Return to Transcripts main page


Economic Turmoil; Ruth Bader Ginsburg Undergoes Cancer Treatment; Interview With Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA); As Trump Is About To Leave For G7, Sources Say He Questioned Why He Must Attend The Summit; As Trump Lashes Out Over Economy And Trade War His New Press Secretary Remains Silent; Ex-Overstock CEO Makes Wild Claims In Interview, Says FBI Asked Him To Romance Accused Russian Agent; Russia Blames Radioactive Contamination of Patient After Mysterious Explosion on "Fukushima Crabs". Aired 6-7p ET

Aired August 23, 2019 - 18:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: The 86-year-old justice just was treated for a malignant tumor in her pancreas. We will have the latest on Ruth Bader Ginsburg's condition and how it could impact the Supreme Court.

Summit frustration. As the president is about to leave for his meeting with the G7, CNN has learned he balked about going because he didn't get enough of a chance to brag at previous summits. Are U.S. allies on edge as they brace for his arrival?

And overboard? The now former CEO of Overstock unleashes conspiracy theories and a wild claim about his romance with an accused Russian agent. Did the FBI ask him to pursue Maria Butina? Former Bureau officials are now speaking out.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Brianna Keilar. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KEILAR: Breaking news: President Trump retaliates in his trade war with China. He just announced new tariffs on billions of dollars of Chinese goods, hours after Beijing hit the U.S. with new tariffs.

This caps a day of turmoil that sent the Dow Jones industrials plunging more than 600 points. The president has been fanning the flames, saying he -- quote -- "hereby orders" U.S. companies to start looking for an alternative to doing business in China.

As recession fears rise, Mr. Trump again attacked his Federal Reserve chairman, suggesting that Jerome Powell may be a bigger enemy of the U.S. than the president of communist China.

Also breaking, the Supreme Court's liberal icon, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, treated for pancreatic cancer. The 86-year-old justice just completed radiation therapy. The court says her malignant tumor was treated definitively with no evidence that the disease had spread.

I will get reaction from Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna. He is a member of the Oversight Committee. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First to CNN White House correspondent Abby Phillip.

And, Abby, the president is really raising the stakes tonight in his trade war with China.


The president this morning spent the day lashing out at China. And as he tweeted his attacks, the Dow industrial average took a nosedive. But then later he huddled with his advisers to try to figure out what to do to respond to those $75 billion in tariffs that China announced on U.S. products.

The president now is upping the ante, announcing his own tariffs would increase in the coming weeks.


PHILLIP (voice-over): President Trump tonight hitting back at China, increasing tariffs on $550 billion in Chinese goods in yet another trade war escalation.

Amid fears of an economic slowdown, Trump today held an unpopularity contest between his hand-picked Fed chairman and the communist leader of China, asking: "Who is our bigger enemy? Jay Powell or Chairman Xi?"

Trump adding that American companies are -- quote -- "hereby ordered to look for alternatives to China." This after China announced retaliatory tariffs on $75 billion in American goods. The markets, at one point, appearing to tumble with each tweet by the president, dropping more than 300 points after his attacks on the Fed and even further after he promised a response to China's latest retaliatory moves.

Powell today issuing a veiled warning about Trump's trade wars, telling bankers and economists that "Fitting trade uncertainty into this framework is a new challenge."

One of Trump's top trade advisers, Peter Navarro, says the president won't back down to China.

PETER NAVARRO, DIRECTOR, WHITE HOUSE OFFICE OF TRADE AND MANUFACTURING POLICY: My reaction to this is, when China reacts like this, what they simply do is strengthen the resolve of this president and they signal once again to the American public that China wants to buckle our knees so that they can keep having their way with us.

PHILLIP: According to "The Washington Post," inside the White House, aides have briefed President Trump on the possibility of an economic slowdown before the 2020 election. And White House advisers have brainstormed possible options to juice

the economy, including steps that would weaken the U.S. dollar. All this coming just hours before Trump is set to leave for the G7 summit with world leaders in France, a meeting that sources say he has been dreading.

