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Operation Begins to Extract Thai Football Team; Catastrophic Rainfall, Historic Flooding in Japan; U.S.-North Korea Relations; Trump White House. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired July 8, 2018 - 03:00   ET

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


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UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

PAULA NEWTON, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello, I'm Paula Newton at the CNN Center. We are following breaking news out of Thailand at this hour.

A high-risk operation has been underway now for a few hours to free a youth football team trapped in a flooded cave. The prayers of a nation and really many around the world rest on a team of Thai and international divers.

The local governor said earlier the divers have entered the cave. He called it D-Day and said rescuers were at peak readiness. Now the mission to extract the 12 boys and their coach will take hours, perhaps even days. They've been stranded in the darkness now for more than two weeks.

For the very latest, CNN's David McKenzie joins me from Northern Thailand.

David, it is an incredibly risky dive and rescue, as we've been saying for days. And you have more details about how they're going to try and execute this.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Paula. Everyone around the world hoping at this hour to see these 12 boys and their coach safe. They've been in the darkness as you described for so many days. Their parents are waiting on the mountainside behind me where the cave system lies.

And it's been raining on and off this morning, a very worrying development because that could close the window on this rescue attempt. And yes, that new information coming in from a Thai Navy source. Let me go through it.

The Thai Navy source saying that this will be in the relay kind of system. Two British divers, the ones that were in fact the first to find those boys, will be the first team, along with Thai Navy divers, to go in. They will go from chamber three within the cave system. They've

managed to take a lot of the water out of that through constant pumping over the last few days. From there, they'll move deeper and deeper into the cave through some narrow channels into where the boys are and then start extracting them one by one.

It's this joint international and Thai operation. I want to show you a very poignant picture, these arms grasped in solidarity. The Thai Navy SEALs saying that, "We, the Thai Navy SEALs, along with international diver teams, are ready to bring the soccer team home."

That was the message posted on social media with that picture. There's been a lot of solidarity; American, British, Australian, Chinese military specialists here, alongside the recreational divers that are, in fact, the spearhead of this rescue operation.

NEWTON: Yes, a touching picture, David, as you said. And really a very pointed reminder of exactly how dangerous this is going to be. We talked about the fact that they were able to extract water out of there.

How much does this affect exactly how dangerous and how arduous this will be for the 12 boys, who, we've repeated, don't have a lot of experience, if any, with swimming, let alone diving?

MCKENZIE: That's right. You know, again and again, I think about the prospect for these young boys. Anyone who's been diving, even diving in wrecks in the open ocean, can be scary. This is a far more complex and difficult kind of penetration diving, as they call it.

And they have managed to drain a lot of that water out. That chamber three, the Thai Navy has shared photos today of people in the cave system. Just a few days ago, that water was far higher in those cabins.

So they feel that it would have been almost impossible to get the boys out a few days ago. Now they say there's a chance. And the governor said today that, if they don't move now, that the window might close and they'd have to start all over again, Paula.

The worst-case scenario, of course, would be if the rain really sets in and floods the cave system to such an extent it inundates both the rescuers and the boys and they could never get out.

So this, for the families, must be agonizing. Over the last few days, we've talked to many of them. They just want them out and quickly. But it's going to be a long wait, I have to say.

NEWTON: None of us can really imagine what they're going through right now as they wait that out. David, you'll continue to bring us up to date information from Northern Thailand as the hours tick by here. A little more than three hours now that that rescue began. David, appreciate it.

As we were talking about how difficult this whole rescue would be, joining me from Palm Springs, California, is Bobby Chacon, former leader of the FBI's dive team.

Kind of bring me inside what you're feeling and thinking right now. There are so --

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NEWTON: -- few of us who have this kind of expertise. If you're a rescuer there, to make a fine point of the it, they are risking their lives to try and rescue this team.

What are you thinking as you see the conditions?

BOBBY CHACON, FORMER FBI DIVE TEAM LEADER: What I tried to do in situations like this with my divers, when I was supervising dive teams like this, I tried to cut out everything else a diver had to think about.

I had to try to narrow that down so they could focus on just what they had to do. I think the dive plan that David just explained, if that's the one, in fact, they're using, I think is a smart one, where they're going to relay from dive team rescuers to dive team rescuers.

So in other words, those rescuers only have to concentrate on their section of that cave and take each child through and hand them off to another set. That allows that diver or team of rescue divers just to focus and concentrate on their job right there instead of having to take one child through the entire length of the cave.

Each team of rescue divers only has to focus and concentrate on their section, which they'll get to know very well after the first one or two or three children go through. So they'll be comfortable, more comfortable in their section.

