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Did Trump Propose Invading Venezuela?; Cave Rescue Ongoing in Thailand; Stormy Daniels' Lawyer: I'd Run Against Trump; Protester Climbs Statue of Liberty, Forces Evacuation. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired July 4, 2018 - 16:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: New glimmers of hope after a dozen days in the darkness. THE LEAD starts right now.

New video inside the cave where a group of boys have been trapped under ground for 12 days now. Inside, there is a very risky race against time and rising floodwaters.

Did the forecast for 2020 just get Stormy? A surprise candidate signals a potential challenge to Trump. But seriously? Stormy Daniels' attorney is here to explain his decision.

Plus: Just two weeks before President Trump sits down with Vladimir Putin, authorities in the U.K. declare a new major incident. Is there a link between this and Russia's deadly poisoning of a former spy?

And welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jim Sciutto, in again today for Jake on this Fourth of July. A very happy Independence Day to you.

We begin with our world lead. Rescue workers racing against the clock and against the tide could take a deadly turn, trying finally to free the 13 members of the Thai soccer team from that flooded cave they have been trapped in for 12 days now. This new video you're seeing here shows those boys wrapped in foil blankets to keep them warm. All this two-and-a-half miles into the cave system.

The boys speak on camera, one by one, saying they are healthy, thanking their rescuers. Authorities won't say exactly how long it will be until they get them out. Some experts say they may have to wait months until the end of the rainy season.

And there's still no clear solution, with even more rain on the way.

In the meantime, Jonathan Miller live on the ground for us right outside that cave entrance in Thailand. CNN's Tom Foreman at the virtual studio.

Let's get first to Jonathan.

So, Jonathan, have those boys, some of them, just as a reminder, as young as 11, have they have had any contact with their parents since being located? JONATHAN MILLER, ITN REPORTER: No, Jim, they've been trying to get

this coms link in there, a sort of fiberoptic cable, for the past 24 hours or more.

And it's got a certain distance into the cavern system, but it has not reached the boys yet, so the moms and dads still haven't talked to their sons or their sons to them. This is an absolutely nail-biting drama playing out here now, because it is, as you say, a race against time.

And the race is against the monsoon rains. If they come down, it's torrential and that cave system will even completely flooded. Right now, the passages are partially submerged. There is a small window to get the boys out the way they came in, albeit wearing oxygen masks.

There are a couple of other plans. One of them is to go in from above. The other one is to possibly just have them stay in there for the four months, as you say. What a terrible thing that would be. But it is a real drama playing out here and the people of Thailand and now the world are transfixed.


MILLER (voice-over): A flurry of activity today at Tham Luang Cave, where teams of volunteers are working to comfort and evacuate those trapped inside. Some half-a-mile below the surface, new video shows the group is all smiles, as foil blankets, food and medical teams offer some relief.

But after 11 dark days inside, their path to freedom remains flooded behind them, accessible only by skilled divers.

CLAUS RASMUSSEN, THAI CAVE DIVING ASSOCIATION: They're still draining out the water. But that's also because it's easier to get things in if the water levels go down more than getting things out.

MILLER: Ambulances stand ready as dive teams continue their efforts. Thai navy SEALs are using water pumps and thick tubing to try to drain a path, but no one knows when or exactly how the boys will get out.

RASMUSSEN: If everything goes well, they can be out tomorrow, they can be out the day after. If the weather goes bad, we might actually have to look at that four-months option that they're talking about.

MILLER: Above ground, this monk made his way towards the cave's entrance to pray, the boys' hopeful family members following close behind. Nearby, fresh meals are being packed tight in plastic bags to be taken inside.

Local children, including the boys' classmates, have also arrived to sing for their friends.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We want our friends inside and rescue teams to know that we're sending our support.

MILLER: Cave experts say if the boys can hear the outside world, it offers tremendous hope. According to the rescue team, the boys told divers they could hear dogs barking and a rooster crowing, meaning there may be small vents and thus a way in from above.

RASMUSSEN: We haven't had it confirmed from the navy SEAL side yet, but that's -- the Navy SEALs has really been focusing on that aspect of it.


MILLER: Now, Jim, there are 10 Thai navy SEAL divers in the cave with the boys right now, one of them a doctor.

They have got food, they have got energy, protein drinks. They have got company. And there are -- at one point today, there were 47 divers down in that cave pre-positioning oxygen tanks and more food, preparing for the passage out of the 12 boys and their coach.


Everybody now just watching and waiting.

