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Interview With Illinois Congressman Mike Quigley; Scandal- Plagued EPA Administrator Facing New Allegations; Cave Rescue Ongoing in Thailand. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired July 3, 2018 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:02]

JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR: 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. Why is the Senate Intelligence Committee releasing this information now?

Conspiracies and attacks. The president heads into the Fourth of July holiday by launching new fireworks on Twitter. From Harley-Davidson to Iran, we will tell you who he's targeting tonight.

And cave survival. The rescue of a dozen trapped boys could take months, as crews scramble to finalize an escape plan. Will the boys be forced to make a dangerous dive to save their own lives?

We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off tonight. I'm Jim Acosta, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ACOSTA: And we are following breaking news on the scandal-plagued EPA chief, Scott Pruitt, how he brazenly angled for a promotion and potentially tried to insert himself in the Russia investigation.

CNN has learned that Scott Pruitt directly asked President Trump to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions and temporarily name him as attorney general instead. This hour, I will talk with Congressman Mike Quigley, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, and with former Hillary Clinton foreign policy adviser Jake Sullivan.

Our correspondents and analysts, they're also standing by.

First to CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins.

Kaitlan, tell us more about your breaking story that Scott Pruitt was appealing to the president for Jeff Sessions' job.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Jim, this is big. We are learning that Scott Pruitt went directly to President Trump during a meeting in the Oval Office, asked him to fire the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and let him take over at the Department of Justice, at least temporarily, that is.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS (voice-over): Embattled EPA Secretary Scott Pruitt, who is 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, 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 prime-time announcement.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president said yesterday he has got two or three more that he will interview this week and then make a decision.

COLLINS: CNN has confirmed Trump spoke with four federal appeals court judges, as well as Utah Senator Mike Lee. As the search for a justice continues, the president on a tweetstorm 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, Jim, the EPA got back to us after we published this story on Scott Pruitt. They gave us a statesmen, not attributed to a name, but a title, EPA spokesman.

They say: "The 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."

I should note that, in that comment, they don't doubt the voracity of the story -- Jim.

ACOSTA: That's right, Kaitlan. They're not putting their name on it and they're not denying it. Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thank you very much.

Also breaking tonight, the Senate Intelligence Committee formally and publicly supporting the intelligence community's findings about Russian election interference, despite the president's well-documented doubts in tweet after tweet after tweet.

Let's bring in CNN justice correspondent Evan Perez.

Evan, the Republican chairman of the committee, unlike what we saw over in the House, the Senate Republican Intelligence Committee chairman backing these findings from the intelligence community.

[18:05:02]

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim. This is a bipartisan finding from the Senate Intelligence Committee.

And it says that the Intelligence Committee assessment back in 2016, at the end of 2016 that was published in early 2017, that it is sound work that was done by the intelligence community, that not only were the Russians responsible for meddling in the 2016 election, but that they had a preference for Donald Trump and they were trying to hurt Hillary Clinton.

And that's what the assessment of the intelligence community was. And the bipartisan committee in the Senate has found that this is a good finding that they had come up with. I will read you a couple of pieces of what the committee says.

It says, "Since its publication, further details have come to light that bolster this assessment from the intelligence community." And it also says -- quote -- "that the analysts were under no politically motivated pressure to reach any conclusions," which undermines the argument that you have heard from a lot of Republicans, and from the president, in particular, that the intelligence community under the Obama administration was acting in a -- politically motivated methods to try to help Hillary Clinton.

They, obviously, have found otherwise here in the Senate.

ACOSTA: And, Evan, it really underlines the differences between what they did over in the House, on the House Intelligence Committee side, and what's being done in the Senate Intelligence Committee, because you have heard over in the House, House Republican after House Republican taking, you know -- taking aim at the findings that Russia was involved in meddling.

The Senate Intelligence Committee taking a much more sober look at this. PEREZ: A totally different assessment.

And, if you remember, the House Intelligence Committee even went so far as to say that there was no collusion, which is not something that the intelligence community even assessed as part of its work.

So, look, I think you have seen work being done by some of the president's allies in the House in particular to try to undermine not only the intelligence community assessments, but also Mueller investigation, which is really the thing that I think is what they're more concerned about.

And, of course, President Trump just the past few days tweeted again his doubts about the intelligence community's assessment. He says -- quote -- "Russia continues to say that they had nothing to do with meddling in our election." The president choosing to take the word of the Russians over his own intelligence community.

