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Pruitt Asked Trump to Fire A.G., Let Him Lead Justice Dept; Senate Intel Report: Putin Approved Campaign to Influence 2016 Election. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired July 3, 2018 - 17:00   ET



JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news, Pruitt's appeal. CNN has learned that embattled EPA administrator Scott Pruitt directly asked President Trump to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions and give him his job. How seriously did the president consider it?

[17:00:27] Clear manipulation. The Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee says the U.S. intelligence agencies were right about Russian interference in the 2016 election. Did the committee uncover even more evidence of Moscow's meddling?

Congressman cover-up? A new report says that a powerful lawmaker knew of sexual abuse allegations involving college athletes and a team doctor but ignored them. Tonight, Representative Jim Jordan is speaking out.

And dangerous rescue. Thai officials weigh daring plans to get 12 boys and their coach out of a flooded cave where they've been trapped for almost 11 days. Will rising water add to the urgency?

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Jim Acosta, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ACOSTA: And we're following breaking news tonight about EPA chief Scott Pruitt, who's facing more than a dozen federal ethics investigations. Now sources are telling CNN that Pruitt asked President Trump directly to make him attorney general and fire Jeff Sessions.

We'll talk about that and more with Senator Ed Markey of the Foreign Relations Committee. Our correspondents, specialists and analysts, they're also standing by.

But first CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins has more on the breaking news. You are breaking this story. What are you hearing from your sources?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, we're hearing a little bit more as these ethics scandals are continuing to pile up against the EPA secretary, Scott Pruitt, about why it was that President Trump floated the idea of replacing Jeff Sessions with him and letting him lead the Justice Department.

That's because Scott Pruitt directly proposed that idea to President Trump during an Oval Office meeting earlier this spring.


COLLINS (voice-over): Embattled EPA Secretary Scott Pruitt, who's currently facing 14 federal investigations, directly appealed to President Trump this spring to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions and let him lead the Department of Justice instead.

The proposal coming at a time when the president's frustration with Sessions over his recusal from the Russia investigation was at an all- time high. Sources telling CNN that Pruitt proposed making him the acting head of the DOJ for 210 days under the Vacancies Reform Act. His plan after that: return to Oklahoma and run for office.

The president's aides quickly shooting down the idea, as his ethics scandals were piling up. Trump standing by Pruitt just last month.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm not happy about certain things, but he's done a fantastic job running the EPA, which is very overriding. But I am not happy about it.

COLLINS: This amid new allegations about Pruitt's behavior. A CNN report revealing Pruitt and his aides kept secret calendars and schedules to hide contentious meetings.

An aide testifying before the House Oversight Committee that Pruitt asked her to find his wife a job with a salary paying over $200,000 at the Republican Governors' Association.

And a "Washington Post" report that Pruitt asked assistants to put his hotel reservations on personal credit cards.

All this as the president is leading the search to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court. The White House keeping the nation in suspense while teasing a primetime announcement.

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS RELEASE: The president said yesterday he's got two or three more to interview this week and then make a decision. We're not going to comment on the names.

COLLINS: CNN has confirmed Trump spoke with four federal appeals courts judges, as well as Utah Senator Mike Lee.

As the search for a justice continues, the president on a tweet storm Tuesday, hitting Harley-Davidson, claiming the company's 2018 decision to move some production overseas hurt its sales in 2017.

But failing to note it's a decision the company made to avoid tariffs imposed by the European Union in response to tariffs imposed by the president on steel and aluminum.

(END VIDEOTAPE) COLLINS: Now, the White House didn't respond, Jim, to these new revelations about these conversation between Scott Pruitt and the president, but they did let us know that the president did interview three more potential nominees for that Supreme Court vacancy today, bringing the total number of interviews that President Trump has conducted up to seven.

Now, the president said he was only going to interview six or seven people for this vacancy, which would lead us to believe we are entering the next phase of this search, where they are going to narrow down their selection -- Jim.

ACOSTA: CNN's Kaitlan Collins with that breaking story, thank you very much.

