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World Leaders, Celebrities Call for Action on Amazon Wildfires; The Unorthodox Rise of Trump's New White House Press Secretary; Shake- Up at NRA, Several Lawyers Out; Trump & Democratic Senator Confirm Talks Underway on Gun Action. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired August 23, 2019 - 13:30   ET



[13:33:38] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Many world leaders are vowing to address the devastating Amazon wildfires while they are at the G-7 summit in France.

And in the meantime, celebrities, like Madonna, Leonardo DiCaprio, are calling on Brazil's president to do more about these fires that are raging in the Amazon Rainforest.

CNN's Shasta Darlington is live for us in Sao Paulo.

Tell us, because this is so important and we've seen some pretty interesting responses from him, how Brazil's president is now responding?

SHASTA DARLINGTON, CNN REPORTER: Well, initially, he was furious. Jair Bolsonaro, the president, was extremely angry, especially when French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted, "Our house is burning. We need to talk about the Amazon fires at the G-7 summit."

Bolsonaro said, "Brazil doesn't even sit at the G-7 summit. This is a colonial mindset."

And it plays into his narrative that foreign governments and foreign companies are using climate change as an excuse to get their hands on the Amazon.

But at the same time, we saw him taking this a lot more seriously, admitting that it might not go the NGOs, as he said without evidence. He said the NGOs were lighting the fires to make him look bad. Now he's admitting it might be ranchers.

And he called an emergency meeting of ministers last night, asking them and urging them to do everything they can to rein the fires in and even discussing sending the army in to help put out the fires.

[13:35:05] Two of Brazil's states that sit right on the Amazon have declared a state of emergency.

And this is a huge area. I think everyone is admitting they could use the help, whether it's from the army or other possible sources. It's just too big an area to cover -- Brianna? KEILAR: It certainly it.

Shasta Darlington, thank you so much.

We will continue to cover this important story.

And just in, more upheaval at the NRA as the group fires more people.

Plus, one Democratic 2020 candidate drops out of the race while another struggles to hold onto supporters.


[13:40:13] KEILAR: It's been 165 days since we've had a White House press briefing, but who's counting, and 40 days since President Trump's newest press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, got the job. Previously dubbed "The Enforcer," Grisham replaced Sarah Sanders earlier this year.

And although she's been working mostly behind the scenes, sources say she's still trying to figure out how to play catch-up to all of Trump's spontaneous tweets.

Kate Bennett is here with me now.

OK, how -- going into this job has to be an adjustment for anyone, even if they have worked in the White House and have seen day in and day out how this goes. How is she handling it?

KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: I mean, I think she's doing OK. She's going from -- mind you, she still has the job of communications director for the first lady and she's also communications director for the White House, in addition to being press secretary. So it's a lot. It's managing a staff of about six to about 40 people.

Also, you have a president who's all but blown up the role of press secretary as we have known it before by making statements, doing Q- and-A when they're unexpected, tweeting, so it's a lot of reaction and not preparing ahead of time. I think that alone has got to be quite a challenge.

KEILAR: She doesn't brief the press, which is carrying on with the tradition from Sarah Sanders at the end of her tenure. Will she ever, do you think?

BENNETT: There was word that she was preparing to do briefings and studying up and practicing. And the president was working towards her doing that. But now it seems like that idea has been pulled back a bit.

She said -- she told CNN that she feels like, with most things with this presidency, it's nontraditional. There's other ways that people are getting their information from the president.

But you know, this is a chance, an opportunity at White House press briefings for the media to really ask those important, specific questions, and do so in an orderly way, not with the chopper whirring in the background --

KEILAR: That's right.

BENNETT: -- and the president getting to pick out who he's talking to.

So, you know, it's a bit of give and take there.

KEILAR: The "New York Times" has reported that Grisham has a bit of a checkered past, I guess you could say. This includes a plagiarism accusation, two DUIs, including one in 2016. That really hasn't stopped her from ascending to this role. What can you tell us about that?

BENNETT: I think, with most things Trump, it's about loyalty. It's about how you interact with him, how he interacts with you. And I think, you know, she's one of the people who's been with Trump since the campaign. He trusts her.

And I think things like this background stuff, as we've seen with bigger roles, cabinet secretary wannabes and such, vetting, taking those things into account isn't necessarily paramount.


BENNETT: I think Grisham has managed to, first, ingratiate herself to the first lady and then to the president.

KEILAR: What would sink you in a different administration will not sink you in this one.

BENNETT: Exactly.

KEILAR: Kate Bennett, thank you so much.


KEILAR: Just in, as the president gets ready to depart for the G-7 summit tonight, CNN reports that he's been questioning aides why he must go at all, saying it's not a productive use of his time.

Plus, the Dow is continuing to drop. You see it there down almost 500 points as we wait for the president's response to China's recent round of tariffs.


[13:48:25] KEILAR: This just into CNN. Following a week of high- profile resignations from the NRA, we're now learning about even more shake-ups within the association and this time it involves the organization's legal team.

I want to bring in Michael Warren, who has been working this story.

What are you hearing?

MICHAEL WARREN, CNN REPORTER: CNN can now confirm that Charles Cooper, a long-time conservative lawyer here in Washington, has been dismissed by the National Rifle Association as one of its outside legal counsel. Another outside legal counsel and an in-house counsel have also resigned. This was first reported by the "New York Times."