SCIUTTO: Just an incredible group effort there. Jonathan Miller in Thailand, thanks very much.

Let's go now to CNN's Tom foreman in our virtual studio with a new and different look at the rescue efforts.

Tom, it's been hard, I think, for all of us to visualize just how deep inside the system they are. So, help us understand.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, if diving them out is the solution, it is still fraught with danger precisely for that reason, Jim.

Let's bring in the mountain and take look a look at what we're talking about here. The latest updated numbers we have from the Thai navy SEALs is that the distance that they are into the mountain from the entrance is about 2.5 miles.

And they're more than a half-mile down. Now, we don't have any detailed pictures of the inside of this cave, but if we brought up a hypothetical diagram here, you can see why this is such a problem, because, yes, some parts of the cave have become completely flooded, so that they're impassable at this moment.

You would have to bring them out past those points. We don't know how many they are. Are they as big as a house, big as a football field? We don't know.

But we know they're there and some of the divers say -- this is really critical -- that in some places the opening is only as big as a single human being, so something like that, even if you're generous. Now, imagine trying to go through with almost no visibility in rushing water in the cold while hauling someone behind you for an indeterminate amount of time under water. That's why they're so worried about the idea of someone panicking and endangering the person being rescued and possibly the rescuer, too, Jim.

SCIUTTO: OK. That's, clearly, a dangerous option, clearly. Are there other realistic options in play if you're not diving out through those waters?

FOREMAN: Well, a moment ago, you heard the talk about the idea of coming in from the top. That has worked.

Back in 2010 in Chile when those miners captured there, We saw exactly that. They bored in with three different holes. One of them eventually reached the people down below and you had these remarkable scenes of reunion as they were rescued through that hole.

But you run the risk of causing another collapse, missing your target altogether. And, remember, what we showed you a moment ago had nothing to do with the scale here. If you want a real sense of how deep in the ground these kids are, if you're sitting with them right now, to reach the sunlight, you would have to go up the length of two Empire State buildings.

That's why this is so hard. And that's why they're so excited about the possibility that maybe there's some undiscovered natural passages that might lead them to these kids and bring them out. They haven't found them yet, but that's why they're looking, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Those poor kids, those poor parents. Tom Foreman, thanks very much.

FOREMAN: You're welcome.

SCIUTTO: Joining us on the phone is cave rescue expert Anmar Mirza. He's with the National Cave Rescue Commission.

Thanks for joining us.

I know that you have said that diving out for these children is actually the most dangerous option, in your view. Why is that?

ANMAR MIRZA, U.S. NATIONAL CAVE RESCUE COMMISSION: Well, as many of your commentators have already noted, you're going through very tight passages, you're going into depths, you're going through swift water, doing it without any visibility, and you're going through very tight places where if you panic and you lose your equipment or there's an equipment failure and you cannot fix it within a minute or so, it will be fatal.

And that's -- the possibility is very high there, which is what makes that the most dangerous option. Now, one of the things that we have been noting is that the navy is training these kids to do this.

The longer the time that they have to train them and drill them on these things, the safer it becomes. But even if they brought them up at the same expertise as the Navy SEALs, it is still not a totally safe option.

Every single trip that one of those navy divers go in and out through there is also risky even for them. And these are people who have been doing this for years.

SCIUTTO: As you were talking there, we were showing some more video of those boys and they're smiling in the midst of this, which is just incredible for what they have been through.

Now, authorities are raising another possibility, that not all the boys would be rescued at once, that they might start with some who are stronger, take them out first.

Is that typical in rescues like this?

MIRZA: Well, that is going to depend on the situation.

In this case, the ones that are the strongest and the ones who pick up the diving the best, if they're using the diving option, that's a very good way of going about it, because you then buy more time to drill and allow the people to have -- who aren't as strong to develop more strength.

And so, you know, it is better to save a few of them than save none of them. But at the same time, we do want to ensure that people who are making the decisions of whether to do this are very comfortable with the decisions they're making.


And we have to trust that they know what they're doing, because they're the best people to evaluate the situation as it stands.

SCIUTTO: You know, this is happening under the media microscope here. You have got the eyes certainly of Thailand and the world on this.

Is there a risk that that public attention could affect what kind of decisions are made and maybe affect them...


MIRZA: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.

And that's one of my concerns all along, having done many rescues in my life, knowing that, no matter what happens, we are being judged. If this turns out to have some kind of negative outcome, then every single decision these people make will be questioned.

