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Ratcliffe DNI Nomination Pulled; Hong Kong Protests Reach Tenth Weekend; Democratic Candidates in Vegas Today; Pedro Pierluisi Sworn in as New Governor of Puerto Rico; North Korea Tests More Missiles; Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone Examined. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired August 3, 2019 - 08:00   ET




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... has stepped down and has chosen Pedro Pierluisi to replace him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A lot of people here are saying they are not happy with that selection.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is the 9th straight weekend of massive public protests in Hong Kong.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This may be the last time we can come on to the streets to demonstrate for our freedom and democracy. As long as there is still a little bit of hope, we will still fight until the end.


ANNOUNCER: This is "New Day Weekend" with Victor Blackwell and Christi Paul.

BLACKWELL: He was announced less than a week ago, and now President Trump says Congressman John Ratcliffe will not be nominated as director of National Intelligence.

PAUL: A the president blamed the press for Ratcliffe's downfall after questions came up over his qualifications. Ratcliffe had very little national security experience and a republican Senate source told CNN there was very little enthusiasm for his confirmation with the intelligence community nervous at the prospect of his nomination as well. From Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, CNN White House Reporter Sarah Westwood with us now. Sarah, what more do we know about where this is going?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christi, Congressman John Ratcliffe said yesterday, that it was his idea to withdraw his own nomination from consideration amid reports that he had embellished his record, that there were bipartisan concerns about his qualifications for the job. But sources tell CNN that President Trump was also personally expressing concerns about what could have been a difficult confirmation process for Ratcliffe. Now he's sort of back to square one. He told reporters as he was

leaving the White House to come here to New Jersey yesterday that he had a short list of names that he would be working through over the weekend, that he would have another pick shortly. But keep in mind that he what soured on Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats months ago.

For weeks he had been telling confidants that wanted to makes a change at ODNI and so for him not to have a nominee in the pipeline and one that had been properly vetted by the White House. Many are saying Ratcliffe was not, has really perplexed some of his allies. Victor and Christi.

BLACKWELL: So Sarah, before we let you go, President Trump called Vladimir Putin this week after seeing a map of those wildfires in Siberia. We - we got a little bit of information about what they did not talk about, the INF Treaty, interference, but we know now there's one other thing that they did discuss.

WESTWOOD: That's right Victor. Beyond President Trump offering U.S. assistance to fight that wildfire in Siberia, sources tell CNN that that conversation also drifted to the fact that the Trump Administration is likely going to have to name a new ambassador to Russia in the weeks ahead because Ambassador Jon Huntsman who's held that role since close to the beginning of the Trump presidency is expected to leave in the weeks ahead. Sources say he's been embarking on something of a farewell tour over the past several weeks having dinners with various diplomats. Something that's been interpreted as a signal that he'll be leaving that post.

Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin did not discuss specific names to replace Huntsman, Victor and Christi but they did discuss the fact that they are going to likely have to face that vacancy soon.

PAUL: All right. Sarah Westwood. Appreciate the update this morning, thank you.

BLACKWELL: All right, let's talk now. We have with us CNN CNN Counterterrorism Analyst Phil Mudd, also a former CIA counterterrorism official. Phil, good morning to you.


BLACKWELL: Let's start here. That was five days. From a tweet on Sunday to a tweet then on Friday morning, or afternoon, in the context of the position first, what do you make of this turbulence around Ratcliffe as the nominee for Director of National Intelligence no less?

MUDD: I think there's one simple question that you got to ask, especially as you go into an election season. There will be questions about the intelligence community and what they say about Russian interference into an election. The intelligence community is part of the government and the executive branch obviously but they're supposed to speak independently. If the president says there's no interference and the intelligence says otherwise, the intel guys have to speak up.

When you looked at what Ratcliffe said, people in the intelligence business are immediately going to say, "If he ever gets nominated and confirmed, is he going to represent the president's view or is he going to represent the view of the intelligence?" That's what got Dan Coats sideways with the president. Dan Coats is a respected republican but he didn't agree with the president and the president got tired of it. So you need somebody who's independent. It didn't look like Ratcliffe fit the bill.