Again, it follows a long several months and weeks of shake-ups within this organization. They have lost their relationship with this long- time ad firm, Ackerman McQueen. The former president of the NRA, Oliver North, is out. The long-time lobbyist, Christopher Cox, is also gone.

So there's a lot of turmoil going on within this organization as we're watching the executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, sort of consolidate power in that group.

KEILAR: Opponents of the NRA look at that and say, oh, they're weak, maybe this means they won't be as triumphant politically as they normally are. What would you explain to someone who thinks that?

WARREN: Well, we know that's not true in the very real sense that Wayne LaPierre is still calling up President Trump, has talked with him several times since the shootings in Dayton and El Paso,

And a lot of members of Congress, and the NRA, often say, and it really is true, that the members of the National Rifle Association, which could be anywhere from 2.5 to five million people, really hold the power and really still hold that power, no matter who's in charge.

And I think that's something that's important to remember as we follow these debates over guns and what happens after some of these mass shootings.

KEILAR: Michael Warren, thank you so much.

[13:50:07] "Informational but not substantive" -- that is how congressional aides are describing recent talks between the White House and Senators on gun legislation.

Democratic Senator Chris Murphy seemed to echo that sentiment in a tweet, saying, "Although the White House hasn't fully walked away from improving background checks," he's "skeptical they'll be able to reach a consensus."

Joining me now is CNN host and political commentator, S.E. Cupp.

S.E., let's cut to the chase here. If something gets done, it seems unlikely that it's going to come from the White House, right?

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR & CNN HOST, "S.E. CUPP UNFILTERED": Well, there just doesn't seem to be any clarity. It's been three weeks since those double mass shootings and, in those three weeks, Trump has kind of changed his position as many times.

Whether he's unaware of just how cemented the opposition within the NRA is to expanding background checks or he truly believes there's some movability now is anybody's guess.

But Congress will return in September and they're not sure to what, a president who is going to do what he said he wants to, which is expand background checks to include private sales, or a president who's going to listen to the last guy he talks to, whether that's Wayne LaPierre or Mark Meadows or Joe Manchin.

KEILAR: What if anything could get done on these mass shootings?

CUPP: Well, I have Chris Murphy's bill here in my hand here. I read it word for word. And it does what it says. It expands background checks to cover private sales, so online, home sales, gun show sales. If you want a gun, you have to pass a background check.

What it exempts is really interesting. It exempts the sale of transfers between law enforcement, temporarily loaning firearms for hunting and sporting events, gifting guns to immediate family members, inheritance, temporarily using a gun for immediate self-defense. This seems to me, a gun owner, to be very reasonable.

So if there's interest among Republicans and the president, this, I think, is something that could pass. It just depends on whether the president wants to listen to the majority of NRA members who support expanding background checks or Wayne LaPierre.

KEILAR: You are a gun owner, as you said. Anyone who follows you on social media will be able to follow along with your adventures. You are a sports woman, you hunt, you fish. You're making this a family tradition, too. But you recently announced you are no longer an NRA member. Why?

CUPP: It just doesn't feel like the voices of that group really represent me anymore. The opposition to conversations about possible new legislation just strikes me as really political and unproductive.

If we can't agree to have conversations, then I'm not sure -- I'm not sure what we're all doing here. It would be really silly, and I think it looks timid and afraid to say, we're not going to come to the table.

We should all have a vested interest in solving this problem. And I'm not suggesting Republicans and NRA members aren't interested in solving the problem. But the group, the organization just doesn't represent where I am, as a mom, as a law-abiding gun owner.

As a gun owner, it's in my interest to make sure that guns don't get into the hands of bad people. And it has just, frankly, become too easy for bad, sick people to get guns.

I'm not the problem, right? NRA members who are law-abiding gun owners are not the problem.

But it's too easy. And it's time for us to talk about things like expanding background checks, banning 100-round drums, maybe temporary gun violence restraining orders, fixing the NICs system, and investing seriously in mental health in our schools. I want to be able to have those conversations. If the NRA is telling

me I can't, then I'm out.

KEILAR: All right, S.E. Cupp, thanks so much, joining us from New York.

CUPP: Thanks, Brianna.

KEILAR: Be sure to catch "S.E. CUPP UNFILTERED," Saturday at 6:00 p.m. Eastern, here on CNN.

And on Sunday night, CNN will have back-to-back live presidential town halls. Montana Governor Steve Bullock takes the stage first at 6:00. And then New York City Major Bill De Blasio will be on at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. That is right here on CNN.

We have breaking news. A person in Illinois, who vaped and later developed a lung illness, has died. Is there a link?

[13:54:45] Plus, more on our breaking news on two fronts. The Dow falling after the president's wild tweets on China, down almost 450 points now. And we're now learning he's been questioning aides on why he even has to go to the G-7 summit.


KEILAR: Just in, lawyers for the president's banks, Deutsche Bank and Capital One, are refusing to tell an appellate court in New York whether they're in possession of his tax returns, citing, quote, "contractual obligations." We are told the three-judge panel was so frustrated at one point that a judge suggested that the court may seek an order for more information.

This all comes as President Trump argues that Democratic lawmakers cannot access his financial records through those banks.

[14:00:08] And that is it for me.

"NEWSROOM" with Brooke Baldwin starts right now.