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U.S. Officials: Iranian Gunboats Tried To Seize British Tanker; Iranian FM: U.S. Axed Amid Violated Nuclear Deal; Trump Calls U.K. Ambassador Pompous Fool; Boy Survives Drug Gang Attack That Killed His Father; Allegations of Migrant Abuse Under Investigation. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired July 11, 2019 - 01:00   ET



[01:00:00] JOHN VAUSE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello everybody! Thank you for joining us. I'm John Vause, you're watching CNN NEWSROOM. Ahead this hour, Iran warned Britain there would be consequences for seizing one of its oil tankers and hours later Iran made good on its threat.

Insulted by Trump, abandoned by Johnson, now out of a job. Britain's ambassador in Washington falls on his sword and steps out after an embarrassing leaks started diplomatic crisis. And a summit at the White House to discuss the future of social media, and that future does not include Facebook or Twitter, just a ragtag collection of fringe groups and right-wing extremists with one thing in common, Trump supporters.

Well, hours after Iran's president said there would be consequences for the British seizure of one of its ships, it seems Iranian forces actually tried to make good on the threat. Wednesday U.S. officials say Iranian gunboats tried but failed to take control of the British oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz. A nearby British warship quickly intervened, the Iranians left.

CNN's Sam Kiley joins us now live from Abu Dhabi with the latest on all this. So Sam, what are the details, what more do we know about the gunboats, were the Iranians, were they officially part of the Iranian Navy? What more were the details that we're learning to confirm what the Americans are saying?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the British Heritage which is a BP owned a tanker that had already been traveling to Basra but turned round following threats and fears of Iranian retaliation for the seizure of the Grace I off the coast of Gibraltar was under unofficial escort, if you like, from the Royal Navy ship HMS Montrose when according to the Ministry of Defence I've just spoken to a senior source there who said that three Iranian vessels approached the Heritage with the intent they believed of trying to divert the Heritage from international waters into Iranian waters.

These were three armed Iranian naval gunboats of the sort that we've seen often in the past. Very fast, double and triple engine with mounted -- with machine guns mounted on the front or cannon indeed. The Montrose intervened between these motor vessels and the Heritage and issued verbal warnings to the Iranians to withdraw and included in those warnings the manning of their guns very visibly.

We understand royal naval sold sailors were manning machine guns and there's a 30-millimeter automatic cannon which was also shown to be live if you like. Then at that point, the Ministry Defense say the Iranians backed off.

Now, this is very troublesome indeed, John, for the British because unlike the United States, they're very keen for the Iranians to when they can legitimately do so, and European and other laws outside of the American sanctions conduct business, sell oil. They are not part at all of the attempt to strangle the Iranian economy, unlike the Trump administration.

And it's that that has caused tensions in the past here in the Persian or Arabian Gulf. But the problem for the British is, of course, they seize this ship carrying a huge amount of crude oil they believe that was heading illegally to Syria which was a breach of sanctions they've imposed -- been imposed on Syria.

And President Rouhani as you mentioned there at the beginning, John, had warned that there would be retaliation for the seizure of this ship. And clearly what we've seen is an attempt at just that, John.

VAUSE: Yes. Bit by bit it seems the Iranians are ratcheting up the pressure here on these allies testing the you know, the resolve of these allies Britain, the United States, as well as others. Sam Kiley with the very latest for us there in Abu Dhabi, we appreciate it. Thank you.

We should also make this note, the British government is yet to respond to our request for more information about what happened and also what the possible response might be. Joining us now though is Bruce Bennett, Senior International Defense Researcher with the RAND Corporation. Bruce, thank you for being with us.


VAUSE: Normally Tehran directs its public anger at the United States but you know, early on Wednesday, the U.K. was the focus of these warnings of consequences from President Hassan Rouhani. Let's listen to what he said.


HASSAN ROUHANI, PRESIDENT, IRAN (through translator): You are the initiator of insecurity and you will realize the consequences latest. Now you are so hopelessly that when one of your tankers wants to move in the region, you have to bring your frigates to escort it because you are scared.

(END VIDEO CLIP) VAUSE: So there now -- after that we had this attempt to I guess seize the British tanker. So is this a start of you know, Iranian offensive to disrupt shipping. And so, where do we go from here? What does this look like next week? What's the next confrontation?

BENNETT: Well, I think that will depend upon the number of British tankers that were in the area. But with this kind of traffic, the Iranians are clearly trying to force the British to back off. They are also trying to put pressure on all of the major powers to restore the treaty arrangements that had existed on the nuclear program.

They have just turned up the amount of nuclear materials they are producing in terms of the level of enrichment. And so this is an effort of them to get the major powers to force the U.S. to back off and for the other powers to back off as well.

VAUSE: At the same time while this is happening, the U.S. military is making plans and seeking allies to ensure the freedom of movement in the Persian Gulf. Listen to this.


GEN. JOSEPH DUNFORD, CHAIRMAN, U.S. JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: We had a discussion today with the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense and I -- and we are engaging out with a number of countries to see -- to see if we can put together a coalition that would ensure freedom and navigation both in the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab-el Mandeb.


