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Second Earthquake Rattles Central Mexico; Seismic Activity Detected in North Korea; Alabama Senate Race Tests Trump's Influence with Voters. Aired 11a-12n ET

Aired September 23, 2017 - 11:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:59:51] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. It's 11:00 on the East Coast. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

We begin with breaking news out of Mexico where a 6.1 earthquake has been reported in Oaxaca. This coming just four days after a separate catastrophic quake rattled the country.

CNN's Rosa Flores is in Mexico City for us right now. So, Rosa -- what can you tell us about what was felt there and how much more nervous this is making people as they continue to search for any potential survivors?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Fred, I just talked to the family member of one of the individuals who's presumed trapped in the building that you see behind me. And she said her heart stopped when we heard the earthquake alert here in Mexico City because it was the same alert that they heard moments before the 7.1 deadly earthquake that happened this past Tuesday.

So imagine the rush of emotion for these family members who've been here waiting for days hoping for good news, hoping that the rescuers that you see behind me will get to their loved ones safely.

Now, I want to get out of the way so you can take a look at some of these search efforts because these search efforts actually paused as soon as that earthquake alert happened because these search efforts are very dangerous. And these people are working under very fragile structure, so they rushed off of that roof to safer ground.

Then we saw residents, police officers, volunteers, everyone around us rush to the center of the streets here in Mexico City because that's what people do here to get away from buildings just in case the earthquake -- an earthquake does cause debris to fly. They get to the safest place they can.

And then everything stopped for a moment. People waited and waited. And then after a few minutes pedestrian traffic resumed and so did the rescue efforts that you're looking at on your screen.

Now, the good news, Fred, is that we didn't feel it right here where I'm standing. We didn't feel it where these rescue efforts are happening. That's a good thing for multiple, multiple reasons. Not only can the rescue efforts resume, but imagine the heart of these individuals who are hoping that their family members are safe under that rubble.

Their hearts could beat again after that because their hearts stopped with worry and agony of just wondering and thinking what could happen if another earthquake strikes Mexico City.

So a lot of very tense moments, Fred, as you might imagine as these families hope and pray that their loved ones are still safe under that rubble.

WHITFIELD: All right. Some real tenuous moments, they continue. Thank you so much -- Rosa Flores. We'll check back with you in Mexico City.

We're also following developments on North Korea and Iran. Two seismic events have been detected near North Korea's nuclear test site, but the cause still unknown. A nuclear watchdog group says neither one appears to be manmade.

Two South Korean officials say it was a natural earthquake but add that there is a slim possibility a collapse occurred at the nuclear test site.

Meanwhile, in defiance of the U.N. and President Trump, Iran is flexing its nuclear capabilities. It tested a new ballistic missile this morning that is reportedly capable of carrying multiple warheads and reaching U.S. allies.

CNN international correspondent Ben Wedeman has more.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Fredricka, Iranian television has shown that the launch of a medium range ballistic missile, the Khorramshahr just days after U.S. President Donald Trump said at the U.N. General Assembly that Iran's missile program could lead him to scrap the 2015 nuclear deal negotiated by the Obama administration.

State media quoted the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards aerospace division as saying that the missile has a range of 2,000 kilometers or 1,250 miles and is capable of carrying multiple warheads. A missile with such a range could reach Israel as well as U.S. bases in the Middle East. However, in the past Iran has launched missiles with a greater range.

Its missile program is not covered by the 2015 nuclear deal, which was negotiated with the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany. President Trump who's repeatedly threatened to scrap the deal in the past has said that he worries that in the future Iran could fit its missiles with nuclear warheads.

Responding to the U.S. President, the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaking at the U.N. General Assembly said in his words it will be a great pity if this agreement were to be destroyed by rogue newcomers to world politics -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right. Ben Wedeman -- thank you so much.

[11:05:00] So let's talk now about North Korea. And more specifically the seismic activity detected there is registering in the area where its nuclear tests are conducted in the past. The magnitude 3.5 was felt in the region early this morning and seismic activity is usually the first sign that Pyongyang has conducted a nuclear test. But was this an earthquake or was this something manmade?

