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Aired July 30, 2019 - 01:00   ET



[01:00:00] JOHN VAUSE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello and thanks for joining us. I'm John Vause, you're watching CNN NEWSROOM. Ahead this hour, despite threats and insults from officials in Beijing, the unrest continues in Hong Kong. Protesters targeting morning Russia on the city suburb.

Plus the day after another mass shooting in the United States, the new details about the gunman and his victims, still no motive on why he opened fire at a family festival in California. And less than a year after the Trump of the tropics was elected in Brazil, and the world's largest tropical rainforest is disappearing at an astonishing rate, but the president it seems has chosen not to believe the facts.

The unrest continues in Hong Kong with hundreds of protesters disrupting Tuesday's peak-hour commute by blocking two of the city's subway lines. Mass demonstrations began eight weeks ago. The subway was the most recent target with activists accusing the MTR Corporation which runs the rail system of colluding with police to suppress the protest movement.

Hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets concerned about a slow but constant erosion of the city's independence by the communist government in Beijing. They're also demanding Hong Kong's Chief Executive to resign.

On Monday, China's top Hong Kong policy office released its first official statement on the protests calling them evil and criminal acts.


YANG GUANG, SPOKESMAN, HONG KONG AND MACAU AFFAIRS OFFICE (through translator): No civilized society under the rule of law will tolerate rampant violence. It is our hope that the general public will understand clearly the seriousness of the current state of affairs and jointly condemned the evils and crimes committed by the radicals and prevent them from harming Hong Kong.


VAUSE: Ben Bland is a Research Fellow and Director of the Southeast Asia Project at the Lowy Institute in Sydney. Ben, thank you for taking the time to be with us. You know, officials in Beijing they say -- what they say is not exactly what they mean, but it seems Yang Guang, the Spokesman for the Office of Hong Kong and Macau Affairs was for the most part fairly blunt,

But was there mostly read into his statement overall in particular, there was warning that the actions of protesters in his words touched the bottom line of the principle of one country two systems and can't be tolerated. Was that a warning, a red line if you like? And the question is, if it was a red line, what's next?

BEN BLAND, DIRECTOR OF THE SOUTHEAST ASIA PROJECT, LOWY INSTITUTE: Well, Beijing set out this these red lines some time ago when Xi Jinping came to Hong Kong to celebrate 20 years after the handover which was in 1997. So I think Beijing has laid down its bottom line that it won't allow things that threaten national security, national sovereignty as it sees it.

I think the main takeaway for me was the strong support for the Hong Kong police. Their message was that they support the actions they've taken. They want them to continue to push back against the protesters and I guess to go ahead with a series of arrests once things calmed down to try and put the pressure back on the democracy movement.

There was also a message of support for Carrie Lam, Hong Kong's beleaguered leader as well, and she's been nowhere to be seen as she's left it to Beijing and the Hong Kong police do the talking for her.

VAUSE: So is that how you see this playing out that the officials in Beijing are quite happy to leave the local police in Hong Kong who sort of be the front line of all this, keep it local, don't get involved, don't make a big deal?

BLAND: Well, there's three options really for Beijing. One is direct intervention to send in the People's Liberation Army. That would really be the end of Hong Kong as we know it. The other spectrum, there's real concessions, give democracy to Hong Kong or some steps towards democracy.

That's also unlikely because it would really damage Beijing's Authority in the rest of China. And so I guess they're going to take the middle path trying to let tempers calm down at some point over the next few weeks or months, and when that happens, stepping up the repression.

That's exactly what they did of course after the Occupy Movement in 2014 but it didn't end very well because we've ended up where we are here today. But it seems they're going to go for this middle path and I think that's going to be a very messy few months and years ahead for Hong Kong if they do so.

VAUSE: Well, then what was the point? Last week we heard from officials in Beijing saying that there is a military option under Article 14 of Hong Kong's garrison law. The chief executive could call on Beijing for assistance to maintain public order or for a natural disaster. But as you say, they send in the PLA, that's sort of the nuclear

option at this point. But why would they put that on the record if you like?

BLAND: Well, to some extent, they're simply stating the legal facts of the case. But I think it was really an intent to send a message to intimidate if you like, the democracy movement and protesters in Hong Kong, but it's really an option they don't want to use because it'll be so damaging for them.

But you know, I think they're really unhappy with what they see on the streets of Hong Kong, with the protests, with the vandalism, the symbolic defiling these symbols of the Chinese government in particular. That really sticks in the craw of the Communist Party and I think as part of the reason they're so upset.

And one of the problems, of course, is that many Hong Kongers are much more concerned about the violence meted out to people by the police than they are about the kind of symbolic acts of vandalism from some of the protesters.

So you just have this vast perception gap which I think is why we're going to see problems for some time to compare.

[01:05:15] VAUSE: Obviously, a lot of business leaders have concerns about the stability of Hong Kong, and the American Chamber of Commerce president talked about that essentially what this means with the stability and business because we know, that business-like stability and there is no stability at the moment. Here she is. Listen to this.