Trump has been questioning his aides about why he should attend this year's summit and complaining that, during past summits, too much time has been spent discussing the oceans and the environment and not enough time has been devoted to letting him brag about his achievements and of America's economy.


PHILLIP: And, Brianna, caught in the middle of this trade war are American consumers, who could soon see prices increase even more on billions of dollars of goods imported from China.

But here are the details on the latest that President Trump announced today; $250 billion of goods that are already being taxed, those tariffs are going to go up from 25 to 30 percent. And there's another $300 billion in goods where tariffs are going into place on September 1.


Those tariffs are going from 10 percent to 15 percent. All told, it's a sign that this trade war is nowhere near its end -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, Abby Phillip at the White House, thank you.

Now let's get to the latest on Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's health. The Supreme Court revealing that she just finished treatment for pancreatic cancer.

We're joined now by CNN's Supreme Court reporter Ariane de Vogue.

And what can you tell us about her condition here?

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: Well, we know that she completed a three-week course of radiation treatment. It began August 5 for a tumor on her pancreas.

The hospital calls it a localized malignant tumor. It was detected July 31. We also know that she canceled her vacation, but she's appearing at a speaking event Monday in Buffalo. And during her treatment, she went to Broadway and met Kate McKinnon, the actress who plays her on "Saturday Night Live."

And last night, she was on Broadway again, watching the "Moulin Rouge." This is a tough woman. Earlier in the summer, she was speaking at an event and she was asked about her retirement plans, if they were going to happen.

Listen to what she said here.


RUTH BADER GINSBURG, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE, U.S. SUPREME COURT: As long as I can do it full steam, and that means at my age, 86, you have to take it year by year. So I know I'm OK. I was OK this last term. I expect to be OK next term. And after that, we will just have to see.


DE VOGUE: Well, listen, she has had other cancers, right, Brianna?

KEILAR: Four times, right? This is the fourth time.

DE VOGUE: Yes, 86 years old. In 1999, she had colon cancer. After that, she had early stages pancreatic cancer. She had a heart procedure, and then, remember, last year, she had cancer nodules detected on her lungs.

That was the only time she ever missed oral arguments. Of course, we're waiting now, because, in the beginning of October, a new term starts. It's a blockbuster term this time around. There's going to be really big cases, Second Amendment, LGBT rights, immigration.

But here's an interesting thing about the court. You don't have to sit for oral arguments. You can still decide a case, but you don't have to be sitting on the bench. So, we will waiting to see what happens in the beginning of the term, but, so far, it doesn't seem like she's slowing down much.

KEILAR: So you would read the arguments, but you wouldn't be there to ask questions? Is that right?

DE VOGUE: Right. But then you could vote. You read the transcript. You understand both sides. You have read tons of briefs and you can cast your vote. You don't have to sit for arguments.

KEILAR: That's very interesting. Ariane de Vogue, thank you so much.

Joining me now is Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna. He is on the Oversight Committee, as well as the House Armed Services Committee.

Sir, thanks for joining us.

REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA): Brianna, good to be on.

KEILAR: I do want to talk to you about Justice Ginsburg here in a moment.

But, first, let's talk about how President Trump has retaliated now against China with these increased tariffs of his own. Can the country afford an escalation like this in this trade war?

KHANNA: Brianna, we cannot.

The president's strategy is just not working. Here are the facts. For the first time in 10 years, the manufacturing index shows that manufacturing is actually contracting in this country. The president saying we need to do these tariffs or we will bring manufacturing back. But manufacturing is declining.

And the reason it's declining is because the uncertainty he has created has led business leaders to not invest and to not hire people. So he's really hurting our economy.

KEILAR: And, earlier today, the president asked, who is our bigger enemy, Jay Powell, who's the chairman of the Federal Reserve, or Chairman Xi?

How do you react to that?

KHANNA: Well, usually, I'm measured, but that's just ridiculous.