ACOSTA: And it makes you wonder if the president will directly confront Vladimir Putin at this upcoming summit in Finland, armed with this Intelligence Committee report saying that the intelligence community had it dead on.

Evan Perez, thank you very much. We appreciate it.

Joining me now, Congressman Mike Quigley. He's a Democrat and a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

I guess, first of all, President Trump, as you know, Congressman Quigley, he has cast doubt time and again on Russia's cyber-attack on the 2016 election, their meddling in 2016. He's falsely claimed that Democrats made this up to explain for their election losses.

Does this report make it harder for him to make those types of arguments? And are you heartened to see this work come out of the Senate, because now the American people can see something coming from both Republicans and Democrats about what happened in 2016?

REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D), ILLINOIS: Today is a good day, after a long stretch of bad days.

Let's remember this finding was over a year-and-a-half ago. And it was with high level of certainty that the united, unanimous intelligence community had this finding.

The fact that the House committee had the opposite finding and was talking about the fact that there was no collusion just coincides with the fact that the House side tanked the investigation. And they worked hand in glove with the White House to obstruct the investigation at absolutely every turn.

ACOSTA: And the Senate Intelligence Committee says it found additional evidence of Russian interference. That is a very interesting portion of this report. Can you tell us what they might have found?

QUIGLEY: Well, I think there's a lot they might have found just stemming from what we found on the House side.

Mr. Conaway from Texas promised that they would release the transcripts of our investigation. I take him up on his promise. He's a good man. I think the American public deserves to know what we have learned. And I think it would add to what the Senate bipartisan committee has found and they stated today.

ACOSTA: And the Senate Intelligence Committee vice chair, Mark Warner, he tweeted this, and it's a very worrying thing that he tweeted. "Russia will be back in 2018. We need to be ready."

He's obviously talking about the midterm elections coming up in just four months from now. Are you confident the November elections will be secure, Congressman?

QUIGLEY: Not at all.

Just in the last appropriations cycle, I was able to secure $380 million to repair our election infrastructure. That amount has been zeroed out for 2019, as the primaries come to their conclusions and we head for the general election.

[18:10:03]

The State Department was given money, appropriated money to fight Russian meddling. They admitted in front of the Senate committee that they have spent none of that money.

The fact that the president of the United States continues to call this a witch-hunt and a hoax gives no one in these other states that are not prepared any incentive to move forward.

We have 13 states that have no paper record in their election equipment. So we wouldn't even know. We couldn't even go back after the fact to find out what the Russians did.

(CROSSTALK)

ACOSTA: So this could happen again, Congressman? This could happen again?

QUIGLEY: Most of our election equipment is so old, anti-cyber- attacking software wouldn't even work on it. We need to change this. We need to be prepared.

ACOSTA: And President Trump has repeatedly expressed his anger, Congressman, that Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation.

You're probably hearing some of our new reporting from Kaitlan Collins about Scott Pruitt's request to replace Sessions. If the president were to do that, would that mean the end of the Russia investigation? You do get the sense from Scott Pruitt that he does like to ingratiate himself with the president.

QUIGLEY: Look, he's done exactly what the president has told him to do at the EPA. You imagine the scenario here.

He goes there with the singular notion of ending this investigation. To do that, I imagine that he would have to fire Mr. Rosenstein, who -- would bring in someone else who would fire Mueller. I can't see any other reason he would do this, come to the rescue of the president of the United States under attack.

When these Senate Republicans came out with this report today, that was a great first step. What they need to do now is to protect the Mueller investigation, because this is additional evidence of the White House plan to end it.

ACOSTA: And do you think anyone could get confirmed to replace Jeff Sessions? Because, obviously, if Jeff Sessions were to leave the scene, that would be a huge firestorm here in Washington.

I would imagine you would have some Republicans who would be balking at replacing Jeff Sessions, because they would essentially see an effort to undermine the Russia investigation. Could anyone get confirmed to replace the attorney general?

QUIGLEY: I imagine someone could get confirmed. I would also imagine that they would have to make a commitment to not disturb this investigation. I don't think that's what they have in mind.

So it's time for profiles in courage. It's time for other Republicans to step up. Let this investigation take its course.

ACOSTA: And let me ask you this.

Devin Nunes, the chairman of your committee, is still aiming to get documents and testimony on how the Justice Department handled the Clinton investigation and the Russia investigation. Do you think he is doing the president's bidding?

