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U.S. President Attends NATO Summit in Brussels Today; U.S.: New "Strategic Concept" for Russia and China; China: G7 "Deliberately Slanders" Its Internal Affairs; Netanyahu Ousted, Bennett Becomes Prime Minister; U.S. Assessing Reported Leak at Chinese Nuclear Power Facility; Source: Trump Justice Department Sought Records of White House Counsel McGahn; Slavitt: Trump Team's "3 Deadly Sins" Cost Lives; Delta Variant Dominate in U.K., Growing Fast in U.S.; U.K. Media: Prime Minister Will Delay Lifting Final England Covid Rules. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired June 14, 2021 - 04:00   ET



ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us here in the United States and all around the world. I'm Rosemary Church. Just ahead on CNN NEWSROOM.

The U.S. president arrives in Brussels for a meeting with NATO leaders aiming to bolster America's position and unite encountering threats from Russia and China.

Israel votes to confirm a new government ending Benjamin Netanyahu's 12-year grip on power.

And the variant that crippled India's health care system is causing concerns across the U.K. Now U.S. officials are also sounding the alarm.

Good to have you with us. Well a busy week begins for U.S. President Joe Biden. He is meeting face to face with President Vladimir Putin in the coming days while watching the infrastructure negotiations going on in Congress. But right now he is in Brussels getting ready for a NATO summit set to kick off in just a matter of hours.

Part of his goal in Europe has been to repair relationships frayed by the former U.S. president reaffirming America's commitment to its allies. On Sunday Mr. Biden draw a line between himself and his predecessor's often a combative approach to the alliance.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Remember what happened to 9/11? We were attacked and immediately NATO supported us. NATO supported us. NATO went until we got Bin Laden. NATO was part of the process. And I want them to know unlike we've ever doubted them, we believe NATO and section five is a sacred obligation.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CHURCH: Well Mr. Biden and several other leaders now in Brussels just attended the G7 summit in the U.K. The group agreed to donate a billion doses of COVID vaccines and called for a study on the origins of the coronavirus. They also agreed on the goal of zero net emissions by 2050. They singled out Russia for harboring cyber criminals and spoke out against human rights abuses in China, a matter that was hotly debated behind closed doors.


BIDEN: I think China has to start to act more responsibly in terms of international norms on human rights and transparency. Transparency matters.


CHURCH: And we've got reporters standing by around the world. Senior national correspondent Ivan Watson is in Hong Kong with more on the effort to counter China's influence. And correspondent Melissa Bell is in Brussels where meetings are set to get underway in just a couple of hours. Good to see you both. So Melissa, we'll start with you. A pivotal moment for the alliance. Big issues to figure out and U.S. President Biden planning to press NATO over the threat Russia poses. What are the expectations?

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. It's going to be one of the main focuses of this because of the representation of NATO of European Union members. Because also tomorrow Biden will be meeting with European Union leaders. We're looking at this transatlantic relationship in terms of the U.S. and Europe. And it changed a great deal. Not just because the American president changed but Europe changed. That's how it sees itself. Strengthened, more unified, more keen to play a role that it reflects what it leads power now on the world stage. Emmanuel Macron very keen to focus on arms containment, for instance, but of course, Russia, China will dominate. This is what Jens Stoltenberg had to say as he here at NATO headquarters a short while ago.


JENS STOLTENBERG, NTO SECRETARY GENERAL: Our relationship with Russia is at its lowest point since the end of the cold war. This is due to Russia's aggressive actions. I am confident that the NATO leaders will confirm our dual track approach to Russia.


Strong defense combined with dialogue.


BELL (on camera): That's the key. That combination of containing any aggressive actions of Russia. Of course, cybersecurity is going to be one of the big themes of this meeting here that will kick off in a while. But also the need for dialogue. That was one of the big shifts that Emmanuel Macron indicated back in 2019. You'll remember his very controversial remarks about NATO being brain dead and its growing irrelevance. The fact Europe should be looking less and less toward Washington necessarily and once again redefining its relationships with countries like Russia.