Chairman Powell is doing what any standard economist, anyone who's taken economics 101 would do. What he's saying is, we have an economy that is growing still at 2 percent. We can't have a 1 percent interest cut, as the president would want, because, if we do that, we will have no tools to deal with a recession.

And anyone who's taken any economics knows that that is the right approach. And yet the president is berating Powell to take attention away from his own misguided policies. It's his tariff war that has led to the decline in manufacturing, his broken promise.

His central promise to the American people was, he was going to bring these jobs back. And the jobs are declining, and in a much worse place than when President Obama was there.

KEILAR: President Trump is going to the G7 summit. He's flying out tonight. He has actually been questioning why he even needs to attend.

What does that mean for the role of the U.S. in the world?

KHANNA: Well, it's sad.

I mean, even President Reagan or President Bush would always look forward to going to the G7, because they understood the importance of American leadership on economic issues, on issues to tackle climate change.


What we should be having in the G7 is a strategy on how we're going to respond to a slowing global economy, how we're going to have greater stimulus, how we're going to have great investment for jobs.

And, instead, the president isn't willing to offer any leadership. So it's really put the world at risk, the global economy at risk. On the one hand, he's causing disruption with a trade war. On the other hand, he's not even willing to engage in collaboration.

And the reality is, in a global economy, we're interdependent. And you know who knows that? Every business leader knows that. We need the German economy to succeed, or that could slow down the American economy. KEILAR: I do want to ask you about Justice Ginsburg, because she is

being treated for pancreatic cancer, as we just reported.

She said that she's going to keep going on the court as long as she can go full steam. Keeping that in mind, she's in a tough fight. Are you concerned that she might retire to focus on her health and what would be at stake?

KHANNA: Well, Brianna, let me just say this. At a time of such cynicism in politics, Justice Ginsburg is one of the true American heroes.

When I go in my district and talk to students, young women in particular know her story. Her story is the all-American story. It's one of triumph, it's one of hope, it's one of resilience. And I just have such respect for her. I wish her well in whatever she wants to do and respect whatever decision she makes.

But she's a -- I truly admire her and everything she's meant to this country.

KEILAR: President Trump has made the Supreme Court a big focus of the 2016 campaign.

This news -- this is her fourth bout with cancer -- sort of brings that to the forefront. But I wonder if you think that Democrats need to motivate voters more when it comes to this issue, or if you hear when you're talking to your constituents that the Supreme Court is on their mind.

KHANNA: We absolutely do.

And I think people understand now that Roe v. Wade and a person -- a woman's right to choose is under threat and under assault, that LGBTQ equality is under threat and under assault, that Mitch McConnell has made it his life mission to pack the federal judiciary with conservative judges to undermine rights.

I think too often those of us who are Democrats and who believe in those rights have taken for granted that those rights have been protected. We now see an assault on the judiciary. And if we don't win this next election, many of the rights that we care so deeply about are really threatened.

I believe it's going to be a huge issue in the 2020 election.

KEILAR: I want to turn now to your work in the House of Representatives.

The chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler, has asked four other House committees to share any documents that could be relevant to the Judiciary's effort to decide whether to impeach the president.

You sit on one of those committees, the House Oversight Committee. What do you hope to share with Chairman Nadler?

KHANNA: Well, Brianna, I hope we will share some of the information about the president's finances.

You will remember, when Michael Cohen testified, he testified about wrongdoing in the Trump Organization and potential serious campaign finance violations that broke criminal law. In fact, Michael Cohen suggested that there could have been a criminal conspiracy.

We need to share all of that information with Chairman Nadler. We also need to share information about how this administration committed wrongdoing in trying to get the census question, which the Supreme Court ruled was unconstitutional.

KEILAR: You recently announced your support for an impeachment inquiry. For a long time, though, you were advocating against it. You actually suggested censure as an alternative. What changed your mind?

KHANNA: Well, I have always said that impeachment inquiries should be on the table. I said, let's do a censure right away while we build towards that, but I thought we needed to have a methodical approach that put us in the strongest legal position.

