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Boris Johnson Campaigning for British Prime Minister; NRA Spending Under Scrutiny; Reports: Kim Jong-un's Brother Was CIA Informant; Hong Kong Protests Extradition Bill; Red Sox All-Star David Ortiz to Recuperate in Boston; Trump Tariff Troubles. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired June 11, 2019 - 00:00   ET

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


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JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The battle to defend the firewall between Hong Kong freedom and China's Communist rule. More protests are planned. Critics say it's designed to extend Beijing's control.

Rebuilding his life in the city where his legend was born. Boston baseball great David Ortiz returns to Boston for urgent meddle treatment 24 hours after being shot in the back in a night club in the Dominican republic.

And tariff man strikes again. After claiming a dubious win over Mexico, Trump is set to rev up his tariff superpowers in his trade war with China.

Hello and welcome to our viewers all around the world. Great to have you. I'm John Vause and you are watching CNN NEWSROOM.

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VAUSE: First this, hour we have new reporting to shed light on a mysterious murder of the North Korean's leader's half brother, Kim Jong-nam. "The Wall Street Journal" reports Nam was working for the CIA when he was killed in Kuala Lumpur airport in 2017.

Both Washington and Seoul have accused North Korea of ordering the killing, an allegation Pyongyang has denied.

According to "The Journal," Nam traveled to Malaysia at least in part to meet with his CIA contact. A successor says Kim Jong-nam would usually meet his handlers in Singapore or Malaysia. A security breach shows a meeting with a U.S. intelligence agent.

Joining us now, Daniel Pinkston, professor of international relations at Troy University.

Thanks for being with us.

How much credibility do you put into this? DANIEL PINKSTON, TROY UNIVERSITY: I don't have any specific information, so I can only speculate. But there had been rumors about Kim Jong-nam cooperating with foreign intelligence agencies for some time.

Even at the time of his death, there were reports in South Korean media that he had been providing information to South Korea's national intelligence service.

And he had been working for the North Korean regime about 20 years ago, involved with their arms exports. I have credible information about that. But he continued to live in Macao in a high profile lifestyle, a playboy lifestyle. So there were questions about his income and how he'd get the money to live that way.

VAUSE: The counter argument, if he wasn't a CIA agent or an informant, why would he be meeting with the U.S. intelligence agent allegedly seen on hotel security video?

Could there be other explanations?

PINKSTON: The question remains, how he had income to live the lifestyle he did in Macao . I had spoken with a credible North Korean defector about 10 years ago, who saw him working in the arms export industry and running the accounts through Macao where the bank branch was handling North Korean illicit accounts and the bank closed down in 2005.

Also in 2001, Kim Jong-nam found problems when he made a trip through Tokyo Disneyland. He was stopped and sometime after that he fell out of favor with his father. And around 2005, Kim Jong-un gained favor of his father and was beginning to become groomed as the next leader. So his brother fell out of favor. The bank channel for North Korean exports illicit arms exports was shut down.

And then Kim Jong-un began to build his own coalition of supporters with his brother being shut out and no longer the successor to his father. Questions arose how he had an income and how he was able to continue his lifestyle.

So Kim Jong-un, the anointed successor, would prudently take control of the finances and those accounts. So I think it is a plausible story that he was providing information in exchange for cash. Whether it was the CIA or other South Korea's national intelligence services, I can only speculate about that but it seems a very plausible story.

VAUSE: This has been a story in "The Wall Street Journal" as well as in a book by "The Washington Post" reporter Anna Fifield, called "The Great Successor,"

If this is in fact true, it would in fact answer many questions about why he was killed and where, by --

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VAUSE: -- the use of this VX nerve agent, which is basically a banned chemical weapon. So we appreciate you being with us. Your insights have been very insightful. Appreciate it, Daniel, thank you.

Well, protest organizers are calling for more demonstrations in Hong Kong on Wednesday, after the city's biggest protests in decades. This video tells the story of more than 1 million people packing the streets on Sunday. The rallied against a very controversial extradition bill that would allow suspects to be sent to Mainland China.

