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Biden Meets EU Leaders Ahead of Putin Summit; Biden: Putin is Bright, Tough and a Worthy Adversary; Russia: Ready to Hand Over Jailed Americans Except Whelan; NATO Leaders Discuss Russia "Threat," China "Challenges"; Trump Administration Secretly Obtained CNN Correspondent Records; Dangerous Heat Wave Bakes Much of Western U.S. U.S. Assessing Reported Leak at Chines Nuclear Power Facility. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired June 15, 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. You are watching CNN NEWSROOM and I'm Rosemary Church.

Just ahead, from killer to worthy adversary, President Joe Biden sets the stage for his summit with Russia's Vladimir Putin.

Rare and dangerous, parts of the west and southwestern United States brace for record breaking heat, while Texans are being urged to do.

And the unfriendly skies, kicking, punching, screaming, thousands of unruly passenger complaints, why experts say the worst could still be ahead.

Thanks for joining us. Well, Joe Biden will say good-bye to Brussels in the coming hours, but not before speaking with EU leaders. From there it's on to Geneva for his first meeting as U.S. president with Russia's Vladimir Putin. CNN's senior White House correspondent Phil Mattingly begins our coverage.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have found that he is a, as they say when you used to play ball, a worthy adversary.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Biden now deep into preparation for his high stakes sit-down with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

BIDEN: I'm going to make clear to President Putin that there are areas where we can cooperate, if he chooses, and if he chooses not to cooperate and acts in a way that he has in the past relative to cybersecurity and some other activities, then we will respond.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Even as he seeks to reestablish and tighten U.S. bonds with traditional allies at the NATO Summit in Brussels the Russian leader never far from his mind. BIDEN: I'm hoping that President Putin concludes that there is some

interest in terms of his own interests in changing the perception that the world has of him in terms of whether or not he will engage in behavior that's more consistent with what is considered to be appropriate behavior for head of state.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): And responding this way when told Putin laughed when Biden referring to the Russian leader as a killer.

BIDEN: As to the first question, I'm laughing, too. The answer is I believe he has in the past essentially acknowledged that he was -- there were certain things that he would do or did do. But look when I was asked that question on air I answered it honestly.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): A lengthy list of items on the agenda in Geneva, from firm warnings on cyberattacks, political prisoners and aggression in Ukraine to areas of potential cooperation like Afghanistan, arms control and the Iran nuclear deal.

BIDEN: We should decide where it's in our mutual interest, in the interest of the world to cooperate and see if we can do that. And the areas where we don't agree make it clear what the red lines are.


MATTINGLY (voice-over): Biden meeting privately about Baltic and Eastern European leaders over the course of the day soliciting their positions in advance of the meeting and reassuring allies, officials say, their answers factored into weeks of preparation for the unpredictable Russian leader when he thrives of hijacking substantive conversations. Including continued denials of hacking efforts confirmed by U.S. intelligence.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Where is evidence? Where is proof? It's becoming farcical. We know this well.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Biden's preparation was included an emphasis on ways that Putin may try to pull the meeting off track -- officials tell CNN -- as the Russian leader previewed those potential lines in his most recent interview.

PUTIN (through translator): U.S. is a high tech country, NATO has declared cyberspace on area of combat, that means they are planning something. They are preparing something. So obviously this cannot but worry us.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): But Biden looking to enter the meeting with more than just his agenda in hand, spending his first full day in Brussels seeking to rally leaders in a show of unity heading into the Geneva sit-down. The intended message to Putin, officials tell CNN, western democracies are once again aligned against Russian malign activity.

MATTINGLY: And for weeks White House officials have pushed back on criticism that perhaps the meeting itself elevates President Putin and his role, his status in the world, perhaps it's happening too early in the Biden administration. And perhaps the president didn't have enough clear outcomes to shoot for to even justify the meeting itself. They've made clear, they believe that the fact that the relationship is at such a low point, the fact that there are such significant differences is precisely why President Biden who often prefers -- almost always prefers face-to-face meetings on anything whether on Capitol Hill or world leaders wanted to sit down with President Putin.

And the president addressed this idea at his press conference in Brussels. There has been some uncertainty from some allies about whether or not this was happening too soon. The president made very clear, every leader he said, that he's spoken to in Brussels at NATO -- there's been more than a dozen -- in the words of the president found it, quote, thoroughly acceptable.

Phil Mattingly, CNN, Brussels.