CNN's Paula Hancocks is in Seoul, South Korea. So Paula -- is it possible that this was a natural earthquake? What are experts leaning toward in that region?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fredricka -- as far as South Korean officials are concerned this was a natural earthquake. We're hearing from the Korea Meteorological Administration; just in the past hour they've had an updated analysis and they say that they do believe it was natural.

But they have also said that they believe it was just more than three and a half miles from the site of the nuclear test number six. So that is a massive coincidence. And this is why people are asking the question time and time again, are you sure that this is natural? But as far as the officials here are concerned they say that it was.

But of course the fact that it is so close to the Punggye-ri site, this is where all six of the nuclear tests have actually been carried out by North Korea, is very unusual. This magnitude of 3.5 magnitude -- we've seen this in the past in North Korea. We've seen it in South Korea as well. Just in the past couple of months there have been a couple of instances where these small tremors have taken place.

But officials are saying that the kind of seismic wave that they are seeing can only mean that it is natural at this point. We haven't heard from the U.S. Geographical Survey though, they still say that they're looking into it. They're analyzing.

But of course, the fact that it is so close to the nuclear -- previous nuclear tests, the fact that there's so much going on at the moment, there are threats from North Korea of carrying out further nuclear tests, does beg the question, which is why Korean officials have said that they have checked this many times -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right. Paula Hancocks, we'll check back with you. Thank you so much.

All right. On to health care in this country -- John McCain, Rand Paul and Steph Curry also -- where politics and sports collide on the heels of last night's fiery rally. No one is immune to the President's ire this morning.

Up next -- Trump's blame game.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: John McCain was not on the list, so that was a totally unexpected thing -- terrible. Honestly, terrible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[11:07:34] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: All right.

Republicans just one vote away from their health care bill being dead on arrival but President Trump is not yet giving up. In a tweet storm today he seemingly encourages senators who are leaning toward voting no to vote yes saying, quote, "I know Rand Paul and I think he may find a way to get there for the good of the party." And saying, quote, "Alaska had a 200 percent plus increase in premiums under Obamacare, worst in the country, deductibles high, people angry. Lisa M. -- comes through."

All right. But the President is outraged with Senator John McCain of Arizona who announced he would not vote for the latest bill. Here's the President last night at a rally for a senate candidate in Alabama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: So that was a totally unexpected thing -- terrible. Honestly, terrible. Repeal and replace because John McCain, if you look at his campaign, his last campaign was all about repeal and replace. Repeal and replace.

So he decided to do something different. And that's fine. And I say we still have a chance. Oh, we're going to do it eventually --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: All right. Let's go live now to CNN senior national correspondent Alex Marquardt. He's in Huntsville, Alabama where the President was last night.

So Alex -- Trump covered quite the gamut of topics. He left nothing untouched really. But he was there to endorse Luther Strange who is in a primary runoff for the senate seat left by Jeff Sessions. Explain more about this race and whether it took kind of a backseat to all of the other issues the President instead wanted to talk about.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it kind of seemed like that -- Fredricka.

This was a long meandering speech, around an hour and a half long. He was there ostensibly to endorse Luther Strange in this race and he did do that. Tut he talked about a number of topics that were not at all related to this race.

But this is a fascinating race. It is one that highlights the huge divisions in the Republican Party. On the one hand you have Judge Roy Moore who is very much cut from that Trumpian cloth.

He is an outsider. He has no Washington experience. He talks about draining the swamp. And many of his supporters are from that core Trump base.

But then you have the man who President Trump actually is endorsing, Luther Strange, who is seen as much more of the establishment candidate. He is someone who spent years in Washington as a lobbyist before becoming the attorney general here.

And President Trump last night made it clear that this was a question of loyalty. We all know how the President values loyalty, has tweeted about Luther Strange's loyalty.

Luther Strange in turn has talked extensively about how close he is with the President, how much he wants to advance the President's agenda, how hard he has been working on Capitol Hill for the President.