Critics say it's a power grab by Beijing. The Wednesday protests are timed to coincide with another meeting over the bill by the city's legislature. Despite the outcry, Hong Kong's chief executive, Carrie Lam, is vowing to push ahead with the bill and she says she's not being pressured by the mainland. More from Andrew Stevens live in Hong Kong.

This is about a lot more than this law; it's about independence, the promise the people in Hong Kong were given when Britain left 20 years ago.

ANDREW STEVENS, CNN ASIA PACIFIC EDITOR: That's right, it is about the basic law, it is about the treaty that was signed by both China and the U.K. when Hong Kong was handed back to China, that Hong Kong will remain an autonomous region for 50 years after 1997.

And so there has been an erosion of the Hong Kong rights as Beijing has put more and more pressure on Hong Kong, people have now been banned from the local legislature because they support more pro democracy.

This really is just the next step in the protests against this ever harder grip that Beijing appears to be exerting on the lives of Hong Kong. We had 1 million people on Sunday and now there are calls for more demonstrations on Wednesday tomorrow but there is also more calls for demonstrations this evening.

And you remember on Sunday night, there was violence, there were protesters storming the barricades; police were injured and 19 people were arrested. And organizers, at least some organizers, are calling for demonstrators to reconvene at 10 o'clock this evening.

I want to bring in now, a guest who is no stranger to this whole story, Nathan Law was one of the student leaders of the Umbrella movement in 2014. In fact, Nathan was jailed for two months because of his role in the Umbrella Movement.

He's a former legislator in Hong Kong. He was elected to the legislation and was then banned because of an oath-taking ceremony that how long lawmakers said did not fit into what was required.

He's also part of an advocacy group.

So Nathan, thank you for joining us. Let's talk about Sunday for a moment; 1 million people came out.

Were you confident that you would see that sort of number of people on the street or did it become a surprise for you? NATHAN LAW, HONG KONG PRO-DEMOCRACY ACTIVIST: I think we did not expect it, because 1 million people marching on the street means that the opposition is overwhelming across the political spectrum. I know there is a lot of people who are not seen as very democratic supporters or they support prosperity, stability or sometimes conservative people.

And they also marched out, so I think it is a very strong signal for the chief executive to reconsider the proposal because it is not only those who are considered dissidents opposing the bill but so many others.

STEVENS: Do you worry that the violence we saw late on Sunday, the potential violence could overshadow the peaceful nature of this massive protest?

LAW: I think there is always a bright side or a dark side of protest because you can imagine, if you are one of the participants who loves Hong Kong so much, when there was 1 million people marching down the streets and the government issued a statement, saying they will not back down immediately after the end of the assembly, they were furious and conflicts happened.

So I think maybe there will be some more conflict. But the peaceful demonstration, I believe, will not be influenced by that. We will still hold non-violent demonstrations and we will still hold a peaceful demonstration.

STEVENS: So there is a mantra of peaceful protest. I want to ask you about the Hong Kong chief executive, she said she will not change tactics and there won't be any scrapping of this bill.

Is there anything that you can see that will change the mind of Hong Kong at this stage?

LAW: I think when the pressure is large enough and when she has to back down -- and she will --

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LAW: -- but of course, she will not provide it in terms of days (ph).

So I think the things that we have to do now is to continue to pressure her and I think at the end of the day if we do not put out 100 percent of effort we will regret it, because it will affect every single one of us in Hong Kong, it affects our liberties, it erodes our status safe harbor for Hong Kong.

STEVENS: Carrie Lam and the government says at the moment this is a safe haven for criminals because there is no extradition treaty. And they say they put in place safeguards on a case by case basis. They have to be a serious crime.

And what is wrong with what they are doing?

Is it a case that you don't trust the Hong Kong side of this to carry out the fair and impartial assessment of any extradition case?

LAW: Well, first of all, no one in Hong Kong has ever heard of anything about a haven of criminals for the past decades. The police department always say that we are the safest city in the world.