QUIGLEY: I think he's been doing the president's bidding since day one, when he went to the White House with his midnight excursion, when he went along with the White House gag order that witnesses don't have to answer questions, when he agreed not to subpoena key witnesses and documents, when he put together the Nunes memo, which basically put our national security at risk.

The intel community and the Justice Department was extremely concerned with the recklessness of the information that was in that report. So this is absolutely no surprise. It's a continuation of the chairman's effort to help the president politically and legally, and in no way help the American public find out exactly what the Russians did and how to prevent it in the future.

ACOSTA: And, as you have probably heard, Congressman, there are these very disturbing allegations about Congressman Jim Jordan, that when he was a wrestling coach at Ohio State University, that he turned a blind eye to sexual abuse by a doctor there.

Obviously, we have to underline, these are accusations, these are allegations, they haven't been proven. The congressman's office has put out a statement saying that he did not do that.

Do you think, though, he should resign in light of these accusations that have come out?

QUIGLEY: I have just heard about them. I believe this investigation should be allowed its full force to move forward. I don't know enough ain't, having just, just heard this. It's extraordinarily disturbing. We will let the investigation process take its course.

Mr. Jordan has to come to terms with this.

ACOSTA: OK, Congressman Mike Quigley, thank you for tackling a lot of news tonight with us. Thank you very much for joining us, and happy Fourth to you, sir.

QUIGLEY: Happy Fourth, and a safe Fourth to all.

ACOSTA: Absolutely.

And just ahead, more on the Senate's Intelligence Committee's report on Russian election meddling and message it may send to the president, this as GOP lawmakers are helping to lay the groundwork for Mr. Trump's summit with Vladimir Putin. We will have a live report from Moscow.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:19:13]

ACOSTA: We're following breaking news on the Senate Intelligence Committee standing behind the intelligence community's findings on Russia election meddling.

The panel's GOP chairman backing the new report, contradicting the doubts President Trump has frequently raised about the Kremlin's interference.

This is playing out as Mr. Trump prepares to meet with Vladimir Putin in less than two weeks in Finland.

Let's go to CNN's senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen. He is in Moscow.

Fred, Republican lawmakers are there ahead of this Trump-Putin summit. Some very interesting visuals there in the Russian capital.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, interesting visuals and certainly some interesting talks as well.

As these Republican members of the GOP are on the ground here in Moscow, one of the big issues and one of the big questions are going to be, how would they address election meddling with their Russian counterparts?

[18:20:01] They met with many senior Russian leaders. We caught up with the delegation while they were here in Moscow. Here's what they said to us.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PLEITGEN (voice-over): As the summit between President Trump and Vladimir Putin draws closer, a Republican congressional delegation on the ground in Moscow, speaking to Russia's foreign minister and top lawmakers.

CNN asked delegation leader Senator Richard Shelby whether Russia election interference was on the agenda.

(on camera): Was election meddling addressed in the meeting?

(CROSSTALK)

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R), ALABAMA: We talked about all issues, including that, that what we're -- we haven't settled anything. This is day one. We're glad we're here. We have had positive conversations and dialogue, and we're going to continue that.

PLEITGEN: You keeping President Trump informed about your meeting about how things are going?

SHELBY: Trump will be informed soon. He knew we were coming.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Both Russians and Americans said they talked about a wide range of issues, acknowledging major rifts on many key topics.

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R), LOUISIANA: I asked our friends in Russia not to interfere in our elections this year. I asked them to exit Ukraine and allow Ukraine to self-determine. I asked the same thing (INAUDIBLE). I asked for their help in bringing peace to Syria.

PLEITGEN: On the Russian side, some well-known faces, like Sergey Kislyak, Russia's former ambassador to the U.S. who met with members of the Trump team during the 2016 campaign and post-election transition.

One meeting chaired by senior lawmaker Konstantin Kosachev, who was placed under U.S. sanctions in April last year. Kosachev saying he believes ties the between the U.S. and Russia can be restored.

KONSTANTIN KOSACHEV, RUSSIAN SENATOR (through translator): We are satisfied with the way our discussions went. And we once again confirmed that a significant part of our disagreement is based not on a real disparity of positions and interests, but on a lack of understanding of our real intentions, interests, and motivations.