Now of course, the closer to Russia you get within the European Union, the keener those states are on the idea that NATO takes a tough stance. But there is more of a resolve within the European generally to try and negate where it can while it's not ignoring the need to contain any possibility for fruitful dialogue with Russia. As Emmanuel Macron said, you only need to look at a map of the world to understand why it matters to Europe.

CHURCH: Yes, exactly. Many thanks, Melissa. Ivan in Hong Kong now. And we saw President Biden focus on the threat posed by China at the G7 summit. What's Beijing saying about that?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They don't like it. There have been statements coming out of the of Chinese embassy in London since Beijing is shut down for a three-day weekend. The first statement took some digs at the G7.

Saying quote: The days when global decisions were dictated by small group of countries are long gone. It denounced the quote, so called, system and order advocated by a handful of countries.

And since then a second statement has come out basically accusing the G7 in its final communique of distorting facts and reverting right and wrong of deliberately slandering China and announced that China is dissatisfied and firmly opposed to the sinister intentions of a few countries such as the United States. Then goes point by point, Rosemary, rebutting criticisms that came up in the G7 communique of China.

For example, a call from the G7 for China to respect human rights and freedoms in its Xinjiang region and here in Hong Kong a call for mechanisms to root out forced labor in the global supply chain. Which can be interpreted as criticism of reports that forced labor is being used in Xinjiang.

A call for an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus which was first spotted in late 2019 in Wuhan in China. As well as an appeal for a new kind of infrastructure initiative by G7 countries investing in infrastructure in poorer countries around the world. Which is seen as an attempt to compete with China's own belt and road initiative which has been in practice for years. Which this U.S. led initiative is years behind China and billions of dollars behind it, as well.

The points of disagreement here are not new. China -- Beijing and Washington have been at war of words over this for years. What is changing is that Biden is succeeding in bringing on Western ally lies to join in criticism of China. That's something that Beijing did not see during the four years of Donald Trump's go at it alone America -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: All right, Ivan Watson joining is live from Hong Kong, many thanks. Israel has a new political landscape with the oust of Benjamin

Netanyahu and the ushering in of a new coalition government.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The results of the voting 60 for the new government 59 against one -- thank you ...


CHURCH: Approved the new government by a razor thin one vote margin, as you heard there. Naftali Bennett is in his first full day as Prime Minister. He leads a fragile alliance of eight parties spanning the political spectrum, including an Arab-Israeli party for the first time.

Netanyahu shook his successor's hand but ahead of the swearing in, Netanyahu attacked Mr. Bennett. Called the coalition weak and dangerous and vowed to return to power. Bennett, on the other hand, delivered a message of unity.


NAFTALI BENNETT, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): Now the citizens of Israel, all of them are looking up at us and we must deliver. We will act together in partnership and responsibility to heal the rift amid the people and immediately bring the country back to functionality. Regular functioning after a long period of paralysis and strife. We are looking ahead.



CHURCH: Elliott Gotkine is in Jerusalem with more on this. He joins us live. Good to see you, Elliott. So Benjamin Netanyahu is out after 12 years in power. But for how long? And what can this new fragile and politically diverse coalition achieve in the meantime?

ELLIOTT GOTKINE, JOURNALIST: Rosemary, I think your guess is as good as mine as to the durability of this coalition. It is fragile. It is incredibly diverse. The most diverse that has ever been in Israel. But certainly, they will be doing their best to focus on the issues that unite them, rather than those that divide them. So I wouldn't expect any major progress vis-a-vis the Palestinian or vis-a-vis settlements, things like that.

Instead they'll focus on let's say noncontroversial issues. Such as getting the economy back on track post COVID-19. More funding for defense, for education, for health, thinks like that. Reducing crime in Arab cities and towns. And also, creating a state commission of inquiry into the crush at a religious festival that happened some six weeks ago. That is something that these issues or things that perhaps would not be too controversial for this government.