So breaking it up like that, I think, as a dive team leader, I think is smart. What I'm trying to do is get my rescuers to focus so they don't have to think about a lot of other things and they can just focus on the child.

They'll know, in their particular section, what's more treacherous than others in that section. When the get to that point with the child, they'll know exactly to focus more on the child, get the child to calm down because there will be portions of each section that are more treacherous than others.

So I think the dive plan that they came up with is probably a very, very good one.

NEWTON: Bobby, how significant is it that they were able to get at least some water out?

Again, let's underscore here, there is more rain on the way.

CHACON: I think David highlighted that very well. I think that it was crucial that they got that water out. Because some of the divers said a couple of days ago they wouldn't even be able to attempt this kind of rescue and maybe a few days from now, if the rains raise that water level up, they won't be able to do it.

I think going now, they're going because they have this window of opportunity, which isn't always great because obviously they would have liked to wait a lot longer and let that water level get even lower.

But it's not going to happen. The weather forecast and the season that we're in there I think is going to prevent them from doing that. So I think they picked this, they saw a window of opportunity, where conditions are better than they were a few days ago and better than they're going to be in a few days.

So they picked this window to try to get this done. So I think they're operating in what they think is, for lack of a better term, the best situation they could deal with at this particular time.

NEWTON: Yes, none of us like hearing that. It's the best of bad choices. But that is the reality. I want to ask you, and I know it's hard to know because you're not in this situation.

But in terms of communicating with the boys as they're making their way through, how important is it and yet how limited will that be?

CHACON: It depends. We have situations where each diver can actually plug into the individual boy's full-face mask and then do a one-on-one communication as they're bringing him through. I don't know if they're using that type of situation. That's the one I would use if I could.

Then as he hands the diver, the child off to the next set, the next rescue diver, they can unplug temporarily and plug the new rescue driver into the child and say, I've got you now, you're coming with me for this section.

This is all explained to the children just before they leave. Then they -- as they get handed off, they can hardwire plug into each child and talk to them directly. And I think and I hope that that's what they're using.

But this communication with the children, throughout the course of this rescue, is going to be crucial to maintaining their calmness so that they don't panic and they can make their way through because panic is the number one threat to them right now.

I think they'll have enough air. They've staged bottles in there. They'll be able to fit through. It will be tight but they'll be able to do it. I think the number one threat is if their anxiety level gets to the point where they panic. That's the number one threat.

NEWTON: Certainly, they've done all that they can to make sure that these boys are prepared. We've just got to hope that their youth and resiliency will pull them through without panic. Bobby, thanks so much. We'll continue to check in as the hours click by with this rescue effort. Appreciate it, Bobby.

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NEWTON: Record rainfall is devastating entire communities in Southwest Japan. Floods have swamped roads, triggered landslides and destroyed hundreds of homes. But key here and so tragic, at least 55 people have died. More are missing or injured. The government is still urging mass evacuations.

Kaori Enjoji joins me live from Tokyo.

The news is not good when you look at the forecast, also not when you think about what people are still facing. I think it's kind of staggering, the number of people that they still want to evacuate some of these areas.

Why?

KAORI ENJOJI, JOURNALIST: I think it's because there has been so much torrential rain in some of these areas, particularly in the southwestern part of Japan, that any small amount of rain they fear could trigger a landslide or mudslide and, in turn, increase the number of casualties.

The death toll has been rising throughout the day. There are various numbers out there. The government is saying 48, plus possibly 26 with cardiac arrests. CNN has now confirmed 56 deaths.

But some areas, the rain has stopped. However, there are still new areas, where the weather agency says expect torrential rainfall and brace for possible worse weather. So it is far from over for many of these areas.

And this has happened before, about a year ago. But what's different this time is the fact that it's affecting such a large part of Japan. It's not just the southwest. It's areas in the central part of Japan as well, in tourist centers like Hiroshima, Kyoto as well, where you see banks along the river being flooded.

You have dams, possibly on the brink of overflowing as well. And that's what has been most horrific, when you see some of these images. And that's the reason why the government has established an emergency response center at their headquarters here in Tokyo.

This has not happened in two years. So I think that points to the gravity and the severity of the situation here. And the self-defense force, which is akin to the military for Japan, has been deployed. The government says some 56,000 troops have been sent across the country using helicopters, rubber boats, rafts to try and get people to higher ground, to safely move them to dry ground.

At the same time they say tens of thousands are in evacuation shelters without water in some places and without electricity.