PLEITGEN: And the Russians seem keen to make headway at the Helsinki summit. The Kremlin spokesman saying Vladimir Putin would feel comfortable negotiating in whatever format President Trump prefers.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PLEITGEN: And, of course, one of those possible formats, Jim, would have been President Trump's idea of starting the meeting off with a one-on-one meeting between President Trump and Vladimir Putin.

We also asked the Kremlin a about that and they said, absolutely no problem. They certainly seem to believe that Vladimir Putin is very well prepared for all of this. They say, in fact, they believe that there could be an agreement reached between the Russian side and the U.S. side before the meeting even takes place to start it off just like that, with a one-on-one between the two leaders, Jim.

ACOSTA: All right, I'm sure the Russians do like the idea of Putin and President Trump meeting head-to-head.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen, thank you very much.

Joining me now, Jake Sullivan. He is a foreign policy expert who has served as a top adviser to both Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden.

Jake, let me ask you, this Republican delegation that went over to Moscow, it was interesting to hear Senator Kennedy say -- and he's a sound bite machine, just put quarters in him and he spits them out. But he was saying that he told the Russians to stay out of our elections.

JAKE SULLIVAN, FORMER ADVISER TO HILLARY CLINTON: That's something that Donald Trump could take a lesson from.

It would be nice if he would step up and do the same thing, coming from the lips of the commander in chief. But it looks like for now we are going to have to rely upon members of Congress to carry that message of highest levels of the Russian government.

ACOSTA: And what do you make of this Intelligence Committee report coming out of the Senate today? It's so unlike what came out of the House, and it's obviously very different from the rhetoric that you hear from the president all the time, tweeting that it's, you know, the Russia investigation is a witch-hunt and tweeting just the other day that Russia says it didn't meddle in the 2016 election.

With the president meeting with Vladimir Putin coming up in a couple of weeks, less than a couple of weeks, how much do you think this report should influence the president, the White House, as they head into that summit?

SULLIVAN: Well, what this report really does is it clears away all of the nonsense, all of the politicking, all of the ideology around this issue. And it has a bipartisan group of senior senators on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Republicans and Democrats, concluding, number one, that the Russians did interfere and the intelligence community was right, and, number two, they did so to help Donald Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton.

And what's interesting about the report is that it says, actually, the effort to influence and interfere in the election, by the Russians, was even more extensive than what the Intelligence Committee had initially...

(CROSSTALK)

ACOSTA: Right, they're saying they're finding new information as we speak.

SULLIVAN: Right.

That actually paints an even more intrusive and extensive picture of Russian meddling in 2016. So, at this point, there should just be no doubt that all of the hand-waving, all the crying of hoax and witch- hunt is not going to be able to erase the undeniable fact, the bipartisan finding of this committee, that Russia attacked our democracy in 2016 and that we have got to do something about it to make sure this doesn't happen again going forward.

[18:25:02]

ACOSTA: And you think that the Republicans on the Senate side deserve some credit?

SULLIVAN: Very much so.

And it's not just this report. Going back to the beginning of this bipartisan investigation on the Senate side, the chairman of the committee, a Republican from North Carolina, Richard Burr, has tried his best to work with the Democratic vice chair, Mark Warner, and all of the Democratic members of the committee to carry out a professional, politics-free investigation that would actually get to real facts and real truth.

ACOSTA: It's interesting to see that actually happen in Washington.

SULLIVAN: Yes.

ACOSTA: Let me switch gears to -- because he's meeting with NATO, the president is, before meeting with Vladimir Putin.

And he is continuing this barrage of, I guess, criticism on our NATO partners about how much they contribute to defense spending.

Is the president right? Does he have a point? I mean, look at these defense expenditures. Complying with the NATO commitments, the United States, Greece, the United Kingdom and Estonia. And then look at all of these countries that aren't complying. I know President Obama did make a point of this when he was in office.

President Trump is doing it in his own unique way. Is it such a bad thing that the president is badgering these allies to chip in some more money?

SULLIVAN: It wouldn't be a bad thing if he was doing that in the context of reinforcing and supporting an alliance that has served America's interests for decades.

It is a bad thing when he misses the forest for the trees, when all he can see is the dollars and cents in terms of GDP and defense expenditures, rather than seeing all the ways in which our NATO allies help us, including, for example, the fact that, as we speak right now, there are NATO allies standing shoulder to shoulder with us in Afghanistan and other places where we're going after the terrorists.

