pamela.

BROWN: And just ahead this hour, we have a new report saying President Trump plans to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to help staff and aides cover legal costs related to the Russia investigation.

Here with the former director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics is saying.

Plus the EPA says a chemical coming from a Louisiana factory is putting nearby residents at the highest risk in the country of developing cancer from air toxins.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You've got to live here to try and breathe the air, drink the water, see the children so sick, watching people die. If you don't live in the area, you can say anything, and everybody is supposed to believe that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: A CNN investigation looks at how local people are fighting for relief.

You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'll be back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:18:29] BROWN: Well, President Trump says he will dig into his own pockets to help people close to him pay their legal bills, people who are being investigated in connection to Russia's alleged meddling in last year's election or perhaps just witnesses in that investigation. The amount? Close to half a million dollars of his own money.

The payback plan and the amount both come from the White House according to "The Washington Post" who got those details firsthand.

CNN contributor and "Washington Post" reporter David Fahrenthold is here with me now.

David, great to see you. This story obviously right up your alley. You won the Pulitzer Prize this year for investigating candidate Donald Trump's claims of charitable donations. So $430,000 the president pledges he'll pay these legal fees for his aides and campaign officials. What do you think is going to happen in your research and -- from your research and experience?

DAVID FAHRENTHOLD, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, what I found last year looking at Trump's charitable giving, and we've seen it in other parts of his life as well, is he exploits often the belief people have that if someone is going to pledge something in public, pledge to spend some money in public, people believe, well, he must be about to fulfill that. Obviously he wouldn't say it in public if he wasn't going to do it.

What I found in my research on Trump's charitable giving was that often he would promise something and then never deliver, but sort of go around with people having -- people believing that he'd done this thing he's promised. In this case, he's pledged the money, but why not just give the money. These legal bills already exist. Right now he's not even paying his own legal bills. The RNC is paying for them.

So it seems like if he really wants to do this, if I was somebody who was thinking about relying on President Trump to pay for my legal bills, I would say well, show me the money. Don't pledge it. Give it to me.

[18:20:01] BROWN: Well, there may be -- perhaps one reason why it hasn't happened yet, because of a potential conflict of interest. I want to read you this tweet from Walter Shaub, the former director of the Office of Government Ethics, and his reaction to this, the president paying -- promising to pay his staff's legal fees. This is what he says. He says, let's see, "A potential witness or target of an investigation and boss of investigators paying for legal fees of other potential witnesses or targets? Question, how about that? Some people are seeing an ethical conflict with the president footing legal bills for people in a still active investigation."

So of course he is raising the question here if the president's paying their legal bills, will that influence -- will their interviews with Robert Mueller be tainted because they -- you know, they feel like the president is doing something nice for them?

FAHRENTHOLD: Well, there's certainly that possibility. And that's another question if Trump actually does follow through and pays for these folks' legal bills, you're right. There's a possibility that they'll say things -- they won't spill the beans about him or they'll sort of shade the truth in their interviews to help him because he's paying for them. That's certainly a possibility.

There's a lot of other ways, though, that the president has power to offer these people favors or pardons, things like that. So you have to worry about conflicts of interest anyway, and I would certainly add this to the list if he goes ahead and does it. But let's not give him credit or blame for having done it until he actually does do it. BROWN: All right. I know you will be staying on top of that.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the former FBI director, is leading this investigation as we well know into the alleged Russian interference. The president says he has not been asked to be interviewed yet as several key people who were once in the president's circle have been interviewed.

Do you think this investigation will go forward without the president's input? And do you think that if he is asked, that his -- the lawyers in the White House will allow him to be interviewed by Robert Mueller?

FAHRENTHOLD: That's a great question. I don't imagine this investigation, since it seems to be so much focused on President Trump's life, both his conduct in office, his conduct last year during the election, and also possibly his conduct as the head of Trump Organization over a number of years before the election. It seems difficult to me to imagine that could ever conclude without actually Mueller, his team talking directly to the president.

I don't know when that will be, and I don't know when -- if President Trump would consent to be interviewed. It certainly seems like that would be kind of the natural end point. You remember the interview -- or the investigation by the FBI of Hillary Clinton over her e-mails last year. One of the last things in that interview was a face-to- face interview that Hillary Clinton did with the FBI at her home. I don't imagine this will be that different.