BLACKWELL: Broadly the vetting process here, let's put up, we collected some of, not all, but some of the nominees who bowed out after being announced by the president: Andrew Puzder, Secretary of Labor; Dr. Ronnie Jackson at the V.A.; Vincent Viola and Mark Green at the - the Secretary of the Army, Philip Bilden; Secretary of the Navy Heather Nauert; U.N. Ambassador Ron Vitiello at ICE; Jason Miller, White House Communications Director; Sam Clovis, Undersecretary of Commerce; David Clark in Homeland Security; K. T. McFarland, Ambassador to Singapore; Stephen Moore and Herman Cane at the Federal Reserve Board; again, just some of those who have bowed out after being named. Is this just shoddy work or is there something more here?

MUDD: I think there's a lot of shoddy work here. You look for example at the parallel with the physician who is the president's personal physician, who gives him a great bill of health and all of a sudden, the president says he ought to be the Secretary of Veteran's Affairs? The real interesting part here, the president says, this is about the media, it isn't about the vetting process. If it were about the media they would have pulled Brett Kavanaugh's nomination. The media was much tougher on Kavanaugh I thought in the short five days we had to look at this nomination. I'll tell you why it's not the media.

What happened with Kavanaugh, was republicans said, "Keep going." What happened in this case is it looks like from the media reports, republicans on the Hill said, "Don't keep going. We don't think this guy is confirmable." It wasn't the media. It was people telling the president from his own party, "You got to pull this one."

BLACKWELL: Let's talk about who is next potentially.

MUDD: Yes.

BLACKWELL: Two sources tell CNN that the Deputy DNI Sue Gordon is being considered. But is not a shoo-in, or even very likely that she will be the acting director of national intelligence and that there is a process now to look for other candidates. Are you concerned that the president is looking for other options instead of going to possibly the next person in line?

MUDD: I'm not concerned yet. I know Sue a bit. I think I would be surprised if she were nominated, not because she's not qualified but because the president has said, the intel guys and women have run amok. How does he then say I'm going to take Dan Coats deputy, the same Dan Coats he critiqued and say, "Despite the fact that the insiders have run amok I'm going to nominate an insider." I think the interesting question is even if he nominates an outsider who has qualifications, the president has set up that outsider for a tough hearing. Here's the question Victor, whoever it is, John Doe, Jane Doe, the president said this in public to the media in August of 2019, just a couple of days ago about Russian interference. The intel guys have said that who Mr. or Mrs. Nominee will you represent? Will you represent the president's view or will you represent the intel view? Boy that puts somebody on the hot seat right away. The president is setting this up for a tough nomination process.

Well speaking of nomination processes and Russia, we know there will possibly be one for the next ambassador to Russia. We learned about this phone call between President Trump and President Putin. Primarily, they talked about the fires in Siberia but also the need for a new ambassador soon. Is that's something you would expect a U.S. President to discuss with an adversarial nation -- the leader of, especially Russia?

MUDD: I didn't find that unusual. You look at what the situation that the United States is going into, especially with the withdrawal of the INF Treaty. You look at the issues we've dealt withs Russia on everything from sanctions to interference in the elections. I can see a Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, saying this is critically important that you have representation here. I thought that seemed appropriate to me and the president is going to have to move forward and make the difficult decision. Does he pick a diplomat or does he pick a Trump insider but I thought the conversation made sense.

BLACKWELL: All right, we'll see what's next for Ambassador Huntsman and for the U.S.-Russian relationship. Phil Mudd, glad to have you on a Saturday morning, sir.

MUDD: Thank you. Thank you. It's hot here.

BLACKWELL: All right. Thanks Phil.

PAUL: So listen, earlier this morning police said protesters in Hong Kong were marching outside of their authorized route and blocking a tunnel to mainland China now.

BLACKWELL: Yes, the protesters have now returned to their planned path but China has already issued warnings that violence will not be tolerated. This is now the ninth weekend of protests as tensions run pretty high and unrest continues in Hong Kong.