TARA JOSEPH, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN CHAMBER OF COMMERCE, HONG KONG: As the protests go on and on, Julia, there is a sort of a pessimism or a worry developing that there's no end in sight and of course that makes people a little nervous. People are used to a Hong Kong that is so well-connected to the world and generally a risk-free place to do business.


VAUSE: So here's the catch-22 for Beijing. If these protests continues, there's a sort of challenges Hong Kong's long term image and reputation for stability. But on the other hand, if you want to put it down quickly sending the soldiers or you know, ramp up the -- you know, the anti-protests actions and try and quell it, then that reputation for stability and rule of law and democracy you know, and some kind of independence is that Hong Kong has, that's done for. It's over once and for all.

BLAND: Well, there's a big contradiction facing Beijing. There's also a big contradiction facing the big international business community in Hong Kong too. Because on the one hand, as you said, John, they like stability, they like things the way they are. But politically Hong Kong is changing because of China's pressure on the city's freedom on autonomy.

So they don't like protests on the street, the business community, but they also don't want Hong Kong to become more and more like the mainland. But without the pushback, Hong Kong will become more and more like the mainland.

So it's a really difficult position for businesses to find themselves in especially at a time with so much tension between the West and China. So there's already this sort of higher level of pressure. They're already under feeling pulled in both directions. So it's a pretty difficult situation for all concerns.

VAUSE: We'll see this is sort of constant narrative for the last couple of weeks coming from Beijing about foreign involvement in China's affairs. The editorial headline in the China Daily last week read U.S. interference in Hong Kong, Taiwan will not pay off.

And again, on Monday, a spokeswoman for China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs sort of repeated this thing about you know, foreign involvement by the United States and others.


HUA CHUNYING, SPOKESWOMAN, CHINESE MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS: All Hong Kong loving people with a sense of justice should stand together to defend Hong Kong's stability and security. We cannot allow the cloud and rain of some people in the U.S. to poison the cherishable sunshine and air in Hong Kong.


VAUSE: Cloud and rain, very poetic, but you know, they can say whatever they want, but so far anything beyond talk? Is there anything to support these allegations?

BLAND: Well, I think the clouds and rains, you know, there is one reason why Hong Kong has had umbrellas, but it's also to push back against the police spraying pepper spray on them. So I think that's more of an issue for Hong Kong is on the ground, not foreign interference.

I think if any government is going to throw around these accusations, whether it's the Chinese government, Australia, the U.S., they should be clear about what they're accusing other governments of doing. If it's simply commenting on the issues in Hong Kong, what's wrong with that?

In fact, we know that the Chinese government has their own human rights report on the U.S. they released every year highlighting wrongdoings in the U.S. as it pertains to people's rights there. So I don't see what the U.S. or other countries doing is any different to what China is doing, and that's something very different from interference is simply criticism.

And we should remember that Hong Kong is a very special city within China where it has its own economy, it's part of the World Trade Organization, and its economic success is underwritten by its autonomy, and other countries are going to have to be the test of whether Hong Kong is truly autonomous.

And if they think it's now becoming another part -- like another part of the mainland China, then I think I'll want to reassess their relations. So there is a direct international interest in Hong Kong because of its unique status in China.

VAUSE: Yes. But as I was often told by the folks at the foreign ministry in Beijing, my reports hurt the feelings of 1.4 billion Chinese people which I guess is similar to what the United States this time. Ben, thank you. Good to see you.

BLAND: Thanks.

VAUSE: To Rawalpindi, Pakistan now where at least 12 civilians and five military personnel have been killed after Pakistani military plane crashed in a residential area. The military says two high- ranking officers are among those killed. No word yet on the cause of the crash.

We're learning more details about a gruesome prison riot in Brazil. 57 inmates were killed during the riot inside the Altamira Prison in the north of the country. An official within the prison system says 16 inmates were decapitated, the rest died in a fire which had been set by fellow prisoners. Brazilian media report the riot started when one group of prisoners stormed another part of the jail which was controlled by a rival faction.

Well, people in Gilroy, California are asking questions and trying to recover from the shock of Sunday's deadly shooting at the city's famous Garlic Festival. A gunman killed three people, wounded at least 12 others. The police killed the attacker and now they're fighting -- trying to find a motive. Details now from CNN Sara Sidner.


[01:10:06] SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Tonight, a search for answers. Police now identifying the gunman as 19-year-old Santino William Legan saying he was armed with an AK-47 style assault rifle purchased legally in Nevada three weeks ago.

SCOT SMITHEE, POLICE CHIEF, GILROY CALIFORNIA: And despite the fact that they were outgunned with their handguns against a rifle, those three officers were able to fatally wound that suspect.

SIDNER: Police now trying to figure out why.

CRAIG FAIR, ASSISTANT SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE, FBI: Our preeminent and principal concern at this point is motivation, ideological leanings, was he affiliated with anyone or any group.

SIDNER: An Instagram account created four days ago under the suspect's name with two images posted shortly before the shooting. One is a photo taken from the Garlic Festival, the other posted an hour later is a photo of Smokey Bear warning of high fire danger.