So I would -- if I were President Trump, I would be saying, sure, everybody should pay more. Obama said that, as you just suggested. Secretary of Defense Bob Gates very famously went to Europe to tell the Europeans they had to do more.

That is completely called for. What is uncalled for is to the question the very foundation of this alliance that has been a cherished American asset since the Second World War.

ACOSTA: And one of the key questions for the president going into the summit with Vladimir Putin is what he will say about annexation of Crimea in Ukraine. President Trump has not ruled out recognizing Russia's annexation of Crimea.

What message would that send to the world? What message would that send to the world to NATO, to that region, which obviously is very nervous about Russian aggression?

SULLIVAN: You know, the United States has stood for a few simple propositions in our time. One of them is that no country can invade another country and seize their territory by force.

We fought a war in the Gulf in 1991 to stop Iraq from taking Kuwait. And we have stood up to this kind of aggression in other places as well. If Trump goes to Moscow and basically kisses the ring, and says, you know what, it's fine, you guys can invade your neighbor, take their territory, and call it your own and we don't care, boy, that is going to send a message to other dictators around the world to do the same thing.

ACOSTA: And I want to ask you about this tweet from the president.

We can put this up on screen. He says that: "Just out that the Obama administration granted citizenship during the terrible Iran deal negotiation to 2,500 Iranians, including to government officials. How big and bad is that?" the president asks in that tweet.

This comes from a FOX News story quoting an Iranian cleric, apparently. Jake, you were inside the Obama administration. You would have had, I would suppose, some knowledge of this. What do you make of it?

SULLIVAN: The claim in the FOX News story is completely false, that somehow that granting citizenship to Iranians was part of the nuclear negotiations. That is absolutely, flatly not true.

And what's interesting about this is that what happened is a hard-line crank in Iran just randomly made this comment. FOX News writes a story on it, and then Trump tweets it.

He had every opportunity to call people in his own Department of Homeland Security and State Department to ask whether or not this was true. And they would have told him it wasn't. Instead, he relies on FOX News.

And the scary thing is that he's increasingly relying on sources like FOX News to get his intelligence, rather than the professionals in his own government. And I think that that puts us all at risk.

ACOSTA: And there are plenty of professionals there for him to rely on.

Let me ask you about House intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes. He's referred to you and nine other Obama administration officials, as you know, to the chairman of the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees. Do you know, what is he accusing you of? Would you be willing to testify? What's this all about?

SULLIVAN: I have to idea what he's talking about. What I will tell you is that I did go meet with the House Select Committee on Intelligence that he chairs to talk to them about what I knew and perceived about Russian interference in 2016. He didn't show up to that.

So, now all of a sudden, he's super...

ACOSTA: He didn't show up to the...

SULLIVAN: To that conversation. He had other members of his committee there for the interview that I gave. But he didn't bother to come.

And what's interesting about that to me is that what this seems to be is one more distraction by Devin Nunes to try to keep the American people from being focused on the real issue, which is that Russia remains a threat to our democracy.

And we just had a bipartisan report from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence reinforcing that. And what we really need to do is get about the business of making sure this does not happen again.

This should not be a Republican or Democrat issue. It shouldn't even really be about what happened in the past. It should be about stopping what might happen in the future.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT/ANCHOR: And stopping it potentially before the midterms in 2018. Jake Sullivan, thank you very much. We appreciate it.

Just ahead, as many Americans wonder why Scott Pruitt still has a job, why did he personally ask the president to put him in charge of the Justice Department?

And we'll get an up-to-the-minute report on efforts to rescue those boys trapped in a cave in Thailand.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [18:35:19] ACOSTA: And breaking tonight, new details on a stunning plan concocted by EPA chief Scott Pruitt to get Jeff Sessions fired, allowing him to take over the Justice Department. Sources tell CNN that Pruitt personally pitched that idea to President Trump.

Let's bring in our analysts to talk about all of this.

And David Swerdlick, I'll go to you first. How concerning is it, do you think, that Scott Pruitt tried to do this, to take Jeff Sessions's job?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I guess, Jim, it's only concerning or shocking if everything that has come before it wasn't concerning and shocking to you already, right?

Pruitt has had stories come out about him, about getting below-market rent paid since he's been in D.C., sending staffers to buy him special lotion. Also, today, there's been reports including in "The Washington Post" about him having staffers audit or manage or, I guess, even erase things from his calendar to make it look like he wasn't meeting with too many industry folks.