PAUL: We want to go live to CNN Senior International Correspondent Ivan Watson who is in Hong Kong. Ivan, we just talked about how this is the ninth weekend. You have seen a pattern of protesters veering off of the authorized route? And how dangerous is that?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORREPSONDENT: Absolutely. They've moved off of it. There have been plenty of warnings, week after week but as you can see, demonstrators are, for the moment, occupying this very important commercial thoroughfare. And they're outside the police station in this neighborhood aiming lasers at it and yelling things like, "Hey, the police have to serve us, not the city officials."

There are deliberate provocations that have gone on throughout this standoff, this remarkable standoffs, an unprecedented political crisis for this former British colony. And I can't give you numbers for how many demonstrators are out in the streets against the local government, against the police right now because this is a kind of ad hoc improvised and unauthorized protest that extends -- I've walked more than a mile along this busy thoroughfare and all of the shops are closed around here.

We have seen definitely violence between the demonstrators and the police, ramping up, week after week in ways that Hong Kong really seen before.


There is an economic burden that the city -- this international financial hub is increasingly starting to bear and there is a loss in confidence, according to polls, among the residents of the city for their own leadership, for the future of the city as well, growing kind of pessimism about what's going on here. And when you talk to these people, they're predominantly young. I would call this is a youth uprising.

Many of them say that one or two of their parents do not agree with what they're doing that there are divisions within families about whether or not it makes sense to protest against the authorities. And the Chinese government ominously is saying it will not tolerate this. It's denounced these people as violent but we have not yet seen China directly intervene here in Hong Kong. Back to you Victor and Christi.

PAUL: All right. Ivan Watson, we appreciate it so much. Thank you. Do stay safe there, you and the crew.

BLACKWELL: Three people are killed on a bluff collapses on a California beach and experts warn this could happen again.

PAUL: And more than a dozen democratic candidates are set to participate in a public service union forum in Nevada later today. What we expect to see there. That's ahead.



BLACKWELL: At least three people have died; two others are hurt after a bluff collapsed on top of them.

PAUL: This was just north of San Diego. Witnesses say the scene was just terrible. Take a look at this.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was real hard to watch, and it was unnerving, actually.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People in Encinitas shocked after a bluff collapsed yesterday afternoon.

ROBERT ROSSBACH, CARLSBAD RESIDENT: A boulder from the cliff had fallen and there were chairs and toys and towels scattered everywhere.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This was a hard scene for a lot of people to process. A large group had been set up on the sand, a bit too close, apparently, to the bluffs, as chunks began to give away. Five people were buried.

MIKE STEIN, CHIEF OF ENCINTAS FIRE DEPARTMENT: We had an active life guard in that tower who actually reported to us that he actually heard it slough off.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Life guards jumped in immediately; the fire department arrived just four minutes later.

JIM PEPPERDINE, ENCINTAS RESIDENT: They were digging out a woman, frantically digging her out and they managed to get her out and there was already another person removed and there was still another person underneath - trapped underneath some pretty good sized boulders. It was pretty devastating.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Equipment was brought in to move all of that debris and service dog teams searched for people trapped under the broken cliffs. The area that broke off was about 25 by 30 feet, 10 feet tall at its highest point.

LARRY GILES, CAPTAIN OF THE ENCINTAS MARINE SAFETY DIVISION: This is a natural eroding bluff that we see up and down the San Diego County coastline, and the state of California. Unfortunately this afternoon, it naturally eroded. It fell away from the bluff and came off in a slab form and landed on the beach where (inaudible).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In the end, three people died, and two were injured.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is absolutely sad, and watching them counsel the victims, either their parents or relatives or whoever they were, they were pretty distraught.


PAUL: Well experts say another collapse certainly could happen in that same area. There's just no way to prognosticate when that can happen. Homeowners in that area, they say, do not need to worry, though.

BLACKWELL: Well, Nevada's getting a lot of attention today. Nineteen democratic presidential candidates are set to participate in a public service union forum.

