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No Putin Summit to Washington This Year; New Phase of U.S. Relationship with E.U.; White House Bans CNN Reporter from Media Event; Evidence of Liquid Water on Mars; Death Toll In Greece Wildfires Rises To 81; Ten Thousand People Affected By Laos Dam Collapse; Technical Glitch Delays Voting Results In Pakistan; Mahathir Mohamad: Malaysia Cannot Go To War With China; New High Of 52.7 Degrees Celsius Set At Death Valley. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired July 26, 2018 - 01:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[01:00:00] JOHN VAUSE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. Ahead this hour, as the death toll climbs, grief turns to anger increase with many now asking what sparks the worst wildfires in more than a decade. The White House escalates its war on the media. A CNN reporter banned for a rose garden event because she asks the President questions which he apparently didn't like. Inside this might just a fairly huge lake on Mars which means that maybe there is or as the very least was life on the red planet. Hello everybody. Thank you for being with us, I'm John Vause and this is NEWSROOM L.A.

We begin in Greece where rescuers are searching through charred burnt buildings and cars trying to account for the missing after the country's worst wildfires in years. The death toll has now reached 81 and is expected to rise. Hundreds of firefighters battled more than a dozen fires in the Attica region where entire villages have been wiped out and dozens of homes destroyed by flames fuelled by strong winds and hot dry weather.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): We would keep putting our heads into the sea in an effort not to breathe in the smoke because the pine trees surrounding the beach were on fire and pieces on fire we're falling into the water. The people that were near the pine trees, the pieces on fire were falling on their hair and on their heads. We spent five hours in terror.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: Journalist Elinda Labropoulou is on the line now from Athens. Linda, thanks for taking the time to talk with us. An investigation -- an official investigation into the cause of these fires is yet to begin but already many are convinced there that these fires were in fact deliberately lit.

ELINDA LABROPOULOU, JOURNALIST: Well, this is one assessment. I mean so far what we're getting at the moment we're still at the point where search and rescue operations are continuing. The official death toll has just risen to 81 and many more are still missing. So there is fear that the number of fatalities is likely to rise. And the long with a big why's as to why so many people burned. We still have this first initial shock. The tragic details are still emerging. The 26 people who died in a field as they were trying to reach a sea and five families that have perished in the flames, parents looking for their children, an Irish man on his honeymoon.

And as one Greek newspaper headline, this morning put it, this is the nightmare of the day after. And this nightmare comes with a lot of wise. Now the good news is that the main fronts have been contained and the weather is expected to change today. It will remain warm. It's still very hot in Greece but the winds are subsiding in the area and there is a strong possibility of rain later in the day. Now, the assessments have begun. Some residents are saying that there was a lack of initial response from the authorities, others say that there was no evacuation plan in place and many are blaming the overall lack of a good fire protection and prevention mechanism for what happened. From the government or the initial response is more to deal with first measures to try to make things easier for those most affected, financial aid has been announced and the Supreme Court investigation, a prosecutor has already ordered an investigation into the causes of the fire has just begun.

Most of what we know is that the fires were caused by the very strong winds in the areas. This also that what the government has been saying that the winds were so strong, the area is so dry, the temperatures so high that there was actually very little anyone could really do to prevent at least part of what happened.

[01:05:00] VAUSE: Elinda, I'm just curious about, you know, government services increase of taking a huge hit for years ever since the economic crisis. You know, there's just been cuts, cut, cut, cut. Is there any idea at this point what impact those cuts may have had on the initial emergency response to these wildfires?

LABROPOULOU: We do know that it has had an impact. We know that the fire services have been cut down. They've been reduced. We know that some equipment has not been replaced as it should have, that there's less personnel. The exact impact is impossible to tell at this stage but certainly, the crisis has had an impact on what we see today along with a number of other issues in terms of permits and planning permits, building permits. You know, some things at a time of crisis have been overlooked and this is something that's definitely obvious and what we're witnessing today.

VAUSE: Elinda, thank you for the update on the fires and of course this is something which Greece will be dealing with the fallout from for a long time to come. It's a tragic event and as you say that death toll is expected to rise significantly in the coming days. Elinda Labropoulou there, a journalist on the line from Athens. For weeks now much of Europe has been sweltering under a heat wave. Sweden, Finland, Norway, have all seen record high temperatures and a level three health warning watch has been issued for much of south and southeast England this week as temperatures spiked into the range of 30 degrees Celsius. London has also issued a high pollution alert due to the mixture of heat and toxic air. Meteorologist Derek Van Dam joins us with more on this. You know, if you're used to the heat 30 degrees Celsius and you know, above not too bad. When you're not used to it, that's when it becomes a problem.