So how come we became a haven for criminals?

So this kind of rhetoric, disguise from the government is trying to legitimize what they are doing. But actually it does no benefits for Hong Kong people; it only strengthens the Beijing government.

STEVENS: Are you worried that you could be a target for extradition?

LAW: Of course. We don't have traditions of (INAUDIBLE) in mainland and we don't have fair trial in mainland and we don't have any measures that protect our human rights written in the law (INAUDIBLE) this amendment. So we don't have trust to Carrie Lam that she will carry out the duty to reject any political demand from Beijing because we all know that she was handpicked by Beijing. So she is accountable for them instead of Hong Kong people.

STEVENS: But are you saying that the Hong Kong judges themselves, will they be under too much pressure to make fair and impartial judgment?

LAW: Well, to be fair, the power of the court is only verify whether the proof is obtained at a certain level to achieve prima facie evidence. But they cannot verify whether the origin of the evidence is genuine, were they fabricated or so. So the gatekeeper effects of the court is very limited.

STEVENS: Nathan, thank you so much for joining us today.

That was Nathan Law, one of the Hong Kong's best-known pro-democracy advocates and a man who has been imprisoned for his role in the Umbrella Movement in 2014, which brought this city to a standstill for some 80 days or so but clearly did not change Beijing's mind in more democracy.

Whether the protests we are seeing now will have any different effect, a lot of people are saying that Carrie Lam and the Hong Kong government will not push back -- will not pull back at all on their position. So that means that this city will be as divided, as it has been now since 2014, since the Umbrella Movement for some time to come.

VAUSE: Andrew, thank you, we appreciate the update and the interview.

Retired Red Sox all-star David Ortiz has arrived back in Boston just a few hours ago, the city where his legendary reputation was born to receive urgent treatment after receiving a gunshot wound in the back in a night club in the Dominican Republic.

This all happened on Sunday night. He was in a nightclub when he was shot at point-blank range. He was taken to hospital and stabilized during extensive surgery for the wounds caused by the gunshot. The Red Sox organization arranged his trip back to the U.S. and Boston fans paused for a moment of silence before Monday's game to show love and support for the man they call Big Papi.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is loved throughout our nation and beyond. Yet to us, he is our own adopted son. Won't you please join us as we offer a moment of reflection, thought and prayer for a complete healing and a full recovery for our beloved Big Papi.

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VAUSE: Joining us now Jemele Hill, staff writer from "The Atlantic" and former host of ESPN, thank you for being with us.

JEMELE HILL, "THE ATLANTIC": Thank you for having me.

VAUSE: It is hard to underestimate how much David Ortiz is loved and respected, by his former team and by the city of Boston. Here is the Red Sox assistant general manager Eddie Romero.

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EDDIE ROMERO, ASSISTANT GM, BOSTON RED SOX: He is obviously an icon, on the Mt. Rushmore of Boston athletes, but he is the guy in the Dominican Republic, he is more famous than any president. People think of the Dominican Republic, they think of Ortiz.

It comes from the way he treats people, he treats everybody the same, which is incredible. And so just I know that the country itself has been disturbed by this incident.

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VAUSE: It must have been a very different mood and a very different game at Fenway compared to the rest of the season.

HILL: I think for a lot of people who have watched Big Papi's career and seen him hit the biggest home runs in Major League baseball history, this is very jarring and he's very beloved and a lot of it has to do with not just the kind of player he was, he was known for his post-season heroics but also for the fact that he did have a reputation for being a great person, for being someone who treated some people kindly and who was beloved and jovial.

Flash back to 2013 after the Boston Marathon massacre, when he took the mike and told Boston in some very colorful language and told America really, not just the city of Boston, about whose country it was and how the people have the right to enjoy and never to give up on their freedom.

That was a very galvanizing moment for a lot of Americans and it is the reason why, former president Barack Obama tweeted for Big Papi to get well. He has left that much of a mark on not just baseball but sports as a society as a whole.