CHURCH: So let's go live now to Geneva and CNN's Fred Pleitgen. Good to see you, Fred. So President Biden has been preparing intensely for this high stakes meeting with a man he calls a worthy adversary. So what are the expectations and just how tricky and challenging could this prove to be?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think that both leaders in the run up to this summit I think one of the things that they tried to do is they've tried to decrease the expectations a little bit and bring all of this on to a more realistic footing. It was quite interesting the messaging that we saw from President Biden and also from Vladimir Putin as well, in the run up to the summit with -- as we heard there in Phil's report -- President Biden saying that Vladimir Putin is a worthy adversary. Vladimir Putin for his part saying that the remarks that President Biden made in the past about him being a killer that that was not something that bothered him, that he believed that President Biden is a professional and respectable politician who has obviously been in politics for a very long time.

So the two leaders are really signaling to one another that they want to get rid of all the emotional talk around this meeting and really get down to business. It was quite interesting because we heard from the Russian side earlier today from an aide to Vladimir Putin. Who said that the Russians believe that even if there is not a final communique, if there is not many things in the way of written agreements that could be achieved, they still believe that this meeting could be useful because the relations are at such a low point, they want to bring more predictability, more stability and especially lines of communication into the relationship between the United States and Russia.

Now, of course, both sides say that there are going to be topics that will be touched on where there is not going to be any sort of agreement, where it can't be achieved. Like for instance, Ukraine would seem to be a pretty tough topic. One of the things for instance the Russians acknowledged today that Alexei Navalny and his fate certainly are going to be on the agenda as well in this meeting. And then there are other areas where both sides believe that perhaps

some headway can be achieved, arms control is one of those areas, the situation in Afghanistan, the Iran nuclear agreement. And then one thing both sides have really said is going to be very important to these two leaders is cybersecurity, disinformation and generally the realm of the cyber sphere where both the Russians and the U.S. have said that they want some form of cooperation. The U.S. says -- obviously said that it wants the Russians to crack down harder on cyber criminals operating from their territory, also of course from hacking as well. It going to be interesting to see whether any head way can be made. However, both sides now telegraphing that they believe that this meeting certainly can be very useful and they want to make the most of it -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: And Fred, we also understand that Russia has indicated it's ready for a prisoner swap, but not including Paul Whelan. What more are you hearing about that.

PLEITGEN: You're absolutely right about that and this is also one of the things that we understand is certainly going to be one of the topics of this meeting as well is a swap of prisoners between Russia and the United States. Certainly, there's names that are out there, Trevor Reed, for instance, on the U.S. side and then the arms dealer Viktor Bout on the other side.


Where of course, our crew has gotten some reporting yesterday that the judge that sentenced Viktor Bout believes that he has been in jail for an excessive amount of time already. And could very well be part of a prisoner swap with Paul Whelan. However, the Russians as far as Paul Whelan is concerned seeming to pour cold water on that this morning. There was a statement by the Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov where he said that Paul Whelan was not part of the discussions when it comes to prisoner swaps, prisoner exchanges. They do say that there is a mechanism of for that. That of course is not to say that an agreement could not be achieved here today -- or tomorrow I should say -- between these two presidents that would include Paul Whelan, but that certainly would be outside of the sphere of any sort of mechanisms internationally that are already in place for such cases -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: All right, Fred Pleitgen joining us live from Geneva, many thanks.

Well NATO leaders are vowing to stick together to confront threats from Russia and what they call challenges from China. They wrapped up their summit in Brussels on Monday. CNN's Melissa Bell is live in the Belgian capital. She joins us now. Good to see you Melissa. So how successful was this NATO alliance meeting and what is expected out of President Biden's upcoming talks with the EU leaders?

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, in the end the points of contention or areas of difference or the differences of focus that we'd seen yesterday at NATO seemed in the end to give way to a communique that satisfied everyone. The threat that Russia posed, the challenge that China posed, really making a step towards Europeans who had been reluctant to be as hard line as Joe Biden had wanted them to be on the threat presented to NATO by Beijing. So there are two different approaches, but an agreement that there are challenges to be faced.

Now, today is going to be much more about how beyond military means and beyond those questions of security China's rise can be countered or met with an equal rise by the United States and the EU and that is all about the kind of collaboration that Joe Biden and European leaders here that will be meeting in the next couple of hours are going to be talking about. What we expect them to announce is a council on trade and technology essentially between the United States and the EU that represents together 40 percent, the world GDP. The idea is that they would join forces to try to encourage trade, technology, in order that they could counter on that sort of soft power front, economic front, the rise of China as well.