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, without a doubt especially when it becomes a long-lasting heat wave. You know what else is a bit of sounding, John, is that the U.K. Met Office says that if all the ingredients come together today specifically we could beat the all- time U.K. record high temperature which was set in the district of Kent in the Faversham region back in August of 2003. The mercury in the thermometer climbed to 38.5 degrees. If you recall, this was amidst one of the deadliest heat waves ever recorded, over 70,000 fatalities attributed to that long-standing heatwave from July to August of 2003.

Now, conditions today very hot and when we're talking about the ingredients for the potential of record-setting temperatures, well, we have exactly just that. We have a southerly wind starting to filter in what is called continental air from France and the Netherlands and that is going to drive up our temperatures which continue to soar across parts of that region. And look at the daytime highs in London, 35 today, Oxford 32, it will be slightly cooler right along the coastal areas so Brighton to Dover temperatures in the upper 20s but again this has been for several days now.

And on top of that, we have this subtly influence with the winds so this is allowing for pollution from some of the larger cities to our south to allow for a very unhealthy air quality index for the day which currently sits at 104 right now. It's very difficult for sensitive groups elderly, young people, people with asthma, stepping outside doing rigorous physical activity definitely want to perhaps avoid that for the day today. But it's not all doom and gloom, John. We do have some light at the end of the tunnel. Look at the temperature outlook across North-eastern sections of Europe particularly across the U.K. slightly cooler temperatures in store. We have to wait until the end of the weekend when we start to see daytime highs edging just below average. So here's holding thumbs. Back to you.

VAUSE: Yes, they will be fill yet, first London with those sorts of temperatures. Derek, thank you. And we'll go to Japan now where at least eighty people have died and thousands have been treated in hospital just this month alone because of a dangerous heat wave which has sent temperatures to exceed 40 degrees in some parts. That would be Celsius. Forecasters expect some relief from the heat but not until early next month.

More than 10,000 people have been affected by the collapse of a dam in southern Laos and they may soon get a look at the damage. A government official tells CNN people may be able to return villages in the coming days. Six villages were completely submerged, survivors could be seen clinging onto the rooftops while others paddled through the flooded areas on makeshift rafts or boats. The nation's prime minister has visited with victims calling it the country's worst disaster in decades. Apparently, this dam collapsed after some heavy rain in the region. It was under construction. At least 26 people have died, more than 100 remain missing and more

villages remain under threat. Matt Rivers is following all of this. He joins us now live from Beijing. So, Matt, we've got this number of 10,000 people being affected. This is coming from the U.N. But what we don't have I guess at this point is some kind of official death toll, some -- an exact number of the people who still need to be rescued and who remained missing. When will we get those numbers? I guess when will they have a better idea of how many people have been directly affected by all this and what needs to be done?

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, what officials in Laos are telling us is that they're not going to really be able to have a complete thorough accounting of the damage and the total number of people affected until these waters go down. And while the waters are starting to recede basically they're moving downstream and as a result, they're affecting more communities downstream. So really this is an evolving situation and there it could be rain in the forecast there, John, so that could add to this really already horrific situation for these people.

But we are getting some numbers from the U.N., from the Laotian government so it's really just a hodgepodge of sources here at this point. But what we know is there's 131 people that remain missing, 26 people have been killed as a result of this flooding so far. We do expect that death toll though to rise as authorities get a more thorough accounting of what happened here. 6,000 people displaced so far and nearly 12,000 affected in total. Those are the latest numbers from the U.N.

But again these are going to change. And when you think about how much water came down, how quickly without any warning, two million -- the equivalent amount of water that would be in two million Olympic sized swimming pools inundated these communities with zero warning so it really gives you an idea of why these numbers are so bad and also why the rescue operation is so difficult. As for the investigation, we do know that the ministry in charge of this rescue say they're going to be looking into this dam project. It was 90 percent completed when this actually occurred and so were the right safety guidelines being followed and were they broken that you know, is going to be part of this investigation moving forward. But in the meantime, of course, the priority remains trying to make sure that they get those people who need to be rescued-rescued and hopefully, these water levels continue to go down.

VAUSE: This dam project, it was a multinational effort. It was Laos, Thailand and South Korea. What help are the people there receiving from South Korea and from Thailand?

RIVERS: So what we're getting from the Laotian government is that this is an international rescue operation in terms of the different countries involved. You know, it's difficult to get to these parts. We know the Laotian government has asked for an international appeal for aid so food, clothing, money, basically they are asking for anyone who can help to come help them. But there hasn't been a huge number of journalists presence on the ground there at this point so really getting a thorough idea of what the rescue operations really look like has been difficult at least so far but we do know the government there is saying that this is an international effort and it makes sense given that this was a project financed in part by Thailand in South Korea as well as the last government.

VAUSE: Yes, Thailand and South Korea. It was their project and maybe it's time to step up. Matt, thank you. To London where 100 firefighters have responded to a blaze in the North West that they now have under control. Flames could be seen shooting from the roof of an apartment house in West Hampstead. The fire brigade says about 50 people were cleared from the building. No one was taken to hospital. Fires believe were started in a flat on the fourth floor. No word yet on the cause.