And it's a very, very difficult position to be in as a rescuer, especially when you know that. And it can lead you to either not do things that maybe you would have done otherwise, or maybe to do things that are hasty and ill-advised, because there's so much pressure.

Regardless of that, though, those are the people who have the best information available. Those are the people who are in the very difficult position to make those kinds of decisions. And it really is not up for anybody else to judge that. This is not something that has really been done before. So it's not like there's a protocol book that they say, well, they should have done this, they should have done that. In this case, they're writing the book.


Well, they have done a pretty decent job finding these guys alive. Let's hope they continue.

Anmar Mirza, thanks very much for your expertise.

We're learning today that President Trump asked about launching a military invasion, but you might be surprised to find out where he asked about it.

Also, ahead, a familiar face may be throwing his hat, yes, into the ring to take on Trump in 2020 for president. And his candidacy would make for one very interesting race.


[16:15:09] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Welcome back.

In our politics lead, did the president just get a new challenger for 2020? Stormy Daniels' lawyer Michael Avenatti may have just tossed his hat into the ring tweeting today, quote: If big he seeks he re- election, I will run but only if I think there's no other candidate in the race that has a really change of beating him. We can't relive 2016. I love this country. Our values and our people too much to sit by while they're destroyed. #fightclub. #basta.

Joining me now live is the man himself, Michael Avenatti.

Thanks so much for taking time on this July 4th.

MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS' LAWYER: Happy July Fourth, Jim. Thanks for having me.

SCIUTTO: So, let me start with the very basic question. Why would you be qualified to be president?

AVENATTI: Well, I think I'd be qualified because I have three things that this president lacks, Jim -- brains, heart and courage. And I think I have those in spades compared to this president. And I am deeply disturbed at the direction that this country is taking. I'm deeply disturbed by when's happened most recently with separating these mothers and their children. I think it shows a complete lack of compassion.

I'm deeply disturbed about our place in the world. I think our allies are very, very concerned about where America stands. I'm deeply concerned about these trade issues that the president has taken on and I think ultimately are going to cost American jobs and generally speaking, I love this country and I'm very concerned about where we are going. SCIUTTO: Fair points. And all due respect, but keep in mind, on

these issues, you would be joining a race that has at least not officially declared but a number of U.S. senators and governors who are punitively throwing their hats into the ring. How would you measure up against them in light of the issues you're talking? If we're talking about international trade issues, the national security threats facing this country today, how would you make a credible case to voters that you should be the commander in chief?

AVENATTI: Jim, all of the experience in the world isn't going to be worth anything if you can't beat this guy. And I'll tell you this. I think that Donald Trump is an exceptional campaigner. I think he has very good political instincts. And I think he should not be underestimated.

And if you want to know how he stacks up against traditional politicians with long track records and long voting records, all you have to do is look at the 15 -- that's not one, that's not two -- 15 candidates that he beat on his run to the White House. The bottom line is: there's two questions. Number one, who can beat this guy? And number two, will they be better than he is if they are elected? Those are the only two questions in my view that matter.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this, because I want the read a tweet of your own and this just from Sunday so three days ago. You said the following then: I'm extremely flattered by the suggestions that I attempt to become AG, that is attorney general, or run for the House or Senate, but I have zero interest in those jobs. None. I don't want to become a career politician. We have too many as it is.

It's quite a change in 72 hours. What led to the change?

AVENATTI: No. It's not a change. I didn't say that I wasn't going to challenge the president for the presidency of the United States.

Bottom line here, Jim, is if he is re-elected, this country is in a world of hurt, in a very, very bad place. People are upset about the potential that he's going to nominate a Supreme Court justice to replace Justice Kennedy. Well, let me tell you something. The next president of the United States, whoever serves after 2020, likely will have a chance to appoint two if not three additional Supreme Court justices.

That is a big deal for the future of this country.

SCIUTTO: No question.

I want to turn now to a case, of course, you're familiar with and involving Mr. Michael Cohen. You may have noticed today that he deleted his biography from his Twitter profile which used to read personal attorney to President Donald Trump. That is no longer there. You had some comments earlier in the week with him seeming to distance himself from the president.

In your view, is he indicating that he'd be willing to cooperate with prosecutors, perhaps against the president, or as a lawyer, do you see him throwing up a trial balloon for a pardon from the president?

AVENATTI: Well, I think, frankly, he is playing games with the American people, Jim. You know, there's nothing stopping Michael Cohen from being a patriot and coming forward with what he knows now about the president. He does not have to wait for charges to be filed. He does not have to wait to be indicted.