VAUSE: I want you to hear from the team manager, Alex Cora, talking to reporters before Monday night's game.

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ALEX CORA, BOSTON RED SOX MANAGER: David, it's hard to believe, like I said he praying and stay positive even hope he comes back. He will be taken care of and he will be back with us and be at the clubhouse with that big smile and that huge heart.

Usually (INAUDIBLE) back home they talk about superheroes without capes. And he is a superhero without a cape, that is the way we see him. Yes, so he will be. OK.

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VAUSE: So that was Cora there, speaking to reporters.

Do we have any word about what he said and the team owner said to the players, what was the message from those three guys direct to the team players?

HILL: Well, I think the message was simply that obviously a lot of people are praying for Big Papi, wanting him to do well and wishing him a speedy recovery but also to kind of draw from the inspiration and the emotion that he often incited as a person and as a player. This is a very tough situation for a lot of people in Boston just because of how beloved that he is and they look at him like you mentioned as a superhero.

So I think a lot of people right now are just trying to find and remember all the ways that he inspired them. Of course, he's still here and he is expected to recover. But I think this is just a very shocking way that people are still trying to grapple with sort of the violence of what happened because you are talking about someone who is loved.

For them to be a victim of such horrific violence is sometimes hard to reconcile both of those.

VAUSE: You mentioned these legion of fans that he has and that includes the former president, Barack Obama, who sent out a tweet wishing a speedy recovery, also a tweet by the legendary quarterback Tom Brady.

Why would he be the victim of a targeted shooting, why would someone want to hurt a guy like this in what was essentially an ambush attack?

HILL: That is what we are all wondering, look at his hometown in the Dominican Republic, there is no one probably bigger than him. And he is a made man and so I think we are all wondering, not only who would be so hateful as to try to hurt some one like David Ortiz but also frankly who would be so gutsy to do something on around all these people in a public place to someone of this stature?

I think it just makes it more confusing and just leads to many more questions because this is not a situation where David Ortiz was in a car accident. This was a very violent, appears to be directed, purposeful attack on a someone who is loved not just in his home country but also back here in the States.

VAUSE: We are out of time but we will leave you there and thank you so much, we appreciate you being with us.

HILL: Thank you.

VAUSE: Donald Trump has a new tariff for China --

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VAUSE: :-- and a whole lot of made-up stuff and facts about why his tariff tactic is effective.

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VAUSE: Fresh off his victory lap over a dubious immigration deal with Mexico, an emboldened Trump is turning his tariff threat to China. The U.S. president says he's ready to propose new taxes on another $300 billion in Chinese. goods if the Chinese, President Xi Jinping, does not meet with him at the upcoming G20 summit.

Trump is pushing for a new trade deal. Beijing has already imposed tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese imports.

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TRUMP: The China deal is going to work out. You know why?

Because of tariffs. Right now China is getting absolutely decimated by companies that are leaving, going to other countries, including our own. Because they don't want to pay the tariffs. And China will, in my opinion, based on a lot of facts and knowledge, China's going to make a deal. Because they will have to make a deal.

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VAUSE: To Los Angeles and Jessica Levinson, professor of law and governance at Loyola Law School.

Who are these companies?

One other names?

The ones leaving China, In particular, heading to the U.S.?

I've seen numbers about manufacturing, exports showing China is losing customers to the benefit of Vietnam and Cambodia. The rest it seems like it's wishful thinking by the president.

JESSICA LEVINSON, LOYOLA UNIVERSITY LAW SCHOOL: Or maybe there are so many, we simply couldn't name them in the time we have. But there is a lot of very specific companies and people, who have really benefited from this.

It really feels to me that you are watching a toddler who just found one part of a new toy and that part worked once with Mexico. And now that is what he will use over and over. again because that is the one tool in his toolbox.

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LEVINSON: I think, what is slightly different with respect to, China he is not getting the same pushback internally in the White House from his party and from outside groups from other Republicans, like the Chamber of Commerce. This can't be the only thing you conduct foreign policy with. Just to scream tariff, tariff, tariff if you don't meet with me.