And after we had Bob Mueller's testimony, after we have had success in the federal courts, I do think we are now in a strong legal position to proceed. So I give Chairman Nadler a lot of credit for being methodical, and now is the right time.

KEILAR: Congressman Ro Khanna, thank you for joining us, and have a wonderful weekend.

KHANNA: Thank you, Brianna.

KEILAR: Just ahead, the president ups the ante in the China trade war. Is he playing a dangerous game with the U.S. economy?

And a day after the Overstock CEO called it quits, he's creating more shockwaves over his relationship with an accused Russian agent.

Stand by to hear his wild claims and the pushback by former FBI officials.



KEILAR: We're following two major breaking stories, President Trump raising tariffs on Chinese goods tonight, a new act of retaliation in this escalating trade war.

And 86-year-old Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been treated for pancreatic cancer yet again.

I want to bring our analysts to talk about these two key stories that we're following.

And, Kaitlan Collins, to you first. The president says China should not have put these new tariffs on American goods. He hit back with increased tariffs on China. But considering that the economy and its performance is so key to his reelection, should he be playing roulette with it, the way he is?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, and those are the big questions, because before the president made this announcement today, these tariffs were already costing American households a substantial amount of money.


It was only expected to increase when these two sets of tariffs were going to go into effect, if they did go into effect, on September 1 and December 1.

But now the president is really upping the ante here, adding this, announcing these tariffs. But he seem surprised that the Chinese said they were going to take countermeasures for the tariffs that are supposed to go into effect on September 1, even though we should note that when the president last week announced that they were going to delay a big part of those tariffs, the ones that related to electronics, other things that they thought could affect Christmas here in the United States, prices for consumers rocketing up during that, the Chinese said, we're still going to take countermeasures if you move forward with these September 1 tariffs.

So we should note, this is not a surprise to the people on the president's economic team. But you're seeing him lash out, of course. And even though the president is moving forward increasing these tariffs, even though the economic experts surrounding him say that, in part, it is these tariffs that is what's hurting these consumers and leading to this global slump and fears of a recession potentially happening.

KEILAR: Well, and that must be a fear that Republicans are sharing too, Rebecca.

Earlier today, the president tweeted this. He said: "American companies are hereby ordered to immediately start looking for an alternative to China."

It doesn't work that way, we should mention. He also, though, asked: "Who is a bigger enemy, Jay Powell or Chairman Xi?"

How do members of his own party view these things?

REBECCA BUCK, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, there's obviously the public face and the private face of the Republican Party in terms of the elected officials that we're talking about here in Washington.

And, publicly, you haven't seen a great deal of pushback against the president for these tweets or this trade war, for the escalation of the trade war, because his support remains so strong among Republican voters. But, privately, there is a great deal of concern, and just a feeling

of, I guess, futility. They feel like there isn't much they can do to rein in the president in. They have tried to be strategic. And, obviously, many Republicans disagree profoundly with his trade strategy, but they recognize that the president is just going to do what he wants on this, and feels very passionately about it.

And so they have tried to be strategic and pick their targets in terms of influencing him. But on this issue, they haven't been successful.

KEILAR: I wonder, Kylie, how China is looking at all of this. Are they looking internally at the U.S. and saying, oh, the president isn't as -- doesn't have as strong a footing as he normally has, there are these economic red flags, and they're seizing a moment?


I mean, they are looking at the fact that he doesn't have all of that much support right now. And so one of the things, however, to consider, as Kaitlan pointed out, they said that they were going to go through and follow through on new tariffs because of the president's threats for tariffs.

So they are fighting back in a way that was predicted. The question, however, with China is, how much are they willing to inflict pain on their own economy, right? Because we know that the Chinese economy does extremely well generally, but, this year, they experienced their lowest economic growth in 27 years.

So they are hitting a point where they're trying to figure out how much they're willing to wage in this tit-for-tat trade war. But it doesn't look like things are slowing down, based on what happened today.

KEILAR: Shawn Turner, I want to get your perspective on something, as a former director of communications for U.S. national intelligence. You're our national security analyst.