Also breaking this hour, the Senate Intelligence Committee has just released a summary of its 16-month investigation of Russian election meddling, and it backs the assessment of the U.S. intelligence community, which found that Russia did interfere in the 2016 presidential race.

[17:05:13] CNN justice correspondent Evan Perez is here with more. Evan, the Republican chairman of that committee backs these findings.


This is a bipartisan finding that they've made, and the big news here is that the Senate Intelligence Committee is saying that they believe that the intelligence community was right, that they were -- that their judgment was sound when they said that Vladimir Putin and the Russians were trying to help President Donald Trump win the election, and they were trying to hurt Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.

Now, this shouldn't be that surprising. This is not -- this should not be huge news, but it is simply because of what we've been dealing with over the last year and a half with Republicans on the House and other parts of -- here in Washington who have been trying to undermine those findings of the Intelligence Committee.

I'll read a part of what the report says that they released today in the report. Since the publication of the intelligence community assessment, further details have come to light that bolster this assessment. And it also says that analysts were under no politically- motivated pressure to reach any conclusion.

So this finding, again a bipartisan finding from the Senate Intelligence Committee, is going to undermine the argument that you've been hearing from the White House, from the president and some of his allies on Capitol Hill that really, what the intelligence community was doing was politically motivated, that it was not as sound a judgment as they've made it out to be.

ACOSTA: And Evan, you alluded this, but how all this does compare to the House Intelligence Committee's view and to President Trump's view? This is definitely diametrically opposed to what you hear from President Trump almost every day, that this is a witch hunt. PEREZ: Right, exactly. This certainly undermines his talking point

that this is a witch hunt. But I'll read you just a part of what the House found when they published their assessment of what the intelligence community findings were. They said that they found, quote, "significant intelligence trade cart -- trade craft failings" in the work of the intelligence community, and they said -- the headline from their report was that there was no collusion, which is obviously something that the intelligence community was not looking to assess when it released its findings in early 2017, Jim.

We also know, of course, that the president has been tweeting about this just in the past few days, and he said, quote, "Russia continues to say that they had nothing to do with meddling in our election."

It appears that the president is still not sure whether or not his intelligence community's findings are the ones that he should take. He's still buying the assessment that's been made by the Russians and by their allies.

ACOSTA: All right. CNN's Evan Perez, thank you very much for that. Good reminder on all of this. Let's get more on all of this with Democratic Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator, thanks for joining us and happy Fourth of July. I know it's a day early, but happy Fourth to you.

SEN. ED MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Thank you. Same to you.

ACOSTA: Let's get first to the reaction to this report. What do you make of it? I assume you agree with the findings here that Russia did, in fact, meddle in the 2016 election, but it's notable, is it not, that you have a bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee report that says, yes, the intelligence community was right about this?

MARKEY: Everything has been pointing in this direction since the end of 2016. Every bit of evidence points towards the fact that Putin was trying to compromise our election, that it was systematic, that it intended to try to help Trump to win and to undermine Hillary Clinton. So all of that has been out there.

What we have here today, on a bipartisan basis from Richard Burr and Mark Warner, bipartisan, is reaching the same conclusion. That there was, in fact, an orchestrated effort by the Russian government, led by Putin, in order to accomplish that goal of undermining the election.

ACOSTA: And the president tries to undermine the intelligence community's findings every day, calling it just about a witch hunt every other day. Do you think that this report, now that you have Republicans on board in the Senate agreeing with these findings -- they've essentially said this over on the Senate side all along but putting out a report certainly solidifies that. Will that help counter this narrative that you hear from the president and often on FOX News and among some House Republicans that the intelligence community's findings can't be trusted? Can you counter that narrative with this report? MARKEY: I think it's going to be an ongoing public relations battle.

On the one hand, we're going to have inconvertible evidence that has been put together by the intelligence community and, most likely, by Robert Mueller, as well.

And on the other hand, you're going to have FOX News. You're going to have the White House P.R. apparatus trying to undermine Mueller, undermine this report, as well, in an effort to muddle, to confuse the American public.