At the same time, ex-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be doing everything he can to try to undermine this government. He said so himself. He'll be trying to expose the divisions that are very clear between the coalition government's constituent parts. And he will be hoping that this is just a pause in his political career as he goes into the opposition.



NETANYAHU (through translator): The prime minister in Israel must be able to say "No" to the president of the U.S. on topics that treats to our existence.


GOTKINE (on camera): And there was one of a quote from Netanyahu -- because in his mind he feels that he's going to come back. He was saying to the new government try to ruin our wonderful economy as little as possible so that we can fix it as quickly as possible when we return to power. Which, obviously, Netanyahu will be hoping will be sooner rather than later -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: And we shall see. Elliott Gotkine joining us live from Jerusalem, many thanks.

Well now to an exclusive CNN report. CNN learned that the U.S. government is assessing the reports of a possible leak at a Chinese nuclear power plant. After the French company that part owns and operates it warned of an imminent radiological threat. At the center of concern is the Taishan Nuclear Power Plant located in Guangdong province in southern China, which is home to more than 126 million people.

CNN has reached out to Chinese authorities in Beijing and Guangdong province and the Chinese Embassy in Washington with no response so far. But this weekend is a national holiday in China. While a source tells CNN the Biden administration believes the facility is not yet at crisis level. The U.S. has been in contact with Chinese and French governments. And multiple U.S. government agencies are also monitoring the situation. The power plant has now responded and CNN Stephen Jiang joining me live from Beijing with that. Steven, what's the nuclear power plant saying about this reported leak?

STEVEN JIANG, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER: Well Rosemary, the powerplant has issued a statement to update people on the current status of its two reactors. And the statement reads in part -- and I quote here.

Since it was putting the commercial operation the Taishan Nuclear Power Plant has strictly controlled the operation of the units in accordance with operating license documents and technical procedures. All operating indicators of the two unites have met the requirements of nuclear safety regulations and power plant technical specifications. At present, continuous monitoring of environmental data shows that environmental readings of the Taishan Nuclear Power Plant and its surrounding area are normal. So, obviously, the statement is aimed at calming, reassuring the

public. But it does not address the core question of whether or not there has been a leak of fission gas from one of its two reactors. And that information CNN has learned from U.S. officials in Washington and that more serious allegation we have learned from Washington is that Chinese safety authorities have been raising the acceptable limits of radiation level for the surrounding area of the power plant. And that, of course, is something that the Biden administration is paying a lot of attention to.

As you say, at present, they don't consider it to be a crisis level but they're obviously concerned enough to have multiple meetings of the National Security Council in the past week. And U.S. officials have also insisted to CNN that if there were any risks to the Chinese public, they would be compelled to make it known under current international treaty obligations.


But a U.S. government actually became involved in the situation because the French company reached out to Department of Energy officials late last month to inform them about this potential problem. And then that was followed up by a memo on June 3rd with the French company requesting a formal U.S. government waiver so that they could share American technical assistance with their Chinese partners at the vicinity to fix the problem of leaking fission gas. That was followed by another memo a few days later on June 8. It was in that memo the French company described the situation as an imminent radiological threat.

It was also in the memo the French company revealed the Chinese authority has been raising the so-called off site dose limits to have exceeded French standards. That's when the company expressed concern over the potential risks to not only on-site employees, but also the general public in the surrounding area.

Now this company has since responded to CNN's request for comment acknowledging they're working to address, quote, unquote, "a performance issue" at the power plant but insisting the facility is operating with the safety parameters.

But Rosemary, according to experts CNN has spoken to, the key here is really transparency. Because controlled leak of fission gases itself is not uncommon. At controlled level, these gases tend to be inert and dissipate into the atmosphere. But the questions here are the levels of emission as well as the source of the leak. These are the questions the power plant and the Chinese government have not addressed. And given the current geopolitical tensions, it's likely we may not be able to find out these answers any time soon -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: Yes, we'll continue to monitor this very important story of course. Steven Jiang joining us live from Beijing, many thanks.