VAUSE: This Trump made crisis with Mexico, has resulted in a Trumpian sense. And has given him renewed enthusiasm for tariffs as a tool --

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VAUSE: -- and trade negotiations. Listen to this.

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TRUMP: We have never gotten 10 cents from China. Now we are getting a lot of money from China. And I think that is one of the reasons GDP was so high in the first quarter because of the tariffs that we've taken in from China. We always have the option to raise it another 300 billion at 25 percent and the 25 percent could be much higher than 25 percent.

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VAUSE: There've been warnings from the World Bank, the IMF, that the tariffs imposed by the United States and also by China, in this trade war could slow economic growth and causing a global recession. Also, the Federal Reserve Bank, in, New York estimating at current levels, Trump's tariffs, would cost a typical American household more than $800 a year.

How does that reality play out in the Trumpian world?

Where tariffs are not just a hindrance, but rather a panacea for all global problems?

LEVINSON: I hate to be this blunt. But I think in the Trumpian world, we are living in the same reality. There is just a difference place. And I think, if you listen to his, rhetoric it is frankly so divorced from reality.

The Mexico deal is fascinating, in the sense it really is like someone who lights a house on, fire and then someone else puts out the fire. They go to get a garden, hose at the, end and they say, look what I did. The house isn't on fire anymore.

And I think the same now is true, he is riding this horse of tariffs. He's trying to move this into China. But as you said, all the economic evidence indicates this will not bear fruit in the long run.

I think the good, news is that most of the time the president hasn't made good on the economic threats. Someone has pulled him back. And I, think increasingly, as we ramp up to 2020, as we get closer to the primaries, we will, I, think see at least his economic advisers pull him back, for things where might have a short term hit. They will be very focused on what could hurt voters in their pocketbooks leading up to the 2020 election.

VAUSE: But Trump has been increasingly surrounding himself with those who agree with his view of the world. With that in, mind that's how you get to the statement you are about to hear, his perception of the impact his tariffs had on the negotiations with Mexico. This is what he said.

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TRUMP: This is something the U.S. has been trying to get for over 20 years with Mexico. They have never been able to do it. As soon as I put tariffs on the table, it was done. It took two days.

If we didn't have tariffs, we wouldn't have made a deal with Mexico. We got everything we wanted and we're going to be a great partner to Mexico now because now they respect us. They didn't even respect us.

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VAUSE: The terms of the deal, by all, accounts had been occurred two months ago.

So what precisely is he talking about?

Where is the cause and effect?

I threatened tariffs on Mexico and Mexico did this. It's a simple equation. But we can't see. It because it's not here.

LEVINSON: I mean, this characterization is preposterous. It is not based in reality. And not based on fact. As you said, the key parts of this deal, that he is trying to take credit for, were in fact hammered out five to six months ago.

But I think what we will increasingly see, even if those around him disagree, this kind of bluster and in fact just flat-out lies. But what we might not see, is different, which is actually implementing economic policy that is harmful.

I think the advisers will not be able to pull him back from lying, trying to take credit. But I think they may be able to pull him back from doing things that could hurt the swing voters in the swing states in their bank accounts. At least until the 2020 election.

VAUSE: There was this deal with Mexico on immigration enforcement. It was made in December. Here the directive from then Secretary of Homeland Security, about the implementation. There have been disagreements since about the speed of. This is how the secretary of state described the difference between then and now.

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MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: CNN's reporting that, says these countless hours were nothing, that they amounted to a waste of time. I was part of those conversations in Houston in December when those protocols were put in place, the scale, the effort, the commitment here is very different from what we were able to achieve back in December.

And frankly, it wouldn't have happened.

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VAUSE: There is Mike Pompeo who is the ultimate yes man for Trump. It seems, at, best the president is a serial exaggerator. At worst he's delusional. Either way, it's not a good place to be heading into talks at G20 with Xi Jinping, leader of China.