[17:10:06] But I think that this one document, because it is bipartisan, because it has been put together over such a painstakingly long period of time, is now going to be given greater weight than any other report, any other set of conclusions which have been reached thus far, and I think it harms the president in a very significant way.

ACOSTA: And the president tweeted just last week, Russia continues to say they had nothing to do with meddling in our election. Evan Perez just reported this tweet a few moments ago. Why does he take the word of Vladimir Putin over members of his own party, people in the intelligence community? What do you think is going on there?

MARKEY: Well, the president obviously, right from the get-go, has said that he trusts Putin, that he believes in him, takes him at his word. And he continues to ignore his own intelligence community and all other obvious evidence that has been presented to him.

And I think what it does is it raises the question of whether or not he believes that that will undermine the legitimacy of his presidency. That it will raise further the questions of what did President Trump know and when did he know it during that campaign with regard to Russian attempts to talk to his campaign staff -- that is Donald Trump's -- and after the election to talk to people who were designated for employment inside of the White House.

I think all of it goes to what did the president know and when did he know it?

BLITZER: And do you think he's continuing to undermine this despite all of this evidence because he has something to hide? Is that what you think?

MARKEY: Again, there's a certain -- the president protests it too much. As Lindsey Graham said, as others have said, if you have nothing to hide, put it all out there on the table. Let the American people see it, and if the president is correct and there was no collusion, then it will go away.

His constant protestations are what are raising the eyebrows, I think, of the American people. Because ultimately, he just keeps discounting obvious factual conclusions that have been reached by impartial authorities, and here it's a bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee.

ACOSTA: And the report mentions that additional evidence has come in to the committee to further convince them of these findings. Have you seen any of this additional evidence? What does it tell us?

MARKEY: I have not seen it. This report was just issued, but because it's Richard Burr and Mark Warner, I am sure that --

ACOSTA: You trust it?

MARKEY: I do trust it. I trust it, because this was put together over a long period of time. Much of this ultimately had to be negotiated between Republican and Democratic staffs. Republican and Democratic members. It would not have actually been put out this afternoon unless the facts were agreed to by both sides of the aisle.

ACOSTA: And I do want to ask you about the border. Very quickly, the president's going to be meeting with Vladimir Putin coming up in a couple of weeks in Helsinki, Finland, this one-on-one summit.

Do you think he's trying to continue to exploit divisions in this country? Do you -- do you lay this at the feet of Vladimir Putin, almost in the way the intelligence community does and the Intelligence Committee does in this report? They say that Vladimir Putin is behind this. Do you think he is trying to exploit divisions in this country to this day?

MARKEY: Vladimir Putin loves this domestic political squabble that we've been in from the day that Donald Trump won. It just draws attention away from Putin's compromise of our elections. It draws attention away from the Russian -- the Putin annexation of Crimea. It draws attention away from the violations of the intermediate nuclear force agreement with an escalation in the deployment of Russian nuclear weapons along the European border.

It distracts the attention from the central security issues that the American people have a right to think that their president is pushing back on Putin, rather than buddying up to him. And so it plays into the Putin agenda all the way down the line.

ACOSTA: And I want to ask you about immigration, because you were just down at the border. And I assume, looking at some of the facilities down there, where some of these families, some of these children are being detained and separated and so on. It's just a terrible humanitarian situation down there on American soil.

What was your impression when you were down there? What did you take away from it?

MARKEY: The children and their parents are still separated. There is no plan to reunite these children. ICE told me there's no plan. HHS told me there's no plan. It's their job to put them back together, and --

ACOSTA: What do you mean there's no plan?

[17:15:00] MARKEY: There's no plan that has been given to them by the Trump White House in Washington, down to those people working on the border as to how they are going to reunite these children with their parents. Under the court order that was issued last Tuesday, they only have until next Tuesday to reunite the youngest children with their parents.

ACOSTA: Do you think that's going to happen?