The caption recommends reading a white supremacist book telling followers the town have paved more open space to make room for hoards of mestizos, a person of mixed race and Silicon Valley white expletives.

Police say Legan entered the festival by cutting through a fence around the property avoiding security.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've seen him shooting at everyone. It looked like he just wanted to shoot everyone. He didn't have -- no direct target.

SIDNER: They're still investigating witness reports of a second suspect but believe Legan was the only shooter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can hear bullets and the bullets were hitting the ground. You could see him go up and that's what I called out it's a real gun.

SIDNER: We also now know that two of the three people killed were children, a 13-year-old girl and a six-year-old boy named Steven Romero.

ALBERTO ROMERO, FATHER OF STEVEN ROMERO: I can't believe what was happening. They told me he was in critical condition, that they were working on him. And then five minutes later, they told me that he was dead.


VAUSE: For more, we're joined from San Diego, California by Kyleanne Hunter. She's the Vice President of Programs at Brady United Against Gun Violence. Thank you for being with us. But what changes this time? Why is this shooting any different from mass shootings at schools, places of worship, movie cinemas, restaurants?

Because if the U.S. Congress and the people of this country aren't willing to move for with gun reform after 20 kids are killed at Sandy Hook Elementary, what's going to happen this time?

KYLEANNE HUNTER, VICE PRESIDENT OF PROGRAMS, BRADY UNITED AGAINST GUN VIOLENCE: Yes, thank you so much for having me. And unfortunately, this is something that is far too common in the United States. We -- you know, we heard about it yesterday after Gilroy, but it's something that is taking place across our communities every single day and it seems bleak.

And it seems hard but I think something that is a light of encouragement is that the 2018 elections, those midterm elections that we had most recently sends a very clear message for gun violence prevention.

For the first time in a generation, we elected a Congress into the House of Representatives that is acting on it. And I think that sent a very clear message that the American people aren't willing to stand by and accept this as status quo any longer and that 2020 is going to be another big turning point.

VAUSE: It was a very significant midterm election especially when it came to the power of the NRA and essentially the power the NRA had over of candidates. It just wasn't there like it had been in the past. But I want you to listen to FBI Special Agent Craig Fair as he outlines all of the security measures which been put in place by the organizers of this festival.


FAIR: This event was completely fenced in. Police officers, as well as FBI agents, were on scene when the shooting occurred. There was patrols actively moving throughout the crowd at the time of the shooting. As a result of that, that subject was neutralized within very, very short period of time.


VAUSE: And for the first time, this festival had put in metal detectors, they were searching bags as people entered. It seems it has to come a point where there's only so much organizers can actually do to secure an event like this. Eventually, the responsibility of public safety has to come back to elected officials.

HUNTER: Well, it does, and individual response -- individuals within the community to take responsibility. And I think there's there's twofold issues that you have in place here. One is that California has some of the best laws in the country. But because of the weak laws and states like Nevada, Arizona, border states that it's too easy to get these weapons of war and bring them into places like this, that were only as safe as our weakest link in the country which is why we need federal legislation that keeps us all safe. And that's number one.

And number two is an elevation of the public discourse around the fact that weapons like those that were used by the shooter, in this case, have no place in our civilian society.

VAUSE: OK. We talk about the weapon that was used here. I'd like you to listen to the police specifically detailing how this weapon was obtained and what sort of weapon it was. Here it is.


[01:15:07] SMITHEE: We found out that the rifle that this suspect used was an SKS. It was an AK-47 type assault rifle. It was purchased legally in the state of Nevada on July the 9th of this year.


VAUSE: Response time by local law enforcement according to officials, it was quick. Police engaged and shot the killer within 60 seconds after the first shots being fired. In that time though, 15 people were killed or wounded in an average of one victim every 4 seconds.

The weapon may have been legally purchased in Nevada but it was illegally brought into California which has a ban on firearms with a magazine capacity greater than ten rounds. What are the chances fewer people would have been shot if there was a nationally enforced law restricting the purchase and transportation -- this is very simple -- all assaults style weapons.

HUNTER: Oh, absolutely fewer people would have been shot. These are -- these are weapons of war. These are -- I'm a former United States Marine who has served several combat tours, and these are weapons that are designed specifically for the purpose to kill as many people as easily and as quickly as possible.

And if it was harder to obtain these, if you had fewer rounds that you could shoot, you would have killed and injured fewer people. I mean this was the best-case scenario insofar as that police responded very, very quickly but weapons that are designed to kill as quickly and as efficiently as possible have no place in civilian hands.

VAUSE: And to that point, I want you to listen to California's governor Gavin Newsom specifically about the weapon which was used.


GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D), CALIFORNIA: I have no problem with the Second Amendment. You have a right to bear arms but not weapons of God damn mass destruction.


VAUSE: You know, in every other developed country around the world, that statement would be considered fair and reasonable. You mentioned that these are weapons of war. You've been to Iraq, you've been to Afghanistan, you know the damage, you know the firepower of an AK or an AR, you're a former member of the NRA. Why would a small but powerful lobby in this country take issue with what the governor said?