So now you get up to a point where he has -- you know, it's come out that he just brazenly went to the president and said, "Look, maybe I can be attorney general." Why should this shock anybody? All politicians who rise to this level are ambitious, but he is a climber. All these things fit into a bundle.

And so, you know, knowing that Attorney General Sessions is not the president's favorite, it shouldn't be a big surprise.

ACOSTA: And Ron Brownstein, this is a bigger deal than trying to get a used mattress at the Trump Hotel, I suppose. Is that -- is that your sense of it?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Or -- or reports about trying to get his, you know, his wife a job or, you know, any of the other many conflicts that come out.

Look, this is -- this idea is -- would seem in the current political climate to be an absolute non-starter. There are 50 Republican votes in the Senate at this point, given that John McCain is in Arizona and not voting. And the idea that every Republican senator would vote to put Scott Pruitt with, you know, enough baggage to fill the Queen Mary on -- confirm him as attorney general just seems, you know, utterly implausible. I mean, they're going to have enough fireworks in the months ahead, holding together every Republican senator on a Supreme Court nominee.

So I can't imagine that there is really anyone in the Senate or maybe even in the White House who believes that adding that -- that fuel to the -- you know, to the fire that's already going to be there over the Supreme Court is a good idea.

ACOSTA: But Phil Mudd, he could take this job temporarily, right? And then -- and then during that period, during that interim period, he could shut down the Russia investigation.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Oh, no way. I mean, I can see what's going on here. Scott Pruitt is sitting there at lunchtime or dinnertime and saying, "Hey, homey, I did a bunch of favors for you in terms of supporting you at EPA," and telling the president or suggesting to the president, "I won't recuse myself like you've accused the attorney general of doing."

But can you imagine a -- the hearing -- the Senate hearing to confirm Scott Pruitt? That would be a hot mess. I mean, it's an interesting conversation, but it's not going to happen.

ACOSTA: And Sabrina, I mean, why do you think this is important? I mean, obviously, Scott Pruitt has -- he seems to have more than nine lives. As many as lives as they have mattresses in the Trump Hotel, I suppose.

But, why does he -- I mean, what is it going to take, do you think, for it to be too much for the Trump White House to say, "OK, you know what? Scott Pruitt, this is enough"?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, "THE GUARDIAN": Well, I think that it's telling, when the president was directly asked, he defended Scott Pruitt, saying he had done a good job. And Scott Pruitt is someone with whom the president shares a good rapport personally. And we know that when someone is able to successfully ingratiate themselves with this president, it goes a long way.

He also, Scott Pruitt, has a lot of allies on Capitol Hill. You know, I've spoken with Republicans who say that they're very uncomfortable about the allegations, about all of these possible ethics violations, but they're very pleased with his performance as administrator of the EPA.

He has rolled back or begun the process of unraveling as many as 22 regulations, many of them Obama-era environmental protections around the Clean Water Act, around fuel efficiency standards, of course, in undoing the Obama administration's efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

So I think a lot of this also has to do with the fact that Republicans support what he is doing at the EPA. And unless many more of them call for his head, I don't think he's going anywhere.

SWERDLICK: And Jim, what the president knows, to go on to what Sabrina is saying, is that -- excuse me, what Pruitt knows, is that the president is happy with all of this and knows that he can get what he wants out of Pruitt.

And also that even, you had Congressman Quigley tell you earlier, "Look, Democrats will ask, 'Well, you know, will you recuse yourself?'" But the president knows that Republicans control Congress, and Republicans will go along with what the president wants.

BROWNSTEIN: Jim -- Jim --

ACOSTA: Ron.

BROWNSTEIN: Jim, actually, Pruitt's relationship with the Republicans in Congress is almost a perfect -- perfect crystallization of Trump's relationship with Republicans -- many Republicans in Congress. You could say almost exactly the same thing.

Pruitt is giving them what they want from a policy perspective. Not cost-free, as I'll explain in a minute. And as a result, they're willing -- they have been willing to a remarkable degree to turn the other cheek, to look the other way at a series of ethical, you know, gray areas to kind of barreling through norms that, under a Democratic president, they would be, you know, in full arms about.

[18:40:20] And the reason why I say it's not entirely cost-free, is because, you know, Pruitt's approach to the EPA fits with the overall Trump vision of governance, which is that they are focusing their agenda and their rhetoric almost entirely at their base. And they are strong in energy-producing states and in rural areas, where these EPA regulations are viewed as onerous.