Well questions are already swirling around a Trump-era Justice Department probe that seems to have targeted some political opponents. Now we are learning that the president's own White House counsel was also a target. Don McGahn and his wife were told by Apple last month that their account records were sought by the Justice Department in 2018. CNN's Paula Reid has more on this extraordinary development.


PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: CNN has learned that in February of 2018, the Justice Department requested records from Apple for then White House counsel Don McGahn and his wife. Now to underscore what an extraordinary request that was. McGahn at time was the top lawyer for the president of the United States. And this request was kept secret. Apple was barred from disclosing this request until May of this year. That means the Justice Department had to go back to court repeatedly to keep this under wraps.

Now at this point, CNN doesn't know if McGahn was targeted individually as a target of an investigation or if he was swept up into an investigation into somebody else. Now a source familiar tells CNN that former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had been leading the Justice Department at that time, and the deputy Rod Rosenstein weren't aware of this request for Don McGahn's records. But something about that does not add up. How would it be possible that the two top justice officials at that time would not know that the department was making such an extraordinary request?

Now an important piece of context, is that a few weeks before this request was made, the president was very frustrated with his White House counsel. He had pressured Don McGahn to fire then special counsel Robert Mueller. McGahn resisted and that tension was really at the core of the obstruction of justice investigation into former President Trump.

Now former national security advisor, ambassador John Bolton spoke to our colleague Jim Acosta about all of this on Sunday. Here was his take.

JOHN BOLTON, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER UNDER TRUMP: I'm prepared to believe the worst. I think we're operating in a --

BOLTON: I'm prepared to believe the worst. I think we're operating in a --

JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR: And what does that mean, the worst? The worst mean --

BOLTON: That Trump would attempt to do things for political purposes and subvert the course of justice. But we're still operating in a large fact vacuum here.

REID: Now Democratic lawmakers are calling for those top justice officials to come to The Hill and testify. They want to hear from Attorney General Jeff Sessions, former deputy attorney general Tod Rosenstein. They will want to hear from former Attorney General Bill Barr and the head of the National Security Division John Demurs.

Now they can certainly make requests for any of these officials former and current to come and testify voluntarily. But if they refuse, they could issue subpoenas, though in the Senate it would likely require the support of at least one Republican on the panel. But if any of these officials refuse to comply with that subpoenas, then they need to make a decision about whether they want to go to court to try to compel this testimony. There's also currently an ongoing office of inspector general investigation which could potentially make that fight a little bit harder. They could want to wait until that investigation concludes. But it doesn't appear that testimony will happen any time soon.

Paula Reid, at CNN, Washington.


CHURCH: Leaders from CNN, "The New York Times," and "The Washington Post" will meet with Attorney General Merrick Garland today.


The meeting is set to discuss a controversial Trump era leak investigation. It comes after revelations that Department of Justice officials sought 2017 phone and e-mail records from reporters at all three media outlets.

Well still to come, despite a massive vaccination push in the U.S., some experts warn of a potential new wave of COVID-19 on the horizon. And we will tell you what one former official says about the spread of the Delta variant.

Also ahead, a full easing of lockdown restrictions in England is supposed to be just one week away. But now British media say Prime Minister Boris Johnson is likely to hit the pause button. We're back in just a moment.


CHURCH: U.S. President Joe Biden's former senior advisor on COVID-19 Andy Slavitt is lashing out at the previous administration. He says the Trump White House committed, quote, three deadly sins in the early pandemic response.


Slavitt said the first sin was simply denying the existence of the pandemic. In his view, the second was censuring public health officials. And the third was encouraging division in the country. Slavitt says that lead many people to question science.