Interestingly, Luther Strange said that he needed to be in the senate as a bulwark for the President against the likes of Senate Majority Mitch McConnell, which is strange, if you will, because Luther Strange has been receiving millions of dollars in support from senate leader -- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's super PAC.

[11:14:57] But the President last night did make it clear that he needs Luther Strange in the senate to help advance his agenda. Here's what he had to say at that rally.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I call up to different people, well, Mr. President, could you have dinner with my wife, myself, my family, my kids, my cousins, my uncles? And I'd like to talk to you about it. Ok. So they come over with the family, pictures all night.

Now I call Luther Strange, I say, oh, I got to call this guy. And he's a no, right? And I say, senator, I need your help. I said I got to get your vote on health care. He says you've got it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUARDT: Well, now he may not even need Luther Strange's vote on that bill because of the announcement by Senator John McCain that he would not be supporting it. But clearly it was enough to buy President Trump's endorsement.

So this is a race that is pitting the President against many of his core voters. It is a race that is pitting the President against many of his core supporters like former Alaska governor Sarah Palin and former campaign chairman Steve Bannon whose Web site, Breitbart has gone on a crusade against Luther Strange.

Now, President Trump did float the possibility last night that Luther Strange could lose this race on Tuesday. He said that in that case he would come back to Alabama to campaign like hell, he said, for Roy Moore -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right. Covering all the bases. Alexander Marquardt -- thank you so much from Huntsville, Alabama. So although the President was campaigning for Luther Strange, he spoke

about everything from North Korea to even Colin Kaepernick. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners when somebody disrespects our flag to say get that son of a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) off the field right now? Out. He's fired. He's fired.

What I do best, I build. So you have a concrete wall and you have Mexico, wonderful, wonderful place, Mexico. And you have over here the United States. But you can't see anything, right?

So now they take drugs literally and they throw it, 100 pounds of drugs, they throw it over the wall, they have catapults. But they throw it over the wall and it lands and it hits somebody on the head. You don't even know they're there.

Believe it or not this is the kind of stuff that happens. So you need to have a great wall, but it has to be see-through.

Little rocket man -- we're going to do it because we really have no choice. We really have no choice. Now he's talking about a massive weapon exploding over the ocean, the Pacific Ocean, which causes tremendous, tremendous calamity. Where that plume goes so goes cancer, so goes tremendous problems.

And I want to tell you something. And I'm sure he's listening because he watches every word. And I guarantee you one thing. He's watching us like he never watched anybody before, that I can tell you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: All right. Let's talk about all of this as much as we can. Joining me now to talk about this is CNN politics commentator David Swerdlick and assistant editor at the "Washington Post; CNN political analyst Patrick Healy, deputy cultural editor at the "New York Times"; also with me is CNN senior media correspondent Brian Stelter.

All right, good to see all of you.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Good to see you.

WHITFIELD: So let's begin with North Korea since that's the last thing we heard from Donald Trump in that quick little montage there of his thoughts while in Alabama.

So, David -- this has gotten personal, right? We are listening to and reading the tweets from Donald Trump talking about, you know, little rocket man. And then Kim Jong-Un is responding the same way calling him a lunatic.

So how much more volatile does it make this situation, the tension between North Korea, particularly, and the U.S.?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, good morning -- Fred.

So I think the volatility and the mercurial statements by both President Trump and Kim Jong-Un really have the effect of rattling allies and adversaries more so than they actually have of changing the dynamic between the two world leaders and between the two countries.

Look, President Trump when he goes with this whole rocket man jag that he's been on for the last couple of days or week or two, it's like he's trying to little Marco Kim Jong-Un. The problem is that this is not about insults. This is about interests.

We have an interest in preventing North Korea from getting nuclear weapons. They have an interest for whatever reasons, even reasons that we oppose, but they have reasons why they want nuclear weapons.

And the objective for President Trump is to put pressure on Kim Jong- Un whether it's via China or Russia or other countries or direct negotiation, whatever he chooses, to reach some kind of either agreement or not an agreement. But the back and forth at this point is not really proving much to anybody.