Early results in Pakistan's general election show cricket star turned politician Imran Khan and his PTI party in the lead but his rivals claimed the voting was rigged. Technical problems has slowed the ballot count which is now being done manually. The Head of Pakistan's Election Commission says there's no conspiracy here behind the slow count and has rejected claims of vote rigging. Let's get the very latest now on the election from Sophia Saifi, she is live in Islamabad once again. So I guess what we're looking at here is what, about a third of the voters come in. When will we have this overall vote actually counted? When do we know what the outcome will be and will there be disputes to this? Because we are hearing from these two other major parties in Pakistan that they do not believe this has been a fair and free election.

SOPHIA SAIFI, CNN PRODUCER: Well, John, when we'll get a definite result, is the question on everyone's lips here in Pakistan right now. It's been more than 14 hours since polls closed on Wednesday evening and there has been complete chaos overnight with regards to these results coming out. The Election Commission of Pakistan said there's a technical glitch but they only came out and give that explanation after very strong you know, cries of rigging by the two major parties. As you mentioned now, they're saying you know, they said last night at 2:00 in the morning that we're going to have a result within an hour and that hour keeps getting pushed forward.

[01:14:57] So at the moment, we are getting results trickling in which are officially City results around 40 percent of the vote according to the ECB has been counted. And that is showing Imran Khan in a clear lead which means that you know, the coalition government scenario that we were barring might not really be one at the moment. That Khan might have enough of a majority to make a strong --

VAUSE: I think we may have lost Sophia there. But clearly the speed of the result is important not just because everyone would like to find out who won the election, but there are a number of pressing problems for Pakistan. They have economic problems, they're going into some kind of IMF loan in the coming weeks and months.

And for that, they need a government which is why the sooner they get the results in, the sooner they can form the government, the better off everything will be.

We shall move on here, we'll take a break. When we come back, the wisdom that comes with age. Malaysia's Prime Minister has warned the United States and China about their trade war. We'll hear from the 93-year-old head of state after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAUSE: He's 21 years older than Donald Trump, twice the age of Canada's Justin Trudeau. And at 93, Malaysia's Prime Minister has a lot to say about China, Donald Trump, and trade wars.

Let's go to CNN's Anna Coren, live in Hong Kong, who had the chance to sit down with the recently elected Malaysian Prime Minister who's taken over for what a second time? Everyone gets a second chance I guess in life, Anna.

ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Everyone gets a second chance. And certainly, Mahathir Mohamad, as you say, he is 93 years old, John. It was quite incredible to be in his presence. He is incredibly sprightly, as smart as the sharpest attack, I should say, and very active.

And he will need to be -- he will need to have that energy and that endurance for the task ahead which is really turning Malaysia, which we know is just mired in corruption. His duty now is to turn it around, and that's what he said. This is why he is coming back a second time to right the wrongs.

Obviously, he won in that landslide victory back in May. Much to the surprise of everybody in Malaysia and around the world. No one thought that he and his party that he had newly formed could win. But the people of Malaysia were fed up with the corruption, they were fed up with the rising cost of living.

Now, we spoke about a lot of things including Najib Razak. Obviously, the man that he took over from who is now facing for corruption charges which he has pleaded not guilty to.

But he is mired in that 1MDB scandal which the Malaysian Finance Ministry believes will cost Malaysia something like 12.3 -- 12.5, I should say, billion dollars. It really is quite staggering.

But we also spoke about China which obviously is the powerhouse nation in of this region, as well as Donald Trump. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

[01:20:34] MAHATHIR MOHAMAD, PRIME MINISTER OF MALAYSIA: There is a saying that the powerful will take what they will do, and the weak will yield what they must. And that is the situation that we face now.

We cannot fight them. If they declare that the South China Sea belongs to them, we're not going to go to war with them. How do we make use of this vision, how do we benefit from this decision? I think, despite their war-like attitude, they have no plan to conquer us militarily.

COREN: So, accept the status quo?

MOHAMAD: Yes, we have to accept. We have to accept the reality of the situation. Poor China was a problem. People feared Communist China, before. Now, a rich China also is to be feared because they may have ideas by spending their influence.

COREN: But not territory? You don't think?

MOHAMAD: And well, well, when you have influence, there are other ways of colonizing than just occupying our country.

COREN: Do you think that's what China is doing?

MOHAMAD: Well, I think, China would want to spread his influence using the money that he has.

COREN: You describes that the U.S. president as an international bully. Do you still feel that way?

MOHAMAD: More interesting is that he is not consistent. He can change his mind in 24 hours, three times. He wanted to see the president of North Korea, then, he didn't want to see. And then, he wanted to see again. I mean, how do you deal with the person whose mind changes so rapidly?

Well, America is a powerful nation, we know that. But if it chooses to U.S. to fight China in our area, then we are going to be a price to pay. We hope that the American president we're not seeing in terms of war in order to solve problems.