VAUSE: He says the plan will be if you go to like what happened on Wednesday, a British tanker, it would be defended by warship. An American tanker be defended by American warship. This is all starting to sound like a pre-Iraq invasion, the U.S. putting together a coalition of the ruling seeking out the allies. I mean, how do you see it?

BENNETT: Well, you have more than just the British and American ships, you've got many others. And the Iranians can take on any nationality ship if they choose to that may be more vulnerable. Trying to have enough warships in the region to escort all of the tankers is going to be challenging. The Iranians have many small boats that can potentially attack those tankers. And so this is a real challenge for the U.S. and the U.K.

VAUSE: Do you see the same drumbeat that we've heard you know, back in -- what was it, 2003 as the world was getting ready for the United States and its allies to move into Iraq for the Iraqi invasions?

BENNETT: Sure. The Iranians want the U.S. to back off, let them continue business as they want to do it. And as long as the U.S. is turning up pressure, they are going to respond and carry out a contest. They don't want a major war, we don't want a major war, but they are sure going to push us on the threshold. VAUSE: Yes, and then you get into the law of unintended consequences

which is terrifying in itself. You know, the U.S. called for an emergency meeting of the U.N. nuclear watchdog the IAEA. Iran's foreign minister pointing at some of the irony here in this tweet.

He said the U.S. support JCPOA, the nuclear deal, acts and violated it, punishes all who observe it. The U.S. has no standing to raise JCPOA issues. Iran fully complied with the nuclear per 15 IAEA reports. Iran's actions -- now, this is the interesting part -- are lawful under paragraph 36 of the accord.

And to that last point, is Iran on firm legal ground here when arguing that they are entitled to raise the level of enrichment here of uranium because basically, this is how -- one of the mechanisms for dispute resoutions?

BENNETT: I don't know the answer to that. I don't -- I'm not familiar with that part of the agreement.

VAUSE: It's in the (INAUDIBLE) so you're forgiven.

BENNETT. Thank you. But I think what you find is they are going to be looking for any route to put pressure on. This is one route that they've chosen. They have also been talking about opening other facilities that would potentially be used. They are really trying to find a variety of ways to make it very uncomfortable for the United States and its allies.

VAUSE: Yes -- well, while meeting in Vienna, the U.S. President was tweeting, it's a misleading statement, it seems, announcing more sanctions on Iran. This is what he put out there. Iran has long been secretly enriching, in total violations of the terrible $150 billion deal made by John Kerry and the Obama administration. Remember, that deal was set to expire in a short number of years -- well, six. Sanctions will soon be increased substantially.

If the U.S. -- if the U.S. administration continue to squeeze Iran's economy, what are the chances and what's the timeline here of total collapse?

BENNETT: Of the Iranian economy? I think the answer is we really don't know. We don't know how serious the impact is. But having said that, it is going to be a difficult thing for the Iranians and that's in part why they are trying to break the coalition, trying to push back now against the U.S. actions.

[01:10:09] VAUSE: I guess -- so there's only so many options that the Iranians -- also mean cards the Iranians have to play. You've got the Strait of Hormuz, you've got the enrichment of uranium, where else could they look for pressure points?

BENNETT: Well, the Iranians have all kinds of groups that could do overseas terrorist activities, that sort of thing. They probably have some capability for cyber warfare. So they're starting with something that is straightforward, obvious, in which the U.S. and its allies are going to have to do something about. But they may well choose to do some other things, blow up a POL

refinery, an oil refinery. That's the kind of thing that they could choose to do, try to do it covertly, and put pressure on the U.S. and its coalition partners.

VAUSE: Yes, which is why this is such a critical story to keep a very close eye out because this could go anywhere at any time.


VAUSE: Please continue.

BENNETT: Certainly. Thank you.

VAUSE: OK, thank you, sir. Cheers. Well Britain's ambassador to the U.S. has resigned after leaked diplomatic cable shows. He described President Donald Trump as inept, clumsy. A source tell CNN that Kim Darroch made his decision to step down after Boris Johnson the front- runner to become the UK's next prime minister refused to support him during Tuesday's leadership debate on live television. Johnson meantime is trying to spin this in a kind of a different way.


BORIS JOHNSON, LEADERSHIP CANDIDATE, CONSERVATIVE PARTY: I just heard that Kim Darroch resigned, and I want to say that I regret that really because I think he was a superb -- he's a superb diplomat and I worked with him for many years.

And I think that whoever leaked his dip tails really has done a grave disservice to our civil servants, to people who give impartial advice to ministers. And I hope that whoever -- is a rundown, coarsened, and eviscerated quite frankly.


VAUSE: Meantime, the Prime Minister who is still there, still in office Theresa May told parliament that she supports Darroch and did not want him to resign.


THERESA MAY, PRIME MINISTER, UNITED KINGDOM: I have told him that it is a matter of great regret that he has felt it necessary to leave his position. Sir Kim has given a lifetime of service to the United Kingdom and we owe him an enormous debt of gratitude.


VAUSE: Nicholas Burns is with us this hour from Washington. He's a former U.S. Ambassador to NATO and Greece, former Undersecretary for Political Affairs. Ambassador Burns, thanks for being with us.

NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO NATO AND GREECE: Thank you so much. Is there any precedent of a friendly government doing what Donald

Trump did to the British ambassador, any president of a rival or unfriendly nation here with the head of the government making it possible for a U.S. ambassador essentially to do their job?

BURNS: I cannot think of any president in American, modern American history 50, 60, 70 years into the past where this has been the case. I mean, you think about it. Ambassador Kim Darroch did everything right here. He did what he was supposed to do.

He told the truth about what he was saying to his own government in a secret cable. And that cable was leaked nefariously in his own country and then President Trump you know, so thin-skinned, so vain, so vengeful didn't like of course what the ambassador said when it was publicized, and effectively made him persona non grata in the United States.

And if you think about it, you know, President Trump has never criticized President Putin or President Xi Jinping. He doesn't criticize Kim Jong-un of North Korea or Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia but he makes the British ambassador persona non-grata.

It's outrageous when Britain along with Canada and Australia probably our greatest allies in the world, so much trust, and the British ambassador has to leave his job. It's a strange place for the United States and a lamentable place for us to be.

VAUSE: Just very quickly on how the relationship will continue. Obviously, there are tensions and there are strains, but you know, there is this assumption that underneath the intelligence sharing arrangements, the Five Eyes you know, with the allies, that continues at a professional level between diplomats and intelligence operatives. Is that a fair assumption at this point?

BURNS: I think it is a fair assumption. Our intelligence officials, our defense officials, our diplomats, our career diplomats will continue to work with each other because we have great trust in the United Kingdom and I think they do in us. But at the political level, this is a real problem for both countries to handle and a very difficult one to handle and I think for public opinion.

I've done some interviews on British television and radio today, this is a shock to the British. They have their own problems. Someone in Britain leaked the cables to a British newspaper that caused all this trouble. But to hear the President of the United States be so disrespectful to a very distinguished career British diplomat. I think there's a lot for the British to bear right now, given all the troubles they have, and I worry it's going to make people distrust our country, the United States, and we don't need that in the world.

VAUSE: Yes, you know, so Kim Darroch, he fell on his sword, you know, for writing these critical assessments of the Trump administration. In all likelihood, similar assessments are being written -- have been written by dozens of diplomats in Washington. On the flip side, American diplomats are doing the same about leaders in the countries where they're stationed, you probably wrote frank assessments to the prime minister of Greece, Costas Simitis, when you are in Athens.

So, if U.S. cables were leaked, like the British cables were leaked, will the Trump administration be just as embarrassed as number 10 or, you know, will this White House just shrug it off? Is there an understanding by the U.S. president that Sir Kim was just doing his job?

BURNS: I don't think so. I mean, the President is, frankly, so self- centered that I don't think he understands this reality of how the diplomacy works at the highest level. And you are exactly right.

When I was an American ambassador in Greece and in NATO, and I was a more junior officer in places like Cairo, we wrote very frank cables back to Washington because that's what Washington expected of us.

Diplomats are not sent abroad just to be nice, they're sent abroad to represent their country, to find out the truth, to report it back in an unvarnished way. That's why we have secrecy in governments because you want to get the information back to your leadership, but you don't want to have it be embarrassing to people in the country to which you are accredited.

Kim Darroch did what every other ambassador around the world is paid to do. He didn't deserve the kind of incredibly rude treatment that he received from President Trump.

I cannot imagine President George H. W. Bush or President Clinton or President Obama, or George W. Bush, the people who preceded him, acting in this way towards a foreign diplomat, certainly not a diplomat from the United Kingdom, our great friend.

VAUSE: The man who most likely will not be the next British prime minister, Jeremy Hunt, he continue to defend the ambassador in Washington. He also explained why. Here he is.


JEREMY HUNT, CANDIDATE, CONSERVATIVE PARTY LEADERSHIP: And it is incredibly important both for the United Kingdom and for the defence of the values that the United Kingdom supports like press freedom.

And so, in this situation, we had a fine diplomat who is just doing what he should have been doing, giving a frank assessment, a personal assessment of the political situation in the country that he was posted and that's why I defended him and I think we all should.


VAUSE: And after defending or dodging, rather, the question during Tuesday's debate about the fate of Sir Kim. The man, who would probably be prime minister of Britain, said nothing on Wednesday. But many have plenty to say about Boris Johnson. His former adviser, and now an independent M.P., Nick Boles, tweeted this.

The British people can now see that Boris Johnson will be Donald Trump's poodle that his response to any command from the White House will be: "How high, Mr. President?"

Johnson certainly seems to be (INAUDIBLE) is more concerned about appeasing Trump's bruised ego than standing up for a career civil servant. In the big picture, is this almost, sort of, the antithesis of, like, the whole Brexit ideology?

BURNS: Well, it is. And it's obviously, this is a big drama in British politics, but I really admire the Jeremy Hunt statement because he stood up for his ambassador. And that's what you want, a good, sound, brave political leader to do.

And, you know, countries don't always have to agree, even the best of friends, Australia and the United States sometimes disagree, certainly Britain and the United States. There's no shame in that. There's no shame in the British government, standing up for their own diplomat.

I would hope that the American president would always stand up for our diplomats. But that didn't happen this time with Boris Johnson and you have this picture now with Boris Johnson acting ignobly, Donald Trump acting ignobly, and you wonder where honor is in politics, these days.