MARKEY: I was there yesterday. They have no plan. They have no instructions from Washington how to get it done. Tomorrow's a holiday. We have a weekend coming up. So I'm not optimistic at all about the Trump administration's goal of meeting this court order to put these kids back together again with their parents.

I mean, it's absolutely an abomination that it has continued as long as it has, but to have, as late as yesterday as I was leaving Texas on the Mexican border, have no plan that they could tell me would be used in order to put these kids back together with their parents. It is absolutely morally unacceptable. These kids are clearly being traumatized on an ongoing basis.

Trump has yet to give the order to put together the plan in order to unite them, and it is just absolutely something that, as each day goes by, gnaws at the conscience of our country, especially as we celebrate the Fourth of July tomorrow, independence, liberty and justice for all. We are not seeing that on our border.

ACOSTA: It certainly would be good to get those families back together, get those children back to their parents. But it sounds like the White House is running out of time.

Senator Markey, thank you for coming in, giving us your perspective on that and your firsthand account of what you saw on the border. Appreciate it. Thank you very much.

MARKEY: You're welcome.

ACOSTA: The breaking news continues next. We'll have more on EPA chief Scott Pruitt's appeal to President Trump to make him attorney general. Would Pruitt shut down the Russia investigation?

Plus, the latest on efforts to rescue a dozen boys and their coach, trapped in a flooded cave in Thailand. New details tonight of the dangerous plans being considered.


[17:21:13] ACOSTA: And we're following multiple breaking stories, including revelation that embattled EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt personally appealed to President Trump in recent months to fire the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and let him, Pruitt, run the Justice Department instead.

Let's bring in our political and legal experts. Mark Preston, I go to you first. What do you make of this Scott Pruitt guy? Always got to keep your eye on him in this town, I guess. What do you make of it?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I am shocked that we're actually having this conversation right now. Are you kidding me? This guy is now under 14 federal investigations right now. And what we know from the story from Kaitlan Collins' excellent

reporting is that not only did Scott Pruitt say put me into this position and said so several times, what he was looking for was to then exit the position and then run for office in -- in his home state of Oklahoma. So whether that would be to run for governor or to run for the United States Senate, who knows right now.

But I'm not too surprised that Scott Pruitt did this. He seems to have a lot of moxie for somebody who's fairly new to Washington.

ACOSTA: Yes, and Abby, just to ask you this question, because I mean, it seems to me the president goes after the attorney general all the time. So I guess you wouldn't -- you wouldn't be surprised that Scott Pruitt would be angling for his job.

But at the same time, it's difficult -- we've been talking about this for so many months -- for the president to fire Jeff Sessions, because it could trigger such a backlash from Capitol Hill. So what do you make of this?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we also know that Scott Pruitt has talked to the president in the past about Sessions, that the president has vented about Sessions to Pruitt. So they've had some kind of bizarre camaraderie over this other person even while Pruitt is under fire.

But it also tells me that Pruitt feels very confident in his standing with the president. You talk to conservatives on the outside. A lot of them, I would venture to say most of them, still support Scott Pruitt. They want him to be in that job when they talk to the president. They urge him to keep him there.

So Pruitt is feeling confident. He's asking the president for favors. And the president is listening. He's not gone yet, which goes to show that he's more angry with Jeff Sessions over one mistake, in his mind, that he believes has triggered a lot other things than the litany of other issues that Pruitt has brought on to his White House.

ACOSTA: And you can never forget the president likes Jeff Sessions at DOJ because of immigration. The president likes Pruitt at EPA because of the environment and putting those issues aside, Rebecca Berg, I mean, apparently Pruitt only serve in the position for, I think, 210 days due to the Vacancies Reform Act.

What do you make of the fact that he's offering to serve for such a short period of time? Mark Preston alluded to this. It sounds as if he's got this chess board in the offices of the EPA, where he's moving the pieces around.


ACOSTA: Sounds like the "House of Cards," EPA edition, or something.