COREN: Do you believe that he is a threat to the current world order?

MOHAMAD: Well, I think he has initiated this trade war, and trade war doesn't do anything good for the world. So, in that sense, he is a threat. And he asked for things which are quite unacceptable.

For example, he wants to build a wall to separate Mexico from the U.S. And he's asking the Mexican's to pay. I mean, it is your project, you pay. But is it because he thinks he is powerful that he can ask people to pay for what he wants to do?

COREN: Who will be the winners and the losers of his trade wars, his multiple trade wars?

MOHAMAD: Everybody will lose. The U.S. will lose, China will lose, the whole world will lose. War and trade wars even doesn't solve any problem.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COREN: The strong opinions and some strong words there, from Dr. Mahathir Mohamad. And who knows, John, he might be able to actually deliver that message to Donald Trump if the U.S. president attends APEC later this year.

But one of the other subjects that we discussed at length was Anwar Ibrahim. He, of course, is the man who is expected to take over from Mahathir Mohamad. He said he's just a placeholder that he will be in office for two years before handing over to Anwar.

Anwar, of course, is somebody who's had a very complicated relationship with. He was once his deputy, he then sacked him, he was then imprisoned for sodomy, he was imprisoned again for sodomy under Najib's government.

But since Mahathir has become prime minister, he has had him released and now pardoned. So, it's interesting, I asked him, do you trust him? Is this the man who you think should take over from you? And he said, I don't have a choice, I have to trust him. I did.

However, join and get the feeling that Mahathir will perhaps stay on longer than those two years if required, if the people need him, as he says. So, watch this space.

VAUSE: He is currently the oldest serving head of state at 93, I remember during the 90s, he was considered the eldest statesman of the region back then. I mean, that was his first go-round as the 4th prime minister.

But clearly, as you've seen his very much bright, and very sharp, and has a lot -- a lot of things and a lot to say. Anna, thank you. Anna Coren there live for us in Hong Kong.

Well, police in California have detained a man suspected of starting the so-called Cranston Fire, east of Los Angeles. Officials say that blaze is burning out of control, sweeping across 1,900 hectares in the San Bernardino National Forest. Forcing the evacuation of more than 2,000 homes so far.

Meantime, a fire emergency has forced the closure of parts of the Yosemite National Park. It's been burning there for almost two weeks now. Officials hope to reopen the entire park by Sunday. All of this happening as Southern California struggles with yes, a heat wave. At Death Valley, in a record high of 52.7 degrees Celsius on Tuesday.

Still ahead here on NEWSROOM L.A. Vladimir Putin will not be coming to Washington after all, at least not this year. Also ahead, author or -- after all the tough talk, the U.S. president backs down on a trade war with the E.U. to the relief of pretty much everyone.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAUSE: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I am John Vause, we'll check the headlines this hour.

The deaths toll from Greece's wildfires has risen to 81 and is expected to climb. Rescuers are searching charred cars and apartment blocks trying to account for those still missing. Dozens of homes have been destroyed by the flames fueled by strong winds and hot dry weather.

Early results in Pakistan's general election shows the cricket star turned politician Imran Khan and his party in the lead. But rivals claimed the vote was rigged. Technical problems have slowed the ballot count which is now being done manually. But the head of Pakistan's Election Commission has rejected any claims of vote rigging.

ISIS has claimed responsibility for attacks on Wednesday which killed more than 200 people in Southern Syria. The terror group says, gunman first attacks security posts and government targets, then set off explosives vests. A Syrian health official says many victims are also killed in their home, some while they were sleeping.

The White House says, it has now decided to delay a second summit with Vladimir Putin until next year. President Trump had invited the Russian leader to Washington, later this year.

[01:29:58] It was done on Twitter without any prearrangements but the Kremlin was unresponsive and hadn't actually accepted. The administration says it will re-invite Mr. Putin when the Russia investigation is over.

Jill Dougherty of the Woodrow Wilson Center joins us now from Seattle. Jill is a CNN contributor and our former Moscow bureau chief. And we're lucky to have you -- Jill, thank you.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Thanks -- John.

VAUSE: I'm just wondering, at this point, is it possible to know if it was the White House that decided to postpone the meeting because the Kremlin was about to or maybe even had formally turned down last week's invitation.

You know, earlier this week Moscow appeared less than enthusiastic about another get-together. Or was this just, you know, the White House responding to the criticism from the Republican lawmakers over his second summit with Putin?

DOUGHERTY: You know, I think it -- we don't know specifically whether the Russians said "nyet, we're not coming". But we do know that the Russians were not very eager, let's put it that way, to accept the invitation. And I know the way that Yuri Ushakov who is the aide to the president, a very seasoned diplomat, sophisticated guy.

And the way he answered this was to say, you know, it's good that we should meet, you know. The Presidents should meet. We should have a meeting. There are no preps taking place at this point but maybe we could do it some other place.