[11:20:06] And, Patrick -- later on today a representative of North Korea will be speaking at the General Assembly. One would think that there will be a direct now verbal response to the sentiments of Donald Trump. And all of this taking place while the "L.A. Times" is reporting that aides to Trump said, here's a warning -- don't allow it to go personal.

PATRICK HEALY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And Donald Trump lives in the personal -- Fred. I mean, this is where he feels like his own effectiveness really comes through. It's not about policy details. It's not about sitting with his cabinet for hours coming up with sort of scenarios, tit-for-tat chess game.

It's hitting back against adversaries ten times as hard as they hit him. He used to brag about that; he still sort of thinks that that is how he conveys strong leadership. But whether he's sort of punching down at the NFL or going after, you know, Kim Jong-Un with North Korea, you really have to wonder what's the end game for him?

I mean, President Trump just time after time after time is acting on impulse, as he often always has without any sort of clear sense that this is going to sort of steer a controversy back to either a safer place or a more pragmatic place with regard to North Korea.

And at least right now what you saw in Alabama is he's going in front of probably the most friendly crowd that he's had since he's been president, or one of them, and just offering red meat after red meat after red meat.

And you sit there and you wonder is this really what he kind of wants for the country, wants for his own sort of policy and administration? Or is it just this kind of impulsive attack?

WHITFIELD: And not just on the global stage is the President in the middle of this firestorm, but also, Brian -- in this country where culture, sports and politics all collide, and the President last night while in Alabama injecting his point of view on who should be fired as it pertains to NFL players who kneel while the national anthem is played. And the NFL's, you know, commissioner, has also injected himself and almost setting the President straight, is he not?

STELTER: That's right. This is highly unusual to hear from the NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell, about something involving politics. But we've seen a statement from him this morning in response to what the President said.

And in that video clip about the Colin Kaepernicks, the players who've been protesting the national anthem taking a knee, we can put on screen part of Goodell's statement. He doesn't name Trump explicitly, but he says that the divisive comments, referring to Trump's comments, demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, for the game and for all of the players.

So Goodell is wading in, at least dipping his toe into this controversy. But it's going to increase, I think, this weekend -- Fred. We're going to see more players take a knee to protest various -- the anthem protests were not about President Trump. It's been going on for a while. But it suddenly is much more about President Trump explicitly because of the criticism.

WHITFIELD: It was a year ago. Yes, it was a year ago, you know, for Colin Kaepernick. And it's not just the NFL. You know, it's also now, you know, America's sweetheart NBA player Steph Curry -- David.

SWERDLICK: Yes.

WHITFIELD: And so getting into this exchange of ideas now Steph Curry, you know, in a very eloquent way said that he had reservations about going to the White House because of what the President has said and what he hasn't said at certain times. And the President taking it further and saying, well, then you know what, uninvited. We're still not sure if he means to Steph Curry or to the Golden State Warriors as a whole.

So, you know, David, I mean, what kind of position does this put the President in when the White House is to be the house of many and all? And now you have an invitation, an invitation no longer extended because of a critical viewpoint from a star player?

SWERDLICK: Yes, so a couple points just to piggyback on what Brian was saying a moment ago. You know, when I see that statement from the NFL commissioner, what I think is that he realizes, and I think this is part of the motivation behind the statement, that the President by bringing attention to this issue at a political rally is giving Colin Kaepernick and his supporters and these other players who are doing this silent protest during the national anthem essentially to use a sports metaphor, bulletin board material. And that's not helpful to the very awkward at best position that the NFL is in right now.

In terms of Steph Curry, Fred -- I think you can look at it again to compare what President Trump is doing to what Steph Curry is doing. President Trump in Huntsville is talking directly to his base, his core supporters.

Well, Steph Curry has a base too. He's a player on a team in the most liberal part of the country. He has a constituency. And he understands that his constituency probably wouldn't want to see him, you know, grinning and shaking hands with the President because the President has been in the words of Roger Goodell, very divisive on this and a lot of other issues.