BROWN: Right. There's these concentric circles and it seems like they're moving closer and close to the president. But I've spoken to people close to him who say actually they would advise against him doing an interview with Mueller. So we'll have to wait and see what happens here.

David Fahrenthold, thank you so much.

FAHRENTHOLD: Thank you.

BROWN: Well, the morning after five former U.S. presidents joined forces to raise money to help storm victims, a senator calls on the current president to make a specific change to speed up help for Puerto Rico. Details on what he's calling for just ahead.

You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:27:29] BROWN: For more than a month after Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico, power and a sense of normalcy are still slow to return for millions of American citizens in the U.S. territory.

Take a look right here at the devastation in this new drone video we've obtained. Much of the Caribbean island still underwater. Only 20 percent of Puerto Rico has electricity at this point while 73 percent of customers have water and sewage services. And about half of cell phone towers are operational today. Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer called on President Trump to

create a position to deploy federal resources to Puerto Rico.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), MINORITY LEADER: So today the three of us are calling on the White House, are calling on the president to appoint an experienced CEO of response and recovery for Puerto Rico. The CEO would directly report to the president. He or she would have the ability to coordinate all the federal government and link it up to the governor of Puerto Rico and other elected people of Puerto Rico so that they can tell them what they need and get it done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: CNN's Polo Sandoval joins me live from San Juan.

And Polo, what are the people of Puerto Rico saying about the pace of recovery there?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Pamela, yesterday we told you about the struggle to reopen schools come next week, in just a few days. Today we checked in on efforts to try to avoid a looming health threat.

We're talking debris. We checked in with the community just west of San Juan, Puerto Rico, today, spent the day there with people as they finally saw crews making their way into their neighborhood to clear out these piles of soaked belongings that have been littering the sidewalk now for close to five weeks.

Their concern here is you have debris. Debris often leads to mosquitoes and rodents, mosquitoes and rodents that lead to disease. And in an island that is in the middle of this crisis that is still trying to recover, that certainly could deliver a devastating blow. So that is why people today were overcome with a sense of relief to see some of this heavy equipment finally make their way through their streets, scooping out all this garbage. And there was method to this.

We noticed that there were some contractors that have been hired by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to essentially pluck out the garbage from the garbage. We're talking the potentially toxic materials, paint, certain electronics, refrigerators. Those had to stay behind so the Environmental Protection Agency could then come in and dispose of that appropriately.

As for the rest of it, that's all going to landfills, which is leading to another concern. This island, according to the EPA, produces about 8,500 tons of garbage a day. That's before Maria. So all of this debris is now going to be going to these landfills that, officials say, are already to their capacity.

So the question tonight, Pamela, what will happen to all this furniture, these electronics, lumber, and, of course, other organic material that's getting scooped up off the streets?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: We'll have to wait and see. Polo Sandoval, thank you for your reporting there on the ground in Puerto Rico.

It was an extraordinary sight. Five former U.S. presidents sharing the stage at a benefit concert last night, all to raise money for hurricane relief.

Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter hosted the televised event from Texas A&M University. It was billed as the One America Appeal.

And Americans responded in a huge way, pledging about $2 million in hurricane relief to victims in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico. And artists like Lee Greenwood, Lyle Lovett, Lady Gaga even performed. Let's take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LYLE LOVETT, SINGER: And you say you're not from Texas. Man, as if I couldn't tell. You think you pull your boots on right and wear your hat --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: And President Trump also participated in the One America Appeal fundraiser through a taped video message.

Straight ahead on this Sunday, the EPA says more than 20,000 people in Louisiana have the highest risk in the country of developing cancer from toxic chemicals in the air, but state regulators say the threat isn't imminent.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT TAYLOR, III, ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST PARISH, LOUISIANA RESIDENT: Husband and wife died from cancer across the street. Husband over here died from cancer. Both of his sons got cancer. Where are all this cancer coming from?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: The desperate calls for cleaner air. A CNN investigation up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:36:14] BROWN: Well, people in a small Louisiana community say that, on some days, it is literally sickening to be outside.