And then he mentioned, for example, Argentina the G-20. And then he also said maybe better to wait until the dust settles. So I think that's in November. He also said it may be better to think what you're getting is a rather polite way of saying President Putin does not want to come to the United States with the political situation that we have right now.

The President -- a firestorm of criticism about his performance at the summit, certainly Congress is in no mood to be welcoming to President Putin. It would be very, very difficult.

And it could be a minefield -- John, because you know, the Russians, really although I don't think they totally understand the American political system, I think they know plenty enough to realize that this is very unpredictable and that what the President would do -- let's say that Vladimir Putin did come.

What would Donald Trump do? I mean he has, although I doubt he would do this to Putin, but other international leaders he's pretty much dissed them, witness Macron and others. So you don't know what he would do when the Russian president came anyway.

So I think it's a polite way --

(CROSSTALK)

VAUSE: Sorry -- I didn't mean to jump in, but I was just going to say, he does seem to have a lot of nice things to say about Vladimir Putin. He doesn't often have anything bad, in fact I don't think he's ever has anything bad to say about Putin.

So this, you know, the uninvited I guess is significant. But also significant the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations committee on Wednesday. Russia was a major issue there for lawmakers, in particular intelligence suggesting Moscow is planning to interfere in the November midterm election. This is how Mike Pompeo responded to those questions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The President disclosed what he said to Vladimir Putin about Russian interference in our elections and he said that he is confident. And as a result of that conversation Vladimir understands that it won't be tolerated.

SENATOR BOB MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: I wish he had said that in public in Helsinki.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: Ok. So now, we know at least in part I guess what the two leaders spoke about in private. But apart from a very chummy Vladimir reference, you know, Barack Obama pulled Vladimir to on e side, had a similar conversation. That didn't do a whole lot of good.

DOUGHERTY: No, it didn't. And you know, we have to figure out the context of that comment. I mean the President -- the American president may well have said that, but it feels like Kabuki theater because he's already indicated, you know, or at least asked did you do it?

And Vladimir Putin certainly knows that the United States and this administration do not want him to do this. But it hasn't stopped it.

VANIER: Yes.

DOUGHERTY: So I don't think that that has much weight.

VAUSE: Yes. It's been an interesting day at the White House. They've been getting tougher on Russia. They've been, you know, the President was, you know, making nice with the E.U.

But we also had an incident with our White House reporter, our Kaitlan Collins. She was banned from the rose garden event because the deputy chief of staff Bill Shine did not like the questions she has asked the President.

She was the pool reporter at an earlier event. The questions were about Michael Cohen and his recordings.

So from your experience of working in places like Russia where, you know, there's autocratic leaders who do not like tough questions and they love those softball questions -- how does this all sot of equate? You know, how do you see what happened at the White House in the context of how things are done in Moscow?

[01:34:53] DOUGHERTY: Well, you know, John -- I covered the White House actually for six years. And then I also worked in Moscow for nine years. And you know, the White House -- this is kind of standard operating procedure. I know it sounded chaotic on that tape. It sounded like a lot of yelling.

But when the pool -- the pool goes into the Oval Office and especially with this president that's your one shot probably of the day to get any type of comment. And the President often does respond to questions.

So I think that that idea that you would say we don't -- it was not an appropriate question or that she was yelling or anything is absolutely ridiculous. There are no proper questions for the President. And these are responsible professional journalists who go in there and this is a pool reporter, not just CNN, representing all of the networks that are in there. And that was a legitimate question.

As far as yelling, everyone yells. It's about the only way you can get heard. And sometimes that will be effective. If the President doesn't want to answer it, he doesn't have to answer.

And you know, I know that it is more controlled in Russia. But not even Russia -- I think any, you know, any country that has major control over the media or a despotic ruler, et cetera -- that's precisely what would happen. The ruler would say, you know, thou shalt not ask that question and it would be over. So I think that this is very serious actually.

VAUSE: Yes. It is -- Jill. It's great to get your perspective. You know, I always remember you as this great Moscow bureau chief. I always forget -- I fail to remember sometimes, your time at the White House as well. So your experience is invaluable. So thank you very much.

DOUGHERTY: Thank you. VAUSE: For more on this, joining us now, former Los Angeles City councilwoman Wendy Greuel; and we also Lanhee Chen of the Hoover Institute, former foreign policy adviser to the Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

Ok. So on top of all of the sort of anti-Russia stuff, keep remember 11 days after Donald Trump stood on the world stage next to Vladimir Putin casting doubt on U.S. intelligence siding with Putin in his denials of election interference, we now have this report from Reuters, "U.S. President Donald Trump will convene a high-level meeting on election security this week with top security officials from the White House National Security Council.

Lanhee -- we don't know the agenda but it would be hard to hold a meeting -- that kind of meeting without actually mentioning Russia. And that could be quite confronting for Donald Trump.