[11:25:09] STELTER: And there's an unmistakable racial component to this that is uncomfortable to talk about but is obvious. So I think we should put that out there.

In the Trump presidency everyone is tested -- the courts, the news media, the business leaders of this country and now it's the NFL's turn, now it's the NBA's turn. We're going to see this deepen in the coming days.

But Trump wants these us versus them clashes. He seems to embrace these issues.

WHITFIELD: And, Patrick -- what kind of pressure, if at all, does it apply to the President on being a little bit more introspective as he is now engaged in a pretty big cultural warfare?

HEALY: He just doesn't see it that way -- Fred. I mean, he went after John McCain pretty aggressively this morning on Twitter. And you would think, again, that a president would see relationships as being so central to how they lead, whether it's with members of congress, whether it's with sort of high profile cultural groups like the NFL, like the NBA.

You want to be as you said earlier, Fred, kind of, you know, president for all. Like if he goes to Alabama, he's still talking to people in purple states as well. You know, in terms of people who didn't vote for him last time.

This is not President Trump. He has sort of showed that now again and again this sense of you would think kind of like an introspection like you said, you know about how he comes across and is he a uniter, not a divider, you know --

WHITFIELD: Yes.

HEALY: -- as has been said before. It's just not the way he thinks.

WHITFIELD: So, Patrick, you used a powerful word there, you talked about relationships. And when you talk about relationships, one can't help but now think about the relationship building needed to get whether it's repeal and replace Obamacare --

HEALY: Tax reform.

WHITFIELD: -- tax reform, all of that. And he is now in this very, you know, outward fight with, you know, an American hero, with John McCain. With John McCain's display of saying publicly I'm not going for this because my conscience won't allow it -- David. And then to now get into this philosophical battle with John McCain and potentially with others, you know -- Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins -- those who have most recently, you know, shot down the latest GOP plan.

Is the President not thinking beyond politics? This is much bigger than the politics of trying to move policy?

SWERDLICK: Well, for someone who billed themselves to the American people, to the voters last year as a deal maker and someone who could so shrewdly manipulate what was going on, on Capitol Hill, he has now -- either not been willing or not been able to see how alienating members of congress has hurt him in trying to coax them toward his position.

If you take Senator McCain or anybody, Senator Murkowski, Senator Collins -- some of these senators who have not gone along with him on health care or with leadership on health care, what those senators are signaling to the President and their own leadership is we're not afraid of President Trump. We're going to agree with him when we do, but when we don't disagree -- when we disagree with President Trump, we're going to vote the other way because we feel like the political ramifications are worse for going along with everything than they are for bucking the trend.

And the fact that he doesn't have that personal relationship to fall back on, that warm and fuzzy relationship with Senator McCain who he insulted, as you pointed out, and as Patrick pointed out, that makes it that much harder for him to coax them to his side.

WHITFIELD: Yes. And so, Brian -- really quickly, you know, for the great negotiator, the dealmaker, don't you need relationships in order to do that?

STELTER: Yes, but he mocked that idea at the rally last night saying he doesn't have -- won't have to go on all those dinners and meetings and all those phone calls to get this thing done.

I think what sums up this entire segment, Fred -- when we play that clip in the very beginning, we had to bleep the President of the United States. We had to bleep his language because he cursed in front of millions of viewers and the public last night. That's where we are. That's where we are ten months into the Trump presidency.

WHITFIELD: Yes. And you don't necessarily want your kids to be in the room these days --

STELTER: I'm glad we bleeped it. But we had to bleep the President -- that's where we are.

WHITFIELD: Right. And you customarily don't want to have to do that.

All right. Brian Stelter, David Swerdlick, Patrick Healy -- thank you so much.

SWERDLICK: Thank you. STELTER: Thanks.

HEALY: Thanks -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. So don't miss. There is much more, we've got a special Monday night on health care and beyond -- Republican Senators Lindsey Graham, Bill Cassidy debating their health care bill live against Democratic Senators Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar.