HUNTER: Well, so -- for far too long the NRA which is really representative of the gun lobby not of the American people, not of the American gun owner. I myself, am one of them. They are out to make profits.

And what we have seen though is that the NRA is weakening, but more importantly, the American people, gun owners, and non-gun owners are standing up and saying this doesn't represent me. I want common sense and first and foremost I want the safety and security of my communities.

And as a community, we have the right to go out and take part in these great cultural events and the mass proliferation of weapons of war inhibits that and enough is enough.

VAUSE: Just quickly, what -- some people around the world don't understand is that you know, why there isn't thousands or tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of people on the streets demanding some kind of gun reform in this country? How it just seems to be a blink of an eye and the shrug of a shoulder? HUNTER: Well, I think that's unfortunately what has historically been the case because of the gun lobby's grip on politicians. But what you're seeing is that hundreds of thousands of Americans are taking to the streets and they're doing so by showing up at the polling places.

You know, the 2018 election, you had dozens of new members of Congress who unseated long-entrenched gun lobby candidates, and that sends a very, very clear message. And that message is just going to continue to be stronger into 2020.

VAUSE: Kyleanne Hunter, we appreciate you being with us. Thank you so much and good luck.

HUNTER: Thank you very much.

VAUSE: Week one in the top job and Boris Johnson has taken his jolly hockey sticks optimism show on the road. Still to come here, how the new U.K. Prime Minister has declared the existing Brexit agreement with the E.U. dead, and now that meant the pound has fallen to its lowest level in two years.

Also, was it an allergic reaction or was he poisoned? Alexei Navalny is one of Putin's biggest critics, so was he the victim of what is often Putin's favorite form of payback? We'll find out after the break.


[01:20:00] VAUSE: Boris Johnson has hit the road to rally the nation and brace for a no-deal Brexit. The new British Prime Minister is promising a multi-million dollar spending spree on goodies for local communities, but as Nina dos Santos reports, it's still going to be a very hard sell.


NINA DOS SANTOS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: UK's new Prime Minister Boris Johnson decided to embark upon a tour of the U.K. for his first full week in office ostensibly to shore up its unity. Well, the first port of call was Scotland where he met with the First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon.

Remember that Scotland is a place that voted overwhelmingly against Brexit and to stay inside the E.U. back in 2016. But it's also a place that has been agitating for another crack at its own independence from the rest of the Union.

Well, he's likely to stop off in other places like Wales where there's an important by election throughout the course of the week, maybe even Northern Ireland where political leaders there are so concerned about the possibility of there being a hard border with the Republic of Ireland to the south.

In the meantime, it's emerged that his cabinet is turbocharging their No Deal Brexit preparations with one of his key lieutenants who's going to be cheering daily No Deal preparation meetings in a special cabinet office room usually reserved for emergency situations.

He wrote in one of the main newspapers that a messy exit was a very real possibility that the government was planning for here. Well, none of this please the markets with the British Pound tanking to its lowest level in 28 months.

Also the Confederation of British industries, the major employers and industry lobby saying that neither the E.U. nor the U.K. at this point in time was ready for the prospect No Deal hard Brexit on October the 31st. Nina dos Santos, CNN in London.


VAUSE: Now to Italy where a funeral service has been held for a policeman stabbed to death allegedly by two Americans aged 18 and 19. The killing has captivated the country on the front pages of most newspapers. Mario Cerciello Rega's funeral was held and was televised on Monday was held at the same church where he'd been married less than two months ago.

Police accuse one of the teenagers of actually bringing the knife used in the attack from the United States and the two Americans have actually turned on each other providing conflicting accounts of the stabbing after a botched drug deal.

A major critic of Russia's government suggests he was poisoned. Alexei Navalny ended up in hospital after he was jailed on charges of violating Russia's protest laws. CNN's Brian Todd has more now reporting from Washington.


BRIAN TODD, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He is one of Vladimir Putin's worst enemies, a thorn in the side of the Russian strongman. The opposition leader Alexei Navalny has led protests and called for Putin to be ousted. But now through his attorney, he says he was the victim of Putin's ultimate form of payback, poison.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): He really was poisoned by some unidentified chemical agents.

TODD: Navalny was arrested last week after he called for protests in Moscow. Once in jail, he says he suffered an allergic reaction and was hospitalized even though he says he's never had allergies. On Monday, he was released from the hospital and sent back to detention all under the watchful eye of a Russian security officer.

His personal doctor says there was a chemical substance introduced into his body that caused the reaction, but a hospital official denies the accusation.

[01:25:10] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Nothing of what you spoke about has been proven.

TODD: Navalny is no stranger to Putin's wrath. He's been arrested by Putin at least 15 times and was once attacked with an antiseptic green dye that he says damaged his vision in one eye. Despite his arrest, the protest Navalny called for last week still brought thousands onto the streets of Moscow over the weekend where Putin's forces cracked down and arrested more than 1,300 people.