"The Washington Post" reports that President Trump was briefed earlier this month about the slowing economy, but the president doesn't always believe what he hears in the briefings.

As someone who has been involved in briefing officials and in being briefed, what are the perils of someone thinking that a briefing is not accurate?


You know, there are countless examples of the president disregarding the advice and counsel of his senior advisers. We saw it when advisers went in and told the president that Russia interfered in our election. We saw it when advisers told the president that North Korea will continue to work on their nuclear program, despite the engagement that he would have with them.

And now we're seeing it again with the economy. But this is a little different, for a couple of important reasons. When the president bucks the advice and counsel of his national security team, there isn't often an immediate impact in the lives of Americans on a regular basis.

But when he bucks the advice and counsel of his economic team, he disregards the idea that his policies are actually hurting the economy, well, there's an immediate impact in the everyday lives of the American people.

It's also an immediate impact in the ability of businesses to grow and prosper. So the president has to understand, he has to realize that this is not like all of those other times when he went it alone and did his own thing. This has an immediate impact on people, and it's likely going to hurt him as we get into the 2020 election.

KEILAR: Kaitlan, what are you hearing about the president and about what he wants to believe or doesn't?

COLLINS: Well, the president does have that tendency where, if you give him a negative report, he says, it's just the media, or some of these economic experts who the president has at times thought were against him that are trying to make things bad, they're trying to hurt his chances at a reelection.


Those are the arguments that the president pursues. But he knows when he's hearing from not just one person on his economic team, but multiple people who are trying to figure out what to do, he knows that it's real.

And that's why you're seeing the president lash out this week, contradict himself several times, trying to essentially figure out a way to spur the economy. You have seen him go back and forth on these tariffs, saying he was going to go full force, then saying he was going to delay the ones that were going to be the most damaging.

Now here we are today, because he's insulted by how the Chinese responded to that delay, because, initially, people like Peter Navarro, one of the president's top trade advisers, were telling him the Chinese were receptive to them delaying part of those tariffs until December the 1st.

Clearly, that is not the case. The Chinese made pretty clear that was not going to be the case, and now the president is seeing that come to fruition. But it's also in other aspects. When the president floats that payroll tax cut, and then an aide talks to him about how Obama did a payroll tax cut back in 2012, and the president is now saying he's not going to consider a payroll tax cut.

Essentially, what you're seeing is this tension inside the White House, and the president and his economic team don't know which avenue they should pursue for how to respond to this, how to stave off an economic downturn.

And that's why you're seeing so many contradictions and mixed messages come out of the White House this week.

BUCK: And what is amazing is that the president is going to the G7. He's going to be meeting with all of these world leaders, our partners, or, you know, countries that should be our partners on the world stage in any other administration.

And one of the options on the table for him has not been partnering with European countries to try to team up against China to wield more influence. I mean, that was the whole idea of the TPP, which, of course, Trump rejected.

But the idea of not going at it alone, but using the European and American influence together, would possibly make his hand a lot stronger. But because he's been such a go-it-alone president and distanced himself from our allies, it's not even on the table.

KEILAR: All right, all of you, stand by for me.

We have some big news involving Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She has pancreatic -- or she has been treated for pancreatic cancer, I should say, yet again. She says she's going to stay on the court as long as she can go full steam, but what if she can't?

We're going to talk about what's at stake.



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM: And we are back now with our analysts. There's another very important story that we are following tonight. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court Justice, has been treated for pancreatic cancer. This is pretty significant news. It's the fourth time she's had cancer.

And, Kaitlan Collins, she has shown grit throughout all of this. But she's said, she's going to stay on the court if she can go full steam. The question will be, what if she can't? What if she ultimately decides to retire? What is at stake here?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: yes, that's the question. Of course, this is one robust woman. She has been through so much, of course, and the main concern is her health. But then what people do think about when something like this happens is the makeup of the Supreme Court. And that's something that she herself has alluded to many times, as you just noted. She said, she wants to stay on the court as long as she can. So she's of sound mind and sound body.