Jake Tapper and Dana Bash moderating the fight over Obamacare or health care overall -- whatever it becomes at 9:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

And we'll be right back.

[11:29:51]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:34:21]

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Welcome back. Live pictures now of the U.N. where leaders of various countries today on the floor of the U.N. there. And later on, today, it's North Korea's foreign minister, who will be taking to that spot right there addressing the General Assembly.

Meanwhile, the rhetoric between President Trump and North Korea continues to rage on. North Korea state media today calling Trump's United Nations speech, quoting now, "rubbish." The war of words also getting increasingly personal between Trump and Kim Jong-un.

Trump calling the North Korean leader, sort of whacko, a madman and rocket man. Kim Jong-un has responded by calling Trump, quote, "a barking dog, mentally deranged and a dotard", meaning a lunatic, among other things.

[11:35:06] I want to bring in CNN's global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott. Also with us Jim Walsh, an international security analyst and research associate at the Securities Study Program at MIT. Good to see both of you.

JIM WALSH, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Good to see you, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. So, Elise, you first. This level of rhetoric, it is unprecedented and it only seems to be heightened every day. We don't know what to expect from North Korea's representative later on today, but is it likely to be a continuation of Kim Jong-un's sentiments about Donald Trump?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: I think that they'll certainly be some tough words about President Trump and the U.S. in general, Fred. I mean, clearly, it's getting very personal between these two leaders.

And, you know, you can see from Kim Jong-un that statement that he put out the other day where he talked about President Trump, it is in my memory kind of unprecedented for Kim Jong-un himself to put out something.

It's clear that Donald Trump is getting in his head. I think what you'll hear from the North Korean foreign minister is a lot of bluster about the United States, possibly a lot of tough talk about North Korea and why it is going ahead on its nuclear program.

Because it does say it's doing this because it feels threatened by the United States, by South Korea, by Japan, and it needs to defend himself. How fiery the North Korean foreign minister will get in front of the U.N. General Assembly, I don't know.

But you heard him this was the man the other day that said perhaps if the United States continued to threaten North Korea, North Korea would launch a hydrogen bomb into the Pacific.

So, I mean, clearly, you know, it's a regime policy to be very tough, to be very blistering and belligerent, but how undiplomatic it will get in front of the hall we don't know yet.

WHITFIELD: So, Jim Walsh, you know, how concerned are you about North Korea as it threatens this nuclear bomb test over the Pacific? And if indeed it were to come to that, how the U.S. would be able to respond that would not further endanger millions of lives?

WALSH: Yes. I think you put your finger right on the real issue here. Elise is right to say the statement by Chairman Kim was unlike anything we've seen and sort of spooked my colleagues in the North Korea expert community.

Because it was Kim speaking in the first person putting his legitimacy on the line and making this vow that he was going to test a bomb over the Pacific. Now, I don't think they're really at the capability -- if they plan to use an ICBM and there are different ways they can do it.

I don't think they're necessarily ready to do that right now, but by putting his personal stamp on that, I think you have to entertain the possibility this will happen. It's something the Obama administration worried about.

And if they go forward, this represents a major, major trigger point that could go very badly. So, yes, in this case talk matters.

WHITFIELD: Because does it seem like instead of it's us against them, it's now me against you.

WALSH: Yes. Absolutely. In any case, if this last exchange has pushed Kim for whatever reasons, bargaining reasons, emotional reasons, saving face, whatever it is, if he really decides to pursue this, this could go wrong a lot of different ways and the U.S. response could go wrong a lot of different ways. And we could end up in a shooting war.

WHITFIELD: All right. Jim Walsh, Elise Labott, thanks so much. We'll have you back.

WALSH: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right, it's a hoax? The president of the United States yet again slamming the ongoing investigation into Russia's meddling in the 2016 election. We'll discuss that next.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: No, Russia did not help me. I call it the Russian hoax.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:42:53]

WHITFIELD: All right. President Trump is adamantly denying once again that Russia meddled in the 2016 election.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: And by the way, folks, just in case you're like curious, no, Russia did not help me. OK. Russia, I call it the Russian hoax. One of the great hoax --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: The president of the United States speaking at a rally for an Alabama Senate candidate last night where he dismissed the claims which are being investigated by Special Counsel Mueller and U.S. Congress.