NEWTON: Not good to hear. It will be a very tough few days and weeks ahead in Japan. Thank you for the update as we await, unfortunately, more rain in those areas. Now progress or problems?

When we come back, the U.S. and North Korea, starkly different views on their meetings about denuclearization.

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NEWTON: To recap our breaking news this hour out of Northern Thailand, rescuers have kicked off the operation to extract a youth football team trapped in a cave. These images from the Thai Navy show divers getting ready for the mission.

They also show rescuers in that flooded cave. The 12 boys and their coach have been stranded underground for more than two weeks. Thai Navy SEALs and international divers are carrying out this very dangerous mission.

The SEALs earlier posted this touching image on social media, the caption declaring they're ready to bring the football team home.

As divers work to reach the 12 boys and their coach in the Thai cave, their families, of course, are stuck, playing that excruciating waiting game. It's a time of absolute acute fear but also tentative hope. The father of the youngest boy in the Thai cave is biding his time until news arrives. For now, he's telling us about his son. CNN's Matt Rivers has more.

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MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Fifteen days after he first disappeared, Chanin's bedroom hasn't changed. Bed unmade, a typical young kid's room. His father, Tanawat, wants it to be like that for when the 11-year old makes it out of the cave.

TANAWAT VIBOONRUNGRUANG, CHANIN'S FATHER (through translator): He's been playing football since he was young. He started it just at age 8 or 9. He wants to be a professional football player.

RIVERS (voice-over): On June 23rd, he told his mom he was going to football practice. The next time she saw his newly gaunt face was in this video, taken shortly after the team was discovered on July 2nd, nine days after they disappeared.

No phone lines could be established, so the parents wrote letters to their kids. And their kids wrote back. Chanin, the youngest one inside, showed bravery beyond his years.

VIBOONRUNGRUANG (through translator): He said he is fine there, not to be so worried about him. RIVERS (voice-over): The rescue operation is now underway and all Chanin's parents and the others can do is wait and hope for the best. The children's young lives in the hands of an international team of divers, tasked with carrying out a rescue the world is watching.

VIBOONRUNGRUANG (through translator): I know they work so hard and do their best trying to take the children and coach out.

RIVERS (voice-over): Before the operation began, we asked Tanawat what he would say to his son, still sitting on a small piece of land hundreds of feet below the surface.

VIBOONRUNGRUANG (through translator): I will tell him that I am worried. I want him to be healthy, to get enough strength to dive out safely.

RIVERS (voice-over): Now Chanin has that chance. In his letter to his parents, he wrote that he'd like his uncle to take him for fried chicken as soon as he gets out. His dad, looking at his son's picture, told us, "No problem, whatever he wants. Just make it out OK" -- Matt Rivers, CNN, in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

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NEWTON: Such composure from those parents. As we say, we're several hours into this now. We will continue to bring you updates when we learn more.

We are seeing two starkly different views of meetings between U.S. secretary of state Mike Pompeo and top North Korean officials. Pompeo says there was progress made in his two days of meetings in Pyongyang and he called them productive. But North Korea slammed what --

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NEWTON: -- it called the United States', quote, "gangster-like mindset."

It used words like regrettable and worrisome and said talks had reached a dangerous phase, where its willingness to talk about denuclearization could, in their words, falter. It's urging for a step-by-step approach, pushed by China and Russia.

Pompeo has just wrapped up meetings in Tokyo with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts, meantime. Speaking to reporters there, he brushed aside any differences of opinion on the meetings. Pompeo said there is work to be done to get to denuclearization and stressed that, until then, sanctions on North Korea will remain.

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MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We had good faith, productive conversations, which will continue in the days and weeks ahead.

In the meantime, sanctions remain in place. And we will continue to enforce them with great vigor. During the visit, we intended to build upon the agreements made by

President Trump and Chairman Kim and we made progress. But first, let me make clear, North Korea reaffirmed its commitment to complete denuclearization. We had detailed and substantive discussions about the next steps toward a fully verified and complete denuclearization.

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NEWTON: Now North Korea is just one topic hanging over the White House at the moment. President Trump's legal team is setting new conditions for a possible interview with special counsel Robert Mueller. Our Boris Sanchez is traveling with the president.

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BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The president's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, telling "The New York Times" that he is demanding that Robert Mueller, the special counsel, prove to the president's legal team that Donald Trump did something illegal in order to interview the president.

Further, Giuliani stipulating that Mueller must prove that the only way to get information to conclude his investigation is by interviewing the president. He's also asking Robert Mueller to prove that he has jurisdiction from the Department of Justice to investigate possible obstruction of justice.