It's so important in a democratic society to have a leader who can be trusted to do the right thing. We have a political crisis here in the United States because we have a leader who doesn't really represent the values of the country, and certainly is now showing extraordinary disrespect for the United Kingdom, our great ally in NATO.

VAUSE: You know, for many who are anti Brexit, you know, there is now this, sort of, feeling that, you know, Sir Kim, he's a stand-up guy. You know, that he is the one who, you know, essentially, was just doing his job. He was a professional.

The first minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, she tweeted this. It is shameful that Kim Darroch has been effectively been forced out for doing the job that diplomats are appointed to do. Boris Johnson's failure last night to stand-up for him and to stand-up to the behavior of Donald Trump spoke volumes.

For those pro Brexiteers, the ambassador's resignation simply could not come fast enough. We heard from Nicholas Farage, Nigel Farage, rather, the right decision, time to put in a non-remainer who wants to -- who wants to trade deal with America.

So, can this whole incident be simply explained in terms of the political divide between, you know, those who are in favor of Brexit and those who are not in favor of Brexit?

[01:20:03] BURNS: Well, you know, as best as one can determine from beyond Britain, this is really a crisis about Brexit. There's every reason to believe that these private diplomatic cables were leaked to the press to embarrass those who oppose Brexit and support those who are in favor of it.

And that's really a very difficult thing in Britain, there's the Official Secrets Act, this is a crime in Britain to leak classified information. There's going to be a legal inquiry now, and I really admire the British civil servants who are going to lead that inquiry.

Very important that politics not intrude on a matter like this, but unfortunately it has, on both sides of the Atlantic. Donald Trump, acting in a way that, I think, embarrasses the United States in front of the British people and Boris Johnson not standing up for the right values.

VAUSE: We'll leave it on that point. Ambassador Burns, thank you so much, appreciate you being with us.

BURNS: It's always a pleasure. Thank you, John.

VAUSE: We'll take a short break here on CNN NEWSROOM, when we come back, U.S. lawmakers have heard firsthand the ultimate price some migrants are paying for a piece of the American dream and it starts with nightmare conditions at U.S. detention centers.

Plus, no regrets, no apologies from U.S. Labor Secretary about a sweetheart deal he brokered for the sex offender, Jeffrey Epstein, years ago, all this, as a new accuser comes forward, claiming Epstein raped her.


VAUSE: Every week it seems -- brings another horrific story from migrants making a dangerous journey from Central America hoping for a better life in the United States. And in this case, you're about to see the images are graphic, a warning, a Guatemalan father and his 10- year-old son found lying along a dirt road in Central Mexico.

They paid a smuggler to get them to the United States. Instead, they were kidnapped by a Mexican drug cartel. When their family in the United States could not pay the $12,000-dollar ransom, the father was killed. The boy had his throat slashed, he did survive. Right now, he's recovering in hospital.

U.S. Customs and Border officials say they're investigating claims of abuses from migrants at a detention center in Arizona. CNN's Nick Valencia has details.


NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The allegations were first reported by NBC News and include that children in Yuma, Arizona were held not only in poor conditions, but also include a report of an alleged sexual assault.

And here's part of what NBC is reporting, they say a 16-year-old Guatemalan boy was said to be in his cell and complained about the taste of the water and food that he was given along with other migrants. A 15-year-old girl from Honduras described "a large bearded officer putting his hands inside her bra, pulling down her underwear and groping her, as part of what was meant to be a routine pat down in front of other immigrants and officers.

And finally, in this report, they say a 17-year-old boy from Honduras said officers would scold detained children when they would get close to a window, going on to say that they would use an offensive term in Spanish, while they were giving them orders.

Now, we did reach out directly to U.S. Customs and Border Protection to respond to these allegations made first --reported first by NBC. This is what they said, U.S. Customs and Border Protection treats those in our custody with dignity and respect and provides multiple avenues to report any allegations of misconduct. We take all allegations seriously and investigate all formal complaints.

[01:25:12] U.S. CBP is defending their actions while the conduct and the manner in which they care for migrants in their custody was brought into question on -- during an oversight hearing on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.

And in that hearing, we heard an emotional plea from Yazmin Juarez, who is an asylum-seeking migrant from Central America, who said because of prolonged period of detention, her nearly two-year-old daughter died. Now, she did make an emotional plea to committee members saying that she doesn't want this to happen to any other migrants in U.S. custody.

YAZMIN JUAREZ, ASYLUM-SEEKING MIGRANT FROM CENTRAL AMERICA: My daughter, Mariee, and I fled Guatemala, seeking asylum in the United States. We made this journey because we feared for our lives. The trip was dangerous but I was more afraid of what might happen to us if we stayed.

So, we came to the United States where I hoped to build a better, safer life for us. Unfortunately, that did not happen. Instead, I watch my baby girl, die, slowly and painfully, just a few months before her 2nd birthday.

VALENCIA: Juarez went on to say that the U.S. can and should do better about caring for migrants, especially children who are in their custody.