Joining me right now, Walter Shaub, a CNN contributor and former director of Office of Government Ethics, and Michael Zeldin, a CNN legal analyst and Robert Mueller's former special assistant at the Department of Justice. Good to see both of you. Thanks so much.

All right. So, Walter, let me begin with you. What do you make of the president's rhetoric last night calling this Russia probe a hoax?

WALTER SHAUB, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think his rhetoric last night in his speech and frankly in his tweets earlier in the day are problematic because they signal a threat to the independence of the United States Department of Justice.

And there is a civic and ethical norm in the executive branch that you must protect the independence of the Department of Justice. The problem -- it's OK that the president doesn't agree that this is an investigation he wants to happen.

But he's got to avoid doing things that suggest he's signaling to his people to not cooperate with the investigation or to undermine the credibility of Robert Mueller. WHITFIELD: And, you know, Michael, we've heard the president over and over say, hey, there's no evidence of, you know, Russia messing with the voting systems in various states. But the Department of Homeland Security has now told states that hackers targeted their voting systems and the investigations are intensifying.

How are the president's words either potentially undermining these separate investigations, or overall undermining these vital agencies and departments?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, so two questions. First is how is it undermining Mueller's investigation. I think it's not at all except to the extent that he is rallying his base to reject findings that Mueller may make that may be averse to him.

[11:45:14] But in legal terms there's nothing that the president can do short of firing Mueller, which he can't really do, to put an end to Mueller's investigation. There can be no question but that Facebook and Twitter were used by Russian interests to shape opinions during the campaign.

And those opinions that they sought to shape were generally antithetical to Secretary Clinton's campaign in favor of now-President Trump's campaign. That's pretty much undeniable. What's not clear is whether there was any collusion and that's what Mueller is investigating.

But the overarching point, Fred, that's more important, is that we know that social media can now be used for political ads. Twitter and Facebook have acknowledged so. They've turned over thousands of pages of documents on this.

And the Federal Elections Commission regulations that govern this just are not modern. They're not up-to-date. They can't address these issues presently.

WHITFIELD: You mean there's no law that compels any company to hand over, Mark Zuckerberg with Facebook really doing it on his own volition saying he feels compelled by his own duty to support democracy in this nation.

ZELDIN: So, two things, yes, for sure that. But second, with respect to purchasing ads on television, there are clear guidelines about what can be purchased, what has to be revealed, whether it's campaign related independent of a candidate or whether it's related to a candidate, all that stuff is pretty well fleshed out.

And that's why you say I approve this ad or this ad is made by this political action committee. On social media that doesn't exist. There just isn't law that governs this and the president would really be advised to work with Congress in getting the Federal Elections Commission laws up-to-date so that we don't see a repeat of what we saw in '16 in '18.

WHITFIELD: Walter, do you feel like Bob Mueller's investigation is narrowing its scope as it pertains to now learning Facebook handing over information, we've learned a little bit more about Paul Manafort and his home being searched and being told that indictment may be imminent.

Overall, the public information that we have, what does this tell you about the intensification of Bob Mueller's investigation zeroing in on something?

SHAUB: Well, I think anything we could say about the scope of his investigation is speculative because the nature of the investigative work is to be very careful in what you reveal. They're obviously pushing a lot of pressure on Paul Manafort right now.

I think though I agree with what Michael said. I do think though that there is some potential and some threat of impeding the investigation somewhat in the various things the president can do.

I personally think that the pardon of Joe Arpaio, which is very strange at the point in the legal proceedings in which it came and frankly it's a strange choice at this time in his presidency could be read as a signal to the various potential witnesses that if you stand firm and you cooperate only minimally, I may be willing to pardon you.