LEVINSON: It's not a good place to be at all. I think he has, to the extent there was any more to, I think he has lost an enormous amount of credibility on the national stage. I think, at this point, people look at him and, think, oh, is he going to threaten me with a tariff?

And I think, what we see also in this characterization of Mexico, is so wrong. In the sense it really has not been implemented because, surprise, there are legal problems with it. It is not clear that you can essentially deprive these asylum seekers

of due process, to not provide them with lawyers.

[00:30:18] So going into this international summit, what we have is a president who's lied about his accomplishments, who has a deal that, frankly, I think is on shaky legal grounds to begin with, and who hasn't really proposed anything other than, you know, here is a tariff for you; here's a tariff for you. I hope you'll come back with something that I can use to essentially mischaracterize what's happened to the American public.

VAUSE: Yes. Jessie (ph), we're out of time. We didn't get to the -- John Dean's tweet, former White House counsel for Nixon about what sort of dog he'd recommend for Donald Trump. Maybe next time. But good to see you. Thank you.

LEVINSON: I hope so. Thanks.

VAUSE: In the U.K., ten candidates vying for No. 10 as Brexit is pushed out of the spotlight as a new controversy looms over the leader (ph).

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VAUSE: Welcome back, everybody. I'm John Vause with an update of our top news this hour.

Donald Trump is threatening new tariffs on another $300 billion in Chinese goods. That, is if President Xi Jinping does not meet with him at the upcoming G-20 summit.

Trump also pushing back on reports that key provisions in his immigration deal with Mexico were actually agreed to months ago.

Baseball legend David Ortiz has now arrived at a Boston hospital for treatment from a life-threatening gunshot wound. Ortiz was -- was shot point blank, Sunday night, at a nightclub in his native Dominican Republic. He underwent surgery there and has since flown to Boston in the past few hours. One suspect has been detained, but police looking for a second person who fled the scene.

On the heels of this massive protest on Sunday, organizers are calling for more demonstrations in Hong Kong. They're planned for Wednesday, when lawmakers set to hold another reading of a controversial bill. The measure would allow suspects to be extradited to mainland China.

Well, for three years, she had the job no one wanted. But now, as Theresa May steps down as Conservative Party leader, ten candidates are hoping to replace her as prime minister. And they're already taking shots at the frontrunner, Boris Johnson.

Here are some of the candidates vying for that position. They include Boris Johnson, as well as the environment secretary, Michael Gove, and foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt. The first round of voting is Thursday, as Conservative lawmakers begin whittling the field down to two.

Let's take a close look now at Boris Johnson. As CNN's Matthew Chance reports, he's a divisive figure who might significantly increase the odds of a no-deal Brexit.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello, good morning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello.

[00:35:00] MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Check out the new, improved Boris Johnson his leadership campaign team is keen for us to see.

BORIS JOHNSON, PRIME MINISTER CANDIDATE: Cuts on taxes, and you'll get more money.

CHANCE: He's slimmed down, got the hair under control. And he's on the streets, discussing important issues like Brexit with ordinary Brits.

JOHNSON: If I get in, we'll come out, deal or no deal, on October the 31st.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good man. Good man.

CHANCE: Trying to look as prime ministerial, in other words, as he can.

JOHNSON: Too many people feel left behind. That they're not able to take part fully in the opportunities and success of our country.

CHANCE: It's a conscious break from the bungling Boris persona he seems to have carefully cultivated over his political career. Yes, this was him, hanging haplessly from a zip wire, when he was London mayor, clowning around for the public below.

And who could forget this bruising encounter with a ten-year-old Japanese schoolboy when Boris decided to show off his rugby skills.

A litany of diplomatic faux pas has led to inevitable comparisons.

(on camera): You've been described as Britain's Trump. With better hair.