ANDY SLAVITT, FORMER BIDEN SENIOR ADVISER FOR COVID-19 RESPONSE: This virus had a lot of properties spreading asymptotically. So you didn't know you were carrying it or spreading it. Spreading exponentially so you didn't know. You couldn't picture how fast it was growing. It really required you to listen to scientists and understand the scientific process. We, as a country, I think, had a tough time with this. I think certain

people were embracing it and following it along but other people just, I think, cynically exploited the divisions. So if a scientist changed their mind, it was an opportunity to say, see, they don't know what they're talking about but I do. Or they don't know what they're talking about so we don't need to listen to them.


CHURCH: And there's a fresh warning about the impact the Delta variant of COVID-19 might have on the United States. And it's not good. Former FDA chief Scott Gottlieb says the variant which was first detected in India is more transmissible. He says it could set off another spike in cases this fall.


SCOTT GOTTLIEB, FORMER COMMISSIONER, U.S. FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION: Right now in the United States, it's about 10 percent of infections. It's doubling every two weeks. So it's probably going to become the dominant strain here in the United States. That doesn't mean that we're going see a sharp uptick in infections but it means that this is going take over. And I think the risk is really to the fall that this could spike a new epidemic heading into the fall.


CHURCH: And earlier, I spoke with Brown University's Dr. Ashish Jah, the dean of the school of public health. And I began by asking him how concerned he was about the Delta variant.


DR. ASHISH JHA, DEAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Delta variant wreaked havoc in India, obviously, most people there were not vaccinated. It is causing a three to four fold increase in infections in the U.K. Again, largely among the unvaccinated. It's a small number of cases right now in the United States, probably 6 to 10 percent. It's going to grow and the real risk is all the unvaccinated people who are very, very vulnerable to this variant.

CHURCH: And doctor, you have said how important it is to find the origins of this pandemic so we can stop it from happening again. And at the G7 Summit, President Biden called for a more extensive international investigation into the possibility of a lab leak. But G7 leaders pushed back on that. Do you think we will ever know for sure, given China has so far prevented any thorough investigation?

JHA: Yes, I may be in the minority but I am optimistic we will figure this out. It's obviously, very, very important. Again, I think the lab leak hypothesis remains the less likely view. But we don't know for sure. And it is so critically important that we figure out how this virus started spreading among humans given the, you know, the havoc it has wreaked across the world. It's critically important and I hope with intelligence and with good scientific work. And with hopefully China's greater cooperation, we will be able to figure it out. (END VIDEOTAPE)

CHURCH (on camera): And that was Dr. Ashish Jah speaking with me earlier.

Well that same variant, the Delta variant, is causing major concern in the U.K. Cases there are on the rise and that's despite a highly successful vaccination program. Now British media are reporting that the lifting of a final round of restrictions in England is likely to be delayed. With more on that, Scott McLean joins me live from London. so Scott, what is the latest on this possible delay in lifting restrictions due to the rapid spread of the Delta variant?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Rosemary. Yes, so freedom day for the U.K., the final lifting of restrictions which would have allowed sports stadium to operate at full capacity, along with theaters, cinemas, and the reopening of nightclubs was supposed to come a week from day. But now the British press is reporting that that is likely to be delayed for another four weeks into late July.

But with more than half of the British population vaccinated, almost 80 percent of adults having had at least one shot, a lot of people are wondering why the delay at all. And the reason, really, comes down to the Delta variant, which was first discovered in India.

And I want you to run you through a cup of graphics which illustrate the situation here in the U.K. First is, the overall new cases. You can see the second and third waves of the pandemic right now cases are nowhere near those numbers. But we know how quickly things can change. If you change the timeline a little bit, and look at the last couple of months, you can see that there is a pretty sharp uptick that we're seeing right now.

And obviously, with this virus spreading exponentially, that could be a big problem. But the big question here is death. Because of course, if the health care system does its job and there aren't many deaths and if the vaccinations do their jobs, then we shouldn't really have a problem. But deaths are a lagging indicator and so we won't really know whether or not there is going to be a spike.