And I think that's threatening. I also think that the signaling about his objections to the investigation are so out of character of the executive branch that they threaten -- they suggest the threat that he may be considering eventually trying to get Mueller fired and obviously he can't fire him directly.

And hopefully, we wouldn't see another Saturday night massacre, but I think we all need to be very vigilant and make sure that this kind of rhetoric doesn't translate into action down the line.

WHITFIELD: All right. Walter Shaub, Michael Zeldin, good to see you. Thanks so much.

All right. Up next, the NFL couldn't even escape the president's wrath last night and now the head of the league is fighting back. Details on all of that next.

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PRESIDENT TRUMP: Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners when somebody disrespects our flag to say get that son of a (inaudible) off the field right now?

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[11:52:36]

WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back. A political battle is brewing between President Trump and several pro-athletes. This morning, the president fired off a tweet about the NBA champions, Golden State Warriors and their star guard, Steph Curry, saying, "Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team. Steph Curry is hesitating therefore invitation is withdrawn."

The tweet come a day after Curry said he would vote no if the team were polled on whether to make the traditional visit to the White House.

CNN's sports anchor, Coy Wire, is with us now. This on top of a fire storm of president and the NFL as well. Let's talk about the NBA and really the nation's sweetheart. Steph Curry couldn't be more popular.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, great point. So, let's our viewers hear that response from Steph Curry when he was asked would you go to the White House if you were invited. This is the comment that likely elicited President Donald Trump's tweet earlier this morning. Listen.

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STEPH CURRY, GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS: We don't stand for basically what our president has -- the things he said and the things that he hasn't said in the right times that we won't stand for it. By acting and not going hopefully that will inspire some change when it comes to what we tolerate in this country and what is accepted and what we turn a blind eye to.

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WIRE: Now, in addition to Steph Curry being out spoken against President Trump in the past. Head coach Steve Kerr of the Warriors has said in the past that President Trump, quote, "Couldn't be more ill-suited to be president because he's a blow hard," unquote.

So, not surprising to many this morning that President Trump withdrew the invitation. What was Lebron Kames response to President Trump's earlier this morning? It's about 20 minutes ago, King James tweeted, quote, "You bum. Steph Curry already said he ain't going so therefore ain't no invite. Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up," unquote.

Strong words from King James. Now there's another big story that we're following this morning, the collision of sports and politics. President Trump blasted the NFL and its players last night during a rally for Alabama Senate Candidate Luther Strange ripping players like Colin Kaepernick who took a knee in protest during the national anthem. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners when somebody disrespects our flag to say get that son of a (inaudible) off the field right now, out. He's fired.

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[11:55:07] WIRE: The crowd there in Alabama really reacting positively to President Trump. He also urged fans to leave the stadium when they see players refusing to stand for the anthem. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell releasing a statement earlier this morning saying in part, quote, "Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game, and all of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities," unquote.

Fred, he was referring there to some of the players who have raised millions and millions of dollars for hurricane relief efforts. So, you know, wanting to shed light on the positive that the players can bring when they voiced up for social change --

WHITFIELD: Yes. And this is now incited incredible debates and discussions now particularly as people look at the racial components here and the language, the rhetoric, the demeanor of president as he talked about these very favorite players who have been taking a stand in a very unique way onto themselves.

All right. Coy Wire, thanks so much. Appreciate that. All right. We have so much more straight ahead in the NEWSROOM right after this.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I first saw him nine years ago. I saw a flyer for an audition.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We held up this picture and said this is the guy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Four days after that audition, I was struck by a car on my motorcycle while riding home from work. I had three surgeries to try to save my foot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My doctor has basically told me that amputation seems to be the best option. I think I made the decision to get back up probably after a week of being at home. That's when I started fighting. I immediately hit the gym as soon as I could.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He started sending me videos. He ran and did a round off back hand spring.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From the day I started walking to the day I walked back into the audition room was eight months. One day I got the call to join the cast. I was completely beside myself.

I have four different prosthetic legs that I use for the show. I don't think I can take for granted every second that I get to spend a night on that stage. There was a time it never could have happened.

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