JOHNSON: I don't know what you're talking about. No, not at all. Look, I think when I was foreign secretary of the U.K., I had good relationships with the -- with the White House, met the president a few times, was very pleased to meet him, as any -- as any foreign secretary would be.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So I know Boris. I like him. I've liked him for a long time. He's -- I think he'd do a very good job.

CHANCE (voice-over): But the British Conservative Party is unlikely to take the U.S. president's view into account.

For them, a hardline Brexiteer, Boris, who campaigned strongly for Britain to leave the European Union, is seen as a risk. Making him prime minister raises that chances of a no-deal Brexit that could disrupt the economy and alienate voters.

(on camera): Are you confident that we will definitely -- Britain will definitely be leaving the European Union?

JOHNSON: Yes. Yes.

CHANCE: Even without a deal?

JOHNSON: Yes.

CHANCE: That would be catastrophic, wouldn't it, for this country?

JOHNSON: No. I don't particularly want that as the starting point.

CHANCE (voice-over): It's his Brexit stance that also makes Boris such a potential savior. Voters are abandoning Britain's ruling party in droves. And Boris may prove the one genuinely charismatic and popular figure who could save them.

Matthew Chance, CNN, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Next hour, we'll take a closer look at the scandal of who took which illegal substance and when for those vying to become the next press the British prime minister.

In the meantime, a short break. When we come back, the leading gun rights group in the U.S., the, NRA, under scrutiny for lavish spending and reportedly making big payments to supposedly unpaid board members.

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[00:40:14] VAUSE: New questions about lavish spending and potential conflicts of interest at the National Rifle Association. "The Washington Post" reporting that the NRA has been paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to board members, officially listed as unpaid. They just happen to have oversight of the group's finances.

CNN's Tom Foreman has details.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Three million dollars to a firearms company executive; 400,000 to a former pro football player; 255,000 to a former police officer, and 50,000 to a rock star. In, all, "The Washington Post" sites 18 members that the National Rifle Association board getting paid for a variety of goods and services by the NRA.

Illegal? No. But for a powerful, tax-exempt organization, such matters can draw scrutiny from the Internal Revenue Service. George Donnini is an attorney focused on corporate law.

GEORGE DONNINI, PARTNER, BUTZEL LONG LAW FIRM: It calls into question, at least potentially, people acting in their own self- interest, versus the interests of the organization to which they owe a fiduciary duty.

FOREMAN: Tax law says a 501(c)3 organization, such as the NRA, is prohibited from allowing its income or assets to benefit insiders. Typically, board members, officers, directors, and important employees.

The NRA says "The Post" has presented a distorted view, and in the close-knit community of gun rights supporters and the NRA, connections between employees or board members and strategic partners are not unusual. But other allegations are also rocking the gun rights group.

OLIVER NORTH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF NRA: I always feel at home at an NRA annual meeting, surrounded by a law-abiding citizens of this great republic.

FOREMAN: NRA President Oliver North was pushed out when he went to war with longtime CEO, Wayne LaPierre, who has been accused of lavish spending on clothes, foreign travel, and approving exorbitant legal fees.

WAYNE LAPIERRE, CEO, NRA: Well, I'll tell you, the only reason I can keep up this fight is because of you.

FOREMAN: LaPierre pointed the finger at North, accusing him of cashing in on an NRA deal with an advertising company.

Everyone is denying everything. But amid this, the New York attorney general has launched a probe. Congressional investigators are looking at alleged contact between NRA officials and some people caught up in the Russia investigation.

And even President Trump, who loves the NRA --

TRUMP: You are great American patriots.

FOREMAN: -- has tweeted, "Stop the internal fighting and get back to greatness."

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: OK. Try not to read something into this, given the current global political climate. Here we go.

The tree meant to symbolize the bond between the United States and France has apparently died in quarantine. French President Emmanuel Macron brought the sapling oak as a gift for Donald Trump last year. The White House and the U.S. Agriculture Department have not responded to our request for comment.

Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm John Vause. Stay with us, though, for Kate Riley and WORLD SPORT, live after the break, with the very latest on game five of the NBA finals. You're watching CNN.

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