Here is how Rudy Giuliani expressed that to "The New York Times."

He said, quote, "If they can come to us and show us the basis and that it's legitimate and that they have uncovered something, we can go from there and assess their objectivity."

Now the White House appears to be gearing up for a legal battle because Rudy Giuliani also told "The New York Times" that he does not expect Robert Mueller to comply with those demands for an interview with the president.

So if Robert Mueller then puts out a subpoena trying to compel the president to testify, Giuliani has previously said that he would challenge it, meaning that this could wind up in court.

So it appears that the White House would prefer to start a legal battle than have the president testify before Robert Mueller, the special counsel. Notably, Giuliani also told "The New York Times" that this is all about swaying public opinion and keeping the president from getting impeached.

The belief is that the White House is succeeding in its attacks on the special counsel and swaying public opinion in their direction. They hope that it can keep Republicans holding on to the House after the midterm elections and prevent the president from getting impeached by Democrats -- Boris Sanchez, CNN, traveling with the president near Bedminster, New Jersey.

(END VIDEOTAPE) NEWTON: Earlier I spoke with James Astill, he is Washington bureau

chief and columnist for "The Economist." I asked him what he thinks the Trump game plan is.

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JAMES ASTILL, "THE ECONOMIST": Noise, drama, throw shade over the whole process, carry on, extending this ridiculous idea that the president is the victim of some deep state plot; continue the notion that the president has some legal grounds to resist a reasonable request from the special counsel for an interview.

And, of course, if it then comes to the crunch over the Mueller issues of subpoena, the demand that the president answer his questions in person in an interview, to somehow suggest that the process has been delegitimized through this ongoing nonsense, this shade-throwing that we see yet again from Giuliani.

NEWTON: Some polls show that it's working.

ASTILL: Seems to be working pretty well amongst Republicans, yes. Again, it's not working across the electorate. It's the classic example of an issue on which the president is laser guided to gin up his base and not worry about his wider appeal across the electorate.

With a strong economy, with the advantages of incumbency that he has, who knows, perhaps that will work in the midterms. And then in 2020, assuming that he runs again. But it's certainly a singular strategy.

NEWTON: But it must be something that's worrying Democrats for several reasons. Whether you take what's been going on with the Mueller probe or you take what happened with Scott Pruitt this week, the EPA chief, yes, he did --

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NEWTON: -- resign and perhaps some people got their way.

But Donald Trump still called him a great man. At the end of the day, the Trump administration suffered no collateral damage, it seems, from that, with anyone.

ASTILL: Well, I mean, if the president's approval ratings are as high as they've ever been, high as they've been since his inauguration, that's somewhere in the low 40s. And that is -- has been greeted as a triumph by the administration.

And it's worrying some Democrats that, indeed, all of these scandals are not having much of an impact on the president's standing.

Actually, if you take a deeper historical look at the kind of ratings presidents have had with a kind of strong economy, extraordinarily low unemployment the way we're currently seeing, the president is not doing well.

So clearly the scandals are having an impact. But they're not having it on a day-to-day, week-to-week impact in the way some Democrats, drunk mad on politics and scandal right now, would hope.

NEWTON: Exactly. I think there seems to be a bit more of a wait-and- see attitude within the electorate. You point to this in one of the columns, saying that this -- we go to the immigration debate, that it shows that the legitimate worries that we found about the campaigns, about immigration, wages, were well understood by Donald Trump.

And he was able to basically tap into that racial anxiety, you say, in America's dwindling white majority.

The point is here, whether it's Scott Pruitt, whether it is immigration, whether it is the Mueller probe, these strategies -- and you prefaced it with those ratings for the president -- they're all working.

ASTILL: They're working in a very large minority of the electorate. It seems that the Republican Party under Trump and increasingly under Trump has become the white nationalist lobbying American politics.

Those are very much the issues that the president is using to rally his base with. What has happened in politics is that that large fringe of the electorate that cares about these issues, principally located in the white working class, which was previously split between the two parties, has now become absolutely concentrated in the Republican Party.

And, therefore, they're large enough within the Republican electorate to move the needle, to hold the thrall in Republican politics.

Therefore, yes, the president is having some success on his own side, in using these very divisive blood-and-soil white nationalist issues, immigration being the classic case.

But whether they're sufficient to actually move a majority of the electorate, we haven't seen that. And I think that we should be extremely skeptical that that's where politics is going to take Donald Trump.

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NEWTON: Thanks for watching. I'm Paula Newton here at CNN Center. "AMANPOUR" is next.