PAUL: Former Vice President Joe Biden, Senators Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders will be in attendance there, among others. Each candidate will address questions from public service workers; so some will host community events and town halls and panel discussions while they're there in the state. CNN Political Analyst and White House Reporter for "The Washington Post," Seung Min Kim is with us now. Thank you so much Seung Min for being here. I know that when we watched the debates this past week, particularly Wednesday with Joe Biden, President Obama came up a lot, was a bit under attack. Mayor Buttigieg has a thought on that and why it may not be the best strategy. Let's listen to what he has to say here.


PETE BUTTIGIEG, 2020 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE AND MAYOR OF SOUTH BEND: I am a little puzzled that when we are all running against President

Trump, some folks felt the need to run against President Obama. You know with the benefit of hindsight, there are things we might wish advanced even further but we're talking about one of the most deservedly respected people in this country and certainly in the party. There's a reason why among the American people, President Obama is dramatically more popular than President Trump.


PAUL: What is that reason? Is it policy? Is the reason that President Obama is so popular because of his policy, or is it because he's seen as somebody who brought maybe more respect and dignity, some say, to the presidency?

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST AND WHITE HOUSE REPORTER FOR "THE WASHINGTON POST": I think it's a combination of a lot of those things and remember, during the democratic debate, former President Obama was primarily criticized on a lot of his policies and the democratic candidates were careful to point out that they did not necessarily agree with his position, or policies on immigration.

They wanted to expand healthcare beyond what President Obama did and they had some issues with his trade policies as well. But in the last couple of days, President Trump has seized on to say, look, democratic candidates are running now against Obama and I think that criticism is something they definitely do not want to hear from President Trump which you heard during the rally in Cincinnati on Thursday night and that's why they're kind of backtracking a little bit saying we shouldn't be criticizing the president. You saw how warmly Joe Biden said, "I don't know why they're going against barrack, my friend" as you saw that there.

But I do think that there had been some simmering tensions for some time in the Democratic Party over President Obama's policies on immigration. I mean, I covered immigration extensively and I just remember when the Latino community was so angry calling him Deporter in Chief for the millions of deportations under his administration. I think that's what Julian Castro especially encapsulated. He encapsulated that anger why he and other candidates such as Elizabeth Warren are pushing for more generous and looser policies on immigration such as decriminalizing border crossings.

PAUL: Yes, but that does not fly with a lot of people -- decriminalizing it as a whole. I mean how much life do you think that argument has?


KIM: I mean it doesn't fly with a lot of the general public but also a lot with the Democratic Party. I was really struck by the strong words of Jeh Johnson who was Obama's Homeland Security Secretary. A few weeks ago, he wrote an op-ed in the "Washington Post" arguing against this idea that is gaining traction against Canada such as Castro and Warren and other. He said if we decriminalize border crossings, it's basically telling the world we have open borders. Now that is a really stunning statement from another democrat about - about a policy that the democrats are espousing and we know President Trump, immigration has been his fixation, his biggest focus issue. And clearly, republicans, the more that democrats talk about decriminalize border crossings the happier that President Trump, his reelection campaign and the RNC is going to be.

PAUL: OK, so let's talk about another issue that keeps coming up, particularly for vice president -- former Vice President Biden and that's healthcare. How do democrats sell this idea of Medicare for All if there is skepticism about the government. Do people not sit back sometimes, I've heard some say, why would I entrust my health care to this organization that I distrust to handle so many other things.

KIM: I think that's a great question. Those questions is what really republicans are hoping on to make the idea of a single payer government-run healthcare system that much less popular because republicans tell me all the time that why the concept of everybody having healthcare, everybody going under this one presumably simple system is on its face popular. Once you drill down to the details, that's when the idea of a single payer system really loses popularity among the general electorate. And I think of all the candidates, Bernie Sanders, he's a true believer in this idea and he has really embraced the fact that, yes, private insurance will eventually go away.