LANHEE CHEN, HOOVER INSTITUTE: Well, look, Russia is front and center -- John. They are clearly, if you look at all of the threats that this system, the electoral system here in the U.S. faces, there is absolutely no question that Russia is at the top.

They have been fomenting this kind of unrest and activity in democracies throughout Eastern Europe for decades. And frankly, this activity in the United States we saw in 2016, was just a prelude to what we might see in 2018 and beyond. So, yes, absolutely it's impossible to have this discussion without citing the Russians, what they've done, and what they plan to do.

VAUSE: Yes. It is quite a turnaround for this president, also a turnaround -- the uninviting or disinviting of Vladimir Putin to the White House. Here is a statement from the national security advisor John Bolton regarding postponing that meeting.

"The President believes that the next bilateral meeting with President Putin should take place after the Russia witch hunt is over. So we've agreed that it will be after the first of the year.

Wendy -- the decision has been welcomed by many lawmakers, but also, what do you make of the tone of the statement? What does it say about the administration and also the timing? Who says the Mueller investigation will be done by then?

WENDY GREUEL, FORMER LOS ANGELES CITY COUNCILWOMAN: Well, I think, you know, we're having the White House and the Trump surrogates out there, you know, speaking from both sides of their mouth. You know, is it a witch hunt or is it something that he actually said to Putin you shouldn't have done this and did that in private or when he came back and said whether it was would or wouldn't,

You know, this now having a meeting on our security is a long time coming. I mean this has been talked about since the election in 2016 and when he became president in 2017. and it is now almost August of 2018 that he wants to have this conversation.

I think that it's, you know, a little too little, too late but it's time to focus on it. But I think we're not sure exactly from which perspective the President is coming from.

VAUSE: You know, I guess, you know, maybe it's too little, too late, but maybe it's better late than never because we did have this big sort of pushback against Russia day on Wednesday at the White House.

You know, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appearing before the Senate. He made this big defense of Donald Trump when it came to how they dealt with Russia. Here is one exchange that Pompeo had.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SENATOR BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: So I just really want to point out, and we've heard this from previous administrations, but not as much as we're hearing today, that what Congress is requiring you to do, all of a sudden you've found religion and taken credit for it.

POMPEO: Senator.

CARDIN: But in reality you haven't implemented one time the sanctions that have been passed by Congress.

[01:40:01] POMPEO: Senator -- first of all, that's not true. We've passed a number of sanctions under the (INAUDIBLE) provisions and it is also true, at least to my best recollection of the Constitution is the President signed that law as well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: Lanhee -- that's an exaggeration by Pompeo and that's being kind.

CHEN: Well, look, I think that clearly what this administration is trying to do is to present themselves as having been tougher on Russia than previous administrations. Now, the challenge is there is the rhetorical side of it and there's the policy side of it. I think on the policy side of it you can make the case that they have done a number of things to challenge Russia.

The problem is rhetorically the more that you hug Vladimir Putin, the harder it's going to be for people to understand the posture of the administration. I think that's the challenge.

It is certainly the case that the previous administration did not do nearly enough to check the Russian threat but we are where we are now. And this administration has plentiful opportunities, not just in policy, but in rhetoric to show the world that we understand exactly who Vladimir Putin is. We understand the threat he poses, and I think that would be a big step forward for this administration to take.

VAUSE: Ok. Well, there was no hugging of Putin on Wednesday, but there was some hugging of the President of the European Council with Donald Trump at the White House. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: So we had a big day -- very big. We met right here at the White House to launch a new phase in the relationship between the United States and the European Union -- a phase of close friendship, of strong trade relations in which both of us will win.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: So, Wendy -- who is that man? And what has he done with the President of the United States, who two weeks ago -- two weeks ago, I should say, described the European Union as foes.

I guess if nothing else though, Wendy, this meeting with Juncker shows that the White House and the President had limits because he did not start that trade war that everybody had feared. He did not impose tariffs and said they're going to work together to reduce tariffs, which would be good news, at the very least.

GERUEL: Well, I think having that discussion and sitting at the table to talk about it is important. I think the pressure has been mounting from so many of the people who are impacted by the current tariffs that are out there -- those soybean farmers, the Republican senators who represent some of those states who are being negatively impacted by the tariffs.

This kind of conversation should have happened before he went out and started to threaten people, but we're now at a good -- at least a step right direction to have those conversations. But people are still going to lose their jobs and lose money because of the tariffs that have been imposed.

VAUSE: Very quickly, Lanhee -- is this a moment for the U.S. President as he nears Damascus (ph) on his journey suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and he heard a voice that said, Mr. President, the Russians are not your friends but the Europeans are? Or is this just about politics reassuring rattled Republicans after the summit last week that put hell into Helsinki that Donald Trump really is, you know, there looking out for the United States and he's not in the pocket of the Russians?