BERG: Right. This does sound like someone who has watched one too many episodes of "House of Cards," Jim. But it's also someone who appears to have been, at least at the time that he made this offer, looking for an exit strategy, someone who was in potentially self-preservation mode, maybe foreseeing the scandals that would envelope his tenure at the EPA, or someone who was looking for what was next, the next rung on the ladder. It's possible that those two things aren't mutually exclusive in the case of Scott Pruitt, who, as we know, has been completely blind to the scandals that he's created as --

ACOSTA: And Jeffrey Toobin, do you think Scott Pruitt is just trying to help out the president here? This is altruistic on his part, trying to help out the president? And do you think that Scott Pruitt could come in and fire Bob Mueller, for example? It would be just as difficult, I would think, for him as it would be for Jeff Sessions.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Jim, Jim, Jim, Jim, Jim. This -- tomorrow is Independence Day. It's not April Fool's Day. So the whole idea of Scott Pruitt as attorney general really belongs a couple of months earlier.

[17:25:03] I mean, the two people who can do no wrong in the Trump administration, no matter what the news is, and both are in the news today. One is Scott Pruitt, because he's destroying the environment, and Trump is in favor of that.

And the other is Vladimir Putin. No matter how many people say -- the Republicans in the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Republicans who run the intelligence agency, they all say that Putin did his best to get Donald Trump elected, but Trump never acknowledges it.

So both of them are in the news today. And, you know, they are the Teflon men of this administration. I don't know. Maybe he will be the attorney general. I mean -- this is how Trump operations.

ACOSTA: Stranger things have happened and probably will.

PRESTON: Jim, I do think it's critical, though, to -- we're talking about the support for an embattled cabinet official. If this happened in any other presidency, the person is gone. OK, there's no question about that.

But what Abby said about the outside groups and conservatives happy with Scott Pruitt, they're very happy with Scott Pruitt right now. And that's why Donald Trump isn't getting rid of him. They are making leaps and bounds that they haven't been able to make when it comes to terms of deregulating, you know, specific industries across the country.

TOOBIN: But also, remember --

ACOSTA: OK. Go ahead, Jeffrey. Yes, go ahead.

TOOBIN: Sorry. Go ahead. No, please.

ACOSTA: Well, I was just going to say we just got a response from the EPA and to us here at CNN. And we can put that up on screen and show it to everybody. This is what the EPA is saying about our Scott Pruitt story from Kaitlan Collins.

"EPA will not be commenting on anonymous sources who are working to distract Americans from the Trump administration's accomplishments on regulatory certainty and environmental stewardship."

There you have it right there, touting what Scott brings to the table.

TOOBIN: What we call a non-denial -- a non-denial denial.

And you know, remember, even if Scott Pruitt became the attorney general for 210 days, what would the Republicans in Congress do? Nothing. You know, poor old Jeff Flake come out, and he'd say, "Oh, this is terrible." And all the rest of them would clear their throats.

But this is Donald Trump's party. He can do anything. And the Republicans in Congress will not protest. Jeff Flake is not running for re-election. Bob Corker not running for re-election. So they can say something. Everybody else will fall into line as they always do.

BERG: Although that's another interesting element of this story, is that here was Scott Pruitt floating to President Trump, "You should fire Jeff Sessions. Here's a way that you can do it. Here is my suggestion."

And the president and his advisers said, "You know what? We'll take a pass."

I think that speaks a lot also to the president and the White House and their, at least, clarity on this one issue, that they thought this was an outrageous idea.

ACOSTA: OK. Everybody, stand by. We're going to talk about some other stories in just a few moments. We should point out, as the EPA's going after anonymous sources, the president is tweeting about anonymous sources and "The Washington Post" -- accusing the "The Washington Post" of using anonymous sources that don't exist while flags are flying at half-staff over at the White House after what happened in Annapolis. Where reporters were shot there.

We can show you that live picture of the White House with the flag flying at half-staff in memory of those journalists who were slain in Annapolis, Maryland.