The EPA says a local factory is releasing a chemical that's putting them at the highest risk in the country of developing cancer from air toxins.

Well, state regulators say the threat isn't imminent, but local people say cases of cancer are common. They're afraid, and they're begging for help.

Victor Blackwell has this CNN investigation. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GERALDINE WATKINS, ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST PARISH, LOUISIANA RESIDENT: The air is so foul. The water is so messed up. And so many people are ill and dying of cancer.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Geraldine Watkins is afraid. Her family has lived in St. John the Baptist Parish in Louisiana for almost 40 years.

She loves the people, but recently, she learned that she and more than 20,000 others who live nearby have the highest risk in the country of developing cancer from air toxins.

The toxin, in this case, is chloroprene.

According to data from the EPA's National Air Toxics Assessment or NATA, the risk for people who live in this area highlighted in red ranges from roughly five to more than 20 times the national average.

WATKINS: I was outraged because I'm trying to figure out why people hadn't been informed of this earlier.

BLACKWELL: The source is this plant owned by Denka. The Japanese company bought it from DuPont in late 2015.

The company makes a synthetic rubber found in wet suits, electric insulations, and other common products. The plant has emitted chloroprene as part of the process for than 40 years.

We asked the EPA for an interview. They declined but agreed to answer questions via e-mail.

The EPA tells us 99 percent of the chloroprene that's emitted by facilities across the country comes from this plant.

In 2010, the EPA determined chloroprene is likely carcinogenic to humans. Meaning, studies show it likely causes cancer in humans. And the EPA says there are many other health problems associated with exposure to chloroprene.

TAYLOR: I grew up with a chronic kidney disease all my life.

BLACKWELL: Robert Taylor the Third says he grew up near the plant, and that he was in and out of hospitals for most of his childhood.

He moved away after high school and had no problems for more than 20 years. Then just six months after moving back, Taylor says his kidneys failed.

And Taylor says cancer diagnoses are common in his neighborhood.

TAYLOR: Husband and wife died from cancer across the street. Husband over here died from cancer. Both of his sons got cancer.

Where are all this cancer coming from? These people are killing us up with this poison.

BLACKWELL: In the spring of 2016, the EPA installed six canisters in the neighborhood surrounding this plant. They're collecting air samples. They're tested every three days to find out just how much of this toxic chemical is in the air.

And for more than a year now, the EPA has repeatedly found concentrations of chloroprene that are 10, 50, 100 times, and in one case, more than 700 times, the amount it says is at the upper limit of acceptability for cancer risk.

And for more than a year, the EPA's testing found average chloroprene concentrations that significantly exceeded that amount. At one site, more than 49 times the recommended amount.

CHUCK CARR BROWN, SECRETARY OF THE LOUISIANA DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY: They say it's 10 times or 20 times or some other magnitude times higher than what our standard is. Well, there is no standard.

BLACKWELL: Chuck Carr Brown is Louisiana's Secretary of Environmental Quality. He's right about those spikes. The EPA has not set a legal limit for chloroprene emissions. It says it's a years' long process.

[18:39:55] But according to this May 2016 internal memo obtained by CNN, federal regulators have set a recommendation based on cancer risk. An annual average of 0.2 micrograms of chloroprene per cubic meter is what it calls the upper limit of acceptability.

Just remember the number, 0.2. It's represented by the red line on this graph. Now, look at the average chloroprene concentration found in the air at those six testing sites between May 2016 and August 2017.

One of those testing sites is here, near Fifth Ward Elementary School, just a few hundred yards from the plant.

We found that the average concentration in the air near the school over 17 months was more than 34 times the EPA's cancer risk recommendation of what's acceptable.

The state's top environmental regulator, who says part of his mission is to protect human health, also says this.

BROWN: And you know, I say 0.2 doesn't mean anything to me. I want to get to as close to zero as I possibly can. To artificially target a number that you can't -- you can't legally enforce, it actually makes no sense.

BLACKWELL: Jorge Lavastida is an executive officer of the company and the manager of the plant.

So this company doesn't believe that chloroprene causes cancer?