You know taxes may go up but it will all balance out in the long run. But you've seen how carefully some of the other candidates have had to tread around those unpopular details. Biden has gone after Kamala Harris for her healthcare plan saying they're not - Kamala Harris is not being up front about the fact that this could raise taxes on the middle class. Whereas, you know, and then the Harris campaign would shoot back and say, "Well we need to expand coverage. The former vice president's plan would actually not expand coverage for all. That's not the goal here." But it really is a dividing line within the Democratic Party right now.

We saw that in both nights of the CNN debate and there's no resolution just yet on what the party believes on healthcare.

PAUL: And we'll have to see if maybe we get some more clarity on that as we head into the next debate. So thank you - in September - thank you so much. Good to have you here.

KIM: Thanks for having me.

PAUL: Absolutely.

BLACKWELL: Well after weeks of protests, Puerto Rico has a new governor. But now, his opponents have some doubts.


[08:25:00] PAUL: So glad to have you with us here. I'm Christi Paul.

BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell.

PAUL: There is a new governor that's been sworn into office in Puerto Rico. Pedro Pierluisi took the oath yesterday. He's replacing Ricardo Rossello who stepped down after weeks of protest against him.

BLACKWELL: But opponents are questioning the legitimacy of this appointment. CNN's Leyla Santiago is in San Juan where people have been holding rallies. Leyla, so why are they unsure? What's the question here?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the question is how can he be sworn in as governor if the Senate in Puerto Rico has not confirmed him. You see, yesterday, Pierluisi went before the House of Representatives here in Puerto Rico. They gave him the green light; he got all 26 votes that he needed, but the Senate says they're not going to take up his appointment as Secretary of State which is next in line to be governor, should the island need one, until next week.

They're not even going to take up the issue to discuss and/or vote until Monday/Wednesday. So, that's the question, how can he be sworn in as governor if he hasn't been confirmed by the Senate? All ready the municipality of San Juan has said that come 8:00 a.m. Monday morning, they plan to file a lawsuit questioning the constitutionality. There are others who are looking to do the same and already, Pierluisi has said that he expected that to happen and that if the Senate does not confirm him next week he will step down, so a lot of questions.

While this is certainly a big development as the island moves forward, still uncertainty that is looming over the island. I can tell you, a lot of the protesters that have been on the streets for days, well, weeks now, really, really celebrated the moment that governor Ricardo Rossello stepped down yesterday at 5:00 p.m. They already had countdown clocks going about ten minutes before. They were hugging, cheering, tearing up in some cases, celebrating that moment but those protesters didn't immediately leave.

That is because many don't want Pierluisi in place. They believe that that's some of the same that they've been protesting and others are questioning the constitutionality of his appointment. So next in line after the Secretary of State is the Secretary of Justice. She has said she does not want the job, but if she is called to do so, she will be in place to serve as governor so we're all waiting to see what will happen next week.

PAUL: All right. Leyla Santiago, appreciate the update, thank you. PAUL: Here the White House is brushing off news of missile tests in

North Korea. Why President Trump says North Korea's missile tests do not violate an agreement that he reached with Kim Jong-un.



BLACKWELL: President Trump is downplaying two rounds of missile launches this week in North Korea. During previous talks the president and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un agreed to stop testing intercontinental range missiles; those are long-range missiles. But the agreement does not cover the testing of short-range missiles or other weapons like those tested this week. Joining me now Retired Rear Admiral John Kirby, CNN Military and Diplomatic Analyst. Admiral, welcome back.


BLACKWELL: So while the shorter range missiles may not violate an agreement between President Trump and Mr. Kim. Let's read the tweet from the president earlier. He said, "Kim Jong-un and North Korea have tested three short-range missiles over the last number of days. These missiles tests are not a violation of our signed Singapore Agreement, nor was there discussion of short-range missiles when we shook hands. There may be a United Nations violation but..." Right? We don't need to read the rest of it. That last sentence is important here. There may be a United Nations violation, but, the president seems to defend Kim and discount the U.S.'s seat on the U.N. Security Council and the sanctions against North Korea.