But we're going to talk more about all of this in just a moment, including the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee's new report backing up the U.S. intelligence community's findings on Russian election interference, including that conclusion that it was ordered by Vladimir Putin.

Plus, later, a prominent Republican lawmaker fights allegations he knew about sexual abuse on a college wrestling team he helped coach.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT/ANCHOR: And we're back with our political and legal experts.

[17:33:24] And Abby Phillip, I wanted to go to you first on this Senate Intelligence Committee report essentially backing up what the intelligence community found way back in 2016, that Russia did meddle in the election, that Putin was orchestrating much of this and that they have found new reasons to be concerned heading towards the midterm elections.

What are your takeaways on this report?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, on the eve of a week, you know, maybe a week before this meeting that President Trump is going to have with Vladimir Putin, it's really important that this is coming out, because the president continues to doubt the conclusion of the intelligence community.

Interestingly, it seems that a lot of his senior aides, even while they privately will acknowledge that these conclusions are true, publicly they just don't want to talk about it, because they know that it gets the president upset. But that's problematic, because Russia did this, according to the intelligence community. They're going to do it again in an election that's just months away, and the president doesn't agree. And when he is pressed on it, when his back is against the wall, he doesn't want to talk about it.

It's also important that this is bipartisan. It's critical that this is bipartisan. The House broke down -- the House committee investigating this broke down so badly that it was hard to see how there could be anything bipartisan come out of this. I think it's important that the Senate should do it.

BLITZER: Yes, Mark Preston, huge differences between what happened in the House and what came out today out of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, for all the criticism that I lob at Washington internally here day in and day out, you have to look at the United States Senate and say, you know, "Thank God, if not for." Right? Basically. They have done their best. They have tried to be bipartisan on this.

[17:35:03] And you know, the big question is, is Jim, did Republicans actually do something that is not going to be helpful to President Trump? They released this report, as Abby says, a week before he's going to sit down with Vladimir Putin. If they were really protecting him --

ACOSTA: But right before the Fourth of July.

PRESTON: True, but they could have held it until the week after he met with Vladimir Putin, as well.

But in the bottom line in this crazy world of white noise that we live in, I hate to say this. I think for historical purposes, it's important that -- that we saw the United States Senate issue this report today. But in the grand scheme of things -- and is it going to change people's opinion? Absolutely not.

ACOSTA: And Jeffrey Toobin, one person's opinion that is likely not to change is President Trump's. He is taking Vladimir Putin's word for it over the intelligence community, over the Intelligence Committee in the Senate.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: You know, as I said, Vladimir Putin can do no wrong in Donald Trump's eyes.

And, you know, one of the useful ways, I think, of thinking about the Trump administration is asking how it will look 20 years from now, 50 years from now, as we have this complete consensus that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 election, in very consequential and intentional ways, and everybody knows it. And the president of the United States has not only denied it, but he stopped any efforts to do anything about it and respond.

And you know, I would disagree with Mark somewhat, in that yes, it's good that there was a bipartisan effort to tell the truth about what happened, but what are the Republicans in Congress doing? Are they passing any laws? Are they hardening our election technology? Are they doing anything? No, they're not, because they're afraid of offending Donald Trump. That is the guiding principle of today's Republican Party.

ACOSTA: And Rebecca Berg, I mean, we do have an election coming up in four months.


ACOSTA: And it sounds as if the administration is not ready. They're still doubting what the intelligence community is saying.

And it says in this Intelligence Committee report that, yes, there are efforts being made right now to sow discord and potentially meddle in these upcoming midterms. My goodness, what happens if we have these midterm elections, and they're meddled with again by the Russians? What happens then?

BERG: You would think, Jim, that the president would shoulder the blame for that, because he made a decision not to direct U.S. officials to try to intervene, to try to push back. Our U.S. intelligence community, he did not direct them to take action in advance of what we consider all but certain Russian aggression in this election and, of course, in 2020, as well.

So you would have to think that there would be, perhaps, political consequences for the president and, certainly, that Congress would be compelled to act. Congress did appropriate funds for states to use in this election but they're only just getting that money, and so it's really going to be difficult for them to put it into place in time.