JORGE LAVASTIDA, EXECUTIVE OFFICER AND PLANT MANAGER, DENKA PERFORMANCE ELASTOMER LLC: That is correct. BLACKWELL: This summer, Denka asked the EPA for a correction. The

company commissioned a study which argues that chloroprene's classification should be changed from likely "carcinogenic to humans" to "possibly carcinogenic."

And that 0.2 should be 31.2, more than 150 times the EPA's cancer risk recommendation.

LAVASTIDA: We have looked at the study that they did and -- with NATA and how they came up with that 0.2, and we have found gaps in the science of it.

BLACKWELL: The EPA stands by its findings. And despite its skepticism, the company promised the state to install control technologies at the plant to reduce chloroprene emissions.

LAVASTIDA: That includes four projects that reduce our emissions by 85 percent. We're investing $20 million on those projects.

There's going to be hundreds of thousands of dollars of operating expenses when those are in. Very aggressive schedule, and it's our number one priority.

BLACKWELL: However, equipment that was supposed to have been installed by September is now slated for the end of the year. Secretary Brown says there's nothing to worry about.

BROWN: Because there available control technology isn't acceptable protocol.

BLACKWELL: But why not start with the risk to the people? Why not start with that number --

BROWN: That's exactly what --

BLACKWELL: -- and then build out from there?

BROWN: That's exactly what I'm doing.

BLACKWELL: Every time I've brought up the 0.2 number, you said it's not enforceable. It hasn't been promulgated. It's not a standard.

You go back to the technology and enforceable standards. They are from whatever the company installs.

BROWN: And that's how you scientifically solve the problem.

BLACKWELL: Why not start what the risk is to the people.

BROWN: We've got a protocol in place. That our data shows us there's no imminent threat.

WATKINS: You got to live here to try and breathe the air, drink the water, see the children so sick, watch your people die. If you don't live in the area, you can say anything, and everybody is supposed to believe that. If they can't cut the emissions down, shut them down until they can

repair them. Then bring the plant back up. I don't want anybody to lose their job, but we can no longer live in these emissions.

TAYLOR: We're not just going to sit around and let them push us around.

BLACKWELL: Taylor is part of a class action lawsuit to force the company to reduce the emissions to meet the EPA cancer risk recommendation.

He's joined on behalf of his 10-year-old daughter, Navy Love. He says she developed asthma and needs to use an oxygen machine several times per week. He blames the emissions.

TAYLOR: They don't have any compassion for human life. My little girl is 10 years old. She is innocent.

BLACKWELL: And at 76 years old, Watkins hopes that federal regulators, state regulators, someone, will force Denka to adhere to the cancer risk recommendation for her sake, and for the sake of her family.

WATKINS: Let me live. Whatever time I have left, let it be decent.

We need clean air. We need help to get this done.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLACKWELL: So an important question here, are there more actual cases of cancer in those communities with the highest risk of developing cancer?

Well, the state does not know, and here's why. Because cancer rates are measured at the parish level, not the smaller census track level like the EPA toxin study.

So right now, there is no way to know if just that part of the parish around the plant has a disproportionate amount of cancer cases.

But that's going to change soon because a new law in Louisiana requires the LSU Tumor Registry, which keeps track of cancer numbers, to publish cancer stats at the smaller census track level.

And then we'll be able to compare the EPA's estimated cancer risk to the actual number of cancer diagnoses.

[18:45:05] Pamela, back to you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: In the U.S., there are hundreds of private armed militias claiming thousands of members.

And more recently, militias have been showing up at protests and counter protests, really, around the country. They say it's because they want to keep the peace.

In tonight's "THIS IS LIFE," Lisa Ling embeds with a heavily armed militia deep in the Arizona dessert preparing for foreign and domestic threats.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SILVERBACK, LEADER OF THE SOUTHERN ARIZONA MILITIA: Hey, Lisa. Silverback from Southern Arizona Militia. How are you doing?

[18:50:01] LISA LING, CNN HOST: His militia is less than a year old but already has more than 20 official members.

SILVERBACK: Well, our goal pretty much is being trained and prepared, you know, like the old saying is. You know, it's better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.

LING: Not many militias are open to the media. But Silverback wants to correct what he says is a bad rap from the press, so he's invited our cameras to see operations from within.