ALEX GOLDFARB, AUTHOR, DEATH OF A DISSIDENT: It is quite possible and actually very probable that they did something out of spite to Navalny who actually was the first one to call for a protest.

TODD: Navalny called for the protests because of a decision by election authorities to bar several opposition candidates from running for Moscow City Council, a seemingly minor position but one expert says Putin and his cronies still control.

SARAH MENDELSON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N. FOR HUMAN RIGHTS: They don't want any outside political forces making their way onto any part of the election ladder, even a Moscow City Council.

TODD: The Russian president himself wasn't in town, electing instead to preside over a huge parade on the water in St. Petersburg staged by the Russian Navy. But analysts say despite being miles away, Putin could have easily ordered Navalny to be punished especially given the fate of some of Putin's other enemies.

Former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter were poisoned and nearly killed last year in Great Britain with the powerful nerve agent Novichok. British authorities tied that to the Kremlin. And in 2006, former Russian intelligence agent Alexander Litvinenko who had dug up information tying Putin to organized crime was killed in London when someone slipped the radioactive substance polonium into his tea.

Navalny has been on a campaign to expose the alleged corruption of Putin and his cronies which analysts say is the biggest threat to the former KGB Colonel.

MENDELSON: There's a lot of anxiety around Putin's succession around the elites that are around Putin. And I think there is a sense of is everybody going to hang together, is their loyalty, if somebody dissents, is the deck of cards going to come down? So I think that this -- they're in an era of anxiety.

TODD: As for all of the poisonings, Vladimir Putin and his aides have consistently denied involvement in any of those attacks calling the accusations unfounded. But analysts say don't expect Vladimir Putin to discontinue this kind of behavior because there simply aren't any consequences for him at home. Brian Todd, CNN Washington.


VAUSE: Donald Trump not backing away from his attacks on high-profile African-Americans and his critics say the President's behavior proves the reason why it's as plain as black and white.


[01:30:28] JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back everybody. Thanks for staying with us. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm John Vause with the headlines this hour.

Hundreds of protestors in Hong Kong have disrupted Tuesday's peak hour commute by blocking two of the city's subway lines. Mass demonstrations have been ongoing in Hong Kong for eight consecutive weeks. This is just the latest.

Protestors want greater democracy in the city, and Hong Kong's chief executive the one backed by Beijing to quit. Officials though in the mainland have called the protests "evil" and a "criminal act".

Police still trying to find a motive after Sunday's deadly shooting at a food festival in California. Three people were killed, at least 12 others wounded. Police say they shot and killed a 19-year-old gunman who used an assault style weapon. He appears to have mentioned a white supremacist book on social media before the attack.

Brazilian media reporting a gruesome prison riot that started when a group of prisoners stormed a part of the jail which is controlled by a rival faction. An official says of the 57 inmates who were killed, 16 were decapitated, the rest died in a fire which had been set by the prisoners.

Fresh attacks by Donald Trump in just the past few hours on the city of Baltimore and its high-profile congressman Elijah Cummings. The President claims without proof that billions of dollars earmarked to help the city have been stolen or wasted over the years.

We have more now from CNN's Abby Phillip at the White House.


ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: President Trump today escalating his attacks on House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings saying his Baltimore district has the worst crime statistics in the nation -- "25 years of all talk no action, so tired of listening to the same old bull".

And expanding his attacks to include civil rights leader and TV host Al Sharpton, who Trump claims hates whites and cops.

For the second time in two weeks, Trump using language like "infestation" to describe the places where people of color live. And combined with his racist attack on four Democratic congresswomen of color who he told to go back to the countries from which they came even though they are all Americans, Trump is now making racial division the centerpiece of his 2020 reelection campaign.

Warning Democrats that "If they defend the radical left squad and King Elijah's Baltimore fail, it will be a long road to 2020."

The President's aides insisting this isn't about race.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No human being would want to live there --

MICK MULVANEY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: When Donald Trump attacks people --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is being perceived as racist, do you understand why?

MULVANEY: I understand why but that doesn't mean that it is racist. The President is pushing back against what he sees is wrong.

PHILLIP: Also underlying Trump's attacks on Cummings, his growing concern that the powerful committee chairman in using his oversight powers to investigate people close to him.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: It's not about not liking the President, it's about loving democracy. It's about loving our country. I'm begging the American people to pay attention to what is going on.

PHILLIP: Last week, Cummings said his committee will subpoena the text messages and emails of Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner and his daughter Ivanka Trump.

Trump responding on social media accusing Cummings of trying to hurt innocent people through oversight.

When President Trump announced on his Twitter feed a surprise meeting that was not on his schedule with a group that he called inner city pastors, these are mostly African American pastors who support him and came to the White House today. This meeting was scheduled ahead of time but some of those individuals came out to speak to reporters and defended President Trump against the allegations that his comments recently have been racist but they did not specifically defend his attacks on Elijah Cummings, Al Sharpton, or the city of Baltimore.

Abby Philip, CNN -- the White House.