VAUSE: (INAUDIBLE) joining us now, Dylan Corbett, the founding director of the Hope Border Institute, he is in El Paso, Texas. Dylan, thanks for taking the time to speak with us. You know, the longer this goes on, the worse it gets, so far, there doesn't seem to be anything like a coherent response (INAUDIBLE) to the crisis and the humanitarian crisis from the Trump administration.

If anything, it seems when the president (INAUDIBLE) you know, determination to either ignore the suffering or pretend it just doesn't happen. Do you see that that could change anytime soon? Is there any way that the response from the Trump administration is likely to get better?

DYLAN CORBETT, FOUNDING DIRECTOR, HOPE BORDER INSTITUTE (via telephone): No, in fact, we can expect it to get worse. In reality, there is a coherent strategy coming from Washington, D.C. and it's simply one strategy of cruelty and deterrence, and the Trump administration is doubling down at this.

So, even though we are seeing deaths on the border, we are seeing deaths of people who are in the U.S. government custody and detention centers, we're seeing deaths of people who are trying to cross the Rio Grande River, dividing Mexico and the United States, this is continuing.

We are going to see more deaths of children because the administration is not changing that strategy. As long as we have a strategy of deterrence, as long as we have a strategy with the only priority of which is to stop people at the border and implement a strategy of cruelty to make them stop crossing the border.

We are going to see migrants pushed into more difficult conditions, pushed into more remote regions of the border where their lives will be in danger, and we'll continue to see cruel conditions of immigrant detention at the border.

VAUSE: It's hard to imagine that anyone can actually ignore testimony, like we heard earlier from Yazmin Juarez whose little girl died shortly after the release from the detention center. You know, it's death which seems especially tragic given the fact that there are doctors and nurses and caregivers and healthcare professionals who are willing to volunteer their time.

Take a look at this doctor here, a pediatrician, wanting to go and help.


DR. CARLOS GUTIERREZ, PEDIATRICIAN: There's abundance of pediatricians, doctors that are willing to step in, step up to the plate and provide care right in their facilities. I would love for you all to take action to allow us entrance into the facility so that we can take care of the medical issues right away.

And secondly, if you're not going to allow us in, please have whoever is taking care of those individuals, please let them communicate with us with what's going on there so we know when to expect a very sick individual.


VAUSE: Has there been any adequate or even any attempt to try and explain, you know, why volunteers with medical experience are not being allowed in to help ease this crisis?

CORBETT: You know -- you know, this really isn't a question of resources, when we look at immigration enforcement in the United States right now, we spend well over $20 billion on immigration enforcement in the interior of the country and at the borders.

So, what we have is a strategy to criminalized migrants, what we have is a strategy to militarized the border. And so what we need effectively is a deep structural reform in these border agencies. But we also need to change strategy immediately, to recognize that this is a humanitarian situation that requires a humanitarian response.

What we need is organizations like the Red Cross. They have access to these folks, because right now, the (INAUDIBLE) doesn't have access to folks who are in detention.

And as long as we have these conditions persist on the border, as long as we have deep conditions were border enforcement agencies simply do not have a culture of transparency or a culture of accountability, or there's a lack of oversight coming from Washington, D.C..

We are going to have conditions where migrant's rights -- their human rights are violated. And so, we need greater access, we need greater accountability, transparency and oversight, and it needs to happen now.


What do you call a social media summit without any representatives from the major social media companies? Thursday at the White House, Facebook and Twitter won't be there but some of the President's biggest supporters from the far right wing part of the Internet will be -- bloggers and meme makers and others with questionable connections (INAUDIBLE).


VAUSE: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm John Vause with the headlines this hour.

Iran allegedly tried to seize a British oil tanker in the Persian Gulf on Wednesday. The British defense ministry says three Iranian gunboats confronted the tanker as it sailed into the Strait of Hormuz. But backed off when a British warship arrived. Iran's Revolutionary Guards are now denying that they tried to stop the tanker.

The British ambassador to Washington has resigned. After describing Donald Trump as inept in leaked diplomatic cables to Number 10. Kim Darroch's resignation came after Donald Trump said the White House would no longer deal with the ambassador.

Immigration officials say they are investigating allegations that border agents mistreated children at a facility in the U.S. state of Arizona. A 15-year-old Honduran girl claims she was sexually assaulted. Other children say they were denied phone calls, showers and sleeping bags.

U.S. Labor Secretary Alex Acosta claims he did all he could 11 years ago when he was a U.S. attorney and offered a controversial plea deal to multimillionaire and sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. But while Acosta defends that decision, pressure is building for him to resign. We have details now from CNN's Pam Brown.


ALEXANDER ACOSTA, U.S. SECRETARY OF LABOR: I absolutely welcome this New York prosecution. It is the absolutely right thing to do.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Embattled Labor Secretary Alex Acosta defending himself this afternoon over a controversial plea deal he oversaw that allowed multi-millionaire Jeffrey Epstein to avoid federal sex crime charges, saying he intervened in the case to give Epstein a stiffer punishment.

ACOSTA: That's what the prosecutors of my office did. They insist that he go to jail and put the world on notice that he was and is a sexual predator.

BROWN: The 2008 case against Epstein alleges he coerced dozens of young girls, some as young as 14 into having sex with him.