And I think what he is trying to do is he's trying to be half pregnant if you will. He wants the support of the American people but he doesn't want to distance himself too much from the president.

[16:20:01] And you can't be a fence rider in this situation. He either needs to step up or step out.

SCIUTTO: Right. And tell the truth to those prosecutors.

AVENATTI: Correct.

SCIUTTO: Turning to another topic, we were speaking about the possibility of running for president. Of course, you would know, presidential run, any political run, you would face a lot of scrutiny. Bankruptcy records as you know show that your former law firm owed the IRS about $2.4 million in back taxes, penalties, interests. That's still -- those records show has not been paid off.

Can you run for president without settling that issue?

AVENATTI: Well, Jim, we expect that issue to be fully settled shortly. I don't owe anything personally.

You know, look, I'll be happy to put my tax records and background up against the president's background and his tax records. Of course, he won't release any of that information. I don't know how many times he filed for bankruptcy. I've never filed for bankruptcy personally.

But I am interested in talking about ripping kids from the sides of their mothers. I am interested in having allies laugh at us around the world. I am interested in where all those jobs are that he promised Americans in key electoral states. I am interested in pro- choice and a whole host of other issues.

So, look, I hope somebody that's competent enough to beat this guy and that's the question. Who can beat him? I hope that person steps forward. If they don't, I will.

SCIUTTO: Well, you've already learned the art of the good pivot there. So, Michael Avenatti, thank you for coming on and sincerely wish you a happy Fourth of July.

AVENATTI: Same to you, Jim. Thanks.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

SCIUTTO: Well, we have this breaking news, just in to CNN. Liberty Island in New York City is being evacuated now because of a person trying to climb the Statue of Liberty. You are looking at a live picture there now of the statue. And

joining me live is CNN's Brynn Gingras from New York.

Brynn, what are we learning from police? How far up the statue? Do we have any idea who this person is?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jim, you know, this happened a little bit earlier today. There was actually a total of eight people that were in protests, at one point, holding up a huge sign that said "Abolish ICE." It was a total of eight people, seven of those people are already under arrest.

But now as you look at this video, you can see in the corner of that green section, the base of the Statue of Liberty, is one person holding some sort of sign. And a little bit lower than them, the heads you see there, that is NYPD personnel. Specifically, the emergency services unit.

We have three different units I'm told on the scene. And those are those highly trained tactical units that are working to get that eighth person down who we're told a woman, who is part of the protest. And I would imagine at this point I'm trying to get this confirmed, I would imagine the hostage negotiation team would be a part of this, those are the people that are skilled to sort of talk to people to get them to come down in situations like this, like a protest.

So, I wish I could answer to you and we could find that out, certainly. The base to where this person is, how far above ground we're talking here. But it's pretty significant climb that this person has made already. Again, seven people already climbed a bit of the Statue of Liberty in their protest, holding up this sign and then this eighth person went even further.

As you already mentioned, Jim, the Liberty Island has been evacuated. I mean, this is a huge section, of course, of the harbor here in New York City, where the Statue of Liberty sits. Huge tourist area, especially when it's the Fourth of July.

So, this is the big deal. We know there are harbor units, as well, right around the Statue of Liberty but a lot of personnel there on the scene trying to get this eighth person either to come down or probably at this point trying to figure out how they're going to get up there and arrest this eighth person, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Brynn, thank you very much. And there you have it. This is a protest on July Fourth at the Statue of Liberty which with a poem reading in part, give us your tired and poor and that protest about immigration, ICE, family separation, et cetera.

I want to bring in Phil Mudd, who, of course, worked in counterterrorism for the FBI and CIA.

You know New York City very well. How seriously would they approach this situation like this, particularly on a holiday, the members of the public would be visiting the statue as well. PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Look, if you're a member of

the public, you step back and say, this is a protest that fits into the context of what we've seen in the United States in the past week or two. As a counterterrorism professional, you can't make that assumption. Assumptions will kill you.


MUDD: There's a couple of characteristics you look at in this case.

We have not only one person, multiple people. The first is an immediate question. What do they have on their persons? What do they bring on to the island? Did they bring anything on that's a threat to the people around the island?

Obviously, you have a question about when you get access to the person, the person up on the monument. Are there other individuals beyond the immediate circle who are involved this?

[16:25:00] And then there's a secondary question, I'm sure the investigators will spend the afternoon taking off July Fourth to investigate, intent. What were they trying to do? How can we reassure ourselves of one of the toughest things in the intelligence business, that is the negative? How can we be guaranteed they didn't intend to do harm to anybody?