There will be a talk of course of a number of other issues. And I think this show of unity between Europeans who fought such a long and lonely battle these last few years in the name of the promotion of democracy, in the name of the multilateralism to see them stand so squarely shoulder to shoulder with Joe Biden ahead of that crucial meeting in Geneva with Vladimir Putin. Will of course be one of the most important images of today, an important symbol of unity after so many years of fracture -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: Melissa Bell joining us live from Brussels, many thanks.

Here in the United States the fallout from a Justice Department scandal that started in the Trump era is growing. On Monday House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler announced his committee will open a formal investigation. It will look into the Justice Department subpoenas targeting members of Congress and journalists. Nadler says it is also possible that these cases are merely our first glimpse into a coordinated effort by the Trump administration to target President Trump's political opposition. If so we must learn the full extent of this gross abuse of power.

Now, meantime executives from CNN, "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post" have met with the U.S. Attorney General to address the subpoena scandal. Merrick Garland says he will work to put the department's new pledge against spying into journalists into regulation so that the promise has teeth. CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr was among those targeted during the Trump years and she is now speaking out about her experience. Take a listen.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Even as top executives from CNN, "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post" met with the Justice Department as I'm talking to you I still do not know why the Department of Justice sought my email and phone records. Originally they wanted something like 30,000 of my emails, business email, business phone records and my personal email records and my personal phone in my home. I'm lucky to have a legal team that was able to push back and the

judge drastically cut back on the government's request. At one point in the proceeding we got the transcript.

And so at one point in the preceding the court says the following: The court has to conclude the theory of relevancy upon which this request is made is not based on sufficient, specific and articulable facts, but rather on more speculative predictions, assumptions and scenarios unanchored in facts.

We believe it's likely the Justice Department was seizing records from so many people as part of a link investigation but they did not really narrow it significantly until they were forced to. They sought my records across a broad swath but the judge limited it to records from June and July of 2017.

But here is the key fact, this did not go to a secret court proceeding until the middle of last year 2020 and it was not until this May that I was even allowed to know that these secret court recordings had happened. They take place without the person being involved being allowed to attend. CNN lawyers represented me, they represented CNN, but it was a pretty grim prospect to learn that there had been these secret courts and I had no knowledge of it.

You know, when you cover the U.S. military you're very aware that U.S. troops raise their hand, they swear to protect the Constitution and as part of that they swear to protect the First Amendment to the Constitution in the United States. That First Amendment assures protection of a free press. U.S. troops swear to do that, they will die on that hill to protect the Constitution of this country. A lot of people think maybe the Justice Department needs to take a page out of that book.


CHURCH: Barbara Starr there. Her story is available on our website at and be sure to check that out.

On Capitol Hill momentum is building in the Senate behind a $1.2 trillion infrastructure plan. Joe Manchin a West Virginia Democrat and the Senate's most critical swing vote said Monday he would back a reconciliation bill assuming the bipartisan bill got a fair look. Now, it is a shift for Manchin who has been a roadblock for President Joe Biden's legislative agenda for months.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell says if Mr. Biden wants to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court he better hope a seat opens up before the end of next year. Listen to what he told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): I think it's highly unlikely, in fact, no, I don't think either party if it controlled -- if it were different from the president would confirm a Supreme Court nominee in the middle of an election. What was different in 2020 was we were of the same party as the president.


CHURCH: There's been a lot of speculation about whether liberal justice Stephen Breyer should retire at the end of this term. Democrats are confident they could get a Biden nominee through the Senate as long as they're still in the majority.

Well coming up here on CNN NEWSROOM, new developments in that report of a possible leak at a Chinese nuclear plant. The latest details next.

Plus a scorching and dangerous heat wave is baking much of the Western U.S. We will take a look at the forecast for extreme weather still to come.



CHURCH: It could be several days before this fire at a chemical plant in Illinois is put out. The main concern at this time is chemical runoff spilling into a river. People living nearby have been forced to leave their homes.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We heard some explosions around 7:15, didn't think anything of it and then a couple minutes later we heard like a lot more louder explosions. So we stepped outside and all you could see in the sky was smoke. There's burning flying debris at our house and we're worried that the house is going to catch on fire. It's scary. I hope we never see anything like this again.


CHURCH: Officials say, they still don't know what cause that blaze.

Well now to an update on the exclusive report we brought you yesterday. The U.S. assessing results of a possible leak at a Chinese nuclear plant. A lot of questions about what's going on still needs to be answered but as Steven Jiang reports we have been hearing from the plant's operators.