ACOSTA: The Palm Beach State attorney's office was ready to let Epstein walk free, no jail time, nothing. Prosecutors in my former office found this to be completely unacceptable and they became involved.

[01:35:01] BROWN: But prosecutors inked a deal letting him avoid a public federal trial, register as a sex offender and serve just 13 months in state prison where he was allowed to leave during the day.

Acosta now says he was faced with two difficult options as the U.S. attorney.

ACOSTA: Plead guilty to more serious charges, charges that require jail time, registration and restitution, or we would roll the dice and bring a federal indictment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Standing here today, are you basically saying that you feel that you did everything you could, you got the best deal you could get in and you have no regrets?

ACOSTA: We believe that we proceeded appropriately.

BROWN: CNN confirms Acosta's statement comes after Trump ordered him to explain himself publicly.

ACOSTA: My relationship with the President is outstanding. He has, I think, very publicly made clear that I've got his support.

BROWN: And while the White House is publicly defending Acosta --

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: Why are you talking about Alex Acosta, not Jeffrey Epstein?

BROWN: One of Trump's confidants telling CNN he doesn't believe Acosta will last.

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: You think he'd be gone and you said six weeks or shorter?

CHRISTOPHER RUDDY, CEO, NEWSMAX MEDIA: I think it will be in a relatively quick period, he will be gone.

BROWN: Meantime, Trump is now distancing himself from Epstein, who he once described as "a terrific guy who likes beautiful women as much as I do".

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I knew him like everybody in Palm Beach knew him. I had a falling out with him a long time ago, I don't think I've spoken to him for 15 years. I wasn't a fan.

BROWN: Epstein was also a frequent visitor at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort years ago. But an attorney for the Trump organization tells CNN Trump banned him from the property, although he doesn't remember when or why.

As for Epstein, who is facing new charges in a New York case, another accuser went public today, describing being raped by him as a teenager.

JENNIFER ARAOZ, JEFFREY EPSTEIN'S ACCUSER: Forcibly raped me, knew exactly what he was doing. And I don't think cared. What hurts even more so is that if I wasn't afraid to come forward sooner, then maybe he wouldn't have done it to other girls.

BROWN: Now Secretary Acosta says he would be willing to be interviewed by DOJ officials who were looking into whether there was any professional misconduct by the prosecutors involved in that 2008 plea deal even though Acosta says he wouldn't be required to do so and he remained defiant that he did anything wrong.

Pamela Brown, CNN -- the White House.


VAUSE: Well, it seems this U.S. President sees two very distinct ways reporters cover this administration. There is the right way according to Donald Trump where his statements are accepted at face value, the President is loved by all and is never wrong, and defeat crisis and controversy and spun into stories of achievement or success.

Here's an example. Fox News covering the failed second nuclear summit with North Korea.


SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: The President was so clear all week in telegraphing that he doesn't want to rush this, that he prefers a good deal and if it takes time, it takes time. And you know what's really funny, and I see this about the news media all the time, if they would just maybe take a little bit of time and try and understand President Trump a little bit more, maybe they can read the "Art of the Deal" because I think one of the bestselling business books in history and what does he say in there but if you want to be a great business person up the last second in any deal, you have to be stand up and walk away and not want it too much.


VAUSE: And then what the President might describe as a wrong way. The best recent example is the coverage while the Mueller investigation was under way into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Mueller's findings were vindication for so many in the media. As put it, "Journalists were right. The Mueller report reads as a 400-page confirmation of years' worth of reporting on Donald Trump."

But even Fox News strays from the script at times and over the weekend could not ignore a "New York Times" report about the horrendous conditions at many detention centers near the border with Mexico.

But, for the U.S. President it all seemed to be a fact too far. He unleash his power of the Twitter storm. "The network worse than CNN", he said, "worse than the former NBC anchor lying Brian Williams."

He also tweeted a reminder that Fox would be nothing without him and his supporters. There were a lot more tweets, a lot more insults but you get the idea.

All this begs the question, when the President's favorite news channel, the one of choice Fox News, is not Trumpian enough then who is? What is the President to do? The answer, it seems, is go even further to the right and seek out friendly voices from the Internet and invite them to the White House summit about the future of social media.

For many the guest list reads like a who's who of trolls, racists and carnival barkers. On top of that CNN has been told Facebook and Twitter, two behemoths of social media are not invited.

[01:40:02] Joining us now from New York is Jennifer Grygiel is the assistant professor at Syracuse University specializing in social media. Thank you for being with us.


VAUSE: Ok. To not invite the social media companies, the big tech companies to a summit on social media it seems almost like a get together on how to be a great quarterback you know, include Tom Brady or, you know, the future of movie directing and Steven Spielberg is on the list.

M1: Well, I think President Trump thinks he is Tom Brady. I mean, I don't even think that, you know, really counting on Fox News, at this point. We have to acknowledge that the President of the United States has his own broadcast channel through social media.

And so I think really, what's important here, what he's doing with the social media summit is he is putting forward his own media brown and he is starting to cultivate those who are, you know, profound supporters and they're the Internet memers. And so, you know, that's why we are seeing a lot of the fringe you know, kind of participants being invited this week.