So, it looks like a protest. I as a member of the public for the past eight years would say it's protest. You can't make an assumption if you're an investigator.

SCIUTTO: If you're just joining us now, you're looking at live pictures of the Statue of Liberty in New York. There's the lower portion there, there's a wider shot. Liberty Island has been closed down. A number of people it appears have climbed the base of the statue on this July Fourth.

Our reporter in New York saying that it appears to be a protest, related to ICE, immigration, et cetera.

But, Phil Mudd, our CNN terrorism and national security analyst, you are saying that the authorities are not going to eliminate a possibility here? They want an abundance of caution to make sure there aren't any other ill intents.

MUDD: Sure. I mean, in the 17 years post-9/11, I realize this has no sort of bearing on post-9/11, it doesn't look like a terrorist attack. You go into the situations saying, how can we be reassured that the individuals involved in this don't have something like a backpack device? I doubt they do.

But again, there's a big difference between what you think and what you know. Being reassured over the course of hours that there's nothing they carried on to that island that doesn't threaten an individual. That's tough to do.

In the meantime, you can't say we're just going to take a risk that these people are benign. Say they're benign. In the meantime, you have to disrupt the vacation plans of the people on the island saying we've got to figure out what we have our hands on and takes a little while.

SCIUTTO: Well, we should say that it is our information, no evidence of terrorism but, of course, necessary to exercise an abundance of caution there. Thanks very much, Phil Mudd.

We're going to keep an eye on this breaking news story that's developing right now.

And as we do, you can see there now what appears to be one of the protesters and I believe on the left there a police officer who's climbed up. You can see the ladder there on the left that the officer appears to have used. One of the protesters there kind of sitting looking kind of relaxed, like they're not in any sort of rush to get off there.

Brynn Gingras joining us back again from New York. You are learning new details.

GINGRAS: Yes, Jim, I'm learning from sources there who are familiar with this situation, with this scene, that what officers have to do is build a rope rescue system. So they're not going to wait to try to coax this person down at this point. They're going to build some sort of system to get officers to their level and then make that arrest.

And then what I'm learning is after that arrest is made or after they're detained and seeing the officers sort of build this contraption. I know it looks like a ladder and see another officer sort of at the base there at the green point. This is like I guess the rope rescue system that they're going to have to build to actually put this person in custody. And then what they'll do typically is almost piggyback them or have them in handcuffs and lead them down safely.

What I'm told then from there is this person would be taken on a boat as I told you Hudson -- the water unit, harbor unit of the NYPD is there. They're going to put this person on that boat and bring them directly to most likely the Staten Island ferry terminal on the Manhattan side to put them under arrest.

SCIUTTO: OK. So, Brynn --

GINGRAS: So, you can see this person -- yes, go ahead.

SCIUTTO: Brynn, as we're watching here, it is one protester who's there. There was some talk of maybe multiple. To our knowledge there's one person.

GINGRAS: There's --

SCIUTTO: And the initial indications are that this is a protest? How do we know that?

GINGRAS: Well, earlier today, about 3:15, is when NYPD got this initial call. There was a total of eight protesters holding up a sign saying "abolish ICE".


GINGRAS: Seven arrests were made. This one other person climbed further. So, that's who officers are worried about getting at this point down to safety and then making an eighth arrest.


GINGRAS: There was a total of eight. But this is the final one to put under arrest once they safely get to her.

SCIUTTO: I get it. So, you are seeing there in effect as Brynn was explaining, the final remaining protester, there were a number there before, they released a banner, talking about abolishing ICE. That is the immigration service that's been so involved in these immigration issues, arrests, deportations, et cetera.

Now, the police there setting up a device to safely get the final protester down. We're going to keep an eye on this story going forward.

I'll just go back to Phil now.

So, based on what we heard there, you have a final protest it appears. And they're -- seems like the focus now, Phil, is getting that person off there safely, right, especially if they don't want to come down.

MUDD: Not quiet. There's a couple focuses here. I'm not going to assume that's the final protester.

When I go into that conversation or when the NYPD goes into a conversation with the group that's there, the first immediate question is, you've got a criminal event, you've got to potentially talk to them about what they're thinking about going into this.

But my first question would be, are you part of a group that's planning something broader across New York City? You can't guarantee that today or tomorrow or next week that they haven't thought about further protests that would disrupt life in New York City.