KIRBY: Yes, and it's not that it may be. Those short-range missile tests were in fact violations of the U.N. Security Council resolutions. I mean so Kim is clearly acting contrary to those international norms and those international policies. So look, I mean I think - I think Trump is trying to keep a measure of dialogue going. He knows the talks with the north have been stalled. They haven't been able to get anywhere, either team. There's a lot of work to do. The Hanoi Summit ended in failure so he's trying to, I think, keep a rapport with Kim Jong-un going to the degree that he can to try to get some -- breathe some oxygen into these lower-level negotiations.

But again, I think what strikes me is the difference between Trump and the rest of his team. He's still praising Kim. He's still trying to placate Kim. He's still trying to look past what Kim Jong-un is trying to do to - to urge the United States to give up more concessions. At the same time, his team is not on the same page and has been able to make very little traction with respect to getting the north to move back on anything.

BLACKWELL: Let's turn now to the Taliban and these talks that are happening to try to get to some peace agreement to end the war in Afghanistan. This latest round heading into them in Doha. We heard that there's an expectation from the U.S. envoy that there would be some -- some good agreement that comes out of this. How likely is, by September 1st, the deadline by the new elections in late September in Afghanistan that there will be some agreement? Is everyone as optimistic as the U.S. envoy?

KIRBY: I think there's good reason for some skepticism here. First of all, I applaud the efforts I think the Special Envoy Khalilzad is working very hard to do this. I think he's working in earnest to do it and I think it is important for us to remember that the only way to solve this war is diplomatically and through a peaceful solution and that means talking to the Taliban so I applaud the efforts but I think we need to be pragmatic as we go into the next month or so.

We've sat down with the Taliban before. They have reneged on commitments before. They cannot be trusted. And so when I hear the special envoy say, "Hey look. We're not talking about any withdrawal until the Taliban show us tangible, credible moves to renounce terrorism, to get back at the table with the Afghans." I'm encouraged by that but I do think we need to look at this fairly pragmatically. We've been here before and it hasn't gone well.

BLACKWELL: You know, let me read you the single first line of some CNN reporting and the discussion of scaleback. Aside from the troop scale back, the reporting is that the Trump Administration is in the midst of carrying out a dramatic scaling back of the U.S. embassy in Afghanistan with a goal of cutting half of the embassy's personnel by the end of September. That's according to five sources familiar with the matter. Is that smart at this point to start dialing back the diplomatic deployment there to Afghanistan?

KIRBY: I think it's always a good idea to look at embassy staffing anywhere around the world and be willing to modify it based on the conditions in that country that you're working in. What bothers me about this one Victor, is it seems to be driven by an artificial time line by the president to affect his own reelection campaign coming up. He's in full campaign season right now and even Pompeo, just four days ago said, "Hey, we're going to do this. We're going to get troops out by the election and I'm going to make a comparative reduction in embassy staff."

What worries me is, this isn't being driven by sthe conditions on the ground that it's being driven by electoral politics here at home, and at particular at the embassy it's being driven by Secretary Pompeo's desire to gain favor with the president. And that - so that - that concerns me. I guess we'll have to wait to see exactly who they bring down and how and what the numbers are and in what capacity and what skill sets before we can make a final determination about the wisdom of it but just - just on the face of it it bothers me because it seems very political.

BLACKWELL: I just got the wrap from the timekeepers in the control room but I want to get your input on the breaking news this morning. The defense secretary, Mark Esper, in route to Australia is discussing deploying intermediate range missiles to Asia. Your thoughts?

KIRBY: Well, look I think this is all based on why we got out of the INF Treaty, right? Because China wasn't a party to it and China was developing these capabilities. So I understand where the Secretary of Defense is coming from. The question is how fast can we get these systems developed and I think the Pentagon says it's going to be quite a while. And number two, where are you going to put them? You're going to have allies and partner nations that are willing to host these kinds of capabilities and that could place those allies and partners at greater risk against the Chinese threat. So I think there's a delicate dance here that's going to have to be done in the region, probably one of the reasons why the secretary is in the region, to get nations on board with this kind of deployment because we can't just do it on our own.