PRESTON: Jim, what's worth noting: This report is not done yet. OK? This is the first iteration of this report. This investigation is still going on.

ACOSTA: Important point to make, Mark.

And great discussion, all of you. Thank you very much.

Coming up, new and disturbing allegations against a prominent Republican congressman. Did Jim Jordan turn a blind eye to allegations of sexual abuse when he was a college wrestling coach?

Later, an update on efforts to rescue a dozen boys and their coach, trapped in a flooded cave. How long will they have to wait?


[17:43:01] ACOSTA: There's more breaking news that we're following. Republican congressman Jim Jordan, a top conservative and potential candidate for speaker, is denying a report that he ignored allegations of sexual abuse while he was a wrestling coach at Ohio State University.

CNN's Jeanne Casarez is working the story for us.

Jeanne, House Speaker Paul Ryan weighed in on this and called the accusations, quote, "serious."

JEANNE CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Congressman Jim Jordan was an assistant wrestling coach during the years that Dr. Richard Strauss, team doctor for the athletics at Ohio State University, allegedly sexually molested student male athletes.

Well, the university has launched an independent investigation into Dr. Richard Strauss, who actually died in 2005, but he was the team physician from 1981 through '95, affiliated with the university for 20 years.

And that takes us to the wrestling department, because Michael DiSabato is a former wrestler of the university that is now speaking out, saying that he had been a friend of Jim Jordan's and his family for 40 years, that in March he had the courage to step forward. He e- mailed and called initially, Jim Jordan, to say, "Look, I'm going to come out, and I'm going to tell them that he -- I was sexually molested by Dr. Richard Strauss."

He says Jim Jordan said, "Please don't involve me." He e-mailed him after that. He says that, in the locker room that everyone during that time, including Jordan, knew about Doc, as they called him. If you went to see Doc in the room for one of your injuries, that he would probably touch you inappropriately, that he would molest you.

Here was more of what Michael DiSabato said to me just minutes ago.


MICHAEL DISABATO, FORMER WRESTLER, OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY: Doc Strauss was a serial groper of -- of our bodies, including our testicles. It's unfortunate. I considered Jim a friend. But for whatever reason, he's made the decision to deny something that was absolutely happening. He had knowledge of it. I have personal knowledge that he had -- his locker was next to Doc Strauss' locker in the locker room.


CASAREZ: Now, Congressman Jordan's office has a very swift, fast, and defiant response to all of this.

They say, quote, Congressman Jordan never saw any abuse, never heard about any abuse, and never had any abuse reported to him during his time as a coach at Ohio State. He has not been contacted by investigators about the matter but will assist them in any way they ask because, if what is alleged is true, the victims deserve a full investigation and justice.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR: Some very, very serious and troubling accusations.

CNN's Jean Casarez, thank you very much for that. We appreciate it.

Coming up, an update on the dozen boys and their coach trapped in a flooded cave. Even though they've been found alive, it may be a while before rescuers can get them out. Stand by for the latest.


[17:50:37] ACOSTA: Tonight, we're learning new details about plans to rescue 12 boys and their coach. They have been trapped in a flooded cave in Thailand for more than 10 days now.

Let's bring in CNN's Brian Todd.

Brian, the rescuers face big challenges before they can get everyone out, but everybody around the world is talking about these kids and how they're going to get them out.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Everybody's talking about it, Jim. They do face some major challenges, but Thai officials are confident tonight. They say they can keep those boys healthy as they prepare for the rescue operation, and they're not in a rush.

But it's just the start of the rainy season in Thailand and the flooding in those caves could get worse, so veteran rescuers we spoke to say this is an urgent operation. And they're warning it's very dangerous.






(APPLAUSE) TODD (voice-over): The elation of finding 12 boys and their soccer coach alive is tempered, tonight, by concerns over what is sure to be a complicated rescue operation. They're trapped more than a mile inside a cave in Thailand.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are coming. It's OK.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Many people are coming.