But the reality -- there is a reason why the epicenter of their risk in the House are white-collar suburbs, where there is a lot of support for environmental causes, among others. I mean, it's not the central factor, but it is a reinforcing factor in this kind of class realignment that Trump is accelerating, moving the party, Republican Party more dependent on non-urban, blue-collar voters, struggling more, facing more headwinds in white-collar suburbs. I think that will be a big dynamic in November.

ACOSTA: Yes.

BROWNSTEIN: And Scott Pruitt is actually a symbol of that.

ACOSTA: And we know that President Trump likes having Scott Pruitt at the EPA for environmental reasons. And he likes having Jeff Sessions at the Justice Department on immigration policies, so maybe those two guys won't be moving anywhere anytime soon.

But thank you all very much for a great conversation.

Just ahead, a top conservative congressman speaks out about a report claiming he ignored allegations of sexual abuse.

Plus, the dangerous and difficult effort that's underway to rescue a boys' soccer team from a flooded cave in Thailand.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many of you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thirteen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thirteen? Brilliant.

(END VIDEO CLIP) (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:46:20] JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: Breaking tonight, one of the most powerful conservatives in Congress accused of ignoring sexual abuse. We have more now on Representative Jim Jordan and the new allegations he's facing from former college wrestlers he once coached.

Let's go to CNN congressional correspondent Sunlen Serfaty.

Sunlen, this all stems from a sexual abuse investigation at Ohio State University. Very troubling.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, it is, Jim. Ohio State is currently investigating multiple allegations of sexual misconduct against the university's former physician, Dr. Richard Strauss. Now, these are allegations coming from former athletes that starting back in the 1970s, and continuing nearly over a 20-year period, that Strauss molested students, touching them inappropriately during their medical appointments with him.

And during some of that time, Jim Jordan, before he was a congressman, worked as an assistant wrestling coach at the university. And at least one of these student athletes are now calling Jordan out, saying that he knew about the sexual misconduct at the time and he did nothing about it.

My colleague, Jean Casarez, spoke to a former wrestler at the university who says he's one of Dr. Strauss' many alleged victims and he says there is absolutely no question in his mind that Jordan knew it all.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL DISABATO, FORMER OHIO STATE WRESTLER: Jim went on the record again, through a spokesperson, indicating that he had no knowledge, no one ever came to him, and he never saw anything. I can tell you right now, he's not telling the truth, because he did know, he has knowledge, he was there over eight years. It's impossible to ignore the training environment. It was deviant, chaotic.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SERFATY: And Congressman Jordan is denying that he knew about the alleged sexual abuse. His spokesman telling me today, quote, Congressman Jordan never saw any abuse, never heard about any abuse, and never had any abuse reported to him during his time as 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.

And on that claim that the congressman has not been contacted by investigators, about this, there is certainly some dispute tonight. A source within the congressman's office tells me that they have searched the congressman's communications, that they don't have any record of contacts from the investigators, but the investigative team, they said today that they had previously reached out to Jordan by e- mail and phone asking for interviews, but to this day, they say that Jordan has not responded to those requests.

Meantime, the speaker of the house, Paul Ryan, is weighing in on all of this tonight. His spokesman today called the allegations, Jim, serious, and says that they should be investigated, as they, of course, are.

ACOSTA: They are very serious allegations. Sunlen Serfaty, thank you very much.

Tonight, rescuers are scrambling to figure out the best way to save a dozen boys trapped in a flooded cave along with their soccer coach. They're preparing for all options, including the possibility that the boys will be down there for months and that they'll have to learn to get this dive in order to escape. The soccer players were found alive yesterday after being missing in that cave in Thailand for about ten days. It was a dramatic moment that was caught on tape.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RESCUER: How many of you?

CHILDREN: Thirteen.

RESCUER: Thirteen?

CHILDREN: Yes.

RESCUER: Brilliant.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Just incredible. And CNN's Anna Coren joins us now from Thailand.

And, Anna, what is the latest on this rescue operation as it looks like day is breaking there where you are in Thailand.

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Jim. Dawn is breaking here and it is day 11 of this saga. The boys have now been inside that cave for 11 days.

[18:50:03] Quite extraordinary.

But they are surrounded by Thai navy SEALs who have not left this site ever since they were found. We know that they've received food, medical attention. They slept last night with blankets.