But, of course, the question here is, this has big implications for the next presidential election. We saw that in 2016, when you talked to a lot of voters who weren't necessarily excited about voting for Donald Trump, but they said they wanted to pick Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, because they wanted him to put who he could, who they believed a Republican would, on the Supreme Court. That's paid off in dividends for those people, because, of course, he has picked two people to be on the Supreme Court. And that's something that's going to have effects for a lifetime.

So that's, of course, the question that comes to mind when people do talk about Ruth Bader Ginsburg and what her future is going to look like and whether or not that's something the president is going to have another opportunity to do if he does get re-elected in the next election.

And it's very much a conversation, Brianna, that the president has regularly with his White House counsel, with people inside the administration, about who it would be he would pick if he did have that chance.

KEILAR: So if he did have that chance, let's watch and see what Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham said about this in October of last year.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): If an opening comes in the last year of President Trump's term, and the primary process has started, we'll wait to the next election. And I've got a pretty good chance of being judiciary --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're on the record.



GRAHAM: Hold the tape.


KEILAR: We're holding the tape, Rebecca. I know and I see the look on your face, right? Because Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, said in May, which -- you know, that was more recent, key, also, majority leader, he said, oh, we'll fill it.

REBECCA BUCK, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Absolutely. Mitch McConnell runs the show in the Senate. And also, you know, President Trump is going to be running the show on this decision as well. And there is no universe in which Trump is going to want to hold off until potentially after he loses the election to try to fill this seat? I mean, why would you take that chance? For Republicans, this is such an essential Supreme Court seat. It would give them such a great command of the Supreme Court for a generation, two generations.

And so, I'm not sure what Lindsey Graham was thinking there.


But --

KEILAR: Maybe that he has more --

BUCK: I would be shocked if Republicans did not fill that seat. KEILAR: He thinks he has more power than he does. Known to reverse himself, as well, we should point out, so we wouldn't be surprised if he did.

Okay, let's talk about the G7. The president is heading there. This is normally a very big deal, Kylie, but he's been complaining to his own aides and even to foreign leaders that he doesn't view this summit as a productive use of his time.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes, he doesn't think that it's going to be a place where he is in the spotlight, right? And we have actually seen efforts by President Macron, who is hosting this in France, to undermine how much President Trump is in the spotlight, because he's been -- he's gotten the attention in the past for upending the joint communique.

He wouldn't sign it last year. This year, President Macron decided, we're going to get rid of it, we're not even going to have it. We're not even going to give Trump the ability to be in the spotlight for undermining our joint efforts. . And when it comes to President Trump, America first does not equate to multilateralism. He doesn't like these joint bodies. He likes dealing one-on-one with these world leaders. He thinks that that's the place where he can get the most done. So it's not necessarily surprising that he's not looking forward to this.

But it is noteworthy that the world leaders are taking efforts and try to get him out of the spotlight and work on things that they can work on together, like climate change.

KEILAR: One of the things I find so interesting about how this is different with President Trump versus another administration is, look, these are lots of work.

I don't think every president loves everything about them, but I do think that they look forward to the opportunity to go and be in the same place with -- there are a number of G7 members who are U.S. partners on intelligence, on national security.

And it gives them an opportunity they don't always have. It's not a phone call. They're in person. They can have these meetings. They can get stuff done and get on the same page.

SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, absolutely. And I think that there's a really important reason why the President doesn't go. I agree with everything Kylie said, but I think there's something else here too.

When you look at the G7 countries, the countries that are represented at the G7 are, by all accounts, partners and allies of the United States. The problem for President Trump is that the leaders who will be there representing those countries are not partners and allies of President Trump.

And so he walks into that space and we all remember how awkward it was last year, as he kind of, you know, spent time around these individuals. My daughter was watching and said, daddy, was wrong with the -- what's happening there, because it was so awkward. He knows that if he goes into this environment that he is going to be in the background. And that's very difficult for President Trump.

