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CNN NEWSROOM

Trump: We Need "Meaningful Background Checks"; Gun Massacres Have America on Edge; North Korea Fires More Short-Range Missiles; White House Wants More Immigration Raids; Democrats Try to Win Supporters at Iowa State Fair; Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Activists Hold Sit-in at Airport; Trump Administration Reverses Environmental Policy; Pakistan Protests India's Actions in Kashmir. Aired 5-6a ET

Aired August 10, 2019 - 05:00   ET

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


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NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): As pressure mounts on President Trump and Congress for gun law reform, Trump says he's open to expanding background checks but some say it's all just talk.

Ten straight works of protesters in Hong Kong; this time thousands of demonstrators are holding a sit-in at the airport. We'll take you there lives.

Scientists warn the Trump administration is slowly reversing environmental protections and those decisions are coming from the very top. We have a CNN exclusive report.

Welcome to viewers in the U.S. and around the world. I'm Natalie Allen coming to you live from Atlanta. CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.

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ALLEN: Our top story: the alleged gunman in last weekend's murderous rampage in El Paso, Texas, apparently confessed at the time of his arrest and told police he was targeting Mexicans. The new details are contained in the arrest affidavit, a sworn document by police about the facts of the case.

It states the 21-year-old suspect told police, "I'm the shooter." The affidavit also reveals why he drove more than 600 miles or 1,000 kilometers, from his home near Dallas, to carry out the attack.

He told police he chose a city far from his home in the belief his family and friends would not know he was the gunman; 22 people died in the carnage, including eight Mexican nationals; 24 others were hurt. The widow of one victim, whose funeral was Friday in Mexico, had a message for the U.S. president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROSA MARIA VALDES, WIDOW (through translator): I would ask Mr. Trump to not laugh again when someone says to kill us. He laughed, together with everyone else, and that's not right. We aren't animals to be hunted in the street, as if we were animals.

So what can we expect?

What respect do we have?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ALLEN: The U.S. president is again offering vague assurances that something will be done to improve background checks on gun purchases. President Trump has said similar things before, after other mass shootings but little has changed. CNN's Pamela Brown has our report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We want to take the guns out of the hands of crazy, demented, sick people.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump claiming he will do something on gun control.

TRUMP: I think we could get something really good done. I think we can have some really meaningful background checks.

BROWN: But it is not clear what.

TRUMP: I think that the Republicans are going to be great and lead the charge, along with the Democrats. I spoke yesterday to Nancy Pelosi. We had a great talk. I spoke to Chuck Schumer. We had a great talk.

BROWN: The president says he has a commitment to take up background checks from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has been under pressure from Democrats to bring the Senate back from its five-week recess and even facing protesters at his Kentucky home.

TRUMP: He's totally on board.

BROWN: But McConnell's spokesman today saying the senator leader hasn't endorsed anything, adding the Senate won't come back early and saying McConnell has only promised to let the Senate discuss background check and red flag warning legislation when it returns.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Those are two items that for sure will be front and center as we see what we can come together on and pass.

BROWN: The president also talking with the National Rifle Association's Wayne LaPierre, tweeting today that: "Their very strong views can be fully represented and respected."

TRUMP: I have a great relationship with the NRA. They're really good people. They're great patriots. They love our country. They love our country so much. And, frankly, I really think they're going to get there also.

BROWN: In a statement, LaPierre warning lawmakers: "The NRA opposes any legislation that unfairly infringes upon the rights of law-abiding citizens."

And while some analysts believe a bruising leadership battle inside of the NRA weakened its influence in Washington, Trump says he will take their calls and wants their support in 2020.

TRUMP: I think in the end Wayne and the NRA will either be there or maybe will be a little bit more neutral. And that would be OK, too. BROWN: After LaPierre warned Trump earlier this week his base

wouldn't like background checks, the president today said this about his supporters:

TRUMP: I think my base relies very much on common sense and they rely --

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TRUMP: -- on me in terms of telling them what is happening.

BROWN: The president was asked how his pledges this time around are any different from after the Parkland shooting, when he made promises and did not follow through. Well, the president said he never said then what he is saying now.