CHEN: I think it's two things. I think it's politics and it's economics. On the politics side, obviously assuaging some Republicans who believe that the protectionist trade policies are deeply problematic for the country, sort of soothing their nerves, moving forward and showing them that they can have unity on this topic.

And the economics, frankly, John -- the U.S. economy is going to be under threat if these tariffs continue. And there's a recognition that that threat could, of course, place pressure politically on Republicans in the midterm elections and eventually the President when he runs for re-election.

VAUSE: Ok. Lanhee and Wendy -- thank you so much for both being with us and for putting up with my road to Damascus. Thanks -- guys.

Ok. We'll take a short break.

When we come back, Donald Trump has responded to a secret recording made by his one-time fixer. So does the tape show evidence of a crime or just the President's troubles with the truth?

[014358] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Did Michael Cohen betray you -- Mr. President?

TRUMP: Thank you very much. Thank you, everybody.

COLLINS: Mr. President, did Michael Cohen betray you? Did Mike Cohen betray you?

TRUMP: Thank you very much. Thank you, everybody.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: Just a couple of questions but enough for the White House to ban CNN's Kaitlan Collins from President Trump's event in the rose garden with the head of the E.U. Apparently according to the deputy chief of staff Bill Shine, the question was considered to be not appropriate and apparently Kaitlan was shouting as well.

All of this even though the President had tweeted earlier that the secret recording of him by his former fixer Michael Cohen -- he said it would -- he said actually what kind of lawyer would tape a client? Your lawyer -- Mr. President.

CNN's Alex Marquardt has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The man who once said he'd take a bullet for Donald Trump now firing one at him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The next president of the United States --

MARQUARDT: The President's former lawyer Michael Cohen releasing a secret recording made just before the election, revealing Trump was engaged in discussions to stop the story of his alleged affair with Playboy playmate Karen McDougal despite denials from the campaign and the White House.

The plan -- to set up a shell company to pay for the rights to her story.

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend David, you know, so that -- I'm going to do that right away.

MARQUARDT: Our friend David mentioned in the recording is believed to be this man, David Pecker, a close friend of Trump's and the head of American Media which publishes the "National Enquirer".

It was Pecker's company that had paid McDougal $150,000 for her story about the alleged 10-month relationship with Trump. McDougal told Anderson Cooper shed believed Pecker paid for the story to protect his friend.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: If Donald Trump hadn't been running for president, do you believe think this deal would have been made with AMI, knowing what you know now?

KAREN MCDOUGAL, ALLEGES AFFAIR WITH DONALD TRUMP: Probably not, no. Probably not.

COOPER: You're pretty -- you're convinced now this was an effort to do a favor for Donald Trump in the last few months of the presidential race?

MCDOUGAL: Unfortunately, yes.

MARQUARDT: The story never ran but Trump and Cohen believe they needed the rights to it in case something happened to Pecker.

COHEN: You know, you never know with that company. You never know where he's going to be. Correct. So I'm all over that.

MARQUARDT: Cohen created Resolution Consultants in Delaware to buy McDougal's story, according to the "Wall Street Journal". Later he also set up Essential Consultants to pay hush money to Stormy Daniels.

On the newly released tape, Cohen and Trump discuss how the payment for McDougal's story will be made.

COHEN: When it comes time to the financing which will be --

TRUMP: Listen -- what financing? We'll have to pay -- cash.

COHEN: No, no, no, no, no, no. I've got --

MARQUARDT: According to Trump's lawyers, the recording ends with Trump saying, "by check".

RUDY GIULIANI, TRUMP LAWYER: And the transcript makes it quite clear at the end that President Trump says quote, "don't pay with cash". Cohen then interrupts and says, "No, no, no, I got it." Then you hear distinctly, if you're careful and you slow it down -- "check".

MARQUARDT: Despite the detail discussed when news of the McDougal payment broke just days before the 2016 election, top Trump aide Hope Hicks claimed the allegations were totally untrue and said "We have no knowledge of any of this".

McDougal responded to the denial.

MCDOUGAL: Well, I think that somebody is lying and I can tell you it's not me.

[01:49:59] MARQUARDT: Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani says no payment was ever made but legal analysts say the allegations are problematic for Trump.

MICHAEL ZELDIN, FORMER U.S. FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: The payment to Karen McDougal if it's deemed to be a payment to impact the outcome of the election could be deemed to be a reportable transaction, which if not reported could be a violation of the federal election laws and also the criminal laws.

Alex Marquardt, CNN -- New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Next here on CNN NEWSROOM L.A. scientists say they have found evidence of an underground lake on Mars. So what does that all mean for the possibility of life on the Red Planet?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAUSE: Fancy a swim on Mars? Italian researchers say they have found evidence of an underground lake here. It's actually under the southern polar ice cap. The breakthrough doesn't actually prove the existence of life but it does or might show scientists where to look.