BLACKWELL: All right, Retired Rear Admiral John Kirby, always good to have your insight, sir.

KIRBY: Thanks Victor.

PAUL: Well right now, Russia's Arctic is burning. We're talking about Siberia, of course. Wildfires releasing dangerous amounts of carbon dioxide right now. We're going to take a look at what's being done to save the environment and what's going on there right now.



BLACKWELL: So, right now, Russia is facing a climate emergency in the Arctic. Out of control wildfires have been raging in Siberia. This has been going on since June.

PAUL: And now there's melting permafrost releasing dangerous amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. CNN's Frederik Pleitgen reports from the front lines of this - what's being dubbed an ecological disaster.

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hell fire on what should be one of the coldest places on earth, Russia's arctic is burning. Firefighters we meet near the far eastern city of Yakutsk, struggling to keep the flames at bay.

STANISLAV ZAITSEV, FIREFIGHTER: (through interpreter) We have a lot of land that is hard to reach, so we need heavy machinery. By the time we get there, it can spread very far.

PLEITGEN: This year, they've spread extremely far. Fires are raging in almost all of eastern Russia. By comparison, this would be the same area in the U.S. Siberia's wildfires have gotten worse as our planet warms up. At the same time, the greenhouse gases they spew into the air contribute to further global warming. Fifty megatons of carbon dioxide blown into the atmosphere by fires in the arctic regions in June alone, scientists say leaving scorched earth behind.

So here you see one of the reasons why the fires are so dangerous and spreading so quickly. There's a lot of dead undergrowth and dead trees here in this area that not only catch fire really quickly but also store tons of carbon that's now being released into the atmosphere. Towns like Yakutsk have been under heavy smoke for months while their foundation is literally melting away as their planet gets hotter. This is what the region looks underground, it's built on permafrost, now getting weaker as temperatures this summer soared into the 90s.

The head of Yakutsk's Permafrost Institute says the world needs to cut back emissions fast.

ALEXANDER FEDOROV, YAKUTSK PERMAFROST INSTITUTE: (Through interpreter) The depth of melting is growing, he says. The point of no return is almost here. We are at a critical point when it comes to permafrost. And this is what it looks like when the point of no return is reached. Giant sinkholes like this one, are popping up all over Siberia and growing. The sound you hear is ice and frozen earth breaking off; climate change in action. The Russians call this place the gateway to hell, because it looks almost like the earth is crumbling and the underworld is coming to light and there are fears in this region that fast erosion like this could destroy entire cities very soon.

Melting permafrost also releases huge amounts of carbon stored in the melting ice. Further fuelling the hellish flames now eating their way through Russia's arctic and affecting our climate back home. Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Yakutsk, Russia.

PAUL: So, listen there's an Atlanta area officer-police officer who is recovering after he was dragged by a car and thrown on to a major interstate.

BLACKWELL: Dash cam video shows Officer Nathan Daly, watch this, speaking to a driver during a traffic stop. And then suddenly the driver takes off as the officer holds on a second officer got into a patrol car, followed them on to busy interstate 285. You can see the driver sideswipe another car, knocked the officer off. The driver eventually crashed, tried to run before being chased down and arrested.

PAUL: And the thing is, that officer is OK.

BLACKWELL: That is remarkable that that man is still alive.

PAUL: All right. Yes, Take a look at it again. Can you imagine the panic in his partner seeing that happen? And the man, as I understand it, side swapping cars to get the officer off of his car allegedly, that is something.

BLACKWELL: OK, hard turn here. More rain, chance for flooding expected along the river basins that feed into the Gulf of Mexico today.

PAUL: And that could have an impact on the so-called dead zones in the gulf. We're going to explain what's going on here.