But after the Parkland shooting, he did support expanding background checks, only to back down under pressure from the NRA -- Pamela Brown, CNN, the White House.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ALLEN: Let's talk about it with our guest, Thomas Gift is joining us, a lecturer in political science at University College London.

Thank you for being with us.

THOMAS GIFT, UNIVERSITY COLLEGE LONDON: Thank you.

ALLEN: Let's talk about what we just heard from the president. We have heard promises from him before. Multiple gun massacres have occurred since Mr. Trump became president but he hasn't taken action. Let's listen right here to the president, speaking at the NRA convention in April of this year. Here it is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: To all the radicals in Congress want to take away your voice, your rights and they especially want to take away your guns, you know that. They want to take away your guns. You better get out there and vote. You better get out there and vote.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ALLEN: Well, does that sound like a president who is ready to stand up to the powerful gun lobby?

GIFT: It certainly does not. And I'm of the opinion that -- I'm highly skeptical that anything is really going to come out of this. Certainly, you hope that the mood will change but for Republicans in Washington, gun control is really the third rail of American politics. Touch it and you die. I don't think Mitch McConnell is serious about this.

If Mitch McConnell was serious about this, he would put Congress back into session. He would say, we're going to grab some high-profile Republicans and Democrats, preferably from red states so it doesn't seem like it's the province of coastal elites, and we're going to get some things done on background checks, on limiting or banning assault rifles and also on so-called red flag laws.

Instead, he hasn't done this. He's essentially just kicked the can down the road and said we'll deal with this in September.

ALLEN: Right. And an overwhelming number of Americans, according to a poll by NPR, favor background checks for gun purchases. Some 89 percent think it is a good idea. We know there was an assault gun ban years ago. But it was able to expire during the Bush administration.

The thing about it is, it's remarkable that you have Americans gunning down Americans, over and over again, but there's not the political will. That must sound outrageous to so many people not in the United States.

And yet, here we are in an election cycle. But there seem to be doubts that anything is going to happen. It's like, what would make something happen?

GIFT: Yes, it's very unfortunate. As you suggested, this is actually one rare issue where there is bipartisan support. Large majorities favor reasonable restrictions on guns. And the fact that nothing is able to get accomplished in Washington is really a testament to the power and influence and muscle of the National Rifle Association.

I think that this also feeds into our electoral politics, because Republicans, in particular, their greatest threat when running for office is from being primaried, not from the center of general elections.

So they have every incentive to rush the political right, because they know if they don't do that, the National Rifle Association is going to endorse another candidate, is going to put money behind another candidate.

And I think that in large part explains the reluctance of Republicans, particularly, to take a strong position on guns.

ALLEN: Now we have criticism over the president's visit to El Paso, when many feel like he wasn't showing compassion and empathy. He talked about himself more in the hospital.

There's this controversial photo, the first lady holding an orphaned baby. That baby's parents were killed in this massacre. And the president is flashing his thumbs up, which he is oft to do.

This photograph is unsettling.

Do you think that it will resonate in the campaign season?

GIFT: I think it reflects the tone-deafness and his inability to empathize with voters, even in the most raw of situations. He was also seen bragging about his crowds in El Paso in a hospital, just days after --

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GIFT: -- this incredible gun violence occurred.

This is a real problem. This president is unable to connect with voters at this kind of very basic level. He's unable to console them. And if there is one role that presidents need to serve, it's that, in times of tragedy, they're able to bring people together. And Donald Trump has, unfortunately, shown an inability to do that.

ALLEN: And I have to ask you, you're in London, how is this epidemic in the United States being viewed globally?

We're now know that other countries are warning their citizens about visiting the United States. Those warnings coming from Uruguay, Japan, Ireland, New Zealand. Japan said, "Be aware of the U.S. because of its gun society."

How are we looked upon now?

GIFT: I think it's very unfortunate, the way we're looked upon, as a huge outlier, as a country that is unable to get the political will to actually achieve effective gun control.

I think here in London and elsewhere, there's a lot of curiosity and disdain and just a lot of question marks about why things aren't able to be done. And so, I think that's a big question that Americans have to answer, especially as they try to project the role in the world and their sense of kind of -- their morality in the world.