But he has to understand that some of those issues he doesn't want to talk about, like global warming, like water scarcity, climate change, these sorts of issues, these are emerging national security issues. They're extremely important issues. And the president really should re-think his reluctance to go and talk about some of these issues.

KEILAR: Kaitlan, I know that the president is kind of -- he's his own communications director, he's his own press secretary. And what we're talking about here as he heads into the G7 is the culmination of a pretty erratic week.

Normally, there would be a press secretary who would be putting their face on that, smoothing some things over. Talk to us about Stephanie Grisham. She's still pretty new. She's been in this role for a little over a month. What can you tell us about how she's settling in at the White House?

COLLINS: Yes. So Stephanie Grisham has been with the president since the 2016 campaign. Of course, you'll remember, she was Melania Trump's press secretary. And she still has that title, but now she's also the White House press secretary, of course.

But despite having that pretty big profile, a lot of responsibilities, she's really flown under the radar so far in this job. She's only been given interview. She has not appeared on camera any other times as the press secretary, like you saw Sarah Sanders do. She has not given any briefings, of course. There have been 165 days since the last time there was a press secretary briefing White House reporters in that briefing room. And there were questions about whether or not she's going to do that going forward.

Initially, people close to Stephanie Grisham thought she was going to bring back briefings. They said she had been talking about it privately, meeting with policy folks in the administration, so she was up to speed on everything. But, lately, what we've been hearing from our sources is they don't think she's going to pursue those on-camera daily televised briefings. Instead, she's toyed with the idea of doing them off-camera, as we saw Sean Spicer do on several occasions near the end of his tenure.

And there are questions, of course, about what the challenges are of this job, being the press secretary for the president who is his own press secretary and, of course, Brianna, at times, contradicts or undermines his own aides.

KEILAR: Kaitlan, thank you so much. Shawn, Kylie, Rebecca, thank you so much for your insights.

And just ahead, the ex-Overstock CEO's jaw-dropping interview, including wild claims about the FBI and his relationship with accused Russian agent Maria Butina. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


KEILAR: Tonight, the story of the former Overstock CEO and an accused Russian agent is getting even stranger, Patrick Byrne claiming in a new interview that the FBI asked him to pursue a sexual relationship with Maria Butina.

We have CNN Political Correspondent Sara Murray who is here with the details. I mean, this story is so outlandish. Shall we believe it?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It is -- it seems hard to believe. And, you know, it may just be impossible to believe.


Patrick Byrne certainly has a lot of details to share about what he says were his interactions with the FBI and how they encouraged his relationship with Maria Butina.

[18:45:06] So far, though, he doesn't have any proof to back it up.


PATRICK BYRNE, FORMER OVERSTOCK CEO: Very honorable men and women, the men in black, they said, we want to be clear, this never happens in the United States. We are the good guys. We're not -- we don't work like the bad guys, but we need you to ask you to rekindle a romantic relationship with Maria Butina --

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: Members of the FBI, that you're sure were members of the FBI, asked you to do this?

MURRAY (voice-over): Wild claims coming from the former CEO of Overstock. Patrick Byrne says not only did he have an intimate relationship with accused Russian agent Maria Butina, he says he even rekindled that romance at the FBI's request.

BYRNE: I was specifically told that this request is coming from Jim Comey at the request of somebody, who I'm not going to name.

MURRAY: That's just ridiculous, the FBI doesn't work that way -- former FBI Director James Comey told CNN.

Butina is serving 18 months behind bars for failing to register as a foreign agent after she tried to infiltrate powerful conservative political groups, including the National Rifle Association.

Along the way, she had a three-year relationship with Byrne, but Byrne got spooked about her Russian ties.

BYRNE: As she explained to me once, she said, Patrick, there are 50 oligarchs who run Russia, but there are seven who really run Russia. Four of them -- I'm on close terms with four of them. MURRAY: When Byrne went to the FBI, he says law enforcement leaders

encouraged him to pursue the relationship. In interviews and a company press release, he says he now believes it was a, quote, deep state conspiracy.