TODD (voice-over): The cave is flooded because it's monsoon season. It may stay flooded for months and more rain is coming. Thai authorities have tried pumping water out of the cave, have tried finding a natural opening at the top of the mountain. None of it has worked so far.

Thai military officials, tonight, say the boy's rescue could involve a long, dangerous operation, which might involve having to teach them how to scuba dive.

WUTTHICHAI POOCHAROENYOS, COMMANDER, MAREHONG RIVER LINE UNIT (through translator): They might have to dive. If they dive, we will have to use a full mask, which we are waiting for now.

TODD (voice-over): But if the boys have to be taught how to scuba dive, this won't be standard open water training. Cave diving, experts say, is a much different challenge.

CAPT. BOBBIE SCHOLLEY (RET), UNITED STATES NAVY: It is the hardest diving in my opinion. It is terrifying.

TODD (voice-over): Bobbie Scholley spent 22 years as a diver for the U.S. Navy. She has pulled bodies out of the wreckage of the USS Cole and TWA Flight 800.

Scholley says it may be exceedingly difficult to teach these boys, all between the ages of 11 and 16, some of whom may not even know how to swim, how to navigate a narrow, pitch-black channel where the water has no surface.

SCHOLLEY: It's very easy to lose your orientation, not know what is up and what is down, and become completely lost. Then a diver can just start flailing. You can lose control of your equipment. You can lose control of your breathing, which is the main thing, and then you end up drowning.

TODD (voice-over): Scholley says it's likely that each boy will be accompanied by a rescuer, but she says even trained rescue divers might have trouble guiding the boys thru what could be swift water currents with stalactites, stalagmites, other rock protrusions that their equipment can get caught on.

SCHOLLEY: We usually tuck in all the hoses into our equipment, you know, tape them down and that sort of stuff. But there's always a chance that a little tiny loop can get stuck on something. TODD (voice-over): These boys have been stranded inside the cave for

more than 10 days. Food and water are being brought to them while they prepare for the rescue operation, but Scholley says, for some of them, the sapping of their physical and emotional strength during this ordeal could affect the rescue.

SCHOLLEY: It's frightening in this environment, not being able to see the surface. They're going to be scared, and that's going to chip away at their endurance during this long process. So that's going to play on how long they can survive in these conditions, as well.


TODD: The dive expert who runs the operation which located the boys says one way to get them out might be to turn each boy into what he calls a, quote, inert package. That means to restrict the movements of the boy's arms and legs to negate the effects of panicking, if they panic, and just have this -- his rescuer kind of pull him out while he's not moving.

Now, Bobbie Scholley, our veteran diver says that could work, except if the boy might have an equipment problem or a breathing problem and he can't address it with his arms and legs, and maybe his rescuer doesn't' see what's happening.

That's just one example, Jim, of the complications they're going to face down there.

ACOSTA: A very scary. And, Brian, just thinking to past rescue operations of this nature, can they drill down somehow to these children in a way to pull them out? Is that possible?

TODD: It's a good question, Jim. Experts say the technology and equipment does exist to do that, but it all will probably have to be airlifted to Thailand. And experts say the group is located in a very small space inside that mountain, about a half a mile deep into the mountain. And they're going to be difficult to find that way, so drilling a hole is problematic, as well.

[17:55:07] ACOSTA: All right. Brian Todd, we're all pulling for those kids and the rescuers there in Thailand. Thank you very much.

Breaking news next, new details in embattled EPA Chief Scott Pruitt's plan to oust Jeff Sessions and become Attorney General. More tonight on Pruitt's direct appeals to President Trump.


ACOSTA: Happening now, breaking news. Wanting justice. We're learning that embattled EPA Chief Scott Pruitt personally asked the President to carry out a stunning job switch. What did Pruitt hope to accomplish by getting Jeff Sessions fired and taking over his job?

[18:00:03] Backing the intelligence. A top Republican directly contradicts the President's doubts about Russia's election meddling, making the case in a new report that the intel agencies have been right all along.