ALLEN: Yes, it's unusual to see other countries saying, don't go to the United States. That's not been the role that the United States has played in the world. It is certainly an epidemic and an issue that this country cannot seem to get around. We appreciate your insights. Thanks so much for joining us, Thomas Gift there in London.

GIFT: Thank you.

ALLEN: Since the mass shootings last week in Texas and Ohio, remember, there was also one in California the week before, America has been on edge. Across the country, there is anxiety at the prospect of another rampage. CNN's Ed Lavandera is in El Paso with more on the fear and fallout of the shootings that killed at least 31 people.

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ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): "Not in my hometown." The accused racist terrorist in El Paso is telling investigators he chose the border city instead of Allen, Texas, where he's from, some 10 hours away, because he believed if he pulled off his deadly attack in another city, his family and friends wouldn't know it was him.

Three sources with knowledge of the investigation tell CNN Patrick Crusius expressed shame at the idea of doing it near his home.

Throughout the country, the El Paso gunman's actions has already put people on edge. This 20-year old is now facing a terror threat charge, striking fear inside a Springfield, Missouri, Walmart after walking through the store dressed like this.

LT. MIKE LUCAS, SPRINGFIELD POLICE DEPARTMENT: There were people hiding outside behind the barriers and businesses sand it was pretty chaotic.

LAVANDERA: It's the latest example of angst and anxiety across America, from Times Square in New York, where a motorcycle backfiring sent people running, to a mall in Utah where a sign crashing to the ground had shoppers scrambling to safety.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We didn't know what was going on until somebody went in to tell us we feed to leave the place. So we just jump basically ran.

LAVANDERA: A Costco in California was evacuated after reports of a possible gunman inside. All of these incidents and others like it just this week.

And while protesters plead with Washington to act...

-- Walmart today took the first actions since the shootings, deciding to stop playing violent movies in their TV sections and eliminating displays of violent video games but still planning to sell the games as well as guns.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ALLEN: Ed Lavandera reporting there from El Paso.

Coming up here, South Korea says the North has fired yet another round of projectiles. What's behind this latest launch and why it play have something to do with military drills involving the United States, that's coming up.

Plus, rescue operations underway in China after a deadly typhoon lashes through the East Coast. Derek Van Dam will have that for us.

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ALLEN: Welcome back.

In the Korean Peninsula, Seoul said Pyongyang fired another round of projectiles into the sea earlier on Saturday. A U.S. official says they were short-range ballistic missiles, similar to other recent launches by North Korea. The launch coming ahead of planned U.S.- South Korea military exercises on Sunday.

Let's go to our Ivan Watson. He's in Hong Kong.

Those military exercises usually prompt some action by North Korea but is there something else going on here, Ivan?

What do you make of it?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Everybody scratching their heads, trying to figure out what Pyongyang is really doing here.

What we do know here is what the South Korean military has said, which was that missiles were launched at 5:34 am and 5:50 am local time. And the short-range missiles travel the distance of 400 kilometer, that's around 250 miles.

This is the fifth such salvo of short-range ballistic missiles to be fired by North Korea in a period of 2.5 weeks. If you go back to July 25th and July 31st, August 2nd, August 6th then August 10th.

On August 6th, North Korea published a statement on its state media news agency, basically slamming upcoming U.S.-South Korean joint military exercises. And that's what top South Korean security and defense officials have concluded as well. They're predicting that there will be possibly more launches by North Korea in the days and weeks ahead as well.

As it has said that the joint military exercises are a violation, as it put it, of the spirit of cooperation that has been engendered by face-to-face meetings, three now, between the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un and U.S. president Trump.

Hours before this salvo, President Trump spokes to journalists in Washington and he was celebrating what he described as a very beautiful letter he'd received from the North Korean dictator, take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: He really wrote a beautiful three-page -- right from top to bottom, in a really beautiful letter.

He gave me a great letter. I would love to give it to you but I don't think it would be appropriate. But it was a very personal letter. It was a great letter. He talked about what he's doing. He's not happy with the testing. It's a very small testing that he did. But he wasn't happy with the testing. He put that in the letter.

But he also sees a great future for North Korea. And so we'll see how it all works out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WATSON: By tests, President Trump is apparently referring to the joint military exercises that Pyongyang does not like between the U.S. and South Korea.