STEVEN JIANG, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER: Very haven't heard much from the French side in the past 24 hours because remember, this power plant is a Chinese/French joint venture. Now the Chinese state owned energy conglomerate, CGN, which owns a 70 percent stake in this joint venture, did issue an earlier statement saying they are continuously monitoring environmental readings both on site and in the surrounding area. Indicates everything is normal and that the company has been operating this plant in strict accordance with nuclear safety regulations and technical procedures. And we have since heard more details and clarification from EDF,

that's the French utility company that owns a 30 percent stake in the power plant. Now EDF says it's aware of an increased concentration of noble gases in the primary circuit in one of the two reactors. And it says that the increased levels of these noble gases xenon and crypton indicate a degradation of the housing of the fuel rods. Now they say there is no increasing pressure within the system and that the escaped gases were dissolved within the water in the system and then collected and extracted. And also that these housings affected are the first of three containment barriers between the rods and the atmosphere.

But the company did acknowledged that this issue of a potential leakage was first discussed last October after a planned refueling outage.


But the company says without a full analysis it's still too early for them to say whether or not a complete shutdown of the reactor is needed. And the company also said the current readings, the current levels of the radiation on site are still below the Chinese government threshold.

But all this information and explanation still do not address some of the more pressing questions raised by EDF's subsidiary in their memos to the U.S. Department of Energy early this month. Now it is in a memo dated June 8th this French company said the situation in Taishan posed an imminent radiological threat and that the Chinese safety authority had been raising the acceptable limits of radiation for the area surrounding the plant to avoid having to shut it down. And the revised level was more than double the initial threshold and also exceeding the French standard which is why the French company was concerned about the potential risks.

So all these questions remain unanswered and we hope to pose these questions directly to Chinese officials in the coming hours.

Steven Jiang, CNN, Beijing.


CHURCH: And this just into CNN in response to our reporting. China's foreign ministry said just moments ago that the Taishan Nuclear Power Plant is safe and meets all technical requirements. A spokesman for the foreign ministry says there is no abnormality in the radiation environment around the plant. He says its safety is guaranteed.

Well, Texas is having more problems with its power grid. Residents are being asked to turn up their thermostats and avoid using large appliances like ovens, washers and dryers. The states main power grid is struggling to keep up with demand as temperatures rise. You would recall of course, that back in February a severe winter storm left millions of people in Texas without power for days. A significant number of plants went offline Monday although state officials could not say why.

Well Texas isn't the only state suffering in the heat, record high temperatures are expected across the Western U.S.

And meteorologist Pedram Javaheri joins us now with the details. Good to see you, Pedram. So what sort of records are we talking about here and how are states responding to this?

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: You know, we've seen plenty of reports here of shelters opening up from the Salvation Army to other shelters allowing the homeless to come into these facilities and allowing them to cool off. And the concern is not necessarily just how hot it will get into the afternoon hours but how warm it will stay into the overnight hours, almost 100 degrees in some of these areas even into the overnight hours. And of course that doesn't allow your body to effectively cool off and recover from the daytime heat.

But if you ask me or ask a lot of people what you think the most -- that deadly weather element is they often would pick hurricanes, maybe tornadoes, but I'm here to tell you, take hurricanes, tornadoes, put them together they still come in behind a heat when it comes to every single year and the number of lives lost in the U.S. So heat certainly a silent killer. And look at these observations in the past 24 or so hours across the state of Arizona, temps into the 1 teens in spots. And even higher elevations climbing to temps about 110, 112 degrees across portions of Arizona.

California, again in areas across California, 113 degree observation, that ties a record. Even as far month as Montana where records this time of year around 96, a 104 degree afternoon across places such as Helena. So pretty expansive heat wave, high pressure in place, with high pressure you often get sinking compressing air. Precisely what's happening across the four corners region of the United States and that is allowing these temperatures to warm up in advance of summer officially arriving on Sunday.

So a few days before summer arrives and we're watching upwards of 275 record temperatures possible over the next week, encompassing about 50 million Americans underneath these alerts around the Western United States. And again, not just there, but even into parts of Montana.

So how about these readings. Look at Phoenix, Arizona, climbed to 119 degrees, all-time record there is 122, but the concern is these overnight temperatures only cooling off into the 90s over the next several days. And Rosemary, Las Vegas the hottest it has ever been on the strip in Vegas, 117, you'll notice how close we get to it, again, before summer officially arrives and these dangerous overnight temperatures over the next few days as well -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: Just shocking record temperatures there. Pedram Javaheri bringing us the latest on that.

Well the spread of a contagious COVID variant is worrying health experts all across the globe. Coming up on CNN NEWSROOM we'll finding out how it's affecting reopening plans in the U.K.

And the partisan vote count in Arizona is nearing the end of one phase, how Republicans are pushing to do the same in other states.