VAUSE: Ok. So here's part of a statement announcing the summit from the White House. "After receiving thousands of responses, the President wants to engage directly with these digital leaders in a discussion on the power of social media."

And here is who we believe is on the guest list. There are others but these are the ones at least we know about at this point. There is Ali Alexander. This guy, he recently tried his hand at sort of birtherism and a failed attempt to slander presidential candidate Kamala Harris.

There is Carpe Donktum known for his pro-Trump memes and his cartoons which have been very effective.

There's Benny Johnson and Charlie Kirk -- both from the conservative group Turning Point USA.

Bill Mitchell is just your garden-variety conspiracy theorist.

And James O'Keefe from Project Veritas, a man who secretly records people and then (INAUDIBLE) he edits to create controversy.

If that is the future of social media and if that's the power it's going to wield, then it is a future which is terrifying.

GRYGIEL: What we really have here is the President kind of cultivating his team, if you will. These are some of the best Internet memers out there, even in political cartoonist, they eventually create memes and are shared on social, so essentially they're kind of sophisticated Internet memes, if you will.

The President is really making a statement right now that he's almost kind of like, again, just going out on his own, he sees himself as his own media with his 61 million plus Twitter followers.

He really is not as dependent on the independent and free press as past presidents even President Obama, because he's able to go direct to the public with that message. And you know, again I think he is just cultivating beyond to communicate directly with the public which is again, not necessarily a good thing because the free press, you know, kind of has a diminished role in that watchdog role that we have seen in the past which is key.

VAUSE: With regards to he memes and the cartoons -- they are very effective because -- in what way are they effective? It's taken in very quickly, it doesn't take a lot of time to absorb the message.

GRYGIEL: Yes. They're funny, they're humorous often. And it cuts through and it gets virality, it gets the message out. But what's concerning here is who the President of the United States has decided to align with.

Again, as you pointed out these are kind of fringe actors, the information that's being put forward in their memes is not always truthful. And to see the President retweeting some of the stuff when it hasn't been fact checked and it's actually misinformation is deeply concerning.

It influences public opinion and it's concerning because it's not ethical and we need our president of the United States to be preventing facts to the people.

VAUSE: Last question on this part of the story. do you believe that President Trump has identified the effectiveness of memes and that's why, you know, there's a representative sort of turning up?

GRYGIEL: Absolutely, and I wrote an opinion piece about this last year. The President is a great memer and I'm not saying that his content is good or worthy, but he knows how to get information out there and he knows how to get it to propagate on social media. And its concerning because again that wields the influence and power to kind of change public opinion to influence elections.

And we really need him to, I think, be representative of what a president should be and, you know, dial back on some of those memes that he's been sharing that are unethical at this point.

VAUSE: Yes. You know, along with Barack Obama's Kenyan birth certificate and the bodies of Hillary Clinton's murder victims, the minutes from the meeting where nobody (INAUDIBLE) got together and decided to censor Donald Trump and the conservatives, listen to the President.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They were totally against me. I won.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They didn't think you were going to win.

TRUMP: Well, they fought me very hard. I mean I heard that and they are fighting me hard right now which is incredible because I think the Democrats want to shut him up and frankly, so do a lot of the Republicans want to shut him up.


[01:44:53] VAUSE: There was also a tweet back in May from the President, he said "I'm continuing to monitor the censorship of American citizens on social media platforms. This is the United States of America and we have what's known as freedom of speech. We are monitoring and closely watching."

You know, this has been investigated and found to be without any factual basis, but among many Trump supporters, essentially many conservatives as well there is this feeling of persecution. And no matter how many times it's explained that there is no censorship, this is not happening, they believe it still is. Why is that?

GRYGIEL: It's because again, the President is able to communicate so directly to the public now. The fact checking, the role of the free press and holding him accountable is kind of falling by the wayside and so this is again why he wants to influence these platform. Why they have not been invited to the summit because he is trying to, you know, kind of pressure them into giving him more algorithmic privilege to feature more of his tweets and make it, you know, kind of what he sees easier to have more followers in the space.

He is concerned that the actions of Facebook and Twitter, et cetera, are decreasing his reach on the platform. Where he is spreading things that, you know, are essentially misinformation meant to shape public opinion. That's deeply concerning that a president would do that at this point.

VAUSE: Yes, it's very much an unconventional presidency which is an understatement, to say the least.

Jennifer -- thanks so much. Good to see you.

GRYGIEL: Thank you.

Next up on CNN NEWSROOM, heavy flooding hits New Orleans as the U.S. Gulf Coast faces what could be its first hurricane of the year.


VAUSE: In Greece police are investigating the possible murder of a U.S. scientist who died by asphyxiation. 59-year-old Susan Eaton was attending a conference earlier this month on the island of Crete. She later disappeared while jogging on July 2nd. The body of the biologist was discovered Monday. Police say they are taking comprehensive measures to find her killer or possibly killers.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel insists she is in good health. She was seen shaking next to the Finnish Prime Minister in Berlin on Wednesday, the third time she has trembled in public in less than a month. Mrs. Merkel was first seen shaking June 18th as she greeted the Ukrainian prime minister and again, nine days later. She blamed the first incident on hydration.

A large storm in the Gulf of Mexico has already flooded parts of New Orleans and much more rain is on its way. More than 27 meters fell on Wednesday overwhelming the famous French Quarter as as well as other neighborhoods.

[01:50:00} The slow moving system could become a hurricane by Saturday, officials have begun shutting more than 90 floodgates to hold back a rising Mississippi River.

And this waterspout formed north of the city, two homes were damaged by a tornado. Some oil rigs in the gulf have been evacuated.

Let's go to meteorologist Derek Van Dam -- it's a funny name this hour -- Derek.

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It's hard to believe that this is actually the rainfall ahead of a potential tropical storm system impacting the Greater New Orleans region. They exceeded July's monthly average rainfall total just in a period of six hours, that does not bode well for a city that is teetering on sea level, this is an extremely low level, low plane city and in the amount of rain that quickly can cause serious problems as we have seen in some of the video.

But you add in the potential for storm surge of a developing tropical storm and we've got a recipe for a disaster or at least a potential recipe for disaster.

Here's the latest on the potential tropical cyclone to not quite yet a disturbance, according to the 2 a.m. update from the National Hurricane Center. One thing though for sure, there is very warm waters across the Gulf of Mexico that will allow for the storm to strengthen into a tropical storm, eventually into a hurricane prior to making landfall on Saturday.

Now according to the National Hurricane Center they already have hurricane watches from the mouth of the Mississippi River along the Louisiana coast westward towards Cameron and the border of Texas. And we have tropical storm watches east of the Mississippi towards Lake Pontchartrain and just outside of the New Orleans region.

The issue here is that the potential exists for some of that water to rush upstream, and it all depends on the exact timing and the exact placement of the storm system as it forms off the coast of Louisiana. According to the American model we have landfall and hurricane around midday on Saturday, slightly delayed for the European model and further to the, west of course plenty of time for us to figure out the exact nuances between the exact models.

But the main storm threats and what we should expect along the gulf coast is a hurricane storm force wind by Friday, dangerous storm surge possible along the Deep South and not only a coastal flood threat but also the potential for inland flooding as this will bring in copious amounts of moisture to the Deep South. We are talking over 500 millimeters of rain, that could cause some serious flash flooding concerns for Louisiana -- John.

VAUSE: Just not getting a break, just keeps on going.

VAN DAM: Not at all.

VAUSE: Thanks -- friend.

Next up on CNN NEWSROOM the World Cup champions celebrate in New York. One soccer player from the team so impassioned lets something slip on life Tv, we will tell you and show you in a moment.


VAUSE: Imagine the temptation, drivers in the U.S. state of Georgia couldn't help themselves when the doors on an armored truck suddenly open and during the busy evening rush hour it was suddenly raining cash on the 285. As much as $175,000 flooded away, and some drivers have turned in a loop but only a few thousand dollars so far. Police are warning, keep the cash and you could be looking at up to 20 years in prison, but how would they know? I don't know.

[01:54:55] U.S. women's soccer team celebrated their fourth World Cup title in New York on Wednesday. Team captain Megan Rapinoe stole the show speaking of love and hate and used another four letter word, one which we can't say here on television. Here's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is what having a good day looks like for Megan Rapinoe. When you have to decide whether to hang on to your World Cup trophy or set it down to dance.

Or do both at the same time. Duked up in tossed confetti -- she got lots of practice doing the Rapinoe pose but when it was the co- captain's turn to speak --

MEGAN RAPINOE, U.S. WOMEN'S NATIONAL SOCER TEAM: At a loss for words. I mean I'll find them, don't worry.

MOOS: She found one in particular that maybe should have stayed lost.

RAPINOE: New York City, give them a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) --

MOOS: The F-bomb detonated on live TV.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we certainly want to apologize for the language at end there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Megan Rapinoe and that's live TV everyone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Apologies, we cannot control Megan Rapinoe speech.

MOOS: Neither can Megan Rapinoe.

RAPINOE: AND anybody that knows me knows that I use the F-word way too much.

MOOS: The last time she used it publicly it preceded the words White House. She was asked if she'd visit if invited.

RAPINOE: I'm not going (EXPLETIVE DELETED) to the White House.

MOOS: That led to this semi apology.

RAPINOE: I stand by the comments that I made about not wanting to go to the White House with the exception of the expletive, my mom would be very upset about that.

MOOS: And now, again? Megan, Megan -- your mother is going to have to wash your mouth out with soap. Critics called out a role model for young girls everywhere dropping the F bomb while a fan tweeted, Megan Rapinoe is a national (EXPLETIVE DELETED) treasure and to think it happened right after Rapinoe passionately declared --

RAPINOE: We have to be better. We have to love more, hate last. MOOS: She seems to have a love hate relationship with the f-bomb.


MOOS: A habit you can't kick, a word she can't kiss goodbye. Jeanne Moos, CNN -- New York.


VAUSE: Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I was going to do something.

I'm John Vause. The news continues next with Paula Newton, right after a short break.


[01:59L57] PAULA NEWTON, CNN HOST: Hello and welcome to are viewers around the world. I'm Paula Newton.

And this is CNN NEWSROOM.

Coming up, Iranian leaders warn Britain of consequences for seizing one of their oil tankers.