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WATSON: He has gone on record several times, saying he's not bothered by the short-range ballistic missile launches. The key in President Trump's mind is that nuclear tests are not taking place, intercontinental ballistic missile are not taking place.

But other U.S. allies are not in agreement. For example, the British foreign office has said that these ballistic launches are definitely in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions, something that President Trump has conceded as well in the past.

But for the time being, that doesn't seem to be getting in the way of his high-stakes personal diplomacy with North Korea's strongman -- Natalie.

ALLEN: It is a bizarre disconnect, isn't it, between these letters and what goes on in North Korea. Ivan Watson watching it for us. Ivan, thank you.

We turn now to eastern China, a powerful storm has left at least 13 people dead, 16 others are missing. Typhoon Lekima battered the region with winds of 110 miles per hour when it made landfall. The downpour has flooded the streets of some coastal areas as you see here.

Chinese officials reportedly ordered more than 1 million people to evacuate before the storm hit.

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ALLEN: Donald Trump touts his administration's immigration raids as a success. But for children who watched their parents get taken away, it was a traumatic experience. And now we're learning, more raids could be coming. That's coming up here.

Also between the snow cones, the cotton candy and the deep-fried pickle dogs, Democratic candidates for president try to make their case to the voters. The road to the White House goes right through the Iowa State Fair. We'll have some highlights for you.

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(MUSIC PLAYING) ALLEN: Welcome back to our viewers here in the U.S. and around the

world, this is CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Natalie Allen with our top stories at this hour.

(HEADLINES)

ALLEN: Well, in just a few hours, at least 17 U.S. Democratic presidential candidates plan to speak at an Iowa gun forum. They are in the state campaigning this weekend. And on Friday, several candidates attended a dinner, where many discussed their thoughts on --

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ALLEN: -- gun control. They've been sharing how they would change the system if elected.

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PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), MAYOR OF SOUTH BEND, IND., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Between the domestic terror attacks like what we saw in El Paso and the shootings like we saw in Dayton and a daily level of gun violence than in any other developed country, would be considered an emergency. And we're dealing with it in South Bend. This is intolerable.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The American people want, are begging Congress for common sense gun safety legislation.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We need a president who's brave. We need a president who will take on the battles that no one else will. We need a president who will bring Congress together to pass the Green New Deal, put a price on carbon, get health care as a right and not a privilege, take on the NRA and end gun violence in this country.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS, (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I strongly believe that Mitch McConnell should have called us back to the Senate to vote on the bill out of the House for reasonable gun safety laws.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: President Trump wants to have everything both ways. He wants to stir up as much as hate and division as he can and then say, oh, not me. He wants to say, oh, yes, I can support changes on gun safety and then say, but let's all be sure to bow to the NRA.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ALLEN: With more than 20 Democratic presidential hopefuls, it is more important than ever for them to stand out from the pack. CNN's Jeff Zeleny travels with a key campaign stop to ask voters which candidate has what it takes to lead the United States.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Iowa State Fair, a mandatory stop on the road to the White House.

BIDEN: What do you like best?

ZELENY (voice-over): A parade of Democratic candidates, pressing the flesh and pounding the pavement.

Every four years presidential hopefuls become one of the attractions, although none likely as popular as the Butter Cow, a staple here since 1911. Six months before the Iowa caucuses, voters like Claudia Roven are sizing up the crowded field.

ZELENY: You've been watching this Democratic race.

What are the qualities though you're looking for?

CLAUDIA ROVEN, FAIR ATTENDEE: They've got to be tough. They have to be not wimpy.

ZELENY (voice-over): Roven said she has never been politically active until President Trump took office. Now she is searching for someone who stands the best chance of defeating him.

ROVEN: Kamala Harris, she looks tough. She looks like she could take him on. I like Elizabeth Warren. I like them all.

ZELENY: Have you become more politically active in the last four years?

ROVEN: I am so woke, I can't believe it.

ZELENY (voice-over): She likes Joe Biden but worries that he is too nice to take on Trump.

Not Maureen Murphy, who says Biden is the best candidate for the job.

MAUREEN MURPHY, FAIR ATTENDEE: People are saying Joe's getting a little old. No. Joe is one of the wisest, smartest men and I would put all my trust in him -- and I do.