So their spirits are high. But you mention the realities of getting them out of this cave. Obviously, the number one priority is their health and their safety.

But they are now looking at ways to bring those 13 members out. They were entertaining using scuba equipment. This we know would be a logistical nightmare. The reason I say that is because the professional divers who have got to these boys have faced so many challenges. We're talking about experts here. But now, we're hearing that perhaps they will wear full face oxygen

masks. Then they will be led out of the cave. You know, the topography of the cave, it's a labyrinth. There are narrow passage ways that open into caverns. They are flooded. So this is where the problem lies.

They're pumping water, you know, 24/7, hundreds of liters every hour to reduce the water levels. But if they can get the boys wearing oxygen masks and then lead out, this could happen much sooner than what we expect. Of course, they're planning for worst case scenario, the boys staying in there for months to wait out the wet season. But if they can get these boys feeling comfortable, we understand that they're wearing masks and swimming in the waters, some of the boys can't swim. As long as they can get them comfortable, then perhaps they can get them ready to come out rather soon, Jim.

ACOSTA: A very complicated rescue mission underway. Anna Coren, in Thailand, thank you very much for that report. We appreciate it.

And just ahead, Scott Pruitt's attempt to take over the Justice Department. What does it tell us about the president and his level of anger at Jeff Sessions? CNN's Chris Cuomo is standing by to share thoughts.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:56:44] ACOSTA: And stay with CNN as we bring you more on the breaking news. Sources say embattled EPA chief Scott Pruitt made a direct appeal to the president to fire Jeff Sessions and let him run the Justice Department.

CNN's Chris Cuomo joins us now. He's getting ready for tonight's edition of "CUOMO PRIME TIME."

Chris, Scott Pruitt, we don't need extra news in Washington, but Scott Pruitt seems to lend a hand every chance that he gets. We know that the president has been extremely angry with the attorney general. He thought about replacing him before.

What do you make of this new wrinkle that Scott Pruitt apparently wants Jeff Sessions' job?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR, "CUOMO PRIME TIME": Hey, look, I mean, I think the most obvious angle is a demonstration of such kind of raw temerity by Scott Pruitt. You know, with all of the stink around him, he thinks about making an audacious move like this and going to the president and the idea if it's true that the president actually considered this. What chaos that would create of removing Sessions with someone like Pruitt with all the controversy and only then to have Pruitt -- I guess the reporting is that he wanted to stay about 200 days. And then, you know, use the Vacancy Act that way and then go and run for office again. But just all of it seems to be so tone deaf to what Pruitt is dealing with his own.

ACOSTA: He likes fine lotions and fine mattresses and cheap apartments and the attorney general's job, it appears. This comes as the Senate Intelligence Committee is issuing a

bipartisan report. Chris, I thought this was very interesting. Mike Quigley, congressman from Illinois, was on earlier today, and he was saying that after so many bad days, this was a good day because you had a bipartisan effort by this committee to say, yes, the U.S. intelligence community was right when they said Russia did interfere in the 2016 election even though we've heard President Trump say over and over again that, you know, this investigation is a witch hunt, and just tweeting the other day that while Russia says they didn't do it.

What does all this tell you? What do you make of it?

CUOMO: Well, look, the president sees the Russia probe through a very specific lens which is this is bad for me. You know, he's already surrendered the interests of securing the democracy and understanding how to push back against the inimical power in lieu of making sure that he's OK in this probe. And that's why he says things that are so grossly untrue.

The virtue of having the Senate Intel Committee come out with this report is it restores a little bit as you say the faith in the ability to discharge duties down there on a nonpartisan or at least bipartisan basis. I think the fact conclusions that they're going to echo the findings of the intel community and say, yes, the meddling was intentional. It was by design, and it had a goal of chaos, disruption, but also preference which was Trump over Clinton.

I think it's helpful because it confirms what we understand as fact. But again, the pool is so poisoned.

ACOSTA: It is so poisoned. But it's interesting to see unlike what we saw over in the House where there is just all this partisan bickering. On the Senate side, you know, people can come together, Republicans and Democrats, and put out a document that backs up the intelligence community.

Chris Cuomo, great talking to you. We'll see you later on tonight here on CNN.

And be sure, everyone, to tune in for "CHRIS CUOMO PRIME TIME". That is tonight here on CNN at 9:00 Eastern.

I'm Jim Acosta. Thanks very much for watching. Happy Fourth of July, everybody.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.