Joining me now, more on this Danny Olivas, former NASA astronaut, author and forensic engineer. What don't you do? Founder of the Between Land and Sea - Borders from Space campaign.

Thanks for coming in.

DANNY OLIVAS, FORMER NASA ASTRONAUT: Thank you -- John.

VAUSE: Ok. I've been reading your story all day. I don't want to be Johnny Killjoy here. But I think everyone is maybe getting a little bit ahead of themselves because from all the other reading I did, it's not exactly a slam dunk that this is actually water to begin with, right?

It looks like water. It could be water. They've got to confirm that it's water.

OLIVAS: Well, so the indications right now are that they've done multiple passes as I understand with the Mars spacecraft and collected data over almost three and a half years. And so the value -- or these multiple tests that they've been doing is trying to rule out other possibilities. So things are pretty strong right now that it is indeed liquid water underneath the edges of the southern polar ice cap.

VAUSE: It would be a lot more significant if they actually found water somewhere outside the polar region, right?

OLIVAS: Well, not really if you think about it. You know, human life or actually life likes to live in fluid water. And so the fact that we now have strong indications that there is water underneath the outer perimeters of the southern polar cap is a good indication that the conditions are right.

Now there's still a lot of work that needs to be done, but that's what science is all about. And it's in discovery. It's just one step at a time. VAUSE: I actually think the whole process here is actually kind of more of a fascinating part -- what happened and what didn't happen and kind of what went a little bit wrong.

Mars Express began December 2003. Four years later, what's known as the Mars Advance Radar for Sub-Surface and Ionospheric Sounding -- that came on line. And here's how the science magazine describes what happened next.

Several years into the mission, (INAUDIBLE) scientists began to see small bright echoes under the caps -- so bright that the reflection could indicate not just rock underlying the ice but liquid water.

The researches doubted the signal was real however because it appeared some orbital passes -- it appeared in some orbital passes rather but not others.

It turns out that the satellite's computer was actually averaging everything out to try and get these large data streams transmitted as efficiently as possible.

So this went on for years until they realized, oh, hang on, and then they adjusted everything and then they came up with the finding then they got to this point where this is about 20 kilometers in span, I guess.

OLIVAS: Yes.

VAUSE: And it's very, very cold and very, very salty.

OLIVAS: And about one and a half kilometers deep. So it is pretty deep.

[01:55:03] VAUSE: So what sort of life, if you're looking at those conditions, could actually survive in something like that?

OLIVAS: So all we have as an example -- is any analogies that we have here on the earth. The one thing we have learned on earth is that where we think that life couldn't possibly exist we're very often surprised -- whether we're talking about deep sea underwater events or, you know, environments that have high salinity or high concentrations of nitrogen, high concentrations of sulfur, we're able to find life there.

So we don't know. We've never been to Mars. We've never explored it. So we know we may be surprised.

VAUSE: Which is interesting because if you do want to go to Mars to explore this, would this area be deemed a special region under NASA's planetary protection protocol but it says neither robotic systems nor human activity should contaminate special regions on Mars. This is, you know, the planetary protection protocol offers that basically tells you how to go out and, you know, meet biological beings.

You tell me.

OLIVAS: Well, to your point earlier is that we are getting a little ahead of --

VAUSE: Really?

OLIVAS: -- where we are. And you know, we have to remember that these indications they found are, you know, one and a half kilometers underneath the surface, you know. So that's pretty deep. And we have to be able to access that.

And so right now even the most sophisticated spacecraft that we have designed, the penetrators don't go down that deep. So there's still a lot of work that needs to happen but it is an exciting first step.

VAUSE: I'm sorry -- if there is life in that water does there need to be some kind of energy source nearby? Because if you look at a similar situation to earth, you've got the heat from the core of the planet.

OLIVAS: Geothermal --

VAUSE: Yes.

OLIVAS: -- sure.

VAUSE: Yes. So you don't have a similar situation on Mars?

OLIVAS: Well, we don't -- we also don't know. And so that's part of this whole exercise is exploration.

VAUSE: What do you mean we don't know? I want to know now -- Danny. You've got to find everything out. I want all these questions answered.

OLIVAS: Also if we do have any answers, we wouldn't even need to go would we?

VAUSE: It is fascinating though, right? This is the fun part.

OLIVAS: It is. And obviously Mars is a very attractive target because it's our next door neighbor. If we find out that we have liquid water on Mars, we can confirm it. And we can have, you know, if we should happen to find life on Mars, even ancient life on Mars -- what does that say about the rest of our solar system? What does it say about the rest of our galaxy? What does it say about the rest of our universe?

VAUSE: I don't know. I mean it is (INAUDIBLE) -- I didn't know so much exploration was going out there.

But Danny -- we're out of time. Thanks for coming in and sharing your expertise against my stupidity. I appreciate it.

OLIVAS: Thank you -- John.

VAUSE: You've been watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I'm John Vause.

The news continues after this.

[01:57:44] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)