ZELENY (voice-over): At the Iowa Democratic Party booth, all candidates get equal billing. But Biden is at the center of the conversation.

ZELENY: So you're not sure that he is the front-runner?

JON NEIDERBACH, DEMOCRATIC PARTY BOOTH: Well, he is the front-runner right now. But I remember the time Howard Dean was the front-runner. He obviously didn't win the caucus. It's a long way to go yet.

ZELENY (voice-over): We learn a lot about our politicians at the fair, how they handle the heat...

QUESTION: What do you like about flipping pork chops?

JOHN DELANEY (D-MD), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, it gets me to one step closer to eating a pork chop.

ZELENY (voice-over): -- how they slide...

ZELENY: Governor, do you have to do a slide like that to be president?

GOV. STEVE BULLOCK (D-MT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No. It's actually a lot of fun but it's great to have my family here, although my wife got a little bit competitive on that, Jeff.

ZELENY (voice-over): So far, no 2020 candidates have arrived in helicopters, as Donald Trump did four years ago. And there have been few bumper car sightings as Barack Obama did when he ran for president, a moment he later used as a metaphor.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To prepare for this debate, I rode in the bumper cars at the state fair.

ZELENY (voice-over): As the full Democratic field flocks to the fair this weekend, the race is on to make a good impression. Time is running short to make friends or, in this case, supporters at the Iowa caucuses.

ZELENY: And before the weekend is out, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders and all of the Democratic field will be coming here to the Iowa State Fair to make their case to Iowa voters less than six months before the Iowa caucuses -- Jeff Zeleny, CNN, Des Moines.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ALLEN: Well, back to the current administration, a senior immigration official tells CNN the White House wants more workplace raids. And they've already requested access to employment data from New York and Texas.

Raids took place this week in Mississippi, where 680 workers suspected of being in the U.S. illegally were detained. The source said immigration field offices had been told to identify at least two locations in their regions to conduct possible raids. President Trump said he was very pleased with the Mississippi operation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I want people --

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TRUMP: -- to know, that if they come into the United States illegally, they're getting out. They're going to be brought out. And this serves as a very good deterrent. When people see what they saw yesterday and like they will see for a long time, they know that they're not staying here.

We have bad laws. They may get in. Although we're being very tough. They may get in but it doesn't matter, because they're going out. And when people see what they saw yesterday and like they will see for a long time, they know that they're not staying here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ALLEN: For the people called in this week, it was a traumatic experience especially for the children who didn't understand why one or both parents were suddenly gone.

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My dad is not a criminal. Government please with your heart, please. Please.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ALLEN: Those are traumatized children, for sure. At last report, of the 680 detained in Wednesday's raids, more than half remain in custody.

Hong Kong's political upheaval is strengthening into its 10th weekend. Thousands of people now occupy Hong Kong International Airport on the second day of a three-day sit-in. It's been a peaceful if crowded demonstration. Protesters determined to let travelers know about the grievances with the city's pro-Beijing government.

Ben Wedeman is there among the crowd reporting for us.

And Ben, what are they trying to do here at the airport?

They've taken their protests from the streets and here now.

What's the goal?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think the goal is to let people arriving in Hong Kong know why they are protesting. They are handing out pamphlets, holding up signs. This is the lane where arriving travelers will go through. And people are -- they're handing out pamphlets, explaining in various different languages why they are doing this.

And certainly, what we've seen today is that there are as many, if not more people, protesting, participating in this sit-in than yesterday. And, of course, is this going to go on into tomorrow as well. So certainly, this -- yesterday and today, this sit-in at the airport has really been the focus of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.

There's been a complication, however. The Chinese civil aviation authority has told Cathay Pacific, which is the flag carrier of Hong Kong, that any crew members flying to Mainland China who have participated or in somehow supported his movement will not be allowed to fly to Mainland China.

And as of midnight tonight, Cathay Pacific has been required to provide the names of all crew members intending to fly to Mainland China. And if for any reason, if the Chinese authorities have any objection, that flight will not be given approval. So it's a sense, a shot against the bow across the giants of Hong

Kong, warning them there are financial repercussions to this movement. But nonetheless, this is a movement that has huge popular support here in Hong Kong.