Silverback?

SILVERBACK: Lisa? Lisa.

LING: Nice to meet you.

SILVERBACK: Thanks. Come on in.

LING: How often are you getting people inquiring and wanting to be part of your militia?

SILVERBACK: All the time. It's just continuous.

LING: How often do you train?

SILVERBACK: Every weekend. Every weekend except for the major holidays, Christmas, Thanksgiving, those sorts of things.

LING: What exactly are you training for?

SILVERBACK: Name it. I mean, it could be anything. Civil unrest, economic collapse, a foreign government, or American government threat.

Anything that would endanger ourselves and the members of our groups and families, so we don't cower in our homes, afraid to leave because something bad is going to happen. In case something bad happens, we do all this training.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: So interesting. Lisa Ling joins us now from Los Angeles.

Lisa, great to see you. What was the impression -- your impression of the militia members? How did they strike you? LING: Well, I was a little concerned before actually embedding with

them. We went and spent time with them very shortly after the presidential election.

And I asked them whether -- because President Trump was the victor, whether they still felt the need to be as vigilant. And they said, absolutely, our political system has nothing to do with how prepared we need to be.

During President Obama's administration, the number of militias grew exponentially throughout the country. And as far as this particular militia is concerned, they don't really -- they don't pay -- they don't care about which party is in power for them to feel the need to stay prepared.

BROWN: And as they well know, which is part of the reason they brought you in, a lot of militias say they are painted in a bad light by the media.

So after meeting with them, spending some time with them, seeing how they do what they do, did your impressions change at all?

LING: Look, I'm very clear in the episode about how I have quite differing values. And we have different -- difference in opinions on many different issues, but we were actually able to find some common ground.

As you know, militias are pretty defiant about protecting their Second Amendment rights. I, as a journalist, am defiant about protecting my First Amendment rights as well as my reproductive rights.

And so while, again, we have differing opinions on issues, we both are concerned about possible overreach of government. And I thought that that was sort of interesting that, at the end of the day, we were able to sort of eke out that bit of common ground.

BROWN: All right. Lisa Ling, thank you so much. And be sure to catch tonight's episode of "THIS IS LIFE" at 10:00 p.m. right here on CNN.

And now this week's "Before the Bell." Here is CNN's Zain Asher. Zain?

ZAIN ASHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Pamela. It's all about corporate earnings this week on Wall Street so far with 15 percent of the S&P 500 companies reporting 78 percent have actually beaten expectations.

Those positive results helped drive the Dow above 23,000 for the first time ever. Stocks have been hitting milestones at a furious pace this year.

This week, we'll also get a first look at third quarter economic growth as well. And the second quarter, gross domestic product hit 3.1 percent, the fastest rate in two years. It is that President Trump has certainly praised even as he dials down expectations for the third quarter. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now, GDP has reached more than three percent last quarter. And other than the hurricanes, would have done phenomenally than this.

And I think we'll still do very well, but something will have to be taken off because of the tremendous problems of the massive hurricanes that we've had to endure. And now, I guess you can probably add the wildfires in California.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ASHER: Economists are still finalizing their predictions, but we're likely to see a growth rate of between two percent and three percent in the third quarter. And GDP could pick up in the final three months of the year as hurricane hit communities rebuild.

At the New York Stock Exchange, I'm Zain Asher.

[18:54:46] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Well, the matchup is set. The Houston Astros shut down the New York Yankees last night to clinch the American League Pennant, giving the city a well-deserved bit of good news.

The World Series opens Tuesday on the West Coast as the Astros face the Los Angeles Dodgers.

But more than the matchup will be hot temperatures as the city of angels is expected to be close to 100 degrees at first pitch.

And you are live in the CNN NEWSROOM on this Sunday. Great to have you along with us. I'm Pamela brown, in for Ana Cabrera.

Well, President Trump is about to make a rare trip to Capitol Hill this week. He is scheduled to have lunch with GOP senators and things could get, well, tense.

[19:00:02] You see the President has publicly attacked a number of the lawmakers that he'll be meeting with. And his former White House adviser, Steve Bannon, has literally declared war on their seat.