BLACKWELL: Our new original series "The Movies" continues tonight with the '60s. Here's a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I value your courage, Miss ...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Trench. Sylvia Trench(ph). I admire your luck -- Mr.?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you grew up in the '60s, it's hard for you not to identify with Bond. He was like, I'm kicking ass, I'm taking names, I'm making quips, I got your girl.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When did you say you had to leave?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So when the first James Bond film was made, a lot of risks were taken and Sean Connery was one of those.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: James, where on earth you have been? I've been searching London for you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ian Fleming and others were not super confident about Connery in that role. But the audience reception really proved that Connery could pull off Bond.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As something I read about you said you weren't living up to your image.

SEAN CONNERY, FILM ACTOR: Would they pay the fines if I lived up to the image.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sean Connery was so handsome, there's a kind of naughty fun just in his smile. You felt as though you didn't need to know him. You weren't asking for an internal performance from him. He was somebody you could project the fantasy on.


BLACKWELL: It's always good to have a naughty smile in your pocket. Watch "The Movies" Sunday night at 9:00 only on CNN.

PAUL: All right, this is serious. The Gulf of Mexico facing a critical test today, more rain and more flooding along river basins, that feed into the gulf and this could lead into one of the biggest dead zones on record.

BLACKWELL: So a dead zone is an environment that can no longer support ocean life because of low amounts of oxygen. For now, it's smaller than researchers expected after Hurricane Barry helped churn the waters. We're also keeping an eye on multiple tropical systems. It is almost that time to get to the height. CNN Meteorologist Allison Chinchar with the latest. All right, so what are you watching?

ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: So let's start with the good news here, OK? Let's start with Tropical Storm Erick which has now moved away from Florida. It brought very heavy rain to the big island but has now pretty much dissipated. So now eyes all move on to Tropical Storm Flossie. At one point we thought this could make landfall over portions of Hawaii. Now that looks unlikely as it continues to veer off to the north. With that said, it could still bring heavy rainfall, some rip currents and even some high surf. So again, at the end of the day good news. More good news, now let's transition to the Mississippi River which is finally expected to drop below flood stage tomorrow, on Sunday.

This will be the first time in 210 days that it drops below flood stage. Keep in mind that crushes the previous record of 135 days set all the way back in 1927. We have more rain on the way for today across portions of Texas and Oklahoma, even Kansas but you may be asking yourself what does that have anything to do with the Mississippi River specifically at Baton Rouge gauge.

Here's why. Over 40 percent of the contiguous U.S. drains into that lower Mississippi River basin. So, anywhere you get rain in this region ends up coming through Baton Rouge. In the short term, that basically means you're going to get some localized flooding, flash flooding things like that. In the long term what this means is something called dead zones.

Here's how this works. You have the Mississippi river, all of that rainwater flows into it but it isn't just water runoff, it's agriculture runoff, things like nitrogen and phosphorus that are on farmland gets flowing into that Mississippi River. Well that Mississippi River flows into the Gulf of Mexico along with all that agricultural runoff as well. That agricultural runoff helps to fuel phytoplankton; they love having that extra nitrogen in the water.


The problem is when that phytoplankton sinks down to the bottom of the ocean and slowly starts to decompose, it deprives that area of the ocean from oxygen which sea life needs. So what ends up happening is you have those fish either end up swimming out to much deeper portions of the Gulf of Mexico or they simply just disappear. This is a problem because not only is this an economic issue, because a lot of fishermen, they rely on being stay close to shore to be able to fish and collect for their economic livelihood, but also, Victor and Christi, one of the other big things, tourism. No one wants to be on a beach near a dead zone. It smells. You get dead fish that wash up. They end up having to close down a lot of beaches to tourism. So it's a big economic impact but also a big impact to the tourism industry as well.

PAUL: All right. Allison Chinchar. Great animation.

BLACKWELL: Yes, big up to Haley (ph) in the animation department. I don't even know where you find the fish to put into this...

CHINCHAR: It's all Haley's (ph) imagination.

PAUL: There you go. Very nice. Thanks Allison.

BLACKWELL: Thank you for being with us. We're back at 10:00 Eastern for an hour of "Newsroom."

PAUL: "Smerconish" is up with you next after a quick break.