I want to point out this next sign, Natalie, "We do not want our next generation to live in fear, that's why we fight."

Of course, that's a reference to the year 2047, where according to the agreement worked out between Britain and China 1997, Hong Kong will revert completely to Chinese control. And therefore, the authoritarian system that exists in China will be imposed in Hong Kong in 2047.

So these young people are very concerned about what their future holds -- Natalie.

ALLEN: They're making that quite evident, aren't they?

Ben Wedeman there at the airport. Ben, thank you.

One of the world's most pristine salmon habitats may now be in danger after the Trump administration reverses environmental policy in Alaska.

What's behind it?

We'll have an exclusive report right after this.

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ALLEN: Bristol Bay in Alaska is one of the world's great habitats for sockeye salmon. It could be in danger now that the Trump administration has cleared the way for the construction of a new gold mine. A meeting on the president's airplane, Air Force One, set everything in motion. CNN's senior investigative correspondent Drew Griffin has the exclusive details.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPODENT (voice-over): The meeting took place on the tarmac during of an Air Force One stopover June 26th. Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy, a pro-mining, pro-business, anti-EPA governor met with Donald Trump for nearly a half hour.

GOV. MIKE DUNLEAVY (R-AK): I just got off of Air Force One with being with President Trump.

GRIFFIN: Dunleavy has been pushing for approval of a massive gold and copper mine known as the Pebble Mine, planned for Alaska's Bristol Bay watershed, home to the breeding grounds for one of the world's largest and most pristine sockeye salmon fisheries. And after his meeting aboard Air Force One, Dunleavy said this about

the president.

DUNLEAVY: He really believes in the opportunities here in Alaska and he's doing everything he can to work with us on our mining concerns.

GRIFFIN: Inside EPA, sources now tell CNN the very next day, June 27th, top EPA officials in Washington held an internal video conference with Seattle and told the staff the EPA was removing a special protection for Bristol Bay and in essence clearing the way for what could be one of the largest open pit mines in the world.

That internal announcement was a total shock to top EPA scientist, sources told CNN, because their environmental concerns were overruled by Trump political appointees.

Bristol Bay and the tributaries are regarded as one of the most important salmon fisheries --

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GRIFFIN: -- roughly half the world's sockeye salmon come from here. It's been protected since 2014, when after three years of study, the Obama era EPA used a rare provision of the Clean Water Act to basically veto any mining that could pose a threat.

EPA scientists writing a mine would result in complete loss of fish habitat that was irreversible.

CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN (R), FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: It's mindboggling that it's still being considered at all.

GRIFFIN: Christine Todd Whitman is a Republican, a former New Jersey governor and under President George W. Bush ran the EPA. She has joined several other former EPA chiefs to publicly oppose the mine.

WHITMAN: The potential damage is so overwhelming. The opposition to it up there is amazing. Over 80 miles of streams, thousands of acres could be damaged from this project.

GRIFFIN: This is the second time during the Trump administration the political appointees at the EPA have decided to remove special protections for Bristol Bay to pave the way for this huge mine. In 2017, President Trump's first EPA administrator, scandal-plagued Scott Pruitt cancelled the protections after a private meeting with the mine company CEO.

After a CNN report exposed the meeting and lack of scientific debate behind the reversal, Pruitt backed down and put the protections back in place.

Now another private meeting, this time with the president himself, has led to another win for the mine and removal of environmental protections for this pristine watershed.

WHITMAN: One of the most troubling things about the administration on the environmental side is this disregard of science. There -- they're gutting science across the agencies, across the departments, across the government.

GRIFFIN (on camera): Even if scientists at the EPA are advising you, Mr. President, this is very dangerous to the environment, to the fisheries, to the state of Alaska -- if the president decides, that's the decision?

WHITMAN: That's the decision.

GRIFFIN: And the only recourse then is for environmental groups to sue?

WHITMAN: Environmental groups, Native Alaskans, they'll have a host of lawsuits, I am convinced.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Alaska's governor Mike Dunleavy, elected last fall, is a huge Trump supporter. He's met with President Trump multiple times, sent this letter to the president asking for a long list of EPA reversals, including what he called the clean water 404 veto, a direct reference to Pebble Mine. A member of his staff used to work on the Pebble project in public relations.