BYRNE: Figured out that this was all political espionage.

MURRAY: Byrne isn't offering any proof to back up his incredible claims. And top former FBI officials say that's because his brush with the so-called deep state never happened.

The former deputy director of the FBI told CNN --

ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER DEPUTY DIRECTOR, FBI: Allegation that, you know, his potential Cooperation with the FBI was somehow discussed at the highest levels certainly never happened when I was there. Is it possible that Mr. Byrne came to the FBI and volunteered information on people he knew? That's certainly possible. Many people do that with the FBI every day.

MURRAY: Byrne's jaw-dropping allegations already appear to have cost him his job. After he put out a press release last week using that conspiratorial phrase "deep state," stocks plunged. When Byrne resigned Thursday, the stock price surged.


MURRAY: Now, a U.S. official tells CNN that Patrick Byrne did meet with Justice Department officials earlier this year and they found some of his claims to be believable. As to what those claims were that were believable and what may have seemed more far fetched, we do not know at this point, Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: All right. Sara Murray, thank you so much for that bizarre report.

And we have more breaking news ahead on the China trade war. New tariffs ordered by President Trump and the nosedive in stock prices.


[18:52:33] KEILAR: Tonight, CNN examines the unprecedented rollback of environmental regulations under the Trump administration.

Our chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is joining us now.

And, Sanjay, tell us what you found in your special report that airs tonight.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, it's interesting. I learned so much, Brianna, when you talk about starting to limit the power of the EPA, the agency supposed to protect us, what does that really mean? Part of it is slash budgets, part of it is changing the rules around air pollution and water pollution and pesticides and climate change. But part of it, you know, as well, which is very frightening is this

idea that scientists who were doing this research, trying to present this research sometimes are getting suppressed and their voices simply aren't being heard.

And that's part of what we found as well.


GUPTA (voice-over): This is Dr. Ruth Etzel. She wrote the book on pediatric environmental health. Until recently, she was the director of the EPA's office of children's health protection.

(on camera): How would you describe your role at the EPA?

DR. RUTH ETZEL, FORMER DIRECTOR, EPA OFFICE OF CHILDREN'S HEALTH PROTECTION: We considered ourselves to be the conscience of EPA, because we would whisper in the ear of those who are trying to push regulations, take a look and make sure that this regulation adequately protects the health of children.



ETZEL: There was a dramatic difference that occurred in January of 2017. For example, my job is to brief the administrator directly. And under the Obama administration, I would do that about once a month. During the two years of the current administration, I was not allowed any opportunity to brief either of the EPA administrators.

GUPTA: Who were you talking to then? Who was listening to you, the conscience of the EPA?

ETZEL: I would say nobody was really listening to the Office of Children's Health Protection.

GUPTA (voice-over): EPA's current administrator maintains the agency's commitment to protecting children's health.


GUPTA: Brianna, you know, millions of children obviously affected by more air pollution, more water pollution. It's always important to remember that, you know, children aren't just little adults. They're taking in pound for pound more air, more water, more toxins, they should be studied more and instead we are finding, as you heard from Dr. Ruth Etzel, is that they are maybe studied less and there is funding cuts at 13 large pediatric environmental centers that are supposed to be looking at this issue. We're just -- they're not even collecting the data at some of these places anymore.

KEILAR: It's stunning reporting and so important. Thank you so much, Sanjay.

And we'll be sure to watch your special report, "A Toxic Tale: Trump's Environmental Impact".

[18:55:06] This airs tonight at 10:00 p.m. Eastern, only on CNN.

And we have more news ahead.


KEILAR: Finally tonight, a strange explanation by Russia after a mysterious explosion at a military test range. A hospital treating first responders after the explosion reportedly found a radioactive isotope in the muscle of one patient.

Now, you might suspect the explosion was the cause. But we're told by Russian biomedical specialists -- we're told that these specialists blamed it on Fukushima crabs, claiming that the patient likely ate seafood contaminated by the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan while on vacation.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" stars right now.