VAUSE: Republican Congressman and Trump ally Mark Meadows is one of the few GOP lawmakers, possibly the only one, who's actually spoken out in defense of Elijah Cummings saying neither Cummings nor Trump are racist. It was a statement made in a text message and weak tea compared to Cummings' very public defense of Meadows when he was accused of a racist stunt. Here it is.


CUMMINGS: You're one of my best friends. I know that shocks a lot of people.

REP. MARK MEADOWS (R), NORTH CAROLINA: And likewise, Mr. Chairman.

CUMMINGS: Yes, but you are. And I would -- I could see and feel your pain.


VAUSE: With us now from Charlottesville, Virginia is Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. Larry -- good to see you.

[01:34:57} LARRY SABATO, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: Thank you -- John.

VAUSE: We just heard from Elijah Cummings defending Republican Mark Meadows, that was back in February. That was after Meadows is accused of being pulling a racist stunt. Now Meadows appears to be that rarest of Republican lawmakers defending Cummings, kind of. He texted a statement to former Republican senator and now CNN political commentator Rick Santorum.

Here it is.


RICK SANTORUM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: "No one works harder for his district than Elijah. His passion about the people he represents. And no, Elijah is not a racist. I am friends with both men, President Trump and Chairman Cummings. I know them both well and neither is a racist."

And he offered to go to Baltimore with President Trump to see what they could to remediate some of the problems that they have there.


VAUSE: Not exactly profile of courage from meadows. And if Donald Trump is not a racist then what is he?

SABATO: Well, he is a racist, so that answers the second part of your question. And Trump has proved it over and over and over again.

As far as Meadows is concerned that, as you suggested, was not a profile in courage and he will not be included in the next edition of that book.

VAUSE: All right. Yes. It's incredible to think that Cummings did such a public defense of Meadows and that's the best he could muster at this hour, I guess.

Well, the "Washington Post" is reporting now on how the President's scorched-earth tweeting is being seen within the White House. His advisers have concluded the attacks on Cummings are good for the President among his political base, resonating strongly with the white working class voters he needs to win reelection in 2020.

Is there anything more now to say about Trump 2020 -- (INAUDIBLE) George Wallace. Have they now decided the only narrow path to a sort of small electoral college win is to energize every last racist in the country?

SABATO: I think they're planning on energizing the same people who voted for him in 2016, 46 percent of the vote. I don't think much has ever changed. I thin he's still at about 46 percent, at least in terms of the people that would show up.

And you put your finger on it, they can't have many of those people stay home because they are right at the margin. 2016 was extremely close. 2020 is likely to be very close.

And on account of that Trump has decided, probably correctly, because of his personality, he will never broaden the base. So he's got to stick with the people who stuck with him and hope that they turn out in sufficient numbers to reelect him.

VAUSE: Yes. It seems the other side of this calculation comes from the governor of Maryland. He's Republican Larry Hogan. And he spoke to WBL Radio.


GOVERNOR LARRY HOGAN (R), MARYLAND: It's like -- I think enough is enough. I mean people are just completely fed up with this kind of nonsense. And why are we not focused on solving the problems and getting to work instead of who is tweeting what and who is calling who what kind of names. I mean it's just absurd.


VAUSE: The problem is it's the president who's tweeting. It's the President who is calling people names. But had people had enough? Will this, you know, tweet strategy backfire?

SABATO: Well not in Trump's base. Again it's -- we go back to the same problem. Trump is actually the first president in the modern era who has not tried to broaden his support, who has not tried to unite the country.

Trump is probably the best divider in American history, at least among those who've reached the Oval Office. A united he's not and he never will be. He doesn't have it in him.

VAUSE: But all the people that are motivated to go out and vote for Donald Trump, you know, through this rhetoric and, you know, this sort of language, isn't there many more people who had to be motivated to turn out and vote for a Democrat, whoever that Democrat is, to vote against Trump?

I mean last -- in 2016 he received more black votes -- more African- American votes than the previous two Republican presidential nominees. He won't this time surely.

SABATO: Well, you'd think not. He got 8 percent of the overall African-American vote --

VAUSE: Right.

SABATO: Yes. It's just 8 percent. However, among male African Americans he got 13 percent. I think it's very possible that his constant racist refrains will reduce, by at least several points, that proportion of the African American vote for Trump.

And, look, in a very close race it could make a difference, and it's also affecting the Latino vote, the Hispanic vote. He got about 27 percent of the Hispanic vote -- that's a lot of votes. Hispanics now vote about the same proportion of the vote nationally as do African- Americans.

So if he goes down, three four five points among Hispanics and goes down two or three points among African-American males, and this could cost him among college graduates, especially women who live in the suburbs. You're looking at a substantial loss in votes, which is more than enough potentially for Trump to lose the election.

VAUSE: You know, for the last few weeks Republicans have sort of tried to defend this president arguing his attacks on the squad, the four Democrat congresswomen of color, you know basically was an attacks on their beliefs or their ideology, not their race. These tweets from the President seemed to have exposed all of that as fiction.

[01:40:05] SABATO: Oh absolutely. Look, nobody who has any sense believe that to begin with. If you look at the long train of tweets from Trump over the years, including his campaign he seems to target African Americans with great frequency. And as many people have noted, he uses the term "infestation" in one form or another only for African Americans.

So no one is fooled by this. And it is too late for him to change. He might as well stick with the program, maybe drop tis set of tweets but he'll find another way to reinvent it.

VAUSE: Look, what seems hard to understand right now is what happened to this America. Look at this.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congratulations -- Mr. President.


VAUSE: How did a country which elected Barack Obama into office for two terms then turn around and elect someone like Donald Trump?

SABATO: Because if you look at the broad sweep of the winners in this group (ph), we often choose presidents as successors who were the opposite of the person leaving office after four or eight years. And boy, did we get the opposite this time.

VAUSE: To say the least.

Larry -- thank you. Good to see you.

SABATO: Thank you -- John. Thank you.

VAUSE: And the U.S. President has signed a law which extends compensation for 9/11 first responders. He called it his sacred duty to take care of the heroes and their families who rescued survivors and cleared the rubble after the terrorist attacks back in 2001.

Now, here's the point. Maybe you can spot it, where the President tries to shift the spotlight away from those heroes and onto himself,


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It also provides pensions for those who are suffering from cancer and other illnesses stemming from the toxic debris they were is exposed to in the aftermath of the attacks.

Many of those affected were firefighters, police officers and other first responders. And I was down there also but I'm not considering myself a first responder but I down was there and I spent a lot of time down there with you.


VAUSE: No he didn't. Trump's claim is dubious. However he did say in a phone (INAUDIBLE) at the time that his 9/11 -- during 9/11 that his property in 40 Wall Street is now the tallest building in downtown Manhattan. That wasn't true as well.

Be sure to stay with us. The CNN Democratic Presidential debate, two big days, ten candidates each debate, live from Detroit only here on CNN.

Next on CNN NEWSROOM, every minute the Amazon loses an area larger than a football pitch. A look at why deforestation has surged in just the past few months.


VAUSE: In just the past month, deforestation of the Amazon has accelerated by 60 percent, reversing a years' long trend of slowing the rate of tree lost. The numbers come from Brazil's National Institute of Space Research which uses satellites to monitor the Amazon.

The environmental group say Brazil's new president Jair Bolsonaro who made good on a campaign to relax regulations intended to control the rate of logging is to blame for all this.

We contacted Brazil's environmental ministry about all these numbers. So far -- no response.

In the meantime we're joined by Daniel Nepstad. He's in Hamburg (ph), Germany. He studied the Amazon for more than 30 years and is the president and founder of the Earth Innovation Institute.

Dan -- thank you for being with us.


VAUSE: Ok. So we had this warning from scientists that the rate of deforestation is reaching a point of no return. A professor of Brazil's National Institute of Amazonian Research told "The Guardian" paper there are a number of tipping points which are not far away. We can't see exactly where they are but we know they are very close. You know, this seems to be almost 180 degree turnaround of what we

have seen in years. You know, the rate of deforestation which ought to be slowing. Is it as simple as the new president and his policies have a direct line connecting what is happening now with the 60 percent increase and the rate of tree loss.

NEPSTAD: Yes. Brazil is certainly undergoing a very interesting time right now, put it that way. First of all as you mentioned this huge accomplishment really taking control of a continental sized forest, beginning in 2004 under President Lula and many of those measures persist today.

There's half of all the forest that's protected in some way. The rate is still, if this current trend continues, only half of what it was through 2005 so it is not as bad as it was then.

What worries them though is there are so many things in motion now that could further remove those measures that were put in place to keep the forest standing.

You know, behind it I would say is a very strong farm sector movement which they were really hoping to get some incentives at the foreign level for keeping their forest standing. You know, if you are an Amazon farmer you're supposed to by law have 80 percent of your property in the forest.

And that means it's worthless in the market because forested land is worth less than pasture or than soy fields. But those incentives did not really materialize at least at the scale that was anticipated.

And that was part of Jair Bolsonaro's ride into power. He got a lot of votes from farmers, from the farm sector more generally. And this is a very powerful sector. It's about a quarter of the Brazilian economy.

So I think what we are seeing is really the manifestation of an accumulated frustration over many years that forest conservation didn't really pay in the end.

VAUSE: But here's the thing though if you ask Brazil's president if he is to blame, he'll deny there's even a problem. He recently told a group of foreign journalists that he was convinced that the data is a lie adding that the Amazon is ours not yours.

Everyone's entitled to their opinion not to their own facts. How much damage to the environment can one man actually do here and especially when it's a denial of reality.

NEPSTAD: Brazil should be celebrating its Amazon deforestation monitoring program. It is leading the way for all tropical nations and all nations every year put on -- put out the data for public analysis, for public scrutiny. And they have been doing that since 2004 with data going back into the late 80s.

And so it's really unfortunate that the quality of the data was questioned. I think it would really set Brazil back and tropical -- the war on tropical deforestation globally if Brazil moves away from transparency and undermines this amazing deforestation monitoring that has been set up.

You know, the president of (INAUDIBLE) is under stress. That's the agency that -- the space agency where the data are collected is under threat of losing its job right now. And that would be a very major setback.

VAUSE: Do you think that one of the problems here though is that this has been a major undertaking by the people of Brazil. You say the farmers are the ones who have suffered because aide to their land is essential (INAUDIBLE).

[01:49:58] Has the international community not sort of rewarded Brazil financially, you know, for their part in what is crucial to saving a vital piece of the planet especially when it comes to a whole lot of issues. Climate change being the most -- the biggest problem of the Amazon is helping solve right now.

NEPSTAD: Brazil has done a lot of heavy lifting on climate change without enough compensation about seven billion tons of carbon emissions have been kept out of the atmosphere, our CO2 has been kept out of the atmosphere because of the success of the Amazon strategy.

About 1.3 billion dollars worth of compensation has come in from Norway, from Germany and it's just not enough though. I think those are extremely important programs and contributions.


NEPSTAD: Brazil's contribution is more than twice the Obama clean power plant which is, of course, now under threat under the new administration in the United States.

So this is a huge contribution, not to mention the importance of keeping all of the Amazon forest standing for the species that live in it, for the communities that depend upon it. So yes, tremendous success I would say, under appreciated and under compensated.

VAUSE: So in the end of the day we should have, you know, done more to help Brazil help themselves and help all of us at the same time. It's clear though the man they call the Trump of the Tropics has a friend in the White House. Here's a clip of the two leaders back in March.


JAIR BOLSONARO, BRAZILIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Brazil and the United States stand side by side in their efforts to ensure liberty in respect to traditional family lifestyles, respect to God our creator. I think it's the general ideology or the politically correct attitude, and against fake news.

TRUMP: I'm very proud to hear the President use the term fake news.

(END VIDEO CLIP) VAUSE: Great, you know. So the administration withdrew the country from the Paris Climate Change Accord. It seems unlikely to do much about what's happening now in the Amazon so where does that lead the world? What's our Plan B?

NEPSTAD: Well, I think it's not too late. I think that there is still this large group of very powerful farmers and agribusiness companies that want to do the right thing, that see that the world is changing, that see that the markets are more and more demanding zero or low carbon commodities.

And the question is how do we get the incentives right. So I think approaches that are much more collaborative, respectful of Brazil and it's emerging and enormous farm sector and what that means for the world, those trade agreements really need to recognize that. And one of the early opportunities for that has been the E.U. (INAUDIBLE) agreement -- trade agreement. Lots of details to be filled in there. But if that agreement sends a strong signal that the E.U. recognizes and appreciates Brazil's historical efforts to keep the Amazon intact and now shifting our focus to this (INAUDIBLE) but with fair compensation recognizing and really empowering the farmers who were on the front lines keeping forests under (INAUDIBLE) respecting indigenous land that will go a long way.

VAUSE: A good point to end on that. We're out of time but absolutely appreciate you being with us. Thank you. Thank you for the work you do.

NEPSTAD: Thank you.

VAUSE: Next up on CNN NEWSROOM -- the 16 year old who won the largest ever payout for a solo player in an e-sports tournament. Is it really sports. But we'll tell you how many millions he has.


[01:55:07] VAUSE: If videogames are a waste of time then one 16-year- old gamer has wasted his time for a $3 million pay day. That's top prize for solo players of the (INAUDIBLE) world cup. CNN's Clare Sebastian reports this is a tournament which had a ton of cash.


CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they didn't even have to get up from their chairs but several teenagers became overnight millionaires this weekend at the Arthur Ash Stadium in New York. Fortnite's so-called World Cup brought top players from all over the world. And this is the moment the winner, 16 year old Kyle Giersdorf of Pennsylvania, screen name Bugha sealed his victory.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bugha still alive shot going down 10 seconds out, one field left. The final pitch of Fortnight --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bow down. Bow down to Bugha. SEBASTIAN: Giersdorf's prize of $3 million dollars was the largest ever payout for a single player in an e-sport tournaments. For context that is about six times the prize for getting first place in the Tour de France this weekend. More than you get for winning Wimbledon and almost as much as you get for winning the U.S. Open Tennis championship which of course is played in the same stadium as the Fortnite World Cup.

Well the overall price for the event was $30 million dollars. 40 million players competed for ten weeks to qualify and those who made it to the finals were each guaranteed at least $50,000 dollars.

Well, Fortnite is a battle royal style game where players fight to be the last one standing in a dystopian universe filled with zombies and other dangers. And it has a meteoric rise in the two years since its release, it is grown to be one of the world's most popular games played by 125 million people worldwide.

Now this was its first ever so-called world cup, a three day extravaganza designed to keep that audience growing and its fierce competition. The event sold out the 23,000 seat stadium over three days, according to Epic Games and it was watched online by nearly two million people.

Clare Sebastian, CNN -- New York.


VAUSE: There you go.

You've been watching CNN newsroom. I'm John Vause. Thanks for your company.

Stay with us.

Rosemary Church is up after the break. You're watching CNN.