And at EPA headquarters Andrew Wheeler, the former coal company lobbyist who now runs the agency, has ties to Pebble Mine, too. He has recused himself from decision making on the project because his former law firm represents the mine.

GRIFFIN: In response to this report, the EPA said the Obama-era protections were outdated and this mine would still have to go through approval process. Our sources are telling us, it's really a done deal.

And when we asked the EPA about that internal meeting on June 27th. At first the EPA denied it even happened. But then we presented them with our evidence. They admitted the meeting took place. And our sources say that is when officials told scientists at the EPA the decision on Bristol Bay was made. And their work was not needed -- Drew Griffin, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ALLEN: Next here, a new issue between India and Pakistan, all around the autonomous region of Kashmir. We'll get the latest after this.

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ALLEN: Protests had erupted in Pakistan and Islamabad has suspended trade ties with India over Delhi's move to tighten its control of the disputed Kashmir region. India took away the Muslim majority state's power to set its own laws. The protesters are marching in solidarity with the people of Kashmir and want to raise awareness about the situation.

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MOHAMMAD HASSAN ASHRAF, STUDENT: We're here because of (INAUDIBLE) are in pain. There's a complete law gone. They're not allowed to use the media, which is not only against the humanity but against the (INAUDIBLE).

So we're here for the freedom. The people of Kashmir want a solution, based on what they want, not what the people of India want.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Muslim world, (INAUDIBLE), they have (INAUDIBLE). So why are they sleeping? It is an awareness for the entire world that, whatever is happening in Kashmir, it is very, very sad.

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VANIER: Authorities in Indian-controlled Kashmir relaxed a days-long curfew so people could attend Friday prayers. Tensions have been high since India moved this week to assert more control over Kashmir. And Pakistan has warned of a strong response to any military action by India. CNN's Nikhil Kumar has the latest from New Delhi.

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NIKHIL KUMAR, CNN NEW DELHI BUREAU CHIEF: Indian authorities partially relaxed security restrictions in some areas of Indian- controlled Kashmir after an almost week-long security crackdown which prevented ordinary Kashmiris from going about their daily lives.

The trigger was the move by New Delhi on Monday to strip the region of a special status under the Indian constitution, thus taking away its power to set most of its own laws. It also downgraded Kashmir state, which includes Indian controlled Kashmir, to a union territory. This means it will effectively be run directly by New Delhi. Indian states have much more power to direct their internal affairs.

All this happened against the backdrop of a security crackdown that saw prominent Kashmiri politicians arrested, Internet and phone lines were also cut. People were warned not to congregate in large groups, as authorities feared protests against Monday's changes.

Some of those security restrictions have now been lifted. The reason authorities told us was to allow people to conduct Friday prayers at mosques around the Muslim majority region.

But things are still tense. Life is nowhere near back to normal. Meanwhile, Pakistan --

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KUMAR: -- controls a portion of the Kashmiri region and claims all of it, has been very critical of Delhi's moves. Its army has promised to oppose the changes.

We're also watching to see if there is a violent backlash within Kashmir. The biggest risk as always in this volatile region is that this spirals into something much bigger, a dangerous showdown between India and Pakistan.

Remember, both have nuclear weapons and both have already fought multiple wars over this territory -- Nikhil Kumar, CNN, New Delhi.

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ALLEN: Taking you live to Saudi Arabia, where the annual hajj pilgrimage to Mecca is underway. More than 2 million Muslims are making the journey. Among the major rituals they'll perform, heading to Mt. Arafat where the prophet Muhammad is believed to have delivered his last sermon. The hajj is one of the largest religious gatherings in the world. Millions of Muslims made the journey last year, most coming from outside Saudi Arabia. The highest attendance on record was in 2012, when more than 3 million people took part. The hajj is considered one of the five pillars of Islam. All Muslims are obliged to make the pilgrimage at least once in their lives if they can. They perform the rituals over the five-day pilgrimage.

And that is CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Natalie Allen. For the U.S. viewers, "NEW DAY" is just ahead. For everyone else